Text & Photos by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn
From the foreign perspective, Switzerland is synonymous with the Alps. If in Zürich and can’t make the trek all way out to touch its great peaks, you need to seek out bucket list-worthy local views. Nearby Uteilberg Mountain and the city of Lucerne seem to be the next best thing and, although tourist destinations, they are not inundated with traps.
Towering Over the Alps
We took the bright red local train out to Uteilberg on our second day in country. The train runs regularly throughout the day which allowed us to explore the area without the stress of catching a trip back to town. At the trains stop, there’s a small restaurant and a beautiful view of the Alps- but there was no need to linger there as the view is more pristine as you delve move up the paths.
It’s a ‘choose your own adventure’; the trails are marked with approximations of trek lengths ranging from an hour to most of a day.
A quick climb up past lights embedded in the antlers of mosaic reindeer and we had reached the main tourist summit with a hotel and restaurant. We ascended the steep stairs on the metal tower lookout to capture a breathtaking panoramic view of Zürich to the left and the Alps in the other direction.
We then continued to hike through well maintained trails and glimpsing at the Alps through the trees as the morning clouds dissipated.
Less than hour by train from Zürich, we were surprised to find that 2- 2nd class train tickets to Lucerne would cost us around a hundred American dollars. Yet, the information clerk declared it to be a “special place” so …all aboard!
My husband and I settled into a seat on the train and the conductor came to check our tickets. Oops, we had settled into a 1st class car; “up the stairs, then down, and to the back,” he insisted in his thick German accent.
We reclined back in our new seats; 2nd class wasn’t too shabby. But, alas, he compelled us forward again; “up the stairs, then down, to the back!”.
We went up, down, and to the back until we came upon what was unmistakably the lower class car; we are not first class travelers by any means but after the reclining chairs and peace of the other cars, the difference between classes was stark. The smells of cheap food assaulted us as soon as the car door open and people were spilled out over the floors.
Fortunately, if the train ride was not quite worth 50 bucks, Lucerne was every bit the special place that we were promised.
We spent the day wandering the winding streets of Lucerne and the banks of its river. 35 francs for an hour on paddle boat allowed us to float ever so slightly closer to the commanding Alps where they appeared to rise above the pristine blue lake. We enjoyed lunch in one of the many European squares and dined near the river bank.
Before heading back to the station and our 2nd class world, we sat and watched the moon rise above the peaks in the distance.
Other Swiss Adventures:
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini @tonightatdawn
“HOW DOES ONE ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS?
BY SAYING DADA.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME FAMOUS?
BY SAYING DADA.
WITH NOBLE GESTURE AND DELICATE DECENCY. TILL ONE GOES CRAZY. TILL ONE LOSES CONSCIOUSNESS.”
-Hugo Ball, founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in the original Dada manifesto
Right now, insanity is more likely than CONCIOUSNESS with 7 hours to go til Newark in this pressurized tube. (See the reverse: “No Sleep Til Zurich“).
Alas, customs will be easier if I just shut up and write rather than shout DADA over the Atlantic.
I’ll admit, I never had much appreciation for this nonsensical self-declared non-art. I suppose I never appreciated that Duchamp’s upside down urinal precluded me from having to do a handstand in a men’s room to garner that perspective.
So, even though we were staying a few blocks over from it in Zürich’s medieval section, I almost didn’t even care to throw down 5 francs at its birthplace, the Cabaret Voltaire.
5 francs. 4 blocks (maybe). 3 X 10 minutes of film. 2 of us. 1st trip to Dada’s heartland…perhaps it made too much sense to go.
But I relented. And it was well worth every damn CH franc.
If there is no performance on the schedule, the main attraction at Voltaire is the self-start film on Dada’s history. If you’ve studied art history, you already know the basics; Dada was a reaction to the horrors of World War I and the “scientification of life”. In this vein, it was a rejection of the organized principles of art making and was reconciled in different Western art centers such as New York where the “ready-made” was popularized (re-appropriation of every day objects as works of art(?) like the inverse urinal).
Yet, the film superseded my expectations in both form and content.
I entered the ‘crypt’ as they call it (a wine cellar in its previous life); it’s cave-like ceiling is covered with a constellation representing the evolution of Dada. (Hey, a constellation may not be typical but it’s still a form of organization-is it not? Just sayin’.) I hit the ‘English’ button and the film began projecting on a camera shaped screen and everywhere but; more successfully emphasizing the lack of structure valued in Dadaism. I was craning my head to watch the associated words and images being projected across a wall, a corner and above my head.
