Day 5: I love traveling by train - it is convenient, easy and reliable. If the train leaves at 8am, you just have to show up before it leaves; mind you, if you're running late, you would be out of luck, there is no 'delay.' We caught a direct train from Paris to Zurich to visit my aunt and her family, 4 short hours away. Travel in Europe is just so easy, and now that Switzerland has joined the EU, there isn't even a mandatory passport check on the train anymore. I wish we could always just hop on a train and cross countries! I've always just showed up a couple days before and bought a ticket with no issues.
We arrived in Zurich shortly after lunch, with the train emptying along the way in Strasbourg and Basel. Our first stop was an old Spanish tapas restaurant with my aunt for some lunch - some meatballs, seafood, rabbit and best of all, a chicken liver omlette. The egg was sooo fluffy! We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering old Zurich, with some shopping and tea stops along the way. Zurich is an incredibly clean city, not crowded, and the people are polite and multicultural. It is an easy place to travel and live. As a bonus, English is also one of the 4 official languages!
My aunt spoiled us with an amazing home cooked meal: ostrich, ribs falling off the bone, chinese mushrooms and fresh bok choi, and chestnut chicken wings. Who can't use a loving home cooked meal after a week on the road? It was nice to spend the evening catching up with family and just taking it easy. We head back out to Zurich city the next day to do some wandering on our own, mostly in "new" Zurich, including a stop at Jemoli department store for lunch, I had bratwurst while Tony had a falaffel. I adore Zurich and this being my 4th time visiting I could go again and again - doesn't hurt to have family to visit of course. It is always green and beautiful! The one major downside is eating is generally very expensive.
Having another 4 hour trip back to Paris gave me time to reflect on some things we've learned and things that have helped our travels:
1. My aunt, the avid shopper, reflected that "thanks" to globalization, shopping in foreign countries isn't what it used to be. Zara, H&M, Mango...they are everywhere! You really have to look for local shops and boutiques to see and experience local fashion.
2. Department stores are always reliable for washrooms and food, either in the basement floor or on the top floor, and always with many options. This has been almost fail proof for us in both Japan and Paris! Japan's department stores were lined with restaurants while most of the department stores here in Europe have small markets or cafeterias for snack stops.
3. I was reminded in Zurich that Starbucks is always reliable for clean washrooms and AC (yesterday we actually needed heat, but regardless, it is always a good spot to stop and refresh!). Familiarity is a good thing.
4. Out of respect, you should always attempt the language - no one can blame you for trying! While our bad French has often elicited responses in English, many also have done their best to help us understand what they are trying to say in French, and it is all very cordial. We've had nothing but good experiences here and have never felt like strangers or uncomfortable in the city.
5. The closer you are to a tourist hot spot, the worse value the food is, if not poor in taste! Walk a block and you will already have better options!
6. A good old fashioned paper map > GPS.