After 10 days in Switzerland it is sad to leave, hard to part with the opportunity to explore both new and unexplored areas of the city and the country. It was a pleasure to be back, to revisit old colleagues, to return to my favorite shops and viewpoints and morning walks. I certainly hope I can return again soon! Today’s gallery includes snapshots from various days and scenes in Zürich, including several from the Christmas markets and from the illuminated evenings.
On our final full day in Zürich, I took my usual morning walk to Zurichberg. The sky was cloudy and the valley foggy, once again, but at least this time the fog was a bit above me and I could see across the lake. Not much to photograph today, but as I lingered at the viewpoint and was passed by every morning jogger and dog-walker, I noted a familiar sight approaching. An old gray lady, and her even older gray dog, approached slowly along a parallel path. I recognized them immediately, having encountered them almost daily on my walks two years earlier… but not yet on this return visit. The woman now needs a walker, and moves slowly while the old gray dog follows even more slowly behind. I admired their persistence in their daily outing, and am glad I had a chance to see them again.
On my way downhill, picking my route randomly through the residential streets while aiming my internal compass toward Honold for my daily dose of heisse schokolade and butter gipfeli, I noted this little gnome standing by a tiny little tree, on a curb near trash and recycling bins.
It is not uncommon for people to put items out for free use by passers-by; indeed, we gave away many things when we were preparing to leave in July 2020. This little fellow seemed lonely, so I decided to bring him home.
Later in the day, Andy and I made a pilgrimage to Sprüngli chocolatier, on Bahnhofstrasse, for a stay at their sidewalk tables and for a taste of their grand cru hot chocolate, which comes with a mousse light enough to spoon on top but rich enough to sink you for the afternoon.
Despite the chilly weather, the outdoor tables filled quickly; it is a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy a warm drink as the holiday shoppers bustle by.
One of the favorite Swiss foods to be found at every Christmas Market is raclette – potatoes covered in melted cheese, sprinkled with spices, and served with pickles and pickles onions. It makes a very filling snack!
Ok, there seems to be a common theme emerging in my posts from Zürich this week: food. My walk today began as another foggy morning, and indeed the day never shook off the fog. Perhaps it is all the snow sublimating in these just-above-freezing temperatures.
So when my downhill route took me near Honold, I just had to stop in. Had to. I’ll bet there is even some Swiss law about cold foggy mornings, and excellent chocolate/pastry shops, that requires one to stop in for a heisse shoggi (hot chocolate). I used to visit this very shop at least once a week when I was living here.
I enjoyed the hot chocolate for the rest of the walk, though I did somehow get out without succumbing to the other tasty treats!
Ok, sushi is not what one always thinks of first, when one thinks of food in Switzerland. But tonight we were looking for something a little different, so we stopped into Yooji’s and down to their basement dining room. There, a continuous train of sushi circulates past the customers seated on stools around the central kitchen area. Many tempting treats scoot by…
The price is determined by the color of the plate, as in other such restaurants. One cool feature of this shop is that you can remove a plate from the track, set it on the “infopoint” at your place, and the small iPad-like tablet in front of you will show a photograph and description of the item, in case you are wondering about the ingredients. Don’t like what you see? put it back on the track. Want to order a drink, or something special? Tap the tablet and point at what you want.
When finished, the staff come by to account for your plates. Brace yourself for the bill!
It was a densely foggy morning, as I climbed to my usual outlook above the streets of Zürich. I was in the fog almost as soon as I left my hotel, at river level, and climbed 212m up through the fog to the Zürichberg viewpoint. Not surprisingly, there was nothing to see today but for the sign illustrating what distant mountains could be seen on a better day (like yesterday).
More of the snow and ice had melted from the pathways, so I took a different route down – through the forest and back to the roadway, at the spot known as Rigiblick. There, I encountered a smiling set of sentries guarding the house beside the path.
Directly across the street is the top station for a funicular tram – a pair of trams on a track, attached to a cable, one descending while the other ascends. The sign advertised a departure in 2 minutes, so I hopped aboard and rode in comfort down the steep slope, approximately halfway to my starting point. Below, I look back up the track from the bottom.
This path home is always risky, passing as it does by a Migros grocery store and two wonderful bakeries. I broke down and popped into a bakery for a gipfel (like a croissant) and headed on home, a fine way to spend the morning.
I returned to my morning walking route, climbing through the streets and stairs of Zurich to the viewpoint atop Zurichberg. Today, I arrived not long after sunrise; with fewer clouds, the sun shone through to the Zurich valley. Indeed, it seemed the orange glow of the rising sun was bouncing off the cloud deck above, illuminating the light fog hovering over the lake Zurichsee.
Zooming in to the Alps spread across the horizon, we can see the morning sun illuminating the Eiger and its neighbors.
Earlier, I paused along Spyristrasse at a point where I knew one of the multi-story condo buildings hosted an impressive sight: a three-story cat staircase, mounted outside the building, allowing the cat to come and go from its residential balcony. Today, for the first time ever, I saw a cat sitting atop the stairs, surveying its territory and guarding the homestead from all comers.
