Sunday, November 8, 2009

Zurich Impressions

Zurich reminds me a lot of Toronto.

The weather is right; the wind is light, but crisp. It's the type of wind that carries a flavour you can't quite define, but it's one that makes you recall tobogganing through the drifting snow, and nights on frozen ponds, falling onto the banks in order to stop. It's the type of weather that makes me think of final baseball games, walking down by the lake, the 509 street car, and final excursions to Dumpling House, before the winter takes hold, making hermits of us all.

There's an old town here, bustling with shoppers, ready to gawk and look around more than they are to make any significant purchases. It could just as easily be Kensington Market, holding hosts of small restaurants, culinary secrets, and surprises down every road – just wide enough for your shoulders to pass through.

The difference is that, for seven dollars I could have purchased some of the best fish and chips in the world, back home. Here – even though I'm ready to spend fourteen dollars (my last remaining franks, nearly equal in conversion rates) I still can not afford even the Spaghetti house.

I turn my attention, once more, to the grocery store. Co-op has been my beacon of hope in a country otherwise devoid of affordable foodstuffs. Switzerland seems opposite of Italy in this respect. Whereas Italy promoted eating out, and being one with your neighbours, Switzerland offers affordable groceries, but restaurants that even the cheapest of appatizers would make your eyes tear up.

With twice the money to spend, though, I took some risks. I took some chances. Sure I bought bread – but no measly half pound this time. No, today i would splurge on a full pound of bread.

This was a mistake.

But to be honest, I bought it only because the smaller ones were stale, and this one was freshly baked. To accompany by grainular treat I purchased some mystery meat (which I think was chicken, but as it was one third the price of ham, I'm not really sure.) It's worth pausing here for a moment to explore the relevance of Swiss Chalet restaurants. They are a chicken restaurant, and I've often wondered (not really ever until I got here, actually) why chicken was considered a Swiss food. I'm still not sure, but judging from the prices, I can assure you that it is.

For the price of a small order of french fries, you could get a half cooked chicken. That's a Bar-Be-Qued half chicken, not a chicken that is only lukewarm, still a little pink, and perhaps sopping with salmonella.

To put this even more in perspective, for the price of a Big Mac combo, you could buy two full Bar-Be-Qued chickens, and have money left to spare.

While I still do not know why it is so terribly affordable, the fact remains that it is, and on that account Swiss Chalet is an honest ambassador of truth and wisdom. Where they falter, however, is in the mass amounts of french fries they give you. Fries of that quantity would be the thing of kings here. Potatoes are not the free food they are back home. Where ten pounds of potatoes can be purchased for two or three dollars back home, for that price you could buy perhaps two, maybe three – if you're lucky – individual potatoes here.

Strange how some things in the world are so much cheaper, and others so much more expensive. It makes sense, of course – locally made, importing, exporting, global economy and such, still – it's weird. Like how you can't buy deodorant sticks here – just roll on liquid versions. This tidbit may lead to terrible trouble in the coming weeks. Here's hoping Poland or Germany are better equipped.

But back to my food. I had bread, I had meat. I was lacking only one thing – mayonnaise! Like something from a dream, this meal would be. Unfortunately mayonnaise was not to be found, but a similar substitute was found in Miracle Whip. Here they advertise that it is a perfect sauce for french fries right on the bottle. How the Europeans are not as large as North Americans is an unknown to me. Perhaps they just can't afford the necessary quantities of food that come so freely in the homeland.

I also picked up some pasta salad. A small ice cream would have been better. But – old habits die hard.

I walked through old town, past what I am told is the largest clock face in the world. I then passed another church of note. Rowers were standing on pedestals holding trophies above their heads at this point. Clearly I had just missed something of note. Still, it would have only been sports. I feel as if I'm due for another protest.

I eventually made my way, past all number of pastel houses, and storefronts, to a bench by the lake. It was just opposite the floral clock which I'm sure is quite lovely in the summer months – but rather drab this time of year. Having consumed my haphazardly made sandwiches, I played god over my own private army of flying soldiers, throwing bread into the masses of birds drifting along on the lake.

At first there was but a swan and a duck. Soon small gulls came, but were outmatched by the flock of ducks that was gathering. In time they were pushed out by larger swans growing in number. At the end, though, all were outdone as the gulls redoubled their efforts and grew strong in numbers, working to catch the thrown scraps while still in the air, without ever letting them ripple the waters surface.

