Switzerland is known among other things for its Alps, chocolates, cheese, watches and its train rides. Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, is the financial and commercial centre. It’s the preferred destination for most travellers entering Switzerland. The University of Zurich was the first to accept women students, and it is here that Albert Einstein completed his PhD and taught too.
After visiting the magnificent Swiss Alps, we decided to explore a little bit of Zurich before we took a flight back home. From Interlaken, we took a train to Zurich with a changeover at Seipz. The journey was extremely smooth in airconditioned trains with comfortable seating. Moving around with luggage was a cakewalk thanks to slopes, escalators and elevators on each platform. Regular announcements and clearly defined compartments and signposts ensure that there is no confusion and hassle while changing trains. On alighting at the Zurich airport station, a jovial and helpful cab driver of Pakistani origin helped us with our luggage and spoke to us in Urdu showing camaraderie and warmth. After some pleasantries and useful tips on exploring the city, we were dropped off to our hotel.
Zurich is a charming mix of a quaint old town nestled within a modern upscale city. Electric trams meander on its main roads, while chic bistros, restaurants and shops line narrow cobbled streets and boulevards. The Uteliberg Mountain provides a panoramic view of the city, while the Zurich lake and Limmat riverside are frequented and buzzing with locals and travellers alike.
We decided to explore the city on a guided tour not on a bus, tram or car but an electric Tuk-Tuk! Our friendly guide Diego met us at Hauptbahnhof Main Railway Station and took us on a 1 ½ tour of the city. We could stop and get off the tuk-tuk whenever we wanted to explore something from close quarters or if we came across something interesting. Right next to the station was the Gothic castle-like Swiss National Museum which is home to entire collections related to Swiss history and culture some dating as back to 100,000BC.
We then went to the Lindenholf hill from where we got a scenic aerial view of the Old Town and Lake Zurich. We passed some significant buildings like one that housed a theatre, and another was a church that was earlier frequented by the Catholics but later converted into one that was used by the Protestants. Our guide explained that unlike the US, where buildings are multistoried in Zurich, they had 2-3 basements. The reason being that the city wanted to be safe from the war bombings that the country had witnessed.
The Old town situated on the banks of Limmat river has some beautiful churches. St. Peter’s Church in the Old Town is the oldest in Zurich and has the largest clock dial in Europe around 8.7 meters in diameter. The Grossmunster or Great Minister, with its twin towers that dot the Old town’s skyline, is Zurich’s principal church. The Fraumunster or Women’s Church with its green spire and a giant clock is a landmark of Zurich. It was built in 853 AD by Emperor Ludwig as a gift for his daughter, Hildegard. The rich aristocratic women of Europe frequented this abbey. It’s a popular tourist spot because of its stained- glass windows. Along Limmatquai, the promenade along the river, were several guild-houses the most important being the Rathaus or Town Hall.
Zurich Lake is where we went next. The periphery of the lake had numerous gardens and parks. The Zurichhorn Park is where families gather for picnics, recreation and a swim in the lake. It has a metal sculpture Huereka by Jean Tinguely, who is known for his sculptural machines artwork. Since spring had just set in the gardens were blooming with tulips, poppies and other flowers in a riot of bright colours. Families and tourists were lazing and enjoying the scenic views of the lake and the hills behind it. Our guide explained that the rich and affluent had their premium homes on the east side of the lake from where they could get a spectacular view of the sunsets behind the mountains, while the poor and middle class lived on the opposite side. You can enjoy a relaxing ferry ride on Lake Zurich.
The next place that we visited was Bahnhofstrasse which can be described as the 5th Avenue of Zurich. It is one of the most luxurious shopping streets in Europe and thronged by both the rich and famous, as well as the ordinary people wanting to get a glimpse of high-end shops and fashion. It boasts of international fashion labels, accessories, jewellery, and watches all smartly decked in shopping windows to tempt the fashion conscious. On the lower level of Bahnhofstrasse 31 is the clock and watch museum which has an impressive collection of watches and timepieces. Switzerland is famous for its Cuckoo Clocks that are popular as a souvenir.
We then passed the Swiss Bank, and the discussion soon turned towards all the corrupt politicians, industrialist and celebrities from India and perhaps other countries too rumoured to have stashed all their black money here!
Our guide explained how the Swiss people gather and celebrate the Sechselauten Spring Festival in April that heralds the arrival of spring. A Boogg (snowman stuffed with firecrackers) is kept on a high pyre, and the bonfire lit in the evening. The Swiss believe that the faster the Bogg’s head explodes, the longer the summer will be. Families and friends assemble for sausage grilling, as the bands play music and festivities continue till the wee hours of the night. We missed witnessing this festival by a week.
If you have a sweet tooth, then a chocolaty experience is a not to be missed affair. The swiss chocolates are known for their incomparable taste, just melt in your mouth and can be sinful temptations! And if that’s not enough the bonbons, truffles, and macrons are simply an irresistible delight.
Zurich is a medley of old and new. The efficient transport system, clean and fresh air, warm people and sweet delights will undoubtedly charm you, and more than make up for it being an expensive city. Spring is the best time to savour the scenic and sweet wonders of Switzerland.
Nearest Airports: Zurich has an international airport. You can take a flight from any of the major cities in India with a stopover or transit in between in case there are no direct flights.
Where to stay: You could explore options on the net depending on your comfort and budget.
Travel Tip: It is best that you make bookings in advance for the Tuk-tuk ride as well as ferry rides. Get a Swiss Rail pass and can it be used even on the trams and buses. A 1 ½ tuk-tuk ride around the city cost us US $ 50. Viator app is what we used for bookings.
This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons magazine, Aug 2017.