Carry-ons only, one per passenger. The two-hour flight from Rome to Zurich was roughly the price of a tank of gas back home in the States. People complained about the price of fuel, we held on for dear life as we braced for the worst on this ‘budget airline’.
Beneath the Zurich airport lies the railway station, delivering us just outside the bustling downtown of this frigid city. A waitress in a nearby diner tells us she is originally Czech, but came here for employment. Her English is thickly-accented, almost guttural, beautiful in the right places. She gives us pointers, dividing her advice into two portions: where tourists go, and where the locals visit. During her explanation, it begins to snow lightly. The large windows of the diner, floor-to-ceiling, open to a large town plaza, practically empty. Rails and wires turn the city into a Picasso-esque checkerboard from above. Using coins the size of small scones, we pay our bill and head into the biting frost of Switzerland.
Outside the diner with the pretty waitress, we zigzag over the rails and traverse the sloped bridge leading to downtown Zurich. The shopping center. The banking centre of the world. Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich, Switzerland, commonly known as the most expensive street on the planet. Two trolleys run back and forth like high-speed shuttles on a loom. The effect is such that anything viewed from the opposing side of the street is cut like clockwork into split-second movie frames. Through the camera’s shutter, the credits roll: Armani, Gucci, Rolex, Givenchy. Several prominent Swiss bankers head their quarters above these shops. On my side, outdoor vendors take advantage of the chilled temperature. Hot pretzels, sandwiches, and crepes. Waffles in thirty seconds. Fill your backpack with grapes for three francs. The snow still falls, steady and enduring.
Through a currency-conversion mistake on my behalf, I end up purchasing a ninety-dollar hat in the basement of an H&M. The hat looks good, my friends tell me. We fumble with our pretzels to tip a man dressed in lederhosen, blowing furiously into an alphorn nearby. Strings of light criss-cross the street, stories above, setting the illusion of bringing the spangled night sky so much closer.
Most of my group spends their next day at the nearby museums to our hostel, being primarily medical-science students. I wake late, and buy a coffee and a beer at a nearby Irish pub. The bartender and I split a sandwich, and he gives me a to-go cup, telling me how he knows how expensive things can be for young people. No charge.
The snow falls without regard. I finish my coffee within the confines of an antique German bookstore, whose surly shopkeep hurls the occasional dagger from his eyes into my direction. The room smells of must and pipe tobacco. Taking the hint, I follow serendipitously down the street, and find my way into a used musical instrument shop, talking brass in broken Swiss-Italian with the proprietor.
Emerging from their heated sanctuaries on the hill, I meet my group once again. We each try to convey our experiences to one another with frantic hand gestures, trying to allow each other so much more than a sneak peek through the keyholes of our days’ perception. We settle for photos over the river, poised on top of the hill where each museum sits, committed to an eternal staring competition across the street from one another. We stay here, perched, for several hours as the Viking sky turns to a blackish-silver. We feel like natives here, young and healthy, on top of the world.
About the Authro: Jonathan Flemington, 24, writing student (when I can afford both tuition and the attention span). I spend my time reading, writing, traveling and running.
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