We crossed the Rhine and were in Switzerland. As usual, there was no real indication that we’d travelled to a new country, other than a small sign indicating that we were in Switzerland.
The beautiful valleys continued, with lush green pastures enclosed by towering mountains. We sped past Zurich, which we were planning to return to tomorrow – we’re meeting friends there tomorrow.
Or, Luzern – take your pick. I don’t know which is the most appropriate one to use. What I do know is, that even at 6PM, it’s still hot enough to be sweating in the shade. We were scared of the Swiss prices, so we had a quick meal in our van, in the car park, before heading in to explore the city – which made us even hotter.
It was disappointing to learn that the only way to pay for parking was with coins – which isn’t terribly uncommon. I remembered at this point that we were now in Switzerland, and they don’t use the Euro – which meant tracking down somewhere to get some Swiss Francs. Western Union was the best I could find, who happily obliged, for terrible rates.
We were now ready to explore town, and this is where things pick up for us. It was only a short walk to the old town, and our first sight was of Spreuer Bridge, one of the beautiful old covered bridges that span the Reuss River. While I was trying to find a better vantage point of the bridge for a photo, two guys stripped down to their underwear, placed everything inside waterproof bags, and jumped into the fast flowing river, while I looked on a sweaty, jealous mess. I’m not sure where they ended up, because they were quickly swept away in the fast flowing currents.
Back to the bridge. It was really cool to walk inside this bridge. It truly felt old, and was still being used in a daily manner by pedestrians. What was more surprising were the paintings, all of which contained skeletons fighting with, or taking part in daily life with regular people. I wish I could understand the text – but even without, we’re able to guess at the probable grim meanings. I loved it.
The bridge was also a great vantage point to see more of this clean and pretty city. We couldn’t put off crossing the bridge any further, eventually running out of things to see on (and from) the bridge.
The centre of the old town was a commercial high-street, with all the usual retailers that you’d expect to see, but like many other old towns, it was only on the bottom floor – the upper floors retained the traditional look/style, with murals, decorative windows, and turrets.
We climbed the old ramparts of town, which was a surprising number of stairs. But, as usual, the views from the top made it all worthwhile, with great views not only of town, but of the lake and the mountains in the surrounding area. It was surprising to me to see how different each of the towers looked, with different heights, and very different turrets.
While it was a pretty city, we were now running out of things we wanted to see. The last item on the list was Chapel Bridge, the older (but more modern due to renovations) of the town’s two covered bridges. This was a more dramatic bridge, and clearly more popular for tourists. The tower in the middle of the bridge was a truly interesting sight. The flowers hanging from the sides of the bridge also helped make it really beautiful and photogenic. This bridge was missing most of the paintings that we loved from Spreuer Bridge, with signs that seemed to indicate they’d been taken away for restoration.
Camping options in Switzerland are plentiful, if you’re willing to pay – and pay at least €30/night. We’d much prefer to save our money for other things, and as such, finding a place to stay was a little more challenging. We passed a rest area on the side of the highway to Zurich, and decided that it was good enough for us. It wasn’t the quietest of locations, but it was flat, clean, and free.
I wasn’t sure how the authorities would take the likes of us sleeping for free in rest areas, but we weren’t disturbed during the night. In fact, we woke to find another smaller camper van parked beside us at the far end of the car park.
Our timing in Zurich was both bad and good, we were lucky enough to catch our good friend who we hadn’t seen since Japan in 2011, but we’d arrived just as they were moving out of their apartment for Singapore – so understandably they were a little stressed and busy. We parked outside their apartment, and caught a train in to Zurich – and once again were shocked at the price of Switzerland – 11.40CHF each for the train. At least it was fast, smooth, clean and importantly, air-conditioned!
Risa also had an old friend that was now living in town, who met with us and gave us a quick walking tour of downtown. Unsurprisingly, he works in the banking sector, like just about everyone else in Zurich!
Crossing the Limmat River, we were into an older part of town, where the streets were like alleyways, and it had less of a ‘high-street’ feel to it. It was probably our favourite area in town.
It was hard for us to find things we loved about Zurich. It was clean, and historic in places, but it lacked anything that grabbed our attention. If our friend’s weren’t here, we’d likely spend at most an afternoon here before continuing on our merry way.
I’d become a little used to seeing supercars after living in London for the past two years, but Zurich was even more impressive. I lost count of the number of exotic European supercars that cruised past us. We saw a large group of Pagani Zonda/Huayra cruising around being photographed – I later saw in the photo that they have American number plates, making me curious what they were doing here…
Our friend lives outside of Zurich, not too far from the Zurich Lake. We were lucky enough to be invited out for a morning of stand up paddle boarding, which he says is his favourite thing about Zurich. It wasn’t a great morning, with the heat that has been plaguing us for the past few weeks finally coming to an end. We were also a little unlucky with the views, as on a clear day it is supposed to be incredible, with views out to snow capped mountains. The wind was picking up, making the tranquil lake rather choppy – not the easiest thing for a tall man like me to paddle on, especially combined with paddles that were probably a little short. At least the water was still quite warm.
Our friend’s had also invited us to float down the Limmat River with them. I didn’t quite understand at first – it seems I was over complicating things in my head. We drove in to town, to just past where we were walking yesterday, unpacked some inflatable rafts, inflated them, tied them together, stocked them with beverages/snacks, and launched them into the quickly flowing currents of the river. We were worried that the sudden cool weather would put other ‘floaters’ off, but when we arrived, there were several large groups inflating all sorts of things, including giant unicorns!
For the next two hours, we drifted nearly 10km away from Zurich, dodging the occasional bridge/dam/tree/island – only one requiring us to get out and walk around. It wasn’t as hot as we had expected earlier in the week when planning, but it was still incredibly enjoyable, and we had a great time.
Making the whole process even smoother, at the end, we deflated and packed the floats, and then hoped on a train back into central Zurich. I could see how this would be incredibly popular with the locals!
And, to really keep the momentum going, we joined our friend’s friend’s birthday party in a park by the lake. The sun started to break through the clouds, and the temperatures started rising again. It was great to relax on the grass beside this beautiful lake, with interesting international people – and delicious food. If we hadn’t experienced this, it’s unlikely we would have looked back so fondly of Zurich.