Τρίτη, 4 Νοεμβρίου 2008

Oune jour in France (Voyages in Dangerous Times Part I)

Having just spent the last twelve hours in Brussels International, after saying goodbye to my friends and desperately tryinng to find a flight into spain, or some place near the Iberian Peninsula for less than 200 euros one- way (a thing wich can be quite common when looking at the last minute for flights in the middle of August) at around 7 am I had decided that I should try reaching spain by rail. The target was Barcelona, which had been my watering hole for my last month of crisscrossing around Spain (before my short political trip to Genk where I followed the cwi summer school for some days). And the way to do so was to catch the Thales to Paris, cross town from the Gare Du Nord to the Gare d’ Austerlitz, where I would catch the train to Barcelona. So I jump on the train to the central station, where I catch the Thales to Paris. Within an hour and a half I have zipped across the fields of Valogne and enterred the Northern Suburbs of Paris. The only memories I had of Paris were the ones I had collected as I kid tourist there in 1991, when I was staying with my mom at a cozy wee guesthouse in the Quartier Latin and about a zillion movies that had been filmed there. This cast on my mind a fairy-tale like image of Paris, the city of love.

I arrived at about nine in the morning local time, and jumped on the first train to the Gare d’ Austerlitz. The heat was unbearable and the train was full of commuters triyng to find their way to their workplaces. That means that the wagon is packed and even breathing is very difficult a task in there. After about an hour I finally arrive at the station….

Then I discover that the only train that travels towards the area and is not fully booked is the 8:30 PM train to Narbonne, where I have to change for the regionnnal to Portbou, and then for the RENFE Regional Express to Barcelona. Plus that, my phone has no roaming whatsoever, I am broke (bar the tickets I am left with 16 euros) and my family is away from home, so they can’t send me any money at all untill the next day, when I shall reach spain and be able to call them. Things can’t get worse than that, can they?

So I stick to my only option. Keep my sandwiches for the train ride, save my sixteen euros to be able to eat something at the station and email my folks once I reach Barcelona. Plus to that I am tired and dirty, in need of a shower and sleep……this looks way bad. I gather my strength to give a smile to the cute french girl (of african origin that is quite helpfull-the fact that she speaks some spanish makes things easyer) that sold me my ticket and make my way towards the departure lounge, which actually is a wide and open area ajaccent to the train departure points.

The next thing that I did was find a spot near the walls, drop my backpack and my bag,lie down,use them as a pilllow and read my book (The grapes of wrath). Within a few minutes of starting to read my book my eyes shut and I surrendered to the sweet hug of Morpheus. This is going to last only for a few hours, until I get an especially abrupt and rude wake-up call. In fact I wake up to the sound of two blue uniform clad and armed to the teeth Neanderthals standing almost over me and yelling at me something that I can’t understand, wich seems to be something like “monsieur this and monsieur that”.

Barely keeping my cool I try to reason with the two pumped up neanderthals, that are in reality members of the Grendarmerie (Something like the Carabiinieri in Italy), explaining to them that I do not understand any French at all, but I speak quite fluently English, Spanish and German. They seem to speak some spanish so they start to question me using barely basic sentences like “Tu hace Francia?” (You what do France?). Their questions seem to revolve around my business in France, my time of departure, my point of arrival (hello! No border controls between Belgium and France!) and my nationality. Of course I am trying to explain to them as simply as I can that I am a poor Greek tourist that is trying to get to Barcelona, and that I am in Paris just in order to catch my train, which leaves in a few hours…...They don’t seem to believe me, and ask me the same questions over and over again. So my next sane thought is that I should produce them with some documents (my passport and my train ticket), which are in my travelbag. So I turn around, and actually stick my hand into it’s front pocket, in order to pull them out. BIG MISTAKE! The exact same moment that I turn around I hear a sudden click (one of them actually armed his G3 semi-automatic rifle), a voice yelling “NO NO NO NO NO!” and another one sending a dispatch from it’s radio wich seems to sound like “ WE NEED SOME BACKUP!”. I am actually held at gunpoint by the french police! Argh! Shit! What the hell am I? An international terrorist?????

