Stop 3: Zürich
This is our third and final destination (check out the first and second, if you haven’t already) and we plan to spend the whole of evening here before we depart at 10 p.m. We arrived almost an hour later than we expected, again due to traffic (first week of vacation is to blame) and I decided to go around all by myself. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and it is impossible to get to know the whole city in half a day. So I had already made a realistic list of things to do and places to visit in Zurich in the little time that I have. It was already a bit late and so, wasting no time, I started walking to the first stop in Zurich – Zurichsee or Lake Zurich.
Now for some geographical facts: Zurichsee was formed by the Linth river which in turn was formed by the glaciers of the Alps. The lake has an outflow river called Limmat, and the settlement surrounding this region is called Zurich.
The walk to the lake was around 15 mins from the bus stop. The day was bright and sunny and the lake was huge (length of 40 km). The shore around the lake was vibrant with a lot of people cruising, diving, swimming and soaking up all the sun they can for the rest of the year. The plan was to just take a look but it was too tempting to resist spending some time in the lake. So I caved in and decided to take a cruise across the turquoise-blue beauty! (classic me!)
With my Zurich card, I was able to get a discounted ticket at 5 Euros for an hour in the cruise. So I bought the ticket, caught the next cruise and secured a seat in the open terrace. What followed next was an hour of sunshine, alpine wind and amazing views of the Alps and Zurich. The lake was exuberant with kids diving into the water from all corners and adults chilling with (and showing-off) their private yachts and ferries!
After the relaxing cruise ride, and a sad realization that I do not have enough time left, I walked on to see the places in my must-see list. First on the list were Grossmünster and Fraumünster churches. With Grossmünster’s twin-towers and Fraumünster’s famous green tower and stained glass windows, these churches lying on either sides of Limmat river are architectural marvels and regarded as the most recognized landmark in Zurich. Architecture of both the churches have a Roman influence and at night the towers are lit up so beautifully that it looks magical.
After taking a quick look at both the churches, my next stop was Lindenhof, which is a pretty little square located on top of a tiny hill in the city. I am a sucker for calm places with good views and everytime I go to a new place I make it a tradition to find a tower or a hill from where I could see the entire city. I guess that kind of perspective gives me a sense of closeness to the city, when I just relax at a place gazing at how things work there. On the way to Lindenhof, I see a lot of narrow cobbled streets with tall narrow buildings and swiss flags waving in the air at every corner (man, are they proud of their flag).
After crossing a number of such streets and climbing a few stairs I finally reach the hill top to the beautiful square. I grabbed some water from the fountain, found a place by the corner and sat there listening to the beautiful city. In the square, there were kids playing, a group of older people chatting and doing some group activities, and few couples enjoying the good weather and the romantic view. It is a really good spot for taking photos of the city.
After resting in the square for nearly half an hour, I gained some energy and started looking up my next destination in the map. My excitement doubled when it showed Bahnhofstrasse and I will tell you why. Bahnhofstrasse is one of the costliest shopping streets with designer shops selling everything from high-end Swiss watches to latest haute couture all lined up in a single long street. The street is so magnificent and the shops are so posh that it is called the Swiss equivalent of Champs-Élysées. I decided to take a casual stroll across the street and the fact that I was broke made the stroll much easier for me. Halfway through my walk I came across a beautiful, busy crossing and a small fountain. On the right corner of the crossing was one of the most popular confectioneries in the world – Confisery Sprüngli. Sprüngli was founded in the 1830s and they are well known worldwide for their signature “Luxemburgerli”s, a special kind of macarons. At first I thought I would buy a couple just to see what all the hype is about, but after I had a sample I fell for all its crispiness and flavors. It was too tempting to resist that I ended up buying two packs (again, classic me!), one for me and one for my friends.
After doing some window-shopping, I headed to my final destination, a cafe, to grab a hot cup of coffee. Cafe Schober is one of Zurich’s oldest cafes and it is located at the old city near the Grossmünster church that I first visited. The walk from Bahnhofstrasse was amazing as I decided to close the map and follow the church tower. Most of the streets were narrow and cobbled, and by the time I reached the old city, streets were filled with shops. Shopkeepers were standing outside, trying to lure some customers into the shop. I somehow fell prey and got drawn into a shop selling beauty products even though I clearly had no intention of buying anything. After acting like showing some interest, I finally managed to get out without buying anything. But I must say, the shopkeepers in the old town definitely know how to do business! 😛
Schober is a tiny cafe so I had a hard time locating it and by the time I reached there it started pouring. The timing couldn’t be perfect for a hot cup of coffee! The cafe is so old and so well preserved that once I entered I felt like I was in the set of a fantasy movie. The tables were lined with home-made chocolates, cookies and cakes. I ordered a hot cup of coffee and took a seat in the terrace as it was full inside. The coffee was amazing and the waiters were so polite and friendly. As I was sipping my coffee I started wondering about what to do for the rest of the night. Just a few seconds later I hear a short vibration in my mobile. It was a message from the bus driver saying that the departure will be delayed by an hour. I wasn’t very amused at first, since I had already covered all the places that I wanted to see and I still had four more (rainy) lonely hours to spare. But I was also aware that there is a lot more to this place than just on my to-do list and that, now is the time to explore! So I quickly opened the map to take a look at the back-up places. I had two options – I could go to a small fair near Fraumünster church and eat some Swiss food in a nice restaurant or I could take a train and go to the nearby mountain called Uetliberg to get a good panaromic view of the city. It was already raining a bit and the first option seemed feasible. But me being the crazy person that I am, decided to go with the second option.
