Tag Archives: switzerland

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 Zürich there’s a long wall where graffiti seems to be allowed, probably in an attempt to redirect some of that tagging impulse.


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


  • 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.


  • 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 Zürich. Google Fi welcomed me to Liechtenstein and told me I was offline.


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


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.


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

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…



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.

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.


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


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

I saw quiet waterways.


And narrow alleys.


And dragons.


And fountains that look just like the ones in Paris.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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…


The Cellars of Bern

One of the more intriguing aspects of central Bern is that the streets are laid out for walking in the street as well as on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are covered, with one or more steps down to the street. The streets are cobblestone, and have wide areas where merchants used to sell their wares. Now these areas merely provide a safe place for tourists to wander around and take pictures without getting run over.

Along the edges of the sidewalks, facing the street, there are cellar doors. In centuries past, these were used as wine cellars or general storage, but now they house restaurants, bars, and all manner of stores. For example…

There’s a theater.


And a tango studio.


And a wat phoo.


And a bar that serves absinthe.


And the Einstein Kaffee und Rauchsalon, below the aforementioned Einstein Cafe.


This Flammen-Bar is beneath the Paraguayan embassy.


The Hardware Store, mentioned in the previous post, is the perfect fit for a cellar environment.


As you approach the river, the street drops off faster than the sidewalk, the cellar doors become regular doors, and the cellars become the ground floor.


Feel the Bern

I spent the entire day walking around Bern. Roughly ten miles. The sky was overcast and murpy, with occasional light rain, but nothing that someone from western Washington can’t handle. Some people were carrying umbrellas, but that’s just a sign of weakness.

Bern — at least the central area where I was — is one of the most attractive cities I’ve seen. The city dates to 1191, but most of it was rebuilt in 1405 after it…wait for it…Berned down.


I went on the walking tour described in the Rick Steves guide book, with detours for anything that looked interesting, then wandered around on my own after that.

I was going to take a tour of the parliament building, but they were all booked for the day, so I picked up a free booklet about the Swiss government. They had it in all four official Swiss languages, plus a few others for visitors, so I got one in English and one in Romansch.


I visited the Bern Cathedral and paid five francs to go up the 210-foot-high tower.






Then I walked down Gerechtigkeitgasse to the river and across to the bear pit, where the bears don’t live anymore. Several years ago, it occurred to someone that it was really sort of cruel to keep bears in a pit, so they moved them to a larger park setting next to the river. You can ride a funicular to go down to them.



In fact, these are not the same bears, since the earlier pit bears died. These are newer, younger bears. They have names, but I don’t remember what they are, so let’s just call them Todd and Thelma. Here’s Todd looking appropriately ursine:


And Todd and Thelma together:


So the Bärengraben is now a Bärenpark, but the Bären should not be confused with Beeren, even though Bären have been known to eat Beeren.


Anyway, the bears were cool, but ten minutes or so is probably your maximum bear-viewing time, so I went back across the river and up to Albert Einstein’s house. It’s not his house now, of course, and it wasn’t really then, because he just rented, but he lived there from 1903-1905 while he was working in the patent office and formulating the special theory of relativity. You can walk through it. Afterwards I had lunch downstairs at the Einstein Cafe (“relatively the best”).


Just down the street from the Einstein Cafe I found this place.


You can’t not go into a place like that, so I did.


It’s the storefront for Voodoo Rhythm Records, a local independent record label for both current bands and obscure bands from the past. It kind of reminded me of Rhino Records, though somewhat weirder.

And of course there’s the famous Zytglogge-Turm, the clock tower, which was built in 1530. I walked by it numerous times over the course of the day, but never while it was doing its elaborate chime presentation at four minutes before every hour.


I need to check out and get over there so I can see it before I get on the train to Luzern.