I’ve been a bad blogger, time flies during the good times and apathy descended when limpy [hurt my foot] or in a man-flu sick bed. Playing serious catch-up! Firstly, “Oh Switzerland, if only you were more in my price bracket!” and secondly, “as always, are you sitting comfortably?”.
Thursday 29 June 2017 – I had to Google synonyms for stunning
I’m heading to Geneva from Lyon on a ‘cozy’ regional train; comforting in a contrary way that it is not only the UK’s Southern Rail that doesn’t know how many carriages to put on a local service. The difficulty with ‘no reservation needed’ resulting in a Lyon bun fight for seats. I got one so I didn’t care too much but there was a fair bit of huffing and puffing from passengers not wanting to move their belongings from their neighbouring seat. This is universal.
Sadly, it’s a miserable milky rainy day. Wet from Lyon all the way to Lausanne, even so, the landscape is more remarkable to me than the flat plains of the Loire Valley. I have always been a mountain over beach type of gal; rolling hills in preference to tundra or savanna. To look at not run up! I’m sure you will have presumed this. My first non-stop rainy day and it couldn’t be better timing, I cannot avoid wet weather on my travels so I am happy to look past the wet from my warm comfy train seat with, initially, the usual French fields of gold speeding past me and then the Austrian panorama just stands up and takes a bow. But…I do hope the deluge clears before I reach Zürich, I’m less enthusiastic searching for my hostel in the rain.
We, the royal we, have a tight turnaround in Geneva train station which could have been painful considering most of the passengers are tourists. It was surprisingly easy even with my fellow foreigners. Tourists always walk that bit slower, mouths open, taking information in but not really comprehending what they need to do and each looking vacantly at their travel companions for ‘a sign’. There were signs everywhere. Customs, oh yeah, I crossed a border. Custom officers occasionally eyeing us up and a security x-ray bag machine but they never looked at our passports nor our bags. The luggage x-ray machine didn’t even look switched on. I had fleetingly wondered if anything at all would happen country to country. To be correct, the border was about 20km track back. I’m here to take benefit of our [in limbo] EU membership so I can free flow between countries. No Lindt chocolates or Toblerone distributed to welcome arrivals though, they are missing a trick.
I couldn’t be too frustrated with the other tourists. I have found myself walking with mouth open in the past 2 weeks, and what feels like a confused look on my face, I promptly shut that bottom jaw. No one needs any further clues I’m not a local, the size of my backpack or travelling pyjama like clothing gives it away sure enough. The wry situation of me weighed down with backpack preferred so I can move quicker, is combated by the many dazed and confused holding wheely suitcases forgetting how much space they take with the extension of their arm and then the suitcase handle and then suitcase itself. Manufacturers – please quit making these 2-wheel suitcases, the 4-wheel vertical case is perfect and people can stop unexpectedly in the middle of a walkway with absolutely no apology nor awareness of surroundings to their heart’s content.
A lady cuts me up, steps onto the train and stops dead. The double decker trains have quite a bit of space at the doorway, a ‘carriage foyer’ due to toilets and stairwell to the upper deck but nope, lady stops less than a foot into the train. Looking blank and awaiting her hubby to give her instruction. A panic takes over some that the train will start moving even with the doors open and many passengers still to climb aboard. I scoot as best I could around her to escape into a seating bay so I can work out where my reserved seat is and where I can actually sit for a better view. This always depends on how many people get on. She follows me. Stood with her arm extended and suitcase handle extended so she blocks my line of sight and my egress out. This is the type of traveller I hope I never become. She eventually recognises what she’s done, this takes quite some time considering there are only 2 of us in this part of the carriage. Whoop moves her suitcase an inch! I take that inch as I feel that’s all I’ll get! ‘Hop’ over her bag and quickly squirrel away from her so she and hubby cannot follow me.
