Lake of fire


Now here is a question for you – which place comes next in the following list?

Monte-Carlo, Heidelberg, Salzburg, Florence

Need a clue? OK these are four of the top 5 destinations of choice in Europe according to Tripadvisor. Think Switzerland? Think 14th century bridge across a lake? You lot are rubbish…of course the missing link is Lucerne. Or Luzern …or Lucerna depending if you are feeling French, German or Romansh. Visitors flock to the picturesque small city high in the Alps and on the crystal clear waters of Vierwaldstättersee, or Lake Lucerne for the uneducated.

Since the city straddles the Reuss River where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a 200metre long wooden bridge originally built in 1333, although much of it has been replaced during the years Part way across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification from the 13th century. The Bridge with its Tower is the city’s most famous landmark.

Ask CMF about my romantic side and she will wax lyrical about some of my more inventive ideas in the past. It’s not always been PSFs (petrol station flowers) and trips to football you know. And Lucerne was a perfect romantic venue, strolling hand in hand along the Kapellbrücke under the moonlight. But you don’t believe me for a minute that is why I was in that city. And you’d be right. CMF was 567 miles away in TBIR Towers and I was sharing the moonlight moment with a hundred or so Grasshoppers fans who were here for the Swiss Cup game against FC Luzern.

The hosts, known as Die Leutchen in Switzerland (and the stars elsewhere) were Swiss champions back in 1989 and were comfortably mid table last season. they can be summed up in one word – Swiss. Their most exciting moment in recent years came when they were asked by the Brazilians to play them in a warm up game prior to the 2006 World Cup. An 8-0 final score line probably wasn’t a shock to many on the day.

Earlier in the season the club moved into the Swissporarena, the newest stadium in the country. The 16,800 capacity state of the art stadium has been built on the site of their old Stadion Allmend and is a combination of some of the best architectural elements of the new Letzigrund Stadion in Zürich on the outside and the blandest of the new stadiums on the inside. Functional is one word you can use to sum it up, although the setting is stunning with the snowy peaks of the Alps looking down on the action.

Of course I would be accompanied on my Swiss Ramble with the Swiss Ramble – Kieron never misses a chance of a game when I am over so he worked out the logistics of the trip, buying the tickets and generally making sure I wouldn’t stray from the straight and narrow.

We headed south from Zürich with the sun slowly falling across the lake.  You pay for beauty in Switzerland and so having only paid £40 for the 45 minute return journey to Luzern I wanted a view in a half.  As Basil Fawlty said to Mrs Richards, “Well, may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…?” . For my £40 I was expecting to see snowy alpine mountains, cows with bells on, St Bernard dogs with brandy bottles around their necks and Sepp Blatter.  I didn’t really see any of that but the lakeside scenery was quite impressive. Continue reading

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Only two teams and one ground in Zurich


Take a seat.  I wont keep you long, but this is complicated stuff.  It involves two clubs, two grounds, one regional government and a series of broken promises. Let me take you back to 2005.  UEFA had announced that Switzerland and Austria would co-host the 2008 European Championships, and one of the host cities would be Zürich.  The only question would be which stadium would be used? The Letzigrund was the home of FC Zürich, nine times Swiss Champions as well as one of the most famous athletics tracks in the world and part of the IAAF Diamond League. The Hardturm was home of Grasshoppers, the most successful team in Switzerland with 17 titles and 18 Swiss cups to their name.  Their stadium was bigger and football only.

Initially a decision was made to build a new ground, named the Stadion Zürich on the site of the Hardturm. Both teams would share this football only stadium, leaving the Letzigrund as a multi-purpose arena.  Grasshoppers would have to move out whilst it was being built and an agreement was made for them to travel the two miles or so across the railway line to the Letzigrund and share with their greatest rivals, FCZ. Continue reading

Swiss cleanliness, efficiency, cuckoo clocks and a bloody good night out!


