Sunday 22nd July 2012:
Zurich was settled around 7,000 years ago on the banks of a river in a valley banked on either side by woods. Today a large part of the woods on those hills is still there but the river, fed by the clear waters of the Zurich-see (the Lake of Zurich) now courses its way through a thriving, global city – one of the world’s largest financial centres and a city that mixes it’s history with modernity very well.
Zurich not only cherishes its history but looks also very much to the future. It is now among the world leaders in protecting the climate. In November 2008, the people of Zurich voted to write into law that by the year 2050 the city would be down to a production of just one tonne of CO2 per person per annum… even if that means higher costs for everyone. As part of this mission, they continue to develop their already excellent public transport system, including the enlargement of their ‘bicycle only’ network and an increasing interest in research into renewable energy.
Large numbers of residents as well as visitors use the trams in this well connected system to get around Zurich. Less able and wheelchair passengers are well catered with special areas designated for them to board the trams … and we noticed the driver getting out to assist them on and off the tram.
Tickets purchased are valid on all forms of transport so it’s a hop-on-hop off system using trains, trams, buses and trolley buses as well as lake boats, funicular railways and some cable cars. We were very impressed by the reliability, cleanliness, efficiency, feeling of personal safety and choices available – and we really put it to the test!
To make the most of this system, we bought a four day, 1st Class Swiss Pass for two seniors. The only stipulation was that we had to travel together and have our passports with us for verification at all times… though that was never asked for. We were always treated like welcome guests. It was all so easy. There were no worries about buying individual tickets during the day and we went where we wanted to, when we wanted to, on our choice of transport, because the whole system dove-tails together so beautifully. And the train web site www.sbb.ch helped us to plan each day – times, platform numbers, station stops etc. And each station or halt has timetables clearly shown. Rail stations have charts showing where each class of carriage will stop on the platform in relation to the engine.
Day one of our pass started as soon as we arrived at Zurich airport. We off-loaded our bags into our room at the Radisson Blu within the airport (it was a great hub for us) and set off to explore. Zurich Airport has its own underground railway station, connecting it directly to the CBD of Zurich and most of the major Swiss cities.
We took the first available train into Zurich (they run every few minutes from the airport) and then a tram to the waterfront of the Zurich-see. From there, the Zurichsee-Schifffartsgesellschaft (the ZSG) operates boats not just for relaxing cruises but that also connect many of the towns along both sides of the lake. There is a car/passenger ferry that crosses the lake between Horgen and Meilin ( half way down) but there are no bridges until Rapperswil.
‘Were we prepared for a four hour ride?’ we were asked. YES! YES! YES! After a very early morning start and flights from Dublin and London including a chaotic time getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 at Heathrow and surviving the crush of people arriving there for the Olympics…. YES we were more than ready to sit quietly on a boat and enjoy the view for four hours – and enjoy an evening meal along the way! This was to be a round trip from Zurich at one end of the lake to Rapperswil at the other end – and back – calling at many of the villages named on the map.
At its widest the Zurich-see is 3 km across and its maximum depth is 143 m – not as deep as some of the Swiss lakes in more mountainous regions, but still too deep to easily touch the bottom! The average depth is 49m of very clear, glacial water. The only bridge is at the far eastern end at Rapperswil. A regular car/ passenger ferry crosses between Horgen and Meilin. The small, but ever growing, villages are serviced by trains that run regularly down each side of the lake as well as passenger vessels like ours that ply the waters every day of the year.
It’s good to see that, as the city spreads out along the lake, the woodlands on the hills above have been retained.
As Zurich grows and spreads itself further and further along the lake, new low rise apartment blocks are taking the place of farms and vineyards. We wonder how these flat roof buildings deal with the weight of winter snow!
The further down the lake you sail, the more often vineyards still form the backdrop to a lazy afternoon’s sail.
Zurich is not very far from the Alps which make a perfect backdrop for many a peaceful scene along the lake.
A common sight these days in Swiss villages is the sight of a crane dominating the skyline. Switzerland seems to be in something of a building frenzy.
There are still a few places along the lakeside that have not been changed by the addition of modern architecture. The steeply sloped roofs with attics in the roofs are designed to deal with heavy winter snow falls.
The afternoon light makes a great play of light and shade on this old village church.
There’s nothing quite like a pleasant afternoon lake cruise on an old paddlewheel steamer on a sunny afternoon.
The Zurich-see is formed at this its eastern end by waters from the River Linth which rises in the glaciers of the mountains in Canton Glarus. In 1811, the Linth was diverted through the Escher Canal into Lake Walen – a small lake further east from Rapperswil. Another canal, named the Linth, was completed in 1816 to divert the waters into the Zurichsee here at Rapperswil. A bridge now crosses at this point. There are no other bridges on the lake. At the Zurich end of the lake, 40 kms away, the waters flow on as the Limmat River.
This is one of two small islands at the Rapperswil end of the Zurich-see.
First established in 1606, this Capuchin Friary originally consisted of a community of just four priests and three brothers. It was built by the citizens of this area as a Roman Catholic answer to the Swiss Reformation that had been led by Zwingli in Zurich in the 1520s. The buildings of this monastery, still in use today, were fortified in 1662, becoming part of the walls of the growing town of Rapperswil.
The town of Rapperswil is overlooked by its castle, perched high on a rocky hill. With a history going back to 1229, the main castle was destroyed by the mayor of Zurich, Rudolf Brun, in 1350. It was rebuilt by The Duke of Austria, Albrecht ll, in 1352/54 and it has dominated this town ever since. In 1870 it was restored by a Polish Count, Wladystaw Broel-Plater, and became a Polish National Museum, created for and by Polish emigrants.
The town has many medieval alleys. It’s a pity we didn’t have time to stroll there on this sunny afternoon and enjoy the rose gardens that give this town the title ‘Rosenstadt’. Over 600 different kinds of roses are grown here.
Looking back over the bay of Kempraten to the hills beyond, old Rapperswil gleamed in the late afternoon sunshine.
This was the first sunny day in Zurich for a month – but clouds threatened again to spoil the Swiss summer holidays.
By the time we had sailed half way back up the lake, the sun began to set, turning the fountain at the ferry port at Meilin into a shower of gold.
One of my favourite memories of Switzerland’s lakes is of the beautiful golden strip made by the sun just before it slips below the horizon. I was not disappointed.
It’s a wonderful time to be out sailing as the dusk settles over a lake and lights begin to twinkle. It’s so peaceful.
As the whole scene turned to gold, the contrails of many planes merged in the sky over busy Kloten Airport.
And that’s where we headed back to, in the dark, via tram and train, to find our beds at the Radisson Blu Hotel.
It had been an absolutely magical afternoon on Zurich-see.
J and A