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Olyer: First-time travelers to Switzerland impressed by environment

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

My wife and I had a wonderful experience last month — a trip to Zurich, Switzerland, to meet our newest granddaughter, 7-week-old Lai An.

Our son John, Victoria and the baby met us at the Zurich airport and took us by taxi to their apartment. It would be easy to fill a column with tales of our granddaughter; suffice it to say that we are delighted with her and thrilled that we had the chance to see her.

Zurich is a delightful city. Everything is neat and orderly; we saw no signs of urban blight. Public transportation within the city is excellent, with trolleys and electric-powered buses coming every 10 minutes on all the major streets. There is no real necessity for city dwellers to have automobiles.

It also is a city that encourages walking. One afternoon, John and I took a long walk, with the baby in a stroller, to get to a store selling baby supplies. All the streets we went through had neat, well-maintained homes with lovely shrubbery and flowers. Knowing how easy it is to get back home by trolley or bus makes walking extremely attractive.

The first evening there, we went sightseeing in the area adjacent to the Limmat River. In Zurich, the riverfront is dedicated to people, with parks, walkways and outdoor restaurants and cafes on both sides. We had a fine dinner in an outdoor restaurant along the river, followed by a stroll and dessert in a café.

The Swiss people we met were friendly, courteous and generally upbeat. Most of them seemed to be athletic, probably because of a lifestyle dominated by walking and biking. I don't recall seeing a single person whom I would consider obese.

One afternoon, we all went on a cruise on Lake Zurich. The lake extends about 25 miles south and east of the city, between lovely green hills. Small villages are scattered along both sides, each dominated by a city hall with a tall steeple and clocks on each face.

The boat stopped at six or seven of these villages during its two-hour trip to Rapperswil, an ancient town with a very old castle high on a hill above the lake. We explored the village before having dinner, again in a lovely outdoor restaurant.

John and Victoria had told us that the railway system between cities was even more impressive than the public transportation inside them. This was demonstrated on a trip we took to Luzerne and Interlaken. The trains are modern and comfortable, and the railbed so well maintained that the ride is smooth. I was impressed with the number of tunnels we went through on a relatively short trip.

We had a very short time between our arrival in Luzerne and the departure of the cruise ship we were going to take on Lake Luzerne. This cruise was dominated by the scenery. This lake has steep mountains on both sides, with frequent views of the snowcapped Alps.

The trip to Fluelen took about two hours and included a number of stops where we picked up and discharged passengers. Several of the stops were at landings where there were no buildings in sight — transfer points for remote hotels and for back-packers.

Fluelen is another lovely Swiss village. We took time to have an afternoon snack at an outdoor restaurant there before boarding a train for Interlaken. The train ride to Interlaken was wonderful, completely different from the smooth, straight runs between the major cities. Its route went up a steep grade and included many sharp turns. In many respects it was reminiscent of the trips we have taken on tourist trains at home.

Interlaken is the gateway to the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps, which contains some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. From Interlaken we returned to Zurich via Berne, where we changed trains.

We spent the first leg of the trip in a dining car, where we enjoyed an excellent dinner. What a treat it is to travel that way — too bad it went out of style in the United States.

We were positively impressed with everything in Switzerland, especially our granddaughter. Everything there seems to be neat and orderly, and patterned to enhance the quality of life.

The eight million people there are doing a marvelous job of serving as stewards for a very special environment. Perhaps the incredible scenery motivates them to be more sensitive to the quality of life.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or

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