If you ask the average person to list three things that you would associate with Zurich I bet the words clean, efficient and cuckoo clocks will come up more than any other descriptives. Ask anyone who has visited the city and I bet their words would be different. Sure, the city is spotlessly clean. Efficient – hmmm – it does has a tram network that sort of runs to a timetable. And yes you can buy cuckoo clocks at any tack store. But the real Zurich is often the one that people fail to find. My three words would be cultured, crazy and chocolate. With just two new Euro2008 stadiums to visit before my imposed 31st December deadline another trip to the people’s capital of Switzerland was on the cards. I call it the people’s capital because again if you asked those same people who said clean, efficient and cuckoo you would almost certainly be told that Zurich was the capital of Switzerland instead of Berne some 70 miles to the north east.

Zurich has some mixed memories for me. It was here that CMF and myself took a young Lolly on a weekend break when she was just a few months old, and stayed in the Crazy Cow hotel. Now, one of the reasons why I say that Zurich is crazy is because of the strange sense of humour of the Zurichese (not sure if this is a word but it fits). Take our hotel – the Crazy Cow. Apart from having a huge laughing purple cow in the reception area (a very deliberate mix of the Milka and BabyBell Cheese cows), its defining feature was the frescos painted on the wall of each bedroom of Alpine scenes, mixed in with said crazy cows. Sorry, I should rephrase that. When I said on the wall, I actually meant the whole wall. In pure 8ft by 15ft glory.In such irony that is not normally shown in this region of Europe the hotel actually listed in their brochure that it was Europe’s most famous hotel wall mural hotel – what an honour, although I have heard that the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental are planning to make a bid for this title next year. The weekend with the mini-Fullers was a great success as we managed to avoid any problems with nappies, sickness, not sleeping and Lolly actually stayed awake to see most of the sites of the city. I should just point out her track record here. Before the age of 1 she had managed to sleep through such cultural highlights as The White House and the Pentagon (these being the heady pre 9/11 days), Arlington Cemetery, Checkpoint Charlie, The Blarney Stone, Edinburgh Castle and at least 4 matches at West Ham (where quite frankly nowadays under Alan Curbishley sleeping is the preferred crowd tactic). On a subsequent flying visit to Zurich when I was enroute to the wonderful “village” of Vaduz in Liechtenstein I drove through the city on my way to the road alongside Lake Zurich and someone picked up my one and only ever speeding ticket, which considering the amount of miles I do, and my inability to still to any limits is an amazing feat.

So this trip was going to be very simple. Fly in Saturday, watch the FC Zurich v Sion game on Saturday night, and out again before the first cuckoo on Sunday to be back at the Fuller homestead in time for Sunday brunch. There was also the must see Arsenal v Man Utd game to be shoe-horned in on Saturday morning somewhere, and I had come armed with various Irish bar details for this.

Whenever I organise these trips I try and fly with BA. It is not that I am some kind of snob but for a few pounds more than Sleazyjet or the Irish airline that I do not speak of (Apparently Voldemort was going to be called Ryanair in JK Rowlings books as the very mention of its name conjured up bad memories for most European travellers, but as Harry Potter and go could fly on broomsticks and apparate in fire places it was deemed an unnecessary confusion) I am almost guaranteed no one next to me, and I can use their lounge and get my Air Miles which I collect to waste on trips to such destinations as Barcelona (see post on Andorra v England). Britain’s finest (this is pre Terminal 5 disasters by the way) was as punctual as ever in leaving the stand at Gatwick bang on time. 30 minutes later we were taxiing down the runway. London Gatwick is an airport that simply shouldn’t function. It is the busiest single runway airport in the world. That basically means planes landing and taking off have to take it in turns to use the runway, and the chances of a potential collision over our heads in London is significantly higher than elsewhere – what a cheery thought! What it also means is that all the airlines have to add 30 minutes or so onto their schedules to cope for these traffic jams, and even the mighty BA aren’t immune to these delays.

We landed into Zurich’s modern Klotern airport on time and with typical efficiency (you see I cannot avoid using such words) I was on a train on the way to the city centre within 20 minutes. Football must be a big thing in Zurich as there are loads of adverts at the station advertising….trips to Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt…Sod the local clubs, lets export fans to Germany every weekend!

