Written by AnythngArt on 08 Mar, 2010
Although most people associate Davos, Switzerland, with the World Economic Forum held here annually, Davos’s first claim to fame is its role as the largest ski resort in Europe. At more than 5,000 feet in elevation, it is also the highest. That means that Davos,…Read More
Although most people associate Davos, Switzerland, with the World Economic Forum held here annually, Davos’s first claim to fame is its role as the largest ski resort in Europe. At more than 5,000 feet in elevation, it is also the highest. That means that Davos, Switzerland, is a great location for all winter sports even during years with warmer winter seasons. True winter in Davos generally begins in December, and the winter season usually runs to April, with March being the best month for skiing.Location and Historical ImportanceThe founding of Davos dates back to the Middle Ages, and the influence of the Rhaeto-Romans, whose presence in the modern day is most closely felt in the local dialect spoken and in the local dishes still served in the area. Today, Davos in part of the Graubunden Canton, in the far southeastern section of Switzerland, and Davos is located about 100 miles southeast of Zurich.Paired with its twin city, Klosters, it’s a ski mecca for tourists around the world. In the middle of the 18th century and into the 19th, it was recognized by European doctors as an important microclimate, suitable to dealing with health issues, such as tuberculosis. Sanitariums were built, and many famous people came to Davos, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and most importantly, Thomas Mann, who penned "The Magic Mountain," in which Davos, Switzerland, figures prominently.Skiing and Other Winter SportsIn the 1970s, Davos again attracted a strong following, this time for its slopes, and it has continued to flourish as an area not only for skiing, but speed skating, hockey, and any other number of winter sports activities. Its six main ski areas include the exemplary Parsenn-Weissfluh (with its descent from more than 9,000 feet at Weissflungipfel to 2,600 feet at Kublis), a challenge for every good skier.Not only are there challenging slopes for experienced downhill skiers, there are incredibly beautiful valley trails that make it the number two spot for cross-country skiing in Switzerland, after Engadine.Davos also offers plenty of opportunities for snowboarders, tobogganing, and ice skating. Those looking for good half-pipes will be in their element at Jakobshorn, while families are likely to be more comfortable at Pischa, Madrisa, and Rinerhorn, with their "kid friendly" orientation. In addition to all the standard winter snow sports, there are also ski tours, mountain trips led by guides, glacier hikes, and of course, plenty of ski schools for novice skiers.After Hours: Eating and DrinkingLike every area in Switzerland, Davos has its traditional dishes that identify its location. In the case of Davos-Klosters, the food specialties harken back to ancient times. The Rhaeto-Romanish influence can be seen on local menus in the form of "pizokels" (buckwheat gnocchi), "plain in pigna" (baked potato casserole with ham and bacon), "capons" (chard-wrapped dumplings), and "nusstortes" (walnut cake). The most famous specialty of the region, however, is "bundnerleisch" (an air-dried beef whose taste is influenced by the pure mountain air. Travelers can see the process in action by visiting the Brugger Family business in Parpan or seeking out a tasting at Hatecke (a luxurious butcher shop) in Scuol.Another place worth visiting in the area is BierVision Monstein in Davos, the highest-altitude brewer of beer in Europe. After touring the brewery, travelers can sample the famed Monstein beer along with some of the local specialty dishes of the region.Other great places to eat in the area include the restaurant at the Hotel Walserhof in Klosters and Walserhuus Sertig in Davos. Both serve gourmet meals in beautiful traditional settingsHotelsWhile there are hundreds of lodging options in the Davos-Klosters area, two stand out for their unique historical importance and charming accommodations.Hotel Schatzalp in Davos was named the "Historical Hotel of the Year for 2008" by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos). Built in an Art Nouveau style, it opened in 1900 as a sanitarium and is described in Thomas Mann’s book, "The Magic Mountain." While it has been remodeled extensively since then, it retains its beautiful architectural grace with stunning views of the Swiss Alps. To top all that off, it is also surrounded by the Alpinum Schatzalp, a botanic garden that contains more than 3,000 species of alpine plants.Most insiders, however, recommend staying in Klosters, away from the buzz of Davos. For those looking for the VIP treatment, Chesa Grischuna is the perfect place to rest your head. Designed by a leading Zurich architect, Hermann Schneider, in 1938 it is a beautifully blended mix of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary art. So popular with international movie stars in years past, it gained the nickname "Hollywood on the Rocks." Yet, there’s nothing rocky about its service or accommodation.Davos-Klosters may not impress like Gstaad or St. Moritz when skiers name drop great European locations for enjoying their winter vacations. Yet, for those looking for an endless choice of winter sports activities, great food, luxurious accommodations, and most of all stunning vistas on their way down the slopes, Davos can’t be beat! Close
Written by AnythngArt on 06 Mar, 2010
There’s a saying that "Nine out of ten people like chocolate, and the tenth is lying." In Switzerland, land of chocolate, it couldn’t be more true. Every village or big city seems to have a chocolatier specializing in a unique take on the milky goodness.…Read More
There’s a saying that "Nine out of ten people like chocolate, and the tenth is lying." In Switzerland, land of chocolate, it couldn’t be more true. Every village or big city seems to have a chocolatier specializing in a unique take on the milky goodness. The Swiss invented milk chocolate, the world’s favorite sweet treat, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone traveling to the country, that it also tops the world in chocolate consumption.Chocosuisse: Factories and ToursIn addition to supplying the country with chocolate, Swiss chocolate manufacturers provide much of that consumed elsewhere, and many of these companies provide tours of their factories, as well as provide tastings and sell merchandise on site.A group of 18 chocolate manufacturers (and 2 associate members) in 1901 formed an association called Chocosuisse, which contains both large and small milk chocolate makers. These chocolate manufacturers include well known companies like Lindt, Kraft, and Nestle, as well as many that travelers may not be as familiar with, but are just as inviting.Some of these chocolate makers welcome visitors on site, where they can learn the basics of how chocolate is made. Some of this information is also available online at its website (www.chocsuisse.ch). Those offering tours, tastings, and shopping include Cailler-Nestle, based in Broc, which is open from April through October; Maestrani in Flawil, which is open daily Monday to Saturday; and Alprose in Casiano, which is open daily.Chocolate in Swiss MuseumsWith chocolate being so much a part of the Swiss psyche, it shouldn’t be surprising that chocolate making is also featured in at least two museums:* Swiss Open-Air MuseumLocated near Brienz, this museum works to keep the history of Swiss culture and food alive. From spring to fall, you can witness live demonstrations by butchers, bakers, cheese makers, and of course, those who specialize in chocolate making.