A Travellerspoint blog

March 2008


The Gateway to Alps

sunny 25 °C
View Vamos a Mexico. (Mexico Here we Come) & Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on The Islander's travel map.

Zurich they say, is the Gateway to Alps. The largest city in switzerland, home to many museaums and Art Galleries, Bauschnzli, the popular Beer Garden and numerous bars and restaurants, it is also a panoramic city. A city with wide spaces, river canals and fantastic views of Lake Zurich, it is A City with a View. In fact many Views.

Zurich was founded in 15BC ( I think) by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman General and later a minister in the reign of Caeser Augustus. He won the famour sea battle with Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra and brought Gaul, Belgium and Germany under Roman rule. And Turicum, in the swiss Alps, was a garrison town and Customs Post for merchandise entering Gaul (province of France) and Germany. Zurich was founded on the ruins of Turicum. So the city has Lake Zurich on its northern side and river Limmat flows from it through the old city to the south, with elegant shopping centers, old winding streets full of boutiques, art & Craft shops, bars and restaurants. You can easily pass the whole day walking, as we did, going from one place to another.

The morning of our arrival in Zurich was a sunny day, although it had rained when we left Basel and we were worried that parking may be a problem in the center of Zurich. However, we saw so many parking places that we decided to drive right upto the center of the city and easily found a parking garage. When we emerged on the pavement, we saw a large plaza full of people and there was a street market in full swing. So for more than an hour we strolled around, browsing and admiring articles on sale. "One man's junk is another man's treasure" so goes the saying and I also bought a copper jug for CHF 10.OO (a goog buy) and two flower vases for CHF 15.OO. I told the lady that I had no more money and she told me that she could not accept as she was just looking after the stall. So we started chatting and she told me that she was a Dietrician and she very kindly told us about places of interest. I got the vases for CHF15.oo anyway.

The best way to visit the city is by Trolly Bus or by bicycle, which we found out later, were rented free. But we decided to walk and it was a marvalous experience. The Old City is surrounded by river Limmat, from Quai-brueke (Bridge) you have a wonderful view of the city on both sides, the river rolling out in a great arc, excursion boats going to and fro, wide pavements to walk on. If you stand on Quai-Brucke, on the right hand side you can walk to Rathaus (Town Hall) passing Limmatquai. Before you reach the Town Hall, you can see Grossmuenster (The big Church) and on the west bank Fraumuenster and Paradeplatz.

From Rathausbrueke you have the wide open plaza with shops and restaurants and on a sunny day like we were lucky to have, you can sit on the terrace of a Cafe and watch the people go by. At Lindenhof (backyard full of Linden trees) is a beatiful park, from its high ground you can see the panorama of the city with the canals running on both sides of the bridge. Lindenhof is the site of ancient Roman Customs Post.

Posted by The Islander 13:54 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains lakes beaches landscape backpacking automotive Comments (0)

Bern The Beautiful

Swiss Alps and Ancient arcades

sunny -24 °C

In February 2006 we visited our son in Basel, he suggested we go to Bern. It was a weekend and the day was sunny and warm. So early in the morning we packed a lunch box and took to the road to Bern. The distance from Basel to Bern is about 75 kms but the road going out of the city was under construction and a long tail back was already forming when we reached the outskirts of Basel.

In Switzerland the traffic laws are very strict, heavy fines are imposed if you drive over the speed limit. Once for driving four kilometers over the speed limit, we were fined CHF11.00 and again for going 13 kilometers over the limit, the fine was CHF 185. The Traffic department took us for rich Swiss living on other people's bank accounts. So please beware. In Switzerland every body has a big automobile, most of the time you have to drive under 100kms per hour so I do not understand why people drive bigger and expensive cars. It must be the other peoples' money locked behind steel bank vaults which has enriched the country folk. I must say that gasoline also was cheaper, CHF1.16 per liter.

The scenery in Switzerland is breathtaking, while you drive along, the enchanting mountains, beautiful houses sitting on mountain tops, scattered here and there with long stretches of lush green in between, awakens the longing to be away from the clutter of cities, parking problems, noise and pollution. We city folk yearn for the quiet and solitude of the country side and slopping mountains. And Switzerland is just that.

We entered Bern from the east side and after more than half an hour of trying to find parking, we came over the bridge and were lucky to find a place right there, the fast flowing river Arre under us. On the left side of the bridge we saw a crowd of people and nearing the end of the road, saw a Bear Pit (Baerengraben) a large sunken arena with four or five shaggy brown bears. Bears are the symbol of Bern but the bears there looked forlorn and weary. I have posted some photos of bears on my Photo Gallery. But behind the Baerengraben, on the left side, if you go up the steep hill, you will reach the Rosen garten (The Rose Garden) with an enchanting collection of flowers and fantastic view of the town of Bern. Also at the back of the Bear Pit is a path leading to the wooded area where a small river runs through. An ideal place for spending an hour.
Bern is the capital city of Switzerland, my first impression of the city was of an Eagle jammed in a Canary bird's cage. It lies in the bend of the river and the view of the wooded hills and majestic Alps gives it a sense of quiet and peace. Although the city center was crowded with visitors, its cobbled streets and small lanes full of charming shops and restaurants, it gave a sensation of a monastery full of silent monks going about their daily chores. As if the hustle and bustle had nothing to do with it.

