I’m quite partial to the concept of Christmas markets. I like wandering around, wrapped against the elements, clutching my steaming mug of hot wine and checking to see what the artisans have been up to. Visiting other cities in December, these markets are a must and are inevitably compared to what’s on offer in Budapest at the Basilica or Vörösmarty tér. Vienna was disappointing – oh, it looks fantastic, but take away the soap and the cheese and what you’re left with is bunch of tat. Zurich was different.
The main train station houses Europe’s biggest indoor market. More than 160 wooden chalets offer everything from sweets to candles to sculptures to jewellery to carvings to hides. The emphasis is definitely on craftsmanship. And what a novel location – perfect for those with an hour to spare between trains, consoling for those who have missed their train, and warm enough for those feeling the cold.
The centrepiece is the Swarovski Christmas Tree with its 7000 sparkling crystals. A magnificent piece of work that boggles the mind. There are 14 of them dotted around the world from Argentina to Venezuela (with two in China), each one brighter than the next.
I was given a piece of Swarovski for my birthday, and having gotten over the extravagance, have to admit to being rather attached to it. Years ago, in Hawaii, my mate Lori bought me a pair of crocs – sandals – and had them add some Swarovski crystals. That I thought a little ostentatious, but I got over that, too. It all makes me wonder at who I might have been in a past life.
And the markets don’t stop in the station. In side streets off the Banhoffstrasse, many more sit in wait for passersby. The food on offer isn’t the usual Hungarian meats swimming in vats of oil (which, by the way, I love); it’s a little more sophisticated. Smoked meats, cheeses, fondue, and raclette vie for attention. Loathe though I am to stereotype, the Swiss certainly love their cheese.
As you might expect, everything is neat and orderly. I was quite surprised at the carelessness with which smokers throw their butts on the street, but then I was reminded of the nation’s efficiency – it would all be clean again in a matter of hours.
If you’ve a mind to get away from it all before the holidays, you could do a lot worse than visiting Zurich. I have a sneaking suspicion that I might well be back again, next year. And this time, I might actually buy one of Bettina Eberle‘s glass owls.