David's Zürich Diary

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The winter break this year would be a little later than usual, being the weekend before Christmas. This made the build up a bit strange, since we were simultaneously trying to get ready for the festivities to follow.

Having been slightly screwed by Easyjet, who seemed to have mysteriously stopped flying to Zürich, I had managed to find an alternative route flying into Basel and then travelling on to Zürich by train. I had also managed to find a hotel that promised to be a little cheaper than normal and would hopefully come up to the required standard.

It had all the hallmarks of a classic Germanic winter break with a Christmas market and all the associated food and drink. The comedy in Oslo had been an improvement over Barcelona, but Zürich was my break, and I was determined that it would not let us down...


Wednesday, 14th December

The morning of the first day of the break found me at work, trying my best to get something done, but just wanting to get away and start the afternoon of chilling. Finally, at about noon, it was time to head for home. I packed up and made the short journey back to my house to find that Michael hadn't yet arrived. However, moments later there was a knock at my door and I knew that the Zürich Experience had started.

We realised that we now had a decision to make. The night before, in an exciting match, Steve Davis had beaten Steven Maguire in the UK Championship, and would be playing Ken Doherty in the quarter final that afternoon. We had to decide whether or not to stay in and watch it. Eventually, we concluded that it would be a bit of a waste of an afternoon if we just stayed in, so we decided to go into Reading for the rest of the day.

Leaving my house, we wandered down to the station, which was a pleasant walk on what was a relatively fine December day. There was nobody on duty at the station, so we boarded the train straight away and purchased our tickets at the excess fares office in Reading.

We spent a while chilling with coffee and muffins at the coffee and muffin place in the Oracle centre before taking a wander around the shops to check out features. Unsuccessful, we started searching for presents for our Mum and soon ended up in WHSmith, where an argument seemed to be in full swing between a rather angry (and possibly drunk) man and a security guard, with a woman in a wheelchair on the periphery. The security guard was attempting to eject the man from the store, but he kept protesting his innocence and stated that he wished to "make a complaint against that f**king bitch in the wheelchair". The argument continued to rage while Michael and I queued up to buy some stamps. Another outburst from the drunk man caused a woman just ahead of us in the queue to dump her purchases and run over to the scene of the drama shouting that she had had enough. When we reached the counter, the girl on duty informed us that the man had been a problem before and that they were getting fed up of having to deal with him.

Amused by our first encounter with a mentalist on that break, and with our purchases taken care of, we headed for Starbucks and some more chilling time. Having purchased a couple of gingerbread lattes, we secured a table inside and continued to chat about the break. I had to keep going outside to check on the score in the Steve match, a quick phone call to my Grandad doing the trick. All the news seemed to be good - Steve was walking away with the match and I was starting to wish that we'd stayed to watch it after all.

Shortly, a message arrived from Chris to let us know that he was almost in Reading. We replied telling him to meet us in Starbucks, and very soon he joined us to begin his own Zurich Experience. He had arrived just in time to get in another round of drinks.

Speculation turned to when Rupert would be joining us. I had spoken to him the previous evening and, knowing his lack of reliability, had agreed a time of six o'clock and told him that if he was not going to make it he should phone us immediately and let us know. As time wore on and there was no word from Rupert, I started to wonder what was happening. I only hoped that he was on schedule. The others seemed confident, but I had my doubts.

Finally, at about six o'clock, Michael got a message from Rupert saying that he had just left the office and would be with us in about an hour. I was disgusted. That had thrown all our plans for the evening into turmoil. It was important, given our early morning start, to get an early night, which meant getting an early evening meal. For these reasons and also because Rupert had done this on the previous break and because he must have known for at least an hour that he wasn't going to make it yet hadn't seen fit to let us know, I was all for going to eat immediately as originally planned. Michael and Chris wanted to wait for Rupert to arrive, and we were still debating when another message came through saying that he had missed the train he was aiming for and would be a further half hour. That settled it. We decided to go for food.

It was a short walk beside the river to Chilis and we secured a table for four, Chris leaving open the option for Rupert to join us. The meal began with the usual starter of classic nachos and then I went for the chicken crispers. We had nearly finished the meal and there was no sign of Rupert. Finally, after some more chilling with coffee, we decided to make for the station, where we expected to meet Rupert at last.

On the platform, we finally located Rupert, who had just arrived from London. We made our way down to the train to Thatcham and boarded. Little was said on the short journey, but during the walk to my house, Michael decided to confront Rupert. I didn't think there was much point since Rupert was refusing to accept any error on his part, but Michael, with some help from Chris persisted.

