March 12 & 19, 2002
Zürich defines the Swiss city: clean, efficient and full of money. You can set your watch, or atomic clock for that matter, to trains schedule, spot on to the second - this is true through the entire country. Typical Swiss: no nonsense, yet stylish, efficient, yet friendly, on schedule, within budget and working precisely. (Although I'd suggest avoiding the non-atmospheric and tot infested HI hostel)
The main street is literally on top of gold - underground are huge vaults for the Swiss banks. Famous for being anonymous and accessible only by account number, Switzerland pilled up the savings of thousands of Jews before the Nazis came knocking and then from the Nazis with what they made off with, namely melted down gold from the false teeth and jewelry retrieved in Eastern Europe. This is something I find some outside countries resenting. Switzerland has become rich by remaining neutral - selling arms to both sides and avoiding joining/paying dues to the UN organizations and others that are ironically often based in neutral Geneva. It's an interesting thought. Is this country consciously for peace or profit? It wasn't too long ago in history that Switzerland was not a rich country. Now they have prepared for military defense to the extreme - every male has full military gear and there's enough stocked underground bunkers for the entire population. This might just be from the idea of independence and it's not just to the outside world. The countries' political views and implementations work intertwined, but most independently. For example, the cantons still maintain control over taxes, schools, welfare and other programs, political leaders are rotated frequently from three parties, there's different languages for different parts and less than 200 years ago, tiny Switzerland was still functioning as 26 small countries with their own currency, customs and rules.
Another backpacker tells me of his walk through the sub-urbs. Kid gangs dressed up in the big names each with the latest portable club DJ equipment that they break dance around. Young (teenage?) mothers trot around wearing only the best and Armani clad businessmen walk to work.
It's also Switzerland's liberal testing ground that hasn't worked so well as Amsterdam. While the park with free IV needles for heroin users has closed, a few restaurants are known to have rooms allocated for safe shooting up. I didn't notice a trace of this.
I wasn't into the swing of Zürich on the first day, and quite frankly, was glad to move on. I admit it was more me than Zürich with the problem. The concept of new self-definition clogs idle thoughts - that is, how I define myself with my wonderful girlfriend. I have created a great solo traveler, who now feels threatened by the closeness and knows the survival of the same spirit would only be through a new, but equally bright self-definition which I am putting into focus. The present is good though, even while the future weighs in the wind. I think we're going to be fine. I think too much.
Taking that into consideration, a week later, I could appreciate Zürich a little more. I paced the old streets and enquired about accounts at a Swiss bank. Initial deposit, $30,000 minimum, all cash, required to be invested in Swiss companies.
But banks and Roman tax collecting points are less than spectacular.
Take me to the mountains!