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A last minute trip to Switzerland

Managing to secure a couple of tickets for André Rieu and some rather attractively priced British Airways reward flights at the last minute, I spent a couple of nights in Zürich in late May.

With no economy class availability on the outbound flight, it was necessary to spend a few pounds more for the airline’s business class cabin, which, on such a short flight, wasn’t fantastic, but it still beat the economy class cabin that I am so familiar with. A few thousand points and about £85 was all it took to get two of us from the UK the Switzerland and back again.

The day before setting off to Switzerland, I was on work-related trip to Newcastle, which involved a 5.00am departure from home, a 7.15am flight up to Newcastle and then a return flight later in the day. When booking, I was torn between British Airways’ return at flights at 3.50pm and 6.00pm. With a meeting finishing at 3.00pm, the ability to check in online and the office only 5-6 miles from the airport, the 3.50pm was certainly doable, but it didn’t leave very much time for traffic or other such delays on the return to Newcastle airport. I settled for the later flight and figured that I’d pass the time at Burger King or one of Newcastle’s many other eateries.

One of my co-workers, who had set off for the airport a little while before me, called to say that my flight had been cancelled. “Not the end of the world”, I thought, since I knew from my previous Newcastle adventure that the airline offered a flight shortly after 8.00pm. I knew that the nice people at British Airways would automatically transfer me to the later flight.

Little did I realise but the 6.00pm flight was actually the last of the day. With my flight to Switzerland booked for 7.05am the following morning, this cancellation was going to have an effect on my few days away – either I’d miss it altogether or I’d have to endure a ridiculously long journey home and feel shattered for most of my trip.

The frankly clueless staff at Newcastle airport were of very little assistance and they worked at a painfully slow pace when dealing with the few passengers who had gathered at check-in. I had the choice of being accommodated overnight and flown down the following morning (tempting, but out of the question) or taking the train instead. My request to be booked onto an Easyjet flight to Gatwick was denied. The airline would rather pay £145.00 for a train ticket than the £85.00 Easyjet wanted for a seat on their flight!

Perhaps worst of all was British Airways’ reluctance to get me back to Heathrow airport, where my car had been parked in a very expensive car park. Apparently, the airline had sold me a ticket from London to Newcastle, and so, they were obliged to get me to the city of London and not back to the airport. My persistent moaning and groaning fell on deaf ears and it was a ‘take it or leave it’ situation. Either I accepted the overnight stay and a flight down to London the following morning or I took the train to King’s Cross.

With my ‘rail warrant’, I set off on the first of many trains. This trip was a train lover’s dream. I rode the Metro from Newcastle airport to Newcastle Central, where I waited for around 40 minutes before boarding a 2 hour 55 minute direct train to London King’s Cross, from where I sat on a very warm and unpleasant smelling Underground train. After retrieving my car from the car park at terminal five, I sped down the motorway, desperate for some sleep, and got through the front door shortly before 11.00pm. It was nice to be back at home after an 18 hour day.

One demand I did make at Newcastle was that my morning flight to Switzerland – scheduled for a 7.05am departure – be changed to a later flight. I wanted to get some sleep that night, I needed to do a bit of washing and pack a suitcase as well. Thankfully, they obliged. This was perhaps the only decent thing that the airline did that day.

Now booked onto a 9.30am flight to Zürich, it meant I could rise a little later. Not too late of course since I was keen to arrive at the airport extra early and to enjoy the complimentary Terraces lounge at terminal five – this being one of the perks to choosing a premium class of travel. I was spoilt for choice with the breakfast offerings in the lounge and filled up on bacon rolls, pastries, crisps, fruit, cereal and more. Even so early in the morning, a complimentary bar was on offer, with every soft drink, beer and spirit imaginable.

The flight too was rather impressive and we were looked after brilliantly during the short 1 hour 25 minute trip, enjoying brunch. I tucked into a cheese and ham platter served with fresh bread, many more pastries, coffee and a bottle of Champagne. On a six figure salary, this is definitely the way to travel. It’s just a pity that this experience was to be a one-off.

With our bags tagged as ‘priority’, we were through Zürich’s large airport in no time at all, and soon found ourselves on a train to Oerlikon. The train ride was a mere four minutes; it was the first stop after leaving the airport and the ticket price was close to £5.00 per person. If there’s one thing unpleasant about Switzerland, it’s that everything is very expensive.

For our two night stay, we booked ourselves into the 4-star Swissôtel Zürich, which was conveniently situated right across the street from the train station. It’s not a central hotel, but, by Swiss standards, it is very good value at around £90 per room per night, it is well connected by train and tram with the city centre (not more than 10 minutes away) and for the Hallenstadion (where we needed to be that evening), it was spot on. The venue was 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel.

We checked into the hotel and explored the immediate area before getting ready for the evening concert. It quickly became clear that our limited spending money probably wouldn’t stretch far on this trip, with everyday food items in the supermarket being sky high and fast food meals costing in excess of £10.00 per person. Even a Big Mac meal at a local McDonald’s set me back around £11.00. Fine dining was to be struck off of the itinerary for this trip!

For more detailed hotel information, check out my review on Trip Advisor.

André Rieu was again fantastic, even though this time I could not understand a word of what he said. His various speeches before performances were delivered in German, which was to be expected, but the music could be understood and enjoyed by all – German or not. This was the third concert I have been to, having also seen performances in Birmingham (2011) and London (2012).

During the 2 hour 45 minute performance, I was distracted by an older lady in front. Her phone was constantly lighting up and I quickly realised that she had no idea how to use the thing. She was desperate to get a photograph or a video of her favourite violinist in action but was having no luck at all. Unsure how to flip to the front camera, she kept seeing her own face on the screen and occasionally her wallpaper, which featured a Jack Russell dog. It had me and others in fits of giggles. Needless to say, I did help her get to grips with the phone – even though it was very loud around us and we were speaking two different languages!

With the concert finished, we set off back to the hotel and looked forward to the two days of exploring ahead. We hadn’t really read up much on the city and had no idea what we wanted to see – nor what there was to see! To me, that’s the best way to see a city. It’s so much fun just to get lost in a city and enjoy whatever it is that you stumble upon.

Purchasing an unlimited travel card for around £8.00 per person per 24 hours was very worthwhile. It allowed us to travel from the hotel into the city and then use of buses, trams and trains in a specific zone, along with use of a half-hourly boat service which stopped at a handful of places of interest on and around Lake Zürich. Despite being intended as a method of transport, the boat service could rarely be relied upon. At so many stops, waiting passengers were not allowed to board since there was no space for them. This boat was a popular choice for tourists who wanted to enjoy a better value sight-seeing cruise.

Lake Zürich is really picturesque and in warm and sunny weather, it attracts people in their hundreds. We would buy lunch and sit by the water, watching others having fun on the lake, feeding the many birds and being entertained by a handful of street performers. It was a nice way to catch a few rays of sun and to watch the world go by. On clearer days, the snow-capped Alps are visible on the horizon and it makes for the most amazing sight.

All too soon, another trip was over and we were on our way back to the airport and about to fly home. I loved everything about the trip except for value for money. With the the people of Switzerland earning, on average, 50% more than those in the UK, everything here is very affordable to them. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those visiting!

Still, it was a great trip and I’m sure I will one day return again.

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