Natirally I get scared to death and freeze. I can’t really move, because I know that if the guy holding the gun gets the wrong idea, the only thing the paramedics WILL be able to do is……..clean my brains and blood off the wall. So I decide to grab the tickets and the passport, and hand them over to them, while turning around really slowly…in fact the speed in wich things happen over the next two minutes, resembles more a Bergman or an Aggelopoulos movie thatn some ultra violent cops v bad guys movie. I take my hands off the pocket with the speed of a turtle, and produce my documents with a small sigh of relief. They take them and start looking at them with suspicion, while asking me again to verify the truth of what I was saying. In the end the two self-appointed Sherlocks with the iq of a Neanderthal decide that my documents and what I say actually check out, and decide to leave, but not before delivering the final blow.

“ We will leave you now, but if we catch you again sleeping here we will send you to prison where you know what they do to boys like you”, one of them (the brains of the operation) actually says to me before they fuck off to wherever they go. Only the thought of being the victim of a Abou Ghraib style prison meat sandwich is enough to keep me terrified for the remainder of the hour. But everywhere I look on that corridor, I see other terrified or sympathetic faces with a “this can’t be happening” expression painted across them. In a conversation, some older fellow backpackers that had witnessed the whole event actually informed me that in the nineties, when the station was closing at around midnight, the authorities would dispense teargas through the air vents in order to prevent the homeless from spending the night there. But I have this notion that there are more dark reasons for this vulgar display of power. The situation in the french ghettos has reached boiling point, and France is unusualy calm these days, a thing wich actually shows that some real violence is to come. In fact a few months later the ghettos will erupt violently, in a chain of events sparked by the misstreatment of two teenagers from Clichy-sous-Boise at the hands of the police. But there is also the wave of fear cast by the London and Madrid-Atocha bombings. And this makes the people and the authorities edgy, epsecially those elements of the french authorities that belong to the Gaulist- Lepenist and Charkozy –friendly part of the political spectre. If you add up the threats posed by Al-Kaida because of the banning of religious symbols from public schools and services, then you understand that the authorities feel that they have to be very aggressive towards anyone who seems to look like a threat to public security. France and Europe live in a state of fear imposed by the way……. European governments actually behave towards the poor countries of the world.

The next few hours seem to pass in slow motion. But there is a lot to notice in this busy station. Commuters come and go, faces move around, trains arrive and depart all the time. Two smiling faces distract my attention. They are actually the two black girls that work in the bakery. And what actually gets my attention is not their amazing looks, but their smiles and their general behaviour. They just keep smiling all the time, share jokes, dance around the bakery to grab the things that their customers ask for, and even take a little bit of time to flirt , or share a joke, with the Morrocan waiter from the bistrot that is next to the bakery. Damn, I wish one of them was my girlfriend, or that I could just hang out with them….They seem to unbelievably sweet. I buy a baguette from them, and decide that since the only language they speak iis french, getting close to them for the day is inevitable and try to move my attention towards other things. Shortly after my train comes in and I move towards my compartment. I share it with a non-descript French guy, a girl from California and three Canadian college girls. I try to establish some contact with them, but they are way too tired, like me and we soon fall asleep in our couchettes. We wake up early in the morning, on arrival to Narbonne. The amazing landscape is a rewarding view after a 36 hour ordeal. At around 10 we catch the train to Portbou and finally enter the french part of Catalunya, after passing Perpignan. Th scenery is just breathtaking, and I make mental pictures every second, trying to grasp every sight and feeling. And thank god for the sandwiches (the ones I made and the veggie bieces of bread the girls shared with me) I have enough energy to stay awake through the final steps of this trip, wich will end at around 1 PM in Barcelona, exactly 48 hours after my departure from Genk. And once we clear the customs control at Portbou, out comes a sigh of relief. Finally left France, and I am on my way to my final destination….Barcelona

Δευτέρα, 30 Ιουνίου 2008

The Canadian Invasions pt2

The first thing that strikes someone who first arrives at the port of Bari, probably is the seaside. Well actually it is the coastal boulevard, wich is full of massive hotels, of the kind that actually distorts the local ambience to a very irritating point. Apparently the lessons of Southern Spain have not been learnt in the coasts of the Adriatic. Other than that Bari looks like the typical nondescript Mediteranean coastal town, with its beaches and its bars, and its wide streets.
The bus ride from the port to the central station is- even by italian standards, frantic. Imagine a bus full of backpackers, packed in it like sardines in a can. Now imagine this bus trying to swerve around obstacles and curves, with the passengers trying frantically to find something to hold on to, before getting mashed into each other, while the bus driver never lifts the foot from the gas pedal, even when trying to negotiate a turn in a street that can just hold two cars. In the end the bus screeches to a devastating stop and the drivers just finishes us off, by screaming "Arrivederci" at the top of his voice.

