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Zurich in Living Color

As a leading financial center and renowned global city, Zurich lives up to it’s well-earned hype.  It is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to live (commonly ranking first in quality-of-life indexes), and it is an esteemed hub for business as well as the arts (one of Christopher’s best friends owned an art gallery there for years).  This was our first opportunity to visit Switzerland, so we made a spontaneous decision and took a bus into Zurich for a few days to see what all the fuss was about.

Zurich Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

We quickly learned that Zurich’s vibrant old town is surrounded by a stunningly beautiful natural landscape, and surprises awaited us around every corner.

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Swans everywhere!  This elegant pair are part of a much larger population that calls Lake Zürich home.

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

^^^We spent an afternoon lounging in the sun at the one of Zurich’s waterfront parks.

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

Zurich in Living Color | The Alternative Atlas

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Feeling Festive at the Berlin Christmas Markets!

Berlin is one of the most culturally diverse and artistically relevant cities in the world and there is so much to say about this global capital, but we are gonna save all of that for later… because right now we need to focus on the Christmas markets!

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This city takes its holiday festivities very seriously, and there are a wide range of Christmas markets for every taste.  We visited a few of the markets, and our favorite is the WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, located between the famous Konzerthaus and the French Cathedral.  Our most feverish holiday expectations were met with joyous Berliners occupying pristine stalls selling Glühwein (hot mulled wine), handmade ornaments, gourmet holiday treats, and everything Christmas and Hanukkah themed.   Make no mistake, Santa Claus is definitely coming to this town!

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^^^The holiday spirit abounds at this magical marketplace, and we were delighted to see so many festive wares on display in the square.  We spent the entire afternoon perusing the stalls and checking out the goods.

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^^^We took a break for lunch at the neighboring Augustiner brewery… because so much holiday festivity really works up an appetite for vegetarian spätzle and beer!

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^^^There is live Advent and Christmas music performed during the day to warm up the crowd for the evening… when Slayer takes the stage and performs songs from their upcoming Christmas album.  At least this is what I was told…

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^^^The market becomes even more picturesque at night… maybe it’s just the Glühwein talking but I can’t wait for Christmas!  Long live love!

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast

This city is undoubtedly on the way to being named a “must-see” trendy European destination in the near future, and the charming old town will make many visitors feel like they’ve stepped directly into a fairy tale (we posted a few images here).  What lies under the surface is the otherworldly contrast that is seen between the grey Communist blocks and the playfully ornate art deco and Austro-Hungarian buildings outside of the tourist stomping grounds.

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

An embarrassingly quick history of this gritty Eastern European capital: once a part of Czechoslovakia, the city of Bratislava was under the control of the USSR following WWII and it fell behind the iron curtain during the Cold War with the United States.  In 1993 the nation was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Bratislava becoming the capital of the latter.  Slovakia is now a free nation and is a part of the E.U., but the Communist influence remains.

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Sights like these make for an interesting landscape: the infamous Blue Church (of St. Elisabeth) sits directly beside a long-abandoned Communist hospital.  These crumbling testaments to a bygone era are everywhere… and always a thrill to photograph.

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

^^^The first asymmetrical suspension bridge (Most Slovenského národného povstania or simply Nový most) welcomes visitors to the city and is a testament to the once dominant Communist aesthetic.

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava in Contrast | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Bratislava wastes no time transitioning from dreary to dreamy, and this is clearly evident in the most beautiful mailbox ever!  Long love live!  Wait, that’s not right… people have been telling me that this tagline thing is important so I should probably get it straight…  Long live love!

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust!

After months of traveling and exploring many of Europe’s major cities, this impossibly charming little place remains one of my favorite capitals in the world.  The word hidden gem only begins to describe the allure of this city.  We visited Bratislava on a whim while staying in Vienna, and we were mesmerized.

Bratislava | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, and is located along the border with Austria and neighboring Hungary.  We took a one-hour bus ride from Vienna (only 37 miles way!) and arrived in the center of the sunny 18th century old town without any idea what to expect… and the blanks filled in quickly!

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

The old town is adorable and full of little passages and cobblestone side-streets.  Wandering around those little alleys is so much fun, and it is common to emerge from a dilapidated passageway into a bright and spectacular backstreet…

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

^^^…shared only by the nuns attending their errands.

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

The contrasting nature of the buildings in Bratislava offers a feast for the eyes and makes for an unbelievably photogenic city.  The graffiti-covered walls, Communist apartment blocks, and spectacular 18th century church buildings sit side-by-side.

