Last updated: 04:57 PM ET, Tue October 18 2016

Dispatch Zurich: Introduction to Switzerland

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | October 07, 2016

Dispatch Zurich: Introduction to Switzerland

Photo by David Cogswell

There are five components an introductory trip to Switzerland should have, said Pascal Prinz, account manager trade relations of Switzerland Tourism. Those components are: a mountain resort, a city, a scenic train, a lake cruise and different language regions.

Mr. Prinz worked with EuropeToo, a division of the Isramworld Portfolio of Brands, to create a short, educational trip for travel agents that would include all five components and present a well-rounded snapshot of Switzerland in a few days. The resulting itinerary, what Isramworld calls a “study trip,” succeeded in presenting a fundamental picture, as well as in fostering a hunger to experience much more of Switzerland.

To Prinz an itinerary to present his home country is not just a list of places on a map, but a composition delicately balancing all the elements together in a harmonious whole. To Pascal, it is an art and a pleasure, fueled by love of his country and a desire to share it with the world.

The trip began in the city of Zurich with two days and nights of activities and explorations, including a lake cruise; followed by a night at a mountain resort in Gstaad and concluding with two nights in Geneva. The itinerary included much in five nights, but it was designed to provide the pleasure of Switzerland and not just to pack in as much information and experience as possible.

Besides the places visited, the trip provided an introduction to the marvel of the Swiss train system. Switzerland Tourism and SBB, the national railway company of Switzerland, provided the participants in the trip with Swiss Travel Passes. One of these little gems will give you the key to the country, total access to the country’s marvelously comprehensive rail system, as well as entrance to a plethora of museums and other attractions.

The introduction to the train system began with arrival at the airport. The participants were instructed to go to the SBB office at the airport where they would be given Swiss Travel Passes. From there we would go downstairs to the Zürich Flughafen (airport) train station and use the pass to take the 15-minute trip from the airport to the Zurich Main train station in the city center.

At the main station, we could step outside to where the trams (electric streetcars) operate and catch the Number 11 and take it one stop to the Rennweg. From that stop, we were just across a small pedestrian square from Hotel Glockenhof, our home for two nights in Zurich.

In that one transfer we were able to learn the essentials of the Swiss train system. You buy the pass and carry it with you, with your passport, and then just get on and off the trains however and wherever you want.

READ MORE: The Best Way To Travel Through Switzerland

There is no bothering with presenting tickets for admission, no turnstiles to feed your ticket into. You just go in and out as you please. It’s on the honor system, but passengers are occasionally asked to show their passes to keep people honest and maintain the integrity of the system.

It’s a marvelously smooth and efficient system, but it’s what you would expect in the country that is known for its precision timepieces. All the trouble and expense of billing people traveling to and fro is dispensed with and it helps things to flow smoothly. The train from the airport to the main station leaves every 10 minutes, so it’s practically a constant process with no waiting.

It is an enviable system coming from America where we have only the most rudimentary train system. It was a good introduction to Swiss life and Swiss culture.

The Hotel Glockenhof is a six-story, four-star hotel in the city center, a short walk from Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s downtown promenade, and from the shore of Lake Zurich.

It’s a friendly, attractive hotel with a serene inner courtyard and elegant, comfortable rooms. With its location, it was perfect for our purposes. We were walking distance from everything we would want to do in our short time in the city.

My flight arrived about 8 a.m. and I had a few hours to get settled and rested before an appointment to meet with the group at 1:45 p.m. for introductions and a quick orientation before taking a walking tour of the old town of Zurich.

As with any first-time experience in a country, the associations from memory bubbled up as new impressions flooded in. It seemed like all the things I had ever heard of Switzerland were pouring into my mind as if I had launched a search in the database of my memory bank. The things I had heard about Switzerland were coming to life, unfolding before me. But it was still a great mystery waiting to be uncovered.

What holds this country together, with its many diverse cultures and languages? It’s like a miniature Europe in one small, land-locked country in the center of the subcontinent. Even as war engulfed Europe and the neighboring countries consumed each other with aggression, these diverse cultures somehow managed to coexist peacefully within the borders of Switzerland.

READ MORE: Switzerland to Open Longest Train Tunnel in the World

Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The signs are in German, the main language on the street is German. The country has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. English is not an official language, but is widely spoken and it’s easy to get around speaking English, though somewhat embarrassing when you are talking to people who speak several languages.

The first day’s activities were mild and gentle, allowing for jet lag and flight weariness. We took a walking tour of the Old Town with Elisabeth Brem, a charming local guide bubbling with knowledge and enthusiasm about Zurich. One of the most intriguing surprises for me was a visit to Cabaret Voltaire, the place where the Dada movement began in 1916. For the 100th anniversary of the creation of Dada, the city is conducting a number of commemorative events this year.

Dada was a conceptual art movement that rose in revolt against the nationalism and the rationalism that led Europe into the senseless catastrophe of World War I. After becoming established at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, it spread around the world, to Berlin, New York and Paris and had a far-reaching effect on artists from the Surrealists through later artists such as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Yoko Ono and a long list of others.

Our guide told us that Zurich is the economic engine of Switzerland, the home of its banking and insurance industries. We visited a number of points of interest and then drank a toast of the finest hot chocolate I’ve ever had at a charming historic restaurant call Schober.

At dinner we met with people from Zurich’s tourism board who told us many more things about Zurich we didn’t know, and far too many to list here. Then we went back to Glockenhof and crashed into a long-awaited, deep sleep.

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