GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It seems no matter how often the police say it or the CFF rail company cautions travelers, foreigns are anxious to hold onto the image of clean, tidy, crime-free Switzerland, a place that exists mainly in the imagination.
The latest dire warning to travelers comes from a writer in the UK’s Daily Mail, who recounts the tale of his nephews’ stolen luggage, then a friend’s backpack, on Swiss trains, noting that “the impeccably clean Swiss carriages are sadly no longer free of crime.”
The trains haven’t been free of crime for years. Yes, the problem has worsened over the past 10 years, as has crime in general throughout Europe. There are plenty of people who will argue that Schengen is responsible, with fewer police border checks, but there are plenty of other possible reasons, starting with the rich-poor divide. Switzerland, with one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, is a comfortable society that makes a good target.
Whatever the reason and whatever the relative seriousness of the Swiss crime problem (European crime figures still show Switzerland’s crime level as remarkably low, including theft and muggings), we can’t say it too often: don’t invite crime by leaving your valuables surveyance-free!
The Daily Mail author says “Apparently the chancers quickly scan luggage for tags indicating foreign travellers. In the case of Geneva, it is easy pickings, as they can get off with your luggage at the city stop, before the train moves off to the airport station.”
It’s too easy to get into the “we’re foreigners, so we’re easy targets” mentality: the Swiss are also ready targets, and I can recount tales of travelers I know whose computers were stolen while they snoozed. But the Swiss don’t think of their country as a Heidi paradise, so they watch their belongings.
Men, keep your computer bags and packbacks attached to you. Women, do not set your bags on the floor in restaurants or in trains.
The problem with being a foreigner is that you’re easily distracted. The views are great, you’re on holiday, and you’re looking for something nicer than the daily grind of worries at home.
If you’re traveling in Switzerland, behave like the Swiss. Use common sense and stay focused. It’s not foolproof against theft, but it helps.
As for the luggage racks at the end of carriages, you are required to use them, if you have a large bag. Take a seat nearby and check that it remains in view at every stop. If you go to the restaurant car, take your bag with you or leave someone you know in charge.
Look around and you’ll see the Swiss doing the same.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A sad story arrived in the mailbox from canton Valais police this morning: a 90-year-old man who was hit while crossing the road Monday died of his injuries during the night. The accident took place in the village of Ollon. The man was in the yellow crosswalk area and the 24-year-old Russian woman who hit him was driving from Ban in the direction of Granges-gare, say police.
The pedestrian was thrown 15 metres by the impact.
Police have seized the car for the investigation.
I’m writing about this here, instead of on the news page, because it made me recall a conversation recently with a woman who has been in Switzerland for four years. “I didn’t know, when I came here, that you have to stop for people who are in one of those yellow crosswalks!” she told me. “I couldn’t figure out why all these people seemed to be mad at me!”
The speed limit in most towns is 50kph and the area covered by that often extends well beyond what appears to be the built-up area. Go 20kph over the limit and you risk having your license confiscated.
When in Switzerland, slow down to stay within the speed limit and please, remember the pedestrians: they have the right of way at crosswalks throughout the country.
That said, don’t be a foolish pedestrian: cross at crosswalks, but don’t assume the driver will stop for you!
BERN, SWITZERLAND – The main reaction was somber silence when the train conductor announced that the train from Lucerne would be arriving 14 minutes late in Bern. In German and French he said that the lateness was due to a “person incident” rail-speak for an accident that is most likely a suicide, someone jumping or falling onto the rails.
This morning it happened in Zofingen, a place on the line for several fast trains.
The three-hour direct train from Lucerne to Geneva airport usually offers one of those trips that makes you appreciate the efficiency of the Swiss rail system. The only people who grumbled this morning were foreign tourists, since the train announcement in English said only we would be late, not why, in order for the conductor to have time to explain that connecting trains in Bern had not been able to wait, and to list all the options for connections.