I am loving this super deluxe train (easily pleased), exactly as I would expect from the Swiss. Compared to the packed regional train, I had the pick of seats. Happy coincidence as I had no clue where I should be sat, the signage became surprisingly confusing and I gave up trying to decipher. I sprawl out with picnic lunch and laptop ready for a spacious and peaceful trip. Only a few business men nearby. Perfect!
I knew I’d like the countryside during my train journeys through the dramatic landscape of Switzerland, the long journey was deliberate; undulating fields as the train speeds away from the city, an abundance of luscious green, of course, forest green, pine green, avocado, moss, racing green, olive, teal and shamrock shades and tones – you get the picture. By contrast, the skyline suddenly rockets upwards at the sheer side of a magnificent rock carved away for the train track or a natural heart stopping deep gorge.
The Swiss have some rather large hills. They’re not exactly the mountains because I can just about see those imposing snow topped monsters across the water of Lake Geneva and later in my journey past Lake Zürich. I knew I’d like it and it still overwhelmed me. It was the start of some impressive and stunning train journeys. Not forgetting, for a landlocked country, they have a hell of a lot of water. I hadn’t mentally pictured the size and scale of either Lake Geneva or Lake Zürich.
Heading out of a city is usually a little uneventful, but oh no, eeeek what a moment to look out the window. A very high train bridge took my breath away at the drop. Going to have to get used to that but my heart is in my mouth right now. The tracks intermittently hug the lake line and I can see water. Forty minutes on and still to my right, past the little towns with multiple shades of terracotta roof tops, the majestic Lake Geneva. The tonal town roofs and buildings really appeal to my liking of colour co-ordination. Plus, the land is used to its max, what 60% incline? Either a 3 and 4 story high house benefiting from views of the lake or rows and rows of what looks like grape. I am no horticulturist, and even though I worked at the now closed Vinopolis in London, I haven’t heard much about Swiss wine but it does look like a vineyard on the side of a hill. Not just the one vineyard but many. I can’t take a picture as it wouldn’t do it justice especially on a damp grey day. I half wish I could have visited Geneva but I will be back to Lake Geneva when I have more money in the bank, I think there’s a boat out there with my name on it.
I don’t know much about the Geneva grapes but if you choose to visit the Zürich vineyards, little did I know; the Stafa area is the largest wine making community in the canton of Zürich as it lies on the sunny ‘Gold Coast’ of Lake Zürich. They have relatively high temperatures combined with Foehn winds to create perfect conditions for growing grapes. What’s a Foehn wind I hear you ask? The simplest definition is ‘a warm dry wind blowing down the side of a mountain’. I am sure you know those said mountains are The Alps.
I am surprised by the lack of free Wi-Fi on my train, I won’t suffer without it but I assumed that the Swiss are up to date and savvy about technology; free WIFI would be a standard. I find out certain carriages have a suped-up mobile signal booster so you can use your own 3G or 4G as a mobile hotspot. Of course, the Swiss are savvy AND frugal.
The route from Geneva to Zürich is via busy capital city Bern and yikes the track coming out of Bern is an even higher bridge. My heart skips every time I see the drop. I’ve got worse with heights as I’ve got older but I don’t have the same feeling when I look out the window of a plane. Strange, isn’t it? Aren’t I? The River Aare [I think, I should have noted it down because finding the exact train route I’ve taken is proving to be an internet research nightmare] is underneath the bridge, emerald green and sparkling in the sunshine creeping from behind disappearing rain clouds. I could sit and watch the view for hours!
Beautiful, outstanding, breathtaking, thrilling, wondrous, majestic, spectacular and awesome! All apply and I have every faith these will come up again.
