An April 2004 trip
to Zurich by Invicta73
Quote: Although Zürich was never exactly prominent on my travel wish list, circumstances have resulted in me spending much time there. Fortunately, whilst its reputation for being the overly orderly home of Swiss bankers is somewhat justified, I have found that the city can also be a pleasant place.
In addition, even when the weather is poor I have rarely been bored in the city, because it is home to various decent cultural sights. A personal favourite is the Museum of Fine Arts, which exhibits a well-presented and diverse collection of works. In addition, the immense and insightful Swiss National Museum is a great spot in which to learn about the country’s history and culture.
Meanwhile, several smaller towns in the general vicinity are also ideal destinations for a day trip. Probably the most obvious place for such an excursion is Stein-am-Rhein, a beautifully preserved place full of wonderful old half-timbered structures that are enlivened by some lovely murals.
Nevertheless, the city is fortunate enough to also have one of the best public transport systems in the world, which really is the epitome of the stereotypical efficiency so often associated with Switzerland. Huge effort has been made to study journey durations and acceptable waiting times, which has paid dividends by helping to create an integrated network of trams, buses and trains that reliably sticks to a sensible timetable. Unfortunately, though a non-profit making service, the available individual tickets and 24-hour passes are not all that cheap, unless compared with the cost of using the prohibitively expensive taxis.
It is located in a pleasant area that is within reasonable walking distance of the Old Town, but which is close to both a railway station and tram stops as well. To be completely honest, the unattractive exterior gives a rather bad initial impression, and therefore seeing the lavishly eye-catching style of the reception area came as a very nice surprise to me. Also of note is the wonderfully main staircase, which is so grand that using the lifts feels like a bad choice.
As would be expected of a deluxe four-star establishment, each of the 75 bedrooms features all of the usual modern facilities, such as en-suite bathroom, satellite TV, mini-bar, modem connection and air-conditioning. A quite recent refurbishment also means that all are tasteful, comfortable and fairly luxurious in an old-fashioned way, whilst some also have balconies, although the views are admittedly not great.
There are also two very highly regarded restaurants to choose from on the premises. The menu of the incredibly sumptuous Lawrence Colonel focuses on Eastern Mediterranean food, and includes an excellent mezze, whilst tasty dishes are prepared in a traditional style by Japanese chefs in Fujiya. Meanwhile, lighter meals are on offer in the plush Turf Bar, which proved to a great spot to unwind in with a drink, especially during the evenings, when the live piano music helps to create a relaxing atmosphere.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 24, 2004
TESSINER PLATZ 9
Surprisingly, the award winning establishment is now over 100 years old, and has evolved from being the eccentric idea of one Ambrosius Hiltl into the present day local institution that is run by his great-grandson, and which is incredibly and justifiably popular, even with usually omnivorous customers. It is located quite close to Bahnhofstrasse in a quite large building, both storeys of which are nicely bright and airy, thanks to a fairly recent refurbishment.
Although the décor does combine with the friendly service and relaxed atmosphere to create a very pleasant environment indeed, it is the cuisine that really deserves attention. Having to pick something from the whole of an extensive menu is for me a novel situation, albeit a difficult one too because of the overall high quality of the numerous alternatives. The à la Carte choices include a wide variety of fare from various cuisines, such as mushroom stroganoff and tofu schnitzel, whilst a personal favourite is undoubtedly the mouth watering gambozola rösti, which is a wonderful interpretation of the quintessentially Swiss German dish.
However, the house speciality and also probably the biggest gastronomic attraction for most people is the impressive buffet that features over 30 different dishes. During the evenings, it has a distinctly Indian flavour, which has always proved to be good enough to satisfy the cravings of a curry addict like myself. Meanwhile, a very nice and slightly cheaper thing to do on a sunny day is to take some food away for a fine picnic.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 24, 2004
+41 1 227 7000
In terms of aesthetics, entering the establishment is like stepping back in time. The lavish combined effect of the curvaceous bar, large windows and mirrors, striking furnishings, vintage posters and glass chandeliers is quite breathtaking. However, despite all of the wonderfully preserved and almost overbearing Art Nouveau splendour on show, there is still a surprisingly cosy and intimate feel.
Unlike many so-called grand cafés elsewhere in Europe, it has pleasingly avoided stagnating into somewhere that is content to merely capitalise on a lovely interior and former glories, and has instead remained true to a Bohemian past. Although Lenin would perhaps no longer find the ambience conducive to planning a revolution there as he did all those years ago, it is nice to think that James Joyce would probably still enjoy drinking some potent brews there now.
