So Short But So Sweet
My stop in Zurich was so quick but so awesome. It was the end of my very first multi-country trip: the kind of trip where I see a crap-load of countries in a very short amount of time…this was the first time doing that! This specific trip was actually paramount and the very foundation of my mission to see every country in the world. I realized, “Wow, if I can see seven countries in two weeks…I can probably see every country in the world if I put my mind to it.” This was the first trip where I ran like crazy and checked off country after country with breakneck speed. And I loved it!
It started with a standby flight to Germany (nightmare scenario…it was not fun getting there!)…then a drive into Luxembourg, a layover in Amsterdam on the way to Prague, a flight to Slovakia, a train to Vienna and then one final plane to Zurich, before heading home. Wow! What a whirlwind! It was exhilarating.
Hot in Herrre
I arrived in Zurich in the afternoon of Friday, July 3rd, 2015. I took a train from the airport to Zurich’s main rail station and then trekked to my hotel on foot, luggage in tow. It was only a 12-minute walk, but I was nearly dying in the 91-degree sweltering Summer heat. It was boiling. The hotel had a barrel (literally, a wooden barrel) in the lobby filled with cold apple cider. It tasted so good on such a scorching day.
I rested in my air conditioned room for a few minutes before heading out. I had no particular destination in mind – I was going to just head over to a nearby park and enjoy the scenery. Plans changed when I hit the Limmat River.
Here I am, just walking down the sidewalk minding my own beeswax, when I’m led smack dab into a gorgeous river, flowing right through town, in between cafés and bars. The best part was, there were mobs of people jumping off the bridge right into the water! It was a thing here. I wasn’t expecting this, and I just had to partake! I ran back to the hotel to change into my trunks. I needed this river in my life!
Wet ‘N’ Wild
Back at the hotel, I was now hotter than ever. I thought I was going to pass out. Two more cups of apple cider please! I put on swim shorts, then headed back to the river. I couldn’t wait to get in!
I wanted a picture in the river so much. I mean, this was such an incredible scene – a truly local experience that I just happened upon…how could I not snap some selfies in this beautiful river? The only problem: my phone was not waterproof. Not even a little bit. This was 2015 and I think I had an iPhone 5. Luckily I also had a Ziploc bag…two of them. That would protect it right? Right??? Okay…here I go! I got up on the rail, counted one…two…threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!
The water was so cold, but felt soooo good on such a boiling-hot day! It was wonderful! I didn’t realize how fast the river was moving until I was in it though…this thing was moving! I struggled to take my phone out of its bag without getting it wet. I had to get this selfie. And I did. Then I managed to get the phone back into the bags and zipped them closed tight, double-bagged again. It was tough doing all this at once: staying afloat while being rushed down a river, not losing my breath (I was treading water hard), all why trying keep my phone dry. But the attempt was futile. By the time I was able to make it out of the river–not more than four minutes later–my screen was going blank. There had been an aqua-breach.
I ran back to my hotel and downloaded the three photos from the river before the phone went completely dark. Then, I did the only thing I knew to do: I hysterically ran to a nearby supermarket to buy a bag of rice. Well I’m here to tell you the ol’ “wet phone in a bag of rice overnight” trick did not work – at least not for me. My phone was not spared and I’d be without it for the rest of the trip. Luckily, Switzerland was my very last stop on this trip, but it meant I’d miss snapping photos of all the other cool stuff I’d see over the next 24 hours. And I’d see a lot of cool stuff. Fail.
To be fair, I must admit that the jump and epic float down the river was just so freaking rad…maybe even worth losing my phone for. I’ve always loved a good tubing adventure. “Swimmable”/”floatable” rivers have always been one of my favorite things in life, in general. The fact that this one was in a foreign country, in one of the coolest cities ever, was just so damn refreshing on a hot day, and best of all, a complete surprise, made it all just so amazing. So incredible, in fact, that this particular bridge earned the Ramblin’ Randy Award for “Best Place to Jump in a River!”
