All good travellers agree that the true test of a city is whether or not it can impress the visitor when it’s having an off-day. Considering that I arrived in Zurich amid a dense, moody fog the night after a rainstorm, I was in a prime position to test this theory.
But evidently Zurich was ready for me, and no sooner had I located the airport’s train terminal than I was whisked into the town centre by the most luxurious set of wheels this side of the Orient Express. A few high-speed minutes later I was to be found in the magnificent neo-Renaissance central station, wandering among a lively concourse littered with restaurants and shiny happy people. Such a beautiful place, I thought, before reminding myself that I was here to critique Zurich the city, not Zurich the train station.
Indeed, what of Zurich the city? Does it live up to the high repute of the aforementioned Hauptbahnhof? The answer, in short, is yes. Nestled in the heart of the Alps, Switzerland’s largest city is a splendid maze of intrigue characterised by meandering cobbled streets that twist, turn, rise and fall in an entirely unpredictable fashion. Steep-sided buildings dripping with all the cuddliness of a gingerbread cottage nestle alongside stooping remnants of the city’s medieval past. The atmosphere and appearance is certainly historic – if not always artistic – and the character is chic and sparkling. It is an excellent place to spend an afternoon, even if the visibility is no more than 100 yards.
It was during this giddy amble through the old town that I got well and truly lost. Suffice to say it was entirely my own fault, but that’s neither here nor there. Feeling confident in my conclusion that Zurich is superior to sliced bread, I had decided to conduct a further experiment by seeing whether or not I could relocate the same Italian café plonked a couple of streets from the banks of the Limmat River. Well over an hour and several bridge crossings later, I sat down on a riverside bollard and realised that not only was I never going to find the café, but that I had no idea where the train station was. The city is certainly beautiful, but is also mind-bogglingly complicated to navigate in fog and without a map. If it wasn’t for the kindly retired couple who had witnessed my bizarre bridge-crossing behaviour I would probably still be there today.
But one thing struck me about Zurich that surpassed everything else; where are the mountains? I had been told of a city surrounded by peaks, but having visited a Zurich shrouded in a fog thicker than a winter broth, my experience of the place and Switzerland as a whole lead me to two quite controversial conclusions:
Switzerland is, in fact, entirely flat, and the Alps don’t actually exist.
© Copyright, Amadeus Finlay, 2010