Too Much Zurich, Too Little Time!

View from the train

Zurich is a bonus city for us. We originally intended to visit Venice, but getting there by train from Milan is difficult and, since Salzburg was already on our list, it made sense geographically to slip in a day in Zurich in between. But one day is not enough.

Our day started with the train ride from Milan. The ride was much more comfortable than our other train trips, probably because the seats next to us were empty and we could stretch out. The views out the window as we passed from Italy into Switzerland were gorgeous. It was misty and a little drizzly, but that just added to the beauty. My photos look almost like black and white images, but you can see some hints of color.

We were often lost in Zurich. I know practically no German, so signs were totally useless; we had to depend on maps and landmarks, and we got turned around often. We made it to our hotel and the kind young man behind the desk, who spoke English very well, mapped out a quick walking tour of Zurich’s Old Town for us.

The Limmat River

We visited Grossmünster, the largest church in Zurich, and walked by Fraumünster hoping to go in to view the Chagall stained glass windows, but it was closed for a service. We then visited some shops and bought some chocolate to bring home. Zurich was a nice change from the cities in Italy. The streets were quiet and uncrowded, making the walking much easier.

In the evening we attended a concert with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra (Zürcher Kammerorchester). The concert hall is not at all like the concert halls and opera houses in Italy. It’s very austere looking, but the acoustics are excellent. We ordered our tickets late so our seating choices were few, and we ended up at the last two seats of the very first row. I generally don’t like being that close to the stage or that far from the center, but in this case it was a great place to sit because it gave us an interesting view of the orchestra. The stage is simply a platform with no wings so we were able to see the anteroom where the conductor and soloist entered.

The first piece was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major  with Gil Shaham as soloist, and it was exquisite. This was one of those times when I realized I was in a room where something very special was happening. I’m not sure if it was the excellent acoustics in the hall, the relationship between soloist and conductor, or if Gil Shaham is just brilliant, but this was a performance I will never forget. It was probably a combination of those factors. When Gil Shaham left the stage, we could see him in the back, jumping up and down with joy! He returned to the stage for several bows and then an encore.

The second half of the concert was Beethoven’s 4th Symphony. It was wonderful to hear it played by a chamber orchestra rather than the large symphonic orchestras we generally hear. Paul pointed out that Beethoven wrote for a smaller orchestra so that’s probably how he intended it to be played. Again, our seats in the front corner of the hall were interesting. We were seeing the winds from behind, and they stood when they played which makes sense on a flat platform stage. Their conductor was Sir Roger Norrington, former principal conductor who returned for this performance. The whole orchestra played with such passion, and it’s obvious that they loved the conductor, and the conductor loved them and the audience. He encouraged applause between movements, applauded the players, and they applauded him. In all, this was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

I wish we had more time to explore Zurich, but tomorrow we are off to Salzburg!