It might sound cliché but most of the times the best moments happen when they are unplanned. This turned out to be true in my case and you will know why! So getting back to the cafe, I decided that I would walk to the station and take that damn train to Uetliberg. After grabbing few homemade chocolates from the cafe and getting some advice from the waiters, I walked to the station. By this time the weather was getting better but it was still drizzling. I had to wait for nearly 20 minutes at the station for the next train but the station was huge and I did some window shopping. The train arrived on time and it was a 35 minutes ride to the mountain. The ride was beautiful with some very scenic stops in between. I finally got down at Uetliberg and there were already a few tourists visiting the mountain. I was following the people and the trail to get to the top of the mountain from where I could get good views of the city. It was still drizzling only now with the added benefit of cold mountain winds. Ideally, I would have loved it but after just one year of living in the Netherlands, my whining skills about wind and rain has considerably improved. Finally after a 15 minute walk to the viewpoint, all the whining about the wind and rain seemed worth it once I reached the top and saw the stunning view. This time not only could I see the the whole city and the turquoise lake, but I was also able to get a clearer view of the majestic snow-capped Alps.
The view was breathtaking and I found a corner near the telescope where I was standing for a really long time cherishing the serenity. Tourists kept passing by but I had no intention of leaving anytime soon. On the other side of the telescope was another girl who was also standing there for quite some time. Soon we were the only two people there and she started talking to me about how peaceful the place is and how funny the city looks from here. I couldn’t agree more! She then explained that she was a resident of Zurich and she likes visiting the mountain very often, and I explained how I was visiting the city for half a day. What followed next was a long conversation where we discovered that we both are from neighboring countries (she is part Srilankan) with similar sounding languages and a common love for ‘Kozhambu’ (‘curry’ in Tamil). Finally after all the chatter we got back to talking about Zurich and she tried to suggest me some places to visit for the rest of the night. Failing miserably due to my poor navigation skills, and the fortunate event of her having some free time, she decided to take me to those places herself! So the second Zurich adventure began and we headed back together to the train station to catch the next train to go back to the city!
For the next three hours I didn’t click a lot of pictures since it was mostly us talking and walking around places that I could not even locate in the map now. But to give you some highlights – we saw the Limmat river and walked along the narrow (partly hidden) passageway that goes alongside the river to the old Town; we strolled along the local, less touristy side of old town leading to tiny shops, beautiful squares and streets lined with cozy local cafes; we came across a group of dancers performing a traditional dance; after walking a bit, we both grew tired and so, we entered into a rustic, cozy bar with bricks-exposed walls and wooden tables carved with scribblings; we saw the menu, got intimidated by the price and left the place in search of another bar.
Throughout our walk I was admiring the town while she was throwing some fun facts about the places now and then. That was how I got introduced to Dadaism, an early 20th century (anti-) art movement that originated here in Zurich. For those who don’t know, Dadaism is an art-form based on the idea of using unconventional art as a medium to express discontent with war and violence. The whole concept sounded very interesting and we started discussing about the movement and its history for a while. Eventually we decided to go to the bar that was known to be the birthplace of the whole Dadaism movement – Cabaret Voltaire. The bar itself looked tiny from the outside but once I entered, it looked much more spacious and lively. We grabbed a seat right in the center of what looked like a big dance room with many tables scattered around. The setting was random yet cozy. The walls were mostly, if not fully, covered with paintings that perfectly fit the definition of Dadaism I had in my head – random, erratic and rebellious. I realized rather quickly that I was not creative enough to interpret the paintings. So we gave up and started talking about our home towns, food, politics and culture all while sipping some delicious Swiss (version of) Sprite.
What started as a small talk a couple hours back grew into a good friendship filled with deep and meaningful conversations. It is surprising how a stranger, whom I met on a last minute visit to some random place would be kind enough to offer to show me around. It is also surprising how we had so much in common and how I had one of the best experiences when just a couple hours back I was wondering how I would be spending the rest of my night. Travelling alone is funny that way and I think sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. Atleast for me, most of my best experiences have happened when I loosen up and go with my gut feeling.
So finally the time came for us to part ways. She walked with me till the Grossmünster church from where we both took the opposite routes. We exchanged email addresses before leaving. It was around 10.30 pm now and I was headed to the bus stop. The night looked beautiful and lively with the churches lit in yellow lights. I walked back with a feeling of complete satisfaction with the city, and a motivation to go on more solo adventures! 🙂