Working and Living in Switzerland 2010
After eight months on the road I guess it was inevitable that I had to get back to work. I miss the freedom of the road, getting up to ride every day, setting up camp every night but I have to raise some funds for my next adventure. I started looking for work in the financial industry in London as salaries in my home town of Bath were low. One of the jobs I applied for was for a large international bank (you can guess which one) in Zurich, Switzerland. After four hours of interviews they offered me a six month contract, I jumped at the chance to gain some financial industry experience and the experience of living and working in Switzerland.
I always imagined the Swiss to be a staid, conservative people but when I arrived at the appartment I was surprised to see three sex shops nearby. I asked the young couple who ran the place whether this was a bad area, and they told me it is normal in Switzerland. It turns out the Swiss like the Dutch and have a similarly liberal attitude to drugs, prostitution (it's a registered vocation in Zurich) and partying. I ended up renting a small studio flat just around the corner, for CHF1485 a month. It's in a convenient location, with a COOP (food supermarket) around the corner, a short walk to Hardbruke station for the commute to work and a short tram ride to the city center.
My street, my flat is in the grey block on the left. Zurich, Switzerland
Despite Zurich being the largest city and the commerical capital of Switzerland it still has a village feel to it. People are very polite, and unlike most large cities will greet you with the uniquely Swiss grüetzi (hello). The city is not very large, you can easily walk Bahnhofstrasse (the main shopping street) and the old town or even across the whole city in an afternoon! Like most of Switzerland, the city is completely deserted on Sundays as all shops except a few in the main train station are closed so you have to do all your shopping and chores on Saturdays. It took a lot of getting used to, but I am starting to enjoy having a day free of commercial pressure! The Swiss invest a lot in their public transport and it shows, getting around by tram and train is cheap and easy ad owning a car makes no sense in Switzerland. I think it is a model for the direction we should go in the UK. Zurich apparently also has the highest quality of life of any city in the world, if you can afford it I think. It is a very expensive city to live in, a beer will cost CHF9.50, a burger and fries CHF25 although you can go for a more traditional Bradwurst and roll for CHF7.50. It's the small things that make you aware you are in a foreign country, for example salt & vinegar crisps are a 'new' flavour while paprika or wasabe flavoured crisps are 'normal' flavours. The cheese and chocolate is fantastic though, much better than the UK or USA.
One of the many trams that make getting around a breeze. Zurich, Switzerland
The city sits on the shores of a large lake, Zürichsee, across which in good weather you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the snow capped Jura mountains. Unfortunately most of the lake shore is in private hands so there is only limited opportunity for walking near the lake, but I guess with the Alps nearby this isn't seen by the Swiss as a problem.
Looking across Zurichsee towards the mountains. Zurich Switzerland
The historic old town of Zurich straddles the Limmat river that flows from Zurichsee, and is a maze of small roads and alleys with a lot of small art, jewelry and clothes shops which put incredible effort into their window displays.
A view down the Limmat from Zurichsee. Zurich, Switzerland
There are three beautiful old churches in the old town, Fraumunster built in 874, St Peter with the largest clock face in the world (well it is Switzerland) and the largest and most recognisable Grossmunster built in 820 (well Gross is German for big.. as in 'Ein grosse weisbier bitte', about the limit of my German.. 'one big white beer please'). The churches are not very ornate inside, they are definitely not as flashy as Westminster Abbey in London. When you register for work in Switzerland you are asked what religon are you, if you say 'christian', 'catholic' or anything other tha 'athiest' you have to pay an additional tax for upkeep of the churches and to pay for the clergy. On the positive side this means that tourists do not have to pay an entry fee to enter the churches. I think there is nothing more disgusting than having to pay to enter a place of worship, a recent visit to St Pauls in London brought this home when I had to pay £15 to enter my countries head church!
A pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? No it's Fraumunster and St Peters. Zurich, Switzerland
Fraumunster on the Limmat. Zurich, Switzerland
Grosmunster, with controversial statue of colorful third mayor Hans Waldmann (accused of coruption, sodomy and was beheaded) in the foreground. Zurich, Switzerland
A view of the old towm, Limmat and Grosmunster. Zurich, Switzerland
There are a lot of bronze sculptures around town, mostly of nude women in various poses but one of my favourites is a massive bronze by Henry Moore called 'The Sheep'. Can you guess why?
The Sheep by Henry Moore. Zurich, Switzerland
On Sundays the city sleeps, some of my neighbours only wake up around twelve. In Switzerland, Sunday is seen as a day for going skiing, window shopping, a stroll in the park or a game of chess.
A game of chess on a sleepy Sunday. Zurich, Switzerland
I enjoy working and living in Zurich, it has a relaxed pace of life, it is very safe, people are polite and friendly and it is very multi cultural (30% of the city are foreign nationals) but sometimes I miss having a beer in The Bell with my friends!
