Switzerland Trip: Special Travel Edition
When I decided to take Secrets of a Kosher Girl on a book tour international, I knew Switzerland was going to be a stop. BWN international actually has clients in Zurich and I could not wait to meet them in person. Here's what happened:
Wednesday (Partly cloudy)
We arrived of course, in a daze from jetlag. Dalia arranged a driver from the community for us, Isaac, who was very helpful in telling us about the area. He offered to take us to the kosher restaurant Babi’s Bagels after we dropped off our luggage to the Air BnB we rented.
Switzerland Air BnB. Traveling with a family of 7, hotels were quickly ruled out if we were going to be on a budget. In Europe, we easily need two rooms, sometimes a suite, for a family our size making the cost go up more than double! Dalia, a BWN international client, helped me to narrow down Air BnB’s that were walkable to the Jewish community due to the Sabbath (there is no Eruv which allows one to carry and wheel a stroller).
With that being said, the Air Bnb we chose was solely for convenience. It definitely wasn’t one of the nicest apartments we’ve been to, but it slept our family (technically two bedrooms and a third converted with a pull-out Ikea-type daybed). It was pretty clean but the steps to get in were all cracked, the door was messed up (you need to a key to go in AND out, which seems like a fire hazard), the kitchen is extremely outdated (but we are kosher anyway so we don’t need to use one), and if a family had bigger children or most adults, I don’t think these many people would fit. Also, a HUGE caveat - Switzerland does NOT primarily use ANY AC’s. We asked for fans in each room and it was decent, but if you’re used to central air, you’re in for a big shocker. The temperature stays around 70-80’s so it wasn’t too bad.
Babi’s Bagels. An amazing location, central to the community and very easy to get to by tram (we became pros of the tram quickly being New Yorkers, and it’s incredibly convenient, you really do not need a car).
Babi’s was an order-at-the-counter, serve yourself type of place. They had a few outside tables or small seating area inside. Their bagels were soft and yummy, pretty good for outside of New York and they stayed soft when carried over into the next day.
Most places take only Visa, we didn’t need to exchange money-but it’s helpful to have a few Franks on you, especially if you do not have a Visa.
We also had a walking tour led by Dalia and she took us to Le Shuk, which is a specialty kosher market with products you find in New York. There is also a health food store and groceries (called “Denners”) along with supermarkets that you can find some kosher products inside with the Swiss Kosher List (see below), but nothing near the selection in New York.
On Wednesday night, was my Secrets of a Kosher Girl Mindful Eating Workshop and Book Signing. It was an amazing experience going through my presentation with such a different culture and food availability. There were so many women from different places like France, London, American, and native to Swiss that we had such a great conversation. (To buy the book, click here)
Lenzburg Castle- A great destination for small children and a rainy day. The castle had activities for the kids throughout each floor such as basic arts and crafts, dress up like a real knight, and games. The tower was the best part with an all-out playhouse with dress up clothes, tons of tiaras, a tea party section and other arts and crafts (the crafts up here had an extra fee). We at lunch in the garden which had tables and the courtyards and first-floor garden were fun a fun hangout. There was a lot of renovation happening on the premises but we still had a great time. There is track up to the castle that for kids feels like a hike, but it is gorgeous scenery and a paved road.
The trains and transfers were simple from Zurich once we figured them out. However, the first time traveling to Zurich’s main train station, leave yourself time to find the right office. You need to go to the Travel Office, select ticket A, and wait for your number to call. Once you are at the desk, the agents tell you everything you need to know about the entire trip and print out a handy transportation schedule that includes all transfer details. The train station reminds me of New York Penn Station, only cleaner, outdoor-indoor atmosphere and instead of smelling pollution it smells like cigarette smoke.
In the evening, we went to Fein and Shein. They do not reopen for dinner until 5 pm so we waited outside a few minutes. They also did not have a menu in English. We got a thin crust pizza, spaghetti with cheese and fries for the kids. I got the only healthy option which was salmon and steamed vegetables. I wish they did more to the flavor profile of the dish and increased the amount of the salmon, but I was happy to at least eat something healthy AND kosher.
Dalia took me to what I can only describe is similar to our Union Square Greenmarket in New York, but much better. It was incredible to see the abundance of options for seasonal produce. In New York, you’d never see strawberries and tomatoes (not greenhouse or storage) with pumpkins! The floral arrangements were also breathtaking. Of course, I also love to see how the farmers display their produce and flowers and they did not disappoint.
Transportation Museum- Great for a rainy day especially if your children are interested in everything trains, cars, buses, and boats. You were able to go inside all of these vehicles and they had every detail from engines to models of each era to browse and sit in.
There is also a planetarium, chocolate museum (not kosher), and 3D theatre. We had confusion getting there and the tickets we bought from the main train station in Zurich, that the counter advised us to only get the museum tickets because there weren’t many scheduled show times left and some of my kids were too young. I think ti would’ve been a lot more fun for my kids if we did those attractions. Each had an added fee and the museum was already pricey.
