Thursday, August 17, 2017

Honeymoon Day 3: A quiet Zurich New Years Day

Honeymoon Day 3: A quiet Zurich New Years Day

"Happy Neujahr!"

We were up bright and early at 6:30am as we couldn't sleep due to the jet lag (thus, acclimatizing in Europe rather than in super-special-make-every-moment-count locations later in the trip like Seychelles or South Africa). While Michal continued to nap, I headed up to the pool on the roof of the Swissotel Zurich which was super nice. A very friendly attendant fellow at the Spa/Pool was helpful and showed me around the facilities. He was trying to explain one portion in the sauna area... "What do you call this... a... 'damp sauna'"?! haha. He was referring to the Steam Room. Haha. We wandered around there a bit and I started to suspect that there were not separate mens and womens facilities there... men and women together here, I guess?! More on that later.

The pool had a glorious view of Oerlikon, and a hot tub up there too which was super awesome and nice with the cold, chilly weather outside. I swam for a bit and warmed up in the hot tub and it was all super nice after a late flight the night before and our late evening New Years Eve party and wandering outside in the chilly Swiss winter weather.

I then went to check out the (presumably, co-ed?) spa. There certainly didn't appear to be a "Men's" or a "Women's" door, so I just wandered into the place the attendant had toured me around. First stop was the "Damp Sauna" (aka "Steam Room"), which had a warm seat in it you could relax on. That was pretty nice. I then thought, "Hey, let's try the dry sauna now, why not..." and I headed over there. I walked in to a bit of a surprise. Um... nude lady. My first thought was, "My, that's a LOT of tattoos." A hilarious sign outside the sauna essentially said "Take your pants off", and clarified that no towels, shoes, or clothes were allowed in this very clearly co-ed area. My next thought, "I am so not in America right now." But, as the phrase goes, "when in Rome", so I dropped my drawers and walked in like I knew what I was doing. I walked into the sauna and the very tattooed German lady in there saw me walk in and just swiftly and firmly nodded, very curt, and very intent. It was SO funny, and, again, SO not America. My next thought was, "Thank you for not staring at my crotch." This reminded me a bit of my train of thought when I went to a (albeit, all-male) bath house in Japan... "it's not weird to anyone else in there, it's only unusual to you because you come from a prudish culture where nudity makes everyone nervous."

I sat there for a bit in absolute utter silence and after a short while figured it was time to put on some damn pants and go wake up Michal and go explore Zurich. I had a quick shower and then we decided to go head out to Zurich HB (the main station). We arrived at Zurich HB and the first thing we saw there.... Confiserie Sprüngli!!!!!!!!!!!! This is a famed chocolate and pastry shop that I WAS SO INSANELY EXCITED ABOUT, and I didn't expect it to be open on New Years Day as most things were supposed to be closed that day. That was SOOOO awesome. I got a hot chocolate that was soooo good. It was rich, but not sweet. Michal got a sort of cold chocolate version of the same thing I got, and we got a magnificent apricot pastry too. They also gave us an insanely tasty and glorious Macaron for free by Sprüngli called Luxemburgerli. You may have heard of "Sprüngli" on the packet of Lindt chocolate (also called Lindt & Sprüngli). This place looked so damn epic and I was so psyched to go and buy everything.

Ohhhhhhhh man!!!!!!!!
This was SO GOOD

Some friends had told us that Läderach was actually their favourite chocolate place in Switzerland. Amazingly the Läderach shop was also open in the Zurich HB station in New Years Day so I bought some truffles there to try throughout the day.

Laderach had a lot of these flat chocolate blocks
Chocolate Swiss Army Knife!

Next we went for a wander down the main street in downtown Zurich, called Bahnhofstrasse. Most shops were closed on Jan 1st, but it was still cool to wander and to see how the town had been decorated for the Christmas season.