And for a time, this was good. Until the bread ran out. And the birds started giving me funny looks. I had no food left, but I saw the eying me, considering how much food could be plucked from my very bones. With such murderous thoughts in the air, it was time to make my exit.

Tram 33 would take me on a tour all around the city. Lasting one hour, it would show me all number of neighbourhoods, once again reminding me of Toronto. Zurich seems, to an outside like myself, a place that holds many wonders if only you had a local to guide you to them. As an outsider, however, every street may seem the same, and without variance.

The final stop on my tour would be the local mall. Arriving there I discovered that it was open until midnight, shops closing at ten pm. Even on a Saturday. Though it is closed all day Sunday, but if that's the price to pay for such late hours – so be it. And if expensive groceries is the price to pay for living in a country where public bathrooms are plentiful and free, well – so be that, as well.

[authors note: we're going to explore a tangent right now.]

When you think of zombies attacking, you always picture yourself at home, near enough to your family and friends to make some sort of resistance. But what if the zombie uprising were to happen while I was travelling. I would very literally be cut off from everyone I knew for the rest of my life. There would be no way across the oceans. Planes would have to shut down. Airports would have no choice but to close up. I would be trapped in a society with rules I did not know, as the outsider. I wouldn't even have the language skills to try and protect myself.

These are the things you rarely consider before you set out travelling – perhaps because they're based on fictional supposition, and impossible circumstances. But still. What if – what if zombies attacked? Back home I have at least a small plan for dealing with such a situation – but here? I'd be turned within a week, if lucky.

Another question: would you rather be one of the constantly hungry, living dead – or would you rather remain animate forever, as one of the unholy creatures?

These are the things you must consider.

[editors note: the fact that the hostel has started playing the Fraggle Rock theme song has dragged this piece back to normalcy. We hope you have tolerated this brief interlude.]

The mall was five floors of shopping heaven. If you like clothes. Which I'm sure you do. But I, however, do not. This shows. I keep wondering if people look at me weird in this country because of my beard, or because I am very clearly wearing tights under my shorts, as if I were some teenage Japanese girl. Probably a combination of the two, but my bet is on the latter more than the former this time. My ZZ-Topness (still batting 1.000 for being called that in every country, for those wondering.) is the lesser of two oddities this time.

This mall did hold one store for me, however. It was a store similar to the Best Buys and Future Shops back home. The second I entered those doors I felt instantly at home. It's strange how quickly the calming feels fall over you, wrapping you up in their familiarity, and releasing more unnoticed stress than a thermal pool, complete with massaging waterfall, and silica mud mask.

I noticed the iPod touch was only two hundred and fifty dollars. I will seriously consider this as a Christmas gift to myself when I reach America. I saw that 16GB SD cards were down in price, almost affordable. Though this now has me waiting for the 32GB cards that will undoubtedly hit the market soon enough. I walked past the Guitar Hero 5 game, scoffing – it's no Rock Band. And I took a moment to check out DJ Hero, which looks like there might be something to it, though the three hundred dollar renegade edition seemed a little outrageous.

Then, before me, was the Tekken Six collectors edition, complete with art book, and wireless arcade stick. For a moment, just a brief moment, I considered buying this two hundred dollar purchase, for a system I didn't have, adding weight I couldn't bear. But – to play a fighting game with an arcade stick once more. That would be something. Video games, comic books, and certain sci-fi television shows. These are the things that make me happy. That bring me home. Strange that travel isn't one of my primary loves, despite this journey I have set myself up for. But – travel is such an abstract thing. It's like High School. At the time you feel it has some worth, but when you look back on it, it's almost as if you've learned nothing at all. Relatively speaking, of course. Still – it changes you, and enhances every aspect of yourself. It affects everything you do, and brings a greater depth to those things that you claim to truly love.

Travel has a way of taking the things that already exist so strongly in your life, and makes them all that much better. Innocuous.

One thing that did give me reason to pause, and was far more seriously considered, was the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Litch King expansion. For only thirty dollars I could have the expansion (to a game that I do not own in the first place) but also a making of DVD, audio soundtrack, full sized map, art book, starter decks for the WoW: CCG, and other such wonders. Did such a thing ever come out back home? And for such a reasonable and affordable price?

But, like all things, it couldn't last, and I was once again back outside on the chilly streets of Zurich, the distinct air making me feel as if I was about to visit my friends DW, and idPlasticity. But no, it will be a long time until I see most people from back home. After all, despite how far into this trip I am, in all seriousness, it's still just beginning.

There's a whole wide world out there, and I've still seen but a fraction of it.

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