On our recent trip to Europe, we spent some quality time with Anya’s family in & around Zurich, Switzerland. It’s a country that, having visited a couple of times previously, I was eager to return to.
Zurich is perennially ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities (the Swiss have it figured out – Bern and Geneva are fixtures in the top 10 as well). Even on a short visit, it’s not difficult to see why. Zurich is hilly, green, and situated at the end of a long, beautiful lake that draws your eye straight towards the dramatic peaks of the Alps nearby. Everything is clean, orderly, and safe. The public transport system shames that of any city in North America. At about 400k people in Zurich (and 2 million in the region), it’s big enough to be quite cosmopolitan but still small enough to be comfortable.
I don’t disagree with the analysts; Zurich seems like an excellent place to live…if you have money. The city’s only real drawback is that everything is expensive. I’m not a very price-conscious person; I’m willing to pay to get good food and memorable experiences. But the essentials that a traveler needs – meals, drinks, lodging – are roughly twice the cost of comparable things in, say, Seattle or Munich (coming up in a future post). Prices are compounded by the current strength of the Swiss Franc versus the Dollar or Euro. I don’t mean to discourage you from visiting Zurich – just budget accordingly.
To be honest, though, if you’re planning a trip to Switzerland the major cities probably aren’t your main objective. This is the original Alpine country, the place where authentic mountain culture was born. I once heard someone say that when you ask a child to draw a picture of mountains, they draw the Alps. I think that’s true; although they’re not the highest range, or the largest, and they don’t get the most snow, the Alps are really the embodiment of what we think of as “mountains” – steep, rocky, snow-covered pinnacles separated by fertile green valleys, punctuated by lakes and waterfalls. There are outrageously beautiful villages perched in improbable places, surrounded by cows (with bells!) grazing in the pastures. And to an extent unparallelled in the world, it’s all very accessible…well connected by roads, trains, gondolas, and funiculars.
If you’re even remotely interested in mountains and the activities related to them, Switzerland is paradise. I can’t recommend it enough. Unlike previous visits, on this trip we didn’t go to any of the big-name mountain sites…just calm local places with the kind of beauty that would make them major destinations in any other country.
I have two different photo albums as evidence: one from Zurich itself, and the one from various different countryside places, including the suburban village of Weiningen and a ski town named Flumserberg about an hour’s drive south of the city.