Friday, October 17, 2014


Zurich from above
I wracked my brain and then my camera trying to find a picture that didn't look like every other picture anyone's ever taken of Switzerland and came up with this. It's not pretty, it needed a touch up, and it probably doesn't even look like Europe at this angle, but there you have it: Zurich. My home base.

Incidentally, upon my return, I read that "going to Switzerland" has become synonymous with saying you are going to have yourself killed, because euthanasia is legal there and banned here, so there you go. To be clear: this is not why I went. An opportunity presented itself, and I took it. More and more, I'm embracing the notion of doing more and contemplating less ahead of time. This way, I can avoid the trap of rationalizing my way out of doing things. There are always reasons not to do something. Always. It's too expensive, you don't have the time, the timing is wrong, and so on. You can contemplate these excuses afterward, after you've gone ahead and done the deed. The doing option might not always be there.

In comparison with Lucerne, physically, there is no contest, Lucerne wins in the looks department hands down, no contest. However, if you think about it, here is a distinction: Lucerne is a place to visit, whereas Zurich is where you want to live. It's much more practical. I get the impression (based solely on a day trip) that once tourist season ends in Lucerne, everybody leaves. You have a city built around a singular industry: entertaining visitors. There's nothing wrong with that, it just makes the city less appealing to me rather than a fully functioning city. Don't misunderstand me, pretty much every server working in Zurich was from out of town, and good looking to boot. I don't mind that at all.

Zurich lakeside
Walk down by river
Zurich is a fully functional city. Public transportation is immaculate. Trains arrive constantly and will take you to every little corner of the city proper. It also operates - miraculously - on the honor system. As someone who is constantly being hustled awake on the bus by overly vigilant MTA* fare enforcers at ungodly hours (Sunday mornings, during rush hour), this is basically unheard of. You buy a paper ticket at the train stop, and then you just get on board. No flashing of paper, no clocking in. This is the way the honor system works. Upon boarding, other passengers are suspiciously courteous. Again, the contrast, where everyone in the US seems intent on staring down at their phones to the point of rudeness, the Swiss sense of social awareness is refreshing.

Zurich and swans2
Feeding swans is a national pastime
Where to stay: Practically speaking, I would find a hotel in Central Zurich, because that is where everything is: the shops, the restaurants, the nicer parts of the river. I would highly recommend becoming a morning person as well because, like Lucerne, everything closes around 6:30pm, so the earlier you get up, the more you can see. Did I stay in this area? No.

What to do: To orient yourself, just go to the travel agency located in the train station, and treat yourself to a proper map. In English. Now the world is yours to command. This map will list pretty much any museum worth seeing, and there are quite a few, along with multiple points of interest. This is one of the joys of being in a well organized city: you don't need a guide, you can find your own way.  
In an ideal world, you would also make sure to find your way to Sprungli, which is a chain chocolate store. To go to Switzerland and not eat chocolate is the equivalent of going to Paris and taking a pass on the Eiffel Tower. It's just not done. You can purchase truffles here by the gram (metric system), just as you would any other precious commodity. 
Deer lamps
Day trips: Uetliberg, for one (see above). If you train out of town, the train will drop you at the base of a peak. From there, you still have to walk, only a trifle, past deer lamps (see above) until you reach the overlook. For an added adventure, there is also Rhine Falls (see below), a quick and dirty bus ride away.
Rhine Falls
Rhine Falls
botanical gardens
Zurich Botanical Gardens
Now, a reality check. First, it rained all the time. Second, Switzerland is expensive. And you can forget about finding healthy snacks anywhere for the plane ride home. There's only chocolate and chocolate with nuts. I forget sometimes how San Francisco lives in a health bubble, one filled to bursting with  kale chips, protein bars and gluten-free vegan cookies that taste just like wood.  

A probably harsh lesson I'm still in the process of learning, is figuring out when to be rude on international soil. No matter where I go, whether first world or third world, I am still constantly being approached for money. Every time, I find it shocking. If they are good, they never lead with a request for money, they approach you with friendly conversation, and then the matter of helping them just comes up, usually after they have established that you are indeed a good person. In these situations, I have found, there is really no nice way of brushing people off, they will be insistent, and a firm "no," followed by a firm walking away is in order. I hate being rude, but when the alternative is feeling used, Miss Manners can turn the other way.
China Garden
China Garden, in Zurch
*San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Authority

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