We finally reached my house, having resolved nothing and leaving me more annoyed with Rupert than before. We quickly switched on the television to see if the snooker was still going. It turned out that it was, and Ken Doherty was coming back strongly. We settled in to watch, still hoping for an easy Steve Davis win. Unfortunately, this was not to be and the tension grew as Ken slowly pulled back to just 8-7 down. In the next frame, both players had chances, but Steve looked set to win when he got in on the colours. However, he ran out of position and eventually missed the pink. When Ken Doherty potted that to leave himself a long black, I resigned myself to an even more tense deciding frame. Fortunately, he missed the black and a safety battle followed, which finally ended when Steve took on a double to the middle pocket and made it to win the match. Happy and relieved, we went to bed, knowing that we needed to get some sleep in preparation for the long day ahead.

Thursday, 15th December

At about half past two, my alarm went off and I forced myself out of bed. As usual, I went to put the coffee on whilst the others started to make their way through the shower. We had a quick coffee, whilst watching the highlights of the Steve Davis game from the night before.

Coffee finished, it was time to load the car and prepare to set off. As we drove along the deserted streets towards the M4, Rupert phoned Amal to make sure he was up and about. Amal turned out to be running for a train, so Rupert said that he would ring back later.

The journey to Luton was largely uneventful, except for a daring overtaking manouvre as we passed a truck on the slip road leading to the M25. This caused much cheering. As we neared the airport, we phoned Amal again to find that he had made the train and that he and Dave were on their way.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the airport, indeed it had seemed much easier than the journey to Stansted. We located the car park, which was nothing more than an area of waste ground, parked up and unloaded the bags. As we were about to move off, we suddenly realised that we had left the Little Lucky Leprechaun sitting in the car. Relieved that we had remembered in time, we retrieved him and made our way into the terminal.

It was still too early to check in, so we looked for somewhere to get a coffee. We found somewhere and bought a round of coffees and a few pastries to share, and made our way to a table. We sat there for a while too tired to have much of a conversation. When we had nearly finished our drinks, we decided to see what had happened to Dave and Amal, since we had not heard from them in a while. It turned out that they had just reached Luton, but would have to get a bus up to the airport and would be some time. We therefore decided to check in and find somewhere to get breakfast.

The check-in desks were not busy, and we were soon through airport security and looking for somewhere to buy breakfast. The only place seemed to be a cafeteria towards the far end of the departure area and so we headed in that direction. The options were limited, but Chris and I located the cooked breakfasts and selected our meals. Disappointingly, it was a pseudo self-service affair where the breakfast items were all laid out in dishes getting cold and you requested your selection from a server behind the counter.

Once we had all purchased breakfast, Michael going for a muffin and an orange juice and Rupert opting for a bowl of some weird looking ethnic food, we located a table for six and sat down. A message was sent to Amal and Dave to tell them how to find us, and we soon observed them heading over to our table. They disappeared briefly to purchase some food and then joined us at the table.

After finishing our breakfast, we spent a while wandering around the shops before it was time to head for the gate. Once at the gate, the first dicking around of the break took place. We were left standing around for ages, before having our boarding cards checked and being ushered up to the doors to the boarding ramp. For some reason, though, the doors remained shut and we were stuck. Eventually, someone opened the door and we were able to board the aircraft.

Unfortunately, the dicking around was not over yet. Everyone had boarded and the safety announcements were underway when it was announced that there was a fault with the plane and we were unable to take off. I was not happy. It seemed to take ages before someone arrived to take a look at the plane, and then attempt to repair it. Fortunately, they succeeded in sorting out the fault and we were eventually underway about an hour late.

We were all rather tired and most of us managed some sleep during the flight. The journey was therefore uneventful. It was not long before the plane began to descend into Basel airport and we were quickly through passport control and into baggage reclaim. Amal and Dave only had carry on luggage, so they wandered outside to find out about bus tickets to the railway station. While we waited for our bags, and after Amal and Dave had left, we noticed a sign pointing out that we could get bus tickets in the baggage reclaim area. The problem was that Amal and Dave might have already bought some tickets. We tried to phone them, but neither of them had switched on their phones, so we decided that whoever's luggage arrived first would go outside to see whether Dave and Amal had bought tickets and would phone the others to let them know one way or the other.

Unfortunately, the first bag to arrive was mine, so I was saddled with the responsibility. I wandered through customs and found my way to the terminal exit. I located Dave and Amal standing outside and asked them about bus tickets. They told me that we could buy tickets on the bus. I switched on my phone to ring the others and pass on the message, but noticed that my battery was almost dead, so I asked Amal to ring them instead. He spoke to Michael and told them to come through. It was at that point that I discovered that they were only assuming that we could get tickets on the bus. I immediately told Amal to ring them back and get tickets at the office inside baggage reclaim, but Amal told me to fuck off, which seemed a bit extreme. With no other option, I hurried back into the terminal in the hope that I could catch them before they left baggage reclaim, but they were already making for the exit to the terminal.

