It’s easy to prepare yourself for Swiss costs by telling yourself that everything is simply double or triple of back home, but when you actually see it, are confronted by it, are hit with the realization that this is the price for being in this great country, that’s a crusher. Some exceptions are bread, chocolate and yogurt, all of which are much cheaper and much better than in USA.
Since Switzerland is an obscenely expensive country, you would think I would keep abreast of the exchange rate and think about what everything costs in dollars, but I throw my hands up and imagine that Swiss francs are dollars. It is close enough now–maybe 1.10 francs = US$1—but I also do something that I don’t recommend ever doing anywhere else, and that is paying in euros. You get change in francs and at least you don’t find yourself burdened with too many francs when you leave, and you have less chance of getting stuck with those pesky large value coins when you leave.
It can be a bad idea since the rate can vary, so ask before you do it. Today I used euros in the supermarket at 1 euro = 1.36 francs, and I see online that 1 euro = 1.43 francs. Depending on how good your debit card is for ATM withdrawals, it can be the way to go. If you are thinking of changing cash into Swiss francs, there are high commissions for doing so. I only recommend it if it is for smallish amounts.
The devil is Travelex, a currency exchange company that has the monopoly of changing money is many airports in USA and unfortunately it was the first thing I saw in Zurich. Their rates are exorbitant. But is it their fault? They are probably charged a lot of money to set up shop in the airport to begin with. The answer is for municipalities to not look at an airport as a cash cow but as a public resource. Singapore is the shining example of this with many different banks, all claiming to have the same rates as in town.
Last night I went out with a Georgian friend whom I met five years ago and of whom I had very much wanted to see again ever since. She is a true iconoclast, hard to figure out, and a sort of muse for me even though we hardly email each other. We ate dinner in a posh Italian place and I knew the precious time would fly by. There was barely enough time to meet her husband afterward.
Doesn’t Switzerland have a reputation of clockwork precision and efficiency? The last three commuter trains I have taken have all been late. I am rarely on a schedule, anyway, but it is funny to see the Swiss get fidgety when the train is only one minute late. To go two stops on the commuter train costs US$6.00 one way. Last night there was a check of tickets on the train at 11:15pm.
Today the weather was miserable again, but I made a pilgrimage to a formerly famous place called Platzspitz Park in Zurich. Like Amsterdam has been an experiment in open and legal prostitution, Platzspitz Park (aka Needle Park) was known for one and only one thing: open and legal use of heroin. I have photos from my first visit of people shooting up. Many people were very open about it and didn’t mind photos. I even had an offer to move in with a small group on the edge of town. It was all very eye-opening, as you can imagine. The whole point of the park was an attempt in the early 1990’s to deal with the heroin addicts, but it drew everyone from all over Europe and overwhelmed their good intentions to offer clean needles and counseling. Give them credit for at least trying something.