After yesterday’s fog all day, this morning we were surprised with bright sunshine. The perfect weather for a Zurich walking tour. We had looked online and discovered Free Walk Zurich so decided to check them out.
We caught the tram into the centre of the city and then walked to Parade Strasse where we met up with our guide Maria. Over the next 2 hours or so we were to learn all sorts of things that we never knew about Zurich.
It seems Parade Strasse has actually never had one single Parade. So why is it called Parade Strasse? Well it actually started out as Pig Strasse, the site of a pig market but when the big banks moved in they demanded a name change. As the army barracks was close by they renamed it Parade Strasse.
As we crossed Bahnhof Strasse we found out it too had another name years ago. These days where all the brand name shops and boutique chocolatiers sell their wares at overinflated prices the city walls stood. In front of the city walls was a large ditch, part of the fortifications. The ditch was known as (Fröschengraben) or The Ditch Of Frogs. The frogs were sort of an early warning system for the city and would warn when enemies approached.
There has been a settlement since before Roman times. Not long ago when one of the local businesses was digging in there basement they discovered Roman ruins. After an exploratory dig by archaeologists lots of artefacts were found and transferred to the museum and glass tiles fitted to the pavement above which now give a view into the subterranean ruins.
Not far away a Roman stone marker set into a wall records the city’s Roman name of Turica.
Fraumunster was next on our walk. The story goes the the Kings two daughters were lost in the forest, came across a deer with light from his antlers. They saw it as a sign so followed it and it led them to the river near the lake where they were safe. The king saw it as a sign so on the spot built a monastery, in 853 calling it the Fraumünster (female monastery) and one his daughters Hildegard was the first abbess. The abbess was to become the ultimate power in Zurich with the power to hold markets, mint coins, and collect taxes. They became only accountable to the emperor and the abbess was soon appointing the mayor.
With the rise of the guildhalls and guilds of trades the position of women were undermined until there was a confrontation and the women were replaced as city leaders. With the reformation the monastery was dissolved and today only the cathedral remains.
Looking at Zurich today it’s a modern city where equality is a given but we were surprised to learn that women only gained the right to vote in 1971. Its quite surprising after learning how influential women were in the city right up until the 14th century. Women were also responsible for saving the city whilst the army was away. Invaders attempted to raid the town thinking it was unarmed and helpless. The local women gathered all the armour from the armoury and stood along the city walls, which made the enemy think the city was well defended. The invaders retreated without attacking so the city was saved. A statue and fountain overlooking the the city pays silent tribute to these brave women who saved the city.
It was a brilliant sunny day as we looked out over the city almost warm enough to swim in the River Limmit. We were to learn that swimming in the river is forbidden, except on Schwimm Limmit. It’s a celebration like Melbourne’s Birdman Rally where people buy inflatable crocodiles or dolphins and head down to the River Limmit. Shwimmlimmit is the on one day per year the Limmit River between the lake past the central city is opened for swimming. Supposedly it’s a great day out with heaps of people.
When asked about Switzerland and Zurich most people think about clocks. St Peters Church has the largest clock in Europe with each face measuring 8 metres across. In the front a small window where until early 1900’s was manned by a fire lookout who waved a red flag pointing the direction of any fires.
We crossed over the river and headed into parts of the old town where a gate tower from the old city walls still stands. Around the area lots of old shop houses still stand with balconies off set from the front door below. It allowed the occupants of the building to see who was at the door and whether or not answer the door.
Around this area Zurichs oldest coffee house still stands. It’s been operating for 140 years and is popular with locals. We had a coffee there aft the tour but wow they were insanely expensive.
It’s opposite the Old post office which operated from 1662 until 1838 but these days it’s called Schwarzbach, a trader in tea, coffee and spices.
Also around this area we saw Heidi the blue cow, it’s a painted plastic statue on the balcony of a local restaurant which has become a local landmark and much loved by everyone.
Our tour ended at the Grossemünster which overlooks the river and the business heart of the city beyond it.
The Grossemunster was built on the site where two Christians were martyred by the Romans. Legend has it that Felix and Regula picked up their heads and walked 40 metres before laying down. Centuries later when Charlemagne was passing through the town riding his horse when it reached the hill where the two martyrs were buried it would go no further so he built the Grossemünster on the site. On the side of the tower is a figure of the king on his horse which reminds everyone of this event.
Near the Grossemünster a bronze model of the building is situated for blind people to feel what the church is like. The rear steeple has a curious shine and lean from all the people touching it for good luck. The Grossemünster had a fire and the two spires at the front of the church were destroyed however the rear spire was untouched. Locals see this as a sign of good luck. When the front two spires were replaced the tops were changed from Romanesque to gothic style earning them the nickname of the “Pepperpots”. When they were built the locals hated them but hundreds of years later the locals have come to like them.
Overall we really enjoyed our walking tour of Zurich, it was not just the run of the mill “Free Walking Tours#” with an overemphasis on payment that we’ve become used to. There was not just these bits and pieces but also lots of really interesting facts and insights into the local population.
After lunch on the lakeside we caught the ferry which took a slow circuit of the lake stopping at different spots along the way. The weather was absolutely perfect with views down the end of the lake to the snow capped Alps in the distance and up into the hills which ring the lake. It was a perfect way to end the day.
As it was getting late we headed home to our couchsurf where we enjoyed Switzerland’s favourite food Fondue. Our amateur attempts at fondue many years ago was light years away from the fondue that Karin and Aaron served us. They really outdid themselves, with all the traditional accompaniments and explained the whole ceremony that is “Fondue”. It was the perfect way to spend our final night in Switzerland. Tomorrow we need to be up early for a long ride across Switzerland to Grenoble in France.