I explained what had happened as we made our way over to the bus to see whether we could buy tickets on board. Chris was sent forward and spoke to the driver. The driver replied rather abruptly in German and gestured rather aggressively with his hand that seemed to be missing the top half of the thumb. I was taken aback at this rudeness. We realised that he was telling us to use the machine beside the road. As we got off the bus to go to the machine, he drove away. I made some gestures at the stupid, ignorant kraut as he disappeared.

We were soon to discover that this was only the beginning. The machine only accepted coins, but since we had only just arrived, we only had notes. We wandered back into the terminal and a helpful lady at the information desk tried to provide change, but soon realised that she had nowhere near enough coins for six bus tickets. She suggested that we should try the ticket office in the arrivals area in France. I was amazed. It seemed ludicrous that we had to go to France in order to buy a bus ticket from a Swiss airport terminal to a Swiss railway station.

Having wandered upstairs and found the entrance to France, we despatched Chris and Michael through customs to get the tickets while the rest of us waited. After what seemed like ages, they returned bearing the bus tickets and we at last left the terminal to board the bus.

It was only a short ride to the railway station and we were soon able to disembark and go in search of somewhere to buy tickets for the journey to Zürich. We soon found some ticket windows and Chris was despatched to make the purchase. Once he had succeeded, we hurried over to the escalators which led to the platforms. As we were going up, the handle of my suitcase slipped through my fingers, causing the case to roll back down the escalator to the bottom, where it was picked up by Rupert who was behind me. I just had time to issue an expletive, much to the amusement of a boy on the neighbouring escalator, before I hurried down to retrieve the case.

Once we had located the correct train, we boarded and went in search of some seats. There were very few people on board and we had no difficulty in locating several seats together. We deposited our cases in the luggage rack and I settled down in a seat next to Amal and began to read my book to pass the time.

After about an hour or so, the train pulled into Zürich and we disembarked and left the station, heading towards the river. Having decided to walk rather than take the tram, Chris suggested walking along the river as it would be more scenic. Michael and I found this amusing but suggested that, since we were laden down with luggage, it might be more sensible to take the direct route. Chris seemed unconvinced, but led us across the street, away from the river and down a long residential road. We seemed to wind around the streets of Zürich for ages before we finally sighted the hotel. we checked in and found our rooms, Michael and Dave taking the first, myself and Amal the second and Rupert and Chris the last.

There was just a brief stop in our rooms in order to freshen up and then we set off to explore the city. It turned out to be a short walk to the river and we crossed over the nearest bridge to walk along the far bank. The path seemed at one point to have been a railway line, but the track had long since been removed and the crumbling remnants of a platform was the only indication that the railway had once been there. Chris commented that the line must be disused, but we rather thought that this understated the situation.

Beside the river, we passed a small shed with an iron gate. Inside, we noticed a traffic cone. Unfortunately, the gate was locked and we decided that it was far too early in the break to be worried about it.

The path soon led us back across the river, into a park. In the centre of the park there was a bandstand and we noticed that underneath it there was a storage area with the door standing wide open. Peering in, we could see four cones stacked up at the rear of the room. There was some debate as to whether we should go for it, but I thought that it was too early in the break to start taking risks. The decision had just been made to leave it when we noticed a couple of police officers enter the park, heading towards us. Thankful that we had turned down the cones, we wandered over to the far side of the park and out of the gates.

Across the road was a huge castle structure, which housed the Swiss museum. In the courtyard, there was an ice rink with several glühwein stalls around, and several tables had been arranged around the rink with heaters beside them. A return visit for some Moules on ice seemed highly likely.

That, however, was for later. First, we wanted to visit the station and purchase some three day tickets for the tram, so we crossed the street and entered the building. Finding some ticket windows, we eventually managed to negotiate the purchase. At that point, Dave seemed keen to visit the Christmas market in the main hall of the station and sample some glühwein. Michael and I thought this a very good idea, so we wandered around the stalls searching for the best options. We eventually opted for a likely glühwein stall and then stood beside a huge Christmas tree, covered in crystal decorations, enjoying our drink.

Beside the glühwein stall, there was a crepe stand and Chris immediately seemed interested in sampling the offerings so we wandered over and surveyed the options. I went for a chocolate and banana pancake, which was also sprinkled with various small items of confection, and Michael opted for something similar. It was rather good, though probably not up to the standards of Crepe Guy's wares.

