By Joseph Cunniff
Surprise! Here’s how I happened to be in Zurich: I had only 10 days off. I called a friend of mine who’s good at finding internet travel bargains, and I told him the day I wanted to leave and the day I had to be back. I said, “I’ve got 10 days, and I want to go to France.”
He called back and said,“I’ve found a nice price on Swissair to Zurich.” I said, “Book it. I can take a train to France from there.”
So, off I went from O’Hare, and I enjoyed fine courteous service on my smooth flight. Eight hours later, I landed and took a little airport train that takes you to the baggage claim. The train had piped in sounds of distant cowbells and far-off Alpine horns. I said to myself, “Wow. I really am in Switzerland!”
Online, I had found a convenient in-town hotel, the Hotel Scheuble, and cabbed over. I asked the nice man at the desk where the tourist office was, and he said it was in the main train station. I walked over there, admiring the picturesque old buildings along the Limmat, the river that flows through town. At the tourist office, with their storied Swiss efficiency, they gave me recommendations on things to see.
Remembering that fresh air and sunshine are the enemies of jet lag, I determined to stay awake and outside. I took the cruise on beautiful Lake Zurich, where I saw graceful swans, a symbol of Zurich. On the shore, I saw a man in traditional white Swiss garb playing a long, long Alpine horn. Then, I climbed the Uetliberg Mountain for sweeping views of the magnificent Swiss countryside.
At breakfast the next day, I enjoyed slicing my own fresh bread, and drinking Swiss milk with my coffee and cereal. Then, I met one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. She walked me all over town on my most memorable second day. Her name is Karla Miranda. I learned that she was born in Guatemala, is married to a Swiss man, and can give fluent tours in English, Spanish, and German!
Here are some of the things I saw and learned with Karla. The main train station, the Hauptbanhof, is the biggest in Switzerland and one of the busiest in the world. The confectionary shop Sprungli sells famous treats called Luxemburerli, airy macaroons filled with light cream.
The Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world: closer to the station the prices are lower, and they rise as you near the lake. Each day at 11 at the store Kurz, little mechanical figures come out and bells ring in a charming show.
Bay windows were a symbol of wealth, and guild houses along the river have 14th century foundations. There are more than 80 bank headquarters in Zurich. St. Peter’s Church (where I heard a classical concert) goes back to the year 900 and has the biggest clock tower in Europe—bigger than Big Ben! Einstein taught in Zurich.
People carry little glasses to drink from the 1,224 fountains in Zurich, famed for their fresh clean water. I liked walking along the river, seeing the fine churches and the painted pictures on the sides of buildings. I loved the art museum and seeing some Swiss masters we don’t have in Chicago.
I enjoyed a Swiss beer, called Ittinger, at the Jules Verne, a bar, that overlooks the city from the observatory.
After four fine days, I took a train to my original destination, Lyons, France. So, there was my unexpected and eye-opening trip to Zurich: friendly, polite, multi-lingual, efficient, expensive, but worth it. When you go, try to get Karla as a guide: firstname.lastname@example.org.