The CFF rail company doesn’t publish the number of “person incidents” each year, but for they are more frequent than saddened train travelers would like. Our thoughts went to the person in Zofingen this morning.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland in Chinese: even without Mandarin you can follow these unusual TV travel documentaries on the Switzerland you thought you knew! Occasional travel feature contributor to GenevaLunch, Liam Bates, who spends much of his time as the host of a popular Chinese TV travel show that usually tours hidden corners of China, brings his TV crew to Switzerland to show them his home country, taking a look that goes deeper than pretty scenery. The six shows are being aired this week and the ones below can now be seen on the Internet.
Switzerland in Chinese, for the rapidly budding Chinese travel market:
- episode one, Swiss TV star visits his mountain home for the national holiday, complete with digging garden potatoes, picking raspberries and visiting the neighboring cows, plus delivering gifts from China for the family and childhood memories of where how he became interested in China and traveling, ending with a dusk raclette chalet dinner (note: Liam is my son, so you see GL editor Ellen Wallace at home)
- episode two, visit to the famous Gemmi festival above Leukerbad, alphorn concert in the Alps, dawn cheese-making high above Crans-Montana and a picnic as the sun rises
- episode three, making sense of armed neutrality and citizen militia duty: training with the Swiss army’s search and rescue service and cooking with the world champion Swiss army chefs, taking time out for the Weeping Lion monument in Lucern, hitting the summer slopes in Zermatt near the Matterhorn (last is a preview for episode 4).
- episode four, summer sports like climbing and fast glacier-skiing/snowboarding in Zermatt with a former Swiss ski team champion, then Swiss mountain rescue services in action: Rega system with Air Zermatt, Air Glaciers and the amazing work of the Redog rescue dog teams. Preview of episode 5 – making Swiss chocolate, behind the scenes, mmmm.
- episode five, adding Chinese spice to a chocolatier‘s kitchen, awash in Swiss chocolate!, Barry and the St Bernard Hospice dogs including a new batch of extremely cute puppies, making the perfect Swiss army knife at Victorinox factory. Preview of episode 6 – Lake Geneva, high Alpine Furka pass steam train.
- episode six, at home in Saint Prex, Vetropak glass recycling, Furka steam train with conductor, dining and wining in Locarno, Geneva’s Slowup
Ed. note, 2 October: more than 1.3 people have viewed the first show alone on the Internet, possibly the most popular-ever China Travel Channel complete episode online!
BERN, SWITZERLAND – Hunting for information from the Swiss Federal Highway Department I came across this bit of news to me: children under 7 with scooters must either stay on the sidewalk and pedestrian paths or be accompanied by an adult if they will be on a road. So the 2 minute scooter run from my house to the village bakery is a no-go zone for little ones on scooters because they have to cross a village street. If you have a little person with a scooter, keep this in mind.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7va1BoKD5M&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Swiss tourism lags behind the US for offering travellers web site news combined with comments from the public on social media, but Davos & Klosters in Graubuenden have just changed that, and I like the look of what they’ve done. If you’re hunting for travel information in a hurry you might not be interested in wading through Facebook and Twitter comments, many of them from, frankly, twits, but it’s nice to have the option. And if you’re not in a hurry, other people’s opinions and experiences are good to have.
The new web page, which makes it easy to distinguish the sources of information but which gives some prominence to social media works well, I think. There are a few hiccups, but they are due to the bigger problem that Davos, to a lot of people, equals World Economic Forum rather than summer hiking or winter skiing, so there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to see disappear while I dream of getting out of the office and heading out to a spa plus ibex hike.
And then there’s the Gotschna Freeride, 11 minutes of …. but why spoil the ride?!
At long last, someone put together a picture for us of the Qaddafi family, all of whom are on lists for frozen assets in Switzerland: thanks go to Ria Novosti, Russian news agency. Aunts, uncles and the rest of the clan are not here, but the children are all here, with photos and their birthdates.
Bern, centrally located and on the language divide, is the capital of Switzerland
A news story mistake became the story this week, giving us a reminder of why local news providers (that’s us!) are often more credible. Associated Press in the US ran a story about Google Street View and mentioned Zurich, with the editors at a safe distance, in New York. The story noted that Zurich is the capital of Switzerland. Oops. A correction was sent out, and since the first story was picked up by several US media, word for word, a lot of corrections then appeared. Google News for Zurich suddenly had a stream of stories that started with the intriguing one-liner “Zurich is not the capital of Switzerland.”
