A December Excursion to Switzerland

Dear readers,

The semester at my home university ended three weeks ago. Although I did not get the full experience of attending class, I finished two online courses (Business German and German Civilization) and am that much closer to graduating! Every college student should try their best to keep a journal because the time will fly by and it will be hard to recall all the special times you had. I could write a novel just about my college years!

And it seems my time abroad has gone by even faster.. I’ve been here almost four months already. The winter days are much shorter than in my home state and I am responsible for everything here, so it leaves me a lot less productivity time. With that said, let’s get back to this blog entry. It will be about an excursion—to Zürich, Switzerland! I hope everyone has had a nice holiday season so far and will be able to rest for the upcoming year. Keep reading to the end to get an idea about what travelling means to me.

The first part of the excursion was a stop in Schaffhausen to see Rhine falls, which is only about an hour away from Zürich. A little bit of information about the falls:

Rhine falls (Rheinfall in German) are the largest water fall(s) in Europe. During the Ice Ages, tectonic shifts occurred, which forced the River Rhine into a new basin. This was over 15,000 years ago. The older riverbed was filled with gravel. During the Würm glaciation, the river was pushed south over a hard Limestone bed and it was this movement over the hard bed and easily-eroded gravel from previous glaciations that caused the falls to form. The height reaches approximately 75 feet and the width spans to nearly 500 feet. There are two main falls divided by a rock formation.

 

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Even before getting close to the waterfalls, I could feel chilly, open air. My face felt fresh and my lungs felt light and clear. The still water of the lake area was a relatively dark teal and there was quite a lot of fish.

Even though the falls were rushing, there were still many ducks swimming around directly at the falls. The water danced over the rocks in numerous streams and where the water cut down on the rocks, white foam gushed.


The falls are directly at the bus parking lot. We just had to walk down a few flights of steps. There were immediately restrooms, tourist shops, and cafes. The falls weren’t massive in height or width, but still a very a beautiful site. Looking at the water can be just as mesmerizing as staring at a fire. Around the falls were pathways and many open areas to examine the falls and take photos. There was also a castle sitting above a hill right at the falls. We had limited time there (about 75 minutes) and I wanted to eat something and check out the tourist shops so I decided to skip the walk up to the castle. And based on my internet browsing, one may have to take a boat over to the castle anyway.

 

 

Next stop: Zürich

The photos above were taken at Lindenhof. It provides a nice view of the city, including the university, the institute of technology, and of course, the old town. The Romans had a fort there in the 4th century and later, Charlemagne’s grandson built a regal palace for a place of residence. It is a peaceful place in the city and chess players often meet for some matches. It is also the oldest place of the old town.

The streets are not built according to a grid pattern and the tour guide even said Google Maps sometimes struggles when locating a certain street. There are also quite a lot of hills. Some years ago, there used to be a wall around the city, but it was preventing the city from growing so it was taken down. It was located near the main train station.

Our next stop was a church with a pretty interesting background. And supposedly the bell inside is larger than Big Ben. The clock on the church tower is so big that you can see it from almost any point in the old town. There used to be a person who stood watch in the tower and alerted the town of a fire by waving a red flag. And compared to many other cities, Zürich never had any bad fires. But, there is no longer a person who keeps watch in the tower.

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St. Peter Church

While walking around, we also saw the “financial street” with many, many banks. That is something Zürich is well-known for (being a financial center).  The city was quite crowded especially with families but it was the Saturday before Christmas Eve so it could have been a slight exception to the norm. Zürich isn’t the capital, but it is the biggest city in Switzerland. Since Switzerland is a small country, it is not huge in comparison to other European cities. The main university has 30,000 students.

The next few stops were two more churches before the tour guide departed from us and left us at the outdoor Christmas market near the lake. Our tour guide did a great job of giving directions like how to return to the bus stop, which was near the train station. And we got to walk on both sides of the town since we crossed the bridge after seeing the women’s monastery. The tour guide did seem passionate about the city and the stories she told were very interesting, but the tour seemed very short–like there weren’t many special sites to see, or that the tour guide wanted to do a very basic tour.