Zürich train station is huge. The arrival levels underground feel space age and modern; white and glossy. Easy to navigate and very efficient as you can imagine but it was much bigger than I was expecting. One of the largest stations in Europe with 26 tracks and reportedly 2,915 trains per day. Off I went in search for the closest cash point and some Swiss francs. Curses my cash passport Mastercard isn’t accepted! Mini internal moan about how I knew this could eventually happen and momentary panic reminds me I have both debit card and credit card in my bag. Why panic, it’s funny how the small things we take for granted are what I have moments about. Transpires I’d just spent my balance on eating and drinking a lot in France. Bloomin’ ATM gave me a 100 Swiss Franc (CHF) note even though the machine asked me in what combination of notes I’d like my money. The embarrassing moment came when I’m trying to break my CHF100 note and then have absolutely no idea which language I should be speaking. Note to self – German, well Swiss German, they have an even funnier accent I cannot pull off.
In hindsight, 100CHF was not going to last me long at all. Only 3 stops/10 minutes on the tram costs me £4/5CHF. That’s just the way it is. I was impressed with the hostel via email, a self-service entry and check in. The reason for the low rates at the last minute; the hostel is a converted office space into a 6-single bed dorm, 2 doubles and 1 single. No staff around and simply a code for the door. A self-service check-in was an exaggeration. Take a bed that looks ready to sleep in. I don’t mind really. Very odd setup but I appreciate the small freestanding room dividers. From a glance, it feels like what my imagination of a hotel ward circa the 1960s. My ‘locker’ is basically an office cupboard with a broken lock, so be it, I usually carry around my laptop to maximise any urge to write. I can’t be on my feet all day. The place is cheap for Zürich, close enough to the centre to walk and what would I talk about here if it was a standard conference hotel. That’d be too great a bus man’s holiday, hotels may have been my work life a good 8 years ago, the memories are fresh.
Zürich is a place that had intrigued me for years. I know of watches, chocolate especially Lindt and the origin of the purple Milka cow, being a tax haven for big business, crystal mountain water, Lake Zürich, clean streets and expensive everything. Did you know there is a law that dictates when and how a product can be defined as ‘Swiss Made‘?
I arrive at my strange digs around tea time and I’m lucky a Trip Advisor recommended restaurant is literally on the corner. It looked busy. I popped my head in nonetheless and the staff are running around me but not really looking at me. I’ve noted that solo diners don’t attract the attention of servers. I can’t fathom if it’s because they’re waiting for the rest of my party or whether they don’t want to hold a table for just 1 person.
I had my ‘table for one, please’ ready in German and the lady spoke to me in English. I do look like a foreigner. The relaxed jersey trousers and loose layers are not my past usual attire but I couldn’t be bothered to change. I simply took my bra off and went out. Yes, out out to a nice restaurant bra-less. I messaged my mate – “things have changed!”.
The Restaurant Hardhof staff were lovely. They were busy however a manager came over and asked if I would mind sitting at a table with 2 chaps. He had a strong Antipodean accent even though he told me he’d left over 20 years ago. I’m all for a communal table and have never had issues eating on my own. But there I sat next to 2 friends in deep conversation about films on a table for 4. Every so often I could make out ‘blah, blah, Matt Damon, blah, blah, Morgan Freeman’. I think they were trying to guess a film title and I should have just chipped in. They’d acknowledged me when I sat but hilariously, that was it. I could have been mistaken for a friend who had been sent to Coventry.
I ate a delicious creamy veal & mushroom dish that is synonymous with the region and potato rosti One of my favourite dishes ever and the rosti was up there with the best of the best. I had large glass, literally, the glass was huge, and hadn’t even clicked at that point that the measure was missing some wine. I could have stayed for more but I evaluated greed vs purse, so pottered back home, the long way, took me all of 6 minutes.
Friday 30 June 2017 – a new weird room buddy and an old school buddy
I’m awake early to complete some work before heading into the town and had the pleasure of the arrival of a new hostel ‘room buddy’ trying to awkwardly make friends. Wouldn’t get that in a Hilton Hotel. He was a harmless chap but clearly didn’t take a hint, I was still in my bed with laptop in front of me and head phones in ears. There’s usually an unwritten hostel rule where you don’t openly stare at people in their PJ’s and leave people be when they’re in bed. The conversation was stilted, as he’s hovering at the end of my bed. I count 4 times of trying to re-insert the ear bud I have in my hand. Not quick on the social cues.