* Alimentarium Food MuseumThis museum, run by the Nestle Foundation, is a glorious celebration of food, its history, origins, and effects on human life. The interactive museum’s permanent exhibit centers on food and its nutritional component. The Vevey museum is also famed for its beautiful location on the shores of Lake Geneva.The Swiss Chocolate TrainFor those who enjoy a different take on chocolate, there’s no better adventure than the Golden Pass Service’s Swiss Chocolate Train. Those riding the train will travel first class aboard a 19th century Belle Epoque Pullman car departing from Montreaux, which travels through the scenic mountain landscape of Switzerland. Along the way, visitors stop at a cheese factory, castle, and the Cailler-Nestle factory in Broc. The Swiss Chocolate Train operates June through October.Learn How to Make Your OwnIn Kaltbrunn, at the Confiserie Isler, travelers and chocolate lovers alike can learn chocolate making at this confectionary without needing any previous experience. At their chocolate-making workshop, visitors make and decorate their own chocolates. Along the way, there is plenty of tasting, and class ends with an aperitif.Chocolate Shops Are EverywhereAlthough the wide range and number of small chocolate shops that dot the Swiss landscape are too numerous to list, this small sampling should give an indication of the diversity and profusion of chocolate makers. Just about anywhere you travel in Switzerland, you are bound to be just steps away from a classic chocolate treat.The Chocolate SpaFrom the chocolate body mousse at the Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz to the chocolate bath at the Day Spa in Geneva, the chocolate here can be enjoyed without gaining a pound.No matter how travelers enjoy their Swiss milk chocolate--aboard a train, at the corner shop, or in a day spa--this Swiss treat is one of the most memorable experiences the country has to offer travelers. No matter the location, there’s sure to be a shop, factory, or restaurant turning out yet another a new batch to enjoy. Close
Written by AnythngArt on 03 Mar, 2010
Need a reason to visit Zurich? For years (seven, to be exact), this city has been chosen as the city with the best quality of life…not just in Switzerland, but the world! With its exceptionally beautiful lakeside setting, Zurich offers a unique mix of features…Read More
Need a reason to visit Zurich? For years (seven, to be exact), this city has been chosen as the city with the best quality of life…not just in Switzerland, but the world! With its exceptionally beautiful lakeside setting, Zurich offers a unique mix of features for any traveler‘s delight, including world class attractions, a culinary repertoire that ranges from dining options that have existed since the Middle Ages to cutting-edge cuisine in an ultra-modern setting. The city is renowned for its arts and culture and lively nightlife, ranging from world class opera to the latest rock groups playing its trendy clubs.Zurich SitesGuildhalls - These magnificent, centrally located buildings are a much loved feature of Zurich. For years they have welcomed visitors to their doors, as well as functioning as traditional craft guilds. These Medieval structures have been offering traditional Swiss fare, such as Geschnetzeltes with Rosti (veal with roasted potatoes), in their dining halls and have become a favorite stop for gourmet diners.Riverside Churches - Zurich’s most beautiful churches can perhaps best be appreciated aboard a boat on the River Limmat. Three important structures line its banks: St. Peter’s, known for its clock, the oldest in Europe; the Grossmunster, with its twin towers; and the Fraumunster, with its stunning stained glass windows, designed by artist Marc Chagall.Lindenhof - This "Lime Court" was formerly a customs house, dating back to Roman times. It now serves as Zurich’s most idyllic viewpoint for taking in the city. Under the lime trees, travelers are likely to encounter Zurich natives playing petanque as they roll their boules across gravel lawns to the sounds of splashing fountains. This rooftop to the city is a great area to enjoy nature and take in an awe-inspiring view of the city below.Mt. Uetilberg - This Zurich recreational area boasts stunning views of Lake Zurich and the cityscape. A narrow-gauge railway takes visitors up the mountain, while walking down in summer is the popular way to enjoy the mountainside. In winter, sledding down the mountain is the preferred method.Tonhalle - The Tonhalle Orchestra, lead by conductor David Zinman, has become one of Europe’s most prestigious symphonies in recent years. With nearly 100 musicians, this orchestra plays in a concert hall renowned for its acoustic splendor.MuseumsKunsthaus - Zurich’s Art Museum has an outstanding collection, with works ranging from the 15th century to the present, as well as a series of ongoing exhibitions that attract worldwide attention. Among the artists whose works are featured here are Edvard Munch and Alberto Giacometti.National Museum - Housing Switzerland’s largest collection of cultural artifacts, the National Museum includes items dating from prehistoric times to the present. Located next to the train station, the National Museum’s building itself has frequently been compared to a fairy castle with its mishmash of architectural styles dating back to the late 1800s.Rietberg Museum - Switzerland’s only museum dedicated to the collection of non-European cultures, the Rietberg, features collections from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. In 2007, a new wing was added to the museum, doubling the exhibition space.Shopping, Dining, and NightlifeBahnhofstrasse- Beginning at the main station, this street is Zurich’s most elegant address for shopping. Lined with trendy boutiques and stylish grand hotels, the Bahnhofstrasse ends at the shores of Lake Zurich.Old Town - Located in the heart of Zurich, this area runs between the main station and the lake, along the eastern side of the River Limmat. Dating back 2,000 years, today Zurich’s Old Town is a hub for restaurants, boutiques, and movie houses, which line its alleyways. Niederdorf, one section of Old Town, is a draw for those seeking a multicultural nightlife scene.Sinicity - This urban area was once an old paper-making factory that is now filled with trendy shopping, chic dining, and plenty of entertainment in a cozy mix of old World charm and modern amenities.Zurich West - Located in a former industrial area around Escher-Wyss-Platz, today this is one of Zurich’s evening hotspots, with a vibrant mix of restaurants, clubs, and movies, all centered around the Schiffbau Cultural Complex.There is much more to discover in Zurich than can be listed here. With stunning Lake Zurich and the River Limmat framing the city, it’s a great location to explore on foot or by boat. The city offers up the best of Swiss living: arts, entertainment, shopping, dining, and sightseeing…more than enough to please any visitor to this charming city. Close
Written by frangliz on 12 Sep, 2009
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…Read More
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. Close
Written by frangliz on 06 Sep, 2009
