Switzerland: Zurich and Wetzikon

We started our day in a town at the Southeast end of Lake Zürich called Rapperswil. From there we caught a ferry that took us along the entire lake on the way to Zürich. We snapped a few pictures as we walked through the old part of Rathaus. Roses, churches, sun-dial, ancient building facades, and a brass sculpture of a shoe all contributed to a pleasant stroll through lovely Rathaus.

Rapperswil lies on the old Way of St James pilgrim trail where Christians left their homes from all over Europe and traveled to  Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain where tradition has it that the remains of apostle St. James are buried. People still walk the pilgrim trails today.

Originally I thought this route was one of the old pilgrim trails protected by the Knights Templar, but cousin AnneMarie let me know that the Knights were focused on pilgrims heading to Palestine, not Spain. The Knights are an interesting post-Roman-empire organization because they developed an early form of international banking that allowed pilgrims to deposit their gold at local strong-hold (banks) and receive an encrypted letter of deposit (a check) in return. Only initiated members of the Knights knew the secret encryption. As the pilgrims made their way along the trail they could stop in at a local Knights Templar fort, hand over the letter, and withdraw some of their gold. It is the basics of the system I use today to access cash in Switzerland from my bank in California.

A TV documentary I watched a couple of years ago suggested that after the King of France (Philip IV) destroyed the Knights Templar organization, many of the knights retreated into the Alps and blended with the local population. To take the theory to the level of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the documentary pointed to current day evidence, which included: the long history of international banking in Switzerland, the Swiss reputation for keeping the secrets of their clients, and the white cross on the Swiss flag – which was the same symbol of the Knights Templar. The theory may be hogwash, but it is fun to imagine the historical impacts and connections that drive actions in present day.

When I explained all this to the kids, they both said “Dad! Did you see the cool fountain over there? Can we drink the water?” We had learned that the fountain water is safe to drink all through Switzerland. I responded, “Sure, you know the Knights Templars might have drunk out of that fountain.” The predictable response was “Oh. Can we get a drink now?” Sigh.

The ferry ride along Lake Zürich is a great way to see the beautiful countryside. The day was warm and sunny and we found seats on the bow of the boat. It was hard to believe we were on a public ferry (price included in our nifty transit pass) and not a tour boat.

We spotted the skyline of Zürich and the lake fountains as the ferry approached. Zürich is nestled in the Northwest corner of the lake shore, and has pleasant walks along the lakefront. We also found a large grass field where we decided to conduct some Sherry Academy Physical Education. Patrick and Alex, always interested in competing, asked me to set up a race for them. So we started with a foot race around a tree – which Patrick won. Then a cart-wheel competition – which Alex dominated. Then a backward running race – which Patrick won by a step. Afterwords we did a little “wrestling” – which is really just the kids against Dad. After 30 minutes of PE, we (at least the adults) were ready to see the more cultural sites. We climbed the Cathedral tower, viewed the oddly shaped statue of Charles the Great, viewed some incredible church windows made of natural agate stone, and Alex found a horse to ride. To complete our time in Zürich we rode/hiked to the top of a nearby hill and climbed a tower called the Top of Zürich to view a panoramic view of the area.

That evening in Wetzikon, our final dinner in Switzerland was a traditional dish called raclette. The name comes from the Swiss word for scraping, and according to AnneMarie was originally created by leaving one end of a block of cheese near a fire. As the end of the cheese near the fire melted, one scraped the melted cheese on to boiled new potatoes. To accompany this somewhat heavy meal one serves pickles and drinks white wine or a sparkling cider, the acidic taste cuts the heaviness of the cheese and potatoes. We used a somewhat more modern contraption to melt the cheese and grill the vegetables, and we consumed a prodigious amount of cheese, potatoes, and pickles. After I melted and ate 3 or 4 slabs of cheese, I needed to slow down.

The next morning we had an early flight to Zagreb. It was painful to roll out of bed after a full day of touring Zürich and a belly full of cheese and potatoes. We rolled too slowly. AnneMarie bounced out of bed before us and set a wonderful breakfast for us. To our chagrin, by the time we had our packs loaded and boots on, we literally ran out the door to catch our train – leaving our breakfast untouched on the table. Bummer!

AnneMarie escorted us safely to the airport and we said our goodbyes. It was wonderful to have her as a hostess and guide during our time in Switzerland, and I hope we get a chance to reciprocate the next time she visits the San Francisco Bay Area.

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