Cool Christmas lights hanging everywhere
We wandered more and eventually ended up at our lunch spot, a place that had come pretty highly recommended called Haus Hiltl. It is apparently the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world. Everything they sell is vegetarian, so they had some big wins for us like Rosti (without its usual bacon addition)! They also had something called "Züri-Gschnätzlets", which a friend had said I had to try as it is a Swiss-German tradition in Zurich -- this was of course a vegetarian edition of it. They had lots of interesting-looking Indian food as very tasty tap water! The place was just OK, I liked the general idea of it, but the food wasn't THAT great and it was insanely expensive. You paid per weight so my single plate of food was $40. Ouch! It was fun to go to a place that is sort of an institution, but WOW it was pricey and I wouldn't say it was really worth it.

"Fetch it yourself"
The coolest thing about Haul Hiltl is that it was a very creative space, and encouraged creativity. Here are some kids taking a break from lunch and being encouraged to make some art with erasable markers on the clear stairway glass
Lots of interesting options, all vegetarian

$40 lunch! Oof!
After paying a bazillion dollars for a mediocre lunch (but, damn good tap water! Like, seriously!) we wandered further throughout town, past where the festivities were the night before and into the "Old Town" area. We saw our favourite shop from Paris, the homewares store called "Pylones" which is amazing and has crazy and awesome eclectic stuff. 

Some fancy watches in shops along the walk

This is where we got our Raclette and potatoes the night before!
Funny warm seats at Starbucks
"Hansel und Gretel"

Next stop was a place that Lausch recommended called Cafe (Conditorei) Schober, a famous cafe that has been in Zurich forever and was beautifully and magically decorated for the holidays. It was super cool to go there and it was packed! I got a Tarte Citron and Michal got a huge meringue ("It's large!" warned the server when we didn't seem like we were going to only order that one item and share it). I also got a... Cafe Shakkerato... my favourite coffee drink from Italy!! Couldn't believe it was on the menu! Conditorei Schober had some awesome Christmas decorations up.

"It's large"
Super nice decorations
Our awesome place to sit

That was gooooooooood

Having a good time
After chillin' for a while there, the jet lag started to hit us at about 3:30pm so we decided to ditch the (new) plan we had come up with in the morning to continue to a German Beer Hall for beer and sausages. That would have been a fun dinner plan but we were too tired so we headed back to the hotel instead. This time we took the tram back to Oerlikon and went back to the hotel to sleep. Vacation mode, already :) We had a nap for several hours and woke up feeling more like human beings again. We freshened up by going to the pool (and not to the co-ed sauna this time). The view of Zurich from the pool was awesome and we really enjoyed seeing that chilly weather from inside in a warm pool.

Getting tired...
Back to Zurich Oerlikon station
The lobby of the Swissotel Zurich

Our room was decorated so nicely with all these cool heart designs and flowers

More chocolate!!!!!
After the pool we were tired again so we had a short nap and then watched Legally Blond on BBC. I was hoping my favourite BBC show, Gogglebox, might randomly come onto the TV but Legally Blond was as good as we were going to get if we wanted something in English. We flipped through the channels a lot to try to find something as good as the comedy show the night before in German, but not as much luck with good German TV on as the night before. Once we were a bit more awake (at about 11:45pm! Darn you jet lag!) we headed across the road to the only food that was easily accessible and still open... yep... Zurich McDonalds. This was actually quite awesome as we got to try some of the super unexpected things on the menu. I ordered something called a Chicken Tasty (which we swiftly renamed the "Chicken Un-tasty"). We got some "Rosti Fries" which were weird and super fun. "Would you like the yoghurt-pepper sauce?" "Why, yes!" hahaha. We also tried a Coca-Light (aka a European Diet Coke) and the thing I was really excited to try, a Sundae Cailler. Cailler is the chocolate factory we will visit later in the week to make our own truffles. 

