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Discovering Zurich

Forget grey-faced bankers and yodelling country bumpkins, you're in Zurich!

Aug 25, 2009

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - Over the sound of the underground train whisking us between terminals at Zurich airport came the tinkling of cowbells and the unmistakable sound of cattle mooing.

Projected on the tunnel wall was the image of a buxom milkmaid blowing kisses at us.

"That's Heidi,'' a Swiss tourism contact later explained, but I couldn't reconcile the dark-haired beauty with the naughty wink with the Heidi of childhood stories.

That was my first inkling that my image of the Swiss as grey-faced bankers and yodelling country bumpkins might be a tad out of date.

Those stereotypes were thoroughly trashed late the next night on Niederdorfstrasse, across the Limmat River from our hotel.

The street was closed for several blocks to vehicular traffic and packed with noisy partiers. Live music bubbled over the sounds of laughter and chatter. The competing fragrances of Indonesian bami goreng, Indian curry and a Swiss cheese favourite called raclette arose from an assortment of takeway stands.

Outside Le Club Venus, a man and two scantily clad women were doing the bump. At a sidewalk bar in front the Calypso, an inebriated patron appeared to be enjoying a lap dance. Meanwhile, a sidewalk vendor did a brisk trade selling, of all things, imitation Stetsons.


Zurich, whose population of 370,000 isn't much more than that of my hometown, London, has more than 500 night spots.

"After dark, Zurich quickly becomes the poster girl for Europe's hip club scene, on a par with Berlin and London," declares Lonely Planet.

The noted guidebook publisher named Zurich one of the Top 10 metropolitan cities in the world. One reason is the nightlife.

When I asked tour guide Sandra Claus for some others, she replied: "Go and jump in the lake."

Sandra wasn't being rude, she was explaining that she and her colleagues often swim in the Limmat on their lunch break. "It's so clean it's almost drinking-water quality,'' she said.

There are several bathhouses, one of which becomes a "barefoot pub'' at night.

Sandra's also recommends:

- Taking a boat trip on Lake Zurich (the 90-minute one we did cost less than $8).

- Visiting Spruengli, famous for its chocolate pastries.

- Riding the train to Uetliberg, Zurich's own mountain, where a steep path from the station leads to a panoramic view.

- Strolling around the old city. (Guided tours in English and German leave from the main railway station daily in summer and twice weekly in winter and cost 20 francs per person).

Two more things I enjoyed:

- Window-shopping and people-watching along Bahnhofstrasse. It's difficult to get lost -- the lake's at one end, the main rail station at the other.

- The stunning Marc Chagall stained glass windows in the Fraumunster. (Admission is free).


- When to visit? Claus's choices are May and September.

- Affordable accommodation? There are decent, centrally located three-star lodgings in the $200 a night range. Claus suggested the Comfort Inn Royal, which charged 170-260 francs double, including breakfast and taxes. Special hotel offers include ZurichBREAK -- three nights' lodging for the price of two nights.

- Getting around? The ZurichCARD provides free travel by train, bus, boat, aerial cableway and tram, admission to more than 40 museums and various discounts.

For more information, visit

Forget grey-faced bankers and yodelling country bumpkins, you're in Zurich!
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