I got washed and dressed ever so quickly, he was of the type to ask me what I was doing with my day and then volunteer to tag along. I know I can say no but running out quickly is so much more British of me. Anything to avoid a further awkward conversation.
Zürich is clean, tidy, the cleanest and then a little cleaner. I love it. A gorgeous sunny day following the rain, the streets are quiet except the trams as I walk towards town. Whilst I love a tram ride as much as the train, I will not spend another £4 when I can walk, albeit in the wrong direction for 5 of just 30 minutes. Once you see the lake, oh yes, it oozes fresh, clean vibes. The whole city does.
Looking at the water, and remember I am used to the Thames, I was gob smacked how clearly, I can see the feet of the ducks and swans. I may have gone a little photo mad with this but when do you ever see the webbed feet in action. The saying is wrong… “Be like a duck, paddling and working very hard under the water, but what everyone sees is a smiling and calm face.” Those duck feet look quite graceful and at ease, maybe a little knock kneed. Do birds have knees?
I spent at least half an hour simply looking at the water, the river bed, the birds and the view; it truly is captivating. My stomach grumbles so time for a classic – coffee and apfel strudel. The strudel is most often associated with Vienna and Austria however it is connected to the whole area formerly belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire. This empire was huge. Gaining popularity in the 18th century through the Austrian Habsburg Empire expansion, strudel soon became one of Austria’s national dishes with many other countries happy to also adopt it as their own. I find a cute little cafe overlooking the St Peter Church and St. Peterhofstatt Plaza. Bingo. I admire the big clock…said to be the largest tower clock face in Europe, it doesn’t look that big but in proportion to the tower yes, it’s big.
I have just 1 full day in Zürich, a small old city centre to easily wander; my top city sights
- Goes without saying – Lake Zurich herself
- Churches – Grossmunster, Fraumunster, St Peter and St. Peterhofstatt Plaza
- Swiss National Museum
- Cobbled streets of Old Town and Bahnhofstrasse – The designer shops are clearly high end even for designer. I wonder if they mark up prices further in Switzerland. I’ve never been impressed by brand labels and they hardly every have prices in the windows for me to scoff at however I was curious about watch prices. As expected no price tag, I’m guessing one bling watch would be the equivalent to my travelling fund and more.
The water was calling me, I would have happily jumped straight in. It was clearer than some swimming pools I’ve used in the past. The boat was the next best option. Boating on the lake has occurred since 4000 BC. During the early Middle Ages, the route became more known for international trade, goods were shipped north towards Lake Walen and mountain passes. Goods being semi-processed metals, textiles, salt and wine.
The lake is big! A few stats.
- Also known as Zurichsee, it lies to the south east of the city.
- It is only crossed at the narrowest point by the Seedamm, a partly artificial causeway and bridge which allows road traffic and rail over the lake.
- The wooden bridge between Rapperswil and Hurden was opened in 1360. For 500 years it was the only way to cross the lake by foot.
- In April 2001, a new 841-metre-long bridge was built. It has become a main attraction and currently the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland.
- The lake east of the Seedamm is referred to as Upper Lake – Obersee.
- There 2 lake islands, Ufenau and Lutzelau. The smaller latter island cannot be reached by the larger boats due to the shallowness of the waters.
- The shoreline is 87.6 km [54.4 miles] – more than London to Bath as the crow flies.
- The deepest point is 136 metres [446 feet] – near equivalent to the height of The Great Pyramid of Giza.
- The last record year the lake froze was in 1963.
I wonder how much of the lake froze, I can’t believe all of it did. Here’s a few borrowed photos from the fantastic internet that suggest it did!