When we had finished, we left the station and walked along Bahnhofstrasse, before taking a bridge across the river and into the old town. The narrow cobbled streets occasionally opened out into small squares that were filled with more Christmas stalls. In one such square, there were a couple of gluhwein stalls and in front of one of them, there was a woman eating a huge bread-like disc. A little investigation revealed that it consisted of fried dough covered in paprika and garlic and was known as langos. I immediately suggested that we get some. Dave seemed keen to get some glühwein, so we queued up to place an order for glühwein and langos. We initially purchased only one langos between us, just as a sample, but it turned out to be so good that we immediately sent Chris back to purchase a second piece. I pointed out that it was really annoying that the woman on the table next to us was having a whole langos to herself while we were tearing pieces off a single shared langos. Chris seemed to think that this was going too far.

On the way out of the square, we noticed a couple of restaurants nearby and decided that they would probably be suitable for the evening meal. We continued along the street for a little while longer, before turning back towards the river. The road soon opened out beside the lake and we picked our way across the main road and the tram lines in order to get to the waterfront. There was a bridge across the river at the end of the lake and we walked to the middle of the bridge to look out over the lake.

By this time, it was getting rather cold and starting to snow heavily. Although the views were spectacular, we decided to move on and try to find somewhere warm to sit down. We entered a square where there was a small coffee shop which seemed okay. At least it would be somewhere to sit. However, Michael wasn't sure that they had a toilet and since this was rather a priority, we decided to move on. Michael, Chris and I checked out the public toilets in the middle of the square, but since there was a charge to use them we declined.

Crossing the square, we found ourselves at the bottom of Bahnhofstrasse. There were plenty of shops but nowhere obvious to sit down with a cup of coffee. Eventually, we turned off down a side street and wandered along until we came to a junction where we turned left again. A little way down we came across a cafe which looked suitable so we went inside and managed to secure a table. Michael and I went for the hot chocolate, which was a little expensive, but turned out to be rather good. We spent a while chilling, enjoying the warmth of the restaurant, before deciding that it was time to head back to the station for some more glühwein.

Dave had already declared his intention to drink as much glühwein as possible during the break so he greeted this idea enthusiastically. After settling the bill, we left the cafe and turned left walking along the street until it joined up with Bahnhofstrasse. From there it was a short walk back to the station and more gluhwein.

Having finished our drinks, purchased from a different glühwein stall in order to increase our sample, we made our way to the tram stop for our ride back to the hotel. We boarded the tram and stood towards the rear, where we were pleased to discover that there was a pedal on the floor, which set off a gong, to which we all responded, "Well team!". This conveniently passed the time until we got back to the hotel.

It had been decided to make a fairly swift turn around, so we returned to our rooms and immediately went through the shower and then dressed for the evening. Once we were all ready, we left the hotel and set off heading for the restaurant that we had spotted earlier. Unfortunately, on arrival it seemed that it was rather busy and we had foolishly decided not to book when we had been there earlier in the day. We looked around at nearby places, but most seemed to be equally busy.

Finally, tucked away down a narrow side street, we located a restaurant called Alt Zuri. It didn't really look like the sort of place that we would normally choose, but by that time we were willing to try anything. We went inside and up the stairs to find a very small dining area. A man approached and we requested a table. He said that they had just one table left and, when we were seated, he warned us that we would have to pay for the live music. Feeling we didn't really have much choice by that stage, not wanting to walk out of the only restaurant that had found room for us, we agreed.

Our orders were soon placed, most people going for the soup to start with and followed by a Swiss dish of mixed meats. Amal went for the traditional raclette, a melted cheese dish. The soup was rather good and soon after the main course arrived. The meat dish contained a German sausage and several cuts of different meat. When Chris' main course arrived, the waiter explained that they had run out of the sausages that the rest of us had been given and so they had given him a different type. His turned out to be about four times the size of the rest of ours. We were a little irritated that Chris should have benefited from this and there was a suggestion that he share some of the sausage around. Chris seemed to agree, but after a few minutes it became clear that he had no intention of sharing and we were forced to watch him eat the whole thing himself. I thought that this was a bit greedy and his explanation that it was a bit difficult to share just seemed false. On the plus side, our meals were rather good, with the exception of Amal's raclette which apparently tasted as bad as it smelt.

We all decided to order dessert, Dave going for the Colonel that he had spotted on the menu. Rupert went for a similar thing but with orange sorbet, and Michael had the chocolate mousse. Amal and I went for the creme brulee. When the desserts arrived, I was surprised that my creme brulee was not crusted on the top. On sampling it, it didn't seem to be creme brulee at all. In fact, it tasted more like Instant Whip. Sadly, very few of the others had heard of Instant Whip, so this observation was greeted in virtual silence.

