When we went to Rome in 2007, we took a number of Context Travel tours, which we found full of information presented in depth and focussed towards a better understanding of the places we visited. Since then, we have tried to take Context Tours wherever they are available. In Switzerland, the only place they offered tours was Zürich and the only day that worked for us was Tuesday. Even though it was just the day after arriving in Basel, we left on a day trip.

It was totally worth the effort.

Scott was in Zürich in 1980 but barely saw more than the train station. I had never been.

Our train ride on the InterCities, which does not stop everywhere, was less than 1 hour.

We’ve learned there is a lot of differences in what first class travel gets you on Swiss trains. This one had someone taking orders for food and drink. Too bad we just had breakfast. But we should have asked for water as, again, we forgot to bring water with us.

We have moved into the foothills of the mountain region and the area is much greener.

To save time, the uphill walk and quite frankly, the possibility of getting lost, we took a taxi from the train station to the Kunsthaus. We had a very unpleasant driver who yelled at me for calling the Kunsthaus, the Kunstmuseum, which is what Basel calls its museum of art history. For once we did not feel bad about giving the minimal recommended tip.

The museum is in both an older building and a new built building to show its extensive collection. A large part of the collection was the donation of the arms dealer Emil Bührle, who may may have bought works from Jewish owners persecuted by the Nazis in WWII.

They have a pretty good northern Baroque collection.


There is an emphasis on Swiss artists, some of whom are not to my taste, but the rooms their works were housed in were very attractive.

Some good Renaissance works, Northern and Italian.

El Greco

They had a couple of nice Claude Lorraine:

We barely saw any of the modern art collection. I learned that Alberto Giacometti, a modern artist, was from the area. He mainly worked in Paris like many artists of early 20th century.

Miró in the background, Giacometti in front

The above dog sculpture is more typical Giacometti with its textured surface and elongated shape.

Some other good modern work:


We had a quick soup and sandwich lunch at a cafe in the old town area near where we would meet our Context docent, Cynthia.

We walked around the area near the city and state hall, the Rathaus.

Cynthia explained the history of Switzerland and Zürich .

The Ancient Romans created a fort at what is now Zürich and lived there for about 400 years because of the access from the waterways in the area which leads to the Rhine River and to the North Sea.

There was a Celtic tribe that moved into the area later but I’ve now forgotten those details because they left no record.

The country started as a bunch of city states that loosely coordinated themselves for defence purposes and then mainly because of Napoleon, formed a confederation over the area that is now Switzerland. Political power lies mainly with the multiple cantons, the provincial governments, and not the federal government. Switzerland, therefore, has never had a monarchy.

In Zürich, a long part of its history was governed by guilds, who each had their own buildings, now mostly shops and restaurants.

Much of the city’s current character was formed by the Reformation which encouraged hard work, allowed banking and spread literacy in order to read the Bible. One of the many fountains commemorates a publisher. The trademark of publisher Froschauer was a boy on a frog. Christoph Froschauer printed one of the early Bibles and his descendants ran a publishing house and paper mill.

A model of the city around 1800 was built as a hobby by an architect in the early 20th century. The city later bought it from the family as it faithfully recreates the historic city.

The area on the far bank of the river was where the guilds were located. It was also the area of the Jewish quarter. The area on the near bank was where the Roman fort was located and where the banking headquarters are now located. Did not photograph that area as the banks don’t display themselves and the stores were many of the international luxury brands seen everywhere.

Swiss neutrality made the city attractive to those looking for a safe haven. Lenin lived in Zürich for about a year.

Many artists fleeing Germany post-WWI and its growing nationalism and right-wing politics went to Zürich where they created the Dada movement about 1916. The movement only lasted until the 1920s but is considered to have started Modern art or even Postmodern art because Dada challenged accepted definitions of what was “art”. Hitler included Dada in his hatred of degenerate art.

Area where Dada artists would meet

Since the Middle Ages, the city center was marked by four churches.

Grossmünster, in the background, claims very questionably to have been founded by Charlemagne. The top of the towers are more recent. The statue in the niche is of Charlemagne. The claim was part of the competition for pilgrims who also went to nearby Fraumünster.

What makes a visit more worthwhile are the modern stained glass windows.

Exterior of window over the door
Interior of the window

Photos are not allowed, but someone took a photo of the window. The glasswork needs the exterior light to bring out the colours of the agate slices which form the window. Some of the other windows, including some by Alberto Giacometti’s cousin, Augusto Giacometti, were also stunning. But there’s a limit to secretly taking photos, so you need to Google the church and its windows.

Fraumünster was founded by Charlemagne’s grandson but is really remarkable for its stained glass windows by Chagall.

Again, no photos allowed but someone took some.

The church’s name “Frau” refers to the fact that the first abbess of the church, who was Charlemagne’s greatgranddaughter, and her successors, for a long period was the appointer of the mayor of the city but because of the right to collect tolls and mint money, made the abbess the main power of the city. Sadly the political power of the abbess eventually waned.

Interesting history for a country where women did not get the vote until the 1970s,

The fourth church is St. Peter’s with the largest clock in Europe. The Swiss proudly note that the clock, not the tower, is bigger than Big Ben.

The first of the four churches, Predigerkirche is the one behind the boy riding the frog. We did not go inside it or St Peter’s. But the former had an interesting sundial.

We also managed a bit of chocolate shopping. Swiss chocolate making started and was perfected in Zürich.

We caught the direct train back to Basel. This one was a TGV which had free wi-fi and allowed me to make a dinner reservation at L’Ambascitore, recommended to us by our daughter-in-law.

It offered modern Italian. Very tasty.

Beef tongue with Brussels sprouts purée and apple slices
Scallops in artichoke and cream
Raw prawn in calamari shaped pasta with lobster bisque
Genovese ragù

Scott wanted to buy some wine for the room for a post-dinner drink. The easiest place to go was the train station. Called Drinks of the World, they had Canadian beer.

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