Category Archives: Switzerland

Tales from Altstadt, Zurich’s Old Town

A tour of Zurich’s Old Town feels like a walk through a living history museum, full of Renaissance-era structures and narrow, twisting lanes that seem frozen in time.

Old city map of Zurich
My plunge into three century old history begins the moment my guide Annemarie pulls out a map dating back to the 1860s.

Once every few weeks, the citizens of Zurich are privy to a new piece of ‘art’. Without warning, oddly shaped statues, installations or concepts that defy definition spring up on unsuspecting street corners. The citizens tend to detest the upstart at first but over time, every work of art becomes an indistinguishable part of the city, much like the churches, guilds and town hall of yore. Zurich’s Altstadt (German for ‘Old Town’) encompasses Kreis 1 (District 1), parts of which are on the banks of the lovely Limmat River. My plunge into three century old history begins the moment my guide Annemarie pulls out a map dating back to the 1860s.

Bahnhofstrasse and Burkliplatz

Ganymed statue at Burkliplatz
An arresting statue of Prince Ganymed pleading with Zeus to take him to Mount Olympus occupies centre-stage.

We begin our walking tour at Bahnhofstrasse, where I’m staying. This posh area is the best luxury shopping destination in Zurich and its streets are lined with banks and boutique shops including Bucherer, the famous watchmaker and the adjoining Uhrenmuseum Beyer, dedicated to the world of horology. At Café Sprungli in Paradeplatz, we spot beetle-shaped chocolates and Annemarie tells me that these insects once plagued the city of Zurich until they were almost eradicated by offering citizens incentives to trap them. At the end of the street, we see the lake-side Burkliplatz, dotted with plump swans in an area that was once a swamp. An arresting statue of Prince Ganymed pleading with Zeus to take him to Mount Olympus occupies centre-stage.

Frauenbad Stadthausquai

Stadthaus, Zurich
Opposite the bath house is the Renaissance-era city hall Stadthaus, where Swiss citizens come to be joined in holy matrimony.

We turn into a quiet street called Stadhausquai, home to the Frauenbad bath house for women, which turns into a bar at night. Opened in 1885 to allow women to wash themselves as they didn’t have bathrooms at home, today it’s a popular public pool often frequented by sunbathers. Zurich’s bars cater to all kinds and this one is called Bar Fuss Bar, translating to ‘Bare-foot Bar’. Opposite the bath house is the Renaissance-era city hall Stadthaus, where Swiss citizens come to be joined in holy matrimony. At the quay, a wedding party sails away on a boat, waving goodbye to cheering onlookers. Annemarie tells me that this is a Swiss tradition for good luck. In the distance, we can see the double towers of the Grossmunster, a Romanesque-style Protestant church built by Charlemagne at the graves of the city saints Felix and Regula, as per local legend.

Fraumunster

Chagall painting of a white stag at Fraumunster, Zurich
According to Annemarie, a white stag was often seen protecting the King’s daughters and its image forms a leitmotif in most of the paintings.

In 853, King Louis the German had two unmarried daughters and it was for them that he built the Fraumunster Church on the remains of a former abbey. Led by Hildegard, the Benedictine Convent ruled over Zurich, Uri and the Albis Forest. The church is worth a visit for its beautiful Chagall windows, each depicting a different story from the Bible. According to Annemarie, a white stag was often seen protecting the King’s daughters and its image forms a leitmotif in most of the paintings.

Munsterhof and Lindenhof

Lindenhof Park, Zurich
The climb to Lindenhof Park takes us across hills shaped by the Ice Age, now turned into cobble-stoned paths.