Having planned a short trip to Zurich, I scanned the shelves of my small local library for guide books and found just one on Switzerland. I decided to see if Amazon had any specifically for Zurich and again found only one: Cityspots Zurich. It hadn't…Read More
Having planned a short trip to Zurich, I scanned the shelves of my small local library for guide books and found just one on Switzerland. I decided to see if Amazon had any specifically for Zurich and again found only one: Cityspots Zurich. It hadn't yet been rated but seemed worth ordering.The book is divided into five main sections, Introducing Zurich, Making the Most of Zurich, The City of Zurich, Out of Town and Practical Information. There is an index at the end, but maps are interspersed at appropriate places. Plenty of colour illustrations give a feel for the place even if some of them are quite small.I didn't read much of the introduction, although I was interested to find out that the Dada movement had originated in Zurich. The section also gives a brief history of the city, an overview of its lifestyle and culture, and a useful month-by-month summary of annual events in Zurich.The section on Making the Most of Zurich looks first at shopping, then at eating and drinking, followed by entertainment and nightlife. These are all rather generalised, but the next sub-section on sport and relaxation lists a fair number of activities. Then comes accommodation, which suggests nineteen hotels in three price categories. My comment here has to be that for the Helmhaus Hotel where I stayed, the book says 'Ask for a room overlooking the river'; the hotel is close to the river, admittedly, but the rooms do not overlook it.The section continues with a brief look at Zurich's top ten attractions. I was able to see five of them in twenty-four hours, namely Lake Zurich, the Bahnhofstrasse, the Fraumunster, the Grossmunster and Niederdorf. I would gladly have swapped the Bahnhofstrasse for a visit to the Uetli Mountain had time permitted, but the sights I did see were certainly worthy of a top ten list. The section also gives ideas for activities that are free of charge and things to do when it rains – I was lucky to have sun. Practical information on transport concludes the section; I was glad to discover here that it was easy to take a train from the airport to the city centre. The section on the City of Zurich focuses on three distinct areas: central Zurich, Niederdorf and beyond, and Zurich West. Each sub-section gives a little information on the main attractions of the area as well as shops and restaurants, with an indication of how expensive they are. We didn't have time to visit Zurich West at all, but it was in Cityspots Zurich that we found out about the Lindenhof and its wonderful views, as well as the Zeughauskeller, considered to be Zurich's top beer hall.Out of Town was not relevant to me as my time was so limited, but my son and his partner were able to make a day trip to Lake Lucerne and Mount Pilatus, having been inspired by the information and pictures in this section of Cityspots Zurich. The book also suggests Rapperswil on the eastern shore of Lake Zurich as a worthwhile place to make a trip to. Details of accommodation in Lucerne and Rapperswil will be useful for anyone wanting an overnight stay.Practical Information is a fairly short but important section that concludes the book. A few details are given on how to travel to Zurich, currency, opening hours and so on. Advice is given on suitability of the city for children as well as facilities for disabled travellers. Practical Information also includes emergency telephone numbers, locations of a pharmacy, hospital and dental clinic, and a list of embassies and consulates for English-speaking countries.Cityspots Zurich is a small format and with just 144 pages is not heavy to carry. A few useful phrases in German with a pronunciation guide are given on the inside front and back covers; we found that almost everyone spoke English, but it is still worth making the effort to respond now and again in German. I didn't honestly find that the maps in the book were detailed enough, but I was able to print one from the Internet that showed the way from the railway station to our hotel, and once in Zurich it was easy to get hold of a large map free of charge.If you are making a visit solely to Zurich I would definitely recommend this guide. If, however, you are travelling to other destinations in Switzerland it would be preferable to have a guide for the country as a whole. I don't regret buying Cityspots Zurich in the least, although I needed larger maps. The photographs did make me feel that I had chosen the right destination, and I still enjoy looking at them even though I took many of my own during my visit.Cityspots ZurichWritten by Teresa FisherUpdated by Marc KrebsThomas Cook Publishing, 2009PaperbackISBN 978-1-84848-062-9Price £6.99 (Amazon £4.19) Close
Written by phileasfogg on 10 Aug, 2009
Our ten-day sojourn in Switzerland was from a base at Lausanne, where we stayed with relatives. Some research into towns, cities and other interesting places in close proximity to Lausanne revealed Fribourg (pronounced somewhat like `free-boorg’ if you’re speaking French, but ‘fry-buhrg’ if you’re speaking…Read More
Our ten-day sojourn in Switzerland was from a base at Lausanne, where we stayed with relatives. Some research into towns, cities and other interesting places in close proximity to Lausanne revealed Fribourg (pronounced somewhat like `free-boorg’ if you’re speaking French, but ‘fry-buhrg’ if you’re speaking German; the equivalent spelling in German is Freiburg). Fribourg/Freiburg forms the bridge between French-speaking Switzerland and German-speaking Switzerland, a sort of Helvetian Alsace, with street names and monuments, labels and instructions spelt out in both languages.
Two train trips between Lausanne and Bern showed us just how easy it was to get to Fribourg: every Lausanne-Bern train stops at this town, which is approximately halfway between Lausanne and Bern. So, on our second day in Bern—a very brief trip, since all we’d gone to see was the Kunstmuseum—we stopped by at Fribourg on our way back. Right next to the railway station is the Tourist Information Office, so we nipped in for a map of the city, and then we were off.
Fribourg lies in a bend of the River Sarine and was founded by Berchtold IV of Zähringen in 1157 (Berchtold’s son and successor, Berchtold V, was the founder of Bern). The city’s name was derived from the German ‘frei’ (free) and ‘burg’ (fort), though its status as a Free Imperial City came about only over three centuries later, in 1478. Till then, Freiburg was controlled by a succession of different powers, ranging from the house of Zähringen to the Hapsburgs, the Bernese, and the Savoyards. In 1481, the city finally became a part of the Swiss Confederation.
From the Place de la Gare, we headed off down Rue de Romont, which leads to the Old Town of Fribourg—built, as so many of Switzerland’s medieval towns are—on a hill. This one, dominated by the Cathédrale St Nicholas, nestles in the curve of a sort of J formed by the Sarine. As the crow flies, the Old Town isn’t very far from the railway station; it’s just that from the Place de la Gare to the Old Town, it’s uphill for much of the way. But it’s picturesque too, all cobbled streets and lovely old buildings, so we didn’t complain—and there were occasional fountains and statues (Fribourg, according to our guide book, has twelve fountains; not as well-known or as spectacular as Bern’s, but worth looking for anyway).