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Once a part of Czechoslovakia, this city was under the control of the USSR following WWII, and it fell behind the iron curtain during the Cold War with the United States.  Since Prague was chosen as the capital, Bratislava was used as a center of industry for the Soviet war efforts in Czechoslovakia.  In 1993 the nation was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Bratislava becoming the capital of the latter.  Slovakia is now a free nation and is a part of the E.U., but the Communist influence is evident everywhere.

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

Bratislava or Bust! | The Alternative Atlas

The best part about Bratislava is that it seems like the word hasn’t gotten out yet, and the city doesn’t have the big time tourist draw of neighboring Vienna or Budapest.  The city has yet to become a major travel destination despite having everything to offer: a beautiful old town full of contrast, a rich and dark history, delicious traditional food, easy accessibility, friendly locals, and cheap prices.  I can’t wait to visit again!

Frankfurt Photo Tour

Frankfurt is a huge city.  It’s a major transportation hub, hosting one of Europe’s busiest airports and is the largest financial center in continental Europe.  Frankfurt’s famous skyline comprised of high-rises is often referred to as “Mainhatten” and has a rebuilt Old Town that is impossibly cute. It is extremely affordable to visit with easy public transportation, cheap beer, good food, trendy art galleries and street markets. Plus, there are so many old dudes here that LOVE blasting Rammstein while driving down streets packed with pedestrians, and I’m obviously really into that.  With so much to offer, Frankfurt hardly makes it onto any travelers list.  Most just pass through onto the next destination.  Why?  Frankfurt’s charm and attraction is not so obvious and requires a little digging.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

We ended up in Frankfurt after accepting a house-sitting gig there for two weeks, and were initially planning to take it easy and use our time to regroup after a solid 2 months of backpacking through the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Our idea was to take some time and plan out our next moves, but it turned out that our next moves were right in front of us!  Frankfurt is a landscape filled with wood-timbered houses, graffiti clad industrial warehouses and glass sky-rises sitting side by side, and simply walking through the Old Town leaves a strong impression of this old-meets-new spirit.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

We were in the right place at the right time and wandered into the gallery district during an art-walk opening night.  All the galleries were open and new exhibitions were being seen for the first time by an enthusiastic crowd of art lovers.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Galerie Rothamel is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary figurative art.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

^^^I loved this… the galleries served pretzel bread alongside the wine as hors-d’oeuvres.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

^^^and of course we found a little weekend food market complete with trendy food stalls and vintage cocktails.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

^^^Woah is this another food market?  Jaime believes that Germany is the most festive country in the world, and of course staying true to this belief, the food market was fall-themed.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

^^^This festive pumpkin prosecco is a testament to Frankfurt’s pursuit of all things fall.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Our wonderful hosts also took us to dinner and on a tour of Bethmann Park, which houses a beautiful Chinese garden.  Who knew that Frankfurt has so much to offer?

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

No trip to Frankfurt (whether simply passing through or staying for a proper visit) would be complete without trying the most important Hessen drink: Apfelwein.  This tart and delicious cider is traditionally enjoyed straight or mixed with water or lemonade.  Chris doesn’t always drink wine, but when he does, he prefers apfelwein.

Frankfurt Photo Tour | The Alternative Atlas

Alternative Zurich

The Fraumünster Church is an icon of the city which dominates the skyline and features stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.  The presentation is gorgeous and similar to the Chagall windows at the Art Institute of Chicago, but at the church there is absolutely no photography allowed.  We payed a quick visit here during our stay in Zurich and left after wandering around the dark and somber church for a few minutes.  We had no idea that we would be returning the following evening when the space would be transformed into a shining performance space by art collective Baushtellë and be confronted by a program of thought-provoking contemporary work.

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

Members of Baushtellë from Prishtinë, Beograd and Zürich participated in the complete transformation of the Fraumünster Church.  I love what they did with the space… coincidentally it was my first time seeing an artist perform semi-nude inside a church.  And this time, photography was encouraged!

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

At the heart of this collective is an exploration of a system of beliefs, so I found it very appropriate that the exhibition was held inside a sacred space.

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

Alternative Zurich | The Alternative Atlas

One of my favorite pieces was the rigorous and extended ringing of all of the church bells in the Zurich old town… simultaneously.  The entire city was flooded with the atonal and off-time clamber of the bells for several minutes.  The booming reverberated endlessly through all the old streets and I couldn’t help but think “wow this is so awesome… how did they get away with this?”  You can read more about Baushtellë on their website here.

