One of the (many) things I like about living in Europe is how accessible things are. Want to go to Italy? You can be there in just a little over two or three hours. Belgium? Hop on a Eurostar and get there in 45 minutes! But the bummer is always having to come up with lodging. So when friends live in exciting places, and invite you to go, and its so easy to get there…well, you have to take them up on it, of course.
My friend H has been living in Zurich for a year, so its pretty shameful that I haven’t visited her yet. I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland, and the timing- a long weekend before starting to teach on a Monday- was perfect timing for a quick trip.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon, dropped my bags at her flat and off we went exploring the center of Zurich.
Switzerland reminds me of a strange mixture of the Scandinavian countries and Germany. Linguistically, Zurich made me feel like I was in Berlin or Hamburg (although I was told the difference between Swiss German and high German is quite vast, but I’m rather indiscriminate in my German skills, sadly). Architecturally, it felt central European, a mix of France and Germany. But culturally, in terms of how accessible everything was by public transport, how happy people seemed, how safe I felt…that felt familiarly Scandi.
The city surrounds a massive lake that is so clear you can see through it, and a river runs through the city, as well. And dotted around the city are water fountains that you can actually drink from.
According to H, I was hugely lucky weather-wise. Apparently Zurich is pretty mild, but often quite rainy in the autumn. But I had sunshine the whole time I was there!
After a long walk around the city, we stopped off to buy chocolate, the souvenir of choice that I brought back for everyone. I’m not a big chocolate person, but I was pretty blown away by the selection and quality.
After walking around the town we nestled in to a pub at ETH, one of the local universities, for a nice view of the sunset and a few pints.
We went to sleep quite early, however, because the next day we were up early for a hike.
I’m not the biggest hiker in the world, but I’ve done my fair share this year, warming up in Bali and Santorini for a nice long hike in the Alps. We took a train and two busses to Glattalp, a beautiful lake at the top of a 700m (about 2300 feet) climb up the side of a mountain. We met up with two of H’s friends for the trek.
Fresh face and dewey eyed, as anyone would be at 8am, we set off through small Swiss towns until we got to the base of the mountain.
We started the trek up the mountain, which should have taken about two and half hours. Little did we know that it was a special Swiss holiday where farmers drive their sheep and cattle down the mountains to the nearest towns, for reasons I’d rather not consider.
As such, we had quite a few instances where we had to stop and watch a Swiss traffic jam 😉
After the traffic cleared, though, we just went up, up and even further up, stopping to drink in the incredible views every so often…
…and making some friends along the way.
The view from the top was just as amazing, and the sense of accomplishment when we summited was really palpable. The best part? We did the hike in very, very good time, cutting off a good half an hour from our expected time. I guess all the hiking I did this year really came in handy!
We stopped at the top for a picnic lunch, and laid in the sun, taking in the beautiful views, feeling our lungs burn from our efforts and enjoying the silence (sometimes punctuated by kids whose families had taken the gondola up to explore the lakes as well).
Its funny just how much hiking has grown on me, and how much retreating in to nature can be so, so restorative. I walked away physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally amped (my form of rejuvenation).
I definitely think that, when I can, I’ll make hiking more of a routine on my trips. Its a nice way to get a bit of a city break, too, which is where I tend to spend most of my time when I’m away. I have to admit, I’m probably the person most surprised by my newfound love of hikes (although my friends in Denver, who know how much I used to loathe hikes, are probably a very close second).
As the sun dipped below the mountains, we caught a few busses and a train back to Zurich, had an early dinner and went to bed. I caught an early Sunday flight back to London since I started teaching on Monday and still had classes to plan, but was able to stay awake on the plane just long enough to snap this one last picture of the Alps from my seat before drifting off, sore but really, really recharged from a weekend away in a beautiful place with a good friend.