Year Abroad: Zurich

Obligatory disclaimer/explanation: I spent October 2005-July 2006 living and studying in Switzerland as the non-optional third year of a degree in modern foreign languages. 

There were two other native English speakers in my class – Jemma, who was from my university, although we’d never met before, and Angela, from the USA. We became close – we became The Triplets or Les Trois Anglophones. And of course, if you’re going to move to Switzerland, you have to take advantage of it and get out and about as much as possible.

Reading the ancient blog I wrote back then for my mum, I see that 1) we’d been out at a party until about 5am the night before, which doesn’t sound like me 2) Jemma’s boyfriend had arrived for a sudden visit and it was in fact only me and Angela who went to Zurich. I’ve believed for the best part of eleven years that this was the first Triplet Trip Out Together and it turns out it wasn’t.

This is Angela, my triplet, my friend and my sister while we lived in Switzerland. Without Angela and Jemma, my year abroad might have been quite a lonely one. This was our first trip out of our new home town, so we had to have photos at the station to prove it happened at all – travelling around Switzerland was a novelty, it was exciting and a little bit scary. Later on, Angela and Jemma developed other interests and put more effort into their studying, while I went out around Switzerland on my own. They got better exam results than me but I gained more confidence and experience in solo travel, even if I was always home by midnight. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do a weekend trip to some of the further corners, like Graubunden or Ticino – that was to come much later, I suppose. // #Switzerland #Zurich #stations #friends #yearabroad

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Because of the late night, we didn’t actually get to the station until gone midday. Apparently we chose Zurich completely at random and for the first time ever, I was in charge. I have two best friends back in the UK but I was definitely the beta to their two alphas, so being in charge really was a novelty. Here’s how much research we did: I expected the train journey to be three or four hours (why did we set out so late?! did we seriously think it was worth going if it was going to be six to eight hours return?) and was astonished when it was only an hour and a half. We lived in Neuchâtel, on a crossroads of the major rail routes between Geneva & Lausanne and Basel & St Gallen so getting around was ridiculously easy, and cheap as we all held demi-tarifs, half-price railcards. No one has ever gone as much use out of one of those things as I did.

We must have arrived in Zurich by early afternoon. Being tourists and new to this whole thing, we spent a while staring as a bus stop, trying to figure out how it worked before it finally dawned on us that the bus stop was not in fact finished or in service. So we walked instead, down the river, saw the Uni-Poli Rudermatch, won by whoever was in blue, and then into the Fraumünster. My blog notes that They’re very proud of their stained glass windows, particularly the ones at the back (?) which were very modern, all flowing lines. I preferred the rainbow coloured traditional ones. These days I’m definitely more a fan of the modern style.

At some point we bought day tickets and hopped on and off trams and buses. We stopped at the first Starbucks Angela had seen since leaving the States, back when Starbucks wasn’t quite so ubiquitous across Europe, and possibly the last time this non-coffee-drinker went in one. We prowled the outskirts of the city and apparently took zero photos. And when it got really dark, we came back to the Hauptbahnhof and wandered up and down the streets, looking in expensive shops that were closed by now. I was particularly taken by the Swarovski shop, which had glittery stuff in its windows. But I also liked other things – the random colourful windows of a building we passed, the lighting of the escalator down to the subway, the fountain outside the station.


We stopped in an English pub for fish & chips and beer and then we wandered Zurich a little bit more before getting the train back, presumably getting home to Neuchâtel pretty late.

It’s odd looking back at it, how few photos I took. People can be derisive about “seeing places through a camera lens” but if I didn’t have the photos and a blog (of less than 500 words!) I’d hardly remember that the trip ever happened. I have 41 photos. Three of them are of that crystal Christmas tree, six are of the underground portion of the station. But I remember how much Angela liked the row of seagulls on the fence by the river, because I took a photo of them for her. I remember the lighting for no other reason than the photos. I had no idea until I re-read the precious blog what we’d eaten and drunk. Photos are important and no one should be accused of “not appreciating it properly” just because they’re taking pictures.