I came back from a short stay in Switzerland last night, and today I'm taking it easy...have to really, as the unfamiliar Swiss terrain has left me with very muscle-achey lower legs. I spent the last four days in and around Zurich, which I'd never visited before but which I've gotten to find my way around quite well considering I only spent less than a week there. It's quite a pleasant little town, verdant and green, but quiet and a bit on the boring side...which ties in neatly with my impression of Switzerland on the whole. No wonder my friend, whose husband's job got relocated there, is climbing up the walls of their gorgeous penthouse apartment overlooking the Zürisee, missing the life she had in London up until a year ago. Things are getting better though as she's getting better acquainted with her new surroundings, but her career as an installation artist which in England was just taking off has been put on hold now that she's in Switzerland where she doesn't have the contacts, and there doesn't seem to be much of an art scene around anyway. She has taken up pottery though, but more on that later.
I arrived on Whitmonday, to a town that appeared to be devoid of people. Even things at the airport were quiet, with maybe just a few hundred people arriving and taking off. Bobby came to meet me off the plane while his good lady wife did some shopping for vegetables in the airport supermarket, the only place open on this Christian holiday which they, being Jewish, had totally forgotten about. Luckily, they'd just spent a romantic weekend in Venice and brought back a few kosher sausages and bits of cheese as a souvenir or we wouldn't have had anything to eat that first night of my stay. After I'd had a chance to inspect and admire their new home, we took the dog for a walk in the mountains surrounding Zurich, and then later wandered into town to see Coco Avant Chanel
in one of the local cinemas. I didn't rate the film much, but Anneke and Bobby seemed to enjoy it, so I took care not to critique it too harshly afterwards.
The next day, Anneke took me into town to show me the major shopping area (Bahnhofstrasse and the streets and alleyways leading off it) and take me to lunch in Hiltl's, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a midday meal in Zurich. Their vegetarian buffet service is absolutely delicious and if I had a Hiltl here, I'd go there every day. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the touristy parts of the Altstadt on my own before visiting the Kunsthaus, a rather modest local museum which houses a few Giacomettis (unfortunately, I'd just missed a bigger exhibition of his work), a Rembrandt, a couple of Brueghels and quite a lot of Hodler, which given that he was a local artist didn't surprise me at all. What did surprise, or rather, shock me was the current exhibition of the work of a contemporary installation artist - though most of it was innocuous enough, the pièce-de-résistance consisted of the dead body of a cat, cut in half and smeared with black paint. When I told Anneke about it, she told me she didn't get it either when she saw it. I'm sure you've all heard of Damian Hirst and his cow, but this was nothing like that. It was just tasteless and crass, and doesn't deserve the appellation of art. We made pizza for dinner and watched a silly German film on TV before going to our bedrooms.
On the third morning of my stay, we took the car and drove to Einsiedeln where we visited a factory that produces the raw materials needed in pottery making
, i.e. types of clay and glazes as well as kilns, tools and pottery wheels. This because Anneke has recently taken up pottery as a new creative outlet, taking lessons from a pottery maker in Zurich. However, she'd told me that all her recent attempts at firing her creations had failed so far, even when she had followed her teacher's instructions to the letter, and she couldn't understand why. So I mentioned this to the experts at the factory and they soon told me the reason: the kiln temperature my friend's teacher had proscribed for the types of clay and glazes were far too high, while some types of glazes were used on clays that were unsuitable. It all sounded like pretty basic stuff to me, but Anneke just couldn't understand why her teacher would purposely be giving her the wrong information. Me, I would have demanded my tuition back and either gone it alone or found another teacher, but Anneke is going to share the new insights, and the clays and glazes she purchased in the factory shop, with this Mrs. Whateverhernameis..."because she has been a great help to my German", she said.
We went for a long hike in the mountains around Einsiedeln that afternoon. The scenery is stunning, picture postcard perfect, but the slopes are steep and two days later, I can still feel it in my legs. Then when we got back to Zurich, we drove over to the Lindt factory outlet shop, where I bought enough quality Swiss chocolate (75%, 80% and even 99% dark chocolate!) to last me till the end of the year against a fraction of the price it would have cost me in the shops. Still, me, I was quite modest leaving the shop with my one carrier bag full of chocolatey goodness, compared to the party of American tourists who left with shopping-trolley-loads-full, justifying their purchase to everyone they met in the parking lot with the glaringly obvious statement of "We like chocolate".
I concluded my stay in Switzerland with a little trip to Basel the following morning/early afternoon, as both Bobby and Anneke had assured me it was much more vibrant than Zurich. And perhaps it is, if you know where to go. Personally, I found it dull as dishwater, so I went back to Zurich, bought a little statuette I'd seen Anneke admire a few days earlier and left it as a thankyou in one of their bathrooms, collected my stuff and took the S-Bahn to the airport. On the plane back, the staff did not forget to serve the passengers their complimentary chocolate; an oversight on my flight out that had prompted my hosts discussing the composition of an angry letter to the airline on my and my fellow passengers behalf.