Zurich, famous for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. It lived up to this reputation pretty quickly on my arrival as I had to pay 2 Swiss francs to use the public bathrooms at the train station – having said that, they WERE the cleanest and most spacious public toilets I have ever used, although I did feel like I should luxuriously take my time using the facilities (including sinks and extensive mirrors) since I’d paid for them. Later I discovered a little cafe in the station that sold coffee for 4.20CHF and had a bathroom in it, so there you go. I’d much rather get a coffee with my toilet break than just pay for the bathroom. The Zurich main station, by the way, is ENORMOUS – it’s more what you’d expect from an airport than a railways station, but without the maddening waiting in lines to check your bags and go through security. It also featured a Christmas tree completely draped in Swavorski crystals which sparkled like nothing I’ve seen – unfortunately, these didn’t come out in the picture!
We grabbed a quick lunch at the station as we were too early to check in to our accommodation, and in the time it took to eat a slice of quiche I overheard the waitress at the cafe speaking in 4 different languages to different customers. Impressive. What struck me even in this short amount of time was that food in Zurich was obviously expensive if you ate what you were specifically looking for (a small plate of bain marie Chinese “food court food” that would cost $6.80 in Melbourne converted out to about $17.50) but if you’re happy to eat whatever is cheap and convenient (a wrap or sausage for example) you can still eat for around the $6-7 mark which is pretty normal.
I have to say that the Zurich National Museum is the best museum I’ve ever seen. The displays are highly interactive and in very clever ways. Points of interest for me included learning that the Christian reformation led to an increase in fine filigree jewellery which was considered more modest than heavy gold chains which had been popular in the past, and with the wealthy Catholics. I was also fascinated by the peace treaties with their seals, and by the ‘regimentspiegel’, a huge planetary depiction of government in the 16th and 17th century consisting of concentric rings of house crests. It also included notable births and deaths of the year 1657. It was elaborate and certainly impressive to look at, a work of art, but also very functional, which was a contrast to the Catholic ostentation. Between Maggi, Nestle and Schweppes it also seems half the worlds now-global food conglomerates initiated in this small area.
The 24 hour Zurich card can be bought and validated at any public transport ticket machine, which I think is a great idea compared to most other cities where you can only buy it at a tourist desk or museum entry. I wonder if it increases the uptake? It’s easily good value if you plan to take just a couple of trains or trams and visit even a couple of museums. The public transport is EXTREMELY efficient and you can easily get around on what seems to be the continuous stream of intersecting trains, trams and buses. Each carriage has a screen which depicts not only the stop you are arriving at, but which other lines intersect with it and what time and platform to expect the next connecting service, as well as whether or not they are running on time. It’s a fabulous system and the first place I would say I would actually be HAPPY to catch the public transport.
Aside from the National Museum, I also really enjoyed a small exhibition featuring a scale model of Zurich in the 1700s, as well as the watch museum (it’s in the basement of a luxury watch store) with it’s astonishingly impressive collection of old watches and time pieces including gemstone studded mantel clocks, sundials and pocket watches (I love pocket watches). They had a pretty good ipad-based information system which could provide the background on each piece, and for some of them show their special functions in motion via pre-recorded videos. Definitely worth checking out. Although you might be tempted afterwards to buy a luxury watch!