And NOW…The REST of the Trip
It totally sucked not having a phone for the rest of the trip. The next day was my only full day in Zurich and since I’m writing this blog five years later, I don’t remember much.
I do remember taking a day trip on a train to Lucerne and that was pretty awesome. Lots of tourists there, but I enjoyed walking around and was back on the train to Zurich before sundown. One of my best travel memories ever was my return to the Zurich HB train station that night, where I witnessed a full orchestra set up and playing such beautiful music in the station. This was a train station–the last place I’d expect to see an orchestra! But there they were, playing for the passengers and a group of dancers Waltzing around the center of the station floor. I remember the hairs on my arms standing up. I felt like I was in a fairy tale standing in that old beautiful train station with the music playing. It was one of the single most special moments of my travel career. I sure wish I could’ve taken a photo…thanks Limmat River!
A few other cool memories – One: buying lots of delicious chocolate from the underground supermarket at the train station. Two: The people were really nice; I met a couple really chill girls there. So many good vibes in Zurich. And Three: A shout-out to whoever instilled such good manners for drivers there, specifically when it comes to respecting pedestrians. Zurich is the only city in the entire world (that I’ve visited), where the cars actually stop for you before you even think about crossing the street. Maybe I just got lucky, but I remember anytime I even got even near a crosswalk or a curb, cars would slam on their brakes to make sure they’d stop for me. Why, thank you!
Every Vacation Has its Last Day
I remember being so worried I wouldn’t wake up the next morning for my flight home, not having a phone and all. I didn’t trust that the hotel would give me the wake-up call I’d asked for (I’ve been burned so many times before). So I didn’t get much sleep that last night in Zurich, and when I did wake up, I’d discover that I would not make it onto my original flight home – I was flying standby and the plane was completely full. Thank goodness I had a stash of United miles. This was the first of many times those miles would get me out of an emergency (and stranded) situation. Thank God! I quickly purchased the new itinerary and I was off to the airport and back home the next day.
I loved everything about Zurich and Switzerland is one of those countries that I absolutely will return to, to spend more time. I can’t wait to get back in that river, this time with my waterproof phone!
In 2019, BuzzFeed interviewed me and asked about my top 10 favorite countries in the world, and of course I included Switzerland!
For the last few years I’ve dreamt of returning to the fairy tale city that is Zurich, and taking another plunge into that cool, clear Limmat River. June 2020 (yes, mid pandemic) was when that opportunity finally came.
It was the end of a fantastic, exhilarating and albeit stressful trip through Europe during a period where Americans weren’t allowed in. I’d somehow been able to finagle a special exemption letter from the Hungarian Police that would get me into the EU. I’d enjoyed the last few days seeing Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Lichtenstein, and now, here I was, wrapping up this epic journey back in one of my favorite places in the entire world. As always, the schedule was super tight and a flight cancellation had made things even more crazed. I’d have less than one day in Zurich, driving in from Lichtenstein in the A.M. to do as much as I could before sleeping at the airport hotel for an early flight out the next morning. I knew what I had to do. I programmed my GPS in the rental car to take me straight to the river.
Rollin’ on the River
I tried to control my excitement as I neared the center of Zurich. Was this really happening?! I parked my car and walked towards the Limmat. Before I knew it, I turned the corner and saw that beautiful, emerald water flowing between the old buildings and under stone bridges. It was just like I remembered it. It was time to take a walk. I started at the mouth of the river where the water flows in from Lake Zurich. I was going to relish every moment of this special place on my last day in Europe.
Unlike my first meeting with The Limmat, where I pretty much just jumped in all willy-nilly, with a plan – and destroyed my iPhone almost immediately – I’d had five years to take a deep breathe and prepare for today’s experience. First, I didn’t even know if anyone would be in the water on a very temperate day like this. It was only in the 70s – a far cry from the 100+ heatwave the city was experiencing on my last trip here. I imagined the water could very well be ice-cold and not fit for anyone to take a plunge. This was just one of the many things I wanted to find out during today’s exploration.
