Switzerland is smack bang in the geo-political centre of Europe, and although (ironically) it's not technically part of the EU, it really is where everything Europe collides together. No less than four languages (only one of them not borrowed from a neighbour) are the official tongue here. State-of-the-art transport, dazzling alpine peaks and lakes, high-class wealth, big business, and rich history — all can be found here. Plus, Switzerland is home to 1,001 unique and charming national symbols, from watches to cheese, and from army knives to chocolate. Switzerland was my introduction to German-speaking Europe, and I found it to be worlds away from its chaotic and emotional neighbour to the south (Italy).
In a continuing battle with the forces of incompetence, I finally received and managed to pick up my new ATM card today. at 10:30am, I went online from my hostel in Freiburg, checked DHL's tracking service, and saw that my package was in Zürich, and was "with courier vehicle" (i.e. actually in the van, about to be delivered to Mark and Susi's surgery). So I grabbed the tram to Freiburg train station, just managed to catch the 11am train back to Zürich; and by 1:45pm, I too had arrived back in Zürich, and had caught the tram over to the surgery. And what did I see, quite literally just as I walked in? I saw the DHL guy walking out of the building, having only just delivered the package — took him all day just to drop it off there; how bloody pathetic!
I've heard of express international deliveries taking time, but this is getting beyond a joke. Seeing that I had nothing else to do today — apart from having to urgently leave Zürich (to see my friend Gerhard in Freiburg tonight) — today I spent most of the day sitting around in Mark and Susi's office, waiting for my bloody ATM card to arrive. I always thought that DHL were reasonably competent; but apparently, that is not the case. After calling and making repeated enquiries, it seems that the package arrived in Basel last night; that they had it in Zürich by this morning; that they then sent it back to Basel later in the morning; and that it didn't get back to Zürich (for a second time) until this afternoon. I finally gave up waiting for it, and grabbed the train up to Freiburg: but I'm going to have to come back for it tomorrow (which will be a right pain in the a$$); and I'm extremely frustrated that it's taking this long for the frikking thing to get here.
I already explored Zürich yesterday; today, I couldn't be a$$ed doing very much at all. What with the horrible weather outside, and with nothing in particular to see or do in the city, and with unlimited free Internet access right where I was, my choice seemed obvious enough. I just hung around inside Mark and Susi's apartment all day, catching up on a bit of blogging and online reading, mucking around with some Internet gadgets (such as the cool custom map drawing feature in Google Maps), and otherwise keeping warm and dry. My new ATM card still hasn't arrived: where the hell is it? It's supposed to be getting sent by express DHL courier; but it's been 4 days since it left Sydney, and there's still no sign of it. I hope it comes soon — because nice as it is staying with the family, I can't hang around here forever.
For dinner tonight, Mark and Susi took me out to a super-upmarket Italian restaurant in downtown Zürich, where I didn't hesitate to order a delicious plate of home-made gnocchi (my all-time favourite food on Earth) in a rich cheese sauce. Maybe it's just because I was too cheapo to afford hitting the restaurants down there — but it was better than anything I had while in Italy. The wine and the dessert were nothing to complain about, either. Stopping and seeing the family certainly does have its advantages!
Seeing that the weekend was over, and that Mark and Susi were back to work as usual, today it was up to me to keep myself occupied in Zürich. I didn't particularly have any sights left to see in the city: however, since my new ATM card is being sent here by courier (after I lost it), and since it hasn't yet arrived, I basically have to stay here and wait for it. So today, I decided to explore the city on my own a little bit. Sadly, my effort to go and visit both the Science Museum and the Kunsthaus (art gallery) were thwarted (not open on Monday — apparently, this is common for museums in Europe); however, I did find a nice coffee shop in the technical university, with nice cheap hot choc (and a heated interior, away from the bitter Zürich cold) inside. Plus, I saw a bit more of the city than I'd bargained on encountering.
I lost many valuable items when I got robbed on the train last week. One item that I particularly missed was my Wenger Swiss Army knife, which uncle Mark brought me as a present, on his last visit to Sydney 7 years ago. When Mark heard about the loss of the knife, he insisted on remedying the situation, and on doing what all good Swiss uncles with Aussie nephews do: he bought me yet another army knife. This time, a Victorinox, and one of the fancier and more full-featured models. Hopefully I'll get many years of good use out of this baby, just as I did out of the previous one.
For something completely different, today uncle Mark took me on a little excursion out of Zürich, west to the city of Basel, in order to visit the unique and fascinating Tinguely museum. And to see the special exhibit that was on there. And for a nice lunch. And just to see beautiful Basel. Susi couldn't make it — she had something else on for most of the day — but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.
No visit to Zürich would be complete without a visit to its most famous chocolate shop, the Sprüngli. And Mark and Susi would never let my visit go incomplete: so naturally, this afternoon we popped in to the establishment, for an experience of true and utter decadence. The highlight of the visit was the Luxemburgerli: divine little "buttons" of chocolate, best eaten fresh (i.e. within 24 hours of them being made), and filled with all manner of artery-clogging richness. Also incredible were the Truffles: each of these balls of chocolate comes in a variety from milky-white to dark brown, and is variously filled with rum, cream and liquid chocolate. The truffles kept me nourished for well over a week after.
Ask any German, and he/she will tell you that food doesn't get more Deutsch than Bratwurst. But ask my uncle Mark, and he'll tell you that the Swiss variety of the famous European sausage is even bigger and even better. I can't yet compare; but so far, the Swiss one has been pretty good. At the famous Berghaus-Keller restaurant in central Zürich, they cook up a mean veal bratwurst, served hot and fresh with a delicious helping of kartoffel-rösti on the side (baked mash potato). Also goes well with a nice big Swiss beer (my first ever).