My first experience of the city of Zurich was the central railway station, or Hauptbahnhof, and it did not endear me to it. I arrived on a train from the airport at an underground platform and was to meet my son and his partner somewhere on the station, but I didn't know where. I decided to follow the signs for those who wanted to catch a bus or a tram, but ended up in a street to one side. Going back inside the station, I was surprised how crowded it was; it was just after 5pm, but apparently it's always packed with people. I headed for the main entrance past an open market. I thought I'd better ring my son to see where they were waiting, but there was a man playing an accordion and I didn't think I would be able to hear. Making my way just outside the entrance, I quickly made the phone call and just managed to hear my son telling me they were beside the 'information bubble' when a police car came past, sirens blaring. Back inside I went, unable to spot the so-called bubble. Phoning once again, I said I would wait underneath the main departure board. A couple of minutes later, we found each other. I wondered what madness had brought me to such a noisy, crowded place, but fortunately my first impression of Zurich was not a lasting one.
From the railway station, the famous Bahnhofstrasse runs right down to the Burkli Platz, a square by the shore of Lake Zurich. On this street you can shop, do your banking, or take a break at the Sprungli Cafe. I merely stood at the doorway of a shop where chocolate was actually being made and was hit by the aroma; it was no good buying anything there as it would immediately have melted in the heat. The traffic on this bustling street is not as heavy as I would have expected for such a city, but there are trams as well. I couldn't quite fathom why there was often a zebra crossing on one side of the road but not the other, but crossing over was much easier than, for example, in a city such as Bristol.
Unless you are a shopaholic, I would recommend leaving the Bahnhofstrasse behind in favour of some of the narrower streets. It is easy to spot the spire of St Peter's Church, below which is the largest clock face in Europe. The interior of the church with its central pulpit is worth having a look at; I was surprised to see white net curtains at the upper windows. I believe the church is often used for concerts of classical music.
Many of Zurich's streets are cobbled, so a good pair of walking shoes will make sense if you want to enjoy the old town. Not far from St Peter's Church, up a rather steep winding way, is the Lindenhof. This is a kind of park that is popular with both locals and tourists. It's so high up that there are wonderful views of the River Limmat and the Niederdorf district on the east of the river, above which the twin towers of the Grossmunster or cathedral are ever dominant. The Lindenhof's trees offer welcome shade on hot, sunny days; people come to relax on a seat or the outer wall, and local men play chess and boules here. It is worth the climb up.
Heading back south, the Fraumunster or Church of Our Lady is the outstanding building to take a look at. Its spire is a distinctive green, and like St Peter's Church, it has a sizeable clock face. The cloister is now an open area with modern frescoes by Paul Bodmer – I made the most of the fact that photography is allowed in this area as it is prohibited inside both the Fraumunster and the Grossmunster. The modern windows by Marc Chagall inside the church are a joy to behold in their rich colours.
Equally impressive are Giacometti's windows in the Grossmunster or cathedral on the east bank of the River Limmat. I also loved the organ, which is decorated with golden angels. The smaller windows of plain glass were in the process of being replaced with more colourful ones at the time of our visit. It is worth going down the stone steps to the crypt, although the atmosphere is extremely musty and I wouldn't have wanted to stay down there for long. The frescoes are very faded, but there is a heavy fifteenth-century statue of Charlemagne with his gold crown. I wasn't able to climb the stairs in the towers that dominate Zurich's skyline, but if you can do so you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the city.
Zurich offers a huge choice of eateries, from oriental to traditional Swiss to other types of European cuisine; I even saw an advertisement for a Mongolian barbecue. The vegetarian buffet of the Hiltl had been recommended to me; we decided however on the Zeughauskeller, a busy and reasonably priced beer hall specialising in sausages and rosti but offering many other choices too. The following day we had a salad lunch at Cafe Wuhre, right beside the River Limmat. There are of course many higher-priced establishments than these, such as the Zunfthaus zur Waag on Munsterhof.
In the Niederdorf on the east bank of the River Limmat, there is again an enormous number of cafes and restaurants. My son and his partner had enjoyed Swiss sausages and cheese fondu one evening at Swiss Cuchi before my arrival. I can recommend the coffee at Cafe Henrici, where we sat outside in the morning sun. Had anyone shown me the rickety old metal chair I was to sit on there before I travelled, I would have avoided the place like the plague, but when we did sit down it didn't seem to matter. Henrici certainly seemed to be a popular place, and the interior was very stylish in comparison. I went down to the ladies in the basement and noticed a door with several dates on it, the earliest of which was from the fourteenth century. Henrici is actually a hotel but I cannot comment on it as we stated at the Helmhaus, just south of the Grossmunster. It was pricey but I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
By four o'clock in the afternoon we were sweltering and delighted to find that Cafe Kantorei in Neumarkt offered bottles of apple juice that were considerably more generous than the 200 ml servings of fruit juice that most restaurants seemed to offer. Kantorei has quite extensive outdoor seating, and our waiter there was British. He chatted about how expensive Zurich was but assured us that salaries were relatively high too.
My visit only lasted twenty-four hours, but I was able to fit in a boat trip on Lake Zurich. You could choose whether to have lunch on the boat or to sit outside, admire the view and take photographs which is what we did. The cost was ten Swiss Francs for a trip that lasted an hour. If you have more time you could, for example, take a boat to Rapperswil on the eastern shore and spend some time there.
A great part of Zurich's attraction for me is that it has something of everything: a lake, a river, a mountain, wonderful old buildings, museums, eateries, shops: the list goes on and on. Admittedly I was very lucky with the weather, but even if I hadn't been, I could have visited one or two museums or gone on a bus tour of the city rather than walking round. I was struck by the fact that it seemed perfectly acceptable for single people, women included, to go on a boat trip or have a meal out on their own. The city is very clean and we were surprised that there was relatively little traffic. Cycling is definitely encouraged. Although it is expensive in some ways, plenty of things are free, and there are a few places to stay that don't cost the earth. I would gladly go back for a longer stay.