For the longest time, Zürich was teetering at the top of my International Destination Bucket List. It tends to pop into the trip pool while I am shuffling and hustling my way through some challenging three day domestic trip, leaving me to continually fantasize about chocolate, Roger Federer, the rolling Swiss Alps, the adorable cows, and the famed army knives. Typically, when I am assigned an international standby slot, I am usually pulled at the end to fly a last minute domestic pairing or I simply return to my hotel for the night. Prior to this trip assignment, my last “ISBY” (International Standby) assignment was going to Tokyo’s Narita Airport my second week of flying, so color me surprised when the scheduler called to actually give me an international trip.
Nice tail feathers, Swiss Air!
My excitement lasted about fifteen minutes as I headed into briefing. When I asked the crew what I should do on my first trip to Zürich, I was a bit heartbroken by the consistent answer from nearly every member of my crew: “Zürich is expensive, so don’t plan on doing much. I’ll go to the market and stay in my room.” Ah, the ‘Slam Click’ lot. For those of you outside aviation, “Slam Clickers” refer to individuals who go on a layer to make good money, but stay in their rooms. They typically do not fraternize with other crew members or they have preset plans for their layover involving local friends where outsiders are explicitly not invited. For anyone who has stayed at a hotel, it’s also the noise the doors make when you close it, deadbolt lock it, and make sure that “Privacy Please” hanger is on the door. While disappointment coursed through me, it was fleeting and momentary. I certainly was not going to let it cripple my ability to explore a new city.
A lovely European city full of lovely people.
My first task after purchasing a roundtrip rail fare from the hotel desk and dropping by the ATM, was navigating my way to the rail station and ensuring I caught the correct train into the city proper. Fortunately, it was not nearly as taxing as my mind made it out to be. The key to traveling in a country where one doesn’t know the language is to make smart decisions, but keep in mind that everything will not go 100% according to plan. Actually, that is a good rule of thumb for traveling in general. While getting to Bahnhof Zürich Stadelhofen, the main railway center, getting out to ground level was my challenge. When in doubt, look for any arrow that points up or sunlight. While my miniature frenzy for the surface resulted in my popping above ground like a prairie dog in the smoking section, I was able to catch sight of one of the most famous sculptures in Zürich… and all the exits shortly there after.
The Guardian Angel takes the train, too.
If anyone ever needs a better meeting point landmark in Zürich’s Main Railway Station, tell them to meet at the Guardian Angel, you simply cannot miss her. Artist Niki de St. Phalle’s largest work hangs above the north side of the main level with her colorful frock and neon water (or wine, I couldn’t decide. I think my guardian angel would have some wine about her somewhere, so let’s go with that). When venturing away from the transportation necessary to get back “home,” I do two things: take a photo of the outside of the station and more importantly, write the names of the connecting streets in the off shot I do get unequivocally and undeniably lost.
Giant flags outside the main rail terminus… Dangge!
When a city has a lovely winding river cutting through it, what better way to enjoy a nice leisurely walk than by zig-zagging over the numerous bridges. The last time I enjoyed doing this was on a Paris layover last year, so I figured it was time to take a strolls over The Limmat and see what adventures I can find!
I’m a complete sucker for tourist kitsch.
While on the prowl for a patisserie to drop into for some local delicacies, I happened upon the local branch of Maison Ladurée Paris. Although I knew full well that I could get MLP maracons in New York, It did not stop me. I would have walked away from it, too, had I not seen the Ladurée Zürich Limited Edition Box with the flag on the outside and the Alps surrounding the box on the inside! Curses to their genius marketing, appealing to the world traveling, foolish tourist! I shall not discuss the price tag because as my colleagues warned me, “Zürich is expensive,” but let it be known that my little Swiss First Aid Kit came to my rescue with a dose of familiarity in a very unfamiliar city.
Making decisions in English is hard enough! Try Swiss French!