Now there is a funny thing when you see a bunch of backpackers squeezed into a bus, trying to break free, just in order to file into a qeue in front of the ticket offices. But, the long qeue notwithstanding, all of us poor travellers that had to suffer through the Italian bus ordeal make it to the one 'o' clock train to Rome in one piece. Yes everybody's going to Rome. Apparently mpost of the backpackers in the train are Canadian, though I don't fail to notice the token Spanish girl, plus an Argentinian, some Finns and a few Americans. The train ride to Rome takes about six hours, but it is really worth the try. After the train leaves the plains around Foggia, the really interesting part begins. The train starts to climb on the apenines, and before it reaches the area of Campagna, you get to pass through green valleys, traditional villages and ancient Roman aquaducts. Then you swiftly pass through the campagnan countryside, and reach the tremendously beautyful coast of Amalfi. Then, before you even know it, you pass next to a giant graffiti sign writing "Bienvienuto a RomaYork" (Welcome to Rome-York). The eternal city is laying before my feet, just waiting to be conquered. (to be continued on Friday, with Roma:Cittá Aperta)

Παρασκευή, 27 Ιουνίου 2008

The Interrail Diaries: The Canadian Invasions pt1

The bus ride from Athens to Patras is not really long, especially if you take into account the events of the previous morning and their devastating aftermath. In fact the only thing along the route to indicate any souch thing has happened, is the intense movement of military and relief agencies up and down the highway. In fact there are convoys of police busses making their way in and out of the capital, in order to move reinforcements into the earthquake zone. The city of Patras does, in fact, seem to have survived the ordeal, but for the villages just a few kilometres south of the city the aftermath is devastating. Adding up to these, are the fears of my parents, who actually fear of aftershocks and tsunami waves hiting the area. But my stay there is not going to be prolonged, and my slow boat to Bari appears to be one of these vessels that have the ability to move with undeterred, under almost any weather conditions. Plus, I am sailing across the Adriatic, wich is not particularly notorius for its tsunamies.

I witness a great deal of suffering though,coming out of the tv screen of one of the port´s café´s wich shows, at full blast, news reports from the wrecked villages. Fortunately enough, the casualties are not really heavy, but building structures were totally wrecked, leaving a lot of people homeless. As if they didn´t suffer enough last year from the forest fires! Plus soon enough, the governmentwill show almost no help towards these people. Though eventually every damaged household will get some money for rebuilding the home and new furniture, later in the week, reports that local New Democracy party officials (rememeber they are in the government) actually lead relief funds to people whose businesses or houses remained intact (but hey were ND members or voters). This will probably add up to the popular discontent towards both ND and PASOK, the two parties that are sinking day by day in opinion polls.
My boarding time finally arives, and I enter the big boat. To my dismay the boat is half full, but there are no beds available, so I will have to spend the whole evening on a chair, or a couch. And since lying on the couches is actually prohibited by the staff, I just sit at the air-seats, waiting. The composition of the passengers is quite interresting. A large group of greek tourists taking a guided tour of Italy, truckers (the majority of whom are Italians), and holidaymakers of various types (backpackers, campers, elderly people on an adventure etc) making their way into Italy. Most of the backpackers have a canadian flag on their backpacks, and claim to be canadians, but there are also some token english people, two fins and a spanish girl travellingon a eurail scheme. Later on I will learn that a lot of these "canadians" are actually american tourist, too afraid or too ashamed to say that they are americans in Europe, mainly because the American Exteral Policy is not really welcome in Europe, but also of the fear of being mistreated due to being americans (mind you this is a stupid fear, europeans love america and its people, they just don´t really like american presidents and the NRA crowd).
I (like everyone on the boat try to spend my time sleeping (after seing Italy being thrashed by the Dutch in the Euro), bot that is not an easy thing. So I basically wait until the stewards dissapear into their quarters, so that I can sneak into the comfy sofas and couches and take a nap, a thign that does not happen until like 3 AM. So I get to catch some five hours of sleep until breakfast time when I get rudely awakened by the steward.
I get some cheap Bclass English type breakfast at the food lounge, wich will keep me strong enough for the remainder of the day. And straight after that, I am ready to disembark at Bari, and start my iterrail adventure..... (Continued on Monday, with Canadian Invasions pt2)

