We checked into our Airbnb and settled in. Zürich doesn’t have a ton of hotels from the major brands, and many of the ones that are there aren’t well-located. The ones that were nice and well-situated weren’t a good deal on points, especially since we were only going to be there for a night, a day, and a morning. We could’ve used Chase points to just book almost any hotel getting a 50% bonus since T has the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but with decent hotels being around $200/night and Airbnbs available for the low $100s, we figured those points could be better spent elsewhere.
T’s $9 tab for two dollar-menu items was just the beginning of the crazy food prices we saw in Zürich. Thankfully, we also found some places that didn’t stab your wallet in the face. While we’re not on a shoestring budget, we would still like to avoid feeling like we’re being gouged.
I figured that Zürich had to be at the top of any most-expensive-places list. Surprisingly, a Google search turned up a bunch of lists that placed various cities above it – Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo – we’ve been to those cities and did not feel the price craziness that we felt in Zürich. There are plenty of examples, but the best one I saw was a 12oz can of Coke for $3…at a regular convenience store. I know Europe isn’t big on soda, but jeez. I expect to see those prices at a golf course or movie theater – not at a convenience store.
Anyways, our first night we found a Lebanese place close-by and grabbed a couple shawarma wraps for $10/ea. They were as big as a Subway sandwich and stuffed full. I’d be happy to pay that in the States. The run-of-the-mill Indian place next door had entrees from $26-35+. This is for what appeared to be normal portions of butter chicken and saag paneer. On our way to grab a drink across the street, we saw a fist fight between a couple of drunks. Then while walking home, we saw a fender bender. Welcome to Zürich.
Through more Yelp browsing, I stumbled across a little sandwich cafe-type place called Äss Bar. Funny name, I know. Apparently “äss” is another form of “to eat” or “edible”, but I’m sure they knew what they were doing naming it that. Their schtick is selling leftover sandwiches from other cafes at a large discount. I’d say the average price for sandwiches we saw from most cafes and shops was in the $7-8 range. Here, the sandwiches were $2.50 for a mini and between $3-4.5 for a regular sized one. Between 2 visits and 5 different types of sandwiches, they were all really good and don’t seem to have lost much quality from when they were freshly made.
All of our interactions with folks in the city had been friendly with an especially good one at a local Starbucks. Starbucks in Europe is not our ideal place for coffee, but we have credit we wanted to use and while I figured there was a good chance our American credit wouldn’t be accepted, I figured we’d give it a shot. It wasn’t accepted, but the baristas struck up a conversation with us about where we were from. We didn’t want to bore them with the whole travel speech, so we just said L.A. Coincidentally, one of the baristas, Fabian, had an upcoming trip planned down the California coast with a few nights in L.A. and a few in Santa Monica and asked for some recommendations. He said it was pretty much going to be a foodie tour, so we gave him our favorite L.A. food spots. In exchange, he gave us a bunch of great recommendations for Zürich. Unfortunately, we were leaving the city the next day, but we did use one of his suggestions for dinner at a Chinese restaurant called “Beyond”.
While being seated, we noticed most patrons appeared to be Chinese, which was a good thing. Fabian said to make sure we asked for the Chinese menu, as it had more authentic choices. We didn’t know what that meant until we were given two menus, one of which was their normal menu and the other labeled “Asian Menu”, which included dishes from non-Chinese countries, such as Thailand and Japan. He also said the prices were reasonable. Once we saw that the main dishes were priced anywhere from $18-$33, we started to get a better idea of what the Swiss consider “reasonable”. Maybe that Indian place wasn’t so bad after all.
Many of the dishes were Sichuan-style, so lots of spicy choices. We got a spicy beef dish and some dumplings, both of which were very tasty and surprisingly well-portioned. Unless you’re starving, two people could definitely share an appetizer and a main dish here. Our total bill with extra rice came out to be $47.
On the morning we left, I stopped into a Sprüngli, a confectionary that sells their signature “Luxemburgerli” macarons. We passed by one while exploring the city, but when Fabian said that there used to be a nearby Ladurée that got put out of business by Sprüngli, we figured we had to try some. They were the mini kind and priced by weight, but are pretty much $1/ea. At what seems to be about half the size for less than half the price of Ladurée macarons (~$2.50/ea), these seem to be a better deal, plus they I like that you don’t have to get a full-sized macaron for flavors you just want to try. Taste-wise, they seemed just as good. However, texture and consistency-wise, I liked these better. Even after sitting in the box for 2.5-3 hours, the outsides were still crisp and the insides were still soft. My experience with Ladurée is that they get chewy pretty fast. I would definitely give the Luxemburgerli ones a try if you come across a Sprüngli.
Overall, Zürich was really nice. Expensive, yes, but it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful, even at peak times of the day, and it never felt crowded anywhere we went. The old town side has a lot of cobblestone alleys and wooden-shutter buildings. You definitely knew you were in Europe the whole time. I think my favorite part was that there were tons of fresh-running-water fountains all throughout the city that had drinkable water. I know Italy has them, too, but I hadn’t tried them on any of my visits. I guess I trust Swiss cleanliness over that of Italy. No offense, Italy. I still love you. I’ll try your fountains this time.
We left the next morning for Lauterbrunnen, excited for our train ride. The main, 2-hour section from Luzern to Interlaken was on a panorama coach that advertised incredible views of the Swiss landscape. We just hoped for good weather and a clear view.