It all started when I decided to book a flight to Portland. Portland, Oregon. A city in the United States of America. Maybe a 5-hour flight… no biggie. So, how did I end up spending Easter in Zürich’s red light district? Simple: the flight was $3 cheaper! How could I pass that up?
Next thing I know, I’m flying an hour to the Montreal airport for a 4-hour layover. I sat down for a mid-travel hydration break and met a wonderful bartender from Israel. We chatted. Well, she chatted. Israelis like to talk. She told me about immigrating to Canada and how she desperately wants to return to her homeland. She told me everything! Of course, I gave her a nice tip and moved on. This is after she told me I should go outside for a bit because I could use a little tan. Yep.
Then I was back on the plane (I was NOT missing any flights this trip!) Another few hours, and I landed in Zürich Airport!
I was a little concerned because I had heard that there was no vegan food in Zürich and that it was a very expensive city/country. With this in mind, I was still determined to live off of $150 USD/$127.20 Francs for the entire week. This was helped by two factors: free accommodations I found on Couchsurfing and some help from Zuerich.com. I really would not have survived this trip without the help of the city guide, definitely check it out! A representative from the site, Julia told me about the ZurichCARD and told me about a great 2-hour tour of the Old Town, which I also really recommend.
What really amazed me about Zürich was that everyone has a completely different experience of this small city! I was staying in the infamous ‘Red Light District’ on Langstrasse (Long Street). Here you’ll find all the trouble you are seeking. 24-hour snacks and booze, sinful pleasures, entertainment, and easy access to nearly anywhere you want to go! However, this street isn’t one of shame and secrecy, it’s really a tourist favourite. You can grab a beer with some buddies, check out the club and music scene, or discover a special little space by Rolandstrasse. My host owns a community and culture space that you can’t miss! On the front, you’ll notice a huge painting of an old man wrinkled with joyful memories and a truly inspiring ram.
You see these two characters, and you know you’re in the right place. Check out if it’s open, which it normally is. You might find actors or music or food… or all the above if you’re lucky!
If you’re into partying all night, you will love this bustling neighbourhood. Seriously, I was in bed at 5 AM each night and when I went out in the morning, the clubs were still booming and there were still people sitting outside bars drinking a cold one. Swiss people know how to party.
However, I’m not much of a party animal, despite my poor sleep habits. After some fun, I was ready to see the more serious side of Zürich. I took my ZurichCARD, which gave me access to all the trains, buses, and museums, and I went to explore!
The one place you’ll likely to get to know very well is the Zürich Main Station, also known as Zürich Hauptbahnhof– but you can just call it Zürich HB. This spot is the largest railway station in Zürich and it has everything and anything you could need during your trip. The Main Station is where you’ll find pretty much any transportation you need, as well as ticket booths, an information hub, a supermarket, a million shops, a restroom (for 2 francs), restaurants and food stands, fairs and fests, and the Landesmuseum is right next door! I had a great time checking out this museum. Experiencing a city is great, but it’s even better when you can learn all about its history, as well. And yep, entry to the museum was FREE with the ZurichCARD!
I also made sure to get cultured at very accessible and nearby Kunsthaus. They had a permanent collection that was free to view with my Pass but seeing the temporary exhibit would have cost a little extra. However, on a snowy April day, I was more than happy to spend 4 hours checking out some art! Admittedly, I was only admiring the art for 3.5 hours, but then I got lost for half an hour. I’m not ashamed to admit that, it happens every time I go to a museum alone. Every. Single. Time. But I was in good company!
