Zürich, the Best Living Quality City

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter V
Zürich, the Best Living Quality City

City: Zürich
Country: Switzerland
Currency: Swiss Franc
Travel Dates: 07/09/2008 - 10/09/2008

Contradictory t
o many common beliefs, Zürich is not the capital of Switzerland. Instead, Bern is actually the capital city. However, Zürich often steals the lime light as the commercial and cultural capital of Switzerland. Does it have the quality to be crowned such a heavy title? I can’t do the justification as Bern wasn’t in my travel list. But if the best living quality city is the title of survey, my vote will definitely be casted to Zürich.

Located just 30km north of the Alps, Zürich is definitely a green city. With great hiking spots such as Uetliberg just a subway away from the city centre, Zürich is definitely offering its inhabitants the perfect blending quality of life between work and a peace of mind.

And if wooded hills are not dazzling to you, the very scenic Lake Zürich or Zürichsee, which had now cliché scenery to me, was another charming facet of the city. Lake Zürich if according to me is a literally harmonious living environment for human, animals, and commerce. Boarded on a city boat at central station to casino stop had opened my eyes to the optimised utilisation of the lake. Very often, an observation to a protruding human head next to a boat in the middle of the lake, with slight decoration of a few lazing swans as background was not something bizarre.

I didn’t visit to any pub in the city, which of course is what a typical day in Zürich is famous for, as I had a great host orgainising various activities for me. But I reckon if I am literate in German language, which is the common language spoken at this part of Switzerland, I am sure inundation of the liveliness of Swiss living lifestyle is inevitable and pretty much welcomed. Even a simple stroll along Lake Zürich soothed my sight with ordinary people appraising the finest quality of living.

Swiss people claim lifestyle in Zürich is hectic. Undoubtedly, the traffic was slightly busy than any other city in Switzerland. However, this is a city that shows a brilliant management and coordination of human manoeuvre. And most importantly, despite being labelled one of the most expensive living cities in the world, public transports was surprisingly very tourist friendly.

A simple day ticket that grants access to all mean of transport is cheap. And if you have the various discount package, for example the half price ticket as I had, transportation in Zürich could mean literally nothing in your expenses.

But surely, infamously known as the most expensive city in the world is not without reasons. A simple sandwich package bought in a convenient store could be some 30% pricier than any other capital in Europe. But with the average earning well above the average in other capitals, who would care about the prices here?

One good thing about travelling in Zürich in September was the weather was lovely. The weather was nicely ranged between 14C to 22C, with much appreciated sunshine. And even though I wouldn’t risk my life again in the future, I would still recommend a free bicycle rental from one of the many points around the city that gives you the pleasure, if not nerve wrecking, to explore the city’s relatively fast paced traffic. Beware of the speedy and less considerate cars though as there is no specific cycling lanes in most parts of the city. But this doesn’t affect much of a great impression left for the city.

If there is one place in the world that worth lifelong living consideration, Zürich is definitely highly recommended. I enjoyed my time in Zürich, and certainly the €26 for 16 tiny chocolate balls.

Interlaken, Flying Without Wings

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter IV

Interlaken, Flying Without Wings

Country: Switzerland
Currency: Swiss Franc
Travel Date: 6/9/2008 – 7/9/2008

There was only one pure goal for Interlaken – to fly. Whilst there are many ways to fly, including those death-defying ones, one way certainly outshined the others. It was the one that I have always longed for when I was a kid. It was also the one that could only be done in limited parts of the world – hang-gliding.

Okay, I have to admit that I wasn’t the pilot who controlled the flight and I didn’t see myself doing it either for my first flight and crash myself to a cliff and then smashing my body into powder before blown away by the Alps wind, or just fall down right to the ground breaking my body into pieces similar to what happen when a watermelon hit the ground from Empire State Building high.

