Marcel and Anina proved to be consumate hosts, and upon arrival whisked us off to Marcel's parents' place just off Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in western Switzerland, where over the next two days we toured a castle nearly 1000 years old, partook in a wine tasting at a local vineyard (one of dozens in the region), and trekked through lush mountain valleys draped in diaphanous fog.
We then left Marcel and Anina and took the train (I gotta give a 'shout out' to Swiss public transportation!) south to the canton of Ticino where we visited Locarno and Bellinzona. In Locarno, known as the "sunny living room window" to the rest of the Swiss, we were able to sample a more Italian/Mediterranean way of life with warm and sunny vistas on to Lago Maggiore and relaxed sidewalk cafes along palm-tree lined boulevards.
We also took a funicular (I love that word) car up to the Madonna del Sasso, an old church where it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to a local monk. While up there at a small cafe, we slaked our thirst with some fine German beer and enjoyed more spectacular views (after a while, the beauty of this country overwhelms you and you find yourself almost numb to it...a strange feeling indeed).
The next day we made a quick stop in Bellinzona to see its three famous castles, Castlegrande, Montebello, and Sasso Corbaro. Why three castles, you ask? Bellinzona is located at a point where several key alpine passes converge, making it one of just a few northern entry points into Italy, and thus very strategic. It faced everything from Frankish "barbarian" invaders during the end of the Roman Empire to medieval warring popes asserting control over northern Italy.
Ironically, its biggest threat stemmed not from any man made weaponry but from the periodic flooding of the Ticino river. The pictures don't really do them justice, but the castles are very impressive.
For our final leg, we journeyed back north to Zürich and rejoined Marcel and Anina, who showed us a city fascinating in its blended ethos of the old and new. During our sight seeing marathon, we explored medieval/Reformation era churches such as the Frau- and Grossmünster (seeing the Chagall stained glass windows in the Fraumünster was both a beautiful and worshipful experience) as well as the modern architecture of the Museums of Design and Art and the University of Zürich.
We can safely say that with its history, urban vibe, good food, exquisite views, and amazing public transportation, we fell in love with Zürich. Marcel and Anina...vielen dank!