My Swiss New Year

Zürich, SWITZERLAND //  Thursday December 30, 2010 – Saturday January 1, 2011

A little over 12 hours after my plane from Portugal to France touched down in Lyon, I found myself on a bus, starting the first leg of my trip to Zürich, Switzerland!  Due to EasyJet’s limited flight schedule, I was forced to return to France before New Year’s Eve. Otherwise, if I had a say in the matter, I would have loved to have spent the holiday with family. But, I had worked out a good plan B with fellow language assistant, Corina.  After a mini Mediterranean tour, she had planned to stop in Zürich for a few days, and invited me to join her.

By 11 pm the night before my departure, I had unpacked one suitcase, and packed another. My iPod was charged, and my passport, train tickets and leftover Swiss francs from my first trip to Switzerland were ready. Just to be on the safe side, before going to bed, I decided to check the status of my bus and trains.

My travel itinerary looked like this:

Bus: 6:50 am – 7:27 am || Mâcon -> Bourg-en-Bresse

TGV: 8:03 am – 11:10 am || Bourg-en-Bresse -> Mulhouse

Train: 11:38 am – 1:00 pm || Mulhouse -> Zürich

I logged onto the SNCF website, entered in the bus number from my ticket, and to my horror, the bus had been cancelled! 😯  Thinking I had made a mistake typing the numbers into the search field, I tried a second time; the result was the same. I began to panic! I looked up alternate routes to no avail. I decided to try to search for the bus one last time; but this time, instead of typing in the number printed on my ticket, I entered in the route and time details. Bingo! That seemed to have done the trick; my bus, along with my 2 trains, were on schedule, and I was finally able to get some much needed sleep.

“I’m sorry! I don’t speak Swiss German!!” // Thursday December 30, 2010

I’m lucky if I got more than 5 hours of sleep last night; after my near-crisis, it took me a while to settle down and fall asleep, only to have to wake up at 5:00 am to catch a bus. My walk to the train station was a lot easier this time around (no snow), and my bus actually left right on time. Bourg-en-Bresse (pronounced “Bourk-en-Bresse”), is located in the Rhône-Alpes region of France and is World famous for its chicken! I’m not exactly sure what makes this chicken so special, but if the price at the grocery store is any indication of its quality, this is some mighty good chicken! Due to its close proximity to Mâcon, many of my students are from Bresse. So, when school resumed in January, I told them I had visited Bresse, albeit just the train station and only for 30 minutes. I will never forget the comment one of my students made: “And you survived?”- (in English by the way). It made me laugh! I’m still not sure what he meant by it though… Could I have been attacked by a giant mutant Burgien chicken? Hmm…

After “surviving” those 30 minutes in Bresse, I was on the road err… rails again 😉 There really isn’t much to do on a 3 hour long train journey, especially when travelling alone. Ideally I would have taken a nap, considering I didn’t get much sleep the night before, but I wasn’t comfortable with leaving my bag unattended. If I didn’t suffer from motion sickness, I would have read a book. So, with no other option, I put my headphones in, turned my iPod on, and hit shuffle. Before I knew it, I had arrived in Mulhouse. Mulhouse is located in eastern France, in the Alsace region, and is near the Swiss and German borders. It was now past 11 am, and I was starving! Luckily, the train station in Mulhouse is large enough to house more than just a ticket counter. I passed on the restaurant (no time, and no money), and bought a sandwich from a “sandwicherie” instead. While eating my lunch, I noticed that my train would be 25 minutes delayed: because of the slippery conditions on the tracks that day, trains had to adjust their speeds accordingly, explaining the delay. My train arrived at noon, and the 3rd and final leg of my journey to Zürich was now underway!

About 20 minutes into the trip, the train stopped in Basel, Switzerland for what I was told was going to be a passport check. But, 10 minutes later, the train pulled out of the station and my passport remained uninspected. Border patrol really doesn’t exist in Europe… 😕

Just after 1:20 pm, my train pulled into Zürich Hauptbanhof – “banhof” is German for “train station”. I don’t speak any German; the words Frau, banhof, kinder, auf Wiedersehen, gesundheit and scheiße represent the extent of my knowledge of the language. So, it’s safe to say that I felt a little out of place the moment I stepped off the train. Corina’s train from Italy was scheduled to arrive about an hour after my arrival, so, to kill time, I walked around the train station. I browsed the bookstore for a few minutes – I even considered buying a dictionary, but decided against it in the end; I was going to learn Swiss German on my own! 😛 – I wandered into the nearby souvenir shop, before eventually finding the tourist office, where I picked up a map and a city guide.

Corina’s train arrived right on time. Tired from travelling and with our bags in tow, we set out to find our hotel. We walked for what felt like forever, and at one point, we were stopped by a group of locals who, I guess thinking we were lost, asked us where we were headed. We explained that we were looking for a certain street, and after exchanging discouraging looks, one turned to us and informed us that the street we were looking for “is very far away”. Left with no other choice, we resumed walking. After walking in what felt like circles for an hour, we found our hotel! Once settled, we devised a much easier route to return downtown.

