The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
And whither then? I cannot say” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Since I have been living in Europe for almost a month, a decided it was time to visit at least one city outside of Italy. Initially, I planned on flying to Annecy, France, but as I looked at the flights, I changed my mind and decided to visit Zurich. The cheapest flight only gave me three days, so I knew I had to do my research to make sure I could spend as much time out and about as possible.
Where I stayed:
After scouring different Airbnb options, I decided to stay in a small town called Bülach, located about 30 minutes outside Zurich by train. While living in Florence, Italy over the last few weeks, I have grown accustomed to the constant sound of cars and tourists passing my window, with the occasional blaring of ambulance sirens. However, after arriving in Bülach, I remembered how refreshing silence and the sound of nature can be.
In the mornings, I woke to cool air and birds chirping. Then, as I walked to the bus stop or train station, I noticed how the quiet, clean streets contrasted the uneven streets and slightly-off architectural angles in Italy. Although I stayed in a more modern apartment complex in Bülach, the older section of the town boasted some very pretty and quaint architecture – brightly colored, angled wooden slats on the sides of buildings and wood-shingled roofs.
What to Do:
Prior to my flight, I thoroughly researched activities in Zurich and the surrounding area, particularly cheap or free activities. This is a step people sometimes ignore, but research is vital to an enjoyable vacation and often helps reduce travel costs. Like many other European cities, Zurich offers many free walking tours, as well as some paid tours. in particular, visitors can go on a Downtown Zurich tour, New in Zurich tour, Langstrasse tour, and Historical tour to name a few of the free tours. The paid tours include a Reformation tour and a Chocolate tour. I decided to do the free Downtown tour and Chocolate tour. However, when I went to do the nighttime Downtown tour, I ended up being the only one. I chatted with the tour guide, Daniel, while we waited to see if anyone else would show up (typically the afternoon tours are the most crowded). When no one else arrived, Daniel suggested we go to his friends wine bar and watch the football (soccer) game, Belgium versus Brazil. Since I love watching football, and I had nothing else to do, I went along. I am typically distrusting of most strangers ( I think it is a side effect of my major), but this time I decided to seize the moment, following my university’s motto — Carpe Diem. I am so glad I went! I had a wonderful time talking with his friends about everything from travel to languages to movies to culture and sipping some extremely good wine. While I wouldn’t always suggest going off with complete strangers, there is definitely something to be said for trusting your gut. I had a good feeling, and so I went, which turned out to be an experience I will never forget.
The next day, I went on the chocolate tour, which cost a reasonable 30 CHF (about $30). It combined eating chocolate and learning history about the city and country. Switzerland has four official national languages – German, French, Italian, and Romannsh. Interestingly, Switzerland has no capital. Rather, it is composed of 26 cantons, with important government buildings distributed between the regions. While this may seem like an odd concept, the diversity of Switzerland’s population makes this arrangement suitable, as no culture, language, or people are seen as “above” another.
Fun Fact: All the fountains in Zurich, and in a lot of other Swiss cities, double as water fountains. Despite their decorative designs, the fountains spout fresh water from the mountain lakes and springs and are quite safe to drink from. This saves a lot of money as there is no need to buy water.
On the tour, I tasted a champagne truffle, a raspberry infused caramel, another chocolate truffle, and several different macarons (the chocolate macaron was quite rich). The chocolate was smooth with very bold flavors. As a note, the Lindt chocolate brand serves as the global branch of the Lindt & Sprüngli. Sprüngli is found almost exclusively in Switzerland. Tourists can visit the Lindt factory near Zurich, but it is not the highest quality chocolate; Sprüngli is much better. To taste unique truffles and other desserts, just pop into any of the numerous independent chocolate shops throughout the city.
Later in the day, I visited the Zoology museum, also a free attraction, located in the University of Zurich. This was a wonderful museum with so many different species of animals. Kids and adults alike would enjoy the displays, which offered numerous interactive options.