By the end of our meal, we discovered that the live music, consisting of an old man on the piano, had wrapped up for the night. Deciding to do the same, we paid the bill and left. Chris and Dave decided that they were knackered and would return immediately to the hotel. The rest of us decided to visit a bar. Back on the main street, we wandered along until we came across Havana Bar, which seemed a reasonable place. Inside there were just a few tables and we found one in the corner and sat down on the whicker chairs. We had a quick drink and talked about the day before heading back to the tram stop to catch a ride to the hotel. Saying goodnight to Michael and Rupert, Amal and I returned to our room and went to bed, preparing ourselves for the following day.


Friday, 16th December

When I woke up on Friday morning, I was first to go through the shower. When I had finished, I discovered that Michael was in our room. He explained to me that Amal had been to see him to ask about swapping rooms. Both of us thought that this was out of order, and that Amal should continue to share with me for the duration of the break. His apparent compromise that we should continue to share during the day and that he and Michael would only swap places at night seemed pointless. Not having much option, Michael and I decided to go with Amal's suggestion.

We wandered up to the breakfast room that was in the roof space and had a look at the buffet. It was fairly basic, and I went for some pastries and a drink of Ovomaltine, that seemed to be a poor substitute for hot chocolate. Over breakfast, we made the decision to take the train up into the hills above Zürich and walk the Planetenweg, or planetary trail, a scale model of the solar system at one billionth of the actual size.

Having finished, we returned to our rooms, put on our warm clothing and set off for the tram stop just down the road from the hotel. At the main railway station, Rupert decided that he would like to buy some gloves to take with him, so he and Chris went to search the market for a glove stall while the rest of us wandered downstairs, to take a look around.

On the way, we came across a huge chocolate shop and decided to make some purchases. There were trays of broken slabs of chocolate in the window and we picked out a couple of likely selections before Amal went in to make the purchase. An old woman pushed in front of him at the counter and Michael and I stood outside casting abuse until Amal returned with some Himbeer-brombeer and Cornflake Milch. Eager to sample the cornflake milch, we shared it around. It turned out to be rather good and before long we had devoured the lot between the four of us. We quickly made a pact to hide the fact that we had ever bought any from Rupert and Chris.

Returning to the top of the stairs, we located a glühwein stall and decided to make a purchase. As Dave and I queued to buy the drinks, Michael and Amal went over to stand by the table. We began to speculate as to what Himbeer-brombeer could be. Lacking any better ideas, I replied that it was basically just himbeer and brombeer. At this point the man at the glühwein stall replied that there was no himbeer or brombeer in this glühwein, it was just wine. A little surprised, I desperately tried not to burst out laughing while I ordered the drinks. Michael helpfully showed him the bag of himbeer-brombeer to explain what we had been talking about and he seemed to understand. I found it amusing that he had used the words himbeer and brombeer without translating them in an otherwise English sentence.

I carried the drinks over to the table and shortly afterwards Chris and Rupert arrived, having managed to find some gloves. While we were drinking our glühwein and explaining about the himbeer-brombeer incident, a vagabond approached Dave and asked if you had to pay for glühwein. Dave replied that you did, explaining that that is how we managed to get some. The tramp responded with the words, "I want to drink". Dave told him that he could just do what we did. The hobo thanked Dave and departed.

After finishing our drinks, we made for the platforms and boarded the train to the Planetenweg. As we climbed the steep hill on what was allegedly the steepest standard railway in Europe, the weather quickly deteriorated. Towards the top, there was snow on the ground and by the time we reached the last station, the snow was coming down rather heavily.

There was a building at the station and we stopped to use the toilets, but on discovering that there was nothing else of use in the building we soon moved on up the hill in search of the start of the trail. The snow was still coming down fast and we fought our way through it, finally coming to a large yellow ball on the end of a poll. This seemed to represent the sun and marked the start of the trail.

We had barely set off before we arrived at a large stone containing information about the planet Mercury. I was wondering where the planet itself had got to and it was a while before we discovered it, a tiny ball bearing embedded in some perspex. It was a little bit disappointing. Venus and Earth soon followed and were not much more impressive. Looking back from earth, we could still see the sun not far down the trail behind us.

Beyond the earth, the trail dropped down the far side of the hill, leaving the sun out of sight behing us. We soon reached Mars, which was, of course, another ball bearing encased in plastic. There then followed a much longer gap before we reached the first of the outer and more impressive planets. Jupiter was at least an approximately tennis ball sized metal sphere stuck on top of the stone that carried the information about the planet. The gap between Jupiter and Mars had been punctuated by the bizarre inclusion of the asteroid Ceres, which was barely even visible on that scale.