The boat short round trip cost only CHF 13.80 and there is only one provider also called Zurichsee or abbreviated to ZSG. Swiss efficiency. The boat trip was a sedate 90 minutes. With more time you have a variety of options available – longer journeys and dinner cruises to meet the needs of local commuter as well as the tourists.
As always, I look for a quiet seat where I can people and horizon watch, sadly got surrounded by excitable Chinese men taking photos of anything, everything and each other. Thankfully I spotted another chair on the top deck which allowed the Chinese men many more photos with the boat’s Swiss flag flying in the background. After their initial excitement and about 20 minutes of manically photo taking then all sat down and looked at the floor. I did giggle that they seemed to struggle with the rest of the trip. Premature photography climaxes me thinks. A couple sparked up and I wondered if I was like that back in the heavy 15+ fags a day phase. Smoking is the antithesis of fresh Swiss air yet there are smokers everywhere.
The lake is surrounded by towns and villages, chalets and houses. Even the larger buildings for schools and hospitals blend into the beauty well. We enjoy 8 stops but only 2 really stuck in my memory. The Lindt and Sprungli factory at Kilchberg. Sadly, no factory tour but there is a shop. I would be very interested in seeing the chocolates made. Second, Ruschlikon, my translation is ‘where the money is’. Home to many corporate company headquarters such as IBM and 3M.
Darker clouds had been following our boat from shore so it was no surprise that eventually the clouds gave up. The rains came and the passengers scattered. It was cold! Even the rain was crystal.
I disembarked needing power for my phone so the choice was wine or coffee. The darn thing is eating up battery when I take huge numbers of photos, strange that, ever since I dropped it…. The cold rain took another stab at clearing the streets and I jump into 01 Bar. Not all bars or restaurants have been understanding of my sign language for ‘plug socket’. Most young people in Zurich speak English, even when I asked the greeter at McDonald’s “do you speak English”, she replied, “of course!”. McD’s is a great toilet and/or charge up spot usually. It’s a fine line between insulting by not trying the local language and assuming they won’t speak English. Difficult 1st world issues going on in my life right now.
So….. the wine. I thoroughly recommend an easy to drink Swiss Pinot Noir – Kanton Zürich, Schiterberger Himmelsleiterli AOC 2014. Then the broken record started… I noticed the 100ml on the menu. What measure is 100ml?
I am wracking my memory if I’ve been to any other countries were the wine is served in such small measures. It shows how quickly I consume a 250ml measure back home; the standard large in the UK. Again, the glass was beautiful, they do it to detract from feeling short changed. I take very small sips.
The reason why I’d notice the many smokers is that you have to walk through ’em to get inside. What’s with the need to sit on the pavement, next to the road and look at the trams or buses. This is less of an issue in Zurich, it was a nightmare in Paris. I like to look at a river or a pedestrian street but street life is not for me. I’ve never really appreciated street food – well I do, when I’m sat down somewhere comfy to eat it. Ha, I am a ‘little old lady’. Food-wise I have always been like this but friends’ preference or hunger takes over. Can you believe it but I am now one of those awful 95%-there-ex-smokers that doesn’t like the smell of smoke. Yes, I said it, pick yourself up off the floor.
I’m needing my battery as I am excited to be meeting up with a very old school friend and his wife; Karl and Ruth. I have not seen Karl in years but thanks to Facebook we’re in contact and of course, it was crazy not to catch up when they live only 20-30 minutes away. I hadn’t realised what Karl had in store. He took us to a fabulous traditional restaurant called Zeughauskeller with the funniest 1-meter long sausage on a sword and one extremely unhappy waitress.
Their method of bigger wine measures was positive, ask for 3 glasses in one and they serve in a small carafe. There’s no saving in this, this is simply a service benefit that makes perfect sense. The cost is CHF7 x 3 for 300ml = £16.80. In my old London local, our large Merlot, 250ml, £7.60. Didn’t really matter as Karl and I were drinking a bottle of wine between the 2 of us quite quickly! Tasted great and in good company. I will now get off my soap box about this topic and draw a line under it. I will… I will try.