A big advantage of living in a small country with a fantastic public transport system is that it is a breeze to visit other cities. Investing in a Halbtax (half fare) card is also a good idea, for CHF150 you get a year of travelling at half price, whoever calculated that must be very bad at math. It pays for itself very quickly! My second trip out of Zurich was to Luzern. Luzern is a beautiful medival city on the shores of a lake surrounded by the Alps, and is where William Tell is supposed to have shot the apple off a boys head! Probably one of the most famous sites in Switzerland, is Chapel Bridge which was built as a defensive measure in the 14th century. The original one burnt down in 1993 but they quickly rebuilt it, guess the town couldn't afford to loose it's most recognisable tourist attraction!
Chapel Bridge, Luzern, Switzerland
The bridge is decorated with paintings of 12th century Swiss life and history.
Paintings on Chapel Bridge. Luzern, Switzerland
The old town is a maze of small cobble stoned alleyways with old buildings dating back to the 12th century. Some of the buildings are decorated with large paintings, the Rathaus (city hall) is the most ostentatious but I really liked the old apothecary really caught my eye with it's collection of serpents.
Symbolism of the serpent, apothecary. Luzern, Switzerland
After a quick walk around town I found myself strolling through a park outside the huge city walls, they were impressive but unfortunately all of the towers and the walkway along the top of the wall were closed for the winter.
Old city walls. Luzern, Switzerland
The path along the walls led me to the Bourbaki Panorama, panoramas were the rage back in the 19th century and consist of a large (120m in circumference by 14m high) mixed with props and models. The Bourbaki panorama displays a painting by Edward Castres depicting the internment of France's eastern army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. The internment of the French is one of the central stories in the formation of Switzerland and it's stance as a neutral nation. The small Swiss nation was put under huge strain having to provide shelter and food for the large French army. It was very moving, maybe not as moving as the panorama in Gettysburg, USA but a powerful depiction of the futility of war. Perhaps the Swiss have the right attitude towards defence, they have a strong army but aren't interested in getting involved in other countries disputes. Every day you see young guys dressed in camo, casually carrying assault rifles heading off to do their national service obligations. I wonder what the panorama would have looked like had it not been shortened in the 1950s to increase the number of parking bays below (in the 1950s the building was being used as a parking garage).
Bourbaki's Army, marching to internment and creating a nation. Luzern, Switzerland
Just around the corner from the panorama is the equally powerful Lion Monument, a cliff sculpture of a mortally wounded lion that commemorates the massacre of the Swiss Guard during the French Revolution. Before becoming a neutral country Switzerland's main export were mercenaries. Mark Twain (1835–1910) praised the sculpture as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world." I couldn't say it better than that, although it is tiny compared with Mt Rushmore or Crazy Horse in the USA it seemed a far more powerful work of art, maybe once Crazy Horse is finished it will be as powerful.
A moving tribute to fallen mercenaries, The Lion Monument, Luzern, Switzerland
Next to the Lion Monument is another 19th century attraction, the Glacier Garden was created by an entrepreneurial guy with an impressive name, Joseph Wilhelm Amrein-Troller, who found a bunch of potholes and boulders while digging a new wine cellar and thought 'hey I can make a buck off this'! It was quite an interesting mix of natural history, geology and the cheesy.
Potholes and boulders. Glacier Garden, Luzern, Switzerland
And the cheesy, Teddy Bears placing chess with Teddy Bear pieces. Luzern, Switzerland
To the silly, which one is me? Mirror Maze. Glacier Garden, Luzern, Switzerland
The Hofkirche in Luzern is quite an interesting building, its a mix of 12th centuary Romanesque towers and a Renaissance gable. Apparently the rest of the Romaneque church burnt down in a fire caused by a hunter careless shooting at birds. How that works I'm not sure, sounds like a myth to me!
Hofkirche. Luzern, Switzerland
On the way back from the Hofkirche I was walking along the lake shore when I was approached by a very enthusiastic and loud (but not very good) brass band. They were all,men and women, dressed in full length gowns so they made quite a sight. Apparently I was in Luzern at the start of Fasnacht which is a big deal in Switzerland, there are bands and lots of parades of people wearing masks. The following week there was an email in the office saying, 'by order of security people wearing masks should not be allowed to enter the bank'. We all had a good laugh at that!
The lake shore. Luzern Switzerland
Guys and girls in gowns. Luzern, Switzerland
An example of window displays during Fasnacht. Luzern, Switzerland
A march by the local socialist party only added to the noise. Most of these socialists seem to be very young college age kids, I guess it only follows the quote "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." They seemed to be more interested in the partying than the politics as they had a couple of boom boxes and all seemed to be carrying cans of beer. I thought it very funny that most of them also seemed to be wearing designer sneakers! I wonder if any of them have ever visited a socialist or formally socialist country? It seems the Swiss are not as meak as the English, every weekend there is a march through the cities. I have seen three in Zurich so far, a march against Iran ("Iran is terrorism"), a march to increase student grants ("Down with UBS") and a this one! I have been told that May 1st is a no go zone in Zurich as the marches turn violent. Who would have thought that was possible of the Swiss?
