From the plane window, I already saw snow almost everywhere. Despite that, it took me a while to really digest the fact that I already touched down upon Zürich. When I alighted the plane, the layering I had thought was just fine, could barely keep me warm enough. Not to mention the excitement which was definitely not helping and added more to the chills. As it turns out, I was not prepared for the cold weather, the same way that I was not fully prepared about what to expect as I explore the beautiful City.
The City at the Waterfront
Zürich is situated at the Northern part of Switzerland and lies at the north end of Lake Zürich. The beautiful city at the waterfront is not only known for its Altstadt (Old Town), which is picturesque in every corner by the way, but is also considered as the global centre of banking and finance. The city in itself showcases an orgasmic mix of cultural ages, from Ancient Times to Modern Age, which are densely depicted in the City’s architecture and art.
Zürich did not just meet my expectations, but truly exceeded far beyond. The photos online (my photos included) did not do justice on how beautiful the City is. However, I would still insist (yes, I’m leaving you no other choice but to continue reading) that I share with you how I explored Zürich and came to the point of actually falling in love with it.
Lost in the City
Every traveller dreamt, or is still dreaming, of becoming lost in a beautiful city, at least once in his or her lifetime. A dream that became so mainstream that everyone put them in his/her personal bucket list, me included. Unintentionally, I was able to tick that off my list in Switzerland. On my first day in the City, I decided to head to Zürich Old Town where most of the tourist attractions are. I left my hotel and rode a tram train to the main station thinking that it is only ideal to start my city tour from there. While in the tram, I did my best to absorb my surroundings and the scenery. Upon reaching the third stop, I couldn’t help but notice the mountains covered in snow from afar (We don’t have snow in PH, thus the excitement). At first, I tried to ignore the nagging feeling and stayed in my tram seat. However, my itchy feet took over and in the next station, I found myself getting off the tram.
I finally got lost in the beautiful City and it is probably the best of all clichés that can happen to any traveller. Getting lost in a foreign country, or in any city for that matter, can open your mind to possibilities, both good and bad, resulting to an improved consciousness that allows you to absorb, and immerse yourself into, your surroundings. It sounds scientific right? Well, not really. But it is what I have felt during that moment. I was out of my comfort zone, there was no internet (since my roaming plan did not get activated), no other means of communication other than really asking the locals. I was able to observe a lot of things, and understood somehow how Swiss’ way of living is.
Old souls in the Modern Age
When you ride a tram train which is their primary means of transportation (I’ll talk about their efficient transportation system in a few), you’ll already have a quick glimpse of the behaviour of the Swiss people. Unlike what I usually experience in the Philippines, people in Zürich are not avid consumers of the internet. Normally, you’d see people reading books, scribbling, having a great chat or even enjoying the scenery outside as if it was their first time in the City. And yes, I am talking about the locals.
It feels like I was in a city filled with old souls. And when I say old souls, believe me that I meant it in a complimentary way.
I finally got lost in the beautiful City and it is probably the best of all clichés that can happen to any traveller.
Despite being part of what the society classifies as first world country, people in Zürich remain grounded, and keep their values intact, which core values play such a huge role in their day-to-day life. They are mostly not into Social Media and they barely touch their smartphones. I saw few individuals using their phones engaged on a seemingly interesting discussion. Some would text and then will keep their phones stashed in their jackets right after. Others will only get their phones just to start playing music. It seems like they still find balance between this distracting world of media and the real life outside.
Ninety-nine percent tourist-friendly
I’ve only been to four countries outside the Philippines so far, and I must say that with that limited experience, Switzerland is almost a hundred percent tourist-friendly. Getting lost in the City is not pure fun if you are really lost and you don’t know where to go. At some point you will get worried and will need to find your way to your destination. With no way to search in Google Maps and the offline map on my phone is at risk of draining my phone battery, there is no other way but to ask the locals on how to get to wherever. This is when I had my first interaction with the locals and likewise found how very much willing they are to help anyone, specially tourists.
The citizens mostly understand and can speak English and if they understood that you are in need of help, they will go out of their way to help you out. Some are willing to check their smartphones just to check Google Maps on what the most efficient route is that you can take. Some go to the extent of bringing you to the right tram station and wait for the train with you. There was even an instance that we were lost and are still in panic because we thought we rode the wrong train and an old lady who probably saw how panicked we were, approached us and offered her help without us asking.
You might ask though: “Why just ninety-nine percent and not a hundred?” The City is really safe, people are nice and helpful, the weather is perfect, the transportation is more than efficient so what’s that missing one percent for? Well, I don’t speak German/Swiss German and most of the signages are in their local language. It was truly a struggle for any tourist like myself who doesn’t know their language.
Ease of Transportation
Zürich’s transportation is nothing but reliable and highly efficient. The schedules of train arrivals are systematic and are followed on-the-dot. You can go to almost every corner of the City by riding trams and it makes the idea of getting lost in the city a lot easier to bear. I once read that a sign of a truly developed country is not the number of private cars on the road but the efficiency of the country’s public transportation system. Switzerland indeed really nailed that part. There’s no traffic even in the Main City and you can travel kilometres comfortably in their trams in 20 – 3o minutes or even less.
Likewise, tourists are also encouraged to get a Zürich Card or a Swiss Travel Pass that will make travelling a lot easier and cheaper within the City or Country. If you’re not keen on getting their travel passes, you can still avail of their day-tickets or single journey tickets. However, I highly recommend for travellers who are staying in Zürich for 2 or 3 days to get a Zürich Card. It will save you lots of money and also will give you access to most of the museums free or at times at a discounted rate. The Zürich Card will cost you roughly around CHF 24.00 – CHF 48.00 depending on your age and the number of days the card’s validity. For more info, please visit this link.
If you are to travel other places in Switzerland aside from Zürich, then I suggest you get a Swiss Travel Pass. It will give you unlimited access to all forms of public transportation in the whole Country and will save you a lot of money. I availed of the Swiss Travel pass and it was all worth it. My travel pass, since I am just 25 and is still considered youth in their legal standards (Hey, I am really just 25), is discounted at CHF 179.00, good for three days.
Finding what is lost
Ironically, the moment I got lost in the City of Zürich is the very same moment which helped me understand the values, ideals, and assets the City offers. I was able to experience and prove how efficient their transportation system is, and also had the chance to witness Swiss people’s innate kindness. While interacting with the locals, I was able to get an inkling of their core values as individuals, for which I would always be grateful. It helped me raise my personal standards, too — standards that were diluted, deterred and altered by the influence of the mainstream media which focuses on everything but personal and human development. On top of it all, I was privileged to realise that having an old soul can be oddly satisfying and shouldn’t be considered as rather a lack of enthusiasm for life and all its pleasures. In the process of getting lost in the beautiful City of Zürich, I found what matters the most in the hearts of its people.
Watch out for the second part of my Zürich series. 🙂