Day 1
May 31, 2000


Yesterday we boarded SwissAir flight 129 at Washington's Dulles airport for the scheduled 5:40 PM departure for Zurich. Actual departure was 6:15 PM. The 7 ½ hour overnight flight arrived at 7:30 AM the next morning. A light rain was falling when we landed.

Our baggage was checked all the way through to Spiez so we skipped the baggage area. After passing through passport control our first stop was an ATM to get our first batch of Swiss francs. Then we headed downstairs to the railway offices to get our Swiss Passes validated. We then wandered around the large shopping area in the airport until it was time to meet the rest of our Untours group.

The group meeting was simply to get everybody together so we could be escorted to our respective villages. Once we reached our villages we would spend very little time as a group and then all group activity was optional. About 10:30 AM Sonja, our Swiss "guide" got the group on a train headed for Bern where we changed to a train headed for Spiez.

Spiez Apartment

This photo shows the entrance to our apartment with Mt. Neisen in the background. It peaks at 7,615 feet.

We arrived in Spiez about 12:30 PM where Erika Briggen, our landlady, met us at the train station. She drove us to our apartment. Along the way she pointed out important landmarks such as the Migros grocery store and the route we would be taking between the train station and the apartment.

After she explained the features and rules of the apartment we were on our own. Her English is limited but far better than our German.

Our checked bags were waiting for us in our bedrooms! Before our arrival Erika had retrieved them from the train station.

We found a basket on the kitchen table with fruit, cheese, bread, chocolate, and other food items to tide us over until we got to the grocery.

We had expected to send e-mail from the apartment each evening but we soon discovered that we had the wrong phone number for Compuserve. It took several days to get the correct number of 084-211-1092. This number works countrywide. Previously there was a different number in different area of the country.

These daily travel log files are based on the messages we sent back to the US each evening, once we learned the correct phone number. Apparently all calls in Switzerland are timed. They do not have unlimited phone service like the US. The phone itself keeps track of the cost of each phone call. That's how the landlady knows how much to charge for use of the phone.

Our apartment in Spiez

Our apartment, part of a duplex, is on the left in this photo.

We had to plug the laptop directly into the wall outlet (using an adapter) which bypassed the timer on the phone. When it was time to leave we knew how many minutes we had spent on the phone but we didn't know the rate per minute. Neither did Erika so we had to guess how much money to leave her. Hopefully we left enough.

Our connection to the internet was very fast. In fact it seemed faster than the law allows in the US. The speed was actually very close to the 56k that the modem is capable of. We connected at 55,600. Web pages pop up a lot faster than they do at home.

The way the rates change throughout the day is different than in the US. There are three levels like the US but the hours are a little different. They have normal, reduced and night rates.

The normal rates are in effect from 8 AM until 5 PM when reduced rates become effective but the normal day rates kick back in from 7 to 9 PM. The night rates are in effect from 11 PM until 6 AM. That leaves three chunks of time for reduced rates: 6-8 AM, 5-7 PM and 9-11 PM.

The above applies to Monday through Friday. On weekends the reduced rates are in effect from 6 AM until 11 PM and night rates apply from 11 PM to 6 AM. This information applies only to Swisscom. There are other carriers in Switzerland. We were told that Swisscom is the most expensive carrier. Until recently it was government owned and the only carrier available.

Explanations in the phone book are not in English but it looks like the rates go from 0.10 francs/min to 0.30 francs per minute. That's about $0.06 to $0.18 per minute. The lowest rates are for local calls and the highest rates are for inter urban calls. The local area extends out about 10 km or about 6.2 miles. The Compuserve number we were using is good nationwide so I don't know if it is considered a local call or a "long distance" call.