The city closest to us and the most frequently ridden through was the one we hadn’t yet visited: Zurich. Dan has a friend working nearby so we made arrangements to meet up with him for a few hours, catching up with the rest of the family later for dinner.
Aaron gave us directions to his apartment from the Zurich train station, but first Dan and I had a little errand to run: the BMW shop of Schlieren. We wanted to learn more about motorcycle rental from this location, as we had heard of other riders taking off from here for their great European tours. The shop was small but packed full of German goodness. BMW’s of all models lined up against the walls and gear and paraphernalia lined the shelves. Everyone was quite helpful and despite apologizing for their “poor English”, they spoke beautifully and were able to answer our questions. Next time, we’ll be on two wheels.
A quick bus ride took us to Aaron’s apartment and from there we did some Chemistry-geek sightseeing, checking out the new ETH building in the outskirts of Zurich where Aaron now works. From there, we completed the journey by traveling into Zurich to the old ETH building, home of Albert Einstein (among others) and still in full operation. Conveniently, the old ETH building is on the edge of some very old neighborhoods, and the three of us worked our way back down to Lake Zurich by the most obscure and circuitous route possible. We traversed narrow alleys and walked up cobbled streets and passed near elaborate fountains, all with no real goal other than to see what the city had to offer us.
Fascinating signs in the train
Keeping things clean
Zurich street scene
Festive canton flags
Competing church #1
Church #2, on the other side of the bridge
Meandering the labyrinth of streets
More old city exploring
We ate lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant tucked in along one of the many narrow streets and then walked around some more. Dessert was purchased in a decadent sweet shop and we ate it while enjoying the not-quite-rain on an overcast day. More walking led us to two piers, where two ferries were approaching. The interesting thing was that two Alpen horn players, in full traditional clothing and with horns extended before them, stood waiting patiently for the ferries to dock. The first ferry did and people streamed out with nary a peep from the horns. Then the second ferry landed and cued by a slight wave from a passenger, the horn players started up their ancient music. I had never heard the Alpen horn before and I enjoyed its low, sonorous notes. I was told later that this is an incredibly rare sight to see, especially within the city.
Finding an even older section of town
Another fantastic fountain!
Classic scooter scene
And the streets get narrower
Watching the ferries come in
Alpen horns played a rare greeting
Eventually it was time to meet up with the rest of the family. Reservations had been made at a Spanish restaurant and it would be good to eat. The restaurant itself, Bodega, had an excellent atmosphere and was crowded with patrons. A three-piece band made their way around the room, playing feisty Spanish music and singing songs that a surprising number of people knew – and joined in on.
I ran into trouble with the menu. It was in Spanish and German, neither language did I know well enough to interpret a list of cooked food items, especially when I had no idea what sort of food it was. I asked one of the cousins to help translate, but she too had trouble. I decided to go with the one deciphered as “a little bird”. I figured that I couldn’t go too wrong with that choice. The “little bird” turned out to be a very tasty Cornish game hen and I really enjoyed it. I kept my water glass surreptitiously full of “Hahnen wasser” from my own Nalgene bottle, sneaking it out when it appeared that no one was looking. We finally finished our meal and walked outside into a light rain.
Our evening would be rounded out with a jazz concert. Mirjam’s boyfriend Ali is in a band and they were playing in a small, intimate club a few blocks away. We got in the door and staked out a corner. We didn’t have long to wait before a lively saxophone came to life, backed by a cello, bass guitar and drums. They were very good and it was a great way to end the day.
Lenzburg, the last day
It was our last day in Switzerland. We had covered a good deal of the country and decided that today we’d stay close to home. After a leisurely morning we took the bus to Lenzburg, up until now only known as “the place to catch the train”. This time we’d finally check out the town itself and go visit the castle that dominates the landscape.
The bus dropped us off and we wandered through the Altstadt, surprised at the historic buildings that had previously been unnoticed during our forays to the train station. Since it was also our last day it was also the day to stock up on last-minute gifts and souvenirs. We bought a couple of items from the local stores and then headed for the local castle, Schloss Lenzburg, high on the hill and almost buried in clouds.
It was a pleasant and steep walk up to the castle, passing homes that boasted build dates of over 300 years ago. The rain was off and on, but light enough not to affect our enjoyment of the walk. The road we were on was narrow and wound up around the backside of the castle, coming around to the front where it met up with a parking lot for more traditionally arriving tourists. From here it was a quick walk up a cobbled drive, under a couple of gatehouses and then over a small, lowered drawbridge. It really was quite small, bridging a gap of maybe 10’. But still, it was the first authentic drawbridge I’d ever seen so it qualified as ”interesting”. In addition, there was a small footbridge-sized drawbridge off to one side and the ingenuity of having the option of either bridge was not lost on me.
House, now an event rental location. Wedding, anyone?
House from the early 1700’s
Sheep around the base of the castle
The Habsburg crest
Approaching the gatehouse
Detail of gate construction
Looking back at the gatehouse
Inside the courtyard
Once inside the main walls of the castle we paid a small entrance fee and then were free to roam. The castle had belonged to the Habsburgs and there was a rich history. A good portion of the main castle was turned over to a museum, kid’s area, cafeteria and – surprisingly enough – a bomb shelter. We explored this area first and I admit to being disappointed at the sterile and shallow displays. I was hoping to see how the Habsburgs actually lived day to day, from the kitchen utensils to wall decorations. Instead I found a fake, smoke-bellowing dragon along one of the lower passageways. I felt like I had entered a bad amusement park. But then I found what I had been looking for.
The kitchen was chock full of pottery and heavy wooden utensils. One corner was dominated by an open stove with wood stacked handily. The window sills were deep – deep enough for a mini chicken coop underneath. The living area contained thick wooden tables and a canopy bed and a wardrobe, all of it decorated with tapestries and books and odd implements that defied definition. Oh, the books! It was all I could not to open them and read the print date and look at the hand-set type. But I restrained myself and continued on the tour, chuckling at a bizarre chandelier and wondering what daily life was like, even for someone as well-off as the Habsburgs.
A small display of armor and weapons from the ages
Note the well-carved beams
Detail of carving
Deep windows and original furnishings
Dan finds the beer!
Beautifully carved fireplace mantle
Mossy steps – and no railing to spoil the effect
Eventually we felt that we had seen all that there was to see and took a different route back to the main town area. We waited for the bus with a few locals and in a light rain before heading back to the house for our last surprise: a fantastic Raclette dinner!
Much like Rosti, Raclette is something found throughout Switzerland and contains the two most important food ingredients: potatoes and cheese. I was really feeling at home in Switzerland. The Raclette is made using a special set up where each person uses their own metal cheese tray, places a slice of cheese in it and then setts it inside a type of table-top, open sided oven. After the cheese has melted in the tray, it is poured over boiled potatoes, vegetables, pickles – just about anything you’d like to eat with cheese on it. And while you’re eating your cheese-covered pickles you can place your cheese tray back in the oven for the next serving. It was a great feast and a fantastic memory to leave the country with.
The next morning was Sunday and we got an early start for the train station. We were going to catch the first bus to Lenzburg, but for the first and only time on this trip did the public system fail us: there wasn’t a bus early enough to get us to the train to get us to our plane on time. Therefore, Peter offered to get up and drive us to Lenzburg, sending us on our way with the typical friendliness that I encountered for my entire trip.
Constant construction – which is why the buildings are still standing.
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