Wednesday, May 5, 2010

If the weather is crappy in Zurich, just head south!

Last week Zurich's weather turned from gorgeous to dreadful. One of the American women suggested that we head south for the weekend because chances are the weather would be nicer. That seemed like a sound theory, so James and I decided to take a train to Milan, Italy.

As you may already know, trains are quite popular and efficient here in Europe. They also have good deals on discount cards. For only 150 CHF (Swiss Franc, which equals USD), you can buy a half fare card that's good for one year. This means that all transportation within Switzerland, including training, trams, busses, boats, etc, is half price. A longer trip, like our train ride to Milan, would be discounted at half price for our travel within
Switzerland. Obviously you can get your money's worth pretty quickly. James and I bought our half fare cards and booked a discounted trip to Milan in the same day.

I should also mention that besides the weather, another reason for getting out of town was 1 May. I always thought of 1 May as May Day, a time to celebrate Spring (I think I received daffodils in grade school in honor of the holiday). But here in Europe it's a day for protesting as it's their Labor Day (protesting was also popular in L.A. this year). We heard that everything would be closed and boarded up in anticipation of rowdy hooligans wreaking havoc through out the city. Seriously, I never figured Zurich could be rowdy.

I wish I had a picture, but when James and I walked to the train station (Hauptbahnhof), we saw policeman on every block. We also saw them interrogating a few men. It was really creepy and I kept my head down and didn't make eye contact with any of the police. Once we arrived at the train station, we calmed our nerves by watching some beach volleyball.

After our uneventful 3.5 hour train ride to Milan, we wandered out of the train station and looked for maps. Our lonely planet book wasn't much help and our cell phones only worked in Switzerland. So what did we do? We went with our instincts and started out towards the hotel. Holy crap, that was a nightmare. After awhile we had no idea where we were going. Thank goodness we were able to hop on someone's wifi hotspot and fire up Google maps. We figured out where we were and found our way to the hotel.

Once we checked into the hotel, we found a map and set off to explore Milan. By explore, I mean walk 10 miles and ogle at places and people. Most shops and restaurants were closed due to the 1 May holiday but that didn't prevent us or the Italians from going out. I noticed that Italians love to window shop. There must have been 20 people looking at Nike sneakers at the Footlocker.

The Milan Cathedral was open for business. You could go inside, say some prayers, look around and leave a donation. You could also stand outside and stare at the advertising posted on the cathedral's scaffolding. I thought the advertising industry was unscrupulous in the U.S., but a fashion ad posted on the side of a cathedral is absolutely terrible! I can't imagine seeing this back home, but you never know.

After we explored the cathedral and the Piazza del Duomo, we made our
way towards the streets. Instead of protesting in Milan, it appeared that the local youth celebrated May day with a lively rave parade. We weren't really dressed for the occasion or in a rave mood so we veered back towards the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday were spent wandering. James used his cell phone to track our path -- we walked more than 20 miles while we were in Milan.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A trip to little 'ole Murten

Before we departed the States, a fellow BIAC rower recommended I join the American Women's Club in Zurich. (She had lived in Switzerland for a short time.) I thought that was a fine idea being that I'd be unemployed and in need of activities to occupy my time while James is at work. I emailed the club and was soon in touch with the club's Welcome Chair.

A couple days after we landed, the Welcome Chair encouraged me to stop by the AWCZ clubhouse and get oriented with the club. Luckily the club is right down the street from our apartment so I ventured on over. Not only did I get an awesome orientation to the club's facilities, but I also was invited to play Bunko! The week before I had played Bunko with my mom's group, so I was able to jump right in. During the course of the game, I found out that the club had a day-trip excursion planned the next day. They were going to Murten.

Where is Murten, you ask? I really didn't have a clue, but I immediately signed up.

The next day a handful of the club members and I jumped on a chartered bus and traveled clear across Switzerland, which only took 1.5 hours. Murten is located in the Friborg Canton on the French side of the country.

During the course of the trip, we received a guided tour through the town. The guide was a college gal who grew up in Murten.

After the tour, we had a tasty/fancy/long lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the lake. I have a feeling that a bulk of the tour cost went towards lunch -- eating out in Switzerland is spendy!

We wandered down to the water after lunch and went on a tour boat. There wasn't much to see during the boat ride, but it was super relaxing (and wine was provided). Did you know the chocolate AND wine are cheap in Switzerland? Hallelujah!

And that was my first excursion outside Zurich. My photos from the trip are posted here.