Winter in Switzerland will always sound appealing, and this one crept up so slowly and passed by so quick I barely noticed. It was in March 2007, and even recounting the experience 18 months on is hard to do, now I reside with a lovely wisdom-full Swiss lady called Corinne Luescher, the hazy memory only serves its purpose in offering me to her a false sense of knowledge of Switzerland, when in fact I spent a total of 53 hours in the country. So where did it all begin?
My house in Dartford at 6 am, John Johnson my ex housemate and I were booked on a Gatwick – Zurich flight, which meant an easy drive from our house, or a monotonous (that’s totally not the right word, but it makes the sentence sound better) trip on public transport on a Friday so young, there weren’t even any Kent birds singing as we left a cold cold Wyatt Road for a walk to the local train station, and there we were at Slade Green station waiting for a delayed train, in the exact situation I’d have been in had it been my day of work, again at the time in Bite Communications in Hammersmith. I used to often catch the 6.59 am train to Charing Cross. However today when the train arrived I was dressed in a green wig and scarf and John predictable looking forward to more carnage with a boiler suit which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the body of a UFF hitman. This was a football trip to Switzerland. We also exited the train at London Bridge, running late and looking like we could miss the flight (which was around 9 am), but we banged ourselves onto the Gatwick Express train somehow and were finally heading for Gatwick Airport. It would have been easier to drive there, but too dear to park, and as I already had a monthly all zones London travelcard, the journey cost me about £3 plus the ware and tare on my trainers.
I caused a bit of a scene at Gatwick as we were lumbered with mammoth queues and with the plane due to leave in about 10 minutes, we had our baggage checked on, but were in a massive queue for departures. Once we finally got to the terminal, they were boarding, but a principle is a principle and diving over bags to meet Graham Anderson and his son, I went straight to the bar and necked a bottled beer just 10 minutes before apparent take off of the flight. This is where it all went wrong…we got on board the flight OK, the four of us, flying for a change on British Airways. And this was after a mad rush to get to the airport and then through security, we then were to learn that we would be grounded in Gatwick Airport for another 2 and a half hours!! Now for fucks sake but if I’d known that I wouldn’t have had to rush to get there in the first place. Now due to abverse weather conditions in the Swiss Alps we were stcuk on the plane, and couldn’t leave it. Even worse was to follow, we weren’t even allowed to buy alcohol until take off for some stupid licensing reason that the plane can only sell alcohol when its in mid air. Even even worse we weren’t even allowed a cup of tea, this two hours or so of life would have to rank as one of the worst, just sitting on a plane doing feck all. Finally though it did take off, we got a beer, had some decent music on my iPod and could play hangman. Then as the plane approached landing in Zurich, Switzerland we saw the snow out the window and we were in Switzerland in winter!
The airport seemed massive and very clean, and a special airport train took us to the end of the airport which was actually a shopping centre. There were banks, diamond shops, chocolate shops, John tired to chat us the little Swiss girl in the jewellers (she couldn’t understand his cockney English). We were able to get our Swiss francs there from a cash point and then arranged yet another train to get to Zurich central station, from where I had directions to our hostel. The train was double decker and on it I chatted up a Swiss girl who thought I was nuts just cos I had a silly hat on, I put the hat on her and got a photy of it. The train was fast and zoomed through snow and then there we were at a white Zurich central. There really was a sense of “nothingness” about the place. Even on exiting the train station, barely a person spoke and the place seemed drab, white and awaiting inspiration. The walk to the hostel warmed us up in the snow and we enjoyed traipsing past boring shops, happy people and a lovely bridge by an eloquent river, which looked like it should have been in Eastern Europe. But Switzerland is rich, is very neutral, has its own thriving economy and was clearly and very clean and friendly place. In a coffee shop on the corner of the main bridge across the river, I asked final directions to our backpackers hostel. It was no problem to find and the gorgeous little paved side streets on route were filled with snow.
Arrival at the hostel saw a wee alleyway and a winding terrace staircase up to the third floor where our backpackers reception was. On route to that we also spied the previously publicised “Oliver Twist” pub and a “Big Ben” pub, they were both English or Irish style bars and looked pretty decent from the outside. Even though our flight was delayed, we were still very early, and couldn’t yet check into the backpackers hostel until 2 pm, so we left our bags there and went to the Oliver Twist pub, where there were a few other Northern Ireland football fans (we were due to play Liechtenstein in Vaduz the next day). In there the first round of four pints (for me, John, Graham and Luke) came to around £14 equivalent in Sterling. Ouch! It was going to be a dear trip, Switzerland isn’t cheap and at that rate we stayed for just two pints, before checking in and deciding to go and check out the city of Zurich. Apart from the mountains, the river and the snow, we didn’t find a lot of interesting sights to see, in honesty I found Zurich to be one of the most boring, non-descript cities I have ever been in. I even found it had to find a postcard and stamps, and even stranger not many bars about, no cheap restaurants (except McDonalds) and bizarrely for a city it was really quiet. Perhaps Zurich is not the ideal place to go to see Switzerland!
