SWITZERLAND: MORE THAN JUST SWISS CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE

Location: Switzerland

My trip to Switzerland was different from the other trips I’ve had. Yes, I got my fair share of the beautiful view of the Swiss alps, the well-preserved medieval architecture, the charming cobblestone streets, the melt-in-your-mouth cheese fondue, the delicious raclette and rösti. Although this trip was an affirmation of every cliché I have of Switzerland—you’d be surprised to find out that this trip was so much more than that. Having been invited by the Swiss Embassy in the Philippines, I, along with 3 lifestyle bloggers (and good friends of mine), got to see and experience a different side of Switzerland.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Swiss-Philippine bilateral relations, the Swiss Embassy in the Philippines prepared an itinerary wherein we could learn and experience the active lifestyle, mobility, environment, design and entrepreneurship in Switzerland. For every city/canton we visited, we unfolded each of these five aspects. It was honestly one of the most inspiring trips I’ve gone to. We got to meet so many talented and passionate entrepreneurs and bloggers.

We also got to visit some of the top universities in Switzerland and opened my mind that there is so much to learn and discover when one travels. I had very high expectations of Switzerland and I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met but it exceeded above and beyond what I envisioned Switzerland to be.

You would think that one week in Heidi’s homeland isn’t enough to explore all of what Switzerland has to offer. We did manage to go to almost all the iconic spots and cities (you can read about it here), but our meetings with these Swiss start-up companies and entrepreneurs really made me appreciate Switzerland even more. Now whenever I would think of Switzerland, I just don’t have a visual image of the breathtaking panorama of the Swiss Alps, the wide selection of cheese or the most exquisite chocolates in the world. Scroll down to have a deeper understanding as to what makes Switzerland, indeed, the best country in the world.

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The Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkehrshaus der Schweiz) is our first stop for our Switzerland trip but it was easily one of my favorites. From Zürich, we made our way to the charming little town of Lucerne to visit the biggest and most popular museum in Switzerland. Transport is something of a national obsession in Switzerland because they have an excellent and efficient public transportation system—they have trains, trams, buses, trolleybuses, cars, bikes, cable cars, funiculars and ferries. So it is only fitting that they put up a museum about all of these. Haha!

The Swiss Museum of Transport opened in July 1959 and exhibits all forms of transport—including automobiles, locomotives, ships and aircraft. Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by this huge wheel at the entrance (see second photo). For a second I thought I was in a set of a new Transformers movie, but this wheel was actually used to make the Gotthard Base Tunnel, also known as the world’s longest shortcut. This gear helped make a railway base tunnel through the Alps in Switzerland. With a route length of 57 kilometers, you can get through the alps and save you 45 minutes of travel time. For train travellers in Switzerland, life indeed change in a drastic way. In short, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the perfect image of Swiss efficiency and perfection.

The museum is so huge, you can explore it for one full day. I know what you’re thinking—and no, it’s definitely not your typical museum wherein you only get to read about the history and gaze at the exhibits from a distance. Almost everything at the Swiss Museum of Transport is fun and  interactive. I was like a kid in a candy store. There are more than 3,000 objects spread over an exhibition area of 20,000 square meters that showcase transportation and mobility by road, rail, water, air and in space. If you’re planning to visit this museum, allot at least 3-4 hours to explore it!

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More information about The Swiss Museum of Transport here.
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One of the benefits of living in Switzerland is the efficient transport system. Mobility Car Sharing in Switzerland provides customers with 2,950 vehicles across 9 categories (see the choices of vehicles here). The combination of public and private transportation aims to give their customers the opportunity to select the most suitable means of transport for them—all that while saving energy, raw materials and the environment (they use electric cars). Although you can get around Switzerland using public transportation, there are some instances when a car is a much more convenient option. Whether you need a lot of space to store your ski gear, shopping or transporting furniture to your new home, car sharing is the way to go (I wish we had this problem in The Philippines lol).

The process of walking up to a car you’ve reserved, holding your Swiss/Mobility card to the windscreen and then getting into your chosen car feels like something from the future. It all starts with the Mobility website (click here). Mobility has stations across Switzerland—usually located where the train stations are. Each station has its own vehicle you can rent. With your station and vehicle selected, you book the car for the period of time required and away you go. You can get confirmation of your booking by email, SMS or via the smart phone apps. Welcome to the future!

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More information about Mobility Car Sharing here.
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“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” couldn’t be more true for Markus and Daniel Freitag. In 1993, these two brothers (both graphic designers) were looking for a functional, water-repellent and robust bag to hold their creative work. Inspired by the multicolored heavy traffic that rumbled through the Zurich transit intersection in front of their flat, they developed a messenger bag from used truck tarpaulins, discarded bicycle inner tubes and car seat belts. This is how the first Freitag bags took shape in the living room of their shared apartment. With this innovation, Freitag made waves in Europe and all the way to Asia, making the brand the unofficial outfitter of all urban, bike-riding individuals.

