03 December 2014

What Makes a City Great?

The first time I visited Zürich, I walked out of the train station beneath a gargantuan guardian angel, strolled across the Limmat River, and wandered aimlessly into Old Town, where I was shot through the heart with an arrow.

This has happened to me before in other great cities: Paris. San Francisco. Prague. Florence. Barcelona. Within minutes of arriving the first time, I was in love. And the more I explored the city, the more smitten I became.

What makes a city great? A lively street life full of friendly people? A dramatic history that still echoes as you walk through its churches and squares? Intriguing architecture and art? Delicious food? Efficient public services? Colorful seasons? 

Welcome to Zürich.

But a great city has something more, some ... what? ... some frisson that electrifies visitors and grows deeper within those who decide to make that city home.

Again, yes, welcome to Zürich.

What is it about this city? You can add up the elements: The Gothic steeples above the cobblestone. That fun, quirky modern design hotel in the hip quarter of town. The boutiques selling vintage furniture and tomorrow's fashions, and the ateliers offering odd housewares you suddenly must have even though you're not sure what they are. The antique ships cruising the sparkling lake. The welcoming people, many of whom speak English.

Sure, all this and more, including a vibrant café life, a progressive music scene, and countless restaurants serving food from Switzerland and around the world.

Not to mention a great tram and bus system, bringing you to the front doors of all the city's offerings.

Locals call their city "Züri," which, to me, sounds like an incantation. No surprise. Züri is one of those alchemical cities that turns its myriad amazing elements into something even more golden. But what catalyzes this alchemy?

I still do not know. Do you?

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