Monday, March 8, 2021

Serene and striking Switzerland

Reading Time: 4 minutesWhile chocolate, cheese and cuckoo clocks are epicure delights, natural and architectural wonders blow the mind
Scenery at its best
The Red Cross nation of Switzerland is imbibed with lots of history, and so does the Storchen Hotel in Zurich. Located on the banks of the River Limmat, this hotel has been renowned for its hospitality for more than 650 years. Following the famous novelist John Irving’s mention about this hotel in his novel A Son of the Circus, I opted to stay here during my recent visit to the world’s money-vaulting epicenter, and not only immersed myself in history, but was also captivated by its picturesque setting and nearby sights that claim to be the landmarks of the city.
Dotted on the romantic Weinplatz quarter in the heart of Zürich’s old city, the Storchen Hotel is encircled by cobblestoned alleyways, and stands next to St Peters Church whose 9m round clock-face that I could see from my room, is the largest in Europe. Not far is the Fraumunster, a 1000-year old cathedral famous for its stained glass windows. Its soaring spiky spire dominates the skyline of Zurich along with the Gothic twin towers of Grossmunster, another Romanesque styled basilica located opposite the hotel on other side of the river.
When sitting at the hotel’s terrace overlooking the river, the vista of ornamented bridges sharing the blue waters of Zurich Lake in a distance, and the Alpine mountains forming the background were a feast for my eyes, particularly in the early mornings when the serenity of the swathe was an added special effect.
Switzerland is famous for chocolates, cheese and clocks, and in Zurich there are several places to source them; but the classiest is Bahnhofstrasse, located only few steps away from the hotel. The 2km shopping stretch has elegant shops selling not only the three ‘C’s, but also the latest in fashion. While wandering there it is almost mandatory to have a chocolate drink at the world famous Sprungli chocolate shop, the taste of which still lingers in my mouth.
Zurich has several museums in its menu for the art lovers and history buffs, the two significant ones that I managed to visit were the Swiss National Museum called Landemuseum, and Kunsthaus, the country’s greatest art gallery. They surely added fuel to my cultural appetite!
Located in Central Europe, the history of Switzerland began in 1291 when three small cantons or regions joined together to fight against their foreign occupier, the Germanic Habsburgs. Over time other neighbouring cantons joined the confederation, but political stability was not achieved until 1848 when a central government was established, Bern was made the capital and the journey was triggered off towards social and economic progress. Today with a population of 7.5 million, Switzerland stands as one of the most progressive and rich nations in the world.
Switzerland is a relatively small country, you can travel from one end to the other in hours. Sharing geographical borders with Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France has inspired this peace-loving state to thrive with a mix of culture and traditions; one example of that is having four official languages, French, German, Italian and Romansh. Also as a result of that, there is no such thing as a typical Swiss city, all of the nation’s major cities and towns, Zurich, Berne, Basel, St Gallen, Lucerne and Geneva display their own character, to some extent influenced by elements from the bordering nation. However, what is common in all of them is their proximity to nature.
Switzerland is indisputably a natural paradise. Every cliché that I had heard before about the region’s natural splendors came out true to me. I stayed in Zurich and used the Swiss Travel Card to enjoy unlimited travel on national transport such as train, bus and boat to criss-cross this scenic land as much as was practically possible.
After completing my exploration of Zurich. I visited Lucerne, the picture perfect lakeside settlement where Chapels Bridge, a 14th century covered pedestrian walkway and the Lion’s Monument, a massive figure of a dying lion sculpted on sandstone, boast as iconic attractions. Then, I continued my journey to Interlaken to get closer to the gorgeous Alps, via the legendary Golden Pass train. It not only presented the best of the scenery comprising of mountains, lakes and waterfalls, but also showcased the typical Swiss countryside with small villages and grazing cattle powdering rolling green valleys intermittently sprinkled with conifer forests. The setting and even the colour of every view came out exactly as I have seen on picture postcards and many Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
I knew that Albert Einstein developed his famous theory of relativity while living in Berne, and that notion inspired me to visit the nation’s capital, particularly to see this great scientist’s dwelling. Berne is a beautiful city with grand medieval arcades; the buildings, monuments and fountains lining its cobblestoned streets are striking as architectural gems. Einstein lived in a modest apartment which has now been converted to a museum, a café downstairs called Einstein Kaffee, serves refreshing doses of caffeine.
Switzerland boasts of several architectural marvels that represent an array of styles from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods, a fine example of the last being the St Gallen Cathedral which was originally established in 747 AD.  I was there on a Sunday morning to join locals and tourists from various parts of the world for the celebrated Mass.
A side-trip one day to the pocket-sized principality of Liechtenstein, the sixth smallest country in the world, was highly rewarding. Its capital Vaduz is only a short journey by train and bus from Zurich. Measuring 25 km in length and 6 km in length, it’s remembered mostly for its stunning natural beauty that aptly competes with neighbours Switzerland and Austria. The nation is governed by a friendly Prince whose home, a magnificent castle, is the main sight in the capital while a visit to his winery is grandly stimulating after tasting some fabulous reds and whites.
Though small in size, one visit is not enough to savour everything the region offers. So I left Switzerland with a taste of cheese and chocolates in my mouth, a cuckoo clock in my bag, several photos in my camera, the extraordinary scenery of mountains and lakes frozen in my brain, and a strong desire to return locked in my mind.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) has daily flights from Australia to Zurich via Singapore.
Getting around: A Swiss Travel Card is most convenient
Accommodation: Storchen Hotel (www.storchen.ch) for style, comfort and convenience
More information: Check www.myswitzerland.com for details on Switzerland and a Swiss Travel Card, and www.tourismus.li for details on Liechtenstein.

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Sandip Hor
Sandip Hor
Writing is a passion for this culturally enthused and historically minded globe trotting freelancer

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