We spent our first night in Zürich wandering around the downtown core. First, we walked down the beautifully illuminated Bahnhofstrasse (we determined that “strasse” means “street”), a street home to many fashion boutiques. We turned down another street and found ourselves standing in front of a well on Rennweg. We walked further, and located St. Peter Kirche (Kirche = church). A little further down, we located Fraumünster (former abbey/convent) which is located across the Limmat River from Grossmünster (a former cathedral). This church with its very distinctive spire dominates Zürich’s skyline.


We began to feel hungry, so every time we walked by a restaurant, we checked out the menu… and quickly walked by – if it wasn’t the prices that drove us away, it was the fact that everything was written in German!! We wound up at the train station again. There were a few restaurants there, including a Burger King, which we decided would be our fallback if we couldn’t find anything else :P. As much as I really wanted to eat at Burger King 😉 we decided to try the Brasserie Federal. We walked in, and sat down at the first free table we saw. A waiter came by shortly afterwards to hand us a menu… a menu written entirely in German!! We honestly gave reading the menu our best effort, but the only words we were able to figure out were those for the days of the week! The waiter came back to our table to take our orders. We asked him if he spoke English, and he replied “a little”. We thought we had picked out our dinners until we asked the waiter what it was. Not knowing the word in English, he opted to show us what it meant. He then proceeded to point to his knee!! How does one prepare, not to mention eat knee?!?? Noticing that we obviously don’t speak German, he asked us if we wanted to look at the English menu! – NOW you clue in?! 😐 With the English menu in hand, selecting our meals became a lot less scary. We both decided to try the Senne Rösti = bacon, fried eggs, and raclette cheese. Dinner was quite delicious; but it’s almost impossible to be let down by raclette, after all, it’s a dish consisting of cheese and potatoes, which are quite possibly the best foods known to mankind 😉 AND, just when you think it couldn’t get any better, it is sometimes served with bacon bits!  – A truly delicious culinary masterpiece… yum!

Zürich Hauptbanhof and Banhofstrasse decorated with Holiday lights

After a very satisfying dinner, we waddled back to our hotel. I switched on the television set, and to my excitement I found a hockey game! You have to understand, I went from watching a hockey game almost every other day back home, to watching none since my arrival in France. To say the least, I’ve been hockey deprived for the last 3 months. And, to top it off, the game I got to watch (albeit, the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period), was a Spengler Cup contest between HC Davos and CANADA! Canada, of course, went on to win the game by a score of 4-0. 😀 After the game, and after a very busy day, I tucked myself into bed.

He shoots, he scores!

NYE 2010 // Friday December 31, 2010

The next morning, Corina and I walked to Lake Zürich (Zürichsee) where we found a mini flower clock. After being let down by the one in Geneva (it was closed due to vandalism), we were happy to find this one, even if it was small and surrounded by a chain-link fence (probably to discourage would-be vandals). We noticed on our map that Zürich’s jet d’eau wasn’t too far from where we were, so we decided to walk over. Like the jet d’eau in Geneva, this one was also closed 😦 – why do we have such bad luck with Swiss water fountains?? – Feeling a little let down, we decided to take our tour indoors.

  • Zunfthaus Zur Meisen – This guild house built 250 years ago houses a Swiss porcelain and faience collection which date back to the 18th century.
  • Grossmünster – (“great minster”) This Romanesque church is one of the most famous landmarks in Zurich. It’s slightly amusing name is what lead us there… 😛 The stained-glass windows in this church are particularly interesting. Since 2009, stained-glass windows designed by German artist, Sigmar Polke have decorated the church. Photography was not permitted inside the church, so I was unfortunately unable to take pictures of the windows. Thank goodness for the World Wide Web! Check out the windows here.
  • St Peter Kirche – It’s not hard to find St. Peter’s Church; the clock face on its tower, with a diameter of 8.7 meters, is the largest church clock face in Europe! Inside the church, we sat down in one of the pews and listened as the organist serenaded visitors with hymns.
  • Helmhaus Zurich – This museum displays contemporary art by Swiss artists
  • Züricher Spielzeugmuseum – We had looked forward to visiting Zürich’s Toy Museum all day. Our hopes were dashed though, when we arrived to find it closed. 😦 The only toys we got to see that day were model airplanes and Christmas decorations in the museum’s display window.
  • Kunsthaus Zürich – Zurich’s premier art gallery; its collection is composed of works by Swiss, as well as international artists. Don’t tell the museum staff that I snuck a photo of one of Monet’s lilypads paintings… ssshhhh! 😉

St. Peter Kirche clock tower

After a busy day of sightseeing, we returned to our hotel room to prepare ourselves for the evening, which if you have been keeping track of the dates, was New Year’s Eve! We returned downtown to search for a restaurant to have our last meal of 2010. Walking along one of the main streets, Corina spotted an English Pub! – no mystery food for us tonight. 😉 In honour of NYE, The Lion was offering free beer that night for every karaoke song sung. I know you’re all probably wondering if I went onstage, and the answer to your question is, no, I did not. I have done karaoke in the past, so fear was not the problem. My explanation is simple really; I just wasn’t in the mood, and besides, the group of Brits behind us were loving the mic, and I wouldn’t want to deny them the pleasure of belting out their renditions of late ‘80s – early ‘90s pop hits, now would I?! 😛

