After a, um, short hiatus, I am starting where we left off with the Travels in Europe. Enjoy!
Leaving Munich was bittersweet - it was a Friday around 6pm, the soccer match was about to start, the streets were filled with the weekend crowd and we had just started to feel comfortable making our way around the city. With 40 minutes and counting until our train was leaving the station, we ducked into our favorite Beer Hall for one last cold one, and said our goodbyes to a great little city.
It was on the train from Munich to Zurich that we learned that the 10E difference between first class and coach is worth every penny. We had great big, plush, comfy seats - one facing the other, next to the window and with no neighbor seats. It was like being in our own little living room, and we watched the sun set on the misty green Bavarian countryside, dotted with farms, as we approached the Swiss Alps.
The train ride was relatively short, only 4 hours, and so it felt like we had practically just gotten on the train and settled in with a deck of cards when we arrived in Zurich. We were met at the train station by our friend Nicole, who we met when she and her beau Kurt lived in Boston for two years on an Andersen transfer. It was so fantastic to see a friendly face, and Nicole swept us off to this hip cobblestoned street (cobblestones as in 1200s, not 1700s - it made Boston feel like a young city) with all sorts of restaurants and clubs tucked in to the old building storefronts. It was late, and we sat in a mostly empty, candlelit Italian restaurant, with open windows overlooking an ancient courtyard, and spent the next hour or so catching up over pizza and beer. It was good times.
After eating, we hopped the tram back to Nicole's place, which I have to say, is one of the coolest apartments I have ever been in. You enter into a spacious room with hardwood floors, exposed beams, and on one wall, floor to ceiling glass doors that open up to a terrace overlooking the valley and the mountains. The kitchen is a model of Swiss efficiency & design, from the way the appliances are built into the cabinetry, and the garbage chute built into the counters. And don't let me even start on the beautiful, landscaped, stone-paved roofdeck, which offers a panoramic view of this city nestled in the mountains.
The next morning we woke up to a normal Swiss breakfast: fresh bread, goat cheese, yogurt, fruit. Delicious! I think Nicole was surprised at how thrilled we were at the fare - if we were having guests in the US, we'd probably cook up some eggs, bacon and toast which would be normal for us, and odd for them. There's a place for eggs and bacon, but I think I prefer the fresh bread, fruit and yogurt for the most part.
Two very important things of note.
Firstly: Nicole was the most spectacular host, ever. She and Kurt had spent time preparing maps, highlighting sections of the city they thought we might be interested in, directed us to the cool shops and restaurants, brought us to the place you can rent bikes for free. Nicole gave us the perfect mix of freedom and companionship - letting us wander on our own, and bringing us around the city herself. And because she had spent years in Boston, and then another 6 months or so travelling the world (time in Africa, South America, travelling with a nomadic Mongolian tribe, you name it, she's been there, because she and Kurt are super cool like that) we spent hours and hours talking about the cultures and how things compare, what is good, what is not-so-good and those conversations were one of the highlights of our trip. And she told us we needed to go to Movenpick and get ice cream. She was so right.
Secondly: I was astounded and impressed by how the Swiss live up to their reputation for order and efficiency. While it seems that on the extreme this leads to a rigidity in their society and culture (it would appear you'd never invite along friends to a party and just show up with a six-pack), on the other side the lack of waste, and the extreme consciousness of efficiency of design and consumption results in a society that is a model of environmental responsibility and conservation. Trash bags are very expensive, to discourage people from filling them up quickly. All glass is recycled, always. (I'm pretty sure that applies to all recyclables.) Nicole was very taken aback by the idea of throwing out a bottle, and she and Kurt were dumbfounded by the endless plastic shopping bags littering streets in the US. Though the US and Switzerland are both very wealthy nations, their approach towards conservation, space and design couldn't be more different. Good things to take home.
And this brings me to the best single night of our trip.
It was Saturday night, our second night in Zurich, and Nicole was taking us out on the town. We went for drinks up in the Jules Verne tower, which was a fabulously dimly lit place, perfect for a cocktail. The walls are circular and there are windows all around, so you can walk full circle and get a full view of the city at night. After lounging around for awhile, Nicole brought us to this super cool restaurant that used to be a horse stable (sounds strange but the wooden walls and high beamed ceiling made for a surprising cozy place) and that at midnight converts itself into a club. Because in Europe everyone goes out at 1am. When the bars close in Boston. Yup.
So, we dined deliciously, we lounged as midnight approached, we had drinks and smoked butts, and when the lights dimmed and the club started filling up, we people watched for awhile. And slowly we realized that, really, the club scene wasn't doing it for us. So somewhere around 1:30 we hopped a ridiculously expensive cab (starts at 6E, approx $8, to encourage people to take public transportation) back to Nicole's place, where we proceeded to stay up until the wee hours on her porch, drinking Grappa and a fabulous Italian desert wine that Nicole brought back from northern Italy, eating Luxemburgerli, and having the best conversations.
We had the best time. See?
"What are Luxemburgerli" you ask? They are like little chocolate hamburgers, lighter than air, with a mousse filling:
Okay, they come in a bunch of flavors: vanilla, champagne, strawberry, chocolate, coffee, and more.
And they are divine.
Things We Saw
The Bahnhofstrasse. This is the tony shopping district, a street that is lined with some of the most fashionable and luxurious stores in the world. The window shopping was fun, but the only stores we actually went in and patronized were the confisseries. In those we went nuts. I went nuts. Eric just helped me carry all the loot. At Nicole's suggestion, I walked out with a bunch of these:
Which is a chocolate bar filled with little air bubbles, mixed with honey and almond bits. My new favorite chocolate bar. Used to be Lindt milk chocalate with hazelnuts. Not anymore.
The other thing that was maybe the coolest thing about Zurich as a city is that they have all these water fountains:
that were carved into the city infrastructure during the Middle Ages that pipe in pure spring water from the surrounding mountains. Everyone drinks out of them, the water is crystal clear, and all you need to do is carry a water bottle around with you all day, and you can fill up anywhere. They're practically on every corner. It's unbelievable.
Things I Learned
Lots and lots and lots.
*About conservation, and social structures, school systems and immigration policies.
*About the EU, its impact on European nations and the related good, bad, and ugly.
*I learned that the Swiss are Very Put Together. In a neat way, not a fluid way like the French.
*I learned that William Tell was real.
Things I Regret
*Not taking more digital pictures. Eric went to town with his film, and I got lazy.
*Not seeing Kurt (who was in the US on business) - we missed you Kurt!
*Not bringing back more chocolate. I thought I had a lot, but it was not nearly enough. The Cailler is to die for, and it's not available in the States.
Next Stop: Aunt Marianne, Uncle Mario and their farm in southern Italy, or, Why Naples is the Scariest City on Earth.