However, I found the stories about the last two churches fascinating and even relevant for some of the previous research I’ve done on this blog, so I’ll share what I remember about them now:

Fraumünster (Women’s Minster): The story portrayed on the fresco is about some girls who were lost and the deer guided them to the river, which allowed them to find their way home. However, when the tour guide was telling the story I missed the transition from what was portrayed to how the church came in to the hands of female aristocracy. And although, women had control over this monastery, women have only been allowed to vote for not even 30 years in certain places in Switzerland.

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Felix and Regula (holding their heads)

The last site was Grossmünster. The patron saints Felix and Regula (shown on the previous church) were supposedly beheaded and buried there and when Charlemagne travelled through, his horse stopped there and he had a monastery built on the spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside this church. I did, however, see the court area of the previous church, which is shown in the pictures above.

 

Germany vs. Switzerland:

I noticed some differences between the Christmas markets in Zürich and the ones that I have been to in Bavaria, Germany. There were more stands selling goods such as umbrellas, clothes, candles, etc. in Zürich. Traditional food stands and hot drink stands were harder to find. I also noticed more international food in the mix (burgers, Indian food, American whiskey, etc.) Of course, there were Christmas lights, but no music and the overall atmosphere felt a lot different. It did not have that cozy “Glühwein feeling” like I experienced beforehand in Bavaria. Everything was 2-3x more expensive than typical prices in Germany (a small, regular coffee at Starbucks was 6 euros). Most places accepted euros at the rate 1 euro= 1 franc, but I am not sure how the conversion rate is if you were to buy Swiss francs with euros—most likely, the euro is about a quarter less in worth compared to the franc.

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Largest indoor Christmas market in Europe- Zürich train station

 

Concluding thoughts about the trip:
I got lucky and had a seat by myself on the bus, which meant I could catch some ZZZ’s since I brought my pillow with me. I met up with some cool people from the tour group and got to hang out with them after our city tour. If you are currently living in Europe, speak English and/or German, but do not have many friends to travel with and still want to see a few new countries easily—Euro Trip Adventures is a great option. I did not have many expectations of the places we went to beforehand, but I was not head over heels in love. The architecture was not very charming, exotic or historic (to me). Although the guide said it is authentic since it was not destroyed in any wars. The historic part of Zürich felt very small. The tour was relatively short for 15 euros.

Looking back through my photos now, I’ve been thinking that I did get to see some beautiful places in Switzerland and that maybe being there only for half of a day didn’t allow the beauty to quite sink in. I still think day trips are quite fun to get a taste of new places and learn a little history if you do the tours, but after my New Years trip to Berlin with a friend I have reconsidered aspects of travelling that I maybe overlooked since I’ve been living in Germany. Although, I did do another day excursion with Euro Trip Adventures and was much more impressed with that trip to Slovenia even according to the following points I’m going to discuss.

I think that there are 3 “levels” when travelling. The first is the most superficial–the outer layer. This is the level of tourism. I mean: seeing the major sites, eating at the well-know restaurants, trying out the things that have been recommended for tourists. I truly enjoy hearing legends and stories about new cities and adding to my overall knowledge of history. I also enjoy seeing churches, palaces and castles. Not to mention, museums, theater and other entertainment-attractions also make for a fun trip.

The second level is deeper and more authentic than the first. It means taking things a little slower and going with the flow. Getting to know the character of the city by spending time at the coffee shops and restaurants. Seeing the different people who are passing by and those who live and work there. Taking time to travel with the transportation and walking along the streets-seeing what you can find this way.

The third level could be more or less “extreme” depending on a person’s interests. Some people may want to go hiking, climbing, or even camping in the nature. I am not one of those people. However, I do like to see nature when travelling. I find water, foliage and flowers especially beautiful and calming. Even if I am travelling in European cities, I still want to try to appreciate nature. To close my eyes, take deep breaths, and relax my mind.

To conclude, I think all three of these “levels” are important to have a fulfilling trip. And day trips are quite nice, but I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Learning the historical basics of a city is one thing, but spending several days there and developing a feel and understanding for the city (even if you may get to visit fewer cities) is also very memorable and enjoyable.

All the best in the new year,

Stephanie

Bamberg Ausflug (2. Oktober 2017)

Bamberg is described as one of several of the most beautiful cities to see in Germany. Its close location to Nuremberg makes it a great day trip for those who like visiting historical cities. A large part of the city is a UNESCO heritage site.

