When I originally set up this blog, the plan was for us to move to Basel, period, end of story. After accepting the job offer, and after his initial visit to Basel, Andy found out that sometime in early 2015, his office will be moving to Zurich, which means we will be moving, too. So when we planned our visit, we thought it would be a good idea to split our time between the two cities. Thursday was the day we packed up in Basel and traveled southeast to Zurich.
We had a lovely hotel breakfast and packed up all our suitcases. Then we headed out to walk around Basel for a while and pick up souvenirs for people back home. (People expect Swiss chocolate when you return from Switzerland, you know!)
Back at the hotel, they ordered a taxi for us and we were ready to head to the train station. Our taxi was a Benz, obviously, and it had this cool built-in booster seat for G. It was weird using booster seats in the cabs and hotel-airport shuttles, but there was no way we were going to lug a car seat around Switzerland with us when we were in a total of 4 vehicles the whole time (two cabs in Basel and two shuttles in Zurich). This makes her look pretty darn grown-up, though!
The trip to the train station was pretty short, but we couldn’t have easily managed with all of our suitcases, backpacks, the stroller, and a restless two-year-old.
We bought our tickets, hauled our stuff up and over the first set of tracks to our platform, and then heard an announcement that we were going to leave from a different platform. So we hauled everything back up and over the tracks. This was quite the workout! One of G’s favorite things is to ride escalators, so we had to deal with her being upset about taking the elevator instead. Them’s the break, kiddo.
Our train ride was just over an hour long and predictably gorgeous.
We made it to Zurich right on time. You’ve gotta love the train and tram systems in Switzerland. Super reliable, and relatively easy to navigate.
The train station in Zurich is also the airport, and our arrival was kind of confusing. We couldn’t figure out how to get out of the building, and then we missed the shuttle to our hotel. They were doing major construction outside, which meant we were treated to the sound of jackhammers and the smell of fresh asphalt. Andy tried to hire a cab to take us to the hotel, but the driver basically refused because there would be a free shuttle. Not wanting to start our stay off with a cabbie-fight, we opted to just wait for the next shuttle.
I was already overwhelmed by Zurich. When Andy first started talking to some of his international coworkers about the possibility of working in Basel, several people said they wouldn’t want to live there because it’s so small, but then they would amend that with, “But you live in Peoria, so you’ll probably be fine.” I took a bit of offense at that at first. I mean, Peoria isn’t Chicago by any means, but it’s not a farm town. Let’s run some comparisons. (All of these figures are from Wikipedia.)
- Peoria has a population of 119,698, and our metropolitan population is 373,590. We’re the seventh-most populated city in Illinois.
- Basel has a population of 173,808, and the metropolitan population is between 500,600 and 830,000, depending on how you define their metropolitan area. It is the third-largest city in Switzerland.
- Zurich has a population of 383,708, and the metropolitan population is 1.83 million. It is the largest city in Switzerland.
Zurich’s metropolitan population is smaller than Chicago’s actual population (2.7 million) and doesn’t even begin to touch their metropolitan population (9.5 million). The population density is very close, though, and the fact that there aren’t as many people packed into each square mile (I mean kilometer!) doesn’t really matter when you can’t understand what any of those people are saying.
I figured there would be more English in Zurich, as everything I had read said that English is more common in the younger population and in larger cities. And while that may have been true overall, it certainly wasn’t the case in our initial interactions with the city.
After reaching the hotel and making sure that G and I also had a place to sleep (the travel agency had only booked a room for Andy in Zurich; G and I were left off of that reservation entirely), we all took a nap. After nap time, we headed out to explore the neighborhood around our hotel.
This was where we found one of the major drawbacks of having a business travel agency book your family trip. The hotel we were staying at was very close to the airport, which meant the area was more commercial and less residential. We were looking for someplace to eat dinner, and the first restaurant we went into said “PIZZA” on the awning outside and on the menu on the wall inside. But while we were studying that menu, the man behind the counter gestured at it and said, “No, only these,” and pointed to some pre-made sandwiches inside a display case. He didn’t speak much English, and although I’m willing to try new food, I want to know what it is (and I definitely needed to be able to see if it was something that G would eat).
We came across a Chinese place that only took cash, which we didn’t have on us, and then decided to just head back to the hotel and eat there.
At this point, I decided we were making a huge mistake. I’ve never expected this transition to be easy. Intellectually, I knew there were going to be language barriers, culture shock, and a million small issues to deal with. But the Basel portion of the trip hadn’t seemed that hard. Basel seemed big, but not too big, and I was able to navigate the city myself. Zurich just felt overwhelming, and more than anything, at that point in time, I just wanted to go home.
Instead, Andy and G went to dinner in the hotel restaurant, and I went upstairs to the room. I cried hard and contemplated how big of a mistake we were making. When they got back up to the room, G gave me a picture she had colored for me, a hug, and a handful of “magic rocks” she had taken from a planter in the hotel bar (kids!). Andy asked me if I wanted him to change our tickets so we could go home early. I was sorely tempted, but I didn’t want to leave without giving Zurich a real chance. Instead, we all went to bed and resolved to try again tomorrow.