We, intent as we were on finding the cathedral, missed seeing what is perhaps Fribourg’s most famous statue, that of Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. A short walk down Rue Pierre Kaelin would have brought us to the Fontaine Jean-Tinguely, but we overlooked this and plodded on, past Place Georges Python (Georges Python was a local businessman, best known for having founded Fribourg University in 1889), and on to Rue de Lausanne.
Rue de Lausanne is a good old-fashioned Swiss street: cobbled, lined with picturesque houses, and steep enough to get someone as unfit as me hot, bothered and out of breath. The fact that it was afternoon on an especially hot day didn’t help much—but there was salvation round the corner: not just does the Rue de Lausanne eventually dip down into the Place de Nova Friburgo, the spot is also marked by a very good gelateria! For CHF4 for a generous scoop (with a wide variety of awesome flavours available, including melon, which I chose), this is good value for money. Not surprisingly, just about everybody we passed was slurping at a gelato.
A leisurely saunter across Place de Nova Friburgo, on to the Place d’ Hôtel de Ville, and we reached the first of the sights on our tour: the Hôtel de Ville, or the Rathaus. This is one of those stately stone buildings that look like they were made for grand processions: the double staircase, two flights of steps leading up to meet in a landing in the middle, is very similar in basic style to the Rathaus in Bern. Tourists aren’t allowed in, but even standing outside and admiring the edifice was enough for us. The little square in front is home to one of Fribourg’s many fountains, this one being that of St George and the Dragon. The saint’s on horseback, and all three—St George, the horse and the dragon—are of marble. The statue was the work of a Hans Geiler, but the rest of the fountain (the limestone basin, and the twisted column topped by a complicated capital, both of stone from Neuchâtel) are the works of other craftsmen. The Fontaine de St-Georges, or the Brunnen des hl. Georg, as it’s known, dates back to 1525. The Rathaus itself had been completed in 1522.
Walking on, we soon found another of Fribourg’s famed fountains: the Fontaine de Samson or the Simson-Brunnen, the Fountain of Samson, dating back to 1547. This one’s of deep golden Jura stone and stands atop a gilded column: Samson, looking thoroughly nonchalant as he pulls the jaws of a complacent-looking lion apart. With pretty blue flowers blooming all around the periphery of the fountain, the Simson-Brunnen somehow lacked the majesty of St George.
Beyond the Simson-Brunnen, we came to the first of a trio of great churches. This was the Cathédrale St Nicholas, all carved stone, soaring tower, impressive paintings and superb stained glass. Beyond it was the relatively disappointing Basilique Nôtre Dame, which was a let-down, since most of the dimly-lit interior was shrouded in tarpaulins awaiting restoration. The third church, the airy and beautiful l’Eglise des Cordeliers, restored our faith in Fribourg’s churches, though: it was very pretty on the inside.
So we had a surfeit of churches (and we hadn’t included the Convent of the Visitation, the Capuchin Convent, the Capuchin Monastery, the Augustinian Monastery, the Church and Headquarters of the Knights St John Hospitaller and sundry other churches, monasteries and religious establishments simply because we only had this one afternoon in Fribourg and didn’t have the time to go too far afield). But, just in case we still hadn’t had our fill of religious art, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire next to l’Eglise des Cordeliers provided a substantial glimpse of religious sculpture and painting from Fribourg, beginning at about the 12th century. The museum’s a good one, with an especially fine collection of stained glass (and a ghoulish relic labelled St Prosper—a skeleton draped in gold and silver laces, buttons and tinsel, lying on its side). Personally, I would’ve traded St Prosper for the time and the opportunity to visit some of Fribourg’s other museums, such as the Swiss Sewing Machine Museum (Musée Suisse de la Machine à Coudre) or, what sounded even more interesting, the Swiss Museum of Puppets (Musée Suisse de la Marionette). Tarun, of course, would probably have voted for the Cardinal Beer Museum (Musée de la Bière Cardinal).
But we were short on time, and so had to wend our way back, past the cathedral. We walked up the interesting little alley called the Street of the Faithful Wife and the Model Husband (a metal arch, topped with painted metal cutouts of this exemplary couple, stretches across the alley), and past the Hôtel de Ville. Ten minutes later, we were at the railway station, ready to board our train back to Lausanne.
The next time I’m in the vicinity, Fribourg’s going to merit more than just a day trip. I have to see all those churches. And the museums, and convents, and monasteries. And did I mention the gates and towers that form part of old Fribourg’s fortifications, across the Sarine? Those too—and the bridges. And the rest of the fountains and statues. Including Jean Tinguely’s.
Don’t let Fribourg’s diminutive size fool you. This city has much more to offer than just a couple of hours’ loitering, as we discovered to our regret.
Written by phileasfogg on 27 Jul, 2009
Switzerland is my idea of tourist paradise. True, I can think of dozens—no, hundreds—of other countries, states, towns, villages and regions which are equally (if not more) scenic, historic and otherwise attractive, but very few are able to rival Switzerland in making travel easy, comfortable…Read More
Switzerland is my idea of tourist paradise. True, I can think of dozens—no, hundreds—of other countries, states, towns, villages and regions which are equally (if not more) scenic, historic and otherwise attractive, but very few are able to rival Switzerland in making travel easy, comfortable and enjoyable for the visitor. Switzerland succeeds on all counts, and how! The countryside is gorgeous, with swathes of woodland alongside meadows studded with wildflowers and picturesque cows (or, occasionally, sheep), each with a perfect bell hanging round its neck. Switzerland also happens to be the only place where I’ve found sheep and cows grazing inside cities—my favourite Metro station in Lausanne was one which had a strip of pasture next to it. When the automatic doors slid open, we’d always hear the gentle tinkling of cow bells.
Then there are the ubiquitous flowers: pink, blue, purple, white, yellow—in every conceivable colour, either carefully cultivated or growing wild in a little patch of soil. There are the Alps, the vineyards, the tranquil blue lakes with their elegant swans and their ducks with iridescent emerald heads. There are flower clocks and imposing old châteaux, and wooden chalets with window boxes full of flowers. There are waterfalls, quaint clocks, some of the best chocolate in the world, and fondue to die for.