With a few hours to kill before the Man Utd game I thought I would join the masses and have a wander down one of the exclusive streets in Europe – Bahnhofstrasse. Here you will find all of the big names in retail such as Hugo Boss, Mont Blanc and Primark (Yes – one of England’s finest retail chains had made it across the Alps to Zurich) as well as some of the city’s finest attractions, Fraumunster, with its stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall (nope haven’t got a clue who he is either). After a few moments of quiet reflection, well as much as reflection as you can have with 100 Japanese tourists stuffing their Nikon’s in my face, I headed over the river to the equally impressive churches, Gross Munster. Now, again I am not particularly interested in such ecclesiastical buildings, but I was drawn by the amazing singing coming from inside. Despite the coming and going of the Japanese tourists who had followed me like some kind of football novelist Pied Piper, the church was an oasis of tranquility. A single female voice, basked by a string quartet enabled me to slip away into another world for 20 minutes or so, until that unique masculine inner alarm clock sounded…..BEER O’CLOCK! And so out of the culture and into the pub for the most anticipated Premiership (and European) game of the season – Arsenal v Manchester United. Enter into any Irish Bar anywhere in Europe on a Saturday lunchtime and you could be in London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Baku or Brno – it’s all the same. Old farm equipment on the wall, all day breakfast on the menu and of course SKY SPORTS!!! Now these bars also offer a time machine. Enter a bar at 11am, and with a “I’ll just have one more beer and watch 5 minutes of Villarreal versus Osasuna” attitude you can quite easily be kicked out at 11pm none the wiser of how you have spent the time, apart from the fact that you have seen a game from 6 different divisions.

The pub was packed – Ex-pats, locals and those fucking Japanese tourists, pointing their cameras at Richard Keys on the TV’s – “Look Hairy man like gorilla in a suit”, trying to capture their but of little England. Hard as the commentators tried, it was hard to inject the atmosphere into the surroundings in the pub and after nearly two hours of banter, the game ended in a draw and the crowds left – not particularly drawn by the prospect of Le Mans v Caen from the French Championship.

With 90 minutes to go until kick off at the new Letzigrund I decided to dump the bag at the hotel (very centrally located and of course within 100 yards of not one, but three lap dancing bars)and headed to the tram stop. From across the river the unmistakable sound of the Pogues Irish Rover was being sung drunkenly from what appeared to be a tented village in the middle of the river. The tents were all decorated in the unmistakable colours of Bavaria, and then it clicked. Men in Lederhosen, huge butch women and drunken revellry all added – Today was the German Beer Festival day. The Swiss had simply imported a beer festival from their neighbours lock, stock and drunken crowd. It was tempting, very tempting. I am all in favour of a few drunken choruses of “Where the F’ck is Alice”, and the thought of a few large Brautwursts seemed like a plan…however I had a job to do. I am not paid to spend my time drinking or eating, but to write about football (technically I am not paid at all, but at the end of the day I write about the game, people buy the books and so I am paid). However, it was duly noted in the mental outlook task list for later in the evening.

Tram line 2 does the job nicely, depositing you from various parts of the city to outside the stadium in around 15 minutes. The previous version of the Letzigrund was one of the oddest stadiums in Europe. It had four separate stands, each of which obviously designed by the same painter as the Crazy Cow murals, and with crowds hovering below the 5,000 mark for most games it was hard to see the merit of building a brand new stadium. However, when Euro2008 was announced jointly to the Alpine brothers, it was inevitable that Zurich wanted a piece of the action. But the problem the city faced was which stadium to develop. Separated by the main railway line, the Letzigrund and the Hardturm have been home to a bitter rivalry between FC Zurich and Grasshoppers for nearly a hundred years. Both played in stadiums that had seen better days and so the pressure on the city council to allocate the funds turned into a campaign more like a presidential rally. Eventually a compromise was reached. Firstly, the Letzigrund would be demolished and rebuilt, during which time both clubs would share the Hardturm and then once completed both teams would move into the Letzigrund and the other stadium would be rebuilt as a football only stadium.