We emerge on to a beautiful town square full of medieval buildings in the Lindenhof quarter called Munsterhof. My attention is drawn to the blue coloured Restaurant Zunfthaus Zur Waag, which used to be a guild house for wine merchants. The walk from the square to Lindenhof Park is littered with road signs in interesting shapes like keys and dragons. Annemarie informs me that this was to indicate the name of the road to folks who couldn’t read in the olden days. We come face to face with the clock of Peter’s Church, which is Europe’s largest clock-face, beautiful murals, water fountains and flags atop most homes. The climb to Lindenhof Park takes us across hills shaped by the Ice Age, now turned into cobble-stoned paths. From the park, I get a spectacular view of Zurich city, with its ancient buildings and the glittering Lake Zurich.

We end the tour with a peaceful walk by the Limmat River and a stroll through the streets of Augustinergasse, famed for its carved wooden bay windows and colourful coffee shops.

Things to do in Zurich's Old Town

  • Buy: Authentic Swiss crafts from Schweizer Heimatwerk and truffle of the day from Café Sprungli, both on Bahnhofstrasse
  • See: The wedding celebrations at Stadthaus (the city hall) and on the boats on Lake Zurich
  • Do: A boat cruise down the Limmat River, which takes you past the city’s grandest landmarks
  • Stay: The four star Hotel Glockenhof offers affordable comfort and is centrally located at Bahnhofstrasse, a stone’s throw away from Rennweg tram station.
  • Eat: The world famous Hiltl Restaurant for cutting-edge vegetarian and vegan cuisine, Restaurant Zum Kropf for the authentic Swiss experience and Quai 61 for a mesmerising view of the lake.
  • Visit: Zurich is bright and sunny in the summer months (June to September) but witnessing its snow-laden streets at Christmas is also delightful.

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The world’s most expensive but beautiful countries

The trouble with beauty is that it does not exist merely in cities that are affordable or accessible. Stunning marvels are flung across varied corners of the globe, many of which are far beyond our means. And yet, the travel-loving heart wants what it wants, even if means taking a personal loan for travel, just to make the next big trip a reality. So without much ado, here are the five most expensive but also very beautiful countries, according to Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index.

1. Bermuda

Bermuda by Joshua Davis Photography
Courtesy: Joshua Davis Photography

We’ve all heard about the Bermuda Triangle, that mysterious part of the North Atlantic Ocean where many sailing vessels and aircrafts have purportedly disappeared without a trace. Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory is actually the northernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle. And scary legend or not, I’d love to walk along those gorgeous shores and climb the 180 steps of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse to survey all of Bermuda.

2. Switzerland

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune of finally seeing what all the fuss about Switzerland is. One look at the sweeping vineyards of Lavaux, the ethereal sheen of Lake Geneva and the timeless beauty of Chillon Castle and I knew why it is every Indian’s dream to visit Switzerland. The muse of many romances, both reel and real, Switzerland is worth a visit for the snow-tipped Alps, the art, the vineyards and the lakeside panorama.

3. The Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas by Valeria Almeida
Courtesy: Valeria Almeida

Raucous parties, music festivals and a celebration of life is what I associate with The Bahamas, an archipelago of over 700 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Best known for its capital city Nassau, The Bahamas is worth a visit not only for its glorious beaches but also the exciting food and distillery tours, art galleries, water sports and eco adventures.

4. Norway

Norway by Michael Gwyther-Jones
Courtesy: Michael Gwyther-Jones

I’ve watched every season of The Vikings with as much fervour for the historical characters as the stunning landscapes of far-off Norway. Be it lush green mountains or serene fjords and glaciers, Norway is a country of extreme and untouched beauty. A visit to this Scandinavian jewel is incomplete without admiring the 9th-century Viking ships at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and enjoying cruises that begin at Bergen, colorful wooden houses typical to Norway.

5. Iceland

Iceland by Moyan Brenn
Courtesy: Moyan Brenn

The spectacular Northern Lights are reason enough to plan a trip to Iceland, even if it may seem like the other end of the planet. Volcanoes oozing with lava and hot springs are complimented by the enormous glaciers at Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Icelandic legends abound in the rugged landscape of this country and in the capital city Reykjavik, you can admire modern architecture and design. Summers in Iceland are a surprising burst of green.