Socialism on the march. Luzern, Switzerland
Despite the relaxed nature of this march the police weren't taking any chances and had a force of police offices dressed in full riot gear hiding around the corner just itching to spring forth and give the commies a severe trungeoning! To be fair to them they actually looked quite bored! I also thought it typically Swiss that the march followed a carefully controlled route and that they had an army of cleaners following a hundred yards behind the march erasing any sign that they had passed.
Let us at them! Luzern, Switzerland
As in Zurich there is a lot of sculpture dotted around the city. Here are two examples.
The Virgin Mary, Luzern, Switzerland
Not quite as virginal. Luzern, Switzerland
In the evening I went for a walk along the shore, and took a look at the paddle steamers that sail the lake in the summer (I think I will go back for a ride in the summer) before walking back back to the city for a beer or two in the local pubs.
Paddle steamers. Luzern, Switzerland
Jesuitenkirche and The Alps in the evening. Luzern, Switzerland
The following weekend I decided to visit Basel. I booked the train for Sunday as the weather forecast said it was going to snow on the Saturday. It was wrong, it snowed on Sunday, heavily! Fortunately I was able to take cover in the cloisters of the Basel Munster, built in 1019, the main church was closed to tourists as there was a service in progress.
It's not supposed to be snowing, Munster, Basel, Switzerland
Unlike most of the churches I have seen in Switzerland to this point, the Munster is built in a gothic style. It also had a quite a few strange broze sculptures inside, I thought the skull on a drum was the oddest one!
Cloisters at the Munster, Basel, Switzerland
Spooky sculpture, Basel Munster, Switzerland
There is a small park behind the Munster that gave a great view over the Rhine, I couldn't believe that there were people crazy enough to go rowing when it was -5C and snowing heavily. Nutters!
Nutters rowing through heavy snow on the RHine. Basel, Switzerland
Back of the Munster, Basel, Switzerland
I started looking for a coffee shop, but like the rest of the world all of the local ones have been driven out of business by that evil chain Starbucks (top of my evil list, I refuse to buy anything from them). Eventually I managed to find a tiny coffee shop hidden on the side of a church. Outside there were strange pyramids, maybe they were light wells or air conditioning ducts for the nearby Opera House, but I liked the way they contrasted with the old architecture of nearby buildings.
Pyramids and old architecture, Basel, Switzerland
Where ever you walk around Basel, there is the sound of music. There were a few piano recitals going on and in the courtyard of one music school I found a sculpture that looked great in the snow.
A sculpture in the music school. Basel, Switzerland
And nearby there was another statue, that reminded me of Winston Churchill, it might have something to do with the way he was standing or holding a big fat cigar.
Looks like Winston Churchill but probably isn't. Basel, Switzerland
I took a ride on the ferry, across the Rhine. The ferries are quite cunning as they use the force of the river's flow to drive them to and fro across the river. You can't get much greener than that!
Ferry across the Rhine. Basel, Switzerland
How the ferries work, genius! Basel, Switzerland
There is a scenic walk along the north bank, with a broad walkway next to some terraced housing that gave great views of the old town and Munster. Despite the cold and the snow, the path was very busy with people taking a Sunday walk (not a lot else to do on Sundays in Switzerland).
Walking along the Rhine on the north bank. Basel, Switzerland
A view of the Munster from the north shore of the Rhine, Basel Switzerland
Terraced housing on the Rhine. Basel, Switzerland
An odd bee hive caught my eye, seems like they have very specialised bees around here that will only live in hollow twigs!
Never seen a hive like this. Basel, Switzerland
The path eventually led to the Jean Tinguely Museum and as I could no longer feel my hands and feet I decided to warm up inside. Jean Tinguely must be the Mad Max of the art world. After being thrown out of an apprenticeship with a Swiss department store for 'a lack of disipline' he turned his hand to art. He specialised in 'kinetic art', which consist of bits of old bicycles, cars, gears, drive belts and bizarrely a lot of animal skulls. Some were quite ingenious, like a machine that drew as you peddled! There was large red foot operated buttons that turned each of the contraptions on, but it seemed like they had them on some sort of delay as quite often you had to wait before the button would become active. The kids loved it, and were running around stomping on the buttons hoping one of the contraptions would shake itself into motion. Jean's welding skills were abismal though, most of the arc welding looking like 'chicken poo' (as my welding instructor used to say to me years ago).
The main room, Jean Tinguely Museum. Basel, Switzerland.
Quick stomp on button. Jean Tinguely Museum. Basel, Switzerland.
Mad Max meets art, Jean Tinguely Museum. Basel, Switzerland.
Walking back along the south bank of the Rhine I noticed (hard not to) fishing huts all along the shore of the river. The suspend nets from the frame, swing it out over the river and winch it back in. It seems like cheating to me!
Fishing huts on the Rhine. Basel, Switzerland
Basel is one of my favourite cities that I have visited in Switzerland so far and is well worth a visit.