The first clue that I was arriving in the most expensive city in Europe, if not the universe, was the cab fare. For the equivalent of $60, I could take a train from one European country to another. In Zurich, that $60 got me across town to my hostel, which, in incidentally, cost the same per night.
When the Nigerian cabbie, who spoke perfect English (I knew this because he sang along with the English language Christian rock on his radio), pulled up to the Budget Hostel of Zurich, he said, “I never knew this existed.” Then, when he checked his meter and considered the presumed ambiance of the hostel, he proceeded to advise which bus to catch into the city that would be a lot cheaper than a taxi. That was good advice, because otherwise, I would have spent my two nights in Zurich in the room, looking at pictures of the city on the internet.
I could go on about expenses here (and probably will from here on in for the rest of my trip) but I have to admit, you get what you pay for when it comes to public transportation. A 24-hour bus and tram pass costs about $10; you just have to stay within the designated zone. And there is such a frequency of conveyance, you barely have enough time to realize you've gotten on the wrong bus headed in the wrong direction, before the correct one comes along, and you've lost hardly any time at all.
Riding the trams here is like being inside the workings of a Swiss watch. Such precision, such efficiency, you could get run over several times just standing mesmerized in the middle of a track appreciating it all.
Tracks are everywhere, crisscrossing like steel spaghetti. It was as if the track layers ran amok, and just started laying track for the sheer joy of it. A lot of it just seems to wind in circles with no tram situated on it.
I rode several throughout my day in the city. The lake is the most spectacular spot, glittering deep blue amidst a collar of snowcapped peaks. No wonder a schnitzel costs $50! (I had a $20 roast beef sandwich instead.)
The mania for efficiency extends to detailed notifications when queuing for train tickets, and multiple flat screens even on buses advising you of the next stop and the ones after that to the end of the line, complete with estimated arrival times. On a bus!
But even with my well-honed GPS skills it was still possible to lose my way. Peering deep into the horizon for my connecting bus back to the hostel, I failed to see a backless bench directly in front of me. The resulting header with full leg extension caused great alarm among two Swiss misses who immediately came to my aid, and who were noticeably relieved they woukd not have to perform CPR or worse, when they saw I was still conscious after the mishap. With everything restored except my dignity, I arrived back home and treated myself to an ice cream drumstick to settle down.
As far as physical attractiveness in terms of the modern European city, Zurich will be at the top of my list. There's a chill though among the Swiss to go with the resolution, and perhaps even a smugness in knowing a panhandler couldn't make a living there. I didn't see a one, even around the train station. It's funny, but it struck me that a city without a poor to consider is somehow removed from the human condition.
And not one to look to for solutions.