Practical and Not-So-Practical Tips for Getting into Switzerland

In the last five months I’ve been to Switzerland at least ten times, maybe more. The Swiss border lies so close to Konstanz that it’s possible to buy an ice cream in Germany and enjoy eating it on a Swiss part of the lakeshore. This proximity leads to an interesting relationship between the Germans of Konstanz and the Swiss of Kreuzlingen and the other surrounding villages, one in which the buying power of the Swiss Franc against the Euro plays a major part. Everywhere around the Bodensee there are Swiss people spending and German people—here I am thinking of one example in particular, my first German instructor—bicycling across the border to make a little extra money.

I sense no resentment from either side, and in fact each side seems self-possessed and untroubled. Perhaps both the result and cause of this tranquility is the fact that the border goes largely (in my experience totally) unattended, unguarded, unobserved. I have walked into Switzerland, bicycled into Switzerland, driven a car into Switzerland, ridden a train into Switzerland, but I have never, not even once, had my passport checked going into Switzerland.

That was the not-so-practical part of this post. Now, for some ideas you might actually employ if you are attending NASSR 2012 in Neuchâtel…

SwissBahn, or the Swiss train and transit system, is expensive. Too expensive, I firmly believe. Nevertheless, a few things to know:

1. Buy a half-fare card. The half-fare card lets you pay half of the normal price for all travel using train, bus, boat, (some) gondolas, funiculars and mountain trains (this is Switzerland, after all). The card is good for a month, so plan your travel accordingly.

2. Never buy food on the train. The trains are lovely—so lovely—for having a snack of cheese and bread and watching the countryside flow by. And this loveliness increases when you’ve purchased your snacks at a grocery store, because €3,50 for a bottle of water does not a happy traveller make.

3. Use the toilet on the train. The toilets on the trains look space age and are fairly clean, so there’s no need to wait until you get to the station where you will inevitably be paying to use a public toilet.

4. Print your ticket. This does not apply if you purchase tickets at the station, because they will of course give those to you then and there. If you have purchased your ticket online, however, you will need a hardcopy on hand, as well as the credit card with which you booked the ticket.

5. Be there early: because your train will leave on time.