I was sad to leave Zürich in July 2020, after spending a delightful year collaborating at ETH and exploring the many mountains and valleys of this beautiful country. The coronavirus pandemic had arrived only a few months earlier, but I somehow thought it would fade and I could make a return visit to Switzerland a few months later. That was naīve. Another year has passed and the pandemic is not yet done with us; nonetheless, three months ago Andy and I booked our tickets to Zürich so we could visit friends and colleagues and enjoy the city and the mountains once again.
We left Switzerland this morning, after a delightful eleven-month residence in Zürich. This parting is bittersweet, and a long layover in Amsterdam gives me a first opportunity to reflect on our experience in Switzerland.
In short: we had a wonderful time, enjoyed Switzerland thoroughly, and (speaking for myself, anyway) can’t wait to return. I found the university center to be professionally fulfilling, the city of Zürich to be a pleasant place to live, the mountains to be entrancingly beautiful, and the deeply complex history of the country to be fascinating.
We were lucky to have rented a comfortable ETH flat, just a few blocks from the main train station (HB) and from my office (WEV), with a view over the lake Zürichsee to the Alps beyond. From here, I enjoyed a near-daily walk straight uphill to the Zürichberg ridgeline, which offered even better views, and an ample variety of routes down through tree-lined residential areas – where I would often stop for hot chocolate at a neighborhood Honold shop. This week I finally stopped long enough for a breakfast of my three favorite things: bircher muesli, gipfeli, and heisse schokolade.
In a way, I’ve just begun to scratch the surface. Although you can see in the map below that I visited (and photographed) many locations around the country, the Swiss countryside changes over every ridgeline, from one valley to the next. Even within Zürich, my wanderings were focused almost entirely within the Altstadt (old town) and on the slope of Zürichberg above our flat, that is, within walking distance. And the coronavirus cut short many of my aspirations to visit more of its museums and other cultural activities. The good news: there’s lots to explore on my next visit! (Assuming I can ever return; the EU and Schengen region are not allowing US visitors.)
Indeed, I’d like to learn more about Zürich’s long history, which dates at least 2,200 years back before Roman times to early Celtic settlements; indeed, the modern name Zürich derives from the Roman Turicum, which is apparently “a derivation from a given name, possibly Gaulish personal name Tūros…” [Wikipedia]. It was later settled by a Germanic tribe, and its own form of that language still dominates the region.
I frequently found myself thinking about this depth of history as I wandered through the pastures of the Swiss hills. This landscape has been engineered by humans for centuries, indeed, for millennia, and the land is still worked by hand in many corners of steep terrain. The land and the people co-evolved here, in this crossroads of the European continent.
[Of course, there is also a long human history in my home turf along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, though for many reasons (including many very unfortunate reasons) there are few tangible signs remaining of those early civilizations. I hope to learn more about those peoples and cultures as well.]
So, as I (literally) sit in transition between Switzerland and New Hampshire, let me ponder the things I like (and dislike) about Switzerland.
Likes: – the train system: convenient, efficient, and nationally integrated with buses, trams, gondolas, and more; – the SwissCard, an RFID card that integrates with all those transportation systems; – Halbtax and GA discount cards, making the rail system affordable; – gondolas and funicular trains that provide quick access to the high country (and give the option of hiking up and riding down, or vice versa); – the pastoral landscape, with free public access for walking across most terrain; – the mountain landscape, with their snow-capped peaks and dramatic glaciers; – mountain huts and restaurants; – the standardized and integrated national trail system, including detailed signs and markings that often begin right at the bahnhof or bus stop; – SwissTopo, the national map system that is so detailed that it maps every trail, every structure, even the smallest barn; – contactless payment: Apple Pay works almost everywhere, and very few places require cash (indeed, due to corona many places are refusing cash); – cheese, in more varieties than one can imagine (American “swiss cheese” is not just a misnomer but an embarrassment); – chocolate: it’s easy to understand why Switzerland is the country that eats more chocolate per capita than any other; – food quality: in general, the quality of meats and produce are vastly better than my US experience; – cities with clean streets, well-repaired infrastructure, efficient transport, and pedestrian-friendly design; – an organized society, where things pretty much work well and people pretty much follow the rules; – a multilingual society – especially in Zürich, where 40% of residents are non-Swiss; – a strong education system that provides everyone a solid foundation, and a meaningful track for those who wish to learn a trade rather than going to university; – social services that provide for the health and welfare of everyone; – safety and security: I felt safe everywhere, and was astonished to see few people worry about theft (it is not uncommon to see things left exposed); – train beers :-), the freedom to buy a beer in a station kiosk and drink it on the platform or on the train.
Dislikes: – cigarette smoke: it is hard to avoid when out in public, on the streets, or in an outdoor café; – graffiti: perhaps this is an issue in every urban city, but I found the pervasive graffiti to be an unfortunate eyesore; – a complex tax system that ensnares even temporary residents with no Swiss income (like us!); – a Euro-centric culture, with few people of color; even coming from New Hampshire I was struck by Switzerland’s limited diversity.
Anyway, those are a few of my initial thoughts. I’m sure I will find myself missing things about Zürich and Switzerland – or finding differences more noticeable, once I return to life in New Hampshire. For now, let me emphasize that I am really impressed by Switzerland, and really loved living there.
I have posted to this blog every day for several months. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity – and challenge – of sharing something interesting every day. Once home, however, I will return to less-frequent posts. Schönen Tag!