From Venice, we flew to Zurich. Just a short flight over the Alps, we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity to see another city and Zurich to Paris is an easy train journey. So why not?
Where Venice is chaos, Zurich is serene calm. A beautiful, leafy city set on the stunning Lake Zurich. Surrounded by rolling foothills, it is picturesque. Arriving on a Friday night with a hotel in what seemed to be a business district surrounded by bank offices, we welcomed the quiet. But we were hungry. Looking for an authentic Swiss experience, the concierge at our hotel recommended a restaurant just outside of town called Chäsalp.
“Just a little ways outside of town” is actually a 10 minute Uber ride from the City Centre, we were grateful that Zurich is blessedly small. The Uber driver pulled into the long driveway and dropped us in what seemed like a deserted but lovely farm out in the country. It felt like heaven, even if we had no idea how we would get back to our hotel. Having been in Paris and Venice, we miss trees and we miss grass. Chäsalp has a beautiful set up, with many picnic tables and a small playground area. As much as we miss nature, the Little misses playgrounds so they were very grateful for some swings and slide. Monsieur was grateful for the outside dining area. Why do you ask? Well…
The house specialties at Chäsalp are fondue and raclette. Now for all of you who know the Monsieur, you know well that he is not a fan of cheese, especially smelly cheese. As we found our way inside the restaurant we were greeted to a full frontal assault of the aroma of fondue. We expected that a fondue restaurant may smell a tad cheesy and Monsieur had steeled himself for the experience, ready to “take one on the chin” for the rest of us. He was prepared to grin and bear it, until we walked in. He looked at me, threw his arms in the air and said, ”I can’t. I’m out.” Luckily, the aforementioned outdoor dining area was vast with just one other couple enjoying the fresh non-cheesy breeze. ”Would you mind if we sat outside?” I asked the server. She shrugged and motioned towards a lovely table between the swing set and the slide. Monsieur was very appreciative and the Little welcomed the opportunity for more playground time.
We ordered two different types of cheese fondue. The traditional and one with bacon after the server told us we needed at least two. Lets just say one pot would have easily fed a family of four, let alone our family of 1 fondue fan, 2 maybe fondue fans and 1 absolutely no fondue whatsoever fan. The traditional fondue was in fact delicious, best I’ve ever had. The fondue with bacon was of course delicious as we felt our arteries clogging with every bite. Lets just say the bacon isn’t really necessary when you’re dipping chunks of bread in a pot of melted cheese. The big kid and I tucked in to the traditional and didn’t look back. We had pepto bismal at the ready when we got back to the hotel.
If you’re worried about Monsieur at this point, he was very happy with his order beer and his schnitzel in the light spring breeze. He was even happier when the fondue pot was cleared away. When the server returned to pick up the fondue course, she asked why Monsieur was at the far end of the table. ”He doesn’t like cheese,” I explained. She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, missing the point of Monsieur’s grand sacrifice for his family.
We were pooped after our time in Venice constantly on the move, so we decided to take it easy in Zurich. Our friends P & M who used to live in Zurich sent some recommendations of things to see. Per usual, we decided to set out to explore on foot. Situated close to the shores of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, we easily found the old town. Sadly for Monsieur, there were plenty of cafe’s serving fondue and raclette but luckily those spring breezes kept his cheese induced nausea at bay.
Zurich on a Saturday was charming and quiet as friends brunched on patios and strolled the shopping streets. We did our very best to pivot to German after a week of stumbling through Italian. I think I thanked a shopkeeper in Norwegian at one point. Tussen Tak Madame!
We stumbled upon the Grossmünster, the grand reform church in the Old Town. We didn’t go in, the kids get the creeps from churches and constantly fear conversion I think. But it was quite majestic from the outside, so good for you Reformers.
For lunch we found the Bauschänzli Beer Garden along the Limmat. From the road, this looked like an elegant riverside restaurant. While still reasonably elegant – all of Zurich is elegant – everyone was happy with the bratwurst and beer lunch we had at picnic tables. The kids had cokes, don’t worry! We were doing our best with the German language menu but when we thought we were ordering hot dogs, the bratwursts arrived. Luckily the kids didn’t care and were hungry enough not to fight it.
That evening, we were a little sluggish from all the wheat, dairy and meat products. Luckily the hotel was kind enough to find us dinner reservations at Sala of Tokyo, where we had one of the priciest sushi meals ever. Remember we’re from Vancouver where sushi is basically fast food and Zurich is one of the more expensive cities in Europe, so there was some sticker shock on the price of the california roll.
Before we knew it, it was already time to head back to Paris. Swiss trains do in fact run on time. We were booked on a commuter train to Basel, connecting to the French TGV train. The commuter train portion was a little confusing as we were given some conflicting information from the conductors, but we managed to hop on the right train and made the connection in Basel easily as the TGV was on the very next platform. We marvelled again at how easy and comfortable the European train system can be. In under 5 hours we were back home in Paris!
One habit we have gotten into is picking up snacks for the train ride. All stations have a store where you can get chips, snacks, drinks etc. The kids are always happy for a cheeky pack of Haribo sweets. We usually hit up the Paul or Pret à Manger where you can find great baguette sandwiches, croissants, pastries and pre-made salads to take away. We learned not to rely on the snack bars on the trains as they tend to sell out or have limited options.
Zurich is a beautiful city. Charming and friendly, quiet and safe. It felt very natural for us Canadians and made a nice change from the hustle and bustle that we’ve been used to.