Σάββατο, 2 Φεβρουαρίου 2008

When in Cairo, follow the locals


Όσο πιο σκούρο είναι το δέρμα σου, τόσο το καλύτερο όταν βρίσκεσαι στην Αίγυπτο. Φαίνεσαι λιγότερο "τουρίστας" και οι πιθανότητες για παρενοχλήσεις τύπου "έλα να σε πάω εδώ κι εκεί, δώσε μου μπαξίσι" είναι μειωμένες κατά κόρον.

Αν είσαι γυναίκα, βάλε και καμιά μαντίλα στο κεφάλι, για να εξασφαλιστεί η ηρεμία σου και η ησυχία σου. Εγώ δεν έβαλα, και μόνο μία φορά έφαγα ενόχληση και παραβίαση του προσωπικού μου χώρου. Φωνάζεις όμως ένα "κχαλάς" (=φτάνει) και ο θύτης τρέπεται σε φυγή στο δευτερόλεπτο. Αν είσαι άντρας, άσε κάνα μούσι για να φαίνεσαι ισλαμιστής και τελείωσε η υπόθεση. Η χαρά που θα κάνουν στα μουσεία, εστιατόρια, κτλ είναι απερίγραπτη.


Αν στη χώρα που μένεις δεν βρίσκεις με ευκολία ναργιλέδες, τότε παράγγειλε "σίσια" σε κάναν καφενέ. Στην Αλεξάνδρεια είναι πιο αποδεκτό να καπνίζουν "σίσια" και οι γυναίκες και σε μαγαζιά για ντόπιους, ενώ στο Κάιρο καλύτερα να περιοριστείς (αν είσαι γυναίκα φυσικά) σε κάνα ξενοδοχείο.

Τι πρέπει να δεις στο Κάιρο:

Σίγουρα, σιγουρότατα τις τρεις γνωστές πυραμίδες. Για ποιο άλλο λόγο πας, άλλωστε. Αν δεν επιλέξεις να πας με κάποιο οργανωμένο και ομαδικό τρόπο, tour που λέμε, τότε πρόσεξε τι συμφωνίες κάνεις με τον ταξιτζή μην σου φάει παραπάνω από όσα πρέπει. Αν ούτε ταξί επιλέξεις να πάρεις, αλλά πας με κάποιο μέσο δημόσιο, πρόσεξε μην σου "κολλήσει" κανένας για να σου προσφέρει ταξίδια στην έρημο που είναι λέει της κυβέρνησης. Δεν είναι καμιάς κυβέρνησης και το πιθανότερο είναι ότι θα σε υπερχρεώσουν. Μέσα στο χώρο των πυραμίδων, πολλοί θα θέλουν να στα πάρουν με τον ένα ή τον άλλο τρόπο. Μπορεί να σου βάλουν με το ζόρι κάνα παραδοσιακό είδος ενδυμασίας και να σε βγάλουν φωτογραφία και μετά να επιμένουν για φιλοδώρημα, ενώ συνέχεια σε τρέχουν ξωπίσω διάφοροι με άλογα ή καμήλες για να σε πάνε βόλτα. Αν επιλέξεις να αγοράσεις κάποια τέτοια υπηρεσία ας την πούμε, τότε καλώς, απλώς πρόσεξε μην στην χρεώσουν με το ζόρι, χωρίς καλά καλά να το έχεις καταλάβει. Απόφυγε να αγοράσεις σουβενίρ μέσα στο χώρο των πυραμίδων, γιατί θα τα βρεις μισοτιμής έξω.


Μετά είναι και το μουσείο του Καΐρου που έχει μέσα τόσα πολλά πράγματα, που αν θες να τα δεις πραγματικά και στα σοβαρά δεν σε φτάνει μία μέρα. Αν επιλέξεις να πάρεις ξεναγό, τότε θα σου κάνει ένα σύντομο μεν, ικανοποιητικό δε, γύρο στα σημαντικότερα εκθέματα που θα σου πάρει 2-3 ώρες. Πριν μπεις στο μουσείο, θα περάσεις από έλεγχο και για αυτό να έχεις έτοιμα τα χαρτιά σου.