After dinner, we returned to Lake Zurich where all the NYE festivities were taking place. Set up along the river edge were mini concert stages, food vender carts, and makeshift clubs and bars. We walked up and down the river taking in each site. Finally, as the minutes began to wind down, we scoped out a spot to watch the fireworks display. Unlike Toronto’s annual New Year’s Eve Bash, there was no countdown; we did our own. And the group of Swiss teenagers beside us, rang in the New Year by first drinking a toast, and then by smashing the Champagne bottles on the road – why??? The first fireworks went off well past midnight – we had even begun to wonder whether or not there would be a show… There was one, and it was spectacular, all 20 minutes of it! – even despite the presence of fog over the river. After the last firework went off, and the streetlights came back on (they had been turned off during the firework show), EVERYONE flooded the main street up to the train station. Normally we would have walked the entire way back to the hotel, but it was late, and thought we’d be much safer taking the tram instead.
Before heading to bed that night, we communicated with our families back home, for me in Canada, and for Corina, in Argentina. We also had to pack our bags because we were checking out in the morning.

“Crazy Train” // Saturday January 1, 2011

Before catching our train back to France, there was one last place we wanted to visit, the Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), which is located conveniently across from the train station. The museum is regarded as one of the most important museums in the world; one needs to dedicate hours in this building in order to truly appreciate its grandeur. Unfortunately, we had less than 2 hours. 😦 We lost track of time exploring the exhibits on the history of Switzerland and nearly missed our train! – well, not really, we thought our train was to leave at one time, when in fact it was scheduled to leave at a different, later time… After a slight confusion having to deal with which cabin we were supposed to sit in (trains in Europe tend to split, so half will continue down the current path, while the other continues down a new path), we were off!

We had quite a long journey ahead of us:

11:36 – 13:32 || Zürich -> Mulhouse

14:02 – 14:36 || Mulhouse -> Belfort

15:35-16:52 || Belfort -> Besançon-Viotte

17:11-18:19 || Besançon-Viotte -> Dijon

18:33-19:45 || Dijon -> Mâcon

In between these major stops, our trains stopped in multiple cities. At one point, I even received a text message from Orange, my cell phone provider, informing me that I crossed the German border! – This was not the case, however. When I returned home, I went on Google Maps, and looked up the city we had travelled through just before I received the message. I was able to zoom in enough to view the rail tracks and discovered that the tracks are located right on the Rhine River which is shared by both Switzerland and Germany, thus explaining why I had received the message “welcoming” me to Germany.

Silly phone, I'm not in Germany!

Back to the multiple cities our trains stopped in. Corina and I kept a list, and, on that day, we visited a grand total of 37 cities/towns! Here’s my list:

Leg #1 – Zurich to Mulhouse
Zürich : 11:36 am
Baden : 11:49 am
Brugg : 11:56 am
Frick : 12:12 pm
Stein-Säckingen : 12:19 pm
Rhein Felden : 12:29 pm
Basel : 12:42 pm
Saint Louis : 1:13 pm
Mulhouse : 1:32 pm

Leg #2 – Mulhouse to Belfort
Mulhouse : 2:02 pm
Zillisheim : 2:05 pm
Iillfurth : 2:08 pm
Altkirch : 2:13 pm
D? : 2:19 pm
Montreux-Vieux : 2:23
Belfort : 2:36 pm

Leg #3 – Belfort to Besançon-Viotte
Hericourt : 3:40 pm
Montbeliard : 3:45 pm
Isle sur le Doubs : 4:00 pm
Clerval : 4:09 pm
Baume les Dames : 4 :22 pm
Roche lez Beaupre : 4 :39 pm
Besançon-Viotte : 4 :47 pm

Leg #4 – Besançon-Viotte to Dijon
Besançon-Viotte : 5 :10 pm
St. Vite : 5:21 pm
Dole : 5:42 pm
Auxonne : 5:52 pm
Genlis : 6 :02 pm
Dijon : 6 :15 pm

In Dijon, we learned that our train which was supposed to take us directly to Mâcon had been cancelled! The train was only going as far as Chalon-sur-Saône, and from there, we were told to take another train to Mâcon! I bet you know what I was thinking that day: “I never want to see another train again!!” 😛

Leg #5 – Dijon to Chalon-sur-Saône
Dijon : 6:29 pm
Gevrey-Chambertin : 6:38 pm
Vouget ? : 6:42 pm
Nuits-St-Georges : 6:45 pm
Corgoloin : 6:49 pm
Beaune : 6:55 pm
Meursault : 7:00 pm
Chagny : 7 :05 pm
Chalon-sur-Saône : 7 :16 pm

Leg #6 – Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon (FINALLY!)
Chalon-sur-Saône : 7:27 pm
Tournus : 7:42 pm
Mâcon : 7 :59 pm

6 trains, 37 cities, and 8 hours and 26 minutes later, we were finally home! It was quite an adventure to start the New Year and I hope it’s a sign of things to come 😉


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