After a week in India for a wedding in Goa, I continued my trip to Switzerland before heading to Germany for another wedding. I picked Zurich because it was the cheapest place to fly in Europe from Goa. Also, I had only been to Switzerland for a single day when I was 8 and felt like I needed to spend more time here. My business school friends Marilyn and Rafa graciously offered to host me.
May 21, 2023: Welcome to Zurich
After a wild time at a wedding in Goa for my friend Mayank´s wedding, I flew to Zurich via Muscat, Oman (which has a beautiful airport).
I landed at 19:30 local time. Marilyn met me at the airport where we purchased train tickets to the city. Zurich and Switzerland as a whole have a vast integrated public transit network. Every single city, town or village in the country can be accessed by public transit, mostly by train. Zurich alone has 32 lines in its regional rail system (known as the S-Bahn). All public transit can be purchased on the government´s app. Like everything in the country, train tickets in Switzerland are expensive. However, residents are allowed to purchase a year-long half-fare card for 185 Swiss francs (CHF) which is about $200 USD. Tourists can purchase the same card at a slightly lower price, but it is only valid for 1 month.
We took the S Bahn to Zurich´s main train station known as Hauptbahnhof. From there, we got onto a tram (Zurich as 15 tram lines) to reach Marilyn and Rafa´s beautiful apartment.
Rafa had conveniently made dinner for us. Not only was this hospitable, but it also saved us all a ton of money because dining out in Switzerland is extremely expensive. Groceries are (more) reasonably priced.
May 22, 2023: All Around Zurich
After spending the morning with my friend Felix in Canton Uri, I took the train back to Zurich. Along the way, I decided to stop in the town of Kilchberg to visit the Lindt House of Chocolate.
Switzerland is the home of chocolate – many of the global players are here including Lindt, Nestle, Toblerone, Milka, and Suchard. Switzerland may seem to be an odd place to process a bean grown in Central America and West Africa, but there are actually a few reasons why this came to be. First, Switzerland has lots of cows and milk, not the cacao bean, is the most perishable ingredient in most chocolate. Second, Switzerland was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and many of the early chocolate pioneers and their factories were in Switzerland. Third, Switzerland was a cheap country in the 1800´s and was therefore a good place for manufacturing.
The Lindt House of Chocolate is a museum located next to the main factory and corporate headquarters. The entryway contains the world´s largest chocolate fountain.
Afterwards, you proceed through exhibits about the history of chocolate and how chocolate is made. The tour contains many food stops. So many that this was my lunch.
From Kilchberg, I was able to catch a public ferry across Lake Zurich back to Zurich city. As the ferries are part of the public transit network, my train ticket from earlier in the day worked for this line.
The weather was perfect and I got views not only of the lake but also of the epic snowy peaks in the distance. I was told that this was the 2nd nice day all year! The boat was also the most bougie public transportation I have ever ridden; they had a full gourmet food menu and even sold Aperol spritzes for 16 CHF.
The boat dropped me off at Burkilplatz in the center of town.
After eating a bratwurst at Sternen Grill (perhaps the only cheap food in the city), I walked over to Grossmünster, the city´s cathedral and most recognized landmark. The church was completed in 1220. Protestant churches are far simpler than Catholic ones so despite the impressive exterior, the inside was very simple.
Across the Limmat River is another church, Fraumünster which has Chagall-designed windows.
From there I walked through Lindenhof, Zurich´s old town. The district is pristine and cute, albeit generic. While Switzerland has unique alpine architecture and impressive painted buildings around the country, Zurich’s old town does not have it.
Further downriver are two “beaches” where people can swim in the river. It felt more like a public swimming pool. The place was packed.
I then ventured south to an industrial area that had clearly undergone gentrification and was now the hip place to be. After checking out the Freitag bags flagship store, I got beer at a nearby beer garden. Both places were made completely out of shipping containers. This is probably as cool as Zurich gets.
May 23, 2023: The Zurich Card
This was my one full day budgeted for Zurich sightseeing. When looking for inspiration online, I discovered the Zurich Card, a city-run program for sightseeing. The card costs 27 CHF for 24 hours of free public transport and reduced/free admission to most of the city´s museums.
I purchased the card at 8:00 so it could cover me getting to the train station tomorrow.
Seeing all the city´s museums in 24 hours is a terrible idea, but I was determined to milk the card for all it is worth and see as much of Zurich as I possibly could.