As if that isn’t all, everything’s superbly managed: there aren’t any beggars or touts pulling at you; there are no pickpockets, almost no buskers (though I personally don’t mind buskers), and everything’s clean and well maintained. You don’t find yourself wondering whether your train/bus/boat will be on time (it will; I’m sure Swiss roosters also have a designated time for the daily cock-a-doodle do!) Lots of people understand English. And if, like me, you can get the gist of a little French if it’s spoken slowly, you should be able to manage in most of Western Switzerland, where French is always spoken fairly slowly.
All of which, of course, makes one wonder why I’m even bothering to write this section on tips. But spending two weeks travelling between Lausanne, Bern, Geneva, Fribourg, and Gruyères, I discovered a few things that just might help a first-time traveller, especially if you’re travelling on a budget. So here goes.
1. Get a Swiss Pass. This is my top tip. Even if you don’t look at the rest of my suggestions, consider this one very seriously. The Swiss Pass is available for varying durations and number of individuals, plus there are flexible passes. Tarun and I, for example, bought an 8-day pass for the two of us. This cost us €300, and entitled us to unlimited travel for a period of 8 consecutive days on any form of public transport—intercity trains, Metro trains, trams, buses, and paddle steamers. In addition, it allowed us free entry to most museums (the only ones not included are private museums like the Einsteinhaus in Bern) and to many other attractions, such as châteaux, show dairies, etc.
Soon after we arrived in Switzerland we realised just how invaluable the Swiss pass is. A round trip from Lausanne (where we were staying) to Geneva would cost the two of us CHF100 (The Swiss franc is almost the same value as the Euro). And Geneva is one of the nearest cities to Lausanne; going to Bern or Interlaken would’ve been even more expensive. Our itinerary—with daily trips out into the countryside, sometimes with travelling through most of the day—would have cost us a very pretty packet if we hadn’t been carrying our pass.
The Swiss Pass has to be bought in your own country, from the authorised dealer. You pay in your own currency, and once you get to Switzerland, you have to have the pass endorsed at the nearest travel office (a railway enquiry centre at a train station, for instance). The official will check the passport(s) of the individual(s) mentioned on the pass, and will then stamp the current date on the pass, thus `inaugurating’ it, so to say. Note that the pass entitles you to travel second class. Also, travel on special trains—such as the GoldenPass Panoramic—requires you to make a reservation, even though the actual fare is covered under the Swiss Pass. Similarly, for trains connecting Switzerland to other countries, although the stretch within Switzerland is covered by the Swiss Pass, you’ll still need to reserve seats for that stretch.
Do yourself a favour and get a Swiss Pass. The €300 we spent purchasing it back home in India (very efficiently delivered, in just two days) would, if we’d travelled on normal tickets, paid museum entry, etc, been exhausted in just over two days. Unbelievably good value for money.
2. Look for the i. The letter i, in white on a dark blue background, denotes (as it does in many other countries), a tourist information centre. In Switzerland, you’ll find these either inside airports or train stations, or in very close proximity. Our routine was to emerge from a platform into the central hall of a train station, look around to see if there was a tourist centre there (there’s one in Lausanne’s train station), and if not, to walk out onto the street and look around—in Bern, Fribourg and Geneva, for example, we saw signboards outside the station indicating the way to the tourist centre.
You’ll find loads of free tourist literature, including very useful maps that often have special tourist-oriented walks marked out on them. At least in the larger or more touristy destinations, staff at the tourist centre will also speak English. Our only encounter with someone who spoke "un peu" English was an enchanting and very helpful lady at Lutry whom I finally managed to converse with using sign language, whatever little French I knew, and whatever English she knew.
3. Try the wine. Swiss wine—rarely heard of outside the country, since nearly all is consumed within Switzerland—is superb. If you like wine, do try some. The vineyards along the shore of Lac Leman between Lausanne and Chillon, for instance, do their own bottling and produce some truly awesome vin.
While on the subject of wine, it’s probably appropriate to touch on food as well. Traditional Swiss specialities like fondue, raclette and Bernerplatte are all very rich in cheese, meat and potatoes—great if you’ve been cycling, hiking or skiing and need to shore up your strength. If you’ve been sitting in a train all day or strolling leisurely through a museum, go easy on the cheese! Or, as my cousin’s husband suggested, wash it down with a good swig of wine.
4. If you’re in a hurry, don’t use the boats. The paddle steamers on Lac Leman are very picturesque and should be experienced at least once—but not if you’re in a hurry to get anywhere. We ended up spending nearly two hours doing the Ouchy-Chillon crossing, when a bus and train could’ve got us there in less than an hour.
5. Pack food for long hauls. If you’re going on a longish trip that’ll involve frequent changes of train, bus or boat, carry your own food. This point was brought home most forcibly for us when we went to Jungfrau, and changed trains at Ouchy, Montreux, Interlaken Ost, Grindelwald, Kleine Scheidegg, Lauterbrunnen, again Interlaken Ost, Bern, and Lausanne in a little over 12 hours. Each train arrived just in time for us to disembark, run across to another platform to catch the next train and settle down in our seats before the train started. Not all trains have dining cars, either, so if you aren’t carrying your own grub, you may end up hungry. In any case, if you’re on a tight budget, eating in a dining car isn’t recommended.
Another tip for when you’re buying food: many train stations have counters that dispense pastries, sandwiches, aerated drinks, juice and coffee—but you’ll also be able to buy almost the same stuff at food stores, at a much lower price. And many stations either have a food store within the station, or you’ll find one nearby.
6. Swiss francs, not Euros. Some—a very few—restaurants or retailers in Switzerland accept Euros. If you aren’t going to use a credit card or ATM card, but will be carrying currency you’ve brought into the country, make sure you bring Swiss francs, not Euros. You lose some money in the way of exchange rates when converting Euros to Swiss francs.
Written by phileasfogg on 06 Jul, 2009
Heaven is never quite on our side when we’re going sightseeing. The cathedrals with the most imposing spires (like Bern’s Münster, or Strasbourg’s Eglise St Thomas) are shrouded in unsightly scaffolding. In Bern, we discovered that the famous bear pits no longer housed any bears.…Read More
Heaven is never quite on our side when we’re going sightseeing. The cathedrals with the most imposing spires (like Bern’s Münster, or Strasbourg’s Eglise St Thomas) are shrouded in unsightly scaffolding. In Bern, we discovered that the famous bear pits no longer housed any bears. And this in a city named after the bear.
