Zurich and the Rhine Falls

I left for Zurich on the 8th of July, on my overpriced train ticket that cost €111. That same ticket, on the same afternoon that I booked it, had increased to €180. That is insane. It was the best option I had, however, because I just missed a place on the overnight bus (€70), and flight prices were ridiculous (€500). I don’t like this system of train tickets increasing in price the later that you book them, and the prices were outrageous to begin with.

I wanted some fruit for brekky, so walked into a supermarket to get some. The doors were open, though it seemed fairly quiet, and I was shocked to soon be told by the guy unpacking the pellets that the supermarkets did not open until 9am – on a weekday! What do you mean 9am? This wasn’t a country town the last time I looked – what do people do in the mornings before work if you need something from the supermarket? Just wait? Geez, I can understand it for small shops or on a weekend, but it’s a supermarket for heaven’s sake, and it’s a weekday, not even a usual sleep in day. Grumph.

Arriving in Switzerland I was greeted with yet another language, and more signs that I couldn’t read. After a day or two I was able to make out the basics in each new country, yet I’d also forget I had to do it every time I got off a plane or long distance train and I’d only been in Paris for three days so it felt too soon to have to do it all again. Feeling a little overwhelmed, and lost, I studied the information board to get my bearings. Turning around I laughed, for straight ahead of me was a restaurant called ‘Mister Wong – Asian Cooking’. Now that was something I could read.

The number of people who smoke in Europe is crazy, I’ve been shocked in each country to see so many people smoking cigarettes – and then just throwing the butts on the ground. Everywhere. The Australian couple I met in Paris commented ‘Haven’t they been told in Europe that smoking is bad for your health?’, and I would have to say the answer is no. So, thus far I’d seen people smoking in the streets, at cafes, and on train platforms at small stations, however Zurich was a huge station and was enclosed in the main area. The meeting point I’d been given was ‘indoors’ by any definition of the word, and everyone who stood there had a lit cigarette hanging from their mouth. The cloud of smoke was so dense I couldn’t bear to stand near them because I couldn’t breathe.

My couch surfing host happened to be amongst them, and greeted me amidst a puff of smoke as he said hello. I used the standard cheek-to-cheek greeting that had been commonly used in other countries, only to be chastised for stopping at two cheek-to-cheek touches. Apparently in Switzerland it’s three. Sorry. I can kind of understand the two, it’s like you’re greeting the whole them by touching each of your cheeks to each of theirs, but three? Which side are you meant to start on and doesn’t the other side then feel left out? I got the impression my host wasn’t the kind of person to find these questions amusing.

The main reason I went to Zurich was to visit the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfalls. They are 150m wide and 23m high and the average flow in summer is 600m3 of water per second. I know the are by on means the biggest falls I’ve ever seen, however they were Europe’s so I was determined to go. My host, Beat, had lived in Zurich all his life and never been so he suggested he might come with me. The problem was, I wanted to go the next day, on Saturday, and he preferred to go on Sunday because the weather would be better. I realised the forecast wasn’t great, however I also know that if you don’t go today because of something, then you’re just as likely to find an excuse not to go the next day, or the next. I was going, bad weather or good. Then he announced that the shops were closed in Zurich on a Sunday, and he had a family dinner to attend on the Saturday night. Therefore, I would have to do my ‘tourist’ shopping for the Switzerland flag patch on Saturday morning, meaning we wouldn’t get to the falls until at least midday, and he could only stay until late afternoon to be back in time for his dinner.

Anyone who knows me will know I don’t like to be hurried because of someone else’s plans encroaching on mine, especially when it comes to spending time at a waterfall (or any body of water for that matter). I was not happy. I said I’ll be spending all day at the falls, and if he wanted to come that was fine, but I’d return to Zurich later than he did. Luckily I had a key to get in the house so that wasn’t an issue. The falls were great, I loved them and had a very enjoyable day. The noise of cascading water is so relaxing, and it centres me if I’m ‘out of balance’. There is a large rock in the centre of the falls, that you can take a boat to and climb up on. The roar of water is a magnificent, a soothing sound that drowns out the person next to you. I could listen to that all day, and actually fell asleep in the grassy area near the falls for an hour that very afternoon.

Zurich itself was a pretty little town, although it is Switzerland’s largest city. With a total population of seven and a half million people it’s a small country – roughly equal to the populations of Melbourne and Sydney combined. The city centre is built along both sides of a lake, as are many of Switzerland’s cities, and the water is reputably clean enough to drink as you swim. It took me just over an hour to walk the entire city, so it wasn’t big, and I was left gaping at the price of things. The exchange rate between the Swiss franc (CHF) and the euro was 1.3 CHF to 1 euro, which meant the CHF was approximately equal to one Australian dollar. I saw t-shirts on sale for between 30 to 60 to 100 CHF, and shorts and skirts on sale for 70 to 150 CHF. They may have been some fancy shops for the Swiss, but couldn’t believe they were the sale prices. Supermarket items were no better, with an increase of about 20% – 50%, of what we pay in AU, and when prices looked the same I checked the volume or grams and found they were about half the standard size.

I went to visit friends of my grandpa’s from when he’d travelled to Europe in 1949/1950. They were most welcoming, and showed me around some areas of Switzerland (St Gallen and surrounds) that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. They couldn’t do enough for me, and it wasn’t a problem until meal times when I was given large meals, with an entree and dessert. After travelling on the cheap for six weeks my stomach wasn’t used to so much food in 24 hours and it was difficult to explain why I couldn’t eat it, not that I didn’t want to.

Switzerland is a pretty country, although very small. It was a funny idea to contemplate, because Malta is a physically smaller country, with less inhabitants, yet the cities in Malta felt bigger and more lively than those in Switzerland. I was astonished to find out that women in rural areas in Switzerland have only had the right to vote in local elections since the late 1980s – yes, that is only in the last 25 years or so. They’ve been able to vote in national elections since the mid 60s or so, yet not in local elections until the late 80s. For a country that is so financially superior to many others, and is pro-euthanasia, and maintaining independence from the EU, they seemed to be backwards in some other areas, mostly relating to women. I also heard that the cause of many divorces is because of ‘women’s new independence’, an idea which nearly caused me to choke on my food.

Some people have questioned my choice to stay in a city for only two or three days, but I can get a good feel for a place in that time and know if I like it and if I want to stay longer or return another time. Zurich I don’t. I stayed one day too long and was bored. One extra day up my sleeve meant I could do some laundry and catch up on my diary and these posts, however I was eager to get to Munich and see a new city. I’m sure some other areas of Switzerland would have been nice to see, but the high cost of transportation meant that was not viable for me at this stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *