Plan your forays into the Alps using it as the base or treat yourself to its interesting variety of landmarks. Either way, Zurich won't disappoint you.
As we speed along the highway to our hotel in Zurich, the late autumn colours that drape the landscape along the road are soothing after the long haul in the air. But, as much as the soothing landscape, what particularly remains in the mind's eye is an installation that one saw just as one came out of the Zurich airport.
Titled “Sisyphus”, it is an elaborately constructed contraption, like a mechanical sling, with a huge iron ball poised at one end, ready to be thrown at invisible mountain tops and beyond and an interesting take on traditional myth of Sisyphus with its indictment of human effort. And it seemed to succinctly sum up for me the philosophy of the airport and the city itself: That one need not be bogged down by drudgery and repetitive tasks; that with sufficient thought and work, one can plan for any eventuality and complexity.
Model of efficiency
The Zurich airport itself, in spite of being one of the busiest airports in the world, is a model of efficiency and thoughtful planning. Not only are the passage through immigration and other formalities short and swift, there are trains to the Zurich station, a European railway hub, right in the airport itself. Visitors to the city can get themselves the convenient Swiss Pass, which allows one to travel in the first class in any public transport in Switzerland: train, bus, tram or boat. And one cannot but be impressed by the public transport system in the city, certainly one of the most extensive ones in Europe. A network of buses, trams and trains ensure that it is no great deal getting yourself to any place in the city or any city in Switzerland for that matter...There are connecting trains to all major destinations every hour from Zurich Station. And there is no dearth of destinations either. The enticing Alps are always there on the skyline. Mount Titlis, among other places, is just a short distance away. From Zurich, it is possible to plan a trip to any of the popular Swiss destinations, lasting anything from a few hours to a whole day.
Zurich, however, is not all about mechanical efficiency and planning. It has its surprises too. For an Indian, one of the biggest surprises is the House of Hiltl (Haus Hiltl), a vegetarian restaurant famous for its Indian and Southeast Asian specialities. Located in Sihlstrasse in the heart of the city, it is Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant, founded in 1898, and being run by the same family for four generations now. Not knowing what to expect really, I took the safe way out and ordered the “Indian Vegetarian Thali”. And it was pretty delicious and authentic too, except for the fact that the spices had been slightly toned down to suit European tastes. But this is one destination you wouldn't want to miss in Zurich. At a slightly different position in the spectrum is the Zeughauskeller, a traditional European restaurant, functioning out of an armoury built in the 15th century. Renovated early last century, the place, with its wooden beams and old-world ambience, has oodles of character and not to be missed if Continental cuisine is your thing. I certainly enjoyed the wine and the ambience....
If you are into shopping, and if you have deep pockets, the Bahnhofstrasse is the place to be. On the other hand, if you are looking for traditional shops and stores, head for the old town. Walk along the Limmat river and cross into the old town and you'll come face to face with the quintessential “European” city, with cobbled stone alleys, lamp posts and churches and cathedrals. There is the impressive and imposing Grossmünster, a 12th century Romanesque Cathedral, supposedly begun by Charlemagne and associated with Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), a contemporary of Martin Luther and one of the leading figures of the Reformation. Zwingli had preached for more than 12 years from its pulpit, calling for religious freedom and reformation. Other landmarks one shouldn't miss in the old town are the Fraumünster church with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and St. Peterhofstatt which has the largest clock face in all of Europe. Walking around the old town brings with it other charms too, like vendors selling hot chestnuts on street corners. That is still very much done the old traditional way. A reminder perhaps that in the midst of all that new-world efficiency and planning, there is still a place for the old-world charms and leisure....
Getting there in comfort
Swiss is the most convenient way of getting to Zurich with five convenient flights a week from Mumbai and Delhi each, with three classes (First, Business and Economy) which arrive early morning in Zurich. The flights, using the latest Airbus A330-300s, are a model of in-flight comfort and convenience. A distinct aspect of the First and Business Classes are the seats, designed by Lantal, a Swiss firm based in Langenthal (www.lantal.ch), which prefers to call them pneumatic comfort systems. And, you guessed it, the fully reclinable seats, instead of the regular foam, are filled with air, which can be precisely controlled by the passengers for various levels of comfort. The advantages are many, both for the passenger and the airline. You can not only adjust the hardness/softness of the seats to your convenience, you can even give yourself a soft massage if you so feel like it. Each seat is also about four kg lighter than conventional seats, resulting in tremendously less fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
There are not only Indian flight attendants taking care of you, there is also vegetarian cuisine served (from Haus Hiltl). The in-flight entertainment system too offers a wide variety of Indian films, TV programmes and music. And if what's on offer still doesn't satisfy you, you can plug in your iPods too.
For bookings, contact Swiss International Air Lines at: 1800-209-7240 (toll free); +91 22 6713 7200;
On the Net: http://www.swiss.com/web/EN/Pages/index.aspx?1260858983411&Country=IN