A hundred thousand tigers roaring in unison. That’s how the Rheinfall, crashing down at 237,720 liters per second, sounds like up-close. At one lookout point, one gets to stand within reach of this magnificent body of cascading water. Awe makes you forget about the cold and getting wet in the rising sprays.
At the snack bistro near the ticket counter, canned Rheinfall water is for sale. It’s not directly scooped from the gushing river but from a nearby pumping station. So, technically, it’s the same water. “Best of Switzerland” tour guide Anna-Liese Joss calls it clever marketing.
But it only works with tourists. The locals have no need for bottled water, she said. In Zurich, people can drink water directly from the tap and the city’s 1,200 fountains. But the real action takes place during summer at the Zurich Lake and Limmat River where one can don bathing suits and jump in.
Meanwhile, some two hours away in Sertig Dorfli, a hamlet in Davos, water from a stream has time to freeze. Time has come to a standstill here. A chapel, built in 1699, stands like a sentinel, watching over no more than 10 houses. We were told that the hamlet had started banking on tourism from as far back as a century ago, when holiday-makers arrived on horse-drawn carriages.
Still, it wouldn’t be accurate to sum up my press trip to Zurich and Davos as one of contrasting experiences. “Beautiful” is the more precise word. It was here that I saw snow for the first time, when it fell in late November, settling like icing dust on a rosehip plant. This was also where I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see up-close some of the greatest treasures of the art world at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, where great names like Dali, Miro, Chagall, Warhol and Van Gogh were exhibited. To stand within arm’s length of Edvard Munch’s The Scream was simply surreal. And it was an opportunity to see what life was like in a city that had been named one of the top 10 most livable places in the world. Conservation and practicality are the operative words here.
At Zunfthaus zur Waag, a restaurant housed in a 14th century building in Munsterhof, Sepp Wimmer, the boss, revealed they are bound by law to keep the building as it is. From the colour of the exterior facade (they wanted to paint it white but authorities insisted they stick to sky blue, the original shade) to whether one is allowed to plant flowers near the walls (watering can leave marks, ruin the paintwork and weaken the brickwork).
A life-sized living example in preservation comes in the form of Marthalen, a village where buildings still sport architectural styles from the 14th century. Like a scene from a European fairytale, these farmhouses are mostly privately owned. The farmers no longer farm there as, in the 1950s, new layout plans by the government shifted agricultural activity to new lands. But there was a “special way of thinking” in this village, one that contributed to the preservation of the houses and the farming tools used by their ancestors.
The same philosophy also applies to the newer quarters, like West Zurich, a former industrial area where old factory spaces have been turned into theatres and restaurants. Here is where you’ll find the Prime Tower, Switzerland’s tallest skyscraper with a modest 36 floors. The Swiss, according to tour guide Elisabeth Brem, are very proud of this. Keeping things small and simple equals energy savings. But what she wants to show off is the clever use of space at the Viadukt. Under the 36 arches of this 142-year-old railway bridge is a marketplace, kindergarten and boutiques. Here, each shop has its own toilet cubicle so the shopkeeper does not have to put up a Closed sign just to have a toilet break.
Don’t expect to hear any ghost stories, the standard package of structures hundreds of years old. The Swiss, said Brem, cut that out of their history books from as early as the 16th century. According to one story, a clergyman was supposedly responsible for nipping the problem in the bud – by chopping off the head of a perpetrator!
In the most livable city in the world, people are proud to say they have never owned a car in their lives. From airport to hotel and all the way up to the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, you can do it all on public transport. But what appeals most is their infectious “get up and go” attitude.
In the mountain resort of Davos, the fastest way to make friends is to use this chat up line, “Do you ski?” Snow, lots of it, as much as one to two meters deep, is the ultimate draw that brings holiday-makers here. The locals here have a unique way of dealing with shivering Malaysians who have yet to acclimatise to the -2°C temperature.
“It’s nice and warm still. This is nothing. It can go down to -30°C up in the Parsenn mountains where avid skiers flock to, every winter,” said Aurelia Schmid, the Davos media liaison officer.
And they are very persuasive with couch potatoes. Never skied before? They have a beginner’s slope. And don’t worry about falling down. Snow makes for a soft landing.
Apparently, Asia is becoming an important market. A Mandarin-speaking ski instructor and an Indian chef who have stationed themselves at a mountain resort here seem to make that point.
So why not say Gruezi (Hello in Swiss German)?
This trip was sponsored by Qatar Airways.