My first impression of Bamberg when walking from the train station into the old city center was thinking how beautiful the bridges and view of the water were. (Bamberg is situated on the Regnitz river.) It felt like a German city but somehow different than Erlangen. I saw families, students, tourists and everyday people.

Even before I reached the part of the city with the historic sites that tourists usually come to see (more about that soon), I saw many interesting buildings and sculptures. Since my student travel pass allows me to travel for free with buses and trains and Bamberg is included in the travel network, I plan to go back and explore the market area, many shops and unique architecture that there is to see when friends or family come to visit me in Erlangen.

What is Bamberg’s place in German history? The town dates back to 902. The Roman King Henry II made the town into a separate diocese in 1007. The University of Bamberg was established 1647. Bamberg became linked to the rail system in 1844. It is one of few German cities that was not bombed in World War II.

How I planned my sight-seeing activities and the main things people visit in Bamberg: Before I travelled to Bamberg I searched a few websites to find the most praised tourist sights to see and I marked them on Google maps. For one, it allowed me to estimate how much time I would need to see everything since I could see how close everything was located. Two, I had a visual idea of how the city was organized before travelling there. Three, once I was there the places were already marked on my map and I could easily start a route planer to get me there.

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Some of the main sights are:
Bamberg Cathedral (1237), with the tombs of Emperor Henry II and Pope Clement II



Alte Hofhaltung, residence of the bishops in the 16th and 17th centuries (a choir group was singing while I was there)

Neue Residenz, residence of the bishops after the 17th century. Here you want to see the garden!



-Bamberg State Library in the New Residence
Old town hall (1386), built in the middle of the Regnitz river, accessible by two bridges *pictures see below under UNESCO site*
-Klein-Venedig (“Little Venice”), a colony of fishermen’s houses from the 19th century along one bank of the river Regnitz
-Michaelsberg Abbey, built in the 12th century on one of Bamberg’s “Seven Hills”
-Altenburg, castle, former residence of the bishops

My favorite thing that I saw in Bamberg was the foot path up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle was closed on that day (Monday) so I did not get to see it up close and personal. But the view of the city from the foot path and the peaceful, quiet nature around me was so wunderschön. I wasn’t aware of the foot path before I arrived in Bamberg–I just followed street signs from the main area where the Cathedral and other main attractions were and made my way up the hill. It was a pretty active climb up there too.



I recommend taking the walk by foot to look at the view down on the city, but if you want to tour the castle, I recommend checking on the hours and taking a bus tour up there. My GPS led me to some trails in the wood instead of to footpath I needed to get to the castle entrance (maybe the footpaths were correct but they were blocked since the castle was closed that day, or maybe I just didn’t find the right direction). I did see a road which would have taken me up to the castle, but it was for cars only.


Therefore, the walking trail is extraordinarily beautiful–grassy hills and such an amazing view. But finding the way to the castle from there proved a little tricky by foot.

What are some things that makes Bamberg special?

  1. There are seven hills in Bamberg, each with its own church. That is why some call Bamberg “Franconian Rome.” Although my Google research recommended me to take my time walking through Bamberg’s many romantic hills, I did not realize that each of the seven hills had a church until afterwards

 

2. UNESCO Site which wasn’t destroyed in the war- including the town hall that sits above the river





3. Rauchbier- I did try this beer, but I didn’t like it. I like grilled food but not really that savory, smoky taste so it’s not really a surprise that I wouldn’t care for that flavor in my beer.

My concluding impressions of the city: If you have already travelled to several cities in Bavaria or just have a lot of free time, Bamberg is worth the visit. However, it is not the most memorable city Germany has to offer (meiner Meinung nach). And unfortunately, many of the historical buildings were under construction while I was there. The city definitely has its charm and feels pretty small and cozy settled into its hills. It is a pretty popular tourist destination and, on a Monday, it was crowded. For some reason, many businesses are closed on Monday such as the Altenburg (castle) and some restaurants. I enjoyed my time in Bamberg and waking up, taking the train and just discovering a new place on my own. Luckily, I did not get rained out but the weather was still a little gray and I was not absolutely in love with the city itself.

That’s it for today! If you want to read more about travelling in Germany, I recommend the following blog. The author also wrote a very informative post about Bamberg: Travelling in Germany- Bamberg

Have a nice holiday season,

Stephanie