We kicked off the next day with a cappuccino and latte at a coffee shop in the old town. to fuel us through our Zürich day tour. Our morning by design, was leisurely, and as we were not changing cities every single day, and we could actually treat this like a vacation. With our cappuccinos in tow, we headed to the Yellow Umbrella tour for a prompt 11AM start. Just before Brendan tried to withdraw Swiss Francs from the ATM, but it wasn’t working out – he might have been using his credit card. I tried and it worked like a charm – the key was debit. Make sure you pay attention to what card you are using!
Julian was our Zürich day tour that fine Friday on the banking side of the Limmat River (the west side). He started off by providing a general overview of Switzerland from Roman times through modern times, emphasizing its isolationist nature in the Renaissance age, moves towards independence crushed by rival families, and once against being part of the states of Switzerland. Julian also marveled at the train system, and pointed out it was used as the model for Switzerland.
Our first stop was the Fraumünster (Women’s Minster) Church. This church was a former abbey for high-born women from southern Germany. It was founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. The legend of its founding included Louis’s two daughters, Hildegard and Bertha, and a deer with lighted horns, which would lead them down from the mountain where they lived each night, to a spot on the bank of the Limmat River. On that spot, the church was founded.
On the other side of the church, we admired the unique carvings in the stonework, and Julian has some fun having everyone taking guesses at what they signified but eventually explained that these were the masons’ house symbols, and indications for work they needed to be paid for, though they may never have gotten paid for this work since the symbols were still there. Usually, upon payment, the signature stones were removed.
Julian also explained the story around the windows, by famed artist Marc Chagall. The story goes something like this: the Canton of Zürich wanted to commission art for the windows, and were summoned to France by Marc Chagall to pitch them. They got there, and he produced already completed windows, bespoke for the project. The Zürich officials did not know how to react, so over the course of many meals and many glasses of wine, Marc Chagall talked them into it. They insisted that he remain anonymous, and that the fee be modest, so as not to raise eyebrows to city budgeting officials. Only a few years ago, this information was formally released to the public.
We then continued north on the Limmat River along the west bank until we came upon a hotel with the symbol of a stork on it (Storchen Hotel) – a hotel that’s been around since the 14th century, and got its name because supposedly a rare, black stork was breeding in its rafters. The Storchen also occupied the narrowest point of the Limmat river in town, thereby offering a lucrative merchant fording area to bring goods between Germany and Italy, allowing it to stay in business so many years.
Beyond the Storchen, we passed a statue upon the Limmat River in honor of Hans Waldmann. Hans was a military leader who achieved some victories in the 15th century, and was elected mayor of Zurich afterward. Six years later, he was executed after an attempt to raise taxes – this is a somewhat controversial statue, erected by his guild to clear his name. While the photo is not a great one, we enjoyed seeing the pigeon perched atop his head.
We then hooked inward towards St. Peter’s Church, and on the way we saw some Roman ruins. You can see our guide, Julian, in the image on the left giving us an overview on this Zürich day tour.
Once in St. Peter’s square, we saw the largest church clock face in Europe at over 28 feet in diameter. It was also built on a former Roman temple to Jupiter, and the church and clock were in fact rebuilt bigger and grander after a fire in 1911. Julian explained that over the years, more dials were gradually placed on the clock as time mechanisms got more precise.
After the clock, went to a lookout and park on a small hill in the city, providing grand views of the Limmat river banks, including the Zürich University. On the way, Julian pointed out a bunker and explained the phenomena of Swiss paranoia. After the accidental bombing in World War II and the threat of nuclear weapons, bunkers became mandatory to building code in 1960. In fact, law dictated that there be more than enough shelters to accommodate the population.
We grabbed some snapshots and enjoyed the rare sunshine up on the hill, and heard the story about the saviors of Zürich. In 1292, the women of Zürich defended the city when their men were off at battle, to successfully defend the city they made the army look larger than it was by standing on a hill dressed in full armor. The enemy viewed them from far off and assumed the city was well defended. The woman in armor fountain on the hill is a memorial to this heroic act.
We then continued the tour towards the other side of the river, where people lived or so the saying went. Julian pointed out the house that Vladimir Lenin stayed in while exiled in Zürich. Eventually, he returned to Russia when the revolution broke in 1917. It was said he complained about the noise and chaos, since he lived directly above a night club.
Another brief stop at the Hotel Voltaire, the founding artist community of Dadaism, we reached our final destination – the Grossmünster. On the walk we learned a little more about Julian – he is French but lives in Zürich permanently, and is a data scientist who moonlights as a guide for pocket money.
Once in the square of the main church, we learned about its history, as we wrapped up this Zürich day tour. The legend of Grossmünster, in competition with Fraumünster, is as follows: Grossmünster claims founding by Charlemagne, when his horse fell to its knees on the tombs of Felix and Regula, Zürich’s patron saints. The Fraumünster, on the other hand, was founded by Louis the German, Charlemagne’s grandson. Prior, it was a Roman burial site. The prominent two towers were built in the late 15th century, and were destroyed by a fire a few centuries later. They were rebuilt into the current style, and the locals call them the salt and pepper shakers (something Richard Wagner coined).
Our Zürich day tour concluded, but we decided to pepper him with a few more questions about where to eat and what to do. More to come!