Zurich: A winter treat

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A walk along the snowy banks of the River Limmat is a great way to decompress in Zurich.

Too many people put travel plans on hold when winter approaches and snow looms on the horizon.  Little do they know that not only are the usual sights still there to see—and a lot easier without the summer crowds—but winter brings a panache of its own.

Zurich is a city that has managed to meld the old with modern and still maintain the feeling of an ancient European city.

Getting to Zurich or leaving for most any destination is a simple task. Its international airport is busy, crowded and as efficient as any major air hub. Its train station, Hauptbanhof, is a beautiful example of how well Europeans have utilized rail service. The trains have an extensive network servicing virtually all of the country as well as any number of foreign destinations.

We were in Engelberg at the Titles Mountains and decided to take a day off from skiing to visit Zurich. Train service was amazing from the quaint little station in Engleberg. The train arrived precisely on time and pulled out at the precise appointed hour. The train was clean and comfortable and the ride brought amazing views of the Swiss countryside.

It wove its way through forests that retained their greenery through the winter’s snow, under towering mountains thousands of feet high and through beautiful, storybook villages with homes decorated in gingerbread woodwork. Most of the cottages had murals on the main wall depicting either religious or pastoral scenes.

It was almost a disappointment when the ride came to an end, but the promise of the return trip and the exotic scenery ameliorated that feeling.

The walk from the train terminal across the River Limmat to Old Town brought everyone from the 21st century back to the 18th century. The river crossing is a wooden covered bridge connecting the old with the new.  Don’t forget that Zurich is one of the major banking and business centers in the world.

A rather large flock of swans populate the river and make a beeline toward the river bank when they see people approaching. The graceful birds have become quite accustomed to having food through to them.

While people were not in period costume in Old Town, the shops most certainly were.

Swiss dolls, chocolates, tableware, clothing and even firearms were on display. For deep pocket visitors, Rolex watches were available. But a caution here is to know the price back home of what you are contemplating purchasing.

One of the most visible products aside from a Rolex is the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife. The familiar red knife is not actually issued to the army because it is considered an officer’s tool. Military personnel are issued a far more plain looking knife while officers purchase their own.

As it turned out, the knives were not that much of a bargain in Switzerland. One that was priced there contained an altimeter, temperature gauge and timepiece aside from the myriad blades was rather expensive. Back in the United States it was available online for considerably less than it was seen anywhere in Switzerland.

That’s not only true for Switzerland, but is also the case in many countries throughout the world. The secret here is to know the back home price of anything you would like to buy.

The cobbled streets of Old Town lead to many of the Medieval houses, snake-like narrow streets and guild and town halls remaining from the Renaissance period. It is like stepping out of a time machine into a world where life was far simpler than it is today. It’s almost like a living history of Switzerland’s past.

The Grossmunster (Great Minster) with its double towers is one if the city’s most famous landmarks. Legend has it that Charlemagne built the towers where the graves of the city’s saints (Felix and Regula) were discovered.

Not to be missed are the churches of Peterskirche with Europe’s largest clock face and Fraumunster (Minister of Our Lady), known for its amazing stained glass windows created by Giacometti and Chagall.

Visitors frequently try to figure out how they can bring one of the huge Alpenhorns home with them. The horns are a familiar sight in the mountains and are still used for communication between villages although more often than not they are to entertain tourists.

Switzerland in summer is a storybook country with its little villages nestled on and at the base of its imposing mountains.  That takes on a whole new dimension when it is covered with snow…and prices are considerably less expensive in winter.

For information on Zurich go to www.zuerich.com.