Well, Tuesday was the last day of our Eurail Pass. We used it a lot for three full months, and we certainly felt we got our money's worth.
Perhaps it's appropriate that our last ride was also one of the fanciest. We rode on a nearly new Cisalpino train which goes from Milan to Stuttgart (we got off in Zurich for our flight back to Boston on Thursday.) The seats were like airline seats (only bigger) with buttons to lean back, built in stereo, View of river and lake electric window shades, individual air vents, attendant call buttons and (most convenient) a switched 220-volt power supply, so we did not have to let our computer battery run down.
This is the first time we have had to pay a supplemental charge (in addition to our Eurail Pass and in addition to the reservation fee.) It wasn't much; the combined supplemental and reservation fee for the two of us was 70 francs - about $10.
The train left the enormous stone edifice that is the Milan Central Station, through the crowded and dirty city to the suburbs, and then began the climb into the Alps, stopping first at Como, a favorite Milanese lake resort.
The track through Switzerland was very well banked, and we tilted back and forth like a skier as we wound around the shore of the lake heading towards the snowy Alps in the distance.
We were in the Italian portion of Switzerland -- Lugano, Lucarno, and so on -- and we thought that an Italian speaker might well prefer to live in Circus Conelli prosperous Switzerland than in Italy, with its political problems.
In another hour we were in Airolo, with a foot or two of snow on the ground, and the road and the railroad trading paths through tunnels and viaducts up towards the Gothard Pass.
Just when we saw the highway cutting switchbacks above us and realized there was no way our train could climb that mountain we plunged into the Gothard Tunnel. We felt the train descending, it braked and switched track, then slowly came through on the other side of the Alps, in German-speaking Switzerland. We continued to go quite slowly as we went through more tunnels descending the other side of the Pass.
Soon we were passing large lakes, smooth as glass, and countryside which seemed dry after all of the flooded fields and high rivers farther south. Chalets gave way to farmhouses, then suburbs, till we arrived at the large Zurich train station. We walked up the street to our hotel enjoying the feel of a familiar city.
After stowing our bags, we set out for a walk, and discovered to our Expensive fishing gear amazement that we walked twice as far in half the time as we had in September! We were pleased that touring European cities on foot had put us in better shape.
The weather was mild -- about 50 degrees -- and we could see the lake and the snowy Alps in the distance from our hotel window. Zurich was at its most beautiful, with Christmas lights sparkling and the streets filled with holiday shoppers. We passed a Salvation Army chorus and a mime dressed in gold on a white platform. Both were doing well -- we don't know which was doing better.
Zurich is one of the world's wealthier cities, and the shop windows and well-dressed shoppers proved it. We especially liked an upscale store for anglers, located in a fancy building just at the lake front. They had a variety of the most expensive apparatus imaginable to lure, hook and land a fish in style; one shudders to think of the cost per pound of fish caught!
Zurich is a cosmopolitan city as well, and we heard many languages and saw many styles of dress. The nightclub district has its share of junky stores, too -- or maybe that's just the perspective of old fuds!
We stopped to see the Grossmunster church, admiring its stark Romanesque arches. It was begun in the year 1100 -- by Charlemagne, according Grossmunster to legend (there is a rather ugly old statue of him in the crypt.) This church was the site of the Reformation in Zurich under Huldrych Zwingli, a disciple of Martin Luther who was responsible for the removal of all church art, even the original organ. Just two days ago we had stood in the center of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, with its gold mosaic tiles and marble pillars. Now we were surrounded by bare, rough-cut stone walls and high arches, the stained-glass windows providing the only color. Seeing this remarkable contrast in churches helped us appreciate the separation of Christianity into Protestant and Catholic traditions in a way we never had in college.
We found ourselves much more enthusiastic about Zurich than on our earlier trips. We noticed the clean, wide, orderly streets and sidewalks, and the courtesy of drivers, bicyclists and other pedestrians. But perhaps the most important change is in us, the travelers. After three months in Western Europe, we feel confident we can enter a European city, handle its currency and language, walk around, use its urban transit, and find its museums and interesting districts without being overawed or hesitant. From our new perspective as experienced European travelers we both felt Zurich is a very special city, one we'd be happy to return to visit again and again.