Wednesday, May 21, 2008

3 - First steps in town

I exit the station towards the Bahnhofplatz. There’s a statue of Alfred Escher, one of the founding fathers of the Swiss Railway network, and a fountain and a trough under the statue. The crossroads isn’t too busy this early in the morning. The glass roofing and sides, along with the early-morning-emptiness give the tram stops a newly-washed look.

To take my tram to the Youth Hostel, I turn into the Bahnhofstrasse. This one-and-a-half-kilometer long avenue is said to be one of the world’s most expensive shopping areas. I can see why – on either side are shopfronts with labels like Chanel, Armani, Cartier and their ilk. There’s even a huge Davidoff store. These facades are wide, spacious, like they’re firmly saying they don’t need to be miserly.

Cyclists, skaters and walkers have begun to crowd the sides already – there are hardly any cars. The lanes that cut the Bahnhofstrasse are half occupied by chairs and tables of brasseries. These have begun to fill up with breakfasters poring over newspapers.

I need to figure out which of the stops I need to take my tram from. I ask an old man, who says he’s headed the same way. He walks me to the tram stop, and helps me with the electronic ticket dispenser. As he gets off the tram a couple of minutes later, he gives me a warm smile and a “have a nice day!”. During the course of the day, I get this pleasantly surprising greeting from the youth hostel staff, random neighbours on trams, shops where I merely browse but don’t buy - from pretty much everyone I come in contact with.


The first tram ride takes me through two impressive platz-es(squares, plazas) – Enge and Paradeplatz. Both are broad, open, with a couple of stalls in the centre and imposing castle-like buildings on the sides. Enge has a majestic railway station to one side and tables-chairs of cafes on another. The railway-station front has tall arches spread out in a semi-circular shape, with a teeny clock on top, almost like a white bindi.

Paradeplatz, no less ambitious, pulls off its special effects with a little help from palatial corporate offices - UBS, Credit Suisse and the rest. Both Enge and Paradeplatz still manage an air of being relaxed, let-hair-down hangouts, due to the by-now-ubiquitous roadside cafes and brasseries.

I need to make plans for the day. There are close to 40 museums in Zurich – the Kunsthaus is among the most prominent in Europe, the Musee Reitberg is fairly close to the youth hostel where I will stay. But then, I’ve only a day and a half, very little money, and everybody wanting to be my baby. I tell myself that roaming the city streets will let me pack in more of local flavour into the limited time-and-money than an art trip or, *shudder*, an organized tour.

I get myself a day pass. This will let me travel on any tram and bus in the city for an entire day. The plan, therefore, is to take random trams-buses-walks all day and explore the city.


I find Zurich pleasantly old-fashioned, carefully crafted. Everywhere there are sloping roofs, chimneys, intricately carved mythological motifs on house fronts, usage of lots of stone, of dark brown wood, and hardly any high rises. Occasionally, there are stone statues on porches, flower beds between houses and gargoyles atop them. There are fountains and water bowls sprinkled across the city, all of them spouting drinking water.

Each house in the city seems individually crafted, with a distinctiveness of its own, with no locality designed en masse. Yet the design is understated and anything but loud. Zurich’s architectural charm comes from it being firmly rooted in the past. It seems to tell its beholders what Messrs Carl F Bucherer announce on their ads – ‘for those who do not go with the times’.


PS - None of the pics are my own. All are off the 'net.


Gee said...


QKumar said...

[Gee] Wot to do, we unimaginative plebs have to resort to that sort of thing. :-)