Aside from wildlife, my other love is travel. This year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work out in Switzerland from January to April with a collaborator at the University of Zürich (UZH) Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology. I will be dedicating a later blog post to the lab and their excellent work, but for now I wanted to share a little about my time living in Switzerland.
When anyone asks me about Zürich, I usually reply with the same few descriptive words: efficient, futuristic, clean and beautiful. I have never experienced such an organised place – public transport in Zürich (and indeed the whole of Switzerland) runs like clockwork. The city itself feels almost futuristic, with its smooth interconnected network of electric buses and trams. And everything is so clean! I once saw an ad on the tram that proudly declared the Swiss clean their public transport more times a day than you brush your teeth (that is to say, at least three times). I even saw a man carefully washing the glass covering the timetable at the bus stop with soapy water.
It is safe to say the Swiss love their transport. But if there’s one thing the Swiss seem to love more than transport, it is cheese. Cheese is everywhere. Especially fondue cheese. In some supermarkets, there’s even a separate display stand just for fondue cheeses. Hands down, the most Swiss thing I encountered during my time in Switzerland was a “fondue tram”, which is a great combination of both transport and cheese. Chocolate was also present everywhere, and was as delicious as you would expect. At one point I couldn’t enter a shop without coming across towers of chocolate eggs and rabbits. But then again, it was Easter.
Switzerland is a land of multiple languages. Zürich belongs to the “German part” of Switzerland, however in Geneva they speak French. And in Ticino, the canton (similar to a county) bordering with Italy, they speak Italian. As if this isn’t confusing enough, different cantons have different dialects. For example, Bernese German sounds quite different to Zuri German. While in Switzerland, I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the German language, with its neutral nouns and habit of putting words together to form something exceedingly long and seemingly unpronounceable. (Try finding your way around German place names like Zehntenhausplatz and Strassenverkehrsamt…). I have started learning, but so far have only mastered a few words like Kohlmeise (Great tit, my study species) and Kartoffelsalat (potato salad). Don’t worry, I’m working on it.
The Swiss people are fairly reserved. However, they are surprisingly liberal on issues like assisted suicide, drugs and prostitution. Nevertheless, there are some rules to which everyone must follow. For example, jaywalking is not allowed and if caught by the Polizei you could be fined 180 CHF (£130). Nearly every house in Switzerland seems to have a war-style bunker (the Swiss are prepared for everything), there’s a strict rota for the house washing machine and you cannot recycle on Sundays. You also have to pay for special council approved refuse sacks in Switzerland to dispose of rubbish in, which cost around £1 each. A great incentive to recycle, if you ask me, though I can’t see it being implemented in the UK…
Switzerland is breathtakingly beautiful, and Lake Zürich under evening lighting is particularly stunning. I can’t wait to visit again in the summer, when it is warm enough to swim in the lake.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Switzerland (and even if you’re not), I recommend the exceptionally well-written and witty book “Swiss Watching” by Diccon Brewes. It’s a great eye-opener to the history and culture of this fascinating land-locked island of a country.