September 23-25, 2009
I made my way into Zurich’s city center to start some sightseeing. I got to the Hauptbahnhof and discovered that on Wednesday’s it becomes a farmers market. Way cool and well worth a visit. I grabbed a bite to eat and made my way to the main tourist office inside the station to get a map and some insight on what I should hit up. Essentially, a lot of the big things to see and do in Zurich are in the city center so I started off on foot to play tourist.
A little bit of history that I researched before coming on over:
I already knew that Zurich was the heart of the world’s banking and home to some banks that I would more than likely never meet the minimum balance requirements of. I can only imagine that if I attempted to walk through some of the doors of the famous “Swiss Banks,” I’d probably be laughed right back out the door. Fine by me, I was happy where I was. I also knew that Zurich had gone from a Celtic settlement, to the Zahringen dynasty, to a part of the Holy Roman Empire, before joining the Swiss Confederation in 1351. As a World War II buff, I also knew that Switzerland’s neutrality during both World Wars is what made it the banking capital of the world that it is today. Switzerland’s banking role in WWII is up for dispute though, as the Nazi’s deposited a lot of gold into Swiss Banks, much of it stolen from other countries and their people during the Holocaust. Also, a lot of Jews that had deposited their savings into Swiss Banks at the breakout of WWII were unable to retrieve their savings due to lack of proper documentation after the War. History aside, it is the premier banking center of the World today.
Geographically, I knew that the River Limmat ran through the middle of the city and eventually flowed into the massive Lake Zurichsee to the south. It provided a very scenic backdrop from the bridges up and down the river to the beautiful walking paths along the waterfront. I was excited for some of the outdoor cafes and bars to sit down and people watch at. I had also heard of the decent restaurants that ran through Zurich’s Old Town, the Niederdorf. I wanted to walk down the Bahnhofstrasse to explore the main shopping district, which would also lead me down to the financial district, which used to be an old pig slaughter district.
I decided to spend a good portion of my first day in Zurich going in and out of its famous churches. I explored the gothic feel of Augustinerkirche, amazed myself over Europe’s largest clock face at St. Peter’s Kirche and enjoyed the beauty of Fraumunster’s stained-glass windows. I also made sure to hit up the Kunsthaus Museum, as it is free to visitors on Wednesdays. I spent a good two hours walking through each exhibit—everything from Van Gogh to Warhol. After I had tired of walking, I headed to the Limmatquai to grab a bite to eat and a drink. I got a quick lesson on how beer is much cheaper than liquor to drink. I pint would only cost me a couple of Swiss Francs, while a mixed drink would set me back at least 10. Being a bartender, I got a kick out of the prices they charged for certain liquors, also, that they priced their drinks by whether or not they were short (liquor only) or long (with a mixer). I was very surprised to see that they served old fashioneds, which are almost impossible to find outside of Wisconsin in the states and that bitters strait up was a common after dinner drink (ugh).
I finished my evening up by strolling up and down the river to get the amazing views of the city at night before heading to my couchsurfing host’s apartment.
So my whole reason for deciding to start out in Zurich was to meet up with good friend Maria. She would be coming into Zurich this afternoon, and we would get together and spend the late afternoon and evening catching up. I had a late start to my morning, as I had to wait for my luggage to get dropped off. I decided to head down to Confiserie Sprungli, Zurich’s most famous chocolate shop. I was planning on Swiss Chocolate to be the gift I brought back for my family, but I didn’t want to be lugging it around for 2 weeks, so I looked into having it shipped directly from the shop. Sprungli’s had a shipping option, but it would have cost me a minimum of 60 CFH just to ship it, and I feel it didn’t pay to spend more on shipping than I would on the actual product, so I figured I’d buy some chocolate from a grocery store before leaving Switzerland for Germany. I bummed around the Paradeplatz for awhile before heading to catch a tram to meet up with Maria.
When Maria and I met up we thought it would be fun to head down by the lake before grabbing some dinner. Zurich’s waterfront is amazing and very relaxing. We then headed to Niederdorf to grab a bite to eat in the old town. We settled on an Italian restaurant, enjoyed some pasta and wine and caught up the other’s life. At night we headed to the other side of the Lake to check out the sights and walking paths, before calling it a night. I was going to be heading to Interlaken the next day and Maria had an interview for a research position in Zurich—my time there was ending and hers was just beginning.
Zurich’s Other Key sights:
Rathuas—Zurich’s town hall along the Limmatquai
Zurichhorn Park—gorgeous park south of the city center
Wasserkirche—old gothic church, that is built on the spot where Felix and Regula were martyred. The patron saints of Zurich would lend lore to another famous church in Zurich.
Grossmunster—tall, twin towers that take over the Zurich skyline. Legend has it that after Felix and Regula were killed, their skulls were carried atop the hill that Grossmunster lies.
Opernhaus—hosts a plethora of ballets and operas. My lack of true art appreciation had me more interested in the statues that adorn the exterior than the possibility of seeing the Barber of Seville…
FIFA Headquarters—lies a way outside the city center, but it is possible to pay the place a visit.
Zurich’s West-side—I hear it has some good restaurants and a lively night life.