The film is filled with images and quotes that showcase DADA’s history from its homeland in the neutral zone as the Zürich based artists reacted to the world crumbling beyond Swiss borders, to its geographical spread and it’s influence on the development of new art movements such as surrealism.
After that, I meandered upstairs to look at the performance space with its random art (damn, I still don’t know what to call it if the idea is nonart), and the extensive bar menu.
Their advertised tasting of 15 absenthi should, I would think, effectively highlight the effects of repeating Dada, eh?
Adding to the randomness was the guy who came off the street trying to read the young employee’s fortune while I was browsing the small gift area. She was hesitant, saying she doesn’t subscribe to fortune-telling. He was insistent and told her, when she inquired, that she would only pay if her fortune came true. Asking her about her favorite flowers and to pick a number he reiterated a vague report on a love life to be blossomed and such.
Vague and random and not worth a damn CH franc.
Contemporary Art in Zürich
We happened upon a number of other contemporary galleries-although we had to window shop a few of them as many are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays (like many things in Zürich). We spent the most amount of time in Lumas which hosts a list of global artists; beyond the bright array of 2D works, it’s draw is making current art affordable by selling reproductions in a variety of commercial sizes.
There were also a Cindy Sherman exhibition at KUNSTHAUS ZÜRICH that we were not able to fit in, advertisements for gallery openings and experimental theater throughout the city.
On the river in the old district, we visited a free contemporary art space in an old school building. There were a few pieces that I took a second look at – like the video diptych commentary on the Iraq War that featured one man slowly eating roses and another hitting his solder’s helmet. Perhaps it’s dada alive. But perhaps because I am more a fan of realistic rather than conceptual work, to me the story here unwinds into yada (dada) yada, and then we listened to a street band improvise in the museum’s courtyard for a bit.
And then there’s the pineapple rocket. dada.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
Langstrasse is German for “Long Street” and that it is.
Of course, yours truly, hoofed it.
Every metropolis has its dark underbelly, and Langstrasse is, or at least was, Zurich’s. Once known as the red light district, travel sites now hail it as a Swiss Brooklyn (which really drives my husband nuts). Supposedly it has been fairly well cleansed of the rampant drug use and, ahem, red lights of its past and now it is a diversely populated, hip neighborhood known for its shopping and nightlife.
Switzerland is often considered one of the safest places in our chaotic world, and beyond my ingrained alertness, I felt at ease. Langstrasse was not much different; it had all the edge of today’s East Village in Manhattan except the prostitutes were more easy to identify.
Heading down there in the evening from the Zürich transit hub, the first few blocks appeared to be a quiet middle class neighborhood, but we discovered there was more life deeper into the district. Absorbing all the warmth of the short summer like the rest of the town, we joined everyone who was crowded into the sidewalk seating at a trendier spot, DIE Bar, for a drink from the ink covered wait staff.
We ended the night hanging out the windows at Bagatelle. The dimly lit and eccentrically decorated bar felt like the kind of place you would be cool to know about. When we walked up, there was a lady of the night a few steps in front of a small crowd of young patrons on its porch. We purchased a couple of drinks at the bar where cash was nonchalantly stacked next to the computer. From our perch on the windowsill, we watched the revelers stretch off into the night.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
The Olympics. The World Cup. I thought that was basically it for major international sporting events-or at least I never heard about anything else at home.
Sometimes you have to step outside your borders – virtually or physically – to learn something new.
This summer I loosely followed the Commonwealth Games on the BBC, and now we are enjoying the pre-game celebrations for the European Athletics Championships.
Yes, America, the world sometimes plays games together without you. Didn’t you get that Tweet?
Let’s get schooled.
The first European Athletics Championships were hosted by Italy in 1934. For the 22nd edition, Zürich will be welcoming approximately 1400 competitors from 50 nations Tuesday the 12th of August until the 17th. Besides the long distance completions, spectators will watch all of the events in Letzigrund Stadium.
“That’s what the Swiss do to psyche themselves up!”
Unfortunately, my husband and I will be on our flight back to the States when the games commence, but we are enjoying watching Zürich gear up for them.
Sunday night, we joined in on the festivities; a crowd of revelers dancing to American tracks spun by a DJ. Well after dark, the music was put on pause for a laser light show projected on the face of the Opera House (WATCH IT!!). A tribute to the European Championships and the home athletes, the animations cleverly incorporated a soundtrack, the building’s ornate structure and images of Swiss athletic glories into a mesmerizing show. Not for nothing, the full moon hovering behind a gargoyle adorning the roof was a nice touch.
