By David Kong (Comm ’14)
Switzerland, by most standards, is a completely respectable nation. It’s rich yet equal, patriotic yet peaceful, diverse in culture and language yet united in most things. From Paris, a bullet train arrives in Geneva in a mere three hours. From there, the train meanders through mountainous and picturesque towns like Lausanne, known for the post-WWI treaty with Turkey, and through the capital, Bern, before arriving in Zurich. Like Belgium, the south is French and the north is German (though of “a whole different breed” said one German-speaking commentator). And like Amsterdam to Brussels, Zurich is beautiful and exciting compared to a duller Geneva.
Zurich is set in a magnificent nature-scape comprised of rivers, a lake and mountains in the near distance. The city itself is mountainous, providing views of rings of houses that hug the hilly contours. From city centre, the first activity should be to go south from the train station, which embraces the river on its west bank until the lake is reached. More inland, Swiss and international luxuries can be found on Bahnhofstrasse: Bally clothing, Sprüngli the chocolatier; they’re all there.
The real gem of Zurich is in the West, in the 4th and 5th districts. Start with the Markethall Im Viadukt in the 5th, a market with an easygoing restaurant in the back. Generous portions of rustic cooking – salad, omelette, polenta and sausage – are easy to eat and come out to 50 CHF (for two). Walking northwest the unending string of shops of Im Viadukt, that cohabit a railway bridge, present a hipster paradise of clothes, furniture and other knick-knacks. A Nudie Jean store has denim beanbag chairs, and artisan works on exposed-wood tables in the back of a nearby shop.. Hop to the 4th to see Street-Files Mini Mart for clothing cool people wear and another cluster of innovative shops.
Like the products it sells, Switzerland is a niche destination that will delight some travelers and tire others, however visiting will at least burst the bubble of the Swiss excellence labeled on its watches and chocolates. Indeed, the Zurich transit system is timely and efficient (though the one in Geneva could be better) and there were no homeless people, but on one evening, a restaurant was closed at the time of my reservation. Stupidity is a human phenomenon and a strong pan-European propensity from which the Swiss can’t be excluded. Their opportunism in the World Wars is often misinterpreted as pacifism (they hid money for Hitler). Today, their banks are under pressure both from within and from offshore finance watchdogs. The oligopolistic structure of their industries creates exorbitant prices exacerbated by a strong currency, resulting in a loss of competitiveness. Even the Swiss can falter.
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