Sausage has never been one of my favoured foods. My palate changed only in the last 5 or so years but now I’m only into herby or multiple flavoured sausages especially pork and red onion. A traditional Swiss sausage is my idea of food hell. When in Rome and surrounded by the traditional 15th-century decor. I feel like I ‘should’. No, no, no! How can anyone say that the UK sausages are bad in comparison, the texture of UK sausages is better even without all the added extras I prefer. I’d opted for this anemic looking delight! Ruth did warn me. And I forget the meat is hot, the potato is cold. Why did they like and continue this food trend? Never makes sense. We catch up about all our old school mates, vague updates about Redditch [‘the ditch’] as neither of us have lived there for years and primarily I quiz them about European places they recommend I should visit. I like that Ruth says I’m looking for a new place to settle and currently enjoying the research.
It’s reassuring hearing a Redditch accent, no matter how much Karl believes it has faded, there is still a twang. I don’t miss places I once called home but reminders are exactly that – homely. Karl and Ruth have a more relaxed day-to-day lifestyle here in Switzerland, I wonder if there are any full-time jobs for me…. I wonder what job I’d wanna do?
I think Karl would have happily stayed out all night as we headed to a cozy cocktail bar called the Old Crow. My type of bar. Quirky decor and late-night atmosphere. Karl treated himself to a crazy priced and rare bourbon. The bottle was fantastic, in the shape of John Wayne’s head. Hilarious. I opted for a delicious Bramble cocktail, my first liquor for weeks and I could feel it. The drinking games with Red Label Whiskey at the Chateau was a while ago. Thanks to Ruth and Karl for walking me to the right tram stop plus I was scraping together my last Swiss francs and couldn’t be bothered to head to a cash point for a tenner’s worth. It was great to see them both and I am sure to be heading back their way very soon.
Saturday 1st July 2017 – Munich I’m coming for you
I could have happily stayed longer in Zurich, next time in a fancy hotel. It’s a calm and relaxing city with space. The tourists are obvious and plenty but nothing feels overcrowded. I am still surprised by the number of people smoking when surrounded by such a clean environment, fresh air, forests and white topped mountains for scenery. The locals look ready to run up a mountain even if they do have a 20-a-day habit.
- Zurich Opera House concert
- Zurich Film Festival – this year is from September 28 to October 8
- No Show Museum – what a fantastic name! An art museum focused on the manifestations of ‘nothing’ in the history of art. For the truly preten…. oops, for the true art fan.
- Museum of Design
- Tram Museum
- Many walking and biking tours available such as The Reformation tour, Chocolate tours, Jewish Community, culinary and history tours.
I’m heading to Munich quite quickly today on my route to Warsaw. My time constraints are led by my wallet, my Interrailing ticket conditions and being ready for AngloVille volunteering in Warsaw on 14th July. I took a leisurely tram ride to the station. Mornings are not my strong point and couldn’t find a breakfast shop on ground level – didn’t even think about go underground. Such a doughnut, Zurich Train Station has over 100 shops and cafes down a very short flight of stairs. I’d seen a few on my arrival but nothing registered in the memory. For my sins, I ended up in Starbucks. I hate giving them my money but I do like their Frappuccino.
Zurich train station ground level is a grand, magnificent neo-Renaissance building featuring decorated lobbies and atriums now used for shops and restaurants. Somehow reminds me of London stations, not a bad place to wait. I’m surprised how late they announce the platforms considering the international trains (whenever I read this as I think of trains over water heading to the States or Caribbean islands) are likely to depart from the same place each time. The comfort of the train station is the process. No matter what country you’re in, the logic of what we passengers need to do is the same.
I’m excited about another trip through the Austrian countrywide….