Monday, June 14, 2010

Five Cool Things in Zurich

ZURICH, Switzerland - There are more than five cool things to do and see in Switzerland's largest city, to be sure. Nevertheless, this is my list - short, subjective, necessarily incomplete - but helpful, I hope, for visitors to this lovely place.

1. Bathhouses - According to the informed sources at Zurich Tourism, there are some 40 public bathhouses in Zurich. Arrayed along Lake Zurich and the city's rivers, they are favorites among the locals and accessible to the public for a fee. The covered baths are for swimming in the day time. When night falls, the structures are transformed into happening bars and spaces for art exhibits and musical performances.

2. Kunsthaus. This is Zurich's accomplished museum of fine art, located on a hillside, sprawling across several floors and built around open central staircases. The museum has a superb permanent collection of painting and sculpture, spanning the generations from Old Masters to edgy, contemporary art. The Kunsthaus' Buhrle Collection includes first-class Impressionist work by the likes of Monet, Cezanne, Manet and Van Gogh.

3. Bahnhofstrasse and the new district. Bahnhofstrasse, an urban boulevard maybe three-quarters of a mile long, is pedestrian-only along much of its length and lined with designer shops and speckled with top international brands. Running from lakeside to the Baahnhof main rail station, the Bahnhofstrasse, served by electric trams, is a great place to stroll and browse. The cavernous rail station is filled with travelers and perfumed by cigaret smoke from stressed commuters at the busiest times. In late November and December, the Bahnhof is magically transformed into a popular Christmas market complete with a towering evergreen tree dressed with crystal stars. The expansive construction site outside the station will give rise to a new city district, dubbed Europaallee, scheduled for completion by 2019.

4. Zurich West. This former industrial zone of warehouses and factories is morphing into concrete-floored, high-ceilinged spaces for galleries, performances, restaurants and bars. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but once you step into the interior spaces, all becomes more lively. Housing is also being built in the area. Additionally, cosy new shops are going in beneath the arches of an overhead rail line and a covered market 1600 feet long is being installed. This is an area where young Zurich hangs out.

5. Marc Chagall's stained glass windows. Installed by the artist in 1970 inside the 13th century Fraumunster, a landmark church beneath a soaring clock tower, Chagall designed five 30-foot-high stained glass windows with depictions of scriptural scenes. Get there on a sunny morning to see the full, glowing effect of these color-washed masterworks. The church's older interior frescos, made by other hands, are not too shabby, either.

Oh, here are two more cool things - or, rather, cool events.

Zurich Festival (Zurcher Festspiele). Running this year from Thursday, June 18 through July 11, this three-week festival is an exhibition and celebration of concerts, drama, dance, opera and theater, at venues around town.

Picasso Exhibit. At the aforementioned Kunsthaus, from Oct. 15 through January 30, 2011. A revived exhibition of 70 paintings by Pablo Picasso, chosen by the artist himself for a show in this museum in the 1930s, will go on display for the first time in nearly 80 years. This is THE big art event in art-rich Zurich this year, and sure to be a hot ticket.

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