Freitag in two words: recycling and recontextualization. We got to visit the Freitag Production site where old truck tarpaulins are given a new life as bags. Here, we got to learn how they transform old transport truck covers into highly functional, unique bags. They start with getting the old truck tarpaulins from their partner companies, from there they assess which tarpaulins (or which part of the tarpaulin) they can use. They segregate the other waste from the tarpaulin (small metals, tapes) and use if for a different purpose. Then they cut the tarp into smaller parts then proceed by washing it. In a true Freitag manner, everything is sustainable and environment-friendly. They re-use rain water collected from the factory’s rooftop to wash their tarps. After drying, they proceed to the cutting process. Whoever is in that department has the freedom to decide which part/side of the tarp he/she wants to use for the bag. The cut-out tarp pieces have to leave the factory to be sewn. After stitching the bags, they are return to the factory, they then have to go through quality control. The last step? Photo op! Since each bag is unique, they have to photograph every single piece! After the factory tour, I badly wanted to have my own unique Freitag bag. We got to visit the flagship store and shopped like crazy!

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More information about Freitag here.
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We visited this beautiful old building directly at Sihlquai, within a few minutes walk from the Zürich main station. The 1700sqm include the coworking Café Auer&Co., an outdoor working area, one floor of hot desks, meeting rooms and fixed team desks as well as a relaxing area and more free working spots right under the roof. Impact Hub believes that the world’s greatest challenges will never be solved by one person or organization alone. We need to work together. Here they provide an inspiring working space, a vibrant learning community, startup incubation programs, tons of events and workshops. We got to spend one afternoon here and met young and passionate entrepreneurs. You can rent a meeting room here (inclusive of a coffee/bar access, wifi connection, an office supply box, white boards/flipcharts, a screen/beamer). You can rent a whole table for you to work in. A table with a red mark means it is reserved for an Impact Hub member and the green-marked tables are for walk-ins. If only I could spend a whole month here, I would probably get to finish all my backlogs and maybe even write a book! Haha! The place is so beautiful and motivating to work in.

At Impact Hub, you can be part of a trusted community of like-minded peers, partners, and supporters to exchange thoughts and collaborate on different projects. You can use Impact Hub’s open space to work, meet clients, hold regular meet-ups, organize a panel discussion, share your skills and connect with different kinds of people. Imagine being a budding graphic artist and meeting a designer who would love to collaborate with you. The possibilities are endless at Impact Hub.

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More information about Impact Hub here.
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Zurich University of the Arts (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste) is the largest arts university in Switzerland. Established in 2007, ZHdK offers Bachelor’s and master’s degree courses and further education programs in art, design, music, art education, theatre, film, dance and transdisciplinary studies. They are also active in research, especially artistic research and design research (a fairly new course in ZHdK). The university is absolutely beautiful. Just imagine studying here! I don’t think I’ll ever get those Monday blues again.

Walking around the university was like being in an X-Men movie, that scene where they show the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Haha! Since the school offers such diverse courses, the building is overflowing with creative energy. We got to see some of the students at work and it made me miss college! We also got to experience something interesting that day. We got to fly like birds.

Birdly is a flight simulator that supposedly gives you a better-than-reality flying experience. You basically bend over a padded frame, strap on a headset and headphones then hook your hands on the “wings.” Of course I had to try it! The next thing I knew, I was flying over San Francisco. There’s even a fan that works together with the device—so you can feel the wind as you flap your wings through the city. It was a pretty cool experience and I can’t wait to see how Birdly will evolve and expand in the future.

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More information about Birdly here.
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I was curious to see some works of Swiss fashion designers so I was pleased to find out that we were getting the chance to visit the studio of Thun-based fashion designer, Sabine Portenier. Unfortunately, she was sick so we didn’t get the chance to meet her. However, we got to meet her assistant who was nice enough to tour us around the studio, tell us about Sabine’s inspirations, even if she speaks little english.

Sabine Portenier exemplifies everyday high fashion, which captivates equally through functionality as well as individuality. According to Sabine’s assistant, the beginning of each creation is a meticulous design process oriented towards handicraft. Sabine’s design schemes playfully and respectfully accentuate both the individuality and character of her quality-conscious, discerning clientele. The aim to create exclusive pieces, modern and timeless, that accompany women throughout the day, enabling the everyday to go hand in hand with high fashion and convincing through its contemporary appearance and special nuances. Sabine is widely acknowledged in her field, including receiving the Swiss Design Award twice, the Goldener Hase award from the architecture magazine Hochparterre, and a studio grant from the city of Thun, enabling a six-month residency in Berlin. Other formative milestones for her work today include employment at HUGO in Germany and Didier & Angelo in Paris, as well as participating at the Barclay Catwalk in Amsterdam and Zurich.

