Raindrops & Railways | Learning in Zurich & Leaving for Freiburg

The day began with the sounds of bustling feet and rainfall outside of the hostel window.  Everyone packed their things in preparation to check out of the youth hostel.  After eating breakfast in the hostel lobby, we were ready to seize the day, rain or shine.  The day was characterized by a lot of the former.

Our first stop was the Zurich HBF train station where we would leave our bags while we explored the city.  From there, it was off to our first meeting of the day at the University of Zurich.  Our professor, Ralph Buehler, in conjunction with Thomas Gotschi and Sonya Kalhmeir of University of Zurich, gave an interesting presentation on active travel, physical activity, and public health.  We were shown instances of how cities, through conscious governmental action, have made the transition from pedestrian-focused to automobile-dominated areas and then back again to zones that are cyclists and pedestrian-friendly.  The Turmstraße in Berlin was one of compelling examples given.  Seeing that this had been accomplished in several cases gave me hope for the future of U.S. cities.  When the lecture was over, we headed up a hill to ETH University cafeteria for lunch.  After lunch, we engaged the city of Zurich via a walking tour.


It was really interesting to see a city that relies heavily on active modes of transport in less-than-ideal weather. Zurich lent itself to this behavior and definitely invites people to walk or bike.  There were wide sidewalks for pedestrians.  Many of the buildings adjacent to the sidewalks provided overhangs (protection from rain) to accompany pedestrians and bikers in inclement weather.  It really all comes down to embracing the idea of active transport and easily accessible public transport and making these modes of travel appealing to people.  It was evident that designing to accommodate this type of movement and infrastructure was a huge priority for planners and architects in Zurich.

The blend of active travel, public transport, and cars was remarkable as well.  All of these different forms of transport used the same roadways, but trams, pedestrians, and bikers were always given priority. It was kind of bewildering just how comfortable bikers and pedestrians were using the roads.  The curbs in most places were only 2 cm high, which made it easy for pedestrian, bikers, and people with disabilities to transition from using the street to using the sidewalk.  Zurich provides special traffic lights just for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Details like these that made all the systems work in harmony and brought a sense of security to us as we navigated the busy city streets.

By the time we went back to retrieve our luggage, we had seen a great deal of Zurich.  We had thoroughly experienced the transit systems, observing how well different parts of the city connect to other parts and how the city connects to the suburbs and beyond.

The day became even grayer as we boarded our train to Freiburg and bid Professor Moomaw farewell.  After a two hour train ride, we were in Freiburg.   The day ended with an excellent dinner at a “potatohouse” called Kartoffelhaus.  Accordingly, most of us ordered potatoes in mashed, fried, or scalloped form.  The food was delicious, and we were all happy to sit and enjoy each other’s company in a dry, stationary setting.

By now, we’ve seen many places, all European cities or towns but all distinct in their own way.  One topic that has permeated many of our Module #2 classroom discussions has been sense of place, how sense of place contributes to quality of life, and how cities can maintain sense of place in a world that is inevitably affected by globalization.  For me, the essence of the place is engrained within small things that relate to human scale, surfaces and structures.  The things that are impressed upon my memory are the details that all combine to make special and enjoyable experiences for residents of the place and tourists alike.

Though the day was gray and rainy, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time in Zurich, and I look forward to seeing what Freiburg has to offer tomorrow!  I’ll leave you with a few snapshots of favorite details from my time in Zurich.



Alanna Stewart, Graduate, Architecture, Virginia Tech.

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