Zurich Switzerland: Rural Urbanity

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Going to sleep on the train in Barcelona and waking in Zurich Switzerland was startling. What a contrast, from the sienna landscape of Spain alongside blue Mediterranean waters, to the lush green mountainous panorama of Switzerland along glacier-fed lakes. It’s hard to believe one night of sleep can result in such a stark change of scenery – in more ways than one.

See also: The Swiss Life – Random Observations

train in Zurich

As with so many stops along the way during the Ultimate Train Challenge, my time in Zurich was altogether too short. But it was still nice to get a chance to stay with friends (and sleep in a bed that’s not moving!) for a couple of nights.

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Suburban Zurich: Country in the City

My Zurich digs were located about 15 minutes by the S-Bahn (Zurich’s local train) from the central station. Although I expected a suburban neighbourhood, I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

“My hands are tied with the baby. Just keep walking on that street and I’ll send my daughter to out to come find you,” said my friend over the phone when I called to say I was having trouble finding her place from the train station.

I rounded the corner to find her daughter – all of four years old – walking towards me.

Four years old!

This wouldn’t happen in any major city in Canada, I’m pretty sure.

But here – 15 minutes from downtown Zurich, I felt no sense of proximity to a major city. The block of houses my friends live in is filled with children who all play together, running from house to house and yard to yard. At mealtime, parents just yell out the widow for their kids to come home, or knock on the neighbour’s door to find them.

I had thought these days were long gone. But here in Switzerland it’s still a refreshing way of life.

suburban Zurich, looks more like the countryside
Nanikon, Switzerland, near Zurich

This scene backs on to farmers fields, forests, and looks out towards the mountains in the distance. Beside charming narrow roads with quaint (charming and quaint: such annoyingly cliché yet appropriate words) tudor-style houses are yards with cows and chickens. Literally – next to the sidewalk.

rural and urban, juxtaposed in Zurich

And I’m told that this juxtaposition of rural to suburban life is all over Switzerland.

One Day to Explore

Zurich panorama

My day of arrival to Zurich was little more than an exercise in finding my new digs, reconnecting with my friend (who I hadn’t seen in over 15 years), and getting some work accomplished. Making time for work is part of the time-management balancing act that constantly happens on the road.

So on my sedond – and last – day in Switzerland, I headed into Zurich’s centre to explore. I had the great fortune to meet up with another friend (who I met at Mana Retreat last year), who showed me the ropes.

And of course to celebrate my short (and first) time in Switzerland, we had to do some typically Swiss things, like eating Raclette:

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, eating raclette in Zurich

…and chocolate!

Swiss chocolate sample, please?
Swiss chocolate sample, please?

Switzerland or Sweden?

During the Kultur festival in Stockholm last month, I watched a cabaret performance featuring a couple of girls who were playing stereotypical Americans.

Ooh! We’re so excited to be here in Sweden, the capital of Stockholm! You Swiss people are just amazing!”

Although these garish blunders were designed to get a laugh, I’m astonished at the number of people who do confuse Switzerland with Sweden. Look at a map folks! They aren’t anywhere near each other, nor are they culturally very similar.

This ires locals too.

My friend (originally from Canada but having lived in Switzerland for almost 20 years) commiserated when I made this observation. She rolled her eyes; “Yeah, I get lines like ‘so is everybody blonde in Switzerland?’ No guys, that’s Sweden. We’re Switzerland. You know – cuckoo clocks and chocolate. Get it straight!”

Having now been to both Sweden and Switzerland I know I’ll never mix the two up again (if I ever once did). They are each very different, and gloriously unique.

(Oh yeah, and like a million hours by train apart. Just saying.)

charming downtown Zurich

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9 thoughts on “Zurich Switzerland: Rural Urbanity”

  1. Ah raclette – yummers! I’ve made it at home (w/ a raclette melter as in your pic) but my first was in Switzerland – at a restaurant where they hold a huge half wheel of cheese in the flames of the fireplace, and repeatedly scrape a bit of the golden, melted cheese into your plate. So very charming!

  2. LOVE raclette. My sister-in-law in Basel always makes it for us when we visit.

    Your experience of Zurich sounds very similar to how I experience Basel – it’s so close to get into what feels rural and so safe, too. I’m a big fan of Switzerland!

  3. @Dyanne – What an amazing way to eat Raclette! Jealous! 🙂

    @Nancy & Shawn – Two friends, actually! I felt very lucky that they live so close together.

    @Amanda – Yes, I’d have expected it of Basel, but not necessarily Zurich. Too bad Switzerland is so expensive though…that’s the only down-side.

    @Henry – Thanks!

  4. Truth:

    I have a son in Swissland… when I was learning editing and negative matching in 1972, there was a girl on the sixth floor, named Rainbow, who worked for the photo processing lab there, and she and I would get together… Together… on east tenth street and second ave… bathtub in the kitchen and toilet out in the hall… late night sax player upstairs…

    we had a baby boy, and eight days later they caught a plane back to Swissland… I guess you could imagine the look of confusion I portrayed went I went over there on the ninth day and found out she left…

    Good things do come in little packages, and I thank the Lord for that… I was literally walking on air… I was lucky enough to see him that first week of his life, even brought over a high-boy chest that I got on Hudson St from an antiques dealer, that I got for 80 bux… I have his address and a few pix of him, in Zurich, if you get the chance to slide by… had the chest for a while, but then that too migrated down to my belly…

    Marriages, mortgages and mosquitoes aren’t the best things in my life it seems… why hasn’t someone come up with a marriage spray yet?

    BTW, don’t be offended, but that ‘mmm…raclette!’ pic… you’re flipping gorgeous!!!

  5. Hi,

    A lovely post and showing me insight and information about Zurich that I didn’t know, but am glad I now do. Hope this message finds you well wherever you are on your train journey.

    Best Regards


  6. Hello! I’d love to know what neighborhood your friend live(d) in, if you’d be willing to share? I may get a job in Zürich and would love this sort of neighborhood!

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