Stop and Watch the Elephants

Last weekend, I learned a vital lesson about traveling — don’t go somewhere if you don’t know the cost of living. Jordyn, Arely and I, in our frenzy to see as much of this corner of the world as we could, had booked tickets for a day trip to Zurich. We knew nothing about the city or what we could do there, but we had a free Sunday.

So it was that I woke up at 5 a.m. to catch a 6:30 bus. There were red flags from the start. Arely overslept, so Jordyn and I had to leave without her. We slept through a lot of our four-hour bus ride, but I woke up in time to see the Alps as we cruised into Zurich. They’re so big, so green, so lush; they look like Fangorn Forest.

When we got off the bus, I learned what 98-degree heat with 45 percent humidity feels like. Not good. I was ecstatic that I wore a bro tank but pissed that I forgot sunscreen. We wandered toward Lake Zurich, looking for a cheap place to get breakfast, baffled that we couldn’t find one (Hint: because we were in Zurich). The outdoor cafe that we settled on was good; paying 20 Euro for a panini and coffee was less so.

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Then we didn’t know what to do. We could buy out that Dolce and Gabbana store, or we could go someplace we could afford. As soon as I Googled “things to do in Zurich,” and we saw the zoo, we made up our minds.

The zoo was an hour’s walk from where we were, but we had plenty of time to kill. After about 15 minutes, we realized our journey was entirely uphill. That was okay — we did say that we missed hiking — then the heat started to get to us. We killed at least two water bottles each on the way up. I was drenched in sweat and felt the sunburn coming on.

The walk to the zoo took us through some of Zurich’s nicer neighborhoods. It’s a gorgeous city, the only place I’ve yet seen in Europe where the new architecture is as pretty as the old. Jordyn called it the San Francisco of Europe, and with the hills and the trains in the streets, she was spot on.

The thing that sets Zurich apart is its cleanliness. It’s absolutely spotless. There is no trash on the ground, no cigarette butts, very little dirt. I don’t think I saw one homeless person. You could feel the wealth, and it was kinda unnerving.

The zoo was cheap though, and it was the best 20 Euro I’ve spent on this trip. We went into the reptile house first, because it was air-conditioned (Zurich, like the rest of Europe, doesn’t believe in that comfort). There were piranhas, salamanders and toads. I checked out the anaconda, and thankfully I didn’t have my Dudley Dursley moment.

Once we were sufficiently cool, we went outside to the African enclosure. “Enclosure” isn’t the right word, though, because the exhibit was unlike any I’ve seen at a zoo before. It’s more like an artificial savannah, with a wooden walkway guiding you through it. All manner of African birds and fish are free to roam; the birds don’t even have clipped wings. It was refreshing to see them so free (Of course, the penguins still had a small, shitty cage. Penguins always get shafted.).

The elephants topped everything, though. They live in a wooden dome honeycombed with skylights. It was as hot and muggy in there as it was outside, but we didn’t care. Jordyn literally jumped for joy when the elephants came out as a family. It was the happiest either of us had been all day. They were eating, and the baby, that little rascal, would wait until his mom was about to put food in her mouth, then steal it with her trunk and eat it herself. She had this shit-eating grin on her face. They all did; they looked so happy all the time, and it was kinda therapeutic.

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After the elephants, we saw lions, tigers, wolves, camels, yaks, and a red panda, which was sleeping with its tongue hanging out and looked as adorable as you’d imagine.

We left the zoo around 4 p.m., then went to the FIFA headquarters, which are across the street. Jordyn flipped them off, then we wandered away with more than 12 hours to kill before our bus back to Munich. The sun still blazed, and it beat down as we walked back down the hill toward the city center, looking for something to eat and anything to do.

Jordyn picked a restaurant that looked tasty, but of course it didn’t have air conditioning, because nowhere did. We sat and ate in silence, our clothes soaking ever more with sweat. My shoulders looked like tomatoes from the sun, and my chest was bright pink.

We blurted out at about the same time that we were both miserable, and that neither of us had much fun before or after the zoo. Neither of us had said anything before that, and we both had stewed in hot, sweaty resentment. The look on Jordyn’s face when we checked the time and realized we had 11 more hours in the city said it all. We had to get out of there.

I’ve never eaten a plate of spaghetti so quickly. Jordyn scarfed hers down, too. We hounded the waiter for our check, paid without waiting for change, and dipped. On the way to the bus stop that we arrived at, we passed Zurich’s central train station, and we checked it out on a whim. There were no buses available with two seats, but there was a train to Munich in 15 minutes. It cost 100 Euro each but we didn’t think twice. Suzanne, the ticket lady, was clutch, and she got us out of there just in time.

Of course, the drama wasn’t over. As we sat on the train, our phones buzzed — it was Arely. She’d taken a later bus and just arrived in Zurich! There was a brief freakout while we told her what happened, but she was totally cool. Arely is a very good independent traveler, and by all accounts she had a better time there than we did.

That settled, Jordyn and I each went to a train’s bathroom to clean up. I felt very ratchet, washing myself with hand soap in there. But it was good. We were clean-ish and Munich bound. As the train pulled away we settled into a kind of happy delirium.

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We wondered just what the hell we had gotten ourselves into over the past few hours, then spent most of the ride quietly reading and sleeping. The train pulled into Munich around 11 p.m. and we shuffled back to our dorms. I showered, took a power nap, and woke up at 1 a.m. to watch the World Cup Final. Carli Lloyd must have known how tired I was, because she exploded with the craziest hat trick I’ve ever seen, and I fell asleep at halftime knowing that the United States were world champions.

That was that. What a strange, expensive day. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t wasted, either. I don’t think any time that you spend with your friends is truly wasted. Besides, we saw elephants.

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