I also visited the Beyer Clock Museum, which costs only 3 CHF for students. While a clock museum may sound boring, it was honestly one of the coolest museums I have been too. Despite it’s small size, the museum boasted numerous time-keeping specimens, from ancient devices to pocket watches, to weighted clocks. Each visitor receives an iPad (with different language options) that chronicles the progression of time-keeping devices as visitors move from display to display. One of my favorite clocks was a beautiful hot air balloon.
While walking through the city, I also managed to quickly stop at two botanical gardens. One was operated by the University of Zurich and the other was a smaller, older garden (hence its title, Old Botanical Garden).
On my last full day, I planned to go hiking. Although Zurich itself is in more of a valley, many hiking tours start there and travel into the Alps. However, I did not want to spend a lot of money on a guided tour though, as these can sometimes be underwhelming, slow, and less enjoyable. So, I decided to go on the Stoos Ridge Hike after reading a blog post by momstotszurich. The blog was wonderful, offering very detailed descriptions of hikes across Switzerland, everything from travel time and price to the difficulty of trials. The hike I chose cost 45 CHF as I had to take a funicular train and chair lift to reach the start of the hike. This particular funicular train is the steepest in the world. My ears popped so many times on the way up and down that I lost count. This trail basically takes you to a peak and then the trail traverses across the top of the mountain range. Although it was certainly not as difficult as hiking straight up the mountain, it was still challenging. The estimated time for the hike was 2 hours, but I finished it in about 1 hour 45 minutes, including the time I took to stop and take pictures. The trail had some pretty steep inclines, but it also had some nice flat sections that allowed me to catch my breath. Many hikers also used walking sticks to maintain balance. The trail was well marked and easy to follow, so there was really no concern about getting lost.
The trail itself offered wonderful views of other mountain ranges, lakes, and villages. Some mountains were covered in greenery, but others had patches of snow dotting the peaks. Along the trail I took, numerous varieties of wild flowers sprouted on the mountain slopes. The vibrantly colored flowers were so unique and quite different from the scenery I have experienced while hiking in New Hampshire. Rather than being enclosed by trees, a cool breeze washed across my face, and I did not have to worry one iota about mosquitoes!
At several places along the trail, wooden crosses adorned the peaks of mountains, often with a small resting place for hikers to catch their breath. For those who have watched the Lord of the Rings movies, the hike reminded me of all those times the camera would pan out to show the Fellowship of the Ring members trekking across mountain ranges with dramatic music playing in the background. The end of the trail brought me to a lookout where there was a small playground and cafe, as well as a chair lift that takes hikers back down into the village of Stoos. From Stoos, hikers can then take the funicular train all the way down. More ambitious hikers can also forgo the lift and hike back down into Stoos then hop on the funicular.
After my hike I was pretty exhausted, so I would not recommend planning a bunch of activities after a hike; make the hike the focal point of your day and then plan a relaxing evening. As it was my last night in Switzerland and I didn’t have the energy to explore more of Bülach, my amazing Airbnb host, Anne, gave me a locally brewed beer (St.Laurentius) to try. I had never really tried beer before as I typically dislike the smell, preferring wine instead; however, this beer was brewed with natural strawberry flavor, and while that may sound weird, it was absolutely delicious! It was not cloyingly sweet either; I would describe it more along the lines of light and refreshing. Even more interesting (although bit morbid), the grill-like symbol on the side of the bottle was the town’s crest, which commemorated how the city’s patron saint, St.Laurentius, died (burned on a grill).
Farewell to Switzerland:
Although my stay was brief, it was an incredible experience. I can now check another item off my bucket list, as I fulfilled my dream of hiking in the Alps and tasting chocolate in Switzerland. It’s a bit daunting, embarking on a journey to another country, but, in the end, it’s worth it. The memories you will make, the food you will taste, and the people you will meet far outweigh the benefits of staying in your comfort zone — it is simply a matter of having the courage to take the first step along the path. And don’t let cost stop you, there are a ton of cheap vacation spots that will not break your budget, like Croatia (as recommended by my friend). In the words of Bilbo Baggins, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”