I grew up as a dual citizen with an American father and a French Canadian mother. In high school, I took three years of French. In university, I took a year of Japanese followed by a year of Italian. However, once I moved to Japan, what remnants of the romance languages remained were quickly shoved away by my need to learn Japanese. Each time I visit a non-English speaking country, I am reminded of how much I love listening and learning languages, as well as the frustration of being opening my mouth and being completely unable to communicate my needs. This was amplified by the dizzying combination of Swiss French– a mix of French, German, Italian and Rumantsch. Talk about overwhelming, but now I want to learn it all!
Those might be the Swiss Alps behind me!
One of the places I was recommended to check out per the hotel staff was the gorgeous stained glass windows at Fraumuster Cathedral. Despite feeling a little toasty near the threshold of the church, I was gutted to find out that it closed half an hour before in preparation for a special evening concert series. When I inquired about tickets for aforementioned concert, I was informed they sold out months ago. Dog marked the page in my hotel guide, so I can remember to head out earlier next time. Sometimes, the recharging power nap works against me, but I firmly believe I would not have enjoyed getting lost in Zürich without it. One needs a clear mind, their wits about them, and a semblance of coherent navigational skills to be able to get lost, but more importantly, find one’s way back to the hotel afterward.
Next time, I’m seeing those windows!
Without a clue as to where eat during my journey, I actually took a breath and opened up my iPad prior to leaving the hotel. While there is a very limited selection of restaurants and attractions listed on Yelp*, I was able to find Kafi Schoffel after an extended back alley excursion up the historic side of the opposite bank. I’m glad that I packed my water and played the perfect tourist with my folding map because it was not an easy place to find. While the employees spoke little English, they did have a bare bones English menu and they were very eager to help me order and enjoy my dining experience with them. Sadly, my first and second choices had been sold out for the day, so I wound up with a nice glass of red wine and a very sensible salad for dinner.
A glass of red while I wait.
Kafi Schoffel’s courtyard is a hidden treasure!
I look forward to visiting Zürich during the summer to not only see the boats out of hibernation, but people also go swimming! While I may never had the tenacity to tough it out in the European bodies of water, who knows. Perhaps the summer sun might persuade me otherwise. I found the city to be very clean and well maintained despite the influx of travelers. While it was still off season, it did not detract from its city buzz. Unlike larger European cities, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the size of Zürich, simply my inability to speak one of their four recognized languages. It appears I may need to make a language study plan, so I can fully experience this city!
The Limmat, Lake Zürich, & The Swiss Alps!
Perched above the entrance to the famed Hotel Adler, one of Zürich’s most iconic childhood stories is immortalized… on the side of a cow. Since February 29, 1998, Heidi has called Hotel Adler home with her gorgeous depiction of Johanna Spyri’s namesake work as interpreted by local artist Heinz Blum. (Take a moment to appreciate her introduction as explained by the folks at Hotel Adler. It’s really great!)
Heidi is “Zurich. Zany. Photogenic.” and I love her.
Despite the cooler weather, I quickly killed the contents of my 24oz water bottle. With numerous fountains peppered throughout the city of Zürich, I wondered if the water features served a dual purpose like some do in Rome, or if they simply were for aesthetic pleasure only. After passing my umpteenth fountain, a father helping his little girl answered my unasked question. While the fountain outside Hotel Franzikaner is potable, I am still unsure of the rest of them are. I will make a point to ask next time before I cause an tourist faux pas by filling up at the wrong station.
Turns out you can drink the water!
I once thought the Love Locks Phenomenon was limited to Paris, France and the romantically-obsessed Japanese. At luck would have it, the Swiss tout their our burgeoning Bridge of Love at Mühlesteg Footbridge, overlooking the The Limmat, feeding into Lake Zürich. While I have no lock to leave at the moment, perhaps one day, I shall.
For those wanting to lock it in somewhere other than Paris…
While I did not make it all the way along the river to Lake Zürich, it is on the list for my next visit. If the wind ripping off the river is any indication of what the lake will feel like, I am going to need to make sure I pack a soild windbreaker or in the off season, a heavier jacket. I cannot wait until I can come back! I’ve been told it’s gorgeous around the holidays, so I better pack my parka and boots!
Zum Wohl! Broscht, Y’all!