The couple on a bench by Lake Zürich is surrounded by swans and ducks. The birds neither splash as they dive to feed on molluscs, nor cackle as they approach the humans in the hope of a cracker. Locked in a kiss, the lovers pay them no heed. The birds give up and withdraw soundlessly. I sit with a fellow journalist, Rama, on a bench separated from the couple’s bench by an assortment of flowers, and watch the scene unfold. She, meanwhile, records a time-lapse of the seamless movement of the trams on the nearby Quaibrücke bridge. Thus begin our respective romances with Zürich.
It is mid-afternoon and we are fresh from a media visit to the Swiss countryside. Since our flight back takes off late in the night, we have taken a train to Zürich Central Station to wander around its surrounding areas.
Craving coffee, we walk along the eastern side of the Limmat river that flows through Zürich, passing a ‘love-lock’ bridge, Mühlesteg. Our GPS tells us to turn at the intersection in Weinbergstrasse, but Kleine Freiheit (‘little freedom’) is right there—a coffee shop fashioned from a huge red container, located in a triangular compound enveloped by buzzing roads. Inside, the flora blocks a lot of the cacophony, and customers even savour books with cappuccinos. As I sip my frappé (CHF 5 a pop), the city noises fade away.
Just up the road is Polyterrasse at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, with a panorama unlike any other—the whole city is visible, old and new, and not split by the river. We spot all four major churches, built in their Gothic and Romanesque styles. Their clock towers remind me how short of time we are. We head to a part of the city that, from Polyterrasse, appears completely medieval—Die Altstadt (‘the old town’).
Since my fellow traveller prefers the main road and I prefer the alleys, we shift between the two. Going southwards, we slow down outside interesting shops (Sweed, which stands for sweet days + weed, is one). When it begins to rain, we keep to the backstreets, where generic European homes give way to arched buildings with intricate stucco work, surrounded with contorted cobblestone pathways and colourful walls.
At the Opernhaus Zürich, or the Zürich Opera House, is a paved area scattered with chairs for people to view the magnificent façade. A cyclist parks her bike right in the middle, puts on headphones, and settles down to sunbathe on the ground. Oh, how I envy her.
Across the Quaibrücke, west of the Limmat, things turn contemporary. Bahnhofstrasse is a modern shopping district, and though fringing the old town, filled with relatively higher buildings. Zara, Les Ambassadeurs and Victorinox’s flagship store replace the quaint cafés and dingy walkways, though when we walk by the St Peter evangelical church, we are back to the past. Zürich transcends eras with ease. Mostly I stare at the buildings, but the tune of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ makes my eyes dart across the road to a man playing an accordion. A toddler, tiny as they get, drops a coin in his hat, as the father stands by and listens.
Rama and I, searching for the Lindenhof viewpoint, enter the wrong alley. It opens to a house with perhaps the best view of the Limmat. Next to it is a shop with beautiful wax figurines. It becomes my favourite site in the whole excursion—we had to lose our way to find it.
Lindenhof, when we finally get there, mirrors Polyterrasse in function, but comes with its own character. It is filled with trees, even if they block half the cityscape, and, at the other end, there are two giant chessboards. When Rama asks a middle-aged duo, amid their game, permission for a photograph, one of them says, “Oh, sure. You’re only one of a hundred thousand to ask.” And, as she does, he adds, “But the prettiest of them all.”
The same goes for Zürich. In many ways, it is a quintessential European city made of similar ingredients as the others. Yet the final soufflé is the most delicious.