In Geneva, therefore, we were no terribly surprised to find that its most famous attraction—the Jet d’Eau (which throws 500 litres of water every second into the air, to a height of 140 metres at the rate of 200kmph)—wasn’t working. The weather wasn’t right for it, we were told. Huh? There wasn’t a cloud in sight. We were later told, by my cousin, that it’s wind that’s the culprit: in a stiff breeze (which was blowing like a gale off Lac Leman the day we were in Geneva), the Jet d’Eau’s water will go all over the place, so they turn it off. Ho hum.
But never say die, says I, so we grinned weakly at each other, and decided to see the other sights of Geneva—which, unless you’re terribly keen on seeing buildings associated with the United Nations, CERN, the Red Cross/Red Crescent and similar organisations—are few and far between. But Lac Leman, also known as Lac de Genève (Lake Geneva) is pretty enough to merit a leisurely stroll along its shore. From the railway station, we’d walked over to the nearby tourist information centre (on Rue de Mont Blanc) and picked up a map of Geneva, from which we figured out that the best way to proceed was straight on: down Rue du Mont Blanc and over Pont du Mont Blanc, the bridge which would take us over to the Old Town. This is at the southern tip of Lac Leman—a few bridges to the south, and the body of water you’re crossing is no longer the lake, but the River Rhône.
We, however, were quite definitely crossing Lac Leman, its banks dotted with lovely old white paddle steamers that chug their way along the shores of the lake. There were lots of private boats too, nearly all covered with tarps: this was a weekday, so everybody was probably hard at work. Also hard at work—preening, poking about for worms and posing for tourists—were pristine swans and ducks. Lac Leman has a lot of these pretty birds swimming along the shores, from Geneva to Chillon and beyond, and they’re perfect models!
Past the flapping flags that line the Pont du Mont Blanc, we arrived at the Jardin Anglais (literally, the English Garden), a long and picturesque stretch of lawns, trees, flowerbeds, fountains and statues. The Jardin Anglais has its own two landmarks: the first we arrived at was the Monument Nationale. With a name like that—I associate monuments with being nothing smaller than the Taj Mahal—I’d expected something grander, but this is really just two statues of armed women, both slightly larger than life, draped in flowing robes and wearing crowns. These were erected in 1914 to mark the centenary of Geneva’s joining the Swiss Confederation (as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1814). Interesting enough, but not as much of a draw as the garden’s other big attraction, the Horloge Fleurie (the Flower Clock)a symbol of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
We’d seen flower clocks elsewhere—one in Lausanne (Ouchy), but Geneva’s Flower Clock is in a different league. This one was set up in 1955 and consists of 6,500 flowering plants, of which the species (I assume) are changed every now and then. When we visited, the flowers were mainly cream and white, with a smattering of deep mauve; photos in our guidebook and on the Net reveal a dazzling range of colours, with vivid yellows, reds, deep purples and blues. Rather stylishly, the numbers on the clock face are scattered across the area—the 12, 1 and 5 were on the dial, but the other numbers were picked out in silvery-green foliage on circles of flowering plants a couple of feet away from the dial. Cool!
We’d wasted a little time at the Horloge Fleurie; it’s very popular, so there was almost a queue of people who wanted friends and family to photograph them against the backdrop of the clock. Having finally gotten to it and taken our photograph, we wandered on a bit more through the Jardin Anglais, admiring the view of Lac Leman, before we turned right and headed off towards the Old Town.
Geneva’s Old Town sits on a hill. The fringes, with broad roads, Starbucks, offices and boutiques, resembles other modern Western European cities; the small and compact core, with its narrow cobbled streets, old buildings and pretty cafés, is a more medieval area. The streets get gradually narrower and steeper, so that by the time we began the climb up to the Cathédrale St Pierre, we were happy to stop at the first fountain labelled `eau potable’ and have a drink to cool off.
Having seen the cathedral (admittedly impressive, though it doesn’t look like a church), we stopped off for lunch at Geneva’s oldest restaurant, Taverne de la Madeleine. Just round the corner from the cathedral—we didn’t see this till after lunch—is another restaurant, Les Armures, probably best known because Bill Clinton dined there.
In the same area, within a few metres of the cathedral, stand two other historical monuments. One is what used to originally be the granary and later became the Arsenal. This is today a sort of open hall which appeared to be in use as a parking lot for a couple of bicycles. Don’t be deterred, though: one of the walls is decorated with striking mosaics depicting warriors, dragons, women with plunging necklines and other interesting details—I wish there’d been some explanation of the art. The arsenal is also, appropriately, home to two cannons. These, luckily for us, had an explanatory plaque on the wall: these were part of the artillery requisitioned by the Austrians and carted off to Vienna in 1814. The Lieutenant of Geneva, Joseph Pinon, began a crusade to retrieve the cannons and they were returned to Geneva the following year, in 1815.
Just a few steps down the lane, in fact almost diagonally opposite the arsenal, is the Hotel de Ville. Just about every Swiss city we visited had a Hotel de Ville, but Geneva’s is especially important. Here, in the Alabama Room, was where the first Geneva Convention was signed. The Hotel de Ville now consists of government offices and you can’t wander about at will within the precincts, but you can look in through the gate. Step into the courtyard, and the wooden door in the opposite wall leads to the Alabama Room.
Also near the Hotel de Ville, the Arsenal, et al, is the Maison Tavel, Geneva’s oldest house. The earliest records pertaining to the Maison Tavel go back to 1303, but following a fire in 1334, much of the house was rebuilt. Much restoration and renovation appears to have been done ever since, and on the outside at least there’s little to reveal its antiquity. The Maison Tavel has now been converted into a museum, the Musée des Vieux Genève, which showcases life in Geneva between the 14th and 19th centuries.
But, since we had just a couple of hours more to spend in Geneva before we caught our train back to Lausanne, we decided to skip the Musée des Vieux Genève and make our way instead to Musée d’art et d’histoire. This museum, with its excellent collection of fine art, is outside of the Old Town, in a quiet stretch of leafy parks and sedate old houses. Also in close proximity is the unusual Eglise Russe, the Russian Orthodox Church with its gleaming gilded onion domes.