The walks between the planets were now becoming much longer and we soon decided that we needed to find somewhere to get a cup of coffee to warm up a bit. This was not an easy thing to do, since we were walking along the top of a hill miles from anywhere. Eventually, we reached a junction in the trail and a sign pointed to our left, suggesting that there was a cafe nearby. Chris, Michael and I wandered a few yards along this new trail, and it soon began to descend over the side of the hill. It quickly turned into a rather steep set of stairs and looking down the hill there seemed to be no sign of anything resembling a cafe. All we could see was a rather battered cabin at the bottom. Chris ventured a little further down, but Michael and I had already given up and called him back.

Disappointed, we continued along the planetary trail towards Saturn. Around the corner, the hillside turned into a sheer rocky cliff face and we leaned on the wooden railing and took in the views. As we approched Saturn, which was similar to Jupiter, but with rings, we studied a map of the trail and began to comment on the fact that there were three Plutos. This rather strange feature was designed to represent three possible positions in Pluto's rather skewed orbit compared to the other planets.

At Saturn, we posed for pictures with the leprechaun. As we were moving off, Rupert mentioned that the three Plutos reminded him of a Monty Python sketch. Michael and I immediately started to quote from the sketch, which caused Dave some amusement. When I pointed out that Rupert had made the initial comment, Dave immediately wanted to award him application of the break. I thought that this was a bit of a stretch, since Rupert hadn't even made an application.

Walking on, the path took us slightly down hill and we soon arrived at Uranus which, to our disappointment, seemed to have been stolen. The stone marking the place and giving the relevant information about the planet was there, but above the stone there was just a short metal pole with no planet. Deciding to rectify the situation, Michael and I gathered some snow and fashioned a snowball of approximately the correct size, which I then placed on the pole to represent the planet Uranus. There then followed a Blackadder application in which I suggested that we could make a planet and that everyone would think it was the planet Uranus, but we would know that it was actually a snowball. Michael responded with "Only WE will know?" and thus the real application of the break was born.

Not far from Uranus, the path turned a corner beyond the end of a short row of houses and headed out across an exposed area, with a line of trees to the left and open fields to the right. The icy wind was blowing strongly across the field and making life very uncomfortable for us as we made our way along the path. Lacking any head protection, my face was soon numb with the cold and I was feeling extremely disgruntled. The cold and the strength of the wind had become so bad that I doubted that we could progress any further. As a last resort Michael, Amal and I banded together in a rolling maul and began to make steady progress. Such was our pace that we soon gathered up Chris, and with him in the lead cutting through the wind we soon made it across the field to the shelter of some farm buildings. Rupert and Dave had somehow survived without having to join the maul for protection.

Beyond the buildings, the path crossed another area of open ground, but before this, we decided to consult a map on a notice board beside the track. Dave and Chris began to debate the best route, noting that there seemed to be a discrepancy between the trail markings and the labels for the planets. After a lengthy debate, we opted for the smaller trail around the edge of the field, primarily because this seemed to offer the most sheltered route.

At the far end of the field, the path continued down a steep slope onto a narrow causeway with steep drops on either side. We had some difficulty descending onto the causeway since the path was extremely icy but fortunately we managed to survive. There seemed to be no further sign of any planets and we concluded that we had now left the planetary trail.

Finally, a large building loomed ahead of us and to our left a larger path, which we concluded must be the planetary trail, joined our small track. This was a clear indication that we were nearing the end of our journey. Sure enough, as we wandered around the large building, it became clear that it did indeed house the cable car that would take us back down the mountain.

Inside, the place was deserted, but there was a machine where we were able to buy some tickets. We then moved through the turnstile and arrived at the doors that led to the cable car. The doors remained closed, however, and we began to wonder whether anyone was operating the car.

Having noticed that there was a digital counter that counted down every time someone went through the turnstile, there was a suggestion that maybe the doors would open when the counter reached zero. Michael and I began to revolve the turnstile and watch the numbers count down, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually, the door opened anyway and we were able to board the cable car.

It seemed surprising that there was absolutely nobody about and we were more confused when the car didn't immediately begin the descent. We were starting to feel very cold and the fog was rapidly coming down. My feet were soaking wet and going numb, and I just wanted to get down the mountain and into the warm, but still we were made to wait. I mentioned that I was hungry and Rupert suddenly announced that he still had some of the himbeer-brombeer that we had bought earlier. Michael, Amal and I shared out the last of the himbeer-brombeer, hoping that we'd be able to get something a bit more substantial fairly soon.

At long last, the cable car doors slid closed and we began our slow descent. By now the fog was getting quite thick at the top of the hill and we were glad to be on our way down. We finally reached the bottom, where we finally saw somebody operating the cable car, and began the walk down the street to the station.