The modern day patrons represent a refreshingly alternative side to a city that is usually associated with bankers and businessmen, as they are much more likely to belong to the local artistic or gay communities, which means that there is frequently a vibrant atmosphere. Aside from warm summer days, when the outside terrace is popular, it is often busy inside, which means that sharing one of the colourful marble tables with other customers is often necessary, but that is usually a good thing because of the generally friendly nature of the regulars.
The place is open daily from the morning right through to the night, and also into the early hours during weekends. The menu offers a variety of items that is suitable for such lengthy hours, from tasty breakfasts, light meals and bar snacks to good coffee and a wide range of alcoholic tipples, including cocktails. Prices are admittedly not particularly low, especially after midnight, but considering the relative fame, exquisite décor and prime location, they are not especially expensive either.
+41 1 251 1650
The gallery has actually been in operation for a reasonably long time, but that really does not feel like the case due to an extensive and forward-looking renovation during the 1970s, the results of which is a wonderful exhibition space that still feels fresh now and suits the contemporary emphasis of the collection extremely well. In fact, the imaginative layout and excellent lighting have greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the place, whilst spending time in its similarly bright and spacious café has also been a real pleasure.
Some masterpieces from the Renaissance and baroque periods by the likes of Canaletto, El Greco and Rembrandt are on show, but the majority of what is displayed is art by many of the leading exponents of the major schools from the 19th and 20th centuries, which seems fitting in the city that was the birthplace of the Dada movement. Among the best known items featured are a couple of the famous Water Lilies paintings by Claude Monet, and Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell is located close to the entrance, providing a dramatic introduction to what lies ahead. Additionally included are several paintings by each of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, as well as works by others such as Paul Cézanne, Joan Miró and Man Ray. Meanwhile, there is nowhere else outside of Scandinavia is it possible to see quite so much of the gloomy expressionism of Edvard Munch, a personal favourite.
Appropriately, also represented are artists from Switzerland, most notably by an abundance of Alberto Giacometti’s distinctive sculptures. In addition, overlooking the main staircase is a typically romantic portrayal of an historical scene by Ferdinand Hodler, which is certainly eye-catching and very Swiss, but almost feels somewhat stylistically out of place.
Museum of Fine Arts
The story of the pub’s founding during the 1970s is somewhat unusual. When the original Jury’s Hotel in the Irish capital was set to be demolished, a Swiss bank purchased the fixtures and fittings of the venerable institution’s so-called Antique Bar, shipped everything back home, and reassembled it all in the centre of Zürich. The choice of name must surely have been easy, for the great author was without any doubt the city’s most famous resident Dubliner ever. Additionally, he reputedly had the occasional drink or two within the renowned watering hole’s snug confines when it was still in his hometown, and even mentioned the place in his classic book, Ulysses.
In terms of aesthetics, the project has been a resounding success. The interior features a large amount of tiling and dark wood panelling, and manages to be cosy and intimate, as well as highly evocative of the Victorian period. In fact, only the seats are not original, and even the comfortable replacements fit in very well with the overall vintage look.
However, despite what the surroundings might strongly suggest, there are a few hints that it is not quite a true example of the old-fashioned kind of establishment that is sadly becoming less common in Dublin, perhaps the most obvious example of which is the common presence of smartly dressed Swiss businessmen. Meanwhile, despite the wide selection of good quality beer, wine and food that is available, the rather uninspiring quality of the Guinness is also a clue. Nevertheless, such things have hardly detracted from the good times that I have spent in the place, primarily because the usually friendly and often lively atmosphere not only suits the décor perfectly, but also helps to make any visit enjoyable. In fact, the only real downside of the justifiably popular spot is that it is only open from Monday lunchtime to Friday evening, and closes during the weekend.
James Joyce Pub
Attraction | "Around Zürich - Stein-am-Rhein"
The heart of the village is the Rathausplatz, which is frequently and quite justifiably called the loveliest square in the whole of Switzerland. It is surrounded by a series of wonderful half-timbered buildings that all have fine oriel windows and exceptionally eye-catching frescoes portraying image relating to the traditional name, for example the Crown, the Stag and most impressively the White Eagle, which dates back to 1525 and is the oldest of the murals. Meanwhile, the equally impressive stand-alone town hall now also contains a collection of stained glass, weaponry and other historical artefacts. It was my good fortune that the time spent enjoying the stunning scene whilst drinking coffee on one of the numerous café terraces was during a pleasant winter’s day, because the huge number of people that perhaps unsurprisingly go there during high season would have almost certainly detracted from the experience.
