Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - No comments

If you're going to be a tourist, you may as well look the part.

(from June 27)

The flip-flops were a dead giveaway.
Yesterday, as I strolled the streets of Zurich in my breezy blue dress, they looked like part of the outfit.  But this morning, coupled with jeans and a hoodie, they just looked...American.  (Or Canadian, as the case may be.) 
I’d set my alarm for six, wanting to squeeze the life out of every one of my twenty-three hours in Zurich before I had to head for the airport at ten.  With visions of steamy espressos and gooey pastries dancing in my head, I’d set out from my hotel and boarded a tram for the centre of Aldstadt (Old Town.)   A glance around at the morning commuters made me scoot my plastic-clad feet further under my seat - all high heels or pretty flats, with only the occasional dressy sandal.  Even the stroller-pushing moms in jeans were still wearing nice shoes.  Not a flip-flop in sight.
I made a mental note to invest in a pair of “layover shoes.”  Apparently a light carry-on isn’t everything.  
Hopping off at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) I flip-flopped my way across a bridge over the Limmat River and headed up the promenade in search of a breakfast with a view.  My ideal was a charming sidewalk cafe near the water - preferably one that sold coffee and truffles.  I’d yet to check “eating Swiss chocolate in Switzerland” off my list of dreams, and this was my big chance.  But the locale had to be just right.
I passed a bakery almost immediately, and the scents wafting out the door were tempting, but there was roadwork going on right outside the front door.  Jackhammers weren’t a part of the scene in my mind, so I carried on.  The streets were nearly empty, with most stores and businesses not open yet, and I relished the near solitude as I made my way along the waterfront.
Motta, the next cafe I came to, was a classy affair - all tiny cups and gold lettering.  Its outdoor tables were filled with high-heeled espresso drinkers, and surely a price list to match.  Not the sort of place I’d feel comfortable shooting my coffee cup from twelve different angles.  Especially not in flip flops.  
I walked for several more blocks of shops and restaurants that wouldn’t be open for a few more hours.  By the time I’d reached the spot where the river opens onto Lake Zurich, my stomach was complaining and I was starting to think I wouldn’t find my much-fantasized “European cafe scene” before I got a desperate-for-caffeine headache.  I might have to settle....if only I could find something that was open! 
Just then, salvation materialized on the horizon.  There on a footbridge crossing back across the river, sat Marinello Picobello - a little kiosk offering plastic-wrapped sandwiches, individually priced fruit, and best of all, coffee.  The cheery Indian cashier whipped me up a latte and an apple strudel in a brown-paper sleeve and wished me a pleasant morning.  Take-out wasn’t precisely what I’d imagined for my breakfast, but it would have to do.  I could find truffles for dessert.  Plus, this kiosk came with a superb view.  I settled in on a bench overlooking the river and gratefully downed my strudel, taking in the mountains framing the lake, a beauty that hadn’t been visible in yesterday’s late-afternoon haze.  
Feeling sufficiently nourished and sugar-fied, I took my coffee across the bridge and back up to the park Tina and I had visited the day before.  It was too early for the chess players, but a few other early risers sat looking out over the city’s steeples and spires.  I found myself a bench and savoured the stillness and the view.  Museums and monuments are all fine and good, but this is my favourite way to connect with a city - something warm and steamy in my hand and a pretty spot from which to watch the world go by.
My introverted travel needs were met, but I still had my sweet tooth to satisfy.  Preferring “semi-informed ambling” to “smart phone directed zooming,” I wandered my way slowly back in what I guessed was the direction of Bahnhofstrasse (the main shopping avenue) via a maze of photogenic cobblestone streets lines with colourfully shuttered houses and chic boutiques just opening up.  I figured all roads led to the train station, and surely I’d find my chocolate shop along the way.  
I meandered down from the park through what I’d nicknamed the Gingerbread Quarter, pausing to shoot the occasional door or dormer, and emerged on the shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse, familiar from the night before.  A couple of turns later, I came out at Lowenplatz, and there it was, glowing in the morning sunlight and beckoning me to draw near..
A Sprüngli.
(My internal soundtrack played the Hallelujah Chorus at this point.)
I’d read about this place.  It rivals Lindt as Switzerland’s most famous confiserie, crafting pastries and artistic chocolate temptations and an array of truffles that would make Willy Wonka dizzy.  
When I walked in the door, I was grateful there were several people in line because it gave me time to drool over all the different flavours and try to decide which truffle (or ten) to purchase.  Bailey’s, Madagascar, Mint, Pistachio, Noir, Cappuccino - I wanted to try them all!   But my wallet wouldn’t allow for that, and I didn’t suppose my stomach would either.  I definitely wanted a sampling to go with my coffee.  And then I might want one or two on the plane.  And my mother, the one who instilled in me a passion for chocolate from birth, should surely have some, too.  And we might want to share with friends...
To multiply my dilemma of option-overload, there was a whole case full of Luxemburgerlis - Sprüngli’s own version of the popular French macaron.  I’d only ever seen these airy little delights in photos on fancy food blogs and I’d always been curious to try one.  And try one, I did!  Not just one, but I whole box!  (I brought most of them home, of course.  No, really, I did....)  
The line thinned out and the lady behind the counter was most patient with me as a Sprüngli newbie.  In her polite English, she recommended her favourites and helped me fill my little gift boxes.  Not that I needed much help.
“The truffes du jour today are Madagascar and Noir.”
“Okay, I’ll take one of each.”
“And the Salted Caramel is very popular.”
“Ooh, I’ll try one of those, too.  Oh, and a cappuccino one...”  
She reminded me of an English butler in her affirmations of my selections.  
“Excellent choice, miss.”  
(If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s buy chocolate.)
She rang up my purchases, all tied up with pretty bows, and then sent me on my way to the adjacent cafe section of the shop.  Not wanting to have to face any more complicated choices by looking at a menu, I just ordered the simplest thing I could think of - a cappuccino - and grabbed myself a bar stool by the window.  (Unfortunately, the “sidewalk cafe” experience came a la cigarette smoke, but at least I had a view of the street.)  
When my cappuccino arrived, with its mile-high foam and the name “Sprüngli” stenciled on top in cocoa, I opened my little boxes of sweets and set about deciding which ones I’d indulge in for my “second breakfast.”  After much deliberation (these things are important, you know) I selected a Champagne D’Or and a Cappuccino Luxemburgerli and a Dark and a Bailey’s truffle.  
That much decadence should not legally be allowed on a plate at one time.
Biting into a Luxemburgerli was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my life.  It was easy to imagine I was biting into a flavoured cloud, all sweet and airy, with decadent cream in the middle.  I’m not a champagne drinker, but the Champagne D’Or was definitely my favourite.  I loved the golden sparkly sheen on the meringue.  And that Dark truffle....wow.  The lady in the store had explained that the truffles of the day were made each morning with fresh cream, butter and ganache.  Its creamy, mildly bitter goodness did not disappoint.  
Alternating nibbles of my confections with spoonfuls of foam (to cleanse the palette), I decided I should definitely make a layover in Zurich an annual affair.
The click of my camera as I shamelessly documented my European Moment no doubt caused a couple of head-swivels from other patrons quietly sipping their coffee.  And as I “Mmmmm-ed” out loud over each new treat I popped in my mouth, a few more probably looked up from their news papers.  They may have even glanced disapprovingly at my flip-flops.  But I didn’t care.  I’d walked around for two hours to arrive at this moment.  It was mine and I was going to enjoy it. 
I can’t wait to find out what truffles taste like in my new layover shoes.....