Saturday, April 5, 2014

Zurich, Switzerland

This is my second time to visit Zurich. The first time I came to visit was in 1995.  I attended my first professional conference in Tampere, Finland and took trains down to the Italian Alps for a European Fieldweek. At that time, I had the opportunity to spend a couple days in Zurich which I found to be a beautiful and old city. I was also a poor graduate student at the time and ran out of money by the time I reached Zurich so that I had to call my parents and ask for enough funds for food and lodging to complete my trip to Italy (which may have been the only time in my life that I had to do that). It is nice to return to the city and not be quite so financially constrained. Even today though, I am traveling on a budget and was shocked when my first night dinner at a hotel restaurant came to 100 Swiss Francs (which is more than $100 USD). I actually found it hard to have a decent dinner for less than 50 Swiss Francs and even the grocery stores where expensive at about 4 Swiss Francs for a bagged salad of mixed greens that said it would serve 1-2 people.

I am still keeping the costs down during my travels so I booked a room at the City Backpacker Youth Hostel in the old city. It took me walking the town that night and the next morning before I realized that I had stayed in this same hostel during my visit in 1995 almost 20 years ago. They had apparently just opened then, but have been doing well ever since. It is located above a restaurant called the Spaghetti Factory and you have a nice path past the kitchens on the way upstairs to the hostel. It is very centrally located and cheap for 33 Swiss Francs for a shared room (with five other people).

I also tried a new housing experience for me which was renting a space through Airbnb ( As their tagline reads, you can stay in over 34,000 cities in 194 different countries.  I first heard about this online space rental plan from colleagues that rented spaces in Melbourne for the 2014 WorldDendro conference. You rent directly from the owner or tenant in the space (through an online booking and payment system) and can book anything from a couch through an entire place depending upon your budget and needs.  I rented a great place in a fancy part of Zurich for $77 USD a night when most hotels would cost about $200. With this space, I got use of a kitchen, large room with a nice bed, and (in this case) a projection system with a 2.5m screen where I could sort all of the pictures that I had taken over the past month. Marcus was a great host and actually fixed an internet connectivity issue that I was having on my two computers that ISU's IT department could not help with. I really liked staying in Airbnb spaces because you get to meet some of the locals and experience life in the city rather than a cleansed version that a hotel would present.

The city, as I mentioned above, is old and beautiful. I spent most of my time walking the winding streets in the old city and took some long walks at night and in the morning during sunrise to take pictures. After a month of the small town experience in Rafina, Greece, it was quite a change to come to one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It currently has 1.83 million people in the metropolitan area and has been continually inhabited for the past 2000 years. Its earliest inhabitants date from 6,400 year before present. It is situated on the Limmat River as it comes in to Zurich Lake which has provided a lot of resources for the inhabitants throughout history.

The Zurich Opera House was a beautiful place even at night. It was constructed in 1891 and has been the home to the Zurich Opera ever since.

I also visited the University of Zurich Botanical Gardens which was a short walk from my lodging in town. This was a beautiful place with three clear geodesic dome climate controlled houses, so that it is lush even in the winter.

The city has many old churches and ancient buildings that give it a wonderful character. Between the water and the skyline of the old church steeples, it was hard to take bad pictures in the city.

Even the doorways are amazing with heavy wooden doors and fancy carved stone casements. These doors definitely express the opulence of the city as well as the permanency of age that exudes from the city as a whole.

My host where I was staying in Zurich suggested that I take the train up Uetliberg Mountain just outside of Zurich to climb the tower and get the view of the city and the lake. This was an awesome view and I could just see the snow-capped peaks of the Alps along the southern horizon.

The public transportation is amazing and timely. I rode trains, trams, and buses all over the city as well as walking the half hour from my lodging to the old town. I will post more on the Swiss public transit system in a later post, but it was a great way to get around Zurich and even had swift trains to Bern and Innsbruck, Austria. 

Sculling seemed to be a popular sport in the town. When I went down to Zurich Lake to take photographs at sunrise, I saw at least six different sculling crafts on the water from single person to eight person crews.



  1. Wow Jim, Zurich looks great. Thanks for keeping us posted!

  2. Zurich is looking great. You described Zurich very well in your post. I will surely go there and can't wait more for this place. Thanks!
    trip planning