Oh, if only Switzerland were tropical…
On my way to Cairo, Egypt I enjoyed a nine hour layover in Zürich, Switzerland. The duration was deliberate. I had never been to Switzerland and wanted to get out of the airport and go see the place.
Zürich is lovely! Oh how I wish the climate suited me better.
It is as clean and friendly as any Canadian city I have been to. Even better, they have an extensive mass transit system of trains, buses and streetcars. All are super clean, very efficient and completely free!!
Even without that completely free part, the only thing that might keep it from being the best train system I have ever been on is the fact that all the maps and signs are in German and I don’t speak a word of German.
Subterranean mall with hundreds of bicycles at ground level
Enjoying hot mulled wine
Indoor Christmas Market
Giant Cookie Balls
I had done a lot of research into things to do before even departing on my trip and decided that the coolest thing I had time for was to visit a Christmas market. Europe is famous for their Christmas markets and there are many such markets scattered throughout Zürich.
The one that appealed most was actually set up inside a turn-of-the-century train station.
Being unable to read the signs and maps, I simply hopped on a train somewhat randomly. I had asked a Swiss flight attendant and also a local woman who lived in Zürich. Both gave the same recommendation and the same directions. I tried as best I could to remember them but German words are utterly foreign to me. (And this coming from someone who speaks Chinese!)
At least I knew the name of the station — or was it the name of the town? — I was looking for. So I decided I’d ride the train for 3-4 stops and if the name didn’t pop up, I’d get off and backtrack. They both said it wasn’t far from the airport.
After riding two stops, and being able to see the names of the next two stops on the electronic sign inside the train, I felt like I was going the wrong way. So I got off and went around to a train going the opposite direction.
One more attempt to decipher the map…
There was an Asian gentleman standing in front of the map. I asked if he could step aside so I could check the map. He asked me, in perfect English, where I was going. I told him. He said, “You’re already here! This is your stop!”
I quickly jumped back off the train. I had accidentally stumbled into the right place.
The train station and Christmas market were lovely. I tried some hot mulled wine. It really wasn’t to my liking but that’s okay. I also bought a giant “cookie ball”. There is a name for them but I can’t remember what it is and probably couldn’t pronounce it anyway. But it was a giant hollow ball made from crisply-baked cookie dough. The inside was filled with lemon cream and the outside coated with chocolate. (They had many flavors but the lemon appealed most to me.)
Eventually I made my way back to the train station and on to the airport.
There, I reconnected with a man I had met on the plane. He was a bedouin muslim from Equitorial Guinea and spoke only broken English. He had been on the same flight from the US and was on the same flight out to Cairo. Meaning he had the same nine hour layover. Only he did not leave the airport because he worried that he’d get lost and the language barrier would keep him from finding his way back again.
Worse, he has severe dietary restrictions and Zürich airport is segregated between Schengen and non-Schengen zones. Passengers cannot pass freely between zones. He was on the non-Schengen side where there was a more limited selection of restaurants and nothing he could eat. He had plenty of money but no appropriate choices to spend it on.
I happen to always carry a lot of trip snacks when I travel; nuts, dried fruits and other such items that keep and travel well. So I sat down with him and we enjoyed a small feast together.
A twenty-something Egyptian kid who was attending medical school in London was seated nearby. He asked if I had an iPhone power cord. He had only a British plug and Switzerland uses European plugs. So I lent him my power cord for a few hours to recharge his phone and keep it from dying.
This might have been one of my best layovers ever!