A quick tour of the church, a longer (but not long enough to be satisfying!) tour of the museum, and it was time to head back to the railway station. We hadn’t managed to see the Jet d’Eau, but we didn’t mind: even a few hours in Geneva had been interesting enough. This isn’t one of Switzerland’s must-see cities (unless you’re devoted to clocks or the UN), but if you have the time to spare, it can be rewarding enough.
Written by phileasfogg on 25 Jun, 2009
Bern, for those not in the know (as we were before this trip), was named for the bear. Or rather, for a dead bear, since that was the first animal to be hunted and killed by a local ruler when he first set up shop…Read More
Bern, for those not in the know (as we were before this trip), was named for the bear. Or rather, for a dead bear, since that was the first animal to be hunted and killed by a local ruler when he first set up shop here. Bern, makes much of the bear. Bear representations are all over the place—we saw them on flags fluttering along the streets of the Old Town; we saw them in murals outside buildings; as part of the parade of mechanical figures on the Clock Tower; on countless souvenirs; even embossed on manhole covers. And yes, we also saw a fountain with an upright statue of a bear clad in chainmail and helmet, equipped with fearsome weaponry.
Which brings me to the fountains. Frankly, I tend to associate an abundance of fountains with Rome. So, when I read in our trusty guidebook that Bern has lots of fountains (most of them very old—15th and 16th century), I was exuberant. I adore fountains, the more ornate the better (which is why Rome was a hit with me). I was still gushing, happy as a clam, when we got out of Bahnhofplatz, obtained a map of the city from the local tourist information centre, and set off down Spitalgasse. Approximately halfway down the street, we came upon the first of the fountains, the Pfeiferbrunnen—the Piper’s Fountain, and reality kicked in. Unlike the fountains of Rome, the Bernese fountains aren’t elaborate, huge affairs with gallons of water gushing all over the place. If you’re expecting something like the Trevi or the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona, let me disillusion you: these are smaller, way smaller. Each fountain is basically a tiny outlet for water, a circular stone basin into which up to four narrow pipes dribble water. By and large, the only decorative element is the statue that surmounts the fountain—and these are what make Bern’s fountains in a class by themselves. The statues are always carved, vividly painted and gilded, and though they don’t look like high art, they’re eye-catching enough.
The Piper’s Fountain, for instance, has (well, obviously!) a piper, dressed in blue and red, playing what looks like a Swiss version of bagpipes. At his feet, looking up with a definitely annoyed expression, is a large bird—a crane or a heron, perhaps. And all down the column, till the fountain itself, are more decorations: bells, swags of greenery, a little group of dancing jesters, gargoyle-like creatures, and more. All slightly eerie, though the cheerful band of orange-red geraniums around the fountain helps make it look a little friendlier.
A couple of minutes’ walk along Spitalgasse and we arrived at Bärenplatz, once a moat but now far from it. This is dominated by a large domed building with `Imperial German’ written all over it (figuratively, not literally) and a market of somewhat crummy stalls in front. A few steps beyond, and we went through the tunnel-like aperture of the Käfigturm (the Prison Tower), and onto Marktgasse. And here was yet another fountain, the Anna Seiler Brunnen. Anna Seiler’s claim to fame is that she helped fund the setting up of Bern’s first hospital in the 1300’s. Atta-girl! This fountain’s much like the Piper, in that it has a rim of geraniums around the rim, but that’s where it ends. The column in the centre of the fountain is plain grey stone, with not a shred of decoration on it until the very top, where a statue of Ms Seiler stands. She’s in a sort of Florence Nightingale-ish position, one hand holding a basin while the other empties a pitcher into it. Yes, I suppose you can’t really show her administering to a suffering patient: there’s just enough space to fit oneperson onto the top of the column.
At the far end of Marktgasse, we were faced with a dilemma: should we go straight, past the Clock Tower and down Kramgasse, or should we turn left towards Kornhausplatz, where the deliciously evil Kindlifresserbrunnen (the Ogre Fountain) stands? Kramgasse won, mainly because we decided we wanted to see the Münster and Einsteinhaus before lunch—and both lay in the direction of Kramgasse.
Beyond the Clock Tower, a bylane took us to Münstergasse and then onto Münsterplatz, with the cathedral looming magnificently in front—and yet another statue, very appropriately the Mosesbrunnen, stationed at the near end of the square. Moses obviously had more clout with the Bernese than poor Anna Seiler; his statue has some fancy carving and gilt on the column as well, and the square basin of the fountain itself is carved. As for Moses, he’s richly clothed in gold-trimmed blue and white, and holds the two tablets of the Ten Commandments in his left hand. His right hand points to the second commandment (thou shall have no other gods but me), according to our guidebook an important tenet of the Lutheran faith. The book is silent, however, about the strange clumps of stuff growing out of the top of Moses’s head, like bunny ears. Very strange. Tarun and I decided it was probably some fanciful way of denoting a halo.
Having duly seen—and admired—the Münster, we walked down Kreuzgasse and worked our way back along Kramgasse towards the Clock Tower, passing an unusually plain fountain on the way. This one had its circular basin, its rim of geraniums, some carving on the grey stone obelisk topping it, but that was all. Even the official tourist map, though it showed a little icon of the fountain, didn’t bother to assign a name to it.
So on we went, to the next of the lot: the Simsonbrunnen, the Samson Fountain. This one’s striking, the statue lavishly gilded and the column below painted in stripes of grey and orange-red. Samson doesn’t look even faintly Biblical—his clothes are definitely medieval European, and the curly hair and beard definitely not the flowing locks one would have expected. The gilded lion whose jaws Samson’s pulling apart has a much longer mane, though his ribs stick out so much, we wondered if Samson should’ve got credit for bumping off a creature so emaciated.
A few steps further along the street, we came to another statue, and one which we unanimously accorded Number One position on our list: it’s so representative of Bern! This is the Zähringerbrunnen, in honour of Berchtold V, Duke of Zähringen, founder of Bern (also the guy supposed to have killed that first bear after whom Bern was named). The column is painted and gilded in stripes along the sides and topped off with some nude torsos at the top. The Zähringen statue is, appropriately enough, a statue of a bear dressed in chainmail and bristling with gilt-hilted swords and daggers. In his right paw he holds a red-and-gold standard. The best bit about him is his helmet: it’s golden (not very effective as a means of defence, I’d think) with a sort of dome on top and a cage-like front. Cool! And as if that wasn’t enough bear, there’s a small bear sitting at his feet too.