The nearby cobbled streets that lead out to the remaining venerable gate towers are not quite as aesthetically spectacular. However, the main road comes close in terms of visual impact, whilst the others are nevertheless still pretty, and are home to a couple of interesting sights, including the Lindwurm Museum, a four storey mansion that has been carefully restored in a bold and largely successful attempt to evoke the lifestyle of the wealthy family and their servants that resided there during the mid 19th century.
The other particularly noteworthy attraction in the vicinity is the Monastery of St George. The riverside structure was a Benedictine abbey for around 400 years, until the Reformation hit the area in the 1520s, and instead it now houses displays pertaining to local art and history. Although the exhibits are certainly diverting, frequently more striking is the edifice’s interior, which features lovely wood panelled walls and ceilings covered with paintings.
Stein-am-Rhein Sights & Attractions
As might be expected from somewhere that has attracted the likes Madonna and Prince in the past, it is very distinctive and really quite special. The plush décor is suggestive of a baroque theatre and features old-fashioned furnishings, antique paintings, chandeliers and even bathroom fittings that were once part of the Orient Express. However, what is particularly appealing is the way that the somewhat unstructured layout and charmingly dishevelled little touches moderate the potentially overawing grandeur. Overall, the eclectic and comfortable interior exudes a certain nonchalant cool that suits the clientele very well indeed.
The venue comprises several distinct sections, the largest of which effectively operates as an excellent nightclub, with regular entertainment provided by a variety of fine DJs and top quality live acts. It tends to be very popular, especially at weekends when long queues for admission are not uncommon, so pre-purchasing tickets when possible is advisable. Meanwhile, there is also a quieter lounge area, where enjoying various drinks, including excellent cocktails, in more relaxed surroundings is possible without having to wait in line or book in advance.
Finally, there is additionally a well-liked and high quality restaurant, which is perhaps the best option around when it comes to eating late. The menu is truly international, offering choices ranging from Japanese and Thai dishes to more locally derived fare, such as steak, salmon and Weiner Schnitzel. Although it is not especially cheap, the prices are still more reasonable than many of the city’s more formal eateries, the food is just as good, and the overall dining experience feels much more fun.
Attraction | "Minster of Our Lady"
Its riverside position has been home to a religious institution since Louis the German founded an abbey there during the 9th century. Both have changed much in the intervening years, and in fact only the crypt of the original structure has survived, whilst the fine cobbled square outside seems too nice to have ever been the location of a pig market.
The main façade lacks the elaboration usually associated with Gothic architecture, and did not seem too impressive when first seen. However, the subtle charms of its pale stone, harmonious form and slender clock tower have become much more apparent to me since the initial view.
Meanwhile, the interior is for the most part similarly low key. Nevertheless, its simplicity feels bright and elegant rather than heavy and austere, and an ornate organ adds some aesthetic interest to the main part of the structure.
However, the reason that the place of worship is remarkable instead of merely nice is the stained glass that is located close to the main entrance in the almost separate Romanesque choir. In 1970, the then octogenarian artist Marc Chagall created the five incredibly unusual works, portraying a different biblical scene using mostly warm variations of one primary colour in each. Every window is stunning in its own right, and I loved the bold contrast between the understated venerable setting and the vibrant modern pieces, which is surprisingly effective.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 24, 2004
Fraumünster (Minister of Our Lady)
Attraction | "Swiss National Museum"
The important attraction is located in a suitably grand purpose-built edifice close to the main railway station, which convincingly recalls the local form of Gothic architecture, despite being little over 100 years old. In fact, the building’s eye-catching exterior mosaics, colourful roof tiles and lovely main courtyard are in some ways just as appealing as the insightful exhibits that are housed within its sturdy looking stone walls.
The large scale of the structure might initially seem over the top, until it becomes apparent just how big the collection actually is. Even though some of the many items pertaining to Switzerland’s history and culture are fairly staid in terms of presentation, the sheer amount and variety of things displayed should ensure that everyone should find something interesting to see.
Perhaps the single most notable area is the series of rooms containing religious objects, including Carolingian art, medieval woodcarvings and gilded altarpieces, and an installation of 15th stained glass windows. There are also some impressive archaeological finds on show, dating from Neolithic times to the period of Roman rule in the vicinity, as well as a wide variety of weaponry and armour, regional costumes, antique toys, beautiful glassware and much more.
