Justine Tyerman ends up with a squashed nose after travelling on Swiss trains ...
Drifting down a crocodile-infested Ghanaian river in a boat with a broken motor was just the sort of epiphany my young Swiss friend needed to shock him into an appreciation of the transport system he had taken for granted all his life.
As we zipped effortlessly and quietly by train through the unbelievably picturesque Swiss countryside, I complimented Rafael, a Swiss-German in his mid-20s, on the punctuality, cleanliness, comfort and efficiency of his country's superb transport system - but to my amazement, he screwed up his nose at my praise and professed feelings of frustration at such a well-oiled system.
"It's so well-behaved, so predictable, so ... so Swiss," he said.
"That's why I went to Ghana last year - to experience a country as different as possible from the perfectness of Switzerland. I wanted chaos and unpredictability."
And Rafael got what he was after.
"Ghana was über-chaotic, especially the transport," he said.
"We were stranded for a couple of hours in a boat on a river before the skipper managed to restart the motor. There were crocs in the water and the boat had seriously low sides. My girlfriend wasn't happy," he said.
Then, a few days later, the vehicle they were travelling in broke down and they were marooned in the middle of nowhere for three hours in the extreme heat before a mechanic arrived by bus with a replacement radiator.
Rafael said he came home with renewed appreciation and grudging respect for the transport system of his motherland. Such things would never happen in Switzerland.
Ah the young, I thought at the time. They always need something to rebel against and in an orderly place like Switzerland, the only thing this charming young man could target was the perfect transport system.
So to the rest of the world, for whom gleaming, clean, modern trains, boats and buses that run precisely on time and never break down are a huge novelty and a joy, I say go to Switzerland.
And buy a Swiss Pass which allows you to travel on all public transport - trains, boats and buses in 75 towns and cities across the entire country - with no fussing about queuing for tickets or operating vending machines at deserted stations.
The Swiss Pass (from four days to a month) also allows free entry to more than 470 museums and gives holders 50 percent off most of the magnificent mountain railways.
There are many options including the Swiss Youth Pass which gives travellers under 26 a 25 percent discount (15 percent from January 1, 2015) and, best of all, the Swiss Family Card which entitles children under 16 accompanied by an adult with a Swiss Pass, to travel for free.
The network of trains, buses and boats is astounding - it's the densest public transport system in the world with over 26,000 kilometres of rail, road and waterway routes. Even the tiniest of villages in the remote countryside and the high alps have rail links. It's the lifeblood of the countryside and enables the Swiss to maintain their village lifestyle and commute to the cities to work. The rail is electric so it's quiet and clean and non-invasive.
I quickly became a Swiss rail convert, travelling many of the main lines between towns and cities and the panoramic and mountain routes too.
My introduction was the Jura Foot Line which links Basel and Geneva, passing
through picturesque vineyards and villages and skirting three sparkling blue lakes as it traverses the rugged, sub-alpine terrain of the Jura Range, including the famous Creux du Van rock formation.
Determined to give my pass a thorough work-out, I also travelled by boat from Switzerland's most beautiful baroque town, Solothurn on the River Aare, to Biel on Lake Biel. The afternoon was warm and sunny, so we sat on the top deck of the long riverboat, drinking in the stunning views of the Jura ... and a glass of Swiss chasselas.
Hugely confident after just a few days, instead of taking the direct route on my itinerary from Yverdon-les-Bains on Lake Neuchâtel to Interlaken at the foot of the Jungfrau, I opted for the Golden Pass Line scenic route through the Swiss Alps.
"It's much longer," said a Swiss transport advisor whose intention was to get me from Y to I as efficiently as possible.
"Who cares," I replied.
"I don't mind how long I sit on a Swiss train - it's a bonus."
Five hours later I disembarked at Interlaken, my nose squashed from having pressed it to the panoramic window of the luxurious carriage for the duration of the impossibly scenic trip through alpine meadows and valleys with soaring, snow-capped mountains and glaciers on either side.
The mountain railways are in a league of their own. I travelled the historic Jungfrau Railway which takes passengers from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch at 3454m, the highest-altitude railway station in Europe. The top section of the cog railway climbs through a tunnel in the Eiger and Mönch mountains, an audacious project finished in 1912 after 16 years' construction.
The view from the Sphinx Terrace at the "Top of Europe" is quite literally breath-taking and dizzying. At 3571m the air is noticeably thinner and I wasn't sure whether I was suffering a touch of altitude sickness or was just completely bowled over by the spectacular 360 degree panorama of the row upon row of mountain peaks and glaciers.
The mountain railways operate all year round and are an essential service, offering the only access to remote alpine ski villages like Kleine Scheidegg.
The booking system is effortless too. I went to a ticket office in Grindelwald with what I thought was a nightmare set of connections whereupon David calmly typed in the details and came up with a print-out of all the information I needed to get me from Grindelwald to Berne airport.
He confidently assured me that six minutes between trains was exactly sufficient time to go from one platform to the next ... and it was. It had been calculated to the millisecond.
My next trip is to take the slowest express train ride in the world, the Glacier Express, which meanders through the alps from St Moritz to Zermatt in eight hours, crossing 291 bridges and passing through 91 tunnels. I can't wait.
When I retire I plan to buy a Swiss Pass and spend the rest of my life travelling Switzerland by train - there are dining cars on many of the trains so I'll be OK for food.
Sleep, however, is another matter. The seats are superbly comfortable, but the views are too good to miss ... I'll only be able to sleep in the tunnels.
Getting around: Swiss International flies to major Swiss cities from a number of Asian hubs, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. Other carriers can get you as far as Asia. You can book your Swiss Pass online before you depart.
Further information: See myswitzerland.com.
Justine Tyerman travelled courtesy of Switzerland Tourism.