Next thing you know, we are already on our way to the last leg of our adventure. Switzerland is now behind us, and our final country is Italy, with stops in Venice, Florence, and Rome. To be honest, I am a bit glad that we’re done with this super expensive country.
We only stayed one night in Lucerne, so it felt quite rushed, but even half a day is plenty to fully explore Lucerne… at least the city, anyway. There are tons of cruises and mountain excursions you could also check out. Pilatus is probably the most famous sight around this area, and I heard the view is amazing from there, but we didn’t have the time to check it out. That’s okay though; I said I wasn’t done with Interlaken, so the next time I’m back, I could easily swing by Lucerne as well.
The train ride from Interlaken to Lucerne was really something. I should first mention that this trip took 2 hours by train, and it was a total distance of 70 km. Compare this with Geneva to Interlaken: 3 hours by train, around 230 km. I had a pretty weak GPS signal, so I couldn’t measure the train velocity, but I’m estimating the average velocity on the train today was probably 40 km/h – a huge reduction from the speeds we got on previous trips.
There’s a few reasons for this. First of all, there are a bunch of tiny rural cities between Interlaken and Lucerne, and the train had to stop at every station along the way. Secondly, we were weaving in and out of the Swiss Alps – from mountain to lake back to mountain. If the train went at full speed through these high roads, I’m pretty sure I would be a lot more scared! Furthermore, a bunch of sections of the tracks actually only had room for one train to pass, so waiting for oncoming traffic probably delayed the trip a bit as well.
All that being said, I definitely recommend the ride. What better way to enjoy the amazing scenery of the Swiss Alps? I can show you pictures, but I’m telling you, these sights are so different when you see them in person. You have to experience it first hand before you can feel the awe of God’s creation.
I must say, I’m quite surprised by the number of Chinese and Korean people I’ve seen in Lucerne and Interlaken – not so much Geneva and Zurich though. It’s weird, because before I did any research about Switzerland, I didn’t even know that Lucerne and Interlaken existed!
We arrived in Zurich, again by train, but this time there were no mountains. The main train station in Zurich is huge! It’s easy to get lost inside that massive complex. At the same time, that was the first hint that we were finally back in a real city, after a couple of days in the countryside.
Zurich is probably one of the cities that I feel like I fully explored without getting bored. There wasn’t quite enough in Geneva to stay two nights without being bored, but for Zurich, it was just about right. On our first day, after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we went to see ETH Zurich – it made us feel like our trip was a bit more educational rather than just plain fun and games. The campus is quite nice. Situated on a small hill, you can get a pretty nice view over a part of Zurich from there. It’s also surprisingly small… I expected a huge campus from such a highly rated school! But then again, UBC is pretty big, and they’re not that highly rated (at least not to the same degree as ETH), so there isn’t much correlation.
There really isn’t much you can do when you go visit a school; I mean, it’s not like you’re going to drop in and audit a class. But at ETH Zurich, they do have this free zoology/anthropology exhibit. It’s quite impressive too! They have a lot of fossils, skeletons, and fake animals for you to look at.
We had a delicious cheese fondue for dinner. I remember how strong European cheeses usually are, so I asked the waiter about it, and he said this one that we picked is medium. I still thought it was strong. But it was a really good cheese fondue! It’s just that I’ve already been telling myself to run every day once I’m back home… I’m sure I’ll have to up it to 7k instead of 5k.
On Sunday, we went out, and the first thing I realized was that everything was closed. Literally everything – supermarkets, restaurants, retailers – even in the busiest downtown areas of the city. Bahnhofstrasse, which is the main downtown shopping street in Zurich and houses all your most expensive brands (LV, Tiffany & Co, etc), was completely dead. Luckily, the Swiss National Museum was open, so we went there for a look.
I haven’t been to many museums during this trip to Europe. I prefer walking around different areas, and getting a feel for the area. But this Swiss National Museum caught my eye while I was looking at things to do. There’s a very detailed exhibit of the history of Switzerland, and how its culture/religion/economy came to be. The economics was my favourite part. It explains how during the Industrial Revolution, Switzerland was able to accumulate wealth through its exports – mainly clocks and watches, as we all know Switzerland is still famous for them, but also textiles and cows. (Yes, cows). Of course, lots of countries blossomed during their respective Industrial Revolutions, but I guess clocks just sold for more, and it helped Switzerland get rich first. And as you have probably heard, it takes money to make money, so the wealthy people had the capital to set up Swiss banks, and get even more rich. Hence, today you have Switzerland as one of the most affluent countries in the world. (It really reflects in the prices of commodities here!)
Another interesting thing I learned from the Swiss National Museum: both Ovaltine and Nestle were founded in Switzerland. I always thought Nestle was American, and Ovaltine was from Hong Kong. It’s amazing how you can change perception with marketing.
Anyway, just for the record, if you’re out on a Sunday in Zurich and looking for food, try the train station. It’s the one place that’s always open. So many restaurants are closed in the neighbourhood!
I mentioned this before – German is the main language in Zurich. It’s really interesting to see even the name of the post office change, from “La Poste” in Geneva to “Die Post” here in Zurich.
During my week in Switzerland, I’ve seen numerous public fountains. Each of them are unique, and they all sprout fresh water that people seem to have no problem drinking out of. After seeing so many people fill up their water bottles with this water, I’ve picked up the habit of doing the same.
In this short week, I’ve also met my quota of chocolate for at least the next two months or so. The Swiss are huge on their chocolate! Even on Swiss Air, they give out Switzerland Frey chocolate rather than savoury treats.
I must say though, Swiss chocolate is really nice and creamy, although it’s not the type of chocolate I’m into. From my one week of experience, Switzerland is famous for cows, which produce good milk and cream for milk chocolate. On the other hand, I like the rich and strong flavour of dark chocolate, and those ingredients usually comes from places such as Madagascar; places that produce coffee beans. Both are really good, I just have my preference 🙂
All in all, Zurich is really nice, but I feel like its more worthwhile to spend my money seeing the beautiful nature of Switzerland rather than ‘just another city’. Especially when it costs so much to live in this country!