Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Finally, a chance to see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: how have I missed this before? I’m not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as the man beside me who knocked his umbrella over three times from laughter or the woman who whooped every time the cat did something funny but…fantastic, from start to end.

It was also a chance to try out another of Zurich’s cinemas, the filmpodium. It’s not as nice as Xenix and does have the bizarre layout I’ve seen elsewhere here in which a line of pillars running down one side of the cinema serves only reduce the potential width of the screen by several feet – but is located just off the main shopping street and has a “25 Greatest Hits” season with several films I’d like to see in the cinema. However, several of these aren’t in English and this only serves as reminder that I may not be seeing much “foreign” cinema here.

Afterwards, a brief stop in Starbucks because it was the only place open and a bratwurst mit brod to remind me I’m still in Zurich (though the hailstones in October did that, too).

A Free Saturday

First totally free day in Zurich for almost two weeks – since the few days I had free between arrival and starting work.

Almost totally free, apart from the continuing effort to find a place in which to live: the viewing ran from 12-2pm which, after a late night’s coding, I struggled a little to make. It was worth the “effort”: a glance at the map didn’t reveal what a great location this was, just a few dozen meters up a street feeding directly into the old town of the Niederdorf. Though the apartment isn’t the largest and its layout leaves a little to be desired, it’s got a nice feature in having shelving already built in under the windows and being situated on the third floor; to complement this, the building has an elevator along with the usual Swiss amenities of laundry room and plentiful storage space in the cellar. Yes, this would be a nice place to live.

After this, I check out a market I spied crossing the lake at BürkliplatzAddress:. This isn’t something I expected to find in central Zurich: an assortment of market stalls located apparently randomly around the square and spilling off into the streets around, right up the Louis Vuittons and Pradas of Bahnhofstrasse. Many stalls offer cutlery, trimmings from collections of china and glassware; others have clothes, others still sport goods peculiar to markets the world over such as postcards (this one sorts its cards by the regions of Switzerland) and mobile phones. Lots of stalls have DVDs – some of which you might want to own – and many have LPs – few of which anybody would want to own -; a few stragglers have VHS cassettes. No stall has any CDs whatsoever for sale.

Out of the ordinary offerings include stalls with hi-fi components, TV and audio equipment (with every AV lead imaginable) and a surprising number of antique stands. Or, this being Zurich, perhaps not so surprising: delving deeper reveals some hair raising prices on these same antique stalls and, presumably, on the fur coat stands (again, not a staple of street markets the world over). The postcard stall deserves a mention for offering an original Segeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (“UK, 1967”) and, of course, the hi-fi stand didn’t just have any old components: this was an old Denon home theatre system. A fine place, then, to spend a Saturday morning browsing and I hope it’s on every week; my only disappointment is that there isn’t a food market.

After this, I go in search of food and coffee: I spy people heading into something called “Picnic”, which serves a variety of choices from spuds, veg and meat through stir fries up to sushi served on a rotating conveyor belt. I bump into some Irish acquaintances from work and take this as an endorsement. After this, it’s back up to the Neiderdorf and something called Teecafé Schwarzenbach. First impressions are good – there is a delicious scent of coffee emanating from the attached tea and coffee shop; the café itself is packed, with many obviously camped there for the afternoon – and the rumours are true: this is by far the best espresso I’ve yet had in Zurich. Wishful thinking but…this and the aforementioned apartment would make a fine successor to KC Peaches.

There’s just time for a little shopping and I discover a couple surely destined to become favourites in the months ahead; unadorned names seem to be the order of the day here:

  1. “The Travel Bookshop” (and the map shop, next door) aren’t exclusively English bookstores but have many titles in English, such as Rough Guides and the harder-to-find-at-home Fodors and Brandt.
  2. “The Whisky Shop” is well off the main shopping street and was still open long after its advertised closing time of 4pm. A huge number of Scotch whiskies here, a few Irish (nearly all, I’m pleased to see, from Cooley) and a Yamazaki from Japan. I’ve noticed that although food is often impressively expensive here, wine to accompany it can be much cheaper than at home – sure enough, prices aren’t outrageous here at all, especially considering they mostly stock twenty year old bottles and some non-chillfiltered bottles (I’ll have to go back to discover what that means). Certainly no more expensive than the Celtic Whiskey Shop and they offer four tastings for 5 CHF.

