In Australia we commemorate the 11 of November with a minute’s silence to remember those who have fallen in war. In Zurich the town centre is invaded by colourfully dressed brass bands playing loud music. But only because of the extra 11.
It was 11-11-11 (well, 2011) and we were wandering through the old streets of central Zurich wondering why all these strange people with painted faces, zany costumes and a variety of musical instruments were gathering together. I knew it wasn’t the time for the famous street festival.
We had arrived into Zurich’s main station on the overnight train from Prague. Alex had ended up sleeping with me on the top bunk after crying out in the night. As we ate our breakfast in another compartment I was a bit disappointed by the lack of mountain scenery. Instead there were rolling green hills and autumn forests. There was also plenty of evidence of Switzerland’s industrial side. It’s sad to see Australian industry steadily migrate overseas. An office block can’t compete for interest with a factory.
Switzerland was a bonus country for us on this trip. We’d visited before in 2004, catching the beautiful Golden Pass route between Lucerne and Geneva via Interlaken. Our leftover Swiss francs from that trip quickly disappeared into the left luggage facility. Then we were free to wander the city.
I got a little lost starting out, but a hotel concierge pointed us in the right direction. Zurich has some historic laneways that are rather pretty, but we couldn’t purchase anything in the shops as I had no local currency. Strangely for a nation famous for its banks there were few obvious ATMs around the place. We later discovered that the banks keep their ATMs indoors.
Our walk took us along the Limmat canal and past the Grossmunster (a cathedral), the Rathaus and the chiming St Peter’s with its largest clockface in Europe. We stopped at Pastorini Spielzeug, a gorgeous children’s toy shop full of fun wooden toys and other items. There we bought Alex some presents for his birthday, which the shop wrapped in the most lovely paper.
We stopped for a while to listen to one of the bands playing near the canal.
On top of the Lindenhof, which overlooks the old town and the canal, was an “Occupy Zurich” camp. It was pretty quiet and rather anarchic, with a circus tent and pots and pans washing in a fountain. There were also swings for Alex to play on.
The Bahnhofstrasse (station street) was lined with big shops, many decked out for Christmas, including the busy Franz Carl Weber toy store. Inside a steep dragon tunnel slide lead down to the basement level. With a lot of encouragement and the help of another child Alex was convinced to slide down. Cried a bit at the end as he decided to go on his belly and fall out.
We thought we’d better hurry back to the station so as not to miss the train. When I arrived I discovered that the “Print@Station” rail tickets for the TGV couldn’t be printed in Switzerland, making our reservations useless. Thanks RailEurope and your call centre in India!
Though we had Swiss-France-Benelux rail passes there were no more pass seats left on the one pm train, only full price. By the time this had all been determined it was too late even to purchase these and we were left paying full price for the 3pm train. That Swiss component of the rail pass was now a waste of money.
We amused ourselves by using the McClean toilet facility (paid and the name was written up with neon lights), having a small lunch at a cafe and purchasing some pastries from Sprungli.
Apparently ours were the last two economy seats on the TGV to Paris, which retained the feathers and stain of a bird that it had collided with. We were seated facing each other at the window with other passengers in the aisle and Alex alternating between our laps. We were all very tired and I got a little motion sick as well. It was a fairly tough four and a half hour ride into Gare l’Est in Paris.
A couple of metro trains later and we had arrived at our apartment, It was nowhere near as cramped as I imagined and the room is very comfortable. There’s a stereo, a small separate kitchen and bathroom. It would be quite easy to make yourself at home here for a week or more.
There was an complimentary anniversary bottle of champagne waiting for us in the room and an even better surprise: fantastic views of the Eiffel tower as it sparkled in the night.
We had planned on preparing ourselves a meal, but the Monoprix supermarket had closed early for the Armistice Day holiday in Paris (commemorating the end of World War I). Instead we ate reheated food purchased in Zurich complemented by some basic supplies from a small store down the street. There’s some big name shops around the corner, a metro less than a 100 metres away and some decent looking bistros across the road.
At last we are back in Paris, home of our honeymoon!