I also had a really great time walking along the water, even when the weather was chilly. Cold weather in Zürich was surprisingly pleasant, too! Maybe it was the energy of being in a foreign country, but although I am typically completely opposed to the existence of cold, I didn’t mind throwing on a couple of layers of sweaters and wandering around for hours. Through the ritzy streets of Bahnhofstrasse, I went. This street is known as one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping areas in the world, so maybe just window shop…. Then I followed along and came across a blacksmith. Really. Which was right next to a place called DYNAMO! I didn’t know what this place was, but the door told me that there was a reggae concert with free entry, so, duh. I spent the next 4 hours dancing and jammin’ with the local Jamaican Swiss people. They do exist and they’re super talented! The concert was followed by a jam session, so I picked up a djembe that was floating around and got “airite” with these cool kids. I also made friends with a Croatian fella whom I made plans with the next day.
The next day we met up at The Sacred. This is a vegan buffet where you pay by weight. We didn’t eat real food, though! I got myself some vegan gelato. The options were incredible! At least 15-20 types to choose from, all given a 1, 2, or 3. 1 meant it was made with soymilk, 2 meant it was made with almond or rice milk, and 3 meant it was raw. How exciting! After the ice cream man coerced me into trying nearly every flavour, I simply couldn’t choose between a level 2 sesame or level 3 currant, so I got both! I wasn’t the only one, I noticed that the gelato was very popular. Everyone had at least two scoops! Looking around the shop, I was really impressed with just how many food items The Sacred offered! Tofu, seitan, veggies, nuts, alternative meats, and of course, lots of yummy sweets and treats from which one could choose. Overall, Zürich was very vegan-friendly, actually! I’ll write more about that in my next post, but let me just say, nearly everywhere I went had multiple vegan options, there were several entirely vegan restaurants, and the grocery stores had spaces dedicated to vegan foods, and everything was clearly labeled as being vegan. I was overjoyed!
After we indulged in some sugary goods, my new friend took me somewhere I could not describe as anything less than MAGICAL! If you’re in Zürich on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, please find your way to Shanti Jay. You won’t regret it – unless you hate music, chai, and beautiful people. This little community of people was completely diverse, non-judgmental, and full of love, love, love. Before entering, we all took off our shoes and then proceeded to walk into the little fairy land. The walls are entirely covered in instruments, they won’t ever have to worry about wallpaper! We all sat on the ground and shared chai. There was a milk version as well as an almond milk one, both smelled equally delicious, and the almond milk chai was a little taste of heaven.
We then moved to the “performance space”. In here there were more instruments, more people, and a microphone. Whether you are into string instruments, percussion, singing, stomping, or just sitting and contemplating the universe, there is a place for you in the drum circle. Maybe leave the trumpet at home, though.
I grabbed a drum and played some xylophone. Meanwhile, an Israeli man played guitar, a Swiss man played piano, a Polish couple meditated, my Croatian friend played a little of everything, a little girl who spoke 4 languages sang and danced and giggled, and an older man with crutches sat down and did some throat-singing. A truly remarkable sight.
As for the Old Town Tour, that was a super worthwhile experience. One this 2-hour tour, I learned all about Zürich’s history and culture, and I met the wonderful tour guide, Maria. This brave woman did the tour both in German and in English! This was also a great way to meet new people. I met a man from Bristol, England who was staying in Geneva for work and visiting Zürich for the day. After the tour, we went for a drink and found a local fair, where he won me a stuffed duck whom we named Albert. After all, we were right in front of the university Albert Einstein attended, so what better way to offer Einstein some respect than name a toy duck after him? We also came across some hooligans by the water, fortunately, they didn’t hassle us.
Zürich was a memorable and inspiring city. The people, the places, and even the swans I will always remember fondly. In the end, I stayed in my budget, ate some tasty food, saw some fascinating sights, and best of all, I met people I hope to maintain contact with for many years to come. They all hold a special place in my heart, and I am so grateful for their kindness, generosity, and welcoming arms. Oh, and there was chocolate. Lots and LOTS of chocolate! We’ll discuss that more in my next post about vegan eats in Zürich!
Thank you again, Zürich Tourism for helping make this trip so special. Of course, despite their guidance, all opinions in this post are my own!
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