The problem wasn’t the reporter, I hasten to add: Frank Jordans, who reported the story, has been in Geneva for several years and he’s covered enough political stories from Bern to know it’s the capital. I can only assume an inexperienced sub-editor in the US thought the world might not know the capital of Switzerland, so thought to add it.
Years from now, though, I’m willing to bet a lot of people will still be insisting that Zurich is indeed the capital of that little Alpine nation because after all, they once saw it on the news.
The mistake also underscores the growing problem of aggregated and massaged (rewritten) news stories from sites that do not themselves produce news or have journalists behind them: the story in its original form is still out there, no corrections made.
Pssst: Bern is the capital.
The BBC gives us a fun little travel story
Ice roads: here’s one of those great little feature articles we used to see regularly in mainstream media, but since editors can’t afford to pay for them anymore, they’ve become the domain of bloggers and travel groups, which is too bad. This is one of the BBC’s “from our own correspondent” series, and I fear that with BBC cutbacks in several countries we might see fewer of these, too.
Liam Bates, who has occasionally contributed to GenevaLunch for the past four years as a travel writer, is interviewed in English Tuesday 22 March by China Daily about the art of hitchhiking in China.
“Smile” is the first tip, as he recounts his travels across the country.
GenevaLunch readers will recognize him as one of our two skiers who tested five top resorts in seven days for our Swiss dream ski week report, a series we have been publishing for the past two weeks.
Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - GenevaLunch, like a lot of other businesses in the area, was caught by the massive traffic jam in both directions, between Geneva and Lausanne Wednesday late afternoon. It lasted more than four hours, had traffic moving at a crawl on the autoroute, and side roads anywhere near the highway were also packed with cars and very slow traffic. The cause was an accident at 14:45 near the Coppet exit, caused by an accident: the driver of a car lost control as she passed a semi-trailer truck, heading towards Geneva. She veered to the left, then to the right and the truck driver, trying to avoid her, ended up overturning his vehicle.
The driver of the car was taken to the university hospitals (HUG) in Lausanne with injuries that are not serious, and the other driver was not injured.
It took more than half a dozen fire trucks well over three hours to remove the truck. During that time part of the autoroute was closed.
The problem with getting older is that you remember the “good old days” that might not have been great, but that were better. Ten years ago I commuted daily between Saint Prex, in Vaud, and my office in Geneva. I could count on traffic being bad between 07:30 and 09:00, and 17:00 and 18:45. There were occasional accidents, but an accident that could block all traffic in the area for four hours was truly exceptional.
I’ve watched the impact of growing traffic density, and I think we have now reached the point where the failure to create six lanes where needed, or to provide workable public transport for people who live in the region’s small towns, is costing the Lake Geneva region a fortune. To do a rough calculation, if only one-third of drivers stuck in that 20 km stretch, going both directions, earn an average of CHF80 an hour and there are 165 cars per kilometre (they were bumper to bumper, so I’m allowing a bit more than a metre between them), and they each spent an extra hour on the road, the wasted work time alone costs about CHF176,000. Judging by the number of SUVs and other expensive vehicles the average wage is higher than CHF80. And maybe some of them didn’t lose an hour.
Add in the additional cost of running the cars, lost productivity rather than just wages, not to mention the cost to the environment. Vaud and Geneva need to redo their sums, look at the number of hours lost in traffic jams, which are larger and far more frequent than in the past. They now must convince the powers that be in Bern to add a third rail line and/or follow up the improvement around Morges with a similar system to widen the autoroute where it is most needed, Nyon or Coppet to Versoix, for example.
The city of Geneva’s free transport tickets for visitors is surely one of its best tricks for selling the city: never under-estimate the power of a free ride. This isn’t the first and the last time we’ll see this mentioned, but in a large US city newspaper, it will have a happy ripple effect, as long as they don’t confuse Geneva and Genoa or Switzerland and Sweden (I used to live in Minnesota, a state with a lot of smart people). Minneapolis Star & Tribune