In Zurich, the European North meets the South. Here are the industrial elements, the newer brutalist structures alongside the angular yet elaborate gothic heritage, the heavy road and tram network, the high-rise offices. Also here, the sun-drenched lake, the winding steep cobbled streets, shuttered villa-like houses with balconies, the intricacy and luxury of a small town rather than gritty metropolis. The blend of geographical references (Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain) is reflected in the presence of an array of languages: German, Swiss German (which takes much from French), English, Italian even. Are they quite sure of their own identity, or is their identity the perfect combination of all of Western Europe, sitting as it does somewhat in the middle?
There is an ornate aesthetic and architectural heritage, tempered by a contemporary language of stripped back design and functional living. But through it all, remains colour. There is an abundance of bold colour in Zurich, from buildings of brightly different hues standing next to one other, to the artful notes of currency. This might lie in subtle contrast, however, to the apparent conservatism of the sporty, self-controlled, Swiss (I am told). But relaxed leisurely atmospheres are found, of course. One night I found myself in a small, leafy square surrounded by a rainbow of buildings, themselves with different coloured shutters, called 'Rosenhof'. Never have I admitted to myself liking 'restaurant spill-out', that term appropriated to death by practitioners of urban regeneration in England, which struggles of course to have a climate suitable to such a thing. There was a young Bossanova band playing on an incredibly balmy night, to a crowd of both restaurant goers and people lounging on stone steps with their own food and drink. I suppose I'm trying to illustrate my point, albeit through recounting what must sound like a horrifically clichéd anecdote. On the other hand, the city centre around the train station and 'main' shopping streets, dominated by busy roads and large stores, feels industrial, and impersonal.
Zurich is a city of water: a river, a lake, a canal, even imaginative and sculptural water fountains at most corners. Next to the water are countless places to enjoy it, whether swimming piers, bars, open-air cinemas, restaurants, sports courts; even in winter, I hear, the Swiss are greatly embracing of the outdoors and water's edge. A refreshing change to the critically under-utilised water resources in other cities (read: London).
Before this descends (ascends?) into a travel blog, I will call quits. Zurich is the best of a lot of European culture, in my opinion, not to mention landscape. But there are elements of the gritty romanticism of Paris it lacks, along with the enabling diverse expanse of London, or the charged atmosphere of Barcelona; elements which are somehow needed to feel as if you are part of a true city.