Zurich--It is perhaps ironic that one of my fondest memories of this picturesque Alpine city is not of a Zuricher but of a berliner; not a Berliner the person but a berliner the pastry.
In Zurich I was introduced to this sugar-coated confection with a center of raspberry jam, a tender and luscious cousin to the donut.
The aroma of freshly-made berliners wafted through the ari on the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich's fashionable and famous shopping street. Grandmotherly women wearing aprons had set up booths to sell berliners in honor of the city of the same name. To be on the safe side I bought only one, not knowing whether I would find it to my liking. I did, so much that I threw caution to the wind and acquired three more. I promptly entered my version of seventh heaven. I could have eaten a dozen but I opted for the virtuous course and saved room for dinner.
The Bahnhofstrasse is a festive street lined with department stores and expensive shops. Many of them deal exclusively in watches and jewelry. Prices for watches varied widely. Expensive-looking ones started at $10,000. Serious shoppers wandered in and out of these stores intent on making a purchase despite the cost.
The city was a merry display of festivity the day I was there. Zurich was celebrating Berlin's 750th birthday. A marching band played in fron of the St. Gotthard Hotel; flags waved from posts on the sides of the streets; a jazz combo from Berlin entertained the crowd near Fraumunster Church. And then there were those delicious berliners...
Zurich is a cosmopolitan city, the largest in Switzerland. But you can still find touches of the simple and down-to-earth despite its sophistication.
I prefer the simple to the sophisticated so I bypass the stores on the Bahnhofstreasse in favor of Heimatwerk, a small shop near the Limmat River that specializes in Swiss handiwork and crafts. I peruse through displays of pottery, glassware and linen and end up buying two bouquets of pressed Alpine flowers displayed in glass frames. I also stop at a kiosk that sells chocholate.
First there was berliners. Then there was chocholate...
A walk through the narrow and winding streets of the old city that stretches along both sides of the Limmat River reveals Zurich's ancient past. We strolled through an alley on a sidewalk of metal grillwork. It allowed us to look at Roman ruins that had been unearthed beneath our very feet. We ambled along Chimney Sweepers Street, a row of houses at one time inhabited only by members of that honorable profession. We continued to the apartment where Lenin lived. Last but certainly not least, we stopped in fron the picture window of a chocholate shop and drooled over its fanciful display of candies and molded chocholate. Here you can pleasantly pass the time sipping hot chocholate topped with a dollop of whipped cream, or eating chocholate cake or any number of other baked goodies.
First there were berliners and then there was chocholate. Now there is chocholate cake...
A wedding party was traveling through the streets of the old city in horse-drawn wagons festooned with flowers. "That is not inexpensive," said Peter Haslebacher, SwissAir's Midwest regional manager and one of our four escorts.
Getting around Zurich is a snap. If you're going to be married, try a horse-drawn wagon. If you aren't, try the street cars. Zurich has the largest street car network in Switzerland. A Swiss Holiday Card, which can be purchsed from your travel agent or directly from the Swiss National Tourist Office, gives you access to inter-city trains and buses throughout Switzerland as well as public transportation in 24 cities including Zurich. You can ride street cars all over the city without worrying about getting lost. Each car stops at the central train station, a convenient and familiar place to get off one and onto another.
I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon riding street cars virtually at random through the quaint streets of Zurich. One took me to the industrial section (not the best choice). Another climbed over the hill to the zoo. A third transported me through a residential part of town that lines the shore of Lake Zurich.
Switzerland lives up to its reputation for efficiency. Zurich's public transportation system is only one example. There are many others.
We were to have our luggage outside our rooms at the St. Gotthard by 8 a.m. The porter knocked on my door promptly at 8. He took our luggage to the station and put it on a train to the city of Lugano, our next destination. Our bags arrived at Lugano before we did and were waiting in our rooms when we checked into our hotel.
Only in Switzerland can you have your luggage sent directly from a railroad station and checked through to your flight back to the United States. The bags are put on a train and transferred to your SwissAir flight at the airport in Geneva or Zurich. You don't have to lift a finger and believe it or not, it works. (Note: this service is available only with SwissAir.)
Even more astounding: There are five train stations where you can check your luggage through to your flight and get a seat assignment as well. That means you avoid having to check in at the airport.
Luggage carts at the airports in Zurich and Geneva are equipped with a device that allows you to take the cart, and your luggage, on the escalator. The cart automatically secures itself to the moving steps. In Zurich this allows you to transport your entourage of baggage across the street to the train station, down one flight of escalators (to the chocholate shops), and down another to the platform on which you'll catch a train downtown.
Switzerland is indeed a marvel of efficiency.
There are plenty of things to do in Zurich.
The Kunsthaus is an outstanding art museum that contains a collection of works by some of the world's masters including Monet, Van Gogh, Rodin, Picasso, Chagall and Alberto Giacometti. It also has works by Dutch and Italian baroque painters and Swiss artists. Temporary exhibits are equally outstanding. Photographs of George Sand, Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and other persons of 19th century note were on display when I was there as an extensive collection of paintings by French Romanticist Eugene Delacroix. A visit to the Kunsthaus is one of the most important things to do while you're in Zurich.
Fraumunster Church is famous for stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. You can spend a contemplative half-hour looking at these heavenly works of art that somehow calm your soul and lift your spirits. You are oblivious to the uncomfortable chairs on which you're sitting. The church is near the Stadthaus Quai. Enter the door closest to the River Limmat.
Interesting museums include the collection of 16the to 20th century watches and clocks at the Beyer Museum of Time Measurement; past and present handicrafts at the Museum Bellevive; art from India, China and Africa at the Museum Rietberg in the Villa Wesendonck, a neo-classical mansion where the composer Richard Wagner lived for several years; and the Zurich Toy Museum that features European toys from the 18th to 20th centuries.
The Swiss National Museum next to the main railway station displays objects from the Stone Age to the 19th century. They include weapons, flags, uniforms, gold and silver work, pewter, ceramics, glass, textiles, coins, paintings, sculpture, musical instruments and furnishings.
A boat ride on the River Limmat lets you glide past the city's historic buildings, including its 16th and 17th-century guildhouses. I unfortunately missed out on this because the river was closed to boats the morning I was there. Instead, a few capped heads bobbed up and down in the water. They belonged to stragglers who were bringing up the rear in a well-known swimming race.
There are also boat excursions on Lake Zurich.
Eat at one of the guildhouses alongside the river. The group of American journalists I traveled with ate a memorable meal on the secluded second floor of an elegant guildhouse. We talked noisily throughout the evening in contrast to two distinquished looking couples from West Germany at the table next to ours. They consumed their meal in virtual silence, a mark of good manners in their culture.
Zurich has a host of hotels with a wide range of prices. The Dolder Grand is probably the most famous. Its distinctive turreted roof overlooks the city from a hillside location surrounded by forest and gardens.
We stayed at the St. Gotthard. French doors in my room led onto a private balcony lined with blooming geraniums. Taking a nap was a pleasure. I opened the windows to let in fresh air and immersed myself in a fluffy feather bed.
First there were berliners, then there was chocholate, and now there are feather beds...
GETTING THERE: Airlines that fly to Switzerland from the U.S. are American, Pan Am, SwissAir and TWA. Package tours are available that give you a substantial break on the prices you'd pay if you were on your own.
For information about travel in Switzerland contact your travel agent or the Swiss National Tourist Office, 250 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94108, or call (415) 362-2260.