Monday, May 25, 2015

Zurich, Switzerland 2015

Zurich was our first destination upon arriving in Switzerland. Although our flight was to arrive in Geneva, we decided to leave that city for a later part as we had a friend there but he wasn't around during the time we arrived. As per our predictable habit of traveling, we still have yet to decide on how we would travel from Geneva to Zurich when we touched down.

At a park beside Lake Zurich

Traveling to Zurich

We were considering the option of traveling by train or driving. After speaking to the staff on the ground of the various transport departments and considering the cost of the Public Trains (SBB), Swiss Travel Pass and Hertz Car Rental, we decided to rent a car for 24H, drive to Zurich and then return it there. It was actually cheaper to rent a car (including petrol, insurance, different return location charge... etc) than traveling by train. Actually for most travel within Europe, trains are generally costlier, but in some scenarios they are more convenient, timely and scenic. But in our current situation, it was more convenient with a car as it would bring us direct to our accommodation together with the 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks that we had. And since it was cheaper, it was quite a no-brainer option for us. The other considerations we had were flight fatigue, night time driving and snowy road conditions; We had just arrived from a long flight and it was actually snowing & raining.

Driving is one thing, but driving during snowy conditions is a totally different ball game. One has to be extremely cautious and alert when driving during winter time because the way the car reacts when driving on snow is very different as compared to normal road. Considering that I have had experience driving in different parts of Europe, including snowy conditions and I was well-rested during the flight, we made the decision to do the 3hr, 290km drive. While driving, there were a few moments where we could feel the car skid a little when it was really icy but we got a good Mazda 4 wheel drive SUV and I think that helped with the road conditions that night.

Our Mazda SUV

We also made some pit-stops along the way to freshen up and get some caffeine in my blood. That's really important to prevent driving fatigue as it is crucial to stay alert while driving in such conditions.

Some tips for car rental and driving:
  • Ensure you have the right tyres (winter or summer tyres)
  • During winter, ensure you have snow chains (for your tyres) in your boot in case you need to put them on
  • Always get the pre-paid petrol/diesel option (it's cheaper and you can top up to a full tank to get a refund when you return if you don't fully utilise all the gas) (See Hertz Prepay Fuel)
  • Avoid driving alone (your partner can help keep you alert and watch the road conditions)
  • Instead of paying to rent a GPS, get a local sim card with data plan and use the maps and GPS on your phone (Have a physical map as backup in case you drive to areas without a network)
  • Bring/Buy a USB car charger for your phone (especially if you're using your phone for GPS)
  • Generally, an international driving license is not required when renting a car in Europe. But if your license is not printed in English, then it's recommended you apply for an international driving license and use that for rental
  • ALWAYS get car insurance, or any insurance for that matter. You never know what can happen, that's why they are called accidents. And don't always get the cheapest. Check the coverage and get one that's within your risk appetite and budget. Talk to Steph if you need some tips/advice on insurance

Exploring Zurich

Our itinerary for Zurich was very simple, or rather, "What itinerary?!". Basically it was just chill and roam. Here's our standard daily routine:

  • 10am: Wake up. Have breakfast in our apartment while watching Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory.
  • 11am-4pm: Head out to visit some sights, have lunch at some nice funky cafe, chill at some coffee place
  • 5pm: Grocery shopping and have dinner in the apartment

When we are on a holiday, we really meant it as a holiday. It's a break and we just take things easy. We got most of our info from Zurich Tourist Site, Zurich Wikitravel, TripAdvisor and our Airbnb host.

As per all our travels in Europe, we will always look for free walking tours in that city. It's a cheap and effective way to learn about the city and it's history. And the guides are usually passionate students or young adults, thus they tend to give information that's more in-tuned to what I'm interested in. Although it's a "free" walking tour, they operate on a tips basis. So you can tip them at the end of the tour depending on how much you can afford and how much you got out of it. The truth is there's no free lunch in this world, and as a working professional, I believe in paying for a good service.

We went for the tour with Free Walk Zurich and we enjoyed it. Our guide also recommended us a really nice cafe, Cafe Schober. It looks very simple on the outside, but the decor in the interior is amazing and the desserts too yummy!

The entrance of Cafe Schober

Decor of Cafe Schober

Decor of Cafe Schober



If you're a fan of Freitag, then you probably don't need me to tell you this, their flag ship store is in Zurich. The design of the store is as innovative as their products and it's actually built from 19 recycled freight containers. By the way, Freitag means Friday in German. That's what a local explained to me when I was asking him for directions. Some of the cool stuffs you learn when talking to locals. If you are looking for some discounted Freitag products, you can head slightly further down the road from the flag ship store over to The Gloss (about 2 bus stops away). Over there they carry a few brands and you can find some discounted Freitag stuffs, it's like a mini outlet store. Varieties are limited though.

Freitag Flagship Store Zurich

Thomas Sabo

If you're a Thomas Sabo fan, do check out the stores in Zurich as they have limited edition designs that are only sold in Switzerland and not anywhere else in the world. I've checked with the Singapore store (at Orchard ION) and the staff said they don't carry the Swiss Snowboard design that we got.

Thomas Sabo Swiss Snowboard Charm

Airbnb Accommodation

We stayed in a nice and simple apartment slightly outside of the main city center, near Lake Zurich. It's 2 metro stops away from the main train station, so you could actually walk back instead of taking the train. We booked this place via Airbnb and our host is an extremely warm and friendly Japanese living in Switzerland. His day job is to fly hand gliders, bringing tourists on flights above the city!

Here's our Airbnb review for his apartment:

"Although Yosh replies are quite short but he's an extremely friendly and nice person! The photos show exactly how the room is: Simple, spacious and sufficient for 2 people. It's good that the shower area and the toilet is separate so that both are not occupied by a single person. He even has a simple "mini-mart" for you to buy food in the event you arrive late and all supermarket are closed. His place is easily accessible by public transport or you could walk from the main central station (but definitely not with your luggages). There are street parking lots around but it might not be so easy to find available lots. Thanx for having us Yosh! We had a great time at your place. Have a great 2015! :)"

If you have yet to travel via Airbnb, you should do so! It's a great way to find accommodation that's value for money. My favourite part of it is the space you get for the price you pay. Even if you book just a room, you get to use the main house space (like the living room and kitchen). That's a significant larger amount of space, compared to a hotel room. Of course, it also depends on what you look for in an accommodation. I will blog more about Airbnb in another post. But if you're interested in Airbnb and have yet to register an account, you can register for one via this link ( By doing so, you and I will each get a SGD $33 credit for our next booking. One advice, as a first timer, make sure you read the reviews of your host & apartment and try to book places that have good reviews (or at least have some reviews) to avoid disappointment.

Have fun booking!

You can read more on our full trip and overall itinerary here.

Date of travel: Jan 2015

Some useful links:
Flickr photos (Zurich)
Airbnb Website
Zurich Tourist Site
Zurich Wikitravel
TripAdvisor (Zurich)
Public Trains (SBB)
Swiss Travel Pass
Hertz Car Rental

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