Saturday, June 18, 2011

Switzerland: Zurich and Luzern

By Melissa at 2:11 PM
After a delightful taste of the Mediterranean, we hopped on a train from Cinque Terre to Zurich. Switzerland was not on our original list of destinations, mainly because it is shockingly expensive, but shortly after we left for our trip, we learned that our friends Daphne and Lee were moving from the Bay Area to Zurich. So with a chance to hang out with friends and a free place to stay for a few days, how could we turn down a trip to one of the most picturesque countries in Europe? Not to mention the amazing chocolate and cheese.

Zurich is more well known as a banking capital than as a tourist destination, but the city holds plenty of charm and we didn't have a hard time filling our days just wandering around it. With a population of 380,000 in the central city and under 2 million on the metro area it is surprisingly the largest city in Switzerland. But everything about Switzerland is really about quality and not quantity, so it's not surprising that Zurich manages to be interesting without a large population.

From our friend's apartment we strolled along the Limmat River, towards the downtown and watched in awe as we saw people swimming in the river! Everything in Zurich is incredibly clean, including the rivers and lakes, even in it's largest city. During the summer, the areas alongside the river become a veritable beach, complete with sand volleyball courts, young people drinking cheap beer, barbecuing and tanning. When we arrived in the downtown, or old town, we followed a walking tour from one of our guidebooks that took us down the famous Bahnhofstrasse. The street is lined with high-end shops and private banks. Supposedly there is an amazing quantity of gold stored in the bank vaults underneath the street.

We made sure to stop at the Sprungli Cafe on the Bahnhofstrasse, famous for their hot chocolate and other delicious desserts. Of course, whenever dining out in Switzerland some of the warm fuzziness and satisfaction you've just gotten from your yummy meal goes out the window when the tab comes. For example our tab for two cups of hot chocolate was $19 USD. Yeah, I wasn't kidding when I said shockingly expensive. It doesn't really matter what you buy, the sticker just shock never ends. Brian and I split a meal at a low-priced Indian restaurant well outside of the center of the city and our tab for the meal; one main dish, two included sides, one samosa and two bottled waters; came to $44 USD. And our friends told us that a cup of Starbucks coffee costs $10 USD. How do people live, you ask? Well the unofficial minimum wage is around $15 USD per hour, but many unions guarantee their workers wages of closer to $25 or $30 per hour, which explains why prices are so high. But the country does have one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world, very little visible poverty and a low crime rate, so it seems to be working for them.

Hot chocolate at Sprungli
From Zurich, Switzerland

After our "gold-plated" hot chocolate break, we continued on our walking tour in the old town. We stopped at the Fraumunster, a 13th-century church built on lands that originally housed a Benedictine monastery complex founded in 853. The church itself is quite plain, but has five, large and stunning stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall, installed in the 1970s. We also toured the Grossmunster, another Romanesque church with impressive stained-glass windows and large, brass doors with scenes from the bible.

View across the river from the Lindenhof
From Zurich, Switzerland

Fraunmuster from across the bridge
From Zurich, Switzerland

The last stop on our tour was not in our guidebook nor did we even have an address for it, but nevertheless, we had to find it. When Brian and I first visited Zurich 5 years ago, we stumbled upon an incredibly delicious store called Gummi-Bären-Land. Yes, an entire store dedicated to Gummy Bears; normal, real fruit juice, mini, giant, vegetarian, worm-shaped, special flavors, you name it. Brian was in heaven, so needless to say, we were on a mission to find the store again on this trip. And after about 20 minutes of wandering around the area of town where we thought the store was, we were actually successful in finding it! And after lingering long enough to get a number of delicious samples from the cashier who generously and frequently distributes them from a large bookshelf filled with jars and jars of gummys, we went home with a half-kilo bag of mini-gummy bears, classic flavor. Miraculously they lasted almost two weeks.

Gummy Bear Land
From Zurich, Switzerland

After a few days in Zurich we headed to Luzern, a 45-minute train ride from Zurich, located at the foothills of the Alps. There is really only one word to describe Luzern and the surrounding towns and that is cute, no two words, unbelievably cute. It's everything you imagined a town or village built in the Swiss Alps should look like.

Daphne and Lee joined us for the day and we had a lot of fun biking around Lake Luzern and exploring the old town streets, the Chapel Bridge and eating delicious Swiss chocolate. If you ever visit a city where they sell Lauderach chocolate, run to the nearest shop.

Hofkirche from across the lake
From Luzern, Switzerland

Kapellbrucke (Chapel bridge)
From Luzern, Switzerland

A plaza in old town Luzern
From Luzern, Switzerland

The next day Brian and I took a short boat ride on Lake Lucern to the nearby town of Weggis and then hiked for a few hours over the foothills of Mt. Rigi to another cute town called Greppen before returning to Luzern by bus and train. The hills are really magnificent, dotted with cute wood-frame homes with brightly colored flower boxes in every window, bell-wearing cows and goats grazing in the hills and breathtaking views of Lake Luzern.

A lone sail boat in Lake Luzern
From Luzern, Switzerland

View back toward Weggis and the Alps in the background
From Luzern, Switzerland

Another view back toward Weggis and the Alps in the background
From Luzern, Switzerland

Greppen
From Luzern, Switzerland

The following day, not a nice weather day, we stayed close to the apartment and spent more time exploring the old town. We visited the Lion Monument, built to commemorate the deaths of Swiss mercenaries hired to protect the king during the 1792 revolution and marveled at the busloads of Indian tourists who flock to Switzerland to visit the mountain towns where their favorite Bollywood films were shot. Later, we popped into the English pub in the ground floor of our apartment building to say goodbye to the owner of the flat we rented as he also owns the pub. He gave us quite a nice send off by inviting us into the pub for free drinks. He also introduced us to a nice American couple originally from Texas who are currently living in Lausanne while the husband pursues his PhD in biological sciences.

The Lowendenkmal statue
From Luzern, Switzerland

In our next post we'll write about the continuation of the "friends and family" portion of the trip, when we went to Bavaria to visit our friend who left San Francisco around the same time we did to move back to Germany. I foresee a plethora of pork products in our future and I like it!

Melissa and Brian in front of the Kapellbrucke
From Luzern, Switzerland