When two friends and I decided to travel to Zurich Switzerland over a weekend, we did not realise what an expensive city we were going to. It was only when we had landed, taken the train to our apartment hotel, and looked for some late-night comfort food that we were struck with the terrifying prices of food in Zurich. A noodle bowl was 21 francs (1 franc is about 1 dollar), beer was 7 francs, and most main courses were in the mid 20s to 30s range. Coming from Rome, and also our experience in Berlin, we thought of this as ridiculous, and opted for some 10 franc Indian curry take out sold at the side of the street.
And so our quest began to feed ourselves with our limited budget in a city where apparently grocery store workers earned a minimum of $25/hour.
But first, why are we in Zurich? Our main motive would be that we want to get out of the crowded city of Rome and to visit the capital of a country I’ve never been in. For my friend Mitchie, it was for the hiking paths in Uetilburg. For my other friend Jane and I, part of the reason we were drawn to Switzerland was because in a restaurant in Napoli, we sat next to a friendly group of Swiss travellers who really recommended going to Switzerland. What great salespeople the were of their country, because there we were, two months later, taking in the wonders of this foreign land.
Since we got there quite late, all we did was sleep for the first day (or night I suppose). We stayed in a quiet neighbourhood in District 5 (very Hunger Games) in an apartment converted to a hotel. The room was a spacious studio with a fully functioning kitchen and private bathroom for just 40 euros per night.
The next morning, after finishing up our leftover curry (thus making the $10 meal into a $5 meal!), we headed to Uetilburg by train. The train ride was scenic and uphill, and took us right to the top of the mountain where we could overlook the entire city. The train ride was 6.8 francs, so not too bad.
There were many senior citizens hiking the trail. We headed south from the train station, and ultimately reached the foot of the mountain (more like a hill) where we took a train back. It was so refreshing to be in nature after so many weeks in Rome, and the smell of crisp fall air and crunchy leaves on my face renewed me in some sense. The forest was coloured in yellow, orange, red and green, but seemed to shimmer like gold, reminding me of the familiar fall in Ithaca.
As beautiful as the nature was, we also had the city to explore. The train took us to the old town in the city center, where we found a nice little cake shop. I had been craving some chestnut cake, so got one for 4.4 francs. It was delicious, but not filling so we still needed to take care of lunch.
On the way to look for a reasonably priced lunch spot, we looked at three churches: St. Peter Pfarrhaus, Fraumunster Church, and Grossmunster. Only St. Peter Pfarrhaus was free to go inside so we only went in there.
After wandering for about an hour we finally reached a butcher shop that also had a small deli. The prices seemed normal so we went in. I had the chicken snitzel with sauerkraut for 10.8 francs. We sat on a high table, and I overheard an American woman talking to the butcher about waterfalls, saying she was from a place with lots of waterfalls. Interesting, I thought, since we were too. And then I noticed that her husband’s face was all too familiar. His voice, too… wait, it’s Professor Don Greenberg! I had taken his Visual Imaging class a year ago, and what a delight it was bumping into him and his wife like that in a small butcher shop in Zurich. We got to talking and turns out he is teaching in Zurich for the semester, and then afterwards heading to California for Disney research. What a life!
The lovely couple recommended some places to go in Zurich, like Zurich West which we ended up going the following day. After parting ways, we went to the Kunsthaus Zurich where we used our student discount to get a 11 franc ticket. This museum was full of famous Swiss artists as well as international artists. We saw many members of the Giacometti family, Edvard Munch, Mondrian, Monet, Picasso…list goes on. I felt like I was walking through an art history textbook on art from 19th century onwards. Actually, there even was a 17-18th century section too, and some 14th century Gothic sculptures that once adorned churches.
For dinner after the museum, we went to Holy Cow! which is a burger restaurant with vegetarian options, and got a student set of burger, fries and a drink for 14.5 francs. Afterwards was our long awaited ballet at the opera house! We saw Winterstreise, a modern ballet with music by Schubert. I had bought the tickets in advance since it was quite popular and got us the cheapest seats in the back for 15 francs. The seats were quite terrible, with a column right in front of us, but the ballet made up for it. It was also kind of cool that we got to be so close to a Baroque ceiling. The set was simple yet beautiful, and quite architectural with exposed concrete-like walls and long strips of LED light overhead. Dancers wore minimalistic garments in blue grey tones, and there were some whimsical moments where a dancer would come out on high circus sticks or wearing 10 hats on top of each other. The singer sang of a man that got his heart broken by his summer sweetheart, and his misery in the summer. My mom made me do ballet for 5 years and I hated every moment of it; if I had known that ballet could be like this, what a different feeling I would have had!
The next morning we had some breakfast in a nearby cafe called Mame. The chocolate stuffed croissant was delicious, but cost 4.5 francs. We then headed for a day of design: two museums of Museum für Gestaltung. Again, we got a student discount for just 11 francs for both museums.
The first one we went to showcased furniture and poster design, but what amazed me the most were photographs by Sebastiano Sagaldo of the natural beauty of Earth. The title of the exhibition was ‘Genesis’ because the photos dealt with the original, un corrupted beauty of our planet, the way God made Her. There were photos of Antarctica, Amazon’s, Alaska, Grand Canyon, Venezuela, Canada. All photos made me feel so small, reminding me of the power of nature and vastness of our planet.
We took a tram to Zurich West where the other half of the museum, Toni-Areal, was located. The museum takes up a small part of the Zurich University of the Arts and the main focus of the current exhibit was Social Design. How can architecture address social issues and try to solve them using local workforce and sustainable practice? Children were encouraged to share their ideas by sketching on a bulletin board or making small models. The exhibit also showcased processes in industrial design, such as the making of Swiss Air logo. Afterwards, we spent a good two hours exploring the university, taking advantage of their student-priced café and eduroam internet connection.
Left with only a few hours until our flight, we headed to Zurich HB train station to eat. The Migros supermarket chain in Zurich also has a food court, which serves cheap cooked food. I had probably the saltiest pumpkin soup I’ve ever had for 6.4 francs. We also had lunch in this train station, but in another food court. I had some meat and vegetable stew for 18 francs.
On the flight back to Rome, there were some chanceful encounters with Australian-Italian-GermanSwiss student as well as an American priest studying religious architecture. Apart from us being almost ripped off on the taxi ride home, this trip made it the most memorable weekend of the semester.
Here’s a budget breakdown of the trip, in Francs:
|Vueling round trip flight||80|
|Train from airport||6.8|
|Kunsthaus museum ticket||11|
|One day train pass||17.6|
|Train to airport||6.8|
|Gestaltung museum ticket||10|
So I suppose the answer to the title of this post is yes. It’s possible. One tip: go to the train station for affordable food. Oh, and bring a water bottle, because like Rome there are so many water fountains to get potable water from.