I’m not a morning person, but I’ll happily get up early to board a plane to anywhere. The Mister and I decided to pair business with pleasure this week…a few days in Zurich followed by a weekend in the Alps. Perfect. We’ve tried Gatwick, Heathrow (shudder) and Stansted Airport in our bid to find the easiest way in and out of London. Hint: It isn’t Heathrow.
This morning’s flight departed from London City Airport, easily accessible by tube, light rail (DLR) and cab. Getting to City was easy, but getting out wasn’t. We arrived at Swiss Air check-in desk at 6:00am to find our flight was canceled due to technical reasons (ie, they aren’t telling you why and they aren’t buying you a compensatory breakfast either, so don’t ask). Flight re-scheduled for 3 hours later, meetings shuffled, etc. At least the lines at security were short, the City Airport staff pleasant and the waiting area filled with comfy chairs and a Cafe Nero.
I checked the weather before we left and the report promised sunny skies and temps in the mid-40’s/50’s and so, I packed accordingly. I started to question the accuracy of the report as we flew in over snow-covered mountains, fields and houses. Oh oh. No worries since Switzerland wins the prize for outstanding natural beauty no matter what the weather. I’d just have to admire it with fashionable shoes and frozen feet.
Our arrival in Zurich was blessedly Swiss…no lines, efficient immigration and rail connections to the city center. We were checked-in at our hotel within 45 minutes of our arrival and back out the door to find a late lunch within an hour.
Zurich is a great walking city, and our route from the hotel to the city center was along the Limmat River, past the Landesmuseum and through the picturesque side streets.
We found a little cafe off Niederdorfstrasse 31, filled with students and locals. We took that to be a good sign and it was. The cafe was cozy and warm, complete with faux fireplace, local newspapers and a welcoming atmosphere. I managed to get through translating the menu and sprinkled my English with the bits of German I remembered from high school and college. The portions were huge, the coffee was excellent, the staff was friendly, the prices decent (for Switzerland).
The Mister ran off for his first meeting and I headed back to the train station to figure out train tickets and travel passes. Swiss Rail has an endless variety of travel passes that can be a very good value if you plan to spend more than a few days in Switzerland. The passes are expensive, but purchasing tickets separately can be stunningly more so. Do the math and see what works for you and certainly talk to the knowledgable people in the rail office at the airport or at the train station in Zurich.
We planned on seeing most of Zurich by foot, taking one train to the Alps and one gondola, so we passed on the pass. After an hour or so of mental math and linguistic gymnastics, I decided to walk through the city a bit before meeting friends for dinner.
I love exploring a city by foot. I did bring a few travel guides and grabbed a map from the tourist bureau, but decided to leave the formal planning until later.
I walked for hours along the river and through the cobbled streets, window shopping and people watching. I was very tempted by the “hausgemachter apfelstrudel mit warmer vanillesauce” at the cafe next to the river…
I’ve noticed that Europe starts the Christmas season much earlier than we do in North America. The windows in Zurich were already filled with Christmas decorations, foil wrapped candies and twinkling lights. Yet, somehow, it seems more relaxed. No inflatable snowglobes, no flashing XMAS 110% off signs, no hints of 3:00am black Friday stampedes. I like it.
I stopped in Schweizer Heimatwerk next to the bridge to admire the Christmas decorations and the traditional Swiss Scherenschnitt (papercuts) hanging in the window.
The shops were closing, it was getting dark and it was time to meet some friends for dinner at Hiltl Vegi, Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. I was a little leery about eating vegetarian as I am a dedicated carnivore and definately phobic about substituting meat with lumpy white globs of soy, but his place was amazing.
The restaurant itself is situated over multiple levels and offers a choice of take-away, buffet or a la carte menu. The Mister and I both ordered a la carte (blessedly from an English menu, happily provided upon request) and were pleasantly surprised with the endless choices and the quality and freshness of the food. The restaurant offers cooking classes in their studio and impressed me enough to consider signing up for some the next time I’m in town.
We finished off the evening with a walk home along the river. I think, perhaps, Zurich is prettiest at night.
Part 2 tomorrow!
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