So start adding to your piggy bank because these countries are definitely worth the sacrifice.

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The terraced vineyards of Lavaux, Switzerland

Visiting Lavaux was never part of the plan. But one afternoon, during our idyllic stay at the quiet, French-speaking Swiss town of Lausanne, we realised that we wanted more of the beautiful Swiss wine we’d been having at every meal. The locally grown grape is called Chasselas and morphs into a wonderfully fruity white wine under the right conditions. It’s a great accompaniment with fondue and fish and is the source of livelihood for numerous winemakers of The Lavaux, a terraced region stretching across 30km from Lausanne to Vevey-Montreux. We’d heard so much about this UNESCO World Heritage Site that after a delicious lunch at Café du Grütli, we decided to make the little trip to Lavaux Vinorama.

Cannabis ice tea in Switzerland
While changing metros from Lausanne to Vevey, we stumbled upon this shocker. But no, we didn’t get high. The tea is only mildly flavoured with cannabis and contains a miniscule portion of the potent herb. I quite liked the taste – pleasantly herbal.

Walking through the vineyards

According to UNESCO, the vineyards of Lavaux date back to the 11th century, when the region was ruled by Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. Wine-making is thus an integral part of the local culture.

The vineyards of Lavaux facing Lake Geneva
We talked through acres of beautiful green vineyards
and secret little paths lying adjacent to the winemaker's cottages
and secret little paths lying adjacent to the winemaker’s cottages.
We glimpsed flowers of every hue
We glimpsed flowers of every hue
and colour
and colour
But none as beautiful as this one.
But none as beautiful as this one.

Trudging through the ups and downs of the terraced vineyards is romantic, but it’s also a lot of hard work. We hadn’t imagined that the paths would be so steep and narrow that at some points, we had to duck to go under the fencing and squeeze ourselves between the gaps. Eventually, we lost all sense of direction and had no clue which way to head to go to Rivaz (pronounced Riva). Fortunately, we found a winemaker’s cottage where the owner was actually present (several others appeared uninhabited). Walking through the flowery paths with the mesmerising Lake Geneva in front of us had been ethereal but we were quite happy to emerge on to a road that was wide enough to walk on comfortably!

Wine tasting at Lavaux Vinorama

The road to Rivaz, Switzerland
Once we found the way to Rivaz,
It was only a matter of time before we reached Lavaux Vinorama
It was only a matter of time before we reached Lavaux Vinorama
with its mind-boggling array of local wines.
with its mind-boggling array of local wines.

We were eager to start sipping on some wine but first, we were to watch a film on the life of a winemaker. Titled ‘Une année vigneronne’ (a winegrower’s year), the film turned out to be a beautifully depicted and absorbing journey into the difficult yet fulfilling process of wine-making. Until I watched this fictionalised documentary, I hadn’t realised just how dependent winemakers are on the vagaries of climate. As the protagonist says, a good season can make or break the wine, because sowing the grapes is only the start of the journey. For the grapes to mature appropriately, the vineyards have to be protected from unseasonal rain. The story in the film has a happy ending and the winegrower ends up with some near-perfect wine.

We tasted a variety of wines
We tasted a variety of wines
Including some whites and reds
Including some whites and reds
Learning the nuances of wine at Lavaux Vinorama, Switzerland
while the proprietor explained the nuances to us.

A raucously happy group of Swiss drinkers sat at the table next to ours and the friendliest of them hopped over to ask where we were from. He even offered to take a photograph of us. It’s true – wine can put you in a really good mood! One can also purchase wines from the vinorama, available in all price ranges. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the banks of Lake Geneva and gazed at its glimmering surface, smooth as a sheet of glass. The white-tipped Alps in the distance were the only clue to the prevalence of snow in this summery land. During a lunch cruise of the lake, we’d enjoy a sweeping view of the terraced vineyards and feel awed that we were actually in their midst only a day ago.

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