So I began at the mouth of the river, where I could see boats enjoying Lake Zurich, and began a leisurely stroll in, along the concrete banks of such beautiful water. I enjoyed the next 90 minutes, walking by cafés, through parks and past kiddos feeding ducks. I stopped for a bite myself, to enjoy a cool, crisp salad and hydrate myself while the waters of the Limmat hypnotized me. This was the very end of one of the most stressful trips of my lifetime…also one of the most rewarding. Being back at The Limmat was not only a celebration in itself–I was so happy to be reunited with one of my favorite places in the world–but also the culmination of a trip that defied all odds. Galavanting through Europe, as an American, in June 2020…almost impossible. Definitely improbable. Yet it happened – and at sometimes only by the skin of my teeth. And my amazement here is not one I’m bragging about – it’s purely a feeling of gratitude. I was so darn lucky to have been able to pull this all off, and here, on the banks of the Limmat River, I can have a drink and take a deep breathe and have some solitude and calm over the fact that there were no more borders to cross. For every time I’d landed in a new country on this trip, or passed a border checkpoint by car, my heart would race a mile a minute as I’d wonder, “Is this it? Is this where they send me home?” I’d be going home tomorrow: Zurich was my last stop, out of 15! 15 crossings/landing/entrances and exits that would have me nervous every time. While I adored this trip, I was also a little glad the entire harrowing experience was finally over. I was certain it took away a couple years from my life and added a few more gray hairs.
I soon came upon that familiar Drahtschmidlisteg Bridge – the metal and concrete pedestrian bridge where I first ran into locals jumping off into the water (and soon after decided to join them), almost five years to the day. To my delight, even though the day was not even close to “hot,” this practice was still happening. There was no shortage of folks taking the plunge, just as they had been during that heatwave of 2015. Noted! I’d continue walking downstream before heading back to make the plunge myself.
I enjoyed my leisurely stroll along the river’s edge, passing the restaurants, bars and decks along the water, packed with sunbathers and swimmers. I almost forgot there was a pandemic at all. People were out, sunning and socializing and few masks were seen. It was just so nice to be back to the place I’ve dreamt about for years – and I couldn’t wait to get in that water.
After reaching the dam – and the “end of the line” for floaters – I turned back around and headed back to get ready for my dip. I popped into a convenience store near the train station upstream, and couldn’t believe my immediate luck – discovering a waterproof, clear plastic case for my phone. I was ashamed of myself that I hadn’t planned better and brought one with me, but here one was, with my name on it! I was almost ready. Next, I grabbed the car (parking ticket – womp, womp), and drove it to a parking garage near where I’d planned on exiting the river. Not wanting to chance getting the car keys wet (or losing them in the river), after locking the car, I tucked them up inside the bumper before heading to my “jump-off” point. Once I had my phone securely sealed inside my new bag, it was up and over the bridge, and into the cool Limmat. Surprisingly, the water wasn’t too cold at all. I enjoyed my second float immensely, and I recorded the whole thing for your viewing pleasure!
It’s a Wrap
After that fantastic float down the Limmat, it was time to head back to the car, and over to the airport, where I’d sleep for the night–at the the airport hotel–before catching an early flight home the next day. This whole trip–albeit a little stressful–went off, to my surprise, without a hitch. I did manage to both get a parking ticket and strike “something” with my rental car on that final day in Switzerland, but no big whoop. The city of Zurich pardoned my parking violation and the rental car company never contacted me regarding the “scrape” on their car…so it all worked out!
I checked into the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel – one of those hotels connected to the terminal and settled in for the night. Sadly, not most of the airport restaurants were shuttered. I felt a little defeated having to eat McDonald’s for my only night in Switzerland, but if that was my biggest issue on this trip, I’d say I came out on top!
Part of me couldn’t believe I was actually able to pull the entire trip off – to be able to see so much of Europe at a time where not many other people could, especially Americans. I was so very appreciative and thankful I’d been able to get through each country…the odds were definitely stacked against me. I certainly enjoyed Europe more than I ever thought possible. You appreciate the fruit much more when it’s forbidden.This entry was posted in Europe