Glad we got in before this place was "Geschlossen"!
One of our favorite moments of the night (and perhaps the whole trip) was how mad the lady taking orders at McDonald's got if people didn't follow the rules. Some dude came in and was waiting for his order, leaning too close to the counter. She stared him down for a moment and then spoke up, "If you step back a few steps, you will see your number on the screen when your meal is ready." (I.e., "Please step back from the counter and stay behind the damn line!") We had unknowingly just made it to McD's before the last orders were taken at EXACTLY midnight. The food was still coming out but the store was officially closed while we were waiting for our stuff to come out. Hungry young folks kept trying to come to the front door and come in and so she said in a stern voice, "Geschlossen!" ("Finished!" i.e. "Closed!") We had made it just in time and also thankfully not suffered the wrath of the fierce rule-oriented server girl. It was hilarious and awesome to experience though, and adding our new favourite phrase "Geschlossen!" to our favourite word from the night before ("Glühwein"), was a very enjoyable experience.

We paid a shocking $16 for one McDonald's meal to share (MAN I forgot how expensive Switzerland is!), enjoyed our Rosti fries with weird sauce and did our best to enjoy the Chicken Un-tasty, and headed back to our hotel across the road. Awesome times. I'm so glad we did that rather than going to some steak restaurant or something else we had considered. So awesome. Back to the room we went, where I broke into the Laderach truffles and enjoyed the heck out of the whisky one, which was so smooth and the flavour of whisky was not overpowering at all. We packed up our stuff and went to sleep, ready for our Eurail train ride the next morning.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Honeymoon Day 2: Silvesterzauber (New Years Eve) in Zürich

Honeymoon Day 2: Silvesterzauber (New Years Eve) in Zürich

We got to London early after our insanely epic flight and went, very excitedly, to the United Global First Lounge in London. This was something I had researched like crazy because I wasn't sure if we were going to be allowed to go in, but it seemed that if you were coming in on a First flight, internationally, you could. Super crazy special spot and I was INSANELY psyched for it. The real reason: they have a clock in there that is a replica of the clock inside of the Big Ben... MADE BY THE SAME DAMN COMPANY WHO MADE THE BIG BEN. Totally insane, ridiculously epic, and I was psyched at the possibility that we might get to see it... and we did!!! It was truly amazing, and like the lounge at SFO, it was basically empty. We were pretty much the only people in there most of the time (so, again, very private for the usual movie-star-like folks who would be the actual usual expected attendees of this lounge!)

Here we go!
A toast to the most epic wall clock of all time

Unnnghhh it's soooo awesome
Tasty hand-wrapped brownies and other fancy sweets

Random fancy wines and British beers

"Fancy a packet of crisps?"
Fun little samples area
Random airport indian food! Good tiny samosas!!
Why yes, I would like a spot of tea
One of the attendants there was a super nice Italian dude our age in a fancy suit. He asked us if there was anything we wanted to eat or drink or anything he could get for us. It was crazy epic. We asked to head over to the "Business lounge" (aka the INSANELY amazing, best in all of United Club lounges, literally it has won #1 United lounge in the world -- and I spent ages in there on my previous visit to London since it has free Elderflower Cordial and is amazing). We headed over to the "business lounge" side to take a shower there and freshen up, and then of course have a couple of Elderflower and sparkling water drinks or Pomegranate Elderflower and Bitter Lemon. Awesome.

Private shower facilities at the airport, why not?!
The very huge and spectacular United Club at Heathrow Terminal 2. Definitely check it out if you ever have the chance to, it is awesome.
This is the magic right here.
And back to the "GlobalFirst" lounge! We sat down at their literal restaurant-style tables and ordered some free (!) food. As Michal would say "It's not free, it's included." :) This was positively overwhelming in its excitement level as I had been researching this lounge and how cool the decor was and everything, and was so psyched they had "table service" dinner -- like a restaurant in the lounge itself. So insane. And my, did it deliver. Our Italian buddy was awesome and we got a cheese plate which was incredible and some wine pairing with it, and then I got a burger and chips which were excellent too. We took a short nap first on the fancy chairs before dinner, and then really enjoyed a tasty meal before our next flight to Zurich.