Today’s last event was a trip to go see “Magnolia” in the Cino Xenix as part of their Philip Seymour Hoffman season. Xenix doesn’t look like much outside but into what looks for all the world like a prefab classroom (it’s located on Helvetiaplatz, beside a school and just down the road from the amusingly titled “red light district of Zurich”), they’ve managed to cram in a box office, a sizeable (if narrow) bar and a 110 seater cinema. The cinema is great: half its seats are of traditional type, the other a whole pile of couches and it’s got digital projection on a good sized screen with great sound. The film, of course, is a classic: a sprawling epic in the best sense of the word, with wonderful performances in a frenzied, exciting, meditation on how at various times we decide our own fate, how others decide it for us and how maybe there is no such thing as pure coincidence (“this is the part of the movie…”). Not forgetting the soundtrack, to which the film is really an accompaniment rather than the other way round.

Afterwards, at 12.40am, I can still get home by public transport in ten minutes flat. A good day.


Two viewings tonight. The first was pretty dismal: a boring two bed apartment with a boring view in a boring part of town. The second was much better, sited closer to the city center and fronting onto a busy street with a very quiet balcony at the back. Around, there a few signs of personality with a few good looking restaurants and a totally bizarre shop called something like “Hi-Fi Nostalgia” with nothing but piles and piles of high-end, expensive but old hi-fi components stacked up in the front windows and, peering inside, well into the back of the shop. Nothing but Sony, Denon, Technics, etc., tape decks, turntables and tuners – completely and utterly useless and probably highly inefficient…I loved it.

Inbetween viewings I finally sort out of annual travel card: I plonk 693 CHF on a “personal ZVV 9 o’clock pass for Zurich municipal and neighbouring zones”. Basically what this means is I can now use buses, trams and boats all over Zurich city center and in each neighbouring region (not the entire canton of Zurich but right out to the airport) for the next year after 9 o’clock on week days and all weekend.

There is a vast, bewildering, array of travel passes available; in fact, it seems to me like lots of things here offer a huge choice of options (medical insurance being another): my only guess is this all part of the culture of efficiency, allowing the individual spend only what they want/need/can afford and allowing companies fleece the rich but still extract some money from the not-so rich. At least, that’s what the first 50 pages of “The Undercover Economist” taught me. Anyway, I particularly love the idea of the 9 o’clock pass – it’s almost tailored for lazy late-rising people like me with no fixed working hours and it encourages people off the trams at rush hour. That sort of efficiency I could learn to like.

I did ask the lady at SBB about a 9 o’clock general abonnemente – I love the idea of being able to travel anywhere on the Swiss network but can’t see myself justifying a 3100 CHF travel pass; maybe they have a 9 o’clock version of that, too?  – but was told that, apart from some rumours in the media about it possibly happening which were basically made up (she didn’t seem to hold a very high opinion of the newspapers coverage of SBB), there is no such thing. Oh well.

Diary Entry

Two viewings tonight.

The first is fine but nothing special and is located out in the sticks – 20 minutes on the tram to the hauptbahnof, imagine! – but it’s memorable for the outgoing tenants, one of whom is a massive Liverpool fan and is the first native English speaker I’ve met in my house-hunting campaign. We have a good chat about the flat, receiving Sky TV in Zurich (all the channels are on cable, in every building) and the Irish pubs around town – apparently Paddy Reilly’s is the one to go for and not, as you might guess, the confused identities of “The Oliver Twist” or “Big Ben”.

Afterwards, I briefly think how I would have a great chance of getting that apartment if I wanted…then correct myself by reflecting on how the current tenant has almost no influence whatsoever on choosing the next: I’ve dutifully but pointlessly brought my references to every viewing – invariably, applicants are expected to send in their application after the fact. Standing out from the crowd is tough when you’ve only your references and cover letter at your disposal and if you don’t speak any German then you’re at a disadvantage on the telephone to many other applicants. Perhaps it takes some of the chance out of house hunting: if you can figure out the rules then all you need to do is quickly supply the right papers and wait for the offers…so far, though, I haven’t worked out the rules.

The second is a vast, palatial, high ceilinged two room apartment in a lovely old building in a lively district in the city center with a great layout in which a large kitchen and bathroom adjoin the living room. The ultimate bachelor pad and, sure enough, there’s an enormous pair of hi-fi speakers in the corner. It’s huge but still has a cellar, laundry and drying room and costs well under 2000 CHF/month. Needless to say, there’s a small army of house hunters filling out the forms there and then and I curse myself for forgetting to bring my references with me: the first time the owner has been collecting application forms on the spot and I forget the damn papers!

Of course, maybe it won’t really matter: my fax will reach the estate agent’s office long before any of those filled in in person and he or she wasn’t there anyway to meet any of us. I race back to the office to fax off my application and cross my fingers.