However we were only there for a total of 3 days, so it was never going to be a good opportunity to see Switzerland. Some of the little houses and buildings by the river were nice to look at, but we headed back to the city centre near the train station looking for somewhere decent to eat our dinner, it was now late afternoon. We found nowhere, and then in off a side street found a groovy bar, with mirrors, with a conveniently 4 empty stools at the bar. We went in there and drank some Schloss beer, the four of us sitting at the bar. I kept changing my hat/wig every time the bar maid looked away and she got quite confused. That was really as funny as it got in there. John thought it may also have been a gay bar, as there were loads of blokes sitting together with make up on. That was really our cue to leave and as we looked again for a cheap restaurant all we found was another corner bar called “The Carlsberg Bar”, so still looking for food we went in and had our nibbles in there, coupled with £5 pints of Carlsberg. They let us all in with football shirts on, which was pleasing and even Luke who was underage got in OK. It was in that bar where I noticed a few other green shirts in amongst all the Swiss Friday night businessmen pint sinkers! It was like being in London on a Friday night – everyone had just finished work and was enjoying their Friday night pint! The other green shirts were Colin, Moore, Alan, Kevin and the crew from the CITY OF BELFAST NISC, so we drank with them for the next hour or so, singing songs at each other while I also tried to chat up some beautiful Swiss business women. They reminded me of posh arrogant Bournemouth girls – they didn’t want to know. My wisdom would melt their butter…
A bit longer in there and we decided to head back to another few bars nearer our hostel; the city of Belfast lads were staying in a hotel, also nearby. We found a restaurant owned by Greeks, where they gave us some food and large beers. In there I led a loud and thorough rendition of “We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland” with me and Graham holding and dancing to our club fleg. We continued to drink for much much longer, appearing back in the Oliver Twist pub yet again and then later in the Big Ben pub, which was packed to the rafters and took ages to get served. On the way back to the hostel, I also walked past a strip club which a few Northern Irish guys came out of, I didn’t have the money to test it, instead thought I’ll grab a few hours kip and end up ready for the big day in the morning. As a Swiss moon shone done, I couldn’t get back into the hostel, smashing my hand badly on a door and ending up a little bit bruised before Graham helped me in, amidst an Australian guy and girl having sex in the mixed cubicle. I was more concerned with our own room, where an old guy called “Willy” (no joke) slept with us in one of the bottom bunks. I had finally gone to sleep in snowy Switzerland…
On a previous post on here I have recounted my trip to Vaduz in Liechtenstein from Switzerland’s Zurich, so you can trace part of this post and link it to that one if you see the need. That morning I was awoke by the sound of Richboy marching into our room. Richboy had just arrived on his flight and would return with us. He really livened the spirits of us and totally kicked any kind of hangover into touch. I was up dancing, possibly naked in a room. Graham may recall. I don’t. We showered mingled and then led ourselves fully dressed in Northern Ireland regalia down the stairs and waited in a wee square, I popped in for a pint into a bar at the corner of a square and posed for photos of ladies who were beautiful, I was definitely the beast, and wearing Graham’s now legendary “the doc from Back Till The Future wig” we walked past the gorgeous snow adjectivised river Limmat, posing for photos and stopping only for hot dogs (brat wurst, possibly?) and some carryouts for the bus we had booked through countryside to Vaduz.
At this point I also saw fit to photocopy my face in full colour in the photocopying machine in the Zurich supermarket. It was hilarious and I kept the scan as a souvenir. We also then met up with Tim Acheson who shared our bus and added more wackiness to the day. I should also mention that Graham Anderson turned up in Zurich with a Scottish style tartan wig hat with a Northern Ireland fleg “doctored” onto it. Richboy and his missus had also sewn together a very well designed green hat with a NI badge on it. We looked the part and we had indulged in art. At the main bus depot we bumped into a young Brazilian lady amid chants of “We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland.” It was quite cold and I decided to borrow some snow for the coach to make my own fridge for the beer, which I did just as the “party bus” left Zurich for the tax free haven of Vaduz. It was goodnight Zurich, for now.
But after being in Liechtenstein, we returned on the same bus back to Zurich this time through dark, cold countryside and off at the train station. It was quite strange really, but for the second time in a row on consecutive away trips following Northern Ireland I was arrested in a capital city. This time it was for pissing in public. Well, lets get this straight, there were no toilets around, nothing in sight and even the ones in the train station charged you 1 Euro, so I went over to the side of the train station to piss and a peeler arrested me. Inside the cell I danced, stripped down to my pants and sang away until they released me, where my friends bailed me out, paying the 30 Euro fine, which I owed Graham and Richboy back for, it was then straight to the pub for more beer and meeting up with Tim Acheson, we ended up back in Carlsberg Bar, which was on the north east corner I reckon from the main train station.
We again drank a lot of lager and chatted away to locals and fellow Northern Ireland fans. I was very very tired and returned home to the hostel alone, and in need of sleep. The next morning was even worse, having to admit diarhoea in the toilet, bruised limbs and a complete lack of manoeverability on all accounts. We found solace for once in the McDonalds on a side street near our backpackers where the poster for a “DJ Whiteside” livened spirits again for a brief moment, before I conceded defeat against a hangover.
Who went – Loads of Northern Ireland fans but in our group, Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson, Luke Anderson, John Johnson, Richard Ingram, Tim Acheson.
Where we stayed – City Backpacker Hostel http://www.city-backpacker.ch/
Strange Currencies – Swiss francs.
Passport Stamped – Yes.
Weather – Snow.