Zurich from O’hare via Swiss Air.
Non-stop, cramped…and great food. 9 hours in the air and Christmas day ’16 was in our rear-view. The transition from the dreary – dirty – deafeningly loud Chicago to landing in pristine Zurich International was profound.
Such contrast sets the stage for your introduction to Swiss culture.
You will need to know some phrases in German, and sometimes French. But in general, english speakers will get along just fine with the well marked railroads and city streets.
This is Switzerland.
A land of the clean and orderly life. Modern and and wealthy it exudes efficiency and cleanliness. Most of the buildings are crisp and new, well maintained and sharply styled. If they are vintage or old buildings, they are restored and in nearly new shape… nothing is left to rot here. Restrained in style, cities leans towards minimalist modern and it’s inhabitants indulge in all things european and luxurious… Audi, Prada, Mercedes… BMW and Gucci to name a few.
Middle class in Switzerland is upperclass everywhere else.
The country is a superb demonstration to thousands of years of financial success and political restraint. It’s natives are friendly, competent, and prepared. No slackers here… no street bums or slums visible. It’s a huge shift in culture from the obvious decline of Chicago’s aged infrastructure to one of the most modern and influential cities in the world.
It’s a shock to step out of the Swissair flight into this near utopia. A powerful testament to the Swiss people and their ability to not only survive, but thrive in the center of so much chaos and cultural confusion that is and has been past / present / and future Europe.
Yet buried in the all of the efficient and modern facade lies a simple and honest soul.
The Swiss past intrudes in a balanced way…with Railway lines and old train stations linking past and present. Gorgeous, iconic swiss villages still exist here, hiding a charming and gentle world of disneyesque valleys, lakes, and peaks. Worthy of Cinderella herself, the Swiss countryside is painted with green hills and white capped Alpine scenes. Each postcard view peeking through, just enough to remind you of the old country. Of the past and patient Swiss ways.
They hint of their passionate pursuit of skiing and climbing, hardy athletic lifestyles…of cheese and fresh food. From the simplicity of a summer marketplace to the heritage of the ‘old’ city hidden behind modern glass and steel business parks.
The shopkeepers, farmers, and people less complicated are still living, working, and operating like their forefathers did five hundred years before. Behind the excellent freeways… are small, tight, cobblestone streets.
Contrasting the reflective glass of a highrise are small, leaded, windows with stone buildings and slate roofs. Swiss treasures on display in their modest spaces… cheeses, custom made watches, suits, and garish clocks all dotted in-between by the finest in chocolate and fruit pastries. These clusters of old houses, shops, and churches define for visitors…the best of their distinctive past.
Life is good in Switzerland. Very good.
Their economy as stable as any in the history of the world. Bankers, businessman, and brilliantly careful… this small nation is less in size than the state of Tennessee and has about the same population. Yet it’s political and financial strength are legendary and world ranging. Unequaled banking service and fierce neutrality mark it’s national identity. But along with all that fiscal stature are more earthy natural charms. Alpine lakes, towering peaks, and remarkably beautiful villages make for world class scenery and dream-like horizons. In my opinion… Switzerland is a ‘must-visit’ for any Yankee looking to grasp a piece of the European puzzle.
For our family… Switzerland represents more than beauty and poise, it’s our heritage. Four generations ago my paternal and maternal great-great-great grandparents migrated from Switzerland to the US. Their DNA leaving its mark on our mountain loving, cheese eating… watch collecting… Mathias clan.
Some things are beyond cliche’ and I wanted my kids to see and know where they come from and why we’re like we are. From our family’s annual Christmas cheese fondue to our OCD desire to stay ordered and efficient… we are Swiss from the inside out. It’s cool to see your homeland and begin to understand the pull of hundreds of years of previous generations and grasp the origins of habits deeply held in our family… all perfectly at ease with the ways of another place and time.
This was to be our first and last stop in Europe (we flew in and out of Zurich). It formed the context for our past and future…however, Italy was next, and it’s unique differences would represent the ‘passionate present’ of life.
Blog 3 of 3 is coming next…. and we have a train to catch and some serious ancient history to discover.
PS – If in Zurich.. and it’s New Year’s eve… make the trip down to the lakefront and stand on the bridge at the stroke of midnight. Have some local gluhwein (a very warm mixture of mulled or spiced wine) and enjoy the spectacle of 100K +Swiss natives ushering in the new year with fireworks and furs. Huddle up when you do… it’s cold out there!