As you may know from reading my last blog post, I have spent the last few months working out in Switzerland at the University of Zürich. Being a complete newbie to Switzerland, when I wasn’t in the lab I took every opportunity to explore the country and its surrounding areas.
My first day out of Zürich was to Bern, Switzerland’s unofficial capital. A short train ride from Zürich HB took me to a beautiful city lined with cobbled streets, neatly set on a river bend – almost as though it was deliberately arranged that way for the postcards. An old friend of mine is a resident in Bern, who kindly offered to give me a grand city tour. This way I got to know some curious things about the city. For instance, one of the main attractions of the city is a fountain statue of an ogre eating small children. Neat.
Also, did you know that Bern is home to three captive bears? I didn’t either, but apparently this is a nod to the folk legend of Duke of Zähringen Berchtold V, the founder of Bern, who vowed to name the city after the first animal he came across. Which, you guessed it, was a bear. Subsequently, a bear features on the coat of arms of Bern. During my brief visit, I was lucky enough to see one of the bears venture out of hibernation. Bit bizarre really, keeping three bears (with no Goldilocks in sight either), but then again, this is Switzerland.
My next day trip was to Lucerne, one of the main tourist destinations of the Swiss nation. I had aimed to go on a sunny day, but unfortunately the weather forecast had let me down (though according to a Swiss friend, this was my own fault for using a non-Swiss weather app). Although the weather was cloudy, the beauty of Lucerne still shone through and I thoroughly enjoyed strolling about over the Kapellbrücke (Chapel bridge) and through the pretty old town.
I did manage to get lost whilst looking for the famous Löwendenkmal lion monument of Lucerne. Unlike the live bears of Bern, the lion of Lucerne is carved from rock, and is depicted as mortally wounded to commemorate the Swiss guards who died at the Tuileries Palace Paris during the French Revolution, in 1972. Mark Twain once described it as the “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world” – and I’m inclined to agree with him.
One thing that I noticed about Lucerne was the sheer abundance of watch shops dotted about the streets. But this makes sense – Geneva may be the home for watch makers, but Lucerne is where the tourists are, and as such here is where most Swiss watches are sold.
One of the perks of living in Switzerland is that you’re never too far away from a mountain. One day in late February, members of the Insitute of Pharmacology & Toxicology at UZH (plus me) had a work “skii-day” out, taking a coach trip to a resort in Flims, Graubünden. Having never clicked into a pair of skiis in my life, I was a little nervous to try it out in case of injury or worse, making a fool of myself. Surprisingly, I found skiing to be much like ice skating with really long feet. I wasn’t too bad at it.
Although I spent the whole day in the “Winter Wonderland” skii playground surrounded by small kids (who were out-skiing and falling over much less than me), I had a super time. And the mountain view from the chair lift was fantastic.
My last venture out of Zürich was to the quiet resort of Beckenried, in the canton of Nidwalden. The town is situated along the shores of Lake Lucerne, and the waterfront there is one of the most peaceful and stunning places I have ever seen. I could have just stood by the still waters of the lake at the foot of the mountains for hours. But instead, we took a quick cable car up to Klewenalp, where the panoramic views over the lake were incredible.
During my stay, I managed to travelled through 14 out of the 26 Swiss cantons in total. Next time, I hope to discover more of Switzerland by travelling over to the “French side” to Lausanne and Geneva, and also to check out the beautiful region of lakes and mountains near Interlaken!