So what did I do? Simple, tagged along someone that can guarantee my life, even though singing my own death warrant was still compulsory. But I was willing to do it for the first time in my life and it was not because I got knackered with living. It was purely the lust for the sudden surge in adrenaline that sealed the deal.

However, as usual, own fear wasn’t the only factor that could possibly bar me from the participation of hang-gliding. There was still the weather.

Finding a pilot that operates in late summer wasn’t easy. Finding a pilot that operates in late summer and not charging you a fortune was even harder. Finding a pilot that operates in late summer, not charging astronomically, and a blessed good weather in a late summer Switzerland – frustratingly challenging.

My session was the only session of the pilot that day, a day when the sun hid in the blanket of clouds, real dark heavily charged clouds that were eagerly decomposing themselves.

The initial session time was 10 in the morning and it was drizzling before the first delay to midday.

Midday and the sun was still hiding, or perhaps finding a protective shelter from the now pouring rain. My dream to fly tumbled. But both the pilot and I were hopeful. He of course wasn’t trying to dazzle me with his kindness to fulfill my desire but to only worry whether my money would eventually switch home to his wallet.

It was further delayed to 3p.m.

That was the bottom line I drew. I had a train to catch later that day. I can’t afford endless waiting and spend another night living in the freezing cold attic of a hostel that was offered for free to me.

The time reached and unfortunately the weather didn’t seem to be promising. But the ebullience of the pilot to earn my money had put us into a literally no turning back situation – to risk it!

Boarded on a van, ascending the winding mountain path, still cautious about the weather outside, my heart started pumping furiously. It was however to both our surprise at the “death point” – the no-more-land-beyond-this point, or simply the departure point – that the weather seemed to have sided us eventually.

After a quick assembly of the flight, a speedier-than-preparing-instant-noodles take off lesson, and the endless reminders of not murdering the pilot with my arms while flying due to devastating fear or intense enjoyment, I was there, literally hanging my life on thread.

“Remember, 1-2-run-
run-run-run! Run the shit out of your ass!” shouted the pilot. Eew! That was down right disgusting. But I decided to hold on to the crap talk for at least the coming minute. Clinching my fists tightly at the appropriate places, we did the 1-2-run, passing the death point, feeling a sudden weightless drop for a second before a tensed pulling force from the chord, and,

“I am flying!” I screamed.

It was the first time in my life, flying in the air without mechanical engine. The opportunity to see the world with my own eyes while smoothly sailing in the air like an eagle was sensational. I didn’t murder my pilot with my arms, but to be honest, I wanted to release his safety chord so much during the flight so that I can gain total control of the flight. Bad idea I know and I am glad I didn’t do that, or otherwise I would have already been six feet under.

Montreux, First Swiss Taste

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter III
Montreux, First Swiss Taste

City: Montreux; Country: Switzerland; Currency: Swiss Franc; Travel Date: 6/9/2008

Waved goodbye to my extremely short stay in Nice, I boarded on a flight that spared me from the 16-hour train ride from Nice to Geneva, Switzerland. However, Geneva was merely a transit point to my forty-euro-for-an-hour ultimate first class train ride from Montreux to Interlaken.

Information intolerant? That is exactly what I wanted! And now come the details.

The morning was gloomy and rainy, at the Swiss side. At the French side, it was fantastic. Still bringing with myself the warmth of summer, I braved into the Swiss storm. Luckily, a glimpse at the snow-capped Alps Mountains was still possible at the tail of the airplane. For the first time, I flew over the Alps, literally feeling I was on cloud nine.

And then I was on a train for another train appointment from Geneva, after a confusing manoeuvre in the airport – The Swiss, the French, and the German sides really are something not so fun to play with. But I got through it of course and started to digest everything Swiss that is welcoming me.

And so I witnessed the mountains, the lake, the typical small town, the Swiss knifes and the infamously expensive trains of Switzerland, all in Montreux.

That’s all about Montreux that I had experienced in 3 hours – a delightful Swiss introduction.