It was a short walk down the remainder of the hill before we crossed the bridge and arrived on the platform. No train back to Zürich was due for a while, so we decided to find somewhere to buy a hot drink. There was a large cafe at the edge of the station and we made our way inside to purchase a round of hot chocolates. I was just starting to feel warm by the time we left to get the train. There was just time to buy a packet of knoppers from a vending machine on the platform before we boarded the train for the short trip back to Zürich.

Conveniently, the train dropped us at the station which was, also conveniently, where the Christmas market was held. Dave was keen to find some glühwein and I was entirely in agreement. We soon located a stall in the underground area of the station that we hadn't yet visited, so we immediately placed an order. The glühwein was pretty standard for Zürich, but that standard was high, so we couldn't complain.

After finishing our drinks, we wandered back up to the main part of the market and went in search of some food. Michael and I opted for sausages in bread rolls, followed by crepes, which made for a rather hearty lunch. Having eaten our fill, it seemed that Chris was still being tempted by more food. Eventually, we decided that we'd get a portion of raclette in order to sample this classic Swiss dish. It seemed to consist almost entirely of melted cheese, which fortunately didn't smell quite as rancid as the raclette that Amal had tried the night before. We weren't too impressed with it, but at least it was edible.

Since we hadn't yet taken the time to look around the Christmas market, we decided to spend what was left of the afternoon doing just that. There were several stalls selling various Christmas related items, but Michael and I failed to find anything that we thought were worth buying as Christmas presents. As we were standing looking at one of the stalls, a man barged into me extremely roughly, pushing me into Michael, who collided with the stall. The man rudely continued walking without saying anything. I explained to Michael what had happened and said that I'd a good mind to barge him back. Suddenly, something flipped in my mind and I decided that was exactly what I was going to do. I followed the man and then overtook him, barging his shoulder as I did so. I then circled around some stalls and back to Michael so that we could have a good laugh about the incident. Rupert had seen that something was afoot, so we were forced to explain the events to him, but he didn't seem half as amused as we were. Fun over, we made for the tram stop to catch a tram back to the hotel.

While we were getting ready to go out for the evening, we found live coverage of the semi-final of the snooker on Eurosport. I decided to watch as I changed. It seemed that Steve was once again doing rather well, this time against Stephen Hendry. Unfortunately, the session soon came to an end and we would be unable to watch the conclusion of the match since that would take place while we were out.

Leaving the hotel, we caught a tram back into the centre of town and set about locating a suitable restaurant. It was decided that we would pause for a drink in Barrique while Chris and Michael made some inquiries at nearby restaurants. Settling down, we placed a drinks order and waited. Michael and Chris soon returned having secured a table for 8:30 at restaurant Franzikaner. Immediately we dubbed it the restaurant Frank Skinner.

As Michael and Chris were getting their drinks in, Michael suddenly remembered his German. What had sounded like half eight to the simple minded was actually half seven. Fortunately, he had saved us from an embarrassing blunder. Since it was now just after twenty five past seven, we decided that we had better get a move on and so we quickly finished our drinks and headed off to the restaurant.

Once inside the restaurant Frank Skinner, we were shown to our table, a booth just along from the entrance. We took our places at the table and began to study the menu. I opted for the soup followed by sausage and mash. The food, when it arrived, was adequate, but far from the best that we had experienced on a Colonel's weekend break.

After the meal, we wandered along the street to a beer hall, where we decided to spend some time chilling. Unfortunately, I was unable to relax since my thoughts had now turned to the snooker which seemed to be still going on. Michael had received no messages with score updates, so we assumed the worst. As the conversation went on around me, I remained silent and pensive. I tried to think of reasons why we had not received a message to say that Steve had won, but the only reason I could think of was that he hadn't. This didn't improve my mood.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the hotel. We caught a tram and began the journey back. Soon, I would finally be put out of my misery. Suddenly, about halfway back to the hotel, all the lights went out and the tram shuddered to a stop. There was some chattering in German at the front of the tram and then people began to disembark. It seemed that, just at the moment when I really needed it, the famously reliable Swiss transport system had come to a grinding halt.

We had the option of waiting for the next tram or starting to walk back. I was not of a mind to wait around and it was rather cold just standing on the street, so we made the decision to walk the rest of the way. Michael, Chris and I surged ahead, eager to get back. The others didn't seem remotely bothered.

When we finally reached the hotel, we hurried up to my room and I located my phone, which had been left behind. I discovered that I had a message waiting and nervously began to open it. It informed me that Steve Davis had won and would be in the final - the 100th of his career. I was delighted, though disappointed that we would miss the whole match. I settled down to sleep, sharing a room with Michael, Amal having gone next door to Dave's room.

