Before I moved to Switzerland, I’d always had a preconceived mental image of what the urban centers of the country would look like: Banks. Old, grey, austere buildings. White people. Long, straight streets filled with luxury shops and dazzlingly suited men whose only job seems to be opening the door for you.
This is not Geneva, at least not quite. But it is Zurich.
Zurich is not the capital of Switzerland, but it is the largest and probably most expensive Swiss city. I visited this weekend in part to explore, and also to try out some test shots with my new camera — a Sony a6000 mirrorless model that I’d gotten on sale a few days ago. The entry-level DSLR (a Canon EOS Rebel XS) that I’ve had since college still works, but it doesn’t have a video recording function, and it’s also a beast to carry around. Now that I’m traveling every other weekend and trying to not only take in but immortalize the most beautiful corners of Europe, the Sony seemed like a good investment.
Note: Of the photos in this post, the ones with 3:2 aspect ratios were taken with my phone, while the 16:9 ones were taken with the Sony camera.
I decided to shell out an extra 12 francs for a first class seat to Zurich. The train ride is just under 3 hours, but the last time I was on a train bound for Zurich, I remember it being an absolute madhouse in the second class section. The upstairs car I picked this time was almost entirely deserted. It just wasn’t a heavy travel weekend — Zurich was also relatively quiet.
It was raining heavily when we left Geneva but stopped around midway. Which led to scenes like the following….
WHAT IS THIS CASTLE. I must know its name. (Update: I figured out that it is called Festung Aarburg. I must go there someday.)
I arrived in Zurich just shy of 2pm on Saturday. Like Geneva, the city is built around a river, and the buildings along the bank are gorgeous. It was a 10-minute walk from the train station to my hotel.
I stayed at Hotel Adler, a historic institution with roots dating back to the 1500s (!). But the room was immaculately clean, comfortable, and came with lovely amenities. They gave me a Toblerone chocolate, a postcard, a pair of surprisingly sturdy slippers that I took home with me, a pack of six jams, and free drinks in the minibar. Breakfast is also included in the room rate. I booked the tiniest room option, which was still a hefty 140 francs, so I only stayed for one night.
Three varieties of jam!
This was the view from the window.
The courtyard was super cute. When I first arrived, I kept thinking to myself how weird the hotel smelled… and then I realized it was the smell of fondue. Let’s just say it’s… an interesting scent.
They had a single computer available for use. This made me remember when I was staying in a hotel in Kyoto in 2016 with a sprained ankle and desperately working on my final paper for my Islamic theology class on a shared computer in the lobby with a Japanese keyboard at 1 in the morning. That’s an experience I’ll be happy to never have again.
I had a late lunch at a nearby eco… co-op type… cafe? It seemed to be popular with locals and immensely crowded. The waiter resembled Jonathan Van Ness and had a similarly cheerful attitude. I had a coffee and a mixed salad for 20 francs.
After that I headed to Lindenhof hill, one of Zurich’s top tourist attractions, which promised a sweeping view of the city. It was… okay? I mean, it wasn’t a steep hill, so the view wasn’t that panoramic, and there were a lot of trees in the way.
After that I took a stroll down Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famed street of non-stop shopping.
The St. Peter Church.
There were six giant statues outside Grossmünster, Zurich’s landmark cathedral. Grossmünster means “great minister” in German, but sorry, in English it’s hilarious.
I’m not quite sure what they were about, since the signage was all in German, but this one made from marine plastic waste caught my eye.
This was probably my favorite shot with the Sony camera so far. (I probably put too heavy of a filter on it when editing on my phone; below is the original for reference.) I love everything that’s going on in the scene — the old cathedral, the yellow autumn leaves, the passerby’s contemplative and even slightly vulnerable body language.
Here’s another one I liked. It was impossible getting a good picture of the woman in the mustard yellow jacket by herself, but the trio of subjects in the foreground also somewhat worked out.
And then this was the same bridge at nightfall. Absolutely breathtaking. I thought I was watching a Studio Ghibli film in real life.
For dinner I went to a Thai place that looked dingy, but the food was AMAZING. Probably the best Thai meal I’ve ever had in my life. I got a veggie yellow curry with rice, and it blew my mind wide open. The place is called Thai Bamboo, near the river.
The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel. The buffet selection was decent: bread and croissant, juices, yogurts and fruits, and scrambled eggs. I also had some ham just to see what it was like. (Spoiler: it was the same as American ham.)
After breakfast I went for one last walk along the river.
Testing out the aperture mode on the camera. Not much depth of field on this lens.
And that was Zurich. I caught the noon train and was back in Geneva by around 3pm Sunday.
Closing thoughts on Zurich: Nice, clean, urban, picturesque, boring (although Geneva’s not exactly a hub of activity, to be fair), EXPENSIVE. (I was browsing Thai restaurant menus on Google Maps and saw one place that charged 40 francs per dish.) Nice people.
On the camera: I like it. It’s not perfect, but it outperforms my phone by a mile. The photos are super clear, the colors are decent, and it’s easy to transfer photos directly to my phone for editing, no Wi-Fi connection required. I’m excited to bring it along on upcoming travels.