Notes on Switzerland

  • Switzerland has more graffiti than I’ve seen outside of the US. It completely contradicts my image of Switzerland as clean and orderly. In Zurich there’s a long wall where graffiti seems to be allowed, probably in an attempt to redirect some of that tagging impulse.

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But I guess it’s not enough for some people.

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  • My German sucks*. I can read most of the signs and order things in stores, but my vocabulary far exceeds my grammar knowledge. I know words like Fußbodenschleifmaschine, but I fall all over myself trying to say that I’d like to check out of my hotel room.
  • And Swiss German is another creature entirely. I’m not sure how much I’d understand even if my Hochdeutsch were fluent. I think it would be like learning English and then taking a trip to northern Scotland. Some of the words would be familiar, but… Swiss German has a lilt that makes it sound Scandinavian. And they’ll start words with ch, which I don’t think standard German ever does. (I saw one sign that spelled Kinder as Chinder.) The standard greeting is Grüezi, which is sometimes pronounced as one would expect, but is often pronounced Grüße. And they roll their R’s like Spaniards, especially in rural areas. I wish I had a recording of the way the train conductor in Lauterbrunnen pronounced Mürren. They also frequently use merci for thank you and ciao for goodbye.
  • I like currywurst better than döner kebabs.
  • Almost everyone in Switzerland speaks English. Most of them humored** me in my attempts to speak German, but English is always available when needed.
  • Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof is one of the most trainstationy stations I’ve seen. It’s big and cavernous and the trains come right into the middle of it. I’d say it’s second only to Gare du Nord in its trainstationiness.

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  • Tessalon*** does not seem to be OTC in Switzerland. In fact, you have to ask for ibuprofen, which is $11.00 for 20 tablets.

* No, autocorrect, I don’t mean “dicks.”
** No, not “humped.”
*** Not “Thessaloniki”! Just stop!

Google Fi

I don’t know what to make of Google Fi. It works great at home, seamlessly transitioning between LTE and Wi-Fi when necessary. The signal is clear. I’ve never had any dropped calls. In fact, it’s worked fine along the coastal northwest from Vancouver to Portland, as well as in the SF Bay Area.

But when I went to Singapore and Taiwan, it didn’t work at all, even though both places are supported.

On this trip, it found a signal right away when I landed in Amsterdam. In Nice, it picked up a signal and kept it the whole week, in both France and Italy. No problem except in Monaco, but Google Fi isn’t supported there anyway.

When I drove to Switzerland, it connected me in Geneva and mostly kept the connection until I got to about Gstaad, then lost it for good. When I crossed into Germany, it welcomed me to Germany, then immediately welcomed me to France (!). When I passed back into Switzerland, it welcomed me to Switzerland and connected me, and I stayed connected all the way back to the train station, even standing in the same spot where I had been unable to get a connection 30 minutes earlier. Then I walked down to the platform and lost the connection. I haven’t had it since.

I’ve tried rebooting the phone. I’ve tried turning airplane mode on and then off. I’ve tried turning cell data and roaming off and then on. I’ve tried selecting each of the three Swiss carriers individually. Nothing works.

Ah, but then the train passed into Liechtenstein. I immediately got a text message that had been queued up when I was back in Zurich. Google Fi welcomed me to Liechtenstein and told me I was offline.

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“Service outside the US” and “Calls to non-US numbers” are deselected. But the SMS worked, if only briefly.

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But then I got to Austria and everything worked again. Two hours in Austria with no problems, then back into Liechtenstein with a spotty connection, then into Switzerland and it all goes away again.

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I would like to have speaks with the Google people. I certainly hope they’ll be improving the service over time.

Schattenburg Castle

“The Schattenburg was built in the 13th century and served the Dukes of Montfort-Feldkirch as home and seat of administration,” it says here in the pamphlet. “After the dying out of the Montforts in 1390, the Habsburg bailiffs resided here until 1773. In 1825 the town of Feldkirch took over the castle.”

You might think that the town took over forcibly, with torches and pitchforks, to capture the mad Baron who was performing experiments therein, but that would be a different castle.

Schattenburg is not extensive, but is in good condition, and has a nice collection of period furnishings and weapons and such, where “period” means the entire time that Schattenburg was used as a castle — 1200s to 1800s.

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There was also a nice view of the town from the tower.

