Today was really the first day of our trip. Amazing that it actually takes almost two days to get to Zurich by plane from the United States. We laft Atlanta around 5 p.m., on April 1st, and then from Newark to Zurich around 10:30 that evening, arriving here shortly after noon, April 2. The good news is that our tour hosts met us at the airport with warm greetings, all the help we could imagine and took care of everything we needed. They wisked us to the hotel, gave us all the information about the plans and decisions we had to make, and made suggestions about where to eat some lunch.
The bad news is that we landed in blowing rain and sleet with temperatures around 42 degrees. Meeting our friends, Ann and Carey, we walked about five blocks to the train station, in the rain and wind of course. Now, the train station here is both an arrival and departure, old fashioned European train depot (could have been a setting for The Orient Express) that is still in operation, while also serving as one of the largest shopping centers in the area. Over 1500 trains depart from here each day, headed for places all over Europe. With such a large number of passengers arriving and leaving that area, it makes sense to have shops where they can purchase almost anyhing they need for travel. We, or course, went there for lunch and then remained for awhile to see what was there–almost everything you can imagine, mixed with plenty of chocolate treats, at very high prices. We learned quickly that Zurich is very proud to be the sixth most expensive city in the world. No US city made the cut, we were told, while Switzerland can boast two–Zurich and Geneva.
There was very little touring for us to do that day. The next day, our first full day, began early for me. Around 3 o’clock, I awoke to the moon shining through our window and since the rain and bad weather was supposed to continue for several days, I figured that the early morning might be the best time to get a few pictures of Zurich, at night. So, I dressed and walked along the river from about 3:30 to 5:30 taking pictures of some of the major buildings, especially of that magnificent train station bathed in moon light.
After a sumptuous breakfast, our guides took us on a bus and walking tour through the old city. Originally founded by tthe Romans, the city sprawls along the river and lake which seem to form the very center of both its culture and its economic life. At the very heart of the city are three very important churches. The Fraumunster built in the13th Century on the West bank boasts five beautiful stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall and completed in 1970 when the artist was 83 years old. The windows depict scenes from the Bible, particularly events from the lives of several prophets and Jesus.
St. Peters Church, also on the west bank of the river, is the oldest church in Zurich and has as its own distinction: the largest clockface in Europe. Yes, even larger than the face of Big Ben. Interesting, however, is the fact that the church owns the building, but the city owns the clock tower.
Across the bridge from the Fraumunster is the largest of the three churches and one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, the Grossmunster. The church was built between 1100 and 1250 on the site of a previous 9th century church. This twin towered gothic structure reminds us of the central part Zurch played in Christian Church history, as it is the “mother church of the Reformation for German-speaking Switzerland.”
Following lunch, we boarded a bus for a trip to the Rhine falls, the largest falls in Europe, and a spectacular tourist site for the area. Siince the falls themselves are virtuallly unnavagable, a large city, Schaffhausen, grew up nearby in order for goods shipped along the river to be unloaded above the falls and placed again on other ships below the falls to continue their journey north.
Along the way, our bus driver and guide made a point to pass through quaint Swiss villages, and to point out to us the distinctive archicture characteristic of each area. Of particular interest was a delightful town with colorful houses that had grown up around the now extinct St. George’s Monastery. The monastery, appartently somewhat famous for its wines, contained one of the largest wine presses we had ever seen.
The day was full, but delightful as we found blue skies in the afternoon and an end to the rain and the wind for awhile. Tomorrow after one more morning in Zurich, we leave for Lucerne–sadly with rain predicted for that day.