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Published: December 21st 2014
The word "Switzerland" invokes images of the Alps, cheese, banks, and watches made by a non-existent Army. Delve deeper and you'll find this landlocked country has more to offer than material goods, for its people and history have cultivated it into one of the wealthiest nations on Earth. And no city in Switzerland is more prototypically Swiss than Zurich, which perennially ranks as the richest and having the best quality of life in the world. Pair that with a low tax rate, impeccably clean environment, and extensive public transportation system, and you've scared Paris and London into scrambling to reestablish themselves as a global hotspot for visitors and residents.
Zurich has also benefited from Switzerland's firm doctrine of neutrality. It survived two World Wars, all the while being smack dab in the middle of the action. Flanked during the fighting by England and France to the west, with Germany and Italy to the north and south, is analogous to standing between a lion and its prey but coming out unscathed. Maybe other cities like Berlin needed the fall of a wall before it could be resurrected from the ashes, but not Zurich. No, this town was built on values that
have transcended wars, borders, race, and religion, making it a truly global city.
However, the disadvantage of traveling in such a developed destination is the cost. For round-trip transportation from the airport to the city center and a quick meal for two, you'll be out 60 francs (61USD) in a mere 2 hours. At these rates, even Manhattanites would deem themselves lucky to live in such an expensive place like New York. Since Kristina and I were only spending a 3-hour layover here on our way to Istanbul, we were relieved knowing the time available for us to hemorrhage money would be limited.
To make your way to the Alstadt (Old Town) district of Zurich, purchase a public transit Day-Pass (tageskarte) for 3 zones from the airport, which is situated a measly 10 minutes from downtown. It'll set you back 13.20 francs a person, but it's by far the quickest and most convenient way to travel. The S16 train will take you to Hauptabahnhof (denoted as Zurich HB), the busiest station in Europe in a country that utilizes public transportation more than everybody but the Japanese. It's no surprise the air here feels cleaner, and since this is
Switzerland, the trains run like clockwork. Once you arrive at the station, cross Bahnhofplatz and head south on what has been dubbed the most expensive street in the world, Bahnhofstrasse. Along the way is one of the most charming alleys we've encountered on our travels: Augustinergasse. Because we arrived here at 7 a.m. to an empty town stringed with lights and adorned by Christmas trees, we had the whole city reserved for ourselves. We could be delinquents and not follow the street signs, jay-walk wherever we pleased, and sit in the middle of the road to take the perfect picture. It almost felt inappropriate to blemish such a quaint town, but we strolled through Lindenhof like giddy children opening presents on Christmas eve.
At the end of Bahnhofstrasse is Burkliplatz, which--on a normal day--affords you the most pristine view of the Alps spanning the horizon and makes the ideal backdrop for Lake Zurich. Unfortunately, a thick fog blanketed the city while we visited, so we had to save the Alps for another trip. After a short breather at Burkliplatz, turn back north and walk along Stadthausquai overlooking the Limmat River. Cross the bridge between the famous Fraumunster church on
Top 25 bakeries in the world
the west end and Grossmunster on the east and you land in Rathaus, an endearing neighborhood stuck in time. As you walk north on Munstergasse, you'll stumble upon (just like we did) one of the top 25 bakeries in the world, Conditorei Schober (Napfgasse 4, 8001 Zurich). After enjoying a sweet treat, return to the train stop and catch the next one back to Flughafen (airport). Since everything was still closed, our taste of Swiss cuisine was limited to whatever was available at the train station. Luckily for us, the renown coffee shop, Sprungli, has a store there; unfortunately for us, we mistakenly ordered a vodka cake fit for a Russian alcoholic. We also grabbed a quick breakfast from the deli, which consisted of baguettes and subs using the most flavorful sun-dried tomatoes we've ever tasted; the baguettes we tried in Barcelona may have been better, but these Swiss ones were nothing to be overshadowed.
While munching on our breakfast, we barely boarded the train on time to catch our flight, but with a sandwich in hand and only a few francs to spare, Kristina and I were content with our hectic hour-long excursion into town. Zurich beckoned us
for a second visit, one that extends more than just a few hours. Maybe we'll return in 20 years and hope things remained unchanged, just as it had the previous 20. But for now, we're focused on our next stop: Istanbul.
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