Fun lounge chairs

Dinner time!
Super cool wine spiral thing!
This was soooo goood
Incredible cheese plate
The flight was then delayed again, twice, so we just took a nap for an hour or two on those fancy chairs. I was pretty concerned that we wouldn't make it in time for the New Years Eve countdown itself (as was the plan)-- our original ETA into Zurich was supposed to be approx 7:45pm, and with these changes we were hoping we'd still get in in time for the NYE fireworks and street party. Thankfully, this was the entire plan -- "hey, if we get stuck in England, at least we're already on the trip and will just go into London and celebrate there!" So, as always, we had alternate plans in our back pockets in case any unplanned transportation thing happened. Thankfully, the plane did eventually come in and was scheduled. We said farewell to our nice lounge folks... and took one or two last photos of the Big Ben clock. Obv.

MAN that clock is so friggin' awesome.

Anyway, off to the Swiss Air flight and I instantly fell asleep during it, which was good.

The dude sitting beside me was hilarious, I nicknamed him "Swiss Ned Flanders" as he had a pretty solid bushy mustache and looked VERY pleased with himself when he ordered a scotch on the flight. He drank it very formally and also ate the very strange looking cured meat they served us, with delight. It was really quite funny and if I wasn't so tired I would have talked to him since he seemed like quite a hilarious fellow. I had a small tasty Swiss Air chocolate and fell asleep almost instantly.

When we were almost in Zurich I looked up and they had some really cool connections and rebooking information posted on the screens of the airplane, I've never seen that before. For people who may have missed a connection due to the lateness of the airplane, they'd already organized everything for you and had info posted on the screens in the plane while we were still in-flight. Pretty cool and super organized.

We arrived in Zurich and it was all super quick through the airport. We quickly took out some money...
"Don't they mean 'gelt'?!"
...and then raced off to our first hotel of the honeymoon, the Swissotel Zurich, conveniently a short distance (10-15 min) from the airport. We figured out the bus ticket machine eventually and bought (what we think) was the correct bus ticket. We knew the hotel was in "Oerlikon" area, and there was a bus leaving almost immediately upon our arrival outside with our luggage, to "Oerlikon Bus Station". Was that near the Swissotel? Who knows! But we figured it couldn't be too far from it, so we hopped on swiftly right before the doors closed and it took off.

"Don't worry, we'll find it..." we said as we got off at what we figured was the Oerlikon bus terminal. Hmm... where is it... "OH! There it is!" As we looked up there was a massive "Swissotel" logo on the side of the building a couple minutes walk away. Sweet. We checked in quickly and dropped all our stuff off in the room... which was beautifully decorated with rose petals! What a nice arrival surprise.

So that was super nice. We had originally planned to get into the hotel by 8:30 or 8:45 so we could freshen up, take a nap, and head downtown to the New Years Eve festivities... but it was GO TIME since our plane was 2.5 hrs late! It was about 11:00 or 11:15 and it was GO TIME. Drop and roll! Our hotel was literally across the road from the train/subway station so we headed over there and got a "110" 24hr ticket which was great. We hopped onto one of the many trains going downtown and were whisked off to Zurich City Center area.

Thanks to some friendly people's advice, we hopped off at Zürich Stadelhofen... at 11:30pm!!!!!!!!!!!! Talk about down to the wire and cutting it close for new years! We didn't want to waste any time, so we headed right into the action towards Lake Zurich and the crowds of people, to go buy some street vendor food before the fireworks.

After a brief look-around, clearly the correct thing and most local thing to purchase was something called "gluhwein" -- a mulled hot wine. Everyone seemed to have it and it seemed to be "the thing" so with our precious minutes before the countdown we lined up for some epic gluhwein. With loud music pumping and an enthusiastic DJ yelling "Put your hands uppppppp!" we made friends in the gluhwein (gluh-line?! ha) and they explained to us that once you've had 2 or 3, you tend to pronounce it "Leh-wine" instead. Haha.

