No Swiss Neutrality
I confess – upon arrival to Zurich this autumn, I had no real passion, impression or interest in Zurich. As far as I was concerned, I was there to see a good friend and the city was an irrelevant backdrop. I was sadly still a little underwhelmed with my year in Geneva and my short visit to Zurich back then spoke to me of a provincial perfection I could never really understand. Essentially, I concluded 10 years ago that I would not have a true bond with Switzerland, much as I wanted to.
Four days later, I left Zurich reformed into an avid lover of the Swiss. For anyone who has not been to Switzerland and are contemplating between either the humanitarian capital of Geneva or the financial mecca of Zurich, I would now, uncharacteristically suggest the financial mecca. I came away thinking she was a wonderful contradiction of order and warmth, of European rustics with an impressive cosmopolitan edge. She is probably the poster-child of Western Europe (let’s not include the Scandinavian models in the mix) – comely, tidy, tranquil but surprisingly hospitable to foreigners and global in her outlook.
I did not take on a hotel or an airbnb but stayed at my friend’s place, which was a treat. She lives in the upmarket district of Fluntern, which I experienced to be a really beautiful, perfectly eclectic collection of both classic Swiss and modern minimalistic villas arranged in a flawless order of crisp streets where only luxury German made automobiles drove past and parked on. The first day we walked from her place to Falkenstrasse which took about half an hour. Going downhill is a breeze but hiking back would be best if you are already very fit or are looking to upgrade your cardio. We took the tram. Here are some snapshots of the journey.
I did not go for classic sight-seeing but rather walked for hours and hours, at least in two of the four days I was there. Here are some of our visual footnotes..
Delectable side streets, classical villas and boulevards
Pretty Food displays
More Swiss quintessentials
Again not sure whether this is natural or Swisscom wanted to present an Instagram friendly aesthetic
The first spark of intrigue I had with the idea of moving to Switzerland was when I sampled her vegetarian restaurants. I have never experienced anything quite like the vegetarian options in Zurich. My friend introduced me to 2 of her favourites which obviously became 2 of mine as well. The concept is basically to offer (or dazzle) you with a wealth of deeply scrumptious vegetarian options that is prepared with all the love and affection of a non-vegetarian menu (instead of always experiencing the vegetarian menu as a limited and side option to a mainstream menu). Cous cou, tandoori quorn, Thai noodle with eggs, spinach mousse you name it it’s there. Hot options, cold options and delightful deserts. When I first went there I pretty much heaped my plate before I could even walk down one side of the aisle. My friend tried to calm me down, explaining that I would pay according to the weight of my plate. That obviously helped me in curbing my greed but only marginally. The food is extraordinarily good – if you are a vegetarian then its unmissable and even if you are not, I would say it’s worth trying out.
Tibits was my first foray and these were the options I took. I thought the aubergine and the curry tofu was especially delicious. It is located on Falkenstrasse which is not far from the lake.
Hiltl is supposed to be the bigger deal when it comes to vegetarian cuisine here. It was bigger than Tibits with more options and by the looks of its Saturday crowd, clearly ver popular. It’s difficult for me to pin point to any particular dish as I really loved all of it. I had quorn tandoori and Thai style egg noodle. It’s also interesting to note that Hiltl is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Switzerland (or the world?) opening its doors in 1898!
We had coffee and cake here which was an achingly cute place at Napfgasse. Though service was not top notch (difficult to get anyone to come and serve us) the place was super dreamy and the sweet offerings were endless. Also pretty much in the cutest part of the old town so you get to walk and shop for ages around the area.
We also once had dinner here, a pub-gastro type of outfit. The grilled squid as a starter and vegetable burger as a main sent us home to a food coma. If the weather is good, choose to sit in its outdoor courtyard and soak in the atmosphere. This place is located at Zurichbergstrasse, you will need to get Tram 5, 6 from the city centre and alight directly in front of the restaurant.
Zurich even knew how to touch me in a way I wasn’t sure I could be touched anymore – with her house deco. It’s not that I was jaded but I thought I had seen what the world had to offer (totally misplaced arrogance of course given that I haven’t even explored large chunks of the world). But you know, I’d scoured through some popular markets in Europe, Turkey, South Asia, and South East Asia and I thought khalas! I’ve seen and done it, what else is there to know about vintage, retro and eclectic. Well, there’s room to continue being delighted clearly. The Einzelstuck store on Falkenstrasse specialized in quirky.
This is all about texture for me. Delectable fabrics as upholstery, leather bound trays and some luxurious bath products too. They also decked out the ambiance beautifully, making you want to linger and check every item out carefully even if you may need to save abut for shopping. For me it was like the designer version of Bangkoks’s Chatuchak Plaza where they keep all their homewares.
Zurich is still Switzerland. It’s not the place to find spiritual elevation, or encounter people who will offer you access to their inner lives easily. But it has possibly the best that Western Europe can offer (classical architecture, stylish perfection in shopping, incredible curation of vegetarian food, heavenly chocolates and cakes, orderliness in everything) without the collateral damage that usually comes with it (overpopulation, ruthless city dwellers, dirty alleyways). I am already planning my return…