Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best of Zurich (for Free)

Zürich enjoys one of the world's highest standards of living. Not surprisingly, it's a great (and easy) place to part with your money. But, even this most stylish of Swiss cities has a few exceptional experiences that will cost you nothing but time. So, here are a few to consider after you realize how much you spent enjoying great restaurants, museums and gorging on Sprüngli chocolates ....

1. Morning on Lake Zurich
Enjoy a quiet morning with breakfast along Lake Zürich. Calm water, a nice breeze, graceful swans and a gorgeous view of the Alps.... a perfect way to start any day!

2. Strolling through Niederdorf
This is Zürich's old town, filled with restaurants, bars, and shops, particularly along busy Niederdorfstrasse.  Many of the side streets dart off into more serene surroundings. Check out Vladimir Lenin's former apartment at Spiegelgasse 17, then get a drink from one of the city's many fountains in this shady courtyard. 

3. Panoramic view from the Lindenhof
Once the site of a Roman fort, the Lindenhof is on the opposite side of the river Limmat and offers a spectacular view of old town. In 1798, citizens swore an oath to the Helvetic constitution on this spot. Take on a local at the oversized chess set. 

4. Stained Glass at the Fraumünster Abbey
Dating back to 853, the abbey was very influential, gaining the right to mint coins, collect tolls and hold markets. Check out the more contemporary addition; 5 stained glass windows by Marc Chagall added in 1970. 

5. 360 Degrees of Zürich atop the Uetliberg
Ok, this one you may want to buy a train ticket for, but technically you can hike all the way up this small mountain for an outstanding view of the city and Alps. If you still have energy - and don't suffer from vertigo - climb the observation tower for 360 unobstructed degrees of Zürich.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hin & Weg Comptoir - Fresh and Freundlich

In a city so gastronomically rich, it's somewhat surprising to find one of the best restaurants not in the charming Old Town or bustling Bahnhofstrasse, but in a blue-collar neighborhood on Zurich's west side. Hin & Weg began as a catering partnership between several friends, including Marc Muggli and his girlfriend Katja Jeisli, and blossomed into a proper restaurant this year. 

Hin & Weg's simple, classy decor and a French-inspired menu focusing on fresh ingredients make it worth the trek outside of the usual tourist spots. But, as anyone in Zurich will tell you, the west side is where everything is happening right now.

The introduction to the special lunch menu began with three delicious morsels made from the Chef's fresh market finds, most notably a lush melon soup. Salad served from a jar? Yes, it absolutely makes sense. Fresh spinach, asparagus tips, thinly sliced duck and a special honey sauce, followed by Veal served over Mini- Röstini. Just when it appeared things couldn't get better, a tray of desserts appeared.... 

In addition to all the tasty Hin & Weg goodness is their eco-friendly take-out. For a small deposit your food comes served in glass containers and a cardboard carrying box that can be recycled. 
The Küchengruss, a special offering fresh from the market

Jungspinat ... fresh spinach salad with asparagus and duck

Milchkalb with mini-Röstini
Birmensdorferstrasse 171
CH - 8003 Zürich

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Discovering Bern - Switzerland's almost secret capital

I’m pretty sure I woke up at the Hotel Allegro with a smile on my face, recalling the warm and fuzzy feeling I had upon seeing the Alps from my window the evening before. Right as I was about to spring from bed with the giddiness of a schoolgirl, I heard the thunder; warm and fuzzy feeling gone.

My first words uttered, however, were more in line with those of a sailor. Bern had been on my “must-see” list for over a year and, though disappointed at the lack of sunshine, I was certainly not going to let the rain dampen the experience. However, it thoroughly soaked me. 

The day began with a city tour of the Swiss capital via scooter. Not with a Vespa as I imagined, but rather a small two-wheeled device that required a little footwork. Amazingly, I managed to get a fantastic tour of this charming city without injury.

Bern’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is filled with beautiful sandstone architecture, nearly four miles of shopping arcades, the Berner Cathedral, and the Zytglogge tower with clockwork from the 16th century. Legend says the town’s name came from the first animal founder Duke Berchthold V von Zähringen killed. Was it really a bear or just big dog?

The rain didn’t wash out Switzerland’s largest mass sporting event, the Bern Grand Prix. Each May runners take to the streets of the old town for “The Most Beautiful 10 Miles in the World”, an occasion that also sees the capital city bring out the canton flags.

Market day brings out fresh produce, flowers, strange meats, and some of the most fragrant lavender north of Provence. After sampling at 5th generation cheese maker Mike Glauser’s Jumi stall, I was convinced that the Swiss produce not only the best chocolate, but the best cheese as well.

One of the most prestigious spots in Bern is Bellevue Palace, located next to the House of Parliament. After checking out the view from the rooms, experiencing the impeccable service, and enjoying an outstanding meal at its five star La Terrasse restaurant, it’s pretty easy to see why. The King of Spain has just stayed there a week prior. 

The warm and fuzzy feeling came back at the Kornhauskeller, one of Bern’s trendy bars. Was it the ambience or the absinthe in the air? Either way this cozy cellar is a great place to wind things down, relaxing with old friends or making new ones.

After a delicious Sunday Brunch at the Schwellenmätteli, which I’ll pretend means “Swell Meal” for the moment, we were briefly rewarded with clear skies. After taking in stunning view of Bern from across the river at the bear pits, it was time to say goodbye, warm and fuzzy feeling fully intact.

The flags only come out on important occasions, which I'm fairly
sure includes my visit.

Bern's Zytglogge

View from Bellevue Palace

Runners in the Bern Grand Prix.
More information about Bern can be found at