When we returned the next day, the grounds were in full swing. Besides the obligatory souvenir shop featuring the games’ very happy cow mascot, ‘Cooly,’ there were a few interactive booths opened. We watched a family emulate sprinters on a mini track and adults poised on their backs while grasping a pole to appear as if they were vaulting into the sky via photographic magic.
Das Haus der Schweiz
The House of Switzerland, an ecologically minded showcase of Swiss culture and design has made its debut in Sochi, Milan and now at home in Zürich. The 3-story “home” is still scented by its bare spruce frame and the rustic style is contemporized by rough metallic accents. It’s modular structure makes it transportable and reusable.
Text and graphics printed directly onto the wood details sources of national pride such as Swiss multiculturalism, innovation and ecological awareness.
One of the information panels, “We speak Swiss,” perhaps can be translated into the Swiss tongue is flexible. Since the Swiss Confederation was not formed until the 19th century, the country recognizes 4 languages of its original linguistic groups-German, French, Italian and Romansh and the post identifies that 23.3% of its 8 million plus people hail from other countries around the world. German is predominant in the Zürich area but many posts and pamphlets are also presented in English-including the House of Switzerland-and we were able to converse with most people we encountered.
Zürich appears to reflect the nation’s stats; a bartender at our hotel, the Altstadt called it an international city. The young woman said that although politics has stemmed the flow of immigration, she believes that most Swiss tend to be “open-minded” and folks of all backgrounds are welcomed by the majority of the populace. Walking about the area, we did cross paths with people of many different ethnic backgrounds, some interracial families and LGBT people sans the look of a tourist.
However, our host did say it is mostly native Swiss who hold higher jobs in such industries as banking and many immigrants are in the service sector; this was particularly apparent in grocery stores like The Coop and Migros. Albeit, there may be some income stratification and prices seem exorbitant compared to what I am used to in the States (a couple of British tourists agreed), but perhaps it balances out as a majority of Swiss employers do pay higher rates than most of the world and the unemployment is below 3.5%.
Switzerland and the Zürich Championships boast significant ecologically mindful practices in transportation, wastes and energy. With its extensive railways across the country (that seem as reliable as a Swiss watch in our estimation) and a web of tram-car wires crisscrossing Zürich, “the Swiss are world champions when it comes to rail use…”. The House of Switzerland also claims that although it’s citizens create a lot of waste, none of it ends up in landfills due to high rates of recycling and the fact that they incinerate the rest of garbage for energy.
According to its website, the games’ committee has incorporated a number of efforts to reduce the Zürich Championship’s carbon footprint such as including public transportation fees into the tickets and using clean energy to power the stadium. Most notably to me is their commitment to using existing infrastructure to minimize construction projects (as opposed to the disposable Brazilian World Cup stadium in the Amazon).
In general, although I did see things like bottles littered about, it appears to be at a fair minimum and the cities do seem to put forth significant efforts to maintain cleanliness in public spaces. In addition, the throw away mentality seems to be more confined to American chains as eat-in meals at many fast food spots are served on reusable dishes.
Swiss design goes well beyond Swatch watches and new chocolate bars. Zürich is a celebration of old architecture and a fusion of contemporary design that marries clean lines to functionality. Our sanctuary at the Altstadt Hotel is an example; its decor and furnishings are minimalistic, but it is set in the city’s medieval district.
Yet the pervasiveness of Swiss progress lies in the numbers inked onto the House of Switzerland; 20 native Swiss have earned a Nobel prize. It is second to only the United States and Japan, respectively, in published academic papers and patents. In addition, over 8,000 parents can currently brag about their children perusing Swiss university degrees in the applied sciences.
The House of Switzerland is a self-celebration of the Confederation’s culture, so I’m sure there is more nuances to the facts. Still with a lifespan second only to Japan (again) and high ranking on happiness lists, there must be something to be learned from Swiss society. If you have lived in Switzerland, I would love for you to share your inner perspective.
In the meantime, go Switzerland!
Cool Runnings. WALT DISNEY PICTURES., 1993.
“Ecological Sustainability.” Ecological Sustainability. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.
“Swiss Facts.” News. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
We are writing at a table in front of our hotel and an inebriated Spaniard -who works at a Romanian power plant-has taken up residence next to us with a beer cursing about Obama and Putin and his daughter for not yet having a good job. He keeps apologizing, “I’m sorry about my mouth,” and then he starts anew, “This hippie shit. Everybody’s nice and you’ll see that here…it’s f—ing stupid.”
