Zurich day two
22.05.2017 - 22.05.2017
Zurich city walk with Sonja
View over Zurich
After a light breakfast in the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel (the equally eclectic Papa Joe's), Yvonne and I strolled along the Limmatquai, the road that runs beside the river Limmat on its eastern side, in beautiful sunshine to meet up with the rest of the VT gang. This was our first chance to see how picturesque the old centre of Zurich is, and there were several stops for photos along the way as the buildings on the opposite bank were shown to particular advantage in the warm morning light.
River view with St Peter's church
The Fraumünster and St Peter's
Our guide for today was Sonja, a VT member who lives in Zurich, and she gave us an excellent day out! Once everyone had arrived at our meeting point in the Central Square, and we had bought day passes for the local transport, we took the Polybahn funicular up to a viewpoint over the city, near the university and technical college. This was the perfect spot for an early group photo, and for Sonja to point out the major sights, including the towers and spires of several of the city’s churches and the mountains beyond. The photo at the top of this page was also taken there.
A city among the mountains
Returning the way we had come, we commenced our walk through the old part of the city. We paused in a lovely quiet square (with a statue of a boy perched on the back of a giant frog!), where we saw the main library and the Predigerkirche which we had seen earlier from our viewpoint. This was unfortunately closed but we got a closer look at its unusually slim and elegant spire and the striking sundial on its south façade.
The church dates from the 13th century (with many changes of course over the centuries) and was originally attached to a monastery of the Dominican order (located where the library now stands) but became Protestant during the Reformation. From pictures I have seen online, the interior is light and elegant and would have been worth a look had we been able to gain access.
We continued along winding streets with lots of quaint corners and the tiny details that so appeal to me on such a walk.
We stopped off at the city archive, located in a beautiful 800 year old building, the Haus zum Rech, to see a wonderful model of the city as it was in 1800. An interactive display allows you to highlight different buildings of interest such as churches, private houses and commercial premises.
Eventually we came to the Grossmünster, the main cathedral, whose twin towers dominate the views on the side of the river. It is said to have been founded by Charlemagne after he discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula on this spot. Felix and Regula were brother and sister, and were early Christians who fled to Zurich with a companion, Exuperantius, to escape persecution by the Romans. However, they found no sanctuary here and were executed by decapitation. Legend has it that this took place on the site of what is today the Wasserkirche, on the banks of the Limmat, but the martyrs picked up their heads and walked from there to this location, forty steps away, where they prayed before finally collapsing in death. They were buried on the spot where they fell and the Grossmünster was built on their graves, to honour them, becoming a place of pilgrimage.
Construction of the Grossmünster began in 1090, and most of it was completed by 1230, although of course it has been much added to and changed over the centuries. One example – the north tower was taller than the south until the 15th century, when the latter was heightened to match and was decorated with a statue of a seated Charlemagne (the one you can see today is a replica, with the original now housed in the crypt). And after a fire in 1763 the spires that once topped the towers were replaced with the present-day ‘pepper-pot’ crowns. The interior too has changed - all its paintings and statues removed during the Reformation, and its decorative style switching from Romanesque to Baroque and back to Romanesque.
Before entering the cathedral, we first visited the peaceful cloisters where every column has a unique carving - some of them very bizarre indeed! This is a peaceful spot, its central garden planted with scented roses and other shrubs, although some of us felt it was a little over-restored (in the 1960s) to exude the expected sense of history.
In the cloisters
Then we went into the cathedral itself. Frustratingly no photos are allowed, but when I saw plenty of other visitors disobeying this rule I did sneak one of the stunning Augusto Giacometti stained glass windows behind the main altar. Augusto Giacometti was second cousin to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti whose work I especially admire, and these windows appealed to me just as much – stunning. Equally interesting, although very different, are the modern stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke, known as the “Agate Windows”, which incorporate thin slices of those colourful stones.
Many of us also grabbed a shot of the statue of Charlemagne in the crypt – the original of the copy that now adorns the south tower.
Stained glass by Giacometti, and statue of Charlemagne
We then crossed the bridge over the river to pass the Fraumünster (sadly there was no time by now to go in to see the Marc Chagall windows there, so those would have to wait for another day) and explored some more of the winding streets here.
After buying a picnic lunch in a supermarket we took the tram to the lake where we relaxed for a short while and ate our sandwiches at the Bürkliplatz, with wonderful views out over the water.
Then it was on to the boat for a leisurely trip to Rapperswil, with beautiful mountain scenery as the backdrop to the activity on the water and the many rather lovely houses on the lake shore.
Views on the lake
The ride to Rapperswil took about 90 minutes. We were blessed with great weather for the whole of the day and we especially appreciated this on the boat ride and when wandering around this pretty town which lies at the far end of the Zurichsee.
The climb to the castle
The town is famed for its roses, but we were just too early in the year for the gardens to be at their best, with only a handful of flowers in bloom. We climbed the steps up the small hill on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, which is topped by Schloss Rapperswil (some taking the steeper direct flight, others including me opting for a slightly roundabout route with fewer steps).
The views up here were great, and the castle (which dates from the early 13th century) interesting for its modern roofing structure, which appears to offer protection from the elements to people attending events in its courtyard.
View from the castle
In the castle courtyard, and nearby
An unusual bench
But it was the adjacent parish church, dedicated to St John, that held our interest the longest. It was built in around 1220 but extended several times, while its taller southern tower is a 15th century addition. It is built in the Romanesque style and is light and airy inside. I especially liked the delicate floral decorations on the ceiling in the choir.
In the church
Just north of the church is a little chapel, the Liebfrauenkapelle, which dates from the late 15th century and was built on the site of the former ossuary. Today it serves as the cemetery’s chapel but is also popular for weddings. It is very pretty and peaceful and I can see would make a wonderful setting for the latter – and of course photos to be taken outside, with views of the lake and mountains, and perhaps a reception in the castle too?
Returning down the steps we stopped for drinks and ice cream in the quiet main square before heading to the station to catch the train for the 30 minute ride back to Zurich.
... and the train ride back to Zurich
In the evening we all met up to look for a restaurant serving fondue as several of us fancied having some while in Switzerland. We settled on Le Dézaley in the shadow of the Grossmünster. It is a somewhat sprawling place with a historic atmosphere and the waiter was helpful in arranging tables for our group of ten - perhaps unsurprisingly as the place was deserted on this Monday evening.
In Le Dézaley
The fondue was very good and those who chose other dishes seemed equally happy with these. Although it was filling I was tempted by a dessert of meringues, ice cream, cream and apricots, which proved to be a sort of deconstructed pavlova - but with no apricots in sight. Zurich being a pricey city the bill of 49 CHF which also included a (very) small glass of white wine was probably reasonable although it would be considered pricey in London for what I got.
We also enjoyed some magic tricks from Jon who had us mystified with his sleight of hand.
After dinner I strolled back to the hotel with Yvonne, stopping to take a few night photos near the river on the way.
Zurich at night