Switzerland is synonymous with the Alps. The Alps, of course, are known for skiing, hiking and soaring mountain peaks — all the things I happily left in Utah when I moved to Chicago. So when I visited Switzerland, I excluded those familiar things from my sightseeing list, instead searching for Swiss cuisine and culture, and finding three days of scenery and serenity in Zurich.
Zurich was the second city on my European trip through Munich, Switzerland and Spain. After four days celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich, I boarded a Swiss-bound train with beer-in-hand and watched the scenery outside my window like a movie. For four hours the German landscape slowly morphed into rolling green hills as it moved south, evolving into striking mountains dotted with lakes as it dipped into Austria, then finally arriving in Switzerland.
Zurich is known for its unmatched beauty and is even more stunning than I imagined. Within minutes of leaving the Hauptbahnhof train station, it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been.
Zurich’s Old Town (or Altstadt in German) gives other “old towns” a run for their nomenclature. Unscarred by the two World Wars, some buildings in the area date back to the 1300s, including my hotel, Hotel Helmhaus, a boutique hotel whose earliest records are dated 1356! (It was newly renovated and the staff greeted me by name when I arrived! What service.)
The teeny alleyways and ancient storefronts are as adorable as they are old. I spent my first day strolling the streets admiring the architecture, stopping for a chocolate pastry at Honold’s Tea Room, one of the city’s most notorious chocolate shops, then indulging in Luxemburgerli Macaroons, Zurich’s version of the famous French cookie, at Cafe Sprungli. Luxemburgerli are smaller and lighter than their French counterparts — but just as deliciously addicting.
In the afternoon I crossed the river, walked along squeaking tram lines and through a quiet neighborhood until I reached a miniature restaurant called Ikoo, where rumor said the best bowl of ramen in Zurich is served. I was anxious to try my favorite dish in yet another foreign city and was seated next to three locals on a table for four. Talk about awkward!
But before I could finish the last slurps of my noodles, the four of us were chatting and laughing in English. I asked what the least touristy thing I could do in Zurich was and they replied, “You’re doing it right now! Who eats ramen in Switzerland?!” Apparently they don’t know me! (More on that bowl of Japanese ramen later.)
Later that evening, I had dinner at Kronenhalle, a historical restaurant The Culture Trip calls one of Switzerland’s “culinary institutions.” The restaurant was built in 1862 and the wood-paneled walls hint at its history, while the art hanging on the walls — by Picasso, Chigall and Miro — suggest otherwise. I ordered Zurcher Geschnetzeltes, a traditional dish of sliced veal in mushroom cream sauce with rösti (hash browns) served (and reheated!) tableside. It was superb.
On my way to the opera I noticed a man taking photos of me as I walked to the Opera House. Initially I got defensive, but when he explained that he didn’t mean any offense and seemed friendly, I relaxed. He agreed to send me the photos if we could take one of the two of us. So we asked a stranger to snap a picture, swapped facebook profiles and have been virtual friends ever since! That right there is one of my favorite things about traveling.
The opera, Faust, was one of the best productions of any opera I’d ever seen. And, as it marked my 66th opera, that’s really saying something! I left that night in awe of the power of music and high on the thought of how much I love my adventurous life.
The next day I did more wandering, more admiring of Zurich and toured the Zurich Opera House before getting lost on my way to Maison Manesse, a one Michelin starred restaurant known for its unusually creative cuisine and mentioned in the New York Times. The tasting menu-only spot is housed in an actual house on the other side of the city. The food was interesting and the service was spot-on, but the wait between the six courses was staggeringly painful — which is torture when dining alone.
I ended my time in Zurich by hopping on another train to spend the day in Lucerne. Dozens of friends told me about its gorgeousness and Lucerne did not disappoint. Although that is a story for another post. :)
I got off the train after my day in Lucerne heartbroken that I had to leave Zurich. Sometimes you discover a place you love so instantaneously, so intensely, that it makes your heart hurt and you know you’ll spend the rest of your life dreaming about it. That place, for me, is surely Zurich.