Showing posts with label switzerland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label switzerland. Show all posts

Monday, December 8, 2014


Zurich river

Whenever I read travel posts, they alway seem bursting with positive energy. No one ever has bad travel stories. They always come back with a tremendous good time and a bucket full of memories and matching photos to boot. With that in mind, I decided to start a different trend, not to complain, but to share everything ranging from not great to downright horrific. Because I have no image to maintain and I work for free.

At some point during the trip, I decided I couldn't stand any of the people I had traveled with, and further decided to embark on an aggravated walk out into the night, alone, and there, in the twilight, I came across this river above, with the man silhouetted in the corner, a man who I assumed was contemplating his own death. Death, a friend informed me later, is a recurring theme in Switzerland because of the social pressure to always conform. I had no idea. Your house and lawn must always be in perfect order, you lawn perfectly coiffed. You always have to behave in such and such a way, and so on. So there is in Swiss society, an underlying current of despair, and possibly I picked up on that.
West Zurich2
Now, why then does this picture look markedly different than any of the others I have shown so far. Possibly it's because while I highly recommend staying in Central Zurich, or possibly the Northern suburbs, or any place bordering the central river, that isn't where I stayed. I stayed in the post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland known as West Zurich. There is stuff to be done there. There is a bar or two. There are business offices. There are train track you can lie down on if the idea of leaping into the river doesn't appeal.  The hotel where I stayed, the name of which will go unmentioned*, was a touch older than most. Or this is what I hope explains some of the curiosities.

For instance, each room, regardless of the number of occupants, only had one key. A single key. You have no idea how inconvenient that is until you cannot leave the side of the holder of the room key and you become some sort of international siamese twins for the duration of your trip. I highly do not recommend it. Second, my single key hung off some sort of object that was large and solid enough to be a weapon and seemed to serve no other purpose than to add bulk to my pants.

What does not come across in photographs, is how expensive this country is. And everything is expensive. Burger King is expensive. BK was also, to my regret, not very good. In fact, I didn't enjoy most of the food there, and this is part of the reason why I declined to list any restaurants. This was somewhat surprising. I went to a restaurant in the northern suburbs, I tried one of the most established restaurants in town. I even tried the restaurant in the hotel lobby. Crap, crap, and crap. All of it, including a desperate budget foray into Burger King.

Finally, I want to point out that it rained almost the entire time. No one takes pictures in the rain really, unless you want to get all artistic about it. Mostly because it's impractical, I have some pictures with fat drops of water on the lens running right down the middle, and that pretty much ruined the whole shot. But those will never appear anywhere, because those are more popularly known as "bad pictures." 
West Zurich
So here you go, pictures from my moody nighttime wander through some deserted industrial parts. Sometimes I would see people, and I just pretended I was invisible and moved on. In some ways, I quite enjoy moody nighttime meanderings. You're finally alone with your thoughts. You pick up on sounds, moods, contrasting objects. In hindsight, it's not too bad. 

West Zurich5

*Because as long as you don't stay in West Zurich, your chances of staying here are significantly less.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Lucerne Bridge
Lucerne: Chapel Bridge
For the sake of sanity and brevity, I'm going to divide this post into discrete, digestible parts. Here we have Part 1: Lucerne, or Luzern, as the city is also otherwise known.

If you have ever found yourself in the middle of a dream, in an idyllic town that borders a lake, the water crystal clear, swans dotting the waterfront, charming sloped and steepled were probably in Lucerne. One dead giveaway is the iconic Chapel Bridge, above, which I have caught at a bad angle under bad lighting, so you miss the flow of red flowers that run down its flank. As soon as you emerge from the train station, you can traverse this iconic structure and settle into any of a number of quaint restaurants that line the water. There, you can sip, eat, and otherwise take full advantage of Swiss hospitality.

It rained almost the entire time. The moment the rain stopped, I took pictures, but every picture looks as if it were taken on a different day.

What there is to do:

Lucerne is clearly a city meant for the wanderer at heart. However, if you don't want to lounge, or wander elegant streets, or savor rich food, there is also the Sammlung Rosengart Museum, which houses a staggering private collection of modern art, mainly by Picasso.  I would include pictures, but they were not allowed, and you'll just have to take my word for it. Just keep in mind, however, Lucerne sleeps early. All shops close by 6:30pm, and the museum closes around 5:30, so if there is a store you want to visit, get there early, it won't always be there.  

Alternately, you can take a tour of the lake by boat. While I was there, there were two options: 1 hour, or 3 hours. My ideal time: 2 hours. Nothing's perfect. However, if you remain in the city awhile, and you should, you may decide to stay in one of the charming hotels right by the water, where I saw people fishing, rowing, and enjoying life.

To and From:

My home base was Zurich. Lucerne is a one hour train ride away. Trains generally come every half an hour, because the Swiss don't just make excellent timepieces, they use them as well. 
Lucerne lake Lucerne lakeside hotels
Lucerne lakeside tiny
I don't often include too many pictures, but I wanted to convey a sense of the place. That feeling you get from a city, that visceral immediate impression it makes on your memory through your eyes. It's the impression that stays with you, like an aftertaste, but in a good way.

Monday, August 25, 2014


In an ideal world, incidentally one in which I do not live, this would be the first part of a series, where I have somehow managed to write a travel post in the shape of a story, one that refreshes the memory of those who have already been, and inspires those who have not. 

Unfortunately, editing and jetlag and the ordinary flotsam of life (Buying groceries! Taking out the garbage!) have taken over, and instead of a post, I have managed to edit this one picture from Lucerne, in Switzerland. It's a beautiful city, set alongside a resplendent river littered with swans. 

I will figure this out. There is more to come. 
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