I started the day off at the Swiss National Museum where I learned about Switzerland´s unique history and government structure. In short, Switzerland is a confederation of 27 cantons – secular, democratically run administrative districts closest in size to US counties. The original group of 3 cantons formed a mutual defense pact in 1291 to protect against the Hapsburgs and slowly more cantons joined their pact. At the time, Switzerland´s main export was mercenaries. The modern Confederation was born in 1848 where the cantons relinquished their independence to form a single federal state. The central government has supremacy but retains only the minimal necessary powers, while most powers and decisions are given to the cantons and when appropriate to the individual cities/towns.
While the rest of Europe was bogged by wars in the 19th century, Switzerland committed to permanent neutrality, which served it well in 1848 and during the two World Wars. Switzerland´s unique structure has also allowed it to become extremely capitalist, as cantons compete against each other economically. For example, some cantons and villages will negotiate with ultra-high net worth individuals to give them special lower tax rates in exchange for residency.
This unique governmental structure and history means that the people of Switzerland think and act quite differently from the rest of Europe. Yes, Switzerland has castles, and trains and walkable cities like the rest of the continent but if you strip all that away, the people themselves are very conservative. Switzerland was the last country (besides the Vatican) in Europe to allow women to vote (1971 Federally but 1990 in one canton). Despite the huge expat population, foreign workforce, and multiple official languages, Switzerland has one of the most difficult immigration processes and ranks among the most difficult countries to integrate. Switzerland has the lowest debt to GDP ratio of its neighbors.
Next, I walked to Hiltl, which claims to be the world´s oldest vegetarian restaurant. It was founded in 1898. While it has been around for more than a century, the restaurant felt contemporary. It was basically a giant vegetarian buffet with all types of cuisines. You then paid by weight at the cashier. My plate of food cost 27 CHF (about $30 USD), a bargain for Switzerland – and I am not joking.
My next stop was the city´s main art museum: Kunsthaus. While the museum has two buildings, I did not realize it and only visited the shiny new “extension” which contained one of the most impressive Impressionist collections in the world. In short, I was impressed despite having seen only half the museum.
I then took a tram over to the FIFA Museum. FIFA which stands for Federation Internationale de Futbol is the governing body of international football (soccer), beach football, and futsal. It has 204 member states and is headquartered in Zurich. The museum is not the headquarters.
FIFA was founded in 1904 to mediate and create a standard set of rules for international football matches. Those rules continue to be updated every year. The original set of rules are on display at the museum.
FIFA created the World Cup in 1930 and continues to run it today. In addition to numerous World Cup artifacts, the actual World Cup trophy which is awarded to the winning team is on display. The trophy, made of solid gold, is only given to the winners while on the field of the final. They are then given a gold-plated bronze replica to keep. This is most likely because the original World Cup trophy was stolen in Brazil.
In the US, FIFA is probably best known for its video game, which is made by Electronic Arts (EA). The game is the best selling sports game in the world. Interestingly, EA and FIFA failed to reach a franchising agreement and therefore the 2023 game will be the final one with the FIFA name. A major section of the museum was dedicated to gaming.
In short, the museum was stellar and worth a visit for anybody – not just football fans.
Not far from the FIFA Museum was the Reitberg Museum. The Reitberg is a folk art museum containing works from Africa, Oceania Asia and the Americas. The museum is in a mansion and looks small, it actually extends deep underground. The vaults of wooden masks are extremely impressive and a dream for my house one day.
I then headed home for another dinner with Marilyn and Rafa before heading out to Liechtenstein.
Zurich seems like a great place to live with perhaps the highest quality of life of anywhere I have traveled. The transit network is unparalleled, there are plenty of high paying jobs, the city is efficiently run, there are plenty of both natural and cultural activities, and it is diverse. While not mentioned in this blog post, Zurich does have nightlife.
The downside is that Zurich is exceedingly expensive to visit although the Swiss government does a decent job at making things more affordable for locals such as half-fare card. Restaurants especially are wildly expensive. The Zurich Card is a great way to see the city, but honestly it’s not that huge of a cost savings. The other downside is that integrating into Swiss society seems extremely difficult. Marilyn and Rafa have a leg up because Rafa is Swiss (although from a different canton), but I imagine most people moving from abroad struggle to make Swiss friends.
Despite the downsides, I would move here if given the chance, but would think twice about recommending it to tourists. Rather, the mountains and rural areas are Switzerland´s calling card and it’s probably better to just spend more time there.