A weekend in Zurich and Lucerne
Switzerland is a summer and winter country. Meteorologically, when David and I visited in early December, the winter season had just begun, so a snowstorm in the city is unexpected, but it is (brrrrr) cold and we got the full winter experience of the brisk, fresh air but without the snow. So besides having to bundle up and layer every piece of clothing we take, walking around is manageable.
Arrival Friday morning: Easy train travel from airport to city center.
Hotel check in: Zurich Marriott Hotel in the city center. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the train station and the Bahnhofstrasse. We went back and forth on this hotel and in the end decided to land here, strictly because of budgetary considerations and five star value for the four star price. Success! The Marriott includes breakfast and the other hotels we looked at did not. Now, I don’t know about you but for me, vacation means sleeping in (if possible, if not, the ability to go down and drink coffee while reading the newspaper in a lovely dining area) and long, leisurely breakfasts. So this met the requirements for beginning the day healthy, eating and mentally.
Hotel note: Hotels have executive clubs available for an additional charge. Executive floors include a lounge that is open 24 hours (hours vary), food and drinks in the lounge included as well as other perks (spa). This can be very worthwhile, considering what you are getting, compared to what it would cost when you venture out. Do not be shy! Ask for the executive privileges and know that the prices are negotiable. Some common requests you can attempt; an upgraded room? it’s a special occasion can we please be comped? Can you do better on the price? We have traveled so far and don’t get the opportunity to take many trips, I promise to write a great review about you. It’s all about your rapport with the concierge or hotel attendant.
The Lay of the Land: We always like to scout out the neighborhood around the downtown, the hotel and venture a bit out. This includes walking down main street, the Bahnhofstrasse, taking the tram to nearby localities, seeing the locals in dress and shopping gear out and about and buying some food that is indigenous to this city. It is always worthwhile to learn a few words in the language of the locals. When we were looking for a local bakery, to my surprise I spotted a Chasid. I asked politely if he speaks English or Hebrew, when he replied with a negative head shake I instinctively asked if he spoke Yiddish and in my excitement it all came rushing back from my childhood memories, Vi is die Backerei?, where is the bakery? (right across the street).
Shopping: The Bahnhofstrasse and the outlying arteries have the top department stores, the local malls and specialty stores. No great bargains in Zurich, but 3 stops worth making:
- Victorinox Flagship Store: World reknown tools, gear, tech and watches. Swiss craftsmanship in every aspect and great interior design.2.
- Beyer Clock and Watch Museum: The museum is in the store and is small but the exhibits are exquisite and some of them date back 500 years or more.
- Chocolate: Do some (loads of) taste testing. There are many chocolatiers all over, stop in and buy one piece at a time, you can even save one for your next cup of coffee. Sit and have a hot chocolate, they are outstanding. In particular try Sprungli on the Bahnhofstrasse. On the ground floor you have the impressive chocolate and pastry shop (and there is really something for everyone’s taste!).
Saturday Morning: Late breakfast, weekend papers, coffee and off to the Synagogue, Israelitische Cultusgemeinde Zürich, Löwenstrasse 10. The synagogue itself is worth seeing in the background of Shabbat because it is authentic and very beautiful. We met others there from all over the world and there is a tasty, beautifully served Kiddush, an elaborate reception of snacks and drinks after the service. This service was especially lovely because while I really enjoy the pomp and musical precision of a synagogue Cantor, this one was unique in that there is a choir of 20+ members whose sound and notes cover the scale from lovely to haunting to melancholy.
Saturday Afternoon Walk: Old Town (Altstadt), stroll the winding streets, look in the windows and people watch. A word about Zurich in general, other than my Chasid spotting Friday afternoon, the city was surprisingly very ethnically homogeneous, not stimulating in the way bustling cities like New York or London are, but the conformity is interesting to observe. The city has a European flair and the people have an upscale, stylish look about them, even the grungy ones. English is acceptable everywhere.
Saturday night: Hot Chocolate at a café and the Outdoor Holiday market at the Main Train Station. There are crafts and all kinds of food options. We found a Vegan Indian booth that had a DELICIOUS deep fried tempura and Indian style empanadas with chutney.
Sunday morning: Train to Lucerne to spend the day. Train travel was relaxing, picturesque and quick. Train tickets are expensive and sometimes it is necessary to upgrade a train ticket to first class, like on an overnight trip, but this is not one of those times and second class is very comfortable.
- Cross from the Main Train Station through the covered Spreuer Bridge. Plan to cross back over the Chapel Bridge. These covered bridges are unique and charming.
- Walk along the riverfront with a stop to visit the Casino, in a magnificent mansion and enjoy an outdoor hot chocolate.
- Follow the paths to the top to see the outlook and the Nine Towers and lookouts. The signs are clear, just follow them.
- Two options for lunch:
- Opus, right on the riverfront. This is a very cozy atmosphere, tables are tightly packed and it is very lively. It feels a bit like sitting in a wine cellar, in a good way. Great vegan buffet, a very interesting wine bar and hot drinks menu.
- Hotel Montana, on the mountain with the magnificent view of the city below. You can have just a drink at Louis or continue on and lunch at the Scala (one Michelin star).
Beautiful day! Time for train back to Zurich, direct trains run every hour. Good night’s rest before the early flight out.