If I takes the 7:12 train from Lugano to Zürich, I go knowing that I’m heading to one of my favorite cities on earth. The train will quietly usher you over the Gotthard Pass and into one of the greatest places I’ve ever had the chance to explore.
Zurich seems sleepy; it’s metropolitan area clocks in at under 400,000 people, and is cradled in the mountains and hugged by a lake. Don’t be misled, though. Zürich is a city of quiet efficiency, of money, culture and food, but it’s not overt or obscene. The Swiss bask in a great system, but part of being Swiss is not creating envy in others. When one goes to Zürich, a feeling of contentment comes. White noise from the trams, people and cars is soft, not overbearing. I am almost lulled into taking a nap on a park bench; another added bonus is that one could actually do so and know that the bench would be clean and nobody would pickpocket you whilst in a mid-city bench slumber.
It’s also a multi-lingual town: Switzerland has four national tongues (French, German, Italian and Romansch), but toss in English, some Russian, Scandinavian and Nordic languages peppering the air of Zürich, and you’ve got a spiced up city (oh, and Croatian is popular, too!). If you want a truly multi-lingual experience go and sit in any of the cities Starbucks. Plunk yourself on the second floor where the university students are huddled, studying, people are having conversations, others chirp into cell phones; at least six languages will be heard in under 5 minutes, I swear it.
Zürich means the Kunsthaus- a rip-roaring art nerd’s paradise. Honestly, I can’t talk about how wonderful the Kunsthaus is enough- it’s so easy to get to, the collection is fantastic and well done, and it’s never really crowded, so it’s easy to take one’s time and get close to the art and examine it from all angles. Cy Twombly, Picasso, Mondrian, lots of Swiss and German Renaissance masters, and so much more. They’ve got a massively brilliant modern and contemporary collection- right now they’re making a new part of the museum open, and adding in more works. The Kunsthaus is also walkable from the Old Town and the Bahnhof (train station), and is super close to the lake, too.
If this city means anything, it means wandering, and it means staring at the beautiful Protestant churches. The Grossmünster is a sight to see, and the Fraumünster is right up there. The Grossmünster has stained glass windows, but also windows made from agate: agate pieces welded together to form beautiful combinations of light and color. If/when you go to Zurich do not miss out on these churches. They also have amazing carved doors and lovely steps and angles.
For eating, I’m a broke college student, so restaurants are the kind that serve large amounts of food for cheap (ish). Lee’s Take Out, in the Old Town, gives you heaping plates of noodles and rice with delicious toppings- and outdoor dining (this means picnic tables leaning at an angle on the cobblestone) for about 18 CHF. It’s not classy, it’s not dainty, it’s just good. If you’re not terribly hungry but want something to eat, a hot fresh brezel from outside COOP is 5 CHF and delicious- I like mine buttered.
If you want dainty things, Zürich proffers the Luxembrgerli for your refined palette. Made by the Confiserie Sprüngli, they are tiny little macarons made in a dazzling array of colors and flavors- my personal favorite is Cappuccino, although Himbeer (raspberry) is a top second! Any Sprungli store will be mobbed with metropolitan madness; the Luxemburgerli are a hot item at any time of the day. Thusly, if you want a Luxemburgerli, you can get one at a quieter branch in the Bahnhof or the airport, but the most fun is earning your Luxemburgerli by patiently and doggedly creeping up from the back of the ravenous (and chic) pack at the main Sprüngli branch on Bahnhofstraße.
And with that, tschüß!