One experience not to be missed is the traditional Christmas markets in Continental Europe. In 2015, we headed to the Christmas markets in Berlin and Gothenberg but only after Christmas. In 2016, we got in early and headed back to Zurich to visit our friend and join in the festivities.
As per usual weekend travels, we arrived late on Friday night and headed straight to ourbut were amazed by the efficiency of the Swiss transport from the airport into town. I get so jealous of anyone who lives in a city where the airport is only a 15 minute train ride away.
In the morning we woke early as our friend had organised a zip car to take on a road trip. We had never used this kind of service before, but it was absolutely genius! The car was parked just around the corner from where we were staying, all you had to do was swipe your card, then you were in and away. Much more convenient once you had been set up as a driver than bothering with hiring a car.
We headed off towards Lucerne for the day. It was bitterly cold when we got there as a lot of the city was still in the shadow of the mountain, but when you got into the sun near the edge of the lake, it was glorious.
The city had quite a different feel to Zurich as the traditional wooden framed buildings and bridges were a lot more prominent. Again, the water quality was outstanding, something that we marvel at every time we are in Switzerland as we are so used to the muck that is the Thames.
There were a number of markets set up along the river so we mooched around them for a while. One of the main things they were selling was fresh Christmas wreaths and all of the equipment and foliage to make your own if you wanted. If I lived there, that is absolutely what I would do with my weekends around Christmas.
We stopped for lunch at a burger place – totally not Swiss at all, but we were pretty hungry and there were not a lot of options for places to eat.
After lunch we headed around the lake towards the town of Weggis from where we would catch the cable car up to Rigi Kaltbad. The cable car surprised us as it was just for a short ride up the mountain and ended up costing CHF45 per person! This was one of many ‘yep, we certainly are in Switzerland’ moments on the trip.
At the top of the cable car you get spectacular views out over Lake Lucerne and the beautiful alps behind. Even though we were there in December, there was minimal snow on the alps, so I can only imagine how magical everything would look covered in snow. Rigi Kaltbad is a spa with a number of indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, herbal steam rooms etc. This place was very very expensive for what it was. The one complaint I would have other than the price is that the pools were a strange temperature – a little bit less than body temperature so you were never cold, but it was not quite as relaxing as sitting in a hot pool. My favourite part was sitting in the outdoor pool, leaning on the edge and looking out at the spectacular view. The sun was shining and the pool was perfectly positioned to be nice and sheltered. There was also a herbal steam room which was similar to a sauna except it had glass walls and the steam was permeated with lavender and other fragrant herbs. It was quite an experience.
After the spa, we grabbed a beer and wandered down the forest track to watch the sun set over the lake. This was spectacular. The scenery in Switzerland never ceases to blow my mind. It is just on another level to anywhere else in Europe.
When we arrived back in Zurich it was time to hit the Christmas markets. Our friend took us on a tiki-tour of the best markets in the city starting with the Christkindlimarkt at the main station, Hauptbahnhof. This market is famous for the 50 ft Christmas tree which is decorated in Swarovski crystals. It is pretty spectacular. Here we tried (a lot of) Glüwein and a genius way to eat fondue – in a hollowed out baguette. It was still pretty messy – I managed OK, but our friend was struggling a bit as he has been growing a pretty spectacular beard and got cheese strings stuck all over it. I couldn’t stop laughing.
After this, we wandered down through town, stopping at the markets in the centre of town for a refill of the Glüwein mugs we had kept from the first market. We then made our way to the famous singing Christmas tree in Werdmühleplatz which had unfortunately stopped singing just before we got there. We did find the best Glüwein in the whole city at this market. Here we met up with a number of Alex’s old colleagues who just happened to be either holidaying in Zurich that weekend or had moved over there to work.
We then moved on to the larger Weinachtsdrof (Christmas Village) in Sechseläutenplatz which is in the square in front of the Opera House, on the banks of the lake. At this market we tried a fantastic raclette which we had heard a lot about from our friend.
After the Christmas markets and we had bid goodbye to all of the random ex-colleagues, we headed to our friends favourite cocktail bar called The Old Crow. We were absolutely frozen so had to find somewhere indoors on the way home. This place was like no other cocktail bar I had been to before. There were over 1,600 different types of alcohol and they had many ‘mixologists’ working – every single thing that they were making was a work of art, and everything was completely different. I reminded myself that we were still in Switzerland so this was probably the worst place to try fancy cocktails, so we were super boring and got G&Ts.
The next day we did not have much planned. We slept in and then our friend cooked us an amazing breakfast of eggs and traditional rosti. We set off for a walk down the river and stopped off at a great coffee bar called Henrici where we ordered what I would consider to be the best coffee we have had in all the time we have been in Europe. Alex went all out and ordered a CFH9 double shot of coffee with melted dark chocolate and cinnamon which he raved about.
That day was some sort of fun-run where parents would take their little children out on a run around the city. It looked like everyone in the city was participating which was so nice to see. Previously I had wondered how the Swiss stayed so slim (as you do not see overweight people anywhere), and I think the answer lies in this exercised based attitude (skiing, fun runs, biking etc) and the fact that the food is so expensive that you can’t afford to get fat.
We stopped off at the Sprugli on Bahnhoffstrasse for what we were promised were the best hot chocolates in Zurich – it was very delicious, but there was no room to sit inside given the popularity of the shop, that we had to sit in the freezing cold on the street. Not all bad since it was the perfect spot for a bit of my favourite travelling activity – people watching.
The last activity we needed to tick off the list was seeing the Singing Christmas Tree at Werdmühleplatz in action. The night before when we went the signers had finished for the night, so we made sure we revisited to catch them. The performance we got to see was a youth choir which was so cute as all of the parents and siblings were there to cheer them on.
We have loved both our trips to Zurich – even though they were both in winter, we had such a different experience each time. The one downside about the city is the speed at which you chew through the cash on any trip there.
Until next time, B & A.