Η αγορά του Αλ-Χαλίλι είναι για αυτούς που τους αρέσει η πολυκοσμία, τα ψώνια και το παιχνίδι του παζαρέματος. Κοντά στην αγορά, έχει επιχορηγημένη από το κράτος παράσταση με περιστρεφόμενους δερβίσηδες, δύο φορές την εβδομάδα. Πήγαινε νωρίς για να βρεις καλή θέση. Αξίζει τον κόπο.

Γύρω από την αγορά, βρίσκεται το λεγόμενο "ισλαμικό Κάιρο" που έχει πολλά ωραία μέρη.

Σίγουρα, ακόμα και η αστυνομία, ή οι διάφοροι αρμόδιοι για την ασφάλεια των αξιοθέατων, θα προσπαθήσουν να σου πάρουν χρήματα για να σε οδηγήσουν σε μέρη που έτσι κι αλλιώς υπάρχει ελεύθερη πρόσβαση. Θα σου κάνουν και καμιά ξενάγηση τύπου "these are the pyramids. The pyramids are very old". Πέρα από αυτά τα μέρη, και οι διάφοροι σταθμοί είναι σημεία κλειδιά για τους touts.

Φαΐ:

Μπορείς να φας ό,τι γουστάρεις. Απόφυγε λίγο τα φαγητά του δρόμου, εκτός αν ζεματάνε. Νερό: εμφιαλωμένο, αλλά μην κάνεις υπερβολές του τύπου "πλένω ακόμα και τα δόντια μου με εμφιαλωμένο νερό". Σιγά μην λούζεσαι και με evian.

Μην ξεχάσεις να φας κουσιάρι, που είναι κάποιου είδους ζυμαρικό και από πάνω βάζεις μια "τηανιά" φακές με κρεμμύδια και στο τέλος περιχύνεις μια καυτερή κόκκινη σάλτσα. Τέλειο φαΐ!

Πόσα?:

Αν συγκρίνεις ότι έτσι κι αλλιώς θα φας την υπερχρέωση γιατί είσαι τουρίστας, και πάλι φτηνά θα σου κάτσει. Καλό είναι να διαπραγματεύεσαι την τιμή πριν δεχτείς την υπηρεσία (π.χ. στα ταξί κτλ). Με ένα μέχρι και ενάμισι δολάρια μπορείς να φας ένα πιάτο κουσιάρι, παρόμοια τιμή σε τρέντι καφετέριες για ένα καφέ, ενώ οι γνωστές φαστφουντάδικες αλυσίδες, είναι ακριβότερες από τα ντόπια φαστφουντάδικα, και οι ντόπιοι βάζουν τα καλά τους όταν είναι να πάνε να φάνε εκεί.

Για γερά νεύρα:

Το να χρησιμοποιείς ταξί, λεωφορεία κτλ, στο Κάιρο είναι ένα πολιτισμικό σοκ από μόνο του. Η οδική συμπεριφορά είναι εντελώς εκτός των πλαισίων μιας ευρωπαϊκής χώρας, ενώ τα φανάρια έχουν ένα διακοσμητικό ρόλο. Ενώ υπάρχουν εδώ και 2-3 δεκαετίες, ο κόσμος δεν φαίνεται να τα έχει αποδεχτεί και εξακολουθεί να αψηφεί τις σημάνσεις τους, ακολουθώντας μόνο τις υποδείξεις των αστυνομικών της τροχαίας, όταν αυτοί είναι παρόντες.

Το μεγαλύτερο βάσανο και το μεγαλύτερο πολιτισμικό σοκ έχει να κάνει με το να προσπαθείς να περάσεις το δρόμο. Εκεί κολλά και ο τίτλος: When in Cairo, follow the locals. Μπορεί να σου φαίνεται αποστολή αυτοκτονίας αυτό που κάνουν, αλλά, πίστεψέ με, αυτοί ξέρουν, και αν ακολουθήσεις ένα ντόπιο διασταυρώνοντας το δρόμο είναι η ασφαλέστερη μέθοδος για να φτάσεις σώος και αβλαβής στον προορισμό σου.