By this time, we were very hungry, so we trotted off towards Kornhausplatz—and what’s perhaps Bern’s most famous fountain, the Kindlifresserbrunnen, the Ogre Fountain. The base of this one is trimmed with gilded and painted bears (Yes! What else?), wearing chain mail and carrying flags but with no helmets, sad to say. The statue at the top of the fountain is the biggie here: it’s an ogre with at least four naked and chubby babies in tow, all dangling from his belt by straps. He’s in the middle of eating a fifth kid, its plump bottom just about disappearing into his mouth. Ugh, ugh, ugh!! I don’t like my statues quite so graphic, especially not when I’m in the middle of lunch.
But yes, Bern’s fountains are worth it all. Not Rome, but endearing, interesting and with a character all their own.
Written by SeenThat on 09 Feb, 2009
I arrived at Zurich as an invitee of an international corporation. At the time I was unaware to have been chosen by them to perform a technology transfer for my country; eventually that led to my leaving it and becoming a world wide pilgrim. However,…Read More
I arrived at Zurich as an invitee of an international corporation. At the time I was unaware to have been chosen by them to perform a technology transfer for my country; eventually that led to my leaving it and becoming a world wide pilgrim. However, for a week I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the most beautiful towns in Europe.BackgroundThe largest city in Switzerland is a small town of less than 400000 inhabitants and is the main commercial and cultural center of the country; indisputably it is one of the main global financial centers. The name is Celtic in origin – Turus. It was Romanized into Turicum and afterwards Germanized into Zürich. HistoryWithin the Roman Empire, Turicum was a tax-collecting point for goods trafficked on the Limmat River. Afterwards – during the ninth century - a Carolingian Castle was built by the grandson of Charlemagne, Louis the German. He also founded the Fraumünster Abbey and endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zürich, Uri, and the Albis forest. In 1045, King Henry III made the abbess the ruler of the area by granting the convent the right to hold markets, collect tolls, and even mint coins.Emperor Frederick II promoted the abbess of the Fraumünster to the rank of a duchess in 1234. The abbess assigned the mayor, and she frequently delegated the minting of coins to citizens of the city. In the 14th century, the Guild Laws (called here Zunftordnung) were established and in 1336 Rudolf Brun, became the first independent mayor.In 1351, Zürich joined the Swiss confederation as the fifth member; however, it was expelled from the confederation in 1440 due to a war with the other member states over the territory of Toggenburg. The event is known as the Old Zürich War. The city was defeated in 1446 and re-admitted to the confederation in 1450.The city featured a central role in the Reformation. Zwingli began the Swiss reformation by preaching in Zürich; he lived in the city from 1484 until his death in 1531.The first railway on Swiss territory was built here since 1847, connecting the Zurich with Baden. Even nowadays, trains are a main mass-transport system in the country. The beautiful and functional Hauptbahnhof (Zurich railway terminal) was built in 1871.EnvironmentZürich was built around the Sihl and Limmat Rivers; they meet at the end of Platzspitz, which borders the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum). Lake Zurich delimits the town to the south and wooded hills, which are part of the Albis Range, delimit it to the north. The Glattal – or Valley of the Glatt River – delimits its northwest. The historic center of the city is the Lindenhof, a hill on the left bank of the Limmat River, 700 meters north from Lake Zürich. The Old Town is not surrounded by walls anymore, but its maze of narrow alleys successfully keeps its medieval look.The city is divided into twelve districts (Kreis in German), each one of which contains between 1 and 4 neighborhoods; District One contains the Old Town and is thus the most important one for travelers. The district boundaries follow the boundaries of previously existing municipalities before they were incorporated into the city during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.Traveling AroundZurich has several railway stations: Hauptbahnhof (Zurich Main Railway Terminal), Oerlikon, Stadelhofen, Hardbrücke, Tiefenbrunnen, Enge, Wiedikon and Altstetten. The Hauptbahnhof is worth a visit even if not using it. The French TGV high-speed, the Cisalpino and the InterCityExpress stop in Zürich.The Swiss A1, A3 and A4 motorways pass nearby Zürich, connecting the city with all the main destinations in the country. The Zürich International Airport is located less than 10 kilometres northeast of the city, in Kloten.Within the city there are four means of mass-transportation: the S-Bahn (local trains), trams, electric trolley buses and diesel buses. Boats cross the rivers and the lake.LanguageSwitzerland has four official languages. The Canton of Zurich is a German speaking one. However, I could communicate easily in English, even while asking casual passerby’s for directions.Main SightsThe Swiss Reform of the Church created several churches of historical importance. The Grossmünster is within the old city; there Zwingli was pastor. It was building in the ninth century and was declared by Charlemagne an "Imperial church." Another old church of interest is the Fraumünster, on the opposite side of the Limmat River, which was also built from the ninth century. Its Romanesque choir dates from 1250-70 and Marc Chagall prepared its stained glass windows. The Church of St. Peter is south from the Fraumünster, in the old city and features largest clock in Europe. The Bahnhofstrasse is Zürich main shopping avenue; it starts at the main train station and reaches the lakeside. The sumptuous banks on Parade-Platz, the plaza in the middle of Bahnhofstrasse, seem to be the real cathedrals of modern Switzerland. This is the main visible testimony of Zürich being the world's primary centre for offshore banking, a result of the Swiss banks secrecy’s practices. This practice as well as the low taxation attracted global corporations like Dow Chemical, IBM, General Motors, Google, Microsoft, and Pfizer into creating their European Centers in Zurich.The Lindenhof is near St. Peter, it was the site of a Roman castle. The Old Town and the Guild Houses in its surroundings transport the visitor back in time, into a long gone Medieval Europe.There are many interesting museums in town. The most interesting ones for the casual traveler are the Museum Bärengasse, which specializes in the history of the city in the 17th century. The Kunsthaus Zürich displays one a huge collection of Classic Modern Art in the world. The Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) is located in the Platzspitz Park in front of the Hauptbahnhof and provides an awesome glimpse into Swiss history.Zürich's old town at offers a lot of nightlife and clubbing at the Niederdorf district and it hosts the Street Parade in August every year; there is an astounding variety of restaurants offering food from all over the world. Close