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke

Switzerland has a big reputation, and rightly so if you’re into stunningly beautiful landscapes and picturesque snow-capped Alpine mountain ranges.  After arriving in Zurich we subsequently discovered that we had unwittingly plopped ourselves down into the middle of one of the most expensive places in the world to visit.  I quickly realized that there needs to be another element added to that big reputation: the price tag.

Our decision to visit Switzerland was a rash and impulsive one, and I remember my thought process being something like yeah, I’m into mountains, I’m into trains, I’m going there!  Needless to say, the bank account is still recovering from these delusional ravings.  I’ve decided to supplement the typical “Check Out How Beautiful Switzerland Is” post (which we shamelessly did right here) with something more practical for traveling on a budget.  These are our tips for visiting Zurich without breaking the bank.

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Plan ahead.  We had taken a bus to Zurich from Germany, where affordable prices for just about everything are perfect for budget backpackers like ourselves.  Imagine my dismay upon leaving Frankfurt (where beer costs less than bottled water) and arriving a few short hours later in Zurich and seeing those exact same bottles in the grocery store for more than triple the price.  This is a heartbreaking feeling and certainly put a downer on our trip.  We did not plan ahead and it felt like we had simply crossed a border into a land where everything is crazy expensive.  It would have helped tremendously to have had a better plan for our budget.  That being said…

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Make your own meals.  It pains me to offer this as a suggestion (as eating local foods made by local people is one of the most wonderful aspects of travel) but it is essential to avoid eating out if you want to save money.  Jaime has a particularly polarized opinion of eating in Switzerland.  She was furious to see the prices in the grocery stores for basic foods.  Simple self-catered meals had suddenly turned into big-budget endeavors.  She became particularly upset upon examining a tiny, sad-looking frozen cheese pizza at Migros (the cheapest grocery store) which cost more than our apartment in Frankfurt.  This is not an exaggeration.  There is another grocery chain named Coop which sells beer and wine late at night…we got lucky a few times and found an affordable bottle of red wine to split (those Olde English tall cans were obviously out of our price range at almost $7 each).

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Despite all I’ve said, there is one suggestion to be made for affordable vegetarian food: Holy Cow! is a trendy little burger joint in Zurich’s old town that has an amazing veggie burger and perfectly crispy fries.  It is very popular with students and the backpacker crowd… for obvious reasons.  This is a gem where you can get an affordable (and filling) vegetarian meal and this is a rare find; we went there twice in our four days there.

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Research the cost of transportation in advance.  The price of transportation in Switzerland is staggering, especially on the train lines between cities.  We completely missed out on many of Switzerland’s most beautiful natural wonders simply because we could not afford to get there and had not planned for the cost in advance.  There are limited transportation options and at the time of our visit there were no buses between major cities in Switzerland, so we were faced with spending a fortune on train tickets to travel relatively short distances.  There are SBB discount cards available for purchase, but these are usually not financially viable unless visiting multiple cities.  Many Swiss people would not consider spending 100 CFH (about $100 USD) on a one hour round-trip train ride to be an unreasonable expense, but for any budget backpacker this is an insane transportation cost.  All penny-pinching aside, the opportunity to ride a train through any part of Switzerland is undoubtedly an experience of a lifetime, but make sure to avoid our mistake and calculate that cost into the budget beforehand.  There are ride sharing services such as BlaBlaCar and hitchhiking, but both the former and the latter were too unreliable and unrealistic for our short time visiting.  We did, however, find an awesome boat tour of Lake Zurich for about $8 from the Lake Zurich Navigation Company.  These short cruises depart all day and are a great way to see the surrounding mountains and city.

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Book an Airbnb.  This is an obvious choice for a couple traveling together, as the cost of a budget Airbnb private room is considerably less than a hostel or dorm bed, and WAY less than a budget hotel room.  We booked a very basic room (complete with air mattress) in Zurich in a house shared with multiple students… all of whom were friendly and outgoing.  I’m not sure how many people actually lived in the house, as it was a college-days-revisited type of accommodation with a revolving door of friends, roommates, and classmates.  Far from luxury living, but a great experience and probably the cheapest possible private room excluding Couchsurfing.

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas

Switzerland has a lot to offer, but for those on a tight budget it will be necessary to take a few precautions and improvise a bit in order to make it work.  We found that even the finest restaurants couldn’t match the views in the nearby parks!

How to Visit Switzerland Without Going Completely Broke | The Alternative Atlas