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Jonathan van Bilsen



December 6, 2015


When travelling in Europe, one country that is an absolute must for a visit is Switzerland. Beautiful mountains, deep blue lakes, friendly people and quaint Alpine villages, make this country a requisite for a lengthy visit or a short layover.

I had the pleasure of spending three days in the Zurich area a few weeks ago and, although it was not my first visit, it certainly brought back the memories stored in the recesses of my mind. Zurich is a very cosmopolitan city, filled with commerce and fashion outlets displaying the latest trends, which make Europe famous. The main street, the Bahnhofstrasse, is the Rodeo Drive of Zurich. 

Fortunately my hotel, which was located in the old city, was a block from this spectacular street, so I had many opportunities to check out the latest in ‘un-affordable’ attire and accessories. There is a certain satisfaction in window shopping, when names like Gucci, Cartier, Rolex, etc. stare you in the face.

Of course Switzerland is known for its watches and there is no shortage of shops selling them. Dozens, if not hundreds of small watchmaking companies sell their superior products everywhere.

If you are not into the cosmopolitan element, a trip through the countryside to Lucerne is only an hour away. It is easy to get to by train, at a relatively inexpensive ticket. Once there, most of the interesting parts of the city are explorable on foot. 

When I arrived I found myself in the middle of a cheese festival. Dairy farmers had made their way to the city to sell their cheeses and the taste of fresh Emmental or a chunk of Gruyere accompanied by a piece of fresh baked bread, is about as perfect as it gets.

You can take a leisurely stroll along the Ruess River and cross at any one of the numerous bridges. The most picturesque is of course, the Chapel Bridge with its 600 year old towers. In the summer the walls of this old covered bridge are lined with bright pink flowers, adding to the spectacular views.

A short walk from the bridge is the lion monument, not to be missed. It was sculpted in 1820 and is dedicated to the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French revolution in 1792. Mark Twain praised the sculpture of a mortally-wounded lion as "The most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” Words cannot do the artwork justice, and photographs can never capture the emotional ties the monument has to the people of Switzerland.

There is a large, outdoor museum which can become a nice walking tour for several hours. The area is well laid out with public toilets, which are free of charge… a rarity in Europe. I actually had a funny experience when I went to use the facilities. The three doors to the cubicles were locked so I assumed one had to pay for usage. I looked to see where the money was to be deposited, but found nothing. 

An elderly man, wearing a hat and carrying an umbrella, came out of one of the cubicles and I asked him, “How does this work?”.

He slowly studied my face, titled his head slightly and in a very arrogant voice said. “How does this work?” he paused. “You open the door, go inside and do what you have to do.” He walked away and only then did I realize the toilets were free of charge. They just happened to all be occupied when I first checked the doors. Once again the cloak of embarrassment covered my face.

A nice walk is along the old city wall and a visit to several of the towers, which fortified the city in days gone by. The old square of Lucerne is a shopper’s paradise. Souvenir shops, jewellery stores and a large, four story Rolex store can occupy many hours of time. I saw a Rolex watch which sold for $250,000. Needless to say I left it behind. (I didn’t like the colour of the band).

If you still have a little time in Switzerland I would recommend a visit to the Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe. Only an hour by train from Zurich, this natural wonder is a sight to behold. It is well organized with many different viewing areas from where you can observe the cascading rapids. A short walk down a path with stairs, puts you at the base of the waterfall where the view is unbelievable.

There are several restaurants where local sausages or ham and cheese croissants are served to tourists. Souvenirs can also be purchased, but the view of the falls is the reason for visiting this wonderful attraction.

I have been to Switzerland several times and never get tired of the beauty the Alpine region has to offer. If the opportunity exists, give it a visit. Air Canada flies direct using its new Dreamliner, which gets you from Pearson to Zurich in a mere seven hours. It takes me that long to drive to Montreal.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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