Η γεύση που αφήνει:

Το Κάιρο είναι μια πολύ καλή εισαγωγή στα της Αιγύπτου, και προσωπικά μου άνοιξε την όρεξη για να επισκεφτώ ξανά τη χώρα και να ανακαλύψω και τους υπόλοιπους θησαυρούς της που δεν πρόλαβα να δω σε 4 μέρες. Ελπίζω αυτό να είναι σύντομα και να μπορέσω να πάω Λούξορ-Ασουάν και για σαφάρι στην έρημο!

Τετάρτη, 9 Ιανουαρίου 2008

Zurich, a city of dark secrets

Before going to Zurich, I decided to find a few fun facts about Switzerland. Sixty percent of its inhabitants speak german, another 30 percent speak french, 9 percent speak Italian, and roughly below 1 percent speak romanish (a crossfire between the three). There are not that many immigrants in Switzerland, the majority being Spanish, South Americans, Italians and Africans. Swizzerland is governed by a far-right wing federal government, the prime minister of which nobody really knows. In fact nobody needs to know who he is, since most decisions are taken by the public, in polls. The country is divided in 30-odd cantons, each of which decides about its internal laws and policies, and which has its own official language. Switzerland is also known for its banking system. It's banking system is so protective that for many years swiss banks have refused to open vaults, that are suspected to contain treasures that the Nazis stole from jewish families during Hitler's Reign. And, for conspiracy buffs, under Zurich's streets there lie huge vaults, in wich the Odessa (organization formed by former SS members, formed in order to help SS members flee Germany in the late forties, and supposedly infiltrate governments and economies around the world) stashed huge quantities of gold boullion, smuggled out of Germany just before its collapse. Having read all this, I boarded the plane to Zurich.

While landing at Zurich's Klotten airport, the American girl sitting next to me is starting to say her prayers. This puzzles me, and I am thinking about it as I enter the town. In fact Zurich looks like a pretty much harmless little town where everybody has their expensive cars, public transport is amazingly punctual, and, fast.

It is a ten minute ride from the airport to the central train station, and all I see is the overtly green countryside, expensive looking homes and buildings that look like company headquarters. Then I arrive at the station. The only interesting thing about the station, is that part of the building has been built with the use of granite, which was extracted from what came to be the largest tunnel in continental Europe, the St Gotthard Pass. Right next to the station lies the Bahnhoff Strasse, a wide pedestrian aeria, which connects the Station with the lake of Zurich. It also houses the city's commercial and banking district. No wonder why the street is full of filthy rich Russian or Eastern European types. These guys are visiting their money which is on an endless skiing holiday in Switzerland (others send their money to enjoy the sunny beaches of Cyprus, or the Cayman Islands). In fact Zurich is a playground for the rich and famous.

The latter becomes evident when, later in the day, I cross to the old town, a pace which is considered primarily the entertainment district, and where is the only place where you can find univercity students biding their time. The place is full of bars, pubs, delis, beerhouses and, interestingly enough, strip joints. The sex industry is making a killing in this city, and prostitution is very common. That's one of the major problems here. The other is substance abuse. The numbers are horrifying. Zurich is Europe's number one city in cocaine sales, and , sadly enough, heroin is VERRY widespread. To whoever has any basic sociologic knowledge, one thing can become evident. That despite the very well preserved front, this city is very ill. The rich and famous, and all of those who work as some sort of executives in the field of services (like tourism, entertainment and banking) , can have all the fun they like, but for the poor, on the other hand, life in Zurich is simply unbearable. It is just that if you are broke, you can move around downtown Zurich only if you are working there, and not for any other reason.

On my way to the Lake, another thing happens to me . I realise that walking next to me is the President of Syria, accompanied by assorted family members and bodyguards. And boy do I have an urge do give him a little intense talk about the state of human rights in his country. But as I am planning my moves, it occurs to me that even if I manage to do it, and then escape his guards, I will not escape the hands of the Swiss police. Mind you Switzerland IS, by many means, a police state. That does not mean that you can see police cars in every corner. The Swiss police are mostly invisible, and clearly take no interest in obviously terrifying ordinary citizens, or flexing their muscle. But once it occurs to them that you are either a criminal, or someone threatening the status quo, or someone unlicable to the filthy rich sitting next to you on a bench, then they easily forget some of your basic human rights. And by god they can appear out of nowhere. Try to park your car in a space other than specified, you'll have a police car pulling up next to yours in a matter of seconds. Look toward somebody in a slightly menacing way, you might have the place swarming with members of the grendarmerie (the Swiss police) in a matter of minutes .

