As we deliberated where to go for Christmas, we first thought of snow. Where would it be a guarantee for snow this Christmas in Europe? The Alps! Of course! Something we still aren’t used to living in London, is how many days off work Jeff gets. In the U.S., we get two weeks and holidays, period. All told in London, it’s about thirty days, and despite all of our traveling this year (nine countries in twelve months), he still has a few extra days to carry over for next year. So, an extra long trip was definitely in order this Christmas.
Like our time, we like to get as much bang for our quid, so we decided that three cities would be the best way to go. Our first stop off was to Zurich, Switzerland.
We arrived to a grey and misty day, much like our days in Munich. We were so disappointed to not be able to see the sun, but with nothing to do about it, we put on a grin anyway. We arrived to our AirBNB spot around 1p near the Waldgarten tram station, which situated us on the north east side of city center, but close to the airport. Since we weren’t staying long, we didn’t see the need to be too rural and out of the way.
But where we stayed was absolutely perfect. A big, spacious two bedroom flat for cheap at the holiday season was the best option for us just a tram ride away from city center. We took the quick ride in and first found ourselves with not much to do. For the financial hub of the world, there really wasn’t much going on besides storefronts and overly priced meal options. But we did come across one of the big monuments of Zurich: the Grossmunster Church. It stands tall on the East side of the Limmat River with two tall towers in the shapes of domes.
What struck me upon entering was not the space itself, but the masterful stained glass windows. They were not the traditional religious art that is plastered over most the windows in the UK. They were like gemstones cut and placed in the thin glass. It was extraordinary. While no pictures were allowed in any of the churches, I managed to sneak a few to share with you, but unfortunately not the stained glass. Feel free to go forth and Google.
This is one the four main churches in Zurich originally opened in 1220 as a monastery. Want a fun fact? Munster is Latin for monastery which is something that originated in England back in the 7th century. Back to Grossmunster, it was first founded by Charlamagne whose horse fell to its knees over the graves of Zurich’s patron saints, according to legend. There is actually a large statue for Charlamagne in the moldy crypt underneath some stairs behind the pulpit which is incredibly imposing but also beautiful.
From there, we wandered the streets in search for something to eat. It proved a bit of a challenge thanks to my stomach and our wallet. Things were so expensive, we were in mild shock. I mean, 22 CHF (which does roughly equal the dollar) for the cheapest meal on some menus. But we did finally manage to find a basic kebab or butcher shop that wasn’t exorbitant but still a bit steep for what we got. We wound up bringing snacks and cooking at the flat for the remainder of our meals just to save a few Francs.
We walked around the streets with the small and old town feel but also the steep inclines and declines around the cobblestones which made for a workout rather than a sightseeing adventure. We came to the large central station that actually housed a large Christmas market. I was in search for a Christmas ornament, but even there, came empty handed. There was only food or kitschy items that would only clutter our flat. But, the big attraction in the center of the area was a huge tree that was covered in Swarovski diamonds (fake I’m sure).
Walking outside the station, we were met immediately with more lights lining the streets and as if on a timer, music or muzak began to flood the streets. We tried to find the source until we finally saw a rotating cuckoo clock much like the Munich Glockenspiel in Marienplatz that dinged metal bells into Christmas carols. I stood in a trance as I stared at this thing for a couple of songs until Jeff pulled me away toward The Singing Tree, which was not actually a singing tree. It was a large choir stand that was in the shape of a tree and fitted with microphones. A bunch of children manned said tree promptly at 5:30pm and started singing in both English and German. There was one singer in particular that stood out to us…but not in a good way. A young man was taking great pains to either hide his incredibly off key voice or accentuate it.
The next morning, we were really scraping things to do in this city. There really isn’t much to delve into without everlasting funds, but we first decided to go see the Schlittelweg Mountain in Triemli. This was a tourist destination for the incredible views of Zurich and Lake Zurich, but we underestimated the steepness of this mountain as we started our hike. We should have been equipped with proper shoes and not heavy jackets, but each level we made up the views got more and more beautiful and therefore worth it despite our sweat-soaked shirts.
Each level came with a completely new look to the mountain such as ethereal woods, to a view of the crystal blue lake and then the deep green foliage that saturated our surroundings. Each of our deep breaths was incredibly refreshing and rebuilding for our second-hand smoke-filled lungs.
Despite the therapeutic and meditative hike, we did manage to catch the funicular down. It was just a quick ride down that still came with “cracking” views. (“Cracking” seems to be a British-ism for awesome or amazing.)
We had a few more churches to check out in the city still, but we decided to at least see the inside of the Fraumunster Church which originated as a women’s aristocratic church. On the outside, there was a painting of Jesus surrounded by people but most notably, two saints called Felix and Regula (the patron saints of Zurich) who carried their own heads after their execution to their final death a top a mountain…according to legend of course. But besides the myth, the church was astounding. The windows, much like Grossmunter, were gorgeous and designed by Chagall, the famous painter.
We had to make it to Burkliplatz by 2:10p for the boat tour around Lake Zurich. On the weekends, the “short tour” of an hour and a half, runs only twice. We got on a tiny boat and made our circle around the picturesque views. Jeff suffers from a bit of motion sickness, but we were thrilled that the waves were not too choppy. We went all around the lake, but check out these pictures. They speak louder than words.
Before it closed, we quickly made it tot he Kunsthaus Museum on the north east side of town. It was a nice mixture of religious and ancient art with modern and post-modern works. We have seen so much religious masterpieces all over Europe, the post-modern pieces were refreshing to see. Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Warhol, Jasper Johns, and so many more wonderful artists were housed in this gorgeous building in the heart of Zurich. It was completely worth the francs and the time spent as well as the perfect end to our tour of Zurich. We left early the next morning to our next destination. Keep reading the blog to find out about Geneva!