One particularly striking focal point is the Hall of Arms, which features a memorable fresco by Ferdinand Hodler, the Retreat of the Swiss Confederation at Marignano. However, the personal highlight was viewing the wonderful recreations of the manufacture of books and clocks in the past, whilst the opportunity to ring the series of large vintage bells with the provided rubber mallet was just too tempting for my noisy inner child to resist!
Museumstrasse 2 CH-8023
Additionally, there are more reasons to visit other than just a nice atmosphere. Years of prosperity have resulted in a fine compact city centre that is a pleasure to explore on foot, as it is full of greenery and elegant buildings, most notably a lovely church. Meanwhile, also in the vicinity are a lot of lively bars that cater primarily for the students who attend the local university, and which ensure a generally fun nightlife that has tempted me to stay into the evening.
The single biggest draw is undoubtedly the surprising number of cultural attractions, two of the best of which are the direct responsibility of the eminent past citizen, Oskar Reinhart. Eschewing the highly successful family banking and industrial interests, he instead devoted much time, energy and wealth to acquiring an incredible amount of art, much of which was eventually bequeathed to the state. The small gallery adjoining the main park that bares his name nowadays showcases works originating in the general region, including several by Ferdinand Hodler. More spectacular, but less conveniently located, is the renowned collector’s fairly grand former residence, Römerholz. Most of the pieces displayed inside its walls date from the 19th century onwards, and spending time perusing the paintings by the likes of Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh in such nice surroundings is an enjoyable activity.
A completely different, and perhaps more family orientated, experience is offered at Swiss Technorama. The institute deals with all things related to science and technology, using creative and often interactive exhibits, which can be a lot fun, especially for children.
However, anyone who prefers things a little less modern will perhaps be better advised to travel out a few miles to the Kyburg Castle, which was once a Hapsburg stronghold. The attractive old structure not only has some interesting architectural features, such as the Renaissance chapel, but is also home to a museum of both decorative and military antiques. In addition, from the parapets there are some wonderful views available of the surrounding hilly countryside, which is good terrain for hiking. Meanwhile, it is not the only venerable fortress in the area, merely the most striking, and those on a budget might be pleased to find that one of the others is now a hostel.
Attraction | "Right Bank"
The area's most prominent landmark is the Great Minster, which utterly dominates the skyline. It is most noteworthy for a pair of twin steeples that culminate with lovely octagonal domes, one of which features a statue of Charlemagne, who according to legend founded the first church on the site. Unfortunately, entering through the elaborately carved main entrance can lead to disappointment, because ever since the Reformation the remarkable austerity of the interior has been a stark contrast to the external grandeur. In fact, despite the colour and interest given to the otherwise bare scene by some early 20th century stained glass windows, visiting the adjoining cloisters has personally proved to be a more aesthetically rewarding activity.
Below, on Limmatquai, is an imposing statue of the Zwingli, the fiery preacher responsible for converting the area to Protestantism from the pulpit of the aforementioned cathedral. The same riverside stretch is also home to some of the old town's nicest architecture, but the appeal is limited due to the quantity of traffic that travels along it. Among the most eye-catching of the buildings is the 17th century baroque town hall, which has a beautifully well-preserved façade and a banquet hall featuring an incredibly ornate stucco ceiling that deserves attention.
Also on the same road are some grand former guildhalls, several of which are now put to good use as fine restaurants, most notably the Haus Zum Rüden and Zunfthaus Zur Zimmerleuten. Both serve highly regarded local specialities in elegant dining rooms that have changed little for several hundred years, which means that a meal in either is as much a visual treat as it is a gastronomic pleasure.
A less formal but more lively time can be had one block further uphill on the main street and steep adjoining alleyways that together make up the Niederdorf district. During the day, the historic and mostly pedestrianised neighbourhood is quiet and nice to explore, but once the sun goes down it transforms into the entertainment centre of the city, and imagining the rich past is then difficult as contemporary life takes over. The numerous nightspots in the vicinity vary from small trendy cocktail bars like Babalu to cavernous beer halls such as the Rheinfelder. Meanwhile, also in evidence are English style pubs that are popular with the expatriate community, most notably the Oliver Twist, as well as unusual little venues like the rustic Älplibar, which is a great place to get decent fondue, as long as listening to the traditional Alpine music is not too daunting a prospect!
