I landed in Zürich for the first time, on a cloudy, foggy, icy day, that required the pilot to make a guided landing in zero visibility. We skid on the runway, but still arrived at the gate with absolutely Swiss quartz precision – Welcome to Switzerland!
I lived in Zürich for about three months. Three months, during which time I had my first rendezvous with cheese fondue, and managed to gain 10 pounds of well earned fondue and chocolate happiness. This was thanks to my boss, who was Dutch, and consequently a huge fan of cheese in any form. But apart from a thoroughly enjoyable time stuffing my face with melted, baked, cooked, raw, and any other form of food preparation, I was able to also take in some of Zürich’s stunning beauty.
Bahnhofstrasse: The Shopping Street
Undoubtedly, the most famous tourist destination in Zurich. “Bahnhofstrasse” literally translates to “Railway station road”. So named, because the street starts at the main railway station, the Hauptbahnhof. The Swiss transit system is the most efficient one I have ever seen. True to my flight experience on “Swissair”, the Swiss railways are just as punctual. Bahnhofstrasse is the most expensive, varied and exclusive shopping street in Zurich. It is the third most expensive retail real estate in the world. A lot of tourists like to take the tram around downtown Zürich, I prefer going on foot, for fear of missing out on something.
Just off Bahnhofstrasse you will see St. Peter’s church. One of the oldest churches in Zürich, it houses the largest church clock in Europe (8.7 Meters in diameter).
Now one thing I must mention, is the Swiss Santa Claus- Swiss Santa Clauses as opposed to American Santa Clauses, are slim! Yes, a slim Santa! So, the idea of a morbidly obese Santa, who makes us feel comfortable with our holiday weight, is apparently a marketing concept built in collaboration with cookie and soda companies no doubt!
Diametrically across from skinny Santa, I saw this in a souvenir shop window!..Aah.. Well…
Kunsthaus: The Art Gallery
Since Zürich is predominantly German speaking, it was no surprise that their most popular art gallery is called the Kunst – Haus, literally translating to “Art – House”. Located in downtown Zurich, the Kunsthaus has a very interesting personal history – It is the first museum exhibition that Picasso ever had. To add to the aura, it is an exhibition that Picasso himself curated with his favorite pieces. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak about Picasso’s work so far, but suffice to say that he had a very unusual vision. Some traditionalists call it bullshit; I prefer to call it creative. The Kunsthaus has a permanent Picasso exhibit, with some of the rarest works by the artist.
My favorite is a small painting of three boys playing volleyball on the beach. It signifies the heterogeneity that Picasso brought to the table, although he is mostly remembered for his cubist pieces. What sets the Kunsthaus apart from many other art galleries around the world is that, like the Art institute of Chicago, it has a very unique collection of paintings. It houses outliers from the general works by each painter that truly make it distinctive. This is a must visit for art lovers and novices alike.
Lake Zurich is a sight to behold because of the Alps at the distance. It is one of the purest lakes in the world, and its further purified form, is supplied to homes in Zürich as drinking water. The lake rarely freezes over, and its true beauty can only be enjoyed in the summertime, when you can take a boat ride or even swim in certain areas.I wasn’t lucky enough to be around during the summer to do that, but a seagull did poop on me near the lake. Hey, apparently that’s good luck too!
Zürich Hauptbahnhof: The Central Railway Station
Over the weekends, Zürich’s central railway station transforms into a flea market. Particularly over Christmas time, I would urge that you don’t miss the Christmas market.
On the day that I visited, the true measure of Switzerland’s wealth was plain to see in the form of a Swarovski Christmas tree, and yes, they are all real Swarovski crystals. Here, on a winter day, I would recommend having some warm wine to ease you up, and keep you walking. The warm wine, bustling crowds, and varied fare from farmers, is an experience not to be missed.
Despite being a relatively short mountain range (Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the range stands at Appx. 15,000 feet which doesn’t come close to the 100th tallest peak in the world) the beauty of the Alps lies in their geographic history. Created when the tectonic plates of Europe and Africa collided, they span 8 countries. I would not be doing justice to the beauty of the Alps if I spoke of them as the mountains I saw from Zürich. Their appeal lies in the fact that the skiing industry has capitalized on the tourist crowds of Europe, and marketed it effectively. For a true experience of the Alps, I would recommend a weekend of spirited skiing.
Swiss Banks, UBS:
There is a branch of UBS, the largest of the Swiss banks, on Bahnhofstrasse. Well, I wasn’t allowed in, so listen up all you millionaires- your money truly is safe!
Aah.. My favorite part of life in Zurich. My friends and family say that my life revolves around food. I cannot deny this, given that I often plan my itineraries in a way such that we stop at my favorite food joints. In the three months that I spent stuffing my face in Zurich, I developed a particular liking for a few places:
Le Dèzaley: This is my favorite “Fondue” restaurant in Zurich. My meals usually started with their egg and arugula salad. The main course was almost always cheese fondue with a baguette, potatoes, and broth fondue with various veggies and meats. My fondue connoisseur boss taught me that the finishing touch to a fondue bowl is to break a raw egg in it and eat it up! Seating is always difficult here, as the place is always packed. Zurich is an expensive city mind you, so be prepared to loosen the purse strings.
Confiserie Sprungli: My favorite desert place in Zurich. Situated right on Bahnhofstrasse, it has a variety of desserts, as well as slabs of Swiss chocolate for you to take home. It is rich, creamy, fattening and totally worth it. I recommend eating a “desert only” lunch here at least once. I promise it’ll be worth the loose pants you wear for the next month.
Ladurèe: My favorite macaroon shop in the world. Ladurèe has branches only in a few select places around the globe. The macaroons are light as air, the variety is unsurpassable, and yet the ambiance is that of a sweet little country shop. Definitely a must go for the French delicacy.
Zurich is a beautiful combination of the traditions of the French, the engineering of the Germans and the rigor of the Swiss. My time here was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. The fact that I found most astonishing about the city is, all over Zürich, the grass is cut at the exact same time, to the exact same length, and apparently there were magical elves running around the place doing it, because I never saw one blade of grass out of place! I often amuse myself with the thought of a Swiss person trying to find his/her way around India. I’m pretty certain his/her neatly organized head would explode.
As I bid adieu to this wonderful city, arms laden with as much chocolate as I could carry, I left on a Swissair flight to Chicago, that looked like it wouldn’t take off because of all the ice on the runway. My flight took off exactly at 3:07 PM as scheduled. Not to be outdone by the Swiss, I ate my last bar of chocolate at 3:08 PM and was fast asleep by 3:11 PM. So there!