The gluhwein was warm, but was.. not particularly good!? But was awesome and epic to try. We bought two which was a good move because within about 10 sec some (presumably drunk) dude semi-tripped near us and Michal spilled half of hers down her coat by mistake. Oh well, all part of the New Years experience. I insanely spilled on my pants and then some Brazillian guy behind me spilled on my jacket. Well, at least it's red wine and will be easy to clean! hahaha

Our friends in line behind us
A beautiful photo in the brief moment before someone spilled half of this gluhwein on Michal
We cheers'd the countdown with our gluhwein and then headed down to the lake to see the fireworks. After a nice New Years smooch, we tried to watch the fireworks but it was very foggy out so it was mostly not visible (I think that is actually why our plane was so delayed). Oh well, super fun anyway. So we watched the "fireworks" for a bit and also people-watched, and then headed for a wander to all the food carts. I had checked well in advance and thankfully most of the food carts stayed open super late -- this whole Silvesterzauber (New Years Eve) in Zürich is a big event (the biggest New Years Eve party in Switzerland, apparently) and so when our plane was super delayed it was less concerning because I knew the event and food stalls and fun stuff lasted till something like 2am.

So off we went on a wander around Lake Zurich, and to go to try to find an all-beef sausage (not so easy in a German area, most things are pork). That proved to be harder than expected and so we continued looking for tasty local foods. We wandered the food stalls and found some Thai food (skip!). We found sausages but they were called "rindfleisch"... turns out that DOES mean "beef"!! D'oh!

Finally, we found a rosti!! But, as is the traditional Zurich recipe, it had bacon in it. Fail. So we ended up getting Raclette with potatoes. I tried to ask for it in English and it was so funny to hear her reaction, "Potatoes? What is that?!" haha. I still have no clue what "Potato" is in German.

Yay!! Raclette with potatoes!!
That was insanely delicious and then we kept wandering and found this dude making a fun wrapped cinnamon sugar dessert thing. So we had a nice warm dessert on a bench. Fun! This was particularly great as it was starting to get chilly now outside (as by 1:15am many people had started to head home -- though one of the tents was a mobile party and it was still going strong).

We heard the same song a few times from the bumpin' party tent -- "there is so much Bieber here!" haha.

We were still down for another snack so on the chilly walk back to the train station we saw a stand called "BREZELKÖNIG" (Pretzel King) and we knew it was calling to us. We picked up something called a "Brezel Käse", which was a pretzel cut into a sandwich-like form with lettuce and cheese in it. Very good!

So we crushed that pretzel as we made it back to the train station and then back to the Swissotel. On the train it was fun to see some sights of Zurich that I'd read about -- places that were super awesome-looking but I wasn't going to be able to visit during this trip because we were only in Zurich for such a small time and most things were going to be closed on Jan 1. Anyhow, we passed by this cool cafe area called "Fran Gertold's Garten" which looked epic, even in the dark at 2am from a passing train! We also saw the crazy Freitag store, which is a multi-piled-high tower of shipping containers. Awesome. Cool to see those even if we aren't going to be able to visit this time.

We got off the train and the McDonald's was 24-hrs, so we walked in just to see what kind of unusual stuff they have; I love doing that in foreign countries just for fun. They had McRaclette (!), something gross-sounding called McChutney Cheese, and Rosti Fries!! We didn't buy anything, but it was cool to see so much weird stuff. This McDonald's also had some crazy freight conveyor belt thing from the upstairs kitchen where the food would get sent down to the cash registers. It was pretty cool.

Uh, "Best Sellers?"
Well that sure was an epic evening!!!!!!!!!! We were so lucky (and glad) to still make it down to the celebrations in time for the New Year's Eve countdown and all the fun food stalls and interesting stuff going on there. We really did well, totally ignoring that we were in some random time-zone, and just enjoyed it fully. We jumped into bed and turned on some funny late-night sketch comedy show called "Frau-"...something. It was all in German but the acting was really good so we sort of got the jist of it. What an awesome first day/night of the honeymoon. As always, we travel in an action-packed way. :)