Oh wait, my train. It was a first class, first row seat at the very first carriage, even more advanced than the train driver, which offered the ultimate view of Swiss surrounding during the train journey, at a cost of a normal first class train ticket, plus a little reservation fee. What is it called? Golden Pass Line.

Captions (from top left):
Alps from airplane; typical Swiss scenery; lake in Montreux; also a typical Swiss activity - boat trip; Swiss child having fun with semi-nature; my train - my seat is the first one on the right hand side.

Nice, Pinocchio vs Fenocchio

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter II
Nice, Pinocchio vs. Fenocchio

City: Nice
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Dates of Travel: 5/9/2008

Caption: Baie des Anges

If you are travelling to a city named Nice, it would only be appropriate if you ensure a nice feeling throughout. And this rule shows no exemption to a three-hour train delay and missing information on the bus you have to catch to the airport the day after. Because by the end of the visit, you know you are going to get a nice icy and creamy ice-cream under the sizzling hot sun before diving into crystal clear cooling sea water.

I remember I was told to visit Nice when I was searching for a beautiful beach in Europe. Indeed, Baie des Anges was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in Europe by the time of visit, especially when an aerial view of the beach was caught from Parc de la Colline du Château, arguably the highest point of Nice.

Caption: Real palm trees in Nice (left), Old town of Nice (centre) and hill leading to Parc de la Colline du Château.

However, the creator of nature intended for a joke.

Here is the catch, the beach has no sand. It was amazing to learn that how an enclosed sea would have brought such immense amount of pebbles onto the beach which stretches for a few kilometres. But there they are, the pebbles, lying quietly on Baie des Anges, challenging the endurance of sun bathers under blistering hot weather.

To me, the hardest part was not the tanning session when one was lying on the rocks because a beach towel proved sufficient for a comfortable few hours nap. The most challenging activity however was the walk to the sea.

Caption: Old town of Nice.

The beach is gently flat, but when it approached the shoreline, it sloped down sharply. Combined with the extremely energetic waves constantly smoothing the pebbles on the shore face, it was barely possible for one to walk steadily, without feeling pain at the feet, without risking breaking an arm or leg after a fall caused by the slippery rocks.

However, once you have passed all the tests, the sea – lightly salted, comfortably cooling and lovely empty – is yours.

It was possible to find sections of the beach to be nicely padded with a layer of fine sand. However, unless you check in to one of the ridiculously expensively priced hotels along the beach, you will not be granted entry to these sections.

Caption: Baie des Anges from Parc de la Colline du Château (left) and Quay of Nice.

The infamous but popular pebbles beach was surely the major attraction of Nice. But during my week of visit, something even more exciting was in store for me, though as always, came with a little disappointment.

I was talking about ice-cream. There are two insanely sought-after ice-cream shops in Nice; the Pinocchio and the Fenocchio. These two shops are located right opposite to each other, contesting with the fiercest competition. But ask anyone from Nice, you will be recommended to Fenocchio and so I was there, spending my very first part of the fifty-euro ice-cream budget during my trip.

Other than the provision of absolutely bizarre flavours that caused hesitation during purchase, the number of flavours offered was also the causality of battle between the taste bud and the wallet.

Caption: Fenocchio and ice-cream bought at the shop.

Divided into three sections; the normal, the special and the weird, Fenocchio’s intention to dazzle you and your wallet was indeed successful. And most importantly, during the weekend of my visit, the store was producing a recurring annual special flavour utilising locally produced wine.

However, the disappointment was: I visited a day before the weekend, and the shop had not decided whether the special flavour would be produced this year. Secretly, I was hoping it was not produced but no confirmation was sought afterwards.

My visit to Nice was short, and became shorter after a train delay. However, I experienced the most desirable activities in the city – a swim in the sea, a pocket-burning for ice-cream, and a sunset walk along the Promenade des Anglais. If a relaxing vacation is what you are looking forward to, and if you have some money, Nice is for you.

Nice is simply nice.