On the lakeside is one of the most expensive hotels in Switzerland, the Baur au Lack. This is the typical uber-expensive uber luxurious hotel. A Bentley parked right outside, filthy rich clients packed inside, waiters pouring expensive champaigne by the pint into their glasses. Another evidence of how uber-kapitalizt Switzerland is. There works the guy who will show us around the town for the whole of Saturday morning (I arrived on Friday morning, the rest of the group arrived from Zermatt, down south, Friday evening).

Our friendly Swiss guide has four kids, so he smiles as eight kids make a violent dash towards his minibus, with troubled parents and elder siblings trailing at some distance, yelling to them to be quiet. Our destinations include the Zoo, an ice skating ring, and anything worth seeing in town. The zoo is very well organised, full of large cages containing animals that are native of alpine regions, or can be accustomed to a cold climate (the vast majority of exzibits), and warm buildings where tropical endangered species live (a small minority). All of them live in cages that resemble their home environment, but the animals had a sad gaze in their eyes. The sad gaze of an animal living away from its natural environment.

After the zoo we went to the open top ice ring. I have to say that, probably, the Swiss where born with skis or ice scates attached to their feet. A toddler was wearing its first ice skates, doing its first steps on ice, alongside the overjoyed and proud parents. A twelve year old girl performing manouvers with the grace of a professional ice skater. And eight greek kids having a hell of a time skating around and watching loads of people doing the same.

In the noon, we decided to conclude our sightseeing. But after a couple of churches the Politechnic and the Garden in which the Austrian Embassy was built, our guide ran out of options on what to show us. So he decided that the all the places of interest left in Zurich where the headquarters of various banks and multinational companies, exclusive bars, lounges and restuarants (this is the Headquarters of Novartis, this is the headquarters of UBS, I have seen Tom Cruise dine here, Madonna throws exclusive parties at this club whenever she visits Zurich etc). Zurich, the ultimate playground for the rich and famous, unbearable to the poor.... Though there is supposed to be a working public health system in Switzerland, and public schools there are of a very high standard, and 90% of its univercities are owned by the state, capitalism is allowed to go beserk here, and everything works by capitalist standards. For example, all of the swissair aircraft, are configured in a way where business class occupies half the seats in the plane (we do not have any seats in economy, if you wanna fly, fly business). Travelers in the coach section get to eat a small yogurt or a calzone, accompanied by a fudge, coffee and a juice, while business class travelers get to choose between two cooked meals, a variety of six brands of expensive wine and other types of booze, and coffee. Scandalous ain't it? Generally Switzerland is fun, only if you can afford to pay at a quite high price for it.

Friday and Saturday night are quite passable, since there seems to be some commotion in the old town, though the Bahnhof Strasse is almost empty. The bars and clubs are full of young people, and the booze goes down smoothly. But on Sunday morning, and up until Monday, the whole of the city resembles a Ghost Town. There is nobody walking around the pedestrian aereas, and, though there are some cars moving around the streets, there is a feeling of emptiness despite the sunny weather. Everybody is either outside the city, skiing, or in their homes, or locked into their expensive restaurants and cozy cafes, like Sprungli's. Sunday night is even worse. The only bar where there seems to be something going on, is booked for an exclusive party, or so tells me the bouncer. Everything else is empty, and by midnight it is also closed.

And then, while I am walking to my hotel room, I notice something that I had passed by a few times while staying there. In the corridor, there was a flat-liquid crystal tv screen broadcasting Bloomberg TV non-stop, with stock market prices crawling all over. And then this idea came across my mind. Zurich was a city created only so that there one can strike business deals. A city created to entertain capitalists, stockbrokers, bankers and merchants, who are in need of chasing dark pleasures, for a price.

Switzerland is probably the place where everything can be for sale, even only for a glimpse of what is a Europeanised version of the American Dream. Problem is that this dream usually turns out to be a nightmare. The Zuricher proletariat lives under unthinkable misery, its living conditions are far worse than those, lets say in Spain. But the worst is, that it lives in the underground, meticulously hidden under a really heavy curtain. Zurich is like a huge and shiny shop's front parlour, which hides the fact that the expensive products it vends where produced by some ten year old earning 25 cents a day at some sweatshop in a third-world country