August 11, 2017 Zurich

August 11, 2017 Zurich, Switzerland—Where beer and wine are as cheap as water

Today, we took a half-day city tour by coach. Most of the buildings in Zürich were built in the 19th century and that was exactly the time I was reading about in my Hobsbawm book—The Age of Capital—so I appreciated that. It is a 1 in a series of 4 books on European history since the French Revolution. I loved that book for it had insights on every page. I find a book like that adds immeasurably to travel.
Zürich has one of the best and most used public transportion systems in the world even though it is about half the size of Winnipeg. And it worked marvelously well.
Public transportation is extremely popular in the city. About 70% of the visitors to the city use it as we did today. About 50% of all journeys in the city are taken on the public transportation system. That is among the densest usage in the world.
Logically, in my opinion, the people prefer to travel by train or bus. Who wouldn’t? Really you would be stupid if you did not use it. It was that good. Residents of Zürich are not as enamoured of private vehicles as we North Americans are. Zürich train station is the busiest train station in the world!
We stopped to take a photograph of Lake Zürich but really we were not that impressed. The lake is nice, but not really anything special. Our guide said that the water from the lake is drinkable. Why then, we wondered, do so many people drink bottled water in Zürich? Of course, I wonder that about most cities. I wonder about that back home too.
We drove by the University of Zürich, which is home to 26,000 students. A sign of respect that the country gives to education is seen in the fact that every University student is given a free pass for the public transportation system. That is perhaps why it has had 21 Nobel Prize winners. Compare that to Canada which has a population nearly 4 times as high, but it has had 22 Nobel Prize winners–only 1 more. And of Canada’s winners, one was Saul Bellow who was born in Canada but spent most of his life in the United States. I would call him more of an American Nobel winner than Canadian winner.
As our guide pointed out Zürich benefits from the fact that its citizenry is very educated. I believe that this is true, even though neo-liberals don’t see it. Having an educated public was instrumental in Zürich attracting substantial business from Google. Corporations like more things than low taxes. I don’t deny that low taxes are attractive to businesses, but they are by no means their only concern when deciding where to start a business.
Zürich has been an intellectual centre for more than a century. Many famous intellectuals have lived and worked hear such as Lenin, Einstein, Le Corbusier, Jean-Luc Godard, Daniel Bernoulli, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Carl Jung, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and Napoleon III. That is a pretty impressive line-up for a city much smaller than Winnipeg.
It is my belief that education and respect for knowledge has played an important role in making the Swiss happy. That might sound funny. Most people don’t associate school with happiness. Switzerland is consistently voted one of the best (if not the best) places in the world to live. Switzerland was ranked No. 1 in the world’s happiest countries in the world in 2015 and came in second in 2016, after Denmark, out of 156 countries. Even though their society, as we learned is far from perfect, we have a lot to learn from the Swiss.

Zürich has 3 old and famous churches. The oldest is Grossmünster (Great Minster) Church. According to legend, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne started construction around 1100 more than 900 years ago. That was 400 years before Columbus “discovered” North America on behalf of Europeans.
Kenneth Clark said that the hallmark of civilization is the desire to create something that lasts. If that is a valid comment, and I believe it is, then this is certainly part of Western civilization–an important part of civilization.


The next church we marveled at was Fraumünster Church. This church was a former abbey for aristocratic women from southern Germany that was founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. The first church was built before 874 but not the current church on the same site.
The third church we saw was St. Peter church that was built on the remains of former churches at the same site since before the 9th century A.D. That makes it pretty old too. It also has the largest clock face in Europe. The clock was built in 1538. Think about that. The clock has been operating since 1538 about the time that Jacques Cartier and his crew was exploring Canada as the first European explorers to do so and that clock is still working!
At the hotel we discovered that wine and beer were as “cheap” as water. Of course a bottle of water cost about $10. Hardly cheap. That same bottle of water in the Train station store cost less 85 cents! Beer too was about the same as a bottle of water. Have I arrived in paradise where beer is cheaper than water?

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