Right Bank Sights & Attractions
Throughout the Right Bank
The area is the location of the main station, where many visitors first arrive on the train. To one side of the grand transport hub, beyond the statue of Alfred Escher, a prominent local 19th century magnate, is the start of the famous Bahnhofstrasse. The grand shopping street is sometimes called the most beautiful in the world, which is in my opinion is somewhat overstating the case, although admittedly it does compare favourably with many counterparts elsewhere. The elegant thoroughfare, which is off limits to all traffic except trams, is a fine place to stroll and look at luxury goods that are too expensive for the majority of us to buy. The opulence reaches a peak around the prestigious Paradeplatz, where Tiffany and other similarly exclusive outlets are located.
One establishment that is particularly worth visiting is Beyer, which not only sells watches by esteemed manufacturers such as Rolex and IWC, but also houses a museum of timepieces. On display are a notable variety of weird and wonderful items, ranging from vintage sundials to modern scientific chronometers.
Meanwhile, the area that is sandwiched between the glitzy boulevard and the river is home to part of the historic core of the city, which is mostly a network of picturesque cobbled lanes. Aside from the general abundance of lovely old buildings and the presence of hundreds of drinking fountains, there are also some worthy sights including Lindenhof, which is a peaceful unpaved square shaded by lime trees. Once the site of a Roman customs post, it has been the subject of a building ban for centuries, and nowadays locals gather there to walk dogs or to play chess, whilst the good views afforded by the open hilltop position draw tourists.
Nearby is the Church of St Peter, a somewhat understated but not unattractive structure that mostly dates from the early 1700s. Although best known because its spire features the largest clock face in Europe, the striking baroque interior also deserves attention.
Another noteworthy place of worship, the Minster of Our Lady, is located down below, almost at the waterfront, and features some striking stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. On the same square is the ornate guildhall known as the Zunfthaus zur Meisen. The building has an elaborately decorated rococo interior that is actually more aesthetically pleasing than the porcelain collection that is on display inside, which belongs to the Swiss National Museum.
The easiest and perhaps also most obvious way to get away from things is to visit the neighbouring lake of the same name, around which the streets and buildings soon give way to lawns and trees. Whilst there are some diversions in the vicinity, such as a Chinese garden and several places to eat and drink, most people seem to go there simply to relax amidst the greenery, especially during the summer. On hot days the locals set a fine example, using the grassy shoreline as a replacement for a sandy beach, and even though sunbathing is not an activity that appeals to me, joining the swans by taking a cooling dip in the surprisingly mild and very clean water has often proved to be a tempting option.
Zürichberg, one of the hills overlooking the city is also a good spot to escape from the hustle and bustle that is found just a tram ride away. Most notably it is the location of an important and nicely spacious zoo, which is home to a couple of thousand species from all over the world. Meanwhile, less exotic creatures, for example small birds and squirrels, frequent the peaceful and shady confines of the neighbouring Fluntern cemetery, a trip to which is a must for admirers of James Joyce like myself. The Irish author lived locally, and now rests in a grave that is marked by a wonderfully representative statue of the great man sitting with a book and walking stick. Finally, lovely long walks through the woodland that stretches away from the two aforementioned sights are also a pleasant possibility.
An even more popular and higher elevated place for an excursion in Uetliberg, which in typical Swiss fashion has been made readily accessible by a railway line. On the summit there is a decent restaurant and a viewing tower from which the vistas of the surrounding area and the Alps to the south are certainly picturesque on a clear day. Many visitors spend time on the 3,000 feet tall peak either having a picnic or sledging, obviously depending on the season, whilst others follow the Planetary Path to Felsenegg, from where it is possible to take a cable car down and a train back to the centre. Following the route requires a couple of hours of leisurely walking, during which time a series of scale models representing the heavenly bodies of our solar system provide a mild distraction compared with the more picturesque scenes available from the ridge.
Finally, travelling slightly further to the Rhine Falls yields much more spectacular results. Although not very high, it is actually known as the biggest waterfall in Europe due to the sheer volume that the mighty Rhine pushes over the top every second, particularly after the mountain snows start to melt during springtime. Below the small but attractive castle that nowadays hosts a souvenir shop and a high quality eatery are the best static viewpoints, from where it is possible to appreciate the dramatic power of the scene at close quarters, which is a thrilling but soaking experience. Even more fun, but just as wet, is taking a trip on one of the boats that traverse the river, which stop at the rock that stands in the middle and get very close to the violently churning rapids in the process.
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