Around the World on $50 a Day - Zurich


Zurich, Switzerland

Lake Zurich at Sunset

Thursday, May 16

We flew from Frankfurt to Zurich, a 35-minute runway taxi and a 35-minute flight, under continuing "drismal" skies, arriving around noon. We took the train from the flughafen (airport) to the main train station, whereupon Bob decided to hire a taxi to our hostel (reserved during our layover here en route from Paris to Budapest), even though we had no specific address for it. All I had written down was "Nieder Dar Strausse" when talking to the clerk at City Backpacker.

The taxi driver who had agreed to take us there for 15 Swiss francs dropped us off at the intersection of Niederdorf Strauss and Muhle. And, we discovered only the next day, he charged us "only" 10 Sf, it being only about a mile's ride. I was a bit irritated at Bob's impetuosity at not waiting at the station till we could verify our desired location. I left him with the luggage on the corner of Niederdorf while I went up the cobblestone pavement to look for the hostel.

The day in Zurich had the best weather and the best scenery and ambience. Click > to play video. Double-click the image to make fullscreen.

Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised by the photogenic beauty of this part of town, which we had seen nothing like the week before. I came across Schweizerhofgasse, which the hostel had been listed as being on when I'd found it on the airport computer directory the week before, but the only thing on that quaint cobblestone alley was a Hotel Biber.

I walked down to it to see if they knew of the hostel, to find at the door that the Hotel Biber is now the City Backpacker hostel. I made my way up three flights of winding marble steps, up one flight of wooden ones, down a hall and down a short flight to the reception. I paid using my Visa card, Sfr 85 (around $67 for two persons, one night), and went back to get Bob and the luggage about two cobblestone blocks away. While waiting, Bob had exchanged pleasantries with a local resident who, upon hearing we were looking for the hostel, had told him it was "very controversial." But we never saw any reason for its being so. After settling in and being well impressed with the clean room and modern showers and toilets across the hall, we went out to explore Zurich.

The sun was shining! Birds were singing like they hadn't seen sunshine for at least a week (which was our impression), and everywhere we looked there were classic European streets, plazas, and centuries-old buildings. I discovered Lake Zurich on the downtown map reception had given me, and we headed there, stopping to take video every block or so.

The improvement in the weather was as dramatic as the scenery, and by the time we reached the lake with its stupendous beauty the shore was a festival of summertime activity—boating in everything from two-person peddleboats to giant three- or four-deck touring vessels; musicians playing the Blue Danube—an organ grinder, inline skaters by the dozens, sunbathers stripped to their bikini underwear, people walking their dogs, jugglers.... We sat and took videos and still photos, sat some more and walked.

I kept walking up the side of the lake (despite a painfully sore ankle), and Bob headed back to the hotel about 3:30. I ran out of videotape at about 4 o'clock and headed back, too, by way of the cathedral which had been Zurich's main site of Reformation activity under Bullinger and Zwingli (which was only about three or four blocks from our hostel).

'Kodak moments.' Click > to play video. Double-click the image to make fullscreen.

This afternoon, second only in significance to my afternoon in Dalky, Ireland, and perhaps even surpassing it, my vacation "found me." My flagging faith in my own way of vacationing was restored. It would have been a great tour even if it hadn't turned into a vacation, but as of now, it was a vacation in the true sense.

We rested while the camcorder battery recharged (I had brought another tape which was ready to begin), after which we went out to find dinner. Everything seemed overpriced—the least expensive cafe dinners being about Sfr 22 ($17 US), so we ended up at a McDonald's in the downtown shopping district where, at Sfr 9.50 (about $7 US), a meal of chicken sandwich, fries and soft drink seemed like a bargain indeed. Even McDonald's had sidewalk tables, and Bob was able to get a couple of sparrows to eat from his hand while we enjoyed our repast.

Having been told that our 24-hour roundtrip train tickets bought at the airport were also good for all city transit, we walked back to the bahnhof and boarded a number 11 light rail streetcar which took us past the lakeside we'd visited earlier and up into the hills above the city before returning to the bahnhof. It was a very pleasant ride. We also saw, a few blocks from the lake, the park that we surmised to be the one Zurich had designated as a drug toleration zone, made famous on an American news magazine show.

Swiss Reformation cathedral overlooks ZurichAfter returning to our room briefly, I went out for a last photo walk past the cathedral, a circus site, and another side of the lake that I'd missed earlier. It was now twilight. By the time I got back to the hostel, the surrounding streets, gasses and plazas were alive with throngs of people dining, drinking, talking, and laughing, hanging out third- and fourth-floor windows, entertained by musicians al fresco. I bought a shake at the nearby McDonald's and sat on the plaza joining them briefly before turning in.

Daily expense tally—room, food, transit: $54

Friday, May 17

Though Zurich was still moderately warm, it was completely cloud-covered again, giving us all the more reason to be thankful for Thursday's ideal "summer" afternoon and evening as we made our way by train back to the flughafen for our noon departure to Delhi. As we took off in our Swiss Air flight to India, we got our first sight of snow-capped Alps. I wrote everything above—from my search for the American missionary in Moscow to this—while we flew over Romania and the Black Sea. As this is written, we have just left the latter behind and are now over Turkey (?), snowcapped peaks to the south (perhaps one of them the Mt. Ararat on which Noah's ark rests), and arid but lightly populated miles of open land beneath us.

Additional information
on Zurich is available from Zurich Tourism on the worldwide web at

Photo courtesy of Zurich Tourism

 © Jon Kennedy 1996, 2009