The old town center is wide, full of cobbled streets which run on both sides of the Marktgasse and the day we were there, some enterprising people had set up a charcoal grill in the street, selling Bratwurst with bread bun and a bottle of soft drink or mineral water for CHF 1.00. What a welcome idea and profitable too. We just sat down on the side of the arcade and had two helpings each. The road extends into lanes, old buildings with baroque arcades and many fountains. In Kramgasse there is an statue of an armoured bear holding the Standard of the city's founder Berchtold von Zaehringen. At the end of the street is a statue of Samson, a fountain and large figures on pedestals, which portray the city's guilds of various crafts. We tried to find out from the tourist office the year in which the city was founded but were given a tourist information leaflet instead. But I from a bookseller and gathered that the year may have been some where in the 11th century.

In Kramgasse is the house where Albert Einstein lived and worked on his theory of Relativity. He had studied at the University of Zürich. In one of the streets is the church of St. Peter & St. Paul, a Gothic building with a cool hermit like interior. From Postgasse (street) we went down to the old part of the city, window shopping, looking at the shops selling antique books and other crafts.


You can view the old medieval buildings clustered around the slopes of the river, all the main streets of the city meet at Nydeggbrueck where you can see Nydeggkirche (Church). Go down the steps leading to the riverside and you have a full view of the houses clustered on both sides of the river. ( I have posted some photos of the river and houses around it). The oldest part of the city is Matte, which for many centuries was the center of crafts made in the city. The streets and lanes are full of art centers. There were a few places where music is played, but they were closed. May be they opened in the evenings.
Bern is one of my favorite cities, its old cobbled streets, painters selling their paintings under the arcades, busy cafes and restaurants, shops selling arts and crafts with the exuberance of a big city, but at the same time exuding the timeless peace and quite of the Alps which have the city of Bern in a valley like atmosphere lying in the bend of fast flowing river Arre, like an impatient bride in a hurry to be with her lover.

Posted by The Islander 02:40 Archived in Switzerland Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Basel The Least Appreciated Swiss City

Switzerland In Summer


Basel, I was told by a visitor there, is the least appreicated city of switzerland. But he did not explain why. It is considered to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country, patron of arts, research headquarters of multi-national pharmaceuticals, full of historical museaums about its cultural pre-eminance in middle ages. Basel's borders with Germany and France and their cultural and linguistic heritage should have enriched the city, but I found the people more introverted than extroverted.

On the German border is the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, the capital of Black Forest. On the french border is the city of Mulhouse. Its railway is a gateway for trains from Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and other european cities. There are easy connections with other major swiss cities too. The main city railway station is a hub of passenger activity and you can easily pass a few hours just watching the people, eating a snack or drinking a beer or a coffee. The prices though are high. A toasted sandwitch costs SF5.00.

My first impression of Basel was of a city in dismal state, East London in l960s. Derelict buildings which I thought were vacant, were occupied, roads in perpetual state of repair and traffic clogged motorway which leads you to the city center. Basel may be the wealthiest city in Switzerland but its residents go to France for their shopping in the supermarkets and to German towns for shopping for clothes and shoes etc. Switzerland is a very expensive country and Basel no less. A Bratwurst costs 1.50 Euro in Germany and in Basel 3.00 euros (CHF5.00). 100gms roasted chestnuts cost CHF2.00. The prices are double that in Germany and France. A cup of coffee CHF3.50 and in France and Germany CHF 1.50. When I was there we also went to Loerrach, the border town with Germany and to France for shopping. Swiss customs are sticklers for detail, one person is allowed to bring in only one kilo of meat, three litres of milk and so on, in the country.

But Basel is a quiet city, its tram network is perfect for going places and it is an efficient way of transport. In the city center is the Town Hall, renovated and quite popular, there is a daily fruit and vegetable market but there is not much variety of anything. But around the city hall are bars and restaurants and the majestic river Rhine which divides the city in two. From the Town Hall you walk a few hundred meters and are on the bridge leading to the commercial streets of the city.

The main attraction of the city is Barfuesserplatz (bare feet plaza), a hectic place and the Barfusskirsch (Church), which has been converted into a historical museum of Basel's pre-eminence of times bygone. What I liked most was the winding, steep streets full of small ethnic shops selling arts and crafts, jewelery and rugs, from India, Nepal, Tibet, Greece and many other places. We found a Spanish Tapa Bar but just looking at its menu and prices was enough to turn us away.

The old streets have names like Saddle Street, Tailor Street, Fish Market street etc. Just like in London, Brick Lane, Thread Needle Street, or in Spain where old streets were named Calle Camas (Beds) street, Calle Baños(Bath street) etc.

We first went to Basel in the summer of 2006. We traveled by road and from where we live in Germany, it is 660 km to Basel. It was not difficult to find where my son was living, it the street where the city railway station is. Mind you, the railway station for France and Germany is about 3 km away. But parking was a big problem, parking places limited for half an hour, two hours and places reserved for residents. In the night it was easy to park but before 8 0'clock in the morning ,I had to either move the car or feed the parking meter. And be on watch to move the car after two hours.

In the city center are many popular restaurants, our son took us to Papa Joe, famous for its Spare Ribs. The bar was full of young people, swinging to hard rock music. My wife and me were the only old couple and we were feeling out of place. After waiting for more than half an hour, we were given a table in a very busy restaurant. We all had Spare Ribs, the portions were large but the food was greasy and sat heavily on the stomach.It cost SF. 29.00 per plate. Next day we went to an Indian restaurant Called Bombay Restaurant. A very cosy place serving delicious food. By Swiss standards, the prices were not high, around SF30.00 per person. We went there many times during my repeated visits to Basel.

Accommodation is not cheap in Basel, shared room in YMCA was CH27.00 per bed per night. A double room (with 4 bunk beds) was CHF 75.00. There were two bed and breakfast hostels, rooms to share with 4-6 other persons was CHF.30.00 per night. But the places were untidy.

Posted by The Islander 09:39 Archived in Switzerland Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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