Shabbat - Beautiful Sunny Weather
Shabbat was amazing in Zurich mostly because Dalia coordinated all of our meals with such kind families that opened their homes to us for a trues Swiss Jewish experience.
On Friday night the Rhein family hosted us and they were conveniently located across the street. The Simcha made a delicious meal with a unique salmon recipe as a starter, gazpacho soup and tons of salads, veggies, and chicken. We talked about Swiss history and the different Jewish communities. Both Avi and Simcha are Swiss natives and their lovely mother joined us from Basil more north. She told us about how kosher food is even harder to purchase up there and that all the meat is imported into Switzerland from France because there is a law for kosher and Halal that they can not do Shechita (slaughter ritual) there. Simcha described to me how much she loves cooking and baking fresh whole foods from scratch and doesn’t feel like it is a burden due to the lack of many kosher products available.
On Shabbat day, we met Dalia near our apartment and walked to her place where we met the men after shul. They have a cozy complex with a playground for kids. After playing outside, we had our meal. Dalia made all the Beth Warren Approved foods you can think of. It was so nice to have sweet potato veggie burgers (see recipe), interesting salads and other traditional foods. The dessert of choice in Switzerland seems to be no sugar added dark chocolate mousse, since it was served at each of our meals, and it was delicious. Dalai is originally from Madrid, Spain and I could totally see the Sephardic influence in her cooking, especially the gazpacho made with vinegar.
Unique to Zurich versus New York, because of the very late sunset times, they pray Minha early. Then, the men come home and Seuda Shelishit is served. We were lucky to be invited to the Holles home. Mary was born and raised in Brazil and moved to Zurich one she married Dan, a native Swiss. It was nice to reminisce on stories with Mary and our Sephardic-Syrian backgrounds. We even knew families in common! It was so interesting to see and hear how many people migrated to Switzerland through marriage. Many of the couples are multi-cultural, even from New York!
Shabbat ended very late, at 10:22 pm (or 23:22 in Zurich language).
Sunday- Gorgeous 83-degree weather
Finally, we were able to travel via train to see the actual Swiss Alps. There are tons to choose from and the community was very helpful in narrowing down the options. Our focus was to do something fun for the kids. The entire trip was about 2 hours to Armageddon, Kronberg mountain. We paid a fee to take the cable car up, which was fun in and of itself and so gorgeous. But nothing compared to the view at the top. Of course, I would’ve loved to hike the 2hr plus down, but that’s pretty ambitious for us with small kids. We did see 1 or 2 families attempting it with kids that looked above 6, but they had full gear including hiking boots and hiking packs. We had a lot of fun simply eating a picnic, watching parachuters jump off the mountain and fly around with their buddies, and playing on the small swing set.
When we took the cable car back down, we bought tickets for the ride, or what’s called the “Alpine Slide”. It’s a 2-person cart roller coaster that literally takes you up, though and around the mountain. I highly recommend for kids. After that, we played in their adorable play area that had a mini zip line, cool looking trampoline, small jungle gym and tons of area to run around. Finally, we bought ices (we found 2 kosher options according to the Swiss Kosher List) and caught the 4:30 pm train home.
That night, we hired a babysitter in the community (they go for $20 bucks), and walked around the old city. It was nice to explore, take pictures of the lake and buildings and buy a drink. But, it wasn’t such a lively area if that’s what someone is looking for on a Sunday night (typically, the stores in Zurich are closed all or some of Sunday).
We left Monday and were so thrilled to see we were upgraded to business class. What a treat! Thanks, Travel by ETC for our travel arrangements! Ultimately, we cannot say enough good things about the community in Switzerland. They were welcoming, friendly and extremely helpful.
HELPFUL RESOURCES AND SUPPLIES:
FOR A LIST OF MY TRAVEL SNACKS AND SHOPPING LIST CLICK HERE
SWISS KOSHER LIST: www.kosher.ch/
My Switzerland.Com: Tells you transportation connections
Moms:Tots:Zurich: A very helpful resource for Zurich activities with kids
Chabad Zurich: Luckily, we had Dalia, but they were very generous in offering places for Shabbat and other Jewish related needs as well as a Minyan
FANNY PACK - Mine is Alexander Wang and it was the smartest purchase I could make for the trip. Make sure the size you choose for a fanny pack will fit all essentials like passports, a portable charger and stick sunscreen.
Roll on Sunscreen: Made getting the sunscreen on their tiny faces so easy. And we took to go! We use Babo Botanicals
Spray Sunscreen: I invest in the most organic, non-white forming, non-smelly! We use COOLA
Portable Phone Chargers: We had at least 3-4 of these and kept alternating, they were essential!
Plug Adapters: I took along at least 3, and we could've used more!
Credit Cards: Both Amex and Visa - we hardly had to convert money to Franks
SECRETS OF A KOSHER GIRL: A great travel read :)