The new Letzigrund opened its doors in September 2007 with the Zurich derby. The architects had certainly done their bit to make the stadium unique. Despite the presence of an athletics track, the stadium actually had a compact feel. They had used the same material as the Angel of the North (i.e the rusted look within 2 months of opening) and the skyline was lit up with large spikes that penetrated the roof like the Millennium Dome. I had managed to procure a media ticket and took my seat in the deserted press area. With the teams lined up to start, a single journalist came up the stairs and proceeded to tell me I was sitting in his seat, in something similar to a scene from the Fast Show, despite the fact that the other 18 seats in the press box were actually empty! And of course I moved – there is something about the power that language has over our actions and I spoke very very little German I was of course in the wrong!

The game itself was surprisingly good on such a cold evening. Despite Sion taking an early lead, it was obvious that the Champions FC Zurich were going to win. Well, actually I missed the Sion goal. I was surfing the net on my phone, and as there was no away fans to make any noise I did not break my stride until the players had actually regrouped in the centre circle. FC Zurich made light work of the second half, and two quick goals soon restored some reality to score line. With time ticking away Sion threw players forward..in fact they threw too many players forward and in one of those brief moments of madness that you rarely see in football these days, actually played for a couple minutes with 12 men on the pitch after a Sion player had limped off injured on the far side of the pitch and been substituted unbeknown to him or the Physio who then sent him back on!

Taking the opportunity for a quick exit, and getting more excited to sample the delights of the German Beer Festival I headed back on the tram to Badenerstrasse. It appeared that festivities were due to start again at 9pm so I had an hour to kill so I headed to Starbucks for a quick warming Cinammon Latte and had to wait 10 minutes for my Japanese friends to take pictures of their Egg Nog and Gingerbread Men. I am sure they weren’t at the football so I was quite confident that they wouldn’t follow me to the Beer Festival….Oh no….of course they did. Nine pm on the dot they all marched out en masse and headed across the bridge to sample some imported German hospitality.

The Beer Festival was a great laugh. More than I actually expected. Having often traveled solo I am used to my own company, and in many ways enjoy the solitude. However, it is no fun drinking alone, especially huge great glasses and so before too long I had chummed up with a couple of like minded Americans from Denver who, after pushing your way past their nauseating accent, boastfulness (Yeah so dude I have a boat but we are 1,000 miles from the Ocean – awesome!) and their love of the same jokes (I am sure the waitresses had never been called Wenches before) that were not bad company. And it turned out they knew a thing or two about beer, women and football. Football the common language. Mention West Ham and of course they immediately replied with “Jonathan Spector – he is awesome dude”, er yeah…Awesome is not a word I would associate with Mr Spector..Curbishley’s bum boy yes, but awesome, no. Anyway we saw off those pesky Japanese, all of whom took 3 hours to do their litre of beer, and headed on out into the city. What goes on tour, stays on tour is the old adage but in the internet age that surely must change to “What goes on tour, goes on the internet soon after” and I should write about the bar with the knickerless guitar playing transvestite, the one with the glass dance floor with a bar below it full of men looking up at the hottest things that Zurich could throw at the night and the misunderstanding in that “gentlemen’s club” that nearly ended up with CMF being the ex-CMF and having Heidi installed in her place. But that would be unprofessional so I will not go down that avenue of pleasure dear reader. Suffice to say that I shed my Yanks who loved their Pranks at breakfast time, headed back to the hotel which I had spent all of 17 minutes in, checked out and headed off to the airport.

As I boarded by train back to Kloten I noticed a sign that summed it all up..”Zurich – cuckoo clocks are the past, culture is the future”. And who cares if the culture is imported from Germany, the far east and the US of A…If it works and the next day you cannot remember a thing then it is good for me!

About The Letzigrund Stadium
The new stadium nearing completion in the western suburbs of Zurich represents the ambition of the Swiss football authorities in creating a real legacy from the 2008 tournament. Zurich has always had a fierce rivalry between FC Zurich and Grasshoppers, and so the authorities had a real difficult job to decide whether to develop either stadium or simple build a new one. In the end they chose to completely rebuild the Letzigrund, home of FCZ since 1925.