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Final Afternoon in Zürich

I dropped $200 at Sprüngli getting omiyage for everyone. They’d sure better appreciate it. Granted, I ate some of it myself, but still…

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I mean, really, I had to. How often do you have the chance to walk down Bahnhofstrasse in the rain, eating macaroons? Not often, I’d wager.

Then a quick dinner of Döner im Teller while watching Turkish music videos and over to the Andorra bar for local Zurich beer. Andorra plays Frank Sinatra, Elton John and Kiki Dee, and what sounds like Rod Stewart singing a CCR song. Wait…now they’re playing nuevo flamenco. It also uses a propeller for a ceiling fan.

I asked the bartender if she was from Andorra. She said she was from “Espain,” but had only been there for two weeks and didn’t know why the bar was called Andorra.

Now back to the hotel to try to pack everything without crushing it.

Excursion to Austria

Rolling along on the southwest side of Lake Zurich on my way through Liechtenstein to Feldkirch, Austria.

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Why Feldkirch? Well, it looked like a nice little town just over the border, and if I’m doing a run to Liechtenstein, I might as well go a little further to Austria. And it looked more interesting than Vaduz itself.

Although I was hoping we’d go through Vaduz. We seem to have bypassed it. Bummer. Rural Liechtenstein looks exactly like rural Switzerland.

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I arrived in Feldkirch at a quarter after ten and spent most of my time touring a 13th-century castle. There wasn’t much to the rest of the town, so I took the 11:48 train back rather than wait two more hours for the next train.

I think the people sitting next to me on the platform were gypsies. The daughter was speaking German, but I think the parents were speaking Romansch. But I’m mostly guessing. I’ve never heard Romansch spoken before.

The Huhn Tikka Masala in the restaurant car was quite good, and they were nice enough to give me a ten-cent discount on a double espresso so I could use up the last of my euros.

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Got back to the hotel about 1:30. Time for a short nap before I go chocolate shopping.

Sonntag in Zürich

Things close here on Sunday, more than they would in the US. A fair amount of places were still open, but they were mostly restaurants and a few souvenir shops. Most of the stores on Bahnhofstrasse were closed.

But people were still out and about. Not as many as were out on Saturday afternoon and evening, but still quite a few. I think that’s part of what made me think of New York City in the 1920s. I’ve never really been to New York City, and I was very young in the 1920s, so I don’t remember what it was like, but in movies everyone is always out strolling around. They do that here. It’s a big city with a small-town feel.

I walked around for a while and looked at Lake Zürich in the fog.

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Then I got on one of the commuter boats and rode a full loop down the river and into the lake and back again.

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I got a Dönerbox* and sat by the river to eat it, then wandered around some more.

I saw quiet waterways.

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And narrow alleys.

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And dragons.

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And fountains that look just like the ones in Paris.

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I also stopped by Starbucks to make a necessary purchase.

* It’s important to note that box is feminine. You shouldn’t ask for ein Dönerbox; it’s eine Dönerbox.

Zu Zürich

I didn’t go to Luzern. I hung around Bern until 11:00 to watch the clock. It didn’t really do all that much, but it is pretty interesting to see a working mechanism from 1530.

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Luzern would take several hours, and I didn’t want to get to Zürich that late, so I took the train directly to Zürich and got there by 1:00.

I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof and set off confidently in the wrong direction. I knew I needed to cross the river, but I didn’t know that there are two rivers. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks just on the other side of the Sihl, so I could map the hotel and see that I needed to cross the Limmat.

Of course, I should have been able to map it anywhere, not just at a Starbucks, but the flakiness of Google Fi will be the subject of another post.

The Hotel Arlette is small but nice, as advertised. After I checked in, I went back across the river and walked the length of Bahnhofstrasse, which for some reason makes me think of New York City in the 1920s.

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Then I walked randomly through nearby alleys and back across the Limmat to Niederdorf, which seems like Zürich’s equivalent of Paris’ Latin Quarter.

I spent most of the afternoon wandering around on both sides of the river.

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For dinner I got some currywurst at this place that has barrels for tables. I didn’t notice it at the time, but it seems to be part of the strip club next door.

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A little later I went up to Lindenhof and sat on the fourth-century Roman wall and took pictures of the city and river under the full moon. I couldn’t quite hold the camera still enough…

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