Updated: Oct 26
I was still digesting my gluttonous dinner from the previous night, but given the cost of everything Swiss, I was not going to pass up the included breakfast. After the previous night, it was not at all clear I could get through the week without taking out a second mortgage. Any meal included in my pre-paid tour was not to be missed. So I ate again and set off to discover what I missed on my jet-lagged day of arrival.
Exploring in daylight, Zurich has a lovely and interesting downtown. The city still celebrates its historical past, giving homage to the time of Charlemagne with statues along the meandering waterfront that ends in beautiful Lake Zurich. In the summertime, boat trips are a popular way to spend an afternoon or evening. In another area of the downtown, steep stairs lead to remnants of an ancient aqueduct system, homage to Zurich’s Roman past. I could have spent more time exploring, but for the sake of not having to increase my VISA card limit, it’s just as well my walking tour was timed for a Sunday morning when everything is closed. Potential shopping was restricted to ogling enticing storefronts displaying every manner of very expensive goods.
On the road from Zurich to my next destination Montreux, is the interesting city Biel, or Bienne, a reminder of Switzerland’s historic past. The modern city of Biel looks drab and uninteresting, but the historic core is another matter. It has the classic old town squares, with the obligatory statues in front of important buildings such as the courthouse and church. The fifteenth century church still has the old lattice work necessary to support glass windows before modern technology made panes of windows possible. The classic Bernese architecture, with overhanging rooftop, gives Biel an almost Hollywood set feel. Like so many other old cities, its significance is due to the proximity of a river, in this case the Acre. Nestled at the foot of the Jura mountains, access to the river provided the makets on which Biel’s timbering markets thrived. Without that the city would not have flourished.
One of the interesting aspects of visiting Switzerland is the feeling of being in several countries without getting out the passport. Zurich reflects its northern Germanic neighbors. It is about business, finance, well-constructed buildings, and rules. Biel is mostly of the same traditions, but as we traveled east, the proximity to France became obvious. Neuchatel is a lovely Swiss-French town, dotted with little cafes and restaurants, where locals linger over a long lunch. Unfortunately there was not time to linger, as my next destination, a very French evening of wine tasting, was ahead.
The evening of wine tasting at the famous Lavaux vineyards was definitely more French than German--even the accents were different. The setting could have been the backdrop for a French vineyard postcard: rows of well-tended vines growing at the base of a mountain. According to our host, the soil is perfectly suited to cultivation of the noble fruit and has been an area of wine production from the twelfth century.