The new stadium is penciled in to open with the Zurich derby in September 2007. Instead of four disjointed stands, with some of the most “unique” architecture which characterised the old stadium, supporters will see a truly great sporting arena that will host some of the world’s greatest athletic meetings (such as the Golden League) as well as football. The stadium will offer unobstructed views from all stands as well as a unique roof with spikes that rise 20 metres in the air. The stadium will host the following matches during Euro 2008:-

FCZ are currently playing at Grasshopper’s Hardturm stadium located a mile or so across the railway line. When the Letzigrund stadium is complete in 2007, attention will turn to this old stadium and it will be completely redeveloped as a 30,000 all seater football only stadium. Currently the Hardturm has a capacity of 17,700. The stadium is a strange affair with three stands joined together in a similar shape to Nuremburg’s Frankenstadion.

Who plays there?
The rivalry that exists in Swiss football can never be called bitter, but in Zurich it is the closest you can get to a real derby. The two clubs have existed for over 80 years separated by the main railway line, but recent events have thrown them together, initially at the Hardturm whilst the new Letzigrund is being constructed, and then when Stade de Zurich is being built in 2008, the two clubs will move into FC Zurich’s Letzigrund.

Grasshopper Zurich are the most successful of the two, winning the Swiss Championship on 27 occasions, to FC Zurich’s 11 occasions. However, the balance of power currently lies with the latter as they have won back to back championships in 2006 and 2007. They also have a better European record, reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 1964 and 1977.

Grasshoppers were formed in 1886, making them one of Switzerland’s oldest clubs by Englishman Tom Griffiths, and they certainly dominated some of the early Swiss seasons by winning the championship on four occasions by 1905. Their golden period came during the 1990’s when external sponsorship monies funded an expansion of the team to include such players as Shaun Bartlett, Hakan Yakin and Christian Sforza, and coaches including Leo Beenhakker, Christian Gross and Ottmar Hitzfeld. During this period they won six Swiss Championships in an 8 year period as well as two Swiss Cups. However, it did take them four attempts to get past the preliminary rounds before they reached the Group Stages of the Champions League in 1995. However, they finished bottom of a group featuring Ferencvaros, Ajax and Real Madrid. The following season they faired slightly better by finishing 3rd in their group ahead of Rangers but behind Ajax and Auxerre.

Since then they have had to make do with the occasional UEFA Cup campaign, although they can claim the Intertoto Cup as an honour in 2006.

FC Zurich were formed ten years later in 1896 and spent many years in the shadows of their cross city rivals. In fact up until 1963 they only had two Swiss Championships to their name in terms of honours. However during the 1960’s they started to dominate Swiss football, registering the title in 1963, 1966 and 1968 as well as two Swiss Cup wins during this period. In 1963 they entered the European Cup for the first time, and surpassed all expectations by reaching the Semi-Finals by beating Dundalk, Galatasaray and PSV before losing 8-1 to the team of the century Real Madrid.

The club then went through another period of domination under Timo Konietzka during the 1970’s. They won the Swiss Cup in 1972 and 1973 before winning back to back titles in 1974 and 1975. In 1976 they won the domestic double for the first time. The following season they enjoyed another great run in the European Cup beating Glasgow Rangers, TPS and Dynamo Dresden before losing to eventual winners Liverpool in the semi-final.

Apart from a couple of sporadic honours in the 1980’s the club had to wait until the stewardship of Lucien Favre before they really tasted honours again by winning the 2006 title with an injury time goal against champions elect FC Basel that resulted in some ugly scenes on the pitch in Basel. Their subsequent Champions League campaign only lasted 180 minutes as the team lost 3-2 on aggregate to Salzburg in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League. After last season’s Championship win the team will be hoping for a better fairing in Europe and hopefully a Champions League Group Stages spot for the first time.

How to get there
The Letzigrund is located in the western fringes of the city centre, almost adjacent to the main railway line. The new stadium will have enhanced public transport access, although for some of the big games during Euro 2008 it may be quicker to walk to the stadium by following Badenerstrasse all the way down from Wersstrasse in the old town. The walk should take around 20 minutes. Tram line 2 and 3 also run at regular intervals down Badenerstrasse to the Letzigrund.