Caption: Baie des Anges and its pebbles (left) and interesting transportation mode of police.

Marseille, Second French Connection

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter I

Marseille, Second French Connection

City: Marseille
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel date: 4/9/2008 – 6/9/2008
Couchsurfing: 2 nights

Though I wouldn’t say that it was a shoddy planning due to the extra lengthy working hour during my internship in Indonesia and England, the entire planning of the summer trip was pretty much resembled the idea of assembling scattering pieces for greater picture formation.

Nevertheless, the summer trip had successfully kick-started at Marseille, my second French connection, with a brand new travel experience; travelling alone and couchsurfing. Though it would be better if I have got companion, I savoured the greater freedom and flexibility offered by unaccompanied travel.

Caption: Entrance of navigational channel and Chatédrale.

Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris. The city is huge, but my time allocated for Marseille was scarce. And supported by the idea of having more relaxed travel compared to my winter trip, most of the tourist destinations had been aborted intentionally.

Being one of the candidates for cultural city of Europe, the ethnic composition of the population in the city of Marseille has certainly tailored it for the title. Culturally rich is almost automatically linked with Marseille due to this factor. However, to be crowned the cultural city of Europe? I have reservation.

Caption: Vieux Port day and night.

Not that Marseille was lacking the x factors that make it top the chart, but it was somehow unnatural in my opinion. If you have travelled to the city, you would definitely be dazzled by its offering of celebrations and activities that originated from cultures galore. But it just made me felt that these were all forced out.

It was interesting to witness how people of various skin colour tolerating each other for co-existence. But the connections of these people were in serious shortage with isolated living zones. Very often, it conveyed the message that these people are living together because they share the same space and not for greater interaction. Such a shame, indeed!

Caption: "Old Town" for the first three and Modern Town for the last.

Despite the fact that Marseille couldn’t be more cultural naturally interesting, attractions remain plentiful. Certainly, a walk along Vieux Port all the way towards Fort Saint-Jean or Bas Fort Saint-Nicolas is a must, especially during evening time when all the fishermen gather around Vieux Port, shouting at passerby for their products.

Vieux Port at night, however, has a totally different atmosphere in store for tourists than its blatant business and the chaotic manoeuvre of traffic during daytime. Accompanied by the refreshing late summer breeze from the sea, Vieux Port was beautifully decorated with colourful neon lights that sketched the liveliness of the city.

Vieux Port was nice, but it was not enormous for an entire day. Visiting to south of France and getting closer to the warmth of Mediterranean, what could be more relaxing and rewarding than a walk through the ancient hub of Marseille around the second district, especially in the proximity of Vielle Charite (the “old town” of Marseille) for its Mediterranean and Greek-like construction before diving oneself to the arms of sea at Catalans Beach?

Caption: Notre Dame de la Garde, inside and the way up.

Visiting to the “old town” of Marseille brought me to an entirely new world. The architectural value at the old town was distinctive from the modern Marseille. Surrounded by buildings which I believe were living quarters normally of three to four storey high and painted in different colours, there was a constant demand for a climb on fairly large step concrete staircase. It gave me a very strong sense of Mediterranean construction which surprised me in great order.

Satisfied with the old town, Catalans Beach or Plage des Catalans was however a shocking disappointment. The seawater was crystal clear and was in lovely sky blue colour if viewed from top and the temperature was surely a lot better than North Sea. However, the bay was so narrow that my search for a wide sandy beach unfortunately became a total nightmare. Luckily it wasn’t crowded for a nice late summer tan.

Caption: Another new and old comparison.

My only day in Marseille though was not inundated by tourist hot spots was quite tiring after a swim in the sea and a climb to Notre Dame de la Garde. Thus, there was no night life for me. However, hospitality offered by my host had got me to a night walk in Marseille which I appreciate very much.

Marseille, whether it is an official cultural city of Europe, surely has something to offer. But whether a tourist knows how to appreciate its charm, it depends.