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More information about Sabine Portenier here.
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Culture, design and gastronomy seem to coexist at Konzepthalle6. It is basically a furniture shop, an event space, a restaurant/bar and a co-working space—all under one roof. One of the things I noticed about these Swiss companies is their love for high ceilings and very few walls/borders—and everything seems to work. This concept creates a fun, creative and collaborative atmosphere. The place/office doesn’t feel cramped at all—everyone is free to walk around, socialize and collaborate. The building has been around since 1917 (that’s 100 years!)—there is even a huge machine in the restaurant area that used to make metal parts, and up to this date they still retain some of the elements of the old building. Here’s another cool thing about the Konzepthalle6, every chair you sit on is for sale. So don’t be surprised if the chairs look different every time you visit, this is probably because some chairs have already been purchased. Thun is pretty small so if ever you get the chance to visit the town, make sure you stop here for some apero!

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More information about Konzepthalle6 here.
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If I could relive my college life once again, I’d most likely enroll at ECAL. This university is every creative’s dream. I studied in an arts school in Manila and it somehow reminded me of ECAL (just turn it up a few notches lol). The École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) is a university of art and design based in Renens (in the urban area of Lausanne). They offer a Bachelors Degree (3 year) for Fine Arts, Cinema, Graphic Design, Media and Interaction Design, Photography and Industrial Design. For a Masters Degree (2 years) they offer courses such as Fine Arts, Cinema, Photography, Product Design and Type Design. For Master of Advanced Studies (1-2 years old), they offer Design for Luxury and Craftsmanship, as well as Design Research for Digital Innovation.

When we were touring the school, almost every student was busy preparing for ECAL Milano. This is an annual exhibit that happens in Milan wherein the student get to exhibit some of their best works. This is also an opportunity for the students to get discovered by different brands and companies. Some were even chosen to collaborate and design for IKEA, Super Sunglasses, etc! How cool is that? But what really struck me the most was the course of Design Research for Digital Innovation. We got to swing by the EPFL + ECAL Lab and check out some of the works of the students. The project wherein they studied densified wood was pretty interesting. The display contain the mould, the original piece of wood, the piece extracted from the wood and the final object. Another project that caught my attention was the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab. The Montreux Jazz Festival is a music festival in Switzerland, held annually in early July in Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline. The Montreux Jazz Festival and EPFL have launched a major project to digitize the most important audiovisual heritage of jazz, blues and rock concerts from the last 45 years. The Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab explores the potential of these digital archives: it offers an immersive experience which revitalizes our bond to such heritage. You basically go inside a small ampitheathre and relive the festival. Just choose an artist, a date or a year, and they can play it for you! That’s over 5,000 hours of videos from the iconic festival. I love how these students try to preserve their culture and heritage and give it a modern twist.

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More information about ECAL here.
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The Rolex Learning Centre is the campus hub and library for the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) students in Lausanne. The building, designed by the acclaimed Japanese firm SANAA, features one of the most impressive concrete surfaces I have ever seen in my life—creating a fluid space for students to enjoy. Here, nothing is flat. The curves and slopes give this interior space so much character. It functions as a laboratory for learning, a library with 500,000 volumes and an international cultural hub for EPLF, open to both students and the public. They have bean bags everywhere for the students to work/hang out in. They’re even allowed to take naps anytime they want! How awesome is that!

Spread over one single fluid space of 20,000 sq metres, it provides a seamless network of services, libraries, information gathering, social spaces, spaces to study, restaurants, cafes and beautiful outdoor spaces. It is a highly innovative building, with almost invisible supports for its complex curving roof. The building costs 110 million Swiss francs and was funded by the Swiss government, as well by private sponsors such as Logitech, Crédit Suisse, Nestlé, Bouygues Construction, Novartis, SICPA and of course, Rolex.

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More information about the EPFL Rolex Learning Center here.
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We got to visit the Parliament Building of Switzerland during our stay in Bern. The Parliament Building houses the Swiss Parliament. The Swiss federal government has its headquarters in this impressive structure where the National Council and Council of States convene for regular sessions four times a year. After Bern was declared the Swiss capital in 1848, a new building had to be constructed for its parliament. Guided tours of the Parliament Building take place on a regular basis. We were lucky enough that National Council member Matthias Aebischer toured us around. He used to be a tv anchor so we were all engaged and entertained the way he told us about how the Parliament in Switzerland works. He toured us to the domed hall and the Council chambers.

Guided tours are free of charge and last a maximum of 60 minutes. Due to high demand, it is strongly recommend that you register for a tour the day before you plan to visit. There are 40 spaces on each tour. Tickets are allocated on the day from 8:30 in order of registration. No tours are offered when Parliament is in session.

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More information about the Parliament Building of Bern here.
To see more of my posts about Switzerland, just go to the Travel tab located above and click “Switzerland” and it will direct you to all my Switzerland-related entries | For more information and event updates, you can visit The Embassy of Switzerland in The Philippines here.
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