Thursday, June 4, 2015

Touring around Zürich

I just barely checked in at the Hotel du Port when I set off again. This time, I was taking the train from Lausanne Gare, in French-speaking Switzerland, to Zürich Hauptbahnhof in Swiss-German Switzerland. No time to rest (yet) because I was going to meet up with Pogs... and it was all worth it because the view throughout the train ride was picturesque. Two hours afterwards, I was disembarking on one of the largest train stations I've been to. I'm not sure if this train station is busier than the Sydney Central Railway Station... but I can't wrap the idea around my head that it is possible to ride a train here and end up in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria. I'm just too much of an small-country island-girl to get a grasp at how big mainland Europe is.  

I met Pogs at the giant clock in the train station. From there, with him as my guide for the afternoon, my Zürich adventure began!

One of the first thing I noticed was how crowded the city was! There were a LOT of people sitting by Lake Zürich. With me growing up with Laguna de Bay in sight, I was amazed at how clean Lake Zürich was despite the crowd around it. There were a lot of birds too. Watercraft abound the area; I was almost expecting a wakeboarder to show up! As I was staring at Lake Zürich, I began to wish that Laguna de Bay start looking like this too. I mean, with all the commercial fish pens in the lake, it will take a lot of political will, social consciousness, and environmental reasoning to get the lake dredged (to allow it to get deep again) and cleaned up. But if the leaders of the Philippines want Laguna Lake to return to its former glory (and reduce Metro Manila flooding), they really need to make drastic changes. Just look at Lake Zürich!

Quite near the lake, Pogs and I made a stop at Mövenpick Ice Cream Gallery, along Theaterstrasse. Pogs said that this is one of the older ice cream companies in Switzerland... and I learned later that the first branch opened in 1948. I understood why it's such a long-running company when I saw the long queue for the ice cream. A lot of people wanted to cool off with a Mövenpick, tourist or local alike!

To avoid the long wait, we opted to eat inside, where there's a table and a few chairs. I liked the clean and modern aesthetic inside the restaurant... I would've stayed longer and ate more ice cream because the vibe was conducive for ice cream bingeing. But we had more places to see and more things to do around Zürich. After we've scraped the last of the delicious ice cream, it was time to hit the streets.

What can I say? I was charmed by the place! Pogs and I walked along narrow cobblestone-paved roads. While we were strolling along Niederdorf Street, I remembered my exploration (read: getting lost) of wintry Nottingham and the rainy and wintry nighttime stroll in Gangnam. Both cities (and this part of Zürich too) had buildings that looked taller than they really are because of the close proximity with each other. The only difference is that the winding streets of Nottingham and Gangnam had buildings of similar colours... monochrome, if you will. But Zürich had colourful buildings that livened up the vibe of the place. It was so unexpected for me because I always imagined Zürich to be all skyscrapers of chrome and glass... like any ultramodern central business district in urban USA... but Zürich certainly kept the charm alive, which made me think of San Francisco somehow.

Anyway, Niederdorf means "low village" and used to be part of the medieval city of Zürich (like Intramuros for Manila, if you will), which was flourishing even before the 18th century. Part of the charm in this area (for me, at least) was the sight of people dining al fresco in all restaurants facing the sun. In the Philippines, people do everything to avoid being under the sun; but here, they embrace it. 

As we continued walking along, we found ourselves approaching the Universität of Zürich (UZH), the biggest university in Switzerland. Pogs mentioned that UZH doesn't have a campus; rather, the buildings of the university are scattered all over the city. It must be interesting, therefore, to study there because one can go around the city to attend classes. I don't know what workday traffic must be like; but if it's like Manila, I'd rather take classes in adjacent buildings than to ride a bike or catch a cab just to get to my next class.

This wasn't Pogs' university though. He's studying at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH), just one of the best universities in the world! This is where Albert Einstein studied and taught physics; where Carl Jung taught psychology; and where Richard Ernst studied and taught, eventually contributing scientifically to the field of NMR spectroscopy. Yeah, ETH is a seriously good school, what with the honour of being associated with 21 Nobel Prize winners.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, the university is located in a very strategic location. The view from the Polyterrasse is amazing! It provides a great view of the city of Zürich... something that I've only seen, as a child, in encyclopedia articles about Europe. At this point, I thought that one of my childhood dreams came true: seeing the rooftops of cities in Europe. I've always thought that this dream would become real when I step foot in the Czech Republic, but never mind... I'm in Switzerland! I cannot wish for anything more spectacular! One thing off the bucket list!

But wait, there's more!

I've previously read about funiculars in the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Supermystery "New Year's Evil", which is set in Quebec City. I've always wanted to ride one of those after reading about it... and Pogs guided me to the UBS Polybahn, a funicular that goes from the Central plaza to the ETH campus up the hill. The view wasn't much because I felt I was looking at shrubbery the whole time, but it was an exciting experience.

As we wound down our day of walking around Zürich, we had dinner at Zeughauskeller. Since it's summer, the sun set late out here. Hence, we were having dinner in what seemed to be the afternoon. Anyway, the Zeughauskeller used to be an armoury (built in 1487... yes, 1487!) and was eventually converted into a restaurant. This Swiss institution was filled when we popped in; hence, we opted to dine al fresco across the street from the main restaurant. 

Because there were a lot of diners, we had to sit with other people at the same table. It was an interesting experience, actually, because it felt like I was back in Singapore, sharing tables with strangers... except that the Zürich experience was a whole lot classier. Pogs suggested I try the traditional Zürich fare, so I ended up with rösti potatoes with a bratwurst, I think it was.

I think this was where Pogs introduced me to sparkling water too. So if anyone asks, my taste for Badoit, San Pellegrino, Schweppes, and Perrier was born in Zürich. Back to the food... it was delicious! I always likes eating hotdogs but it's either on a stick or in a sandwich (with cheese... think Jolly Hotdog). Eating a hotdog with potatoes... this is definitely European, and I was enjoying it. Plus, I've never had a hotdog with onion sauce before. It's a foreign concept to me. But since I was in Zürich, I might as well try.

We finally found our way back to the train station. It was such a fun experience seeing a foreign city with Pogs, especially since I was seeing it from his point of view. Thank you so much, Pogs! 

Someday, I'd like to go back and roam around again. And this is why having adventurous friends, who say that being a first-timer is not an excuse to tour the city, is one of my biggest treasures. Yes, I'm looking at you, Sherry Lou. You pushed me in the right city adventure direction on my first night in Sydney!