Warm, is it? My carefully planned wardrobe neatly packed into one carryon bag has a flaw. It doesn’t take into consideration the freak warm spell. So much for the hat and gloves (though the silk scarf was handy on the one cool day, a trick I picked up from my sister Denise).
Courtyard view from hotel window
Wednesday’s tiyul: We get a leisurely start, leaving the hotel around 9:30 after the breakfast of sorts. All white flour, fatty cheese… no salads and not much fruit visible. (This is not surprising from a country that considers a sandwich white bread with some meat and cheese in it—no lettuce, tomato, etc.) In fact, it is a very strange contradiction between seemingly slim and healthy people who all smoke and maintain terrible diets. Several people said things to the effect that salads and vegetables are things for people who “don’t each meat,” as if everyone else is somehow except from the need for fiber and vitamins.
Zurich is a sparkling city. There is no question that it is gorgeous, but it is so clean and orderly that it is almost slightly antiseptic. Even the odd bits of graffiti fail to make an impact on the highly sanitized feel. Everyone is calm, quiet, and polite. They wait for you to get off the tram before they try to get on. They are helpful and friendly without being warm. You have to look long and hard to find any litter, and everyone seems to comply with laws and rules. Drivers stop at crosswalks. The trains are quiet—no blaring music, no loud conversations, no screaming kids, no intrusive cellphone conversations. Even the dogs are quiet and polite.
Riding the trams
More things that make me go “Huh?”: The tap water is icy cold and tasty. The bottled water is room-temperature and nasty. And despite staying in a three-star hotel that is costing us over $140 a night, the toilet paper is rough and crude.
But back to our tiyul. We eventually found the station with the train that goes up to the top of the mountain behind the city. From the station, we hiked up to a hotel in the middle of nowhere, ornamented with odd alpaca sculptures. The grounds are dominated by two massive communication towers; one allows free access up to an observation platform, which I diligently climbed, only to discover that the overcast weather blotted out any view of the city spread out below.
Looking down on the park
Gill on alpaca bench
From there, we walked through the hiking trails, got mildly lost, and eventually came out near another station on the train route. The forests, a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, is so green that it almost hurts our eyes. There are small streams running through, labeled bike routes, and even the occasional drinking fountain. It is extremely quiet and we only see a few other people during this hour.
Waiting at the small station, I struck up a conversation with a young American guy living in Switzerland. He helps translate between us and the kiosk worker, so we can get coffee and a cheese sandwich (which turns out to be so horribly salty that we can barely eat it). Finally, the train arrives, and by midday, we are back in downtown Zurich, walking along the Bahnhofstrasse, purported to be one of the most expensive bits of real estate in the world.
Using my list of non-smoking restaurants, we find a little place that lets us sit inside in peace and even has a few veggie options. From there, we stroll a bit more, ending up down at the lake (Lake Zurich), where we discover that our day pass gives us free access to the ferries that ply the lake. So we end up getting on and riding the ferry for the 90 minute full loop of stops along both east and west shores. I chat with an older woman who is holding her tiny, caramel-colored poodle (named Phyllis) on her lap. She points out sights of interest along the shore and tells me about the changes in the area.
Phyllis on Lake Zurich with her human
It is already about 18:00 when we get back and we both need to relax a bit before heading out in search of dinner. My early start the next day means keeping things simple and close, so we end up at a small Chinese place in the neighborhood, where we eat and skip out quickly when someone lights up.
Thursday, 19 April: I wake up well before the 6:00 call and layer up for a morning run. The desk clerk suggests heading up the street towards the church, and it is a great recommendation, as I wind in and out of quite, leafy residential streets, well away from the noise and traffic of the main drags. It is cool but clear, and it is obvious that the day will heat up.
Not knowing how long it will take to get to the Zurich Financial Services building on the western shore of Lake Zurich, I head out around 7:40. Two tram rides and a short walk later, and I am there. The building is spectacular, with ornate doodads, lavish applications of gold leaf, and massive stained glass windows flanking marble staircases. I feel underdressed. A uniformed doorman escorts me to the waiting area.The TAC conference is tiny this year; they expect about 25 people, and I was thinking there would be about 100 or more. The program starts with two multi-cultural talks, and there are enough breaks throughout the day to network and reconnect with colleagues.
By 17:30, I’m on my way back to the hotel. Gill and I head out and find another restaurant on my list, but it is jam packed and they don’t take reservations. Right around the corner, we stumble on a tiny Korean place, part counter restaurant, and part grocery store. The place is non-smoking, and we have a very colorful and interesting meal.
Gill has a chance to fill me in on his day’s adventures, which included traveling to see some the famous Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe.
Stay tuned for more pictures…