The nearest train station to the Letzigrund and the Hardturm is Hardbrücke which is one stop from the central station. For the former head southwards across the railway bridge and take third right into Bullingerstrasse and the stadium is 400metres away. For the Hardturm head north out of the station and then take the first major left into Pfingstweidstrasse for the stadium.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for every match at Euro 2008 have been sold out for many months, and the only way now of getting tickets is by applying through one of the nations football associations once they have qualified. Whilst tickets for matches may become available after the draw is made on the 2nd December, it is unlikely that a further sale to the public will yield more than a few hundred tickets per venues.

In terms of getting tickets for domestic matches, then you will have no problems in getting tickets on the day of the game. FC Zurich are the better supported of the two clubs, but they still only get an average home attendance of 10,000 even when playing at the Hardturm. The most popular match is the Zurich derby but even this does not sell out. Currently tickets can be purchased in advance from http://www.ticketcorner.com or by calling 0848 800 800 (from Switzerland only) and cost 20CHF for the Kurve’s behind the goal, to 50CHF for a seat in the main stand. No decision has been made about the cost of tickets in the new stadium.

Getting around
Zurich is famous for its highly efficient, clean and safe public transport system. The network includes trams, buses, S-Bahn and pleasure boats that traverse the lake during the summer. There are maps posted at most tram and bus stops, although the Tourist Information Office located in the main station can provide these free of charge as well as selling you the Tageskarte day pass for 7.80CHF.

Local Hotels & Bars
Accommodation in Zurich comes in two sizes – extra large and expensive or small and cheap. The former is plentiful around the south of the river and around the edges of the fabulous Lake Zurich, whilst the area to the north of the main station is where you will find the small compact (but nevertheless clean) hotels. The city does host a number of trade shows and so it is advisable to book ahead if you can. Alternatively, the Tourist Information Centre in Hauptbahnhof can help try and find a room for you. The following are definitely within the small and cheap range:-

ZicZac Rock-Hotel – Marktgasse 17
Tel: +41 44 261 2181 http://www.ziczac.ch/rockhotel
Palais Kraft – Kraftstrasse 33
Tel: +41 44 388 8485 http://www.palaiskraft.com
Hotel Schäfli – Badergasse 6
Tel: +41 44 251 4144 http://www.schafli.com

Switzerland has more to the palate than you originally think. Zurich is a great city to sample some of these dishes such as Rösti, Veal in cream and wine, Fondue and of course chocolate. The city has some real fine dining experiences, although prices are high in comparison to other cities in Europe. The following, however, should not set you back too much for an excellent dining experience.

Bindella – In Gassen 6 (Tel: +41 44 221 2546)
Hitl – Sihlstrasse 102 (Tel: +41 44 227 70 00)
Zeughauskeller – Paradeplatz (Tel: +41 44 221 1200)

Zurich has plenty to offer when the sun goes down, and has a serious bar culture – after all the ex-pat community is larger here than most other European cities. There are no shortages of places to drink in, but the following are recommended for a drink or two on a night out in the old town.

Outback Lodge – Tellstrasse 19
Corazón – Zähringerplatz 11
Café Odeon – Limmatquai 2

The city has a number of excellent “home from home” bars in the old town where you can find your Roast Beef, John Smiths and Premiership football playing each weekend. The following three are probably the best known.

James Joyce – Pelikanstrasse 8
Oliver Twist – Rindermarkt 6
The Noble Dubliner – Talstrasse 82

Nearest Airport – Zurich Kloten Airport (ZRH)
Telephone: +41 43 816 2211
Website: http://www.zurich-airport.com

Zurich airport is located around 7 miles outside of the city centre in the area known as Kloten. The airport is Switzerland’s largest and includes daily flights from the UK with CityJet from London City, British Airways from London Gatwick and Heathrow, Easyjet from London Gatwick and Luton, Helvetic from Manchester, Swiss European from Birmingham, London City and Manchester and of course Swiss International from London Heathrow.

The airport handles over 19million passengers a year and is one of the best in terms of facilities for passengers in Europe. To reach the city centre then head down to the railway station under the terminal which transfers you to the Hauptbahnhof every 15 minutes in less than 10 minutes.