I keep typing. My husband’s more patient. The drunken monologue, if nothing else, is an interesting end note to a day of rambling about.
We had started on a stroll along Lake Zürich in the late morning, stopping to eat lunch on a rock slab where folks were taking dips and sunbathing. We looked over a cartoonish map while we munched and picked out a picturesque bridge -Holzsteg Rapperswil-as a goal for a trek outside the city limits.
We walked and walked through neighborhoods of picturesque homes and cafés lining cobble streets leading back to the lake. Across the busy thoroughfare, apartment buildings and stores climb the side of a hill up to the train tracks. We paused to lounge in small public parks on the shore and peered around the lake’s bend to see of we could catch sight of the now fabled bridge. We walked on, until after 3 hours, the suburbs gave way to wineries and goat pastures.
Finally, we saw a sign for the bridge’s locale that gave the missing perspective to our ‘map’: Rapperswil: 23 kilometers
Damn. I just heard our new buddy nail dramatically nail my inner recollection, “It’s a cruel world.” We turned back towards the city.
But I suppose the world is not so cruel, because we were able to take cover before the downpour and recover our tracks in 15 minutes by way of the city’s water taxi.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
Yes, I swiped a line from the Beastie Boys, but I’m not surprised by my delirium. When you fast forward through time by flying through the night, I feel that your ramblings can be forgiven. Ear plugs, eye masks, a meditation podcast and the dimming of the cabin to simulate nap time never lulls me to sleep with a crooked neck in coach.
So, no, no sleep until Zurich…sleeps.
As the cabin stirred again with stewards, I filled the window with my face to watch as we caught up to the sun’s rise somewhere over the eastern Atlantic. The carpet of clouds looked like ocean waves caught in the midst of their wake while the sun burned the edges between clouds and space.
Eventually a crisp blue overtook the darkness. I put aside my inner squeamishness for the sea of single serving package waste and the stream of jet fuel that spewed behind us to reflect on the pinkish hues of the cotton below us. We are suspended in the heavens.
It is still fantastical to me. And utterly unnatural.
Soon we were descending amongst the clouds as they softly whisked about the craft. Dropping closer to the Earth, it appeared like the crisp perfection of a model train landscape. Modern wind turbines dotted the waters, homes wrangled into towns, trees clustered into forests and tiny animals grazed on swaths of astro green farmland.
After debarking in Amsterdam, my husband and I were both patted down for our connecting flight (apparently, taking off your shoes is not necessary anymore?). The short trip over to Zurich is uneventful and I really couldn’t peek at the landscape as we land because there is a stranger in the window seat.
Once we retrieved our luggage in Switzerland, we were allowed to walk right out into the country. I found this to be just as unnerving as when my husband and I visited Spain by means of a layover in Germany. This, as I finally looked up today, is due to the Schengen Agreement through which participating European countries share law enforcement information. Albeit trivial, I will admit that we slightly begrudge having Dutch and German stamps in our passports rather than those that represent our travels, but we can’t really hate an opportunity to avoid the hassles of customs.
So, yes, we walked right onto Swiss soil and found a train to the Zurich’s main station. First impressions? Zurich has the feel of an old European metropolis; quaint old buildings on winding streets interspersed with slick, contemporary design, the particular sound of their emergency vehicles, and the smell of cigarettes that reminds me of how absent they have become in New York over the past decade.
One of my first photos, not surprisingly, we found later to be an icon on the tourist map- but you can’t ignore this large curvy woman hanging from the rafters of the transportation hub. Searching for a cheap, first night dinner was a quest as inexpensive offerings are difficult to find at least so far. We settled for Nordsee, a Swiss fast food chain, and it far outranked Red Lobster with its fresh fish options laid out on ice. Although the Swiss-made chocolate bar from the grocery store for dessert was tasty, it turned out to be owned by Nestle.
The highlight so far is our hotel in the old section of Zurich, a boutique spot whose rooms each honor their own persona. The plaque outside our room features Slovenian poet and author Ilma Rakusa. The decor is an article about her in German and a photograph of what appears to be her drawing words on the series of colored rectangles on the far wall.
Right now I’m sitting next to the open windows-yes, open hotel windows, my fellow Americans-on the wide sill; the air is cool and crisp, I can see the clock tower reflected in the river, and I’m listening to chatter from the cafe below, the church bells ringing in unison across the city and a Swiss hip hop artist in the distance.
If my eyes don’t just fall closed for exhaustion, I am counting on Zurich to lull me to sleep.