Saturday, 17th December

When I woke up, Michael was just on his way to recover his room from Amal. I realised that this presented a window of opportunity and hurried to get into the shower while the bathroom was vacant. Once I was ready for breakfast, I joined the others upstairs in the breakfast room. Since the options were rather limited, I opted for some toast and a hot chocolate. We didn't spend much time dwelling on this excuse for a meal and soon returned to our rooms ready for the day ahead.

As we walked to the tram station, I realised that a tram was just arriving, heading for the city centre. I was determined not to miss it, since I wasn't keen to wait around for the next one, so I hurried to catch it. Michael and Chris had been walking with me and they responded to my move and hurried after me. As I leaped on board, they were not far behind. It seemed as though the others, who had been much further behind, were going to miss it, since the tram doors began to close. However, the driver generously opened the doors for them so that they could board. Dave, on the other hand, refused to be rushed and was still too far away for the driver to notice him, so the doors closed for the final time and we set off, leaving Dave on the platform. This was the second time that Dave had been left behind on a break and both times I had been involved in the cause. On neither occasion, though, had it been a deliberate attempt and once again, the incident had caused much amusement.

Pondering the incident as the tram made its way into the centre, we soon began to wonder how we were going to meet up with Dave again. It seemed that our best option was not to wonder far from the tram stop and hope that Dave spotted us.

Disembarking at Bahnhofstrasse, we wandered over to a chocolate shop on the corner. Not surprisingly, Chris was tempted by the offerings and went inside. He emerged with a selection of chocolate slabs including himbeer-brombeer and cornflakes-milsch. Dave had not arrived by this stage, so we crossed the street to check out some market stalls. One particular stall had an amusing array of soft toys in the image of Father Christmas and, reminded of the dodgy tram-driving Father Christmas we had seen previously, we knew that we had found our new mascot. Naming him PC Bourne, we welcomed him to the fold, just as Dave arrived having got off at the tram stop behind us.

Deciding that our last day would be effectively another orientation day, this time covering the parts of the city we hadn't already seen, we crossed the street again, and walked up a steep hill to a square that afforded great views of the river and the city on the far side.

Having taken in the views, we descended via a narrow street on the other side and entered a small square overlooked by a church with a huge clock tower. The morning was beginning to take on a church theme as we wandered around first this church, then another in a similar square and finally viewed some paintings in a small church courtyard. Fortunately, there was very little dicking around so the morning proceeded relatively smoothly.

Our rambling finally led us to the Zurichsee, where we paused to take in the view across the lake. By this time the weather had turned to snow, which was coming down rather heavily. We soon decided to move on and so we crossed the road and wandered away from the lake.

Shortly, someone spotted a cone and this seemed to be our chance. I wanted to go for it, but unfortunately, a strange man seemed to be loitering beside it. We speculated that the man was waiting until the coast was clear before picking it up like a tannoy and shouting, "Stop telling me what to do!". Eventually, however, the man gave up and drifted away.

Seizing the moment, I moved in, grabbed the cone and performed the necessary procedure while Michael captured the evidence.

Relieved to have finally completed the cone challenge for the break, we crossed the street and walked up hill towards the cathedral. Our church theme continued as we entered the cathedral and paid the token amount to climb the tower. It was a tortuous climb up a narrow spiral staircase, but we were rewarded with some reasonable views across the city.

After taking several pictures, thoughts began to turn to lunch. We made our way back down and, after a brief wander around the cathedral to take in the nativity scenes, we hurried towards the Christmas market.

Knowing that it was important to locate a suitable venue for the final night meal, we were on the lookout and spotted a likely candidate on the way in. Restaurant Dialog was a possibility that we had already considered and we decided that we should make a reservation for the evening. This accomplished, we headed off for lunch.

First stop was the langos stall, where we purchased a round of glühwein and some langos. When we had finished there, we decided to explore the market for other stalls to try.

Having sampled the glühwein at the neighbouring stall, we headed down a narrow alley opposite into a section of the Christmas market that we had not yet experienced. We quickly located a gluhwein stall which had a long table with bar stools beside it and ordered another round of drinks.

Once these were finished, we moved on to explore more of this hidden section of the Christmas market. The alley soon opened out into a courtyard full of stalls. Dave seemed to disappear, but we were busy checking out some of the stalls and decided to let him wander. He returned after a little while having managed to locate a stall selling gløgg.

Michael and I asked him to lead us to it so we followed him around the corner and over to the stall, where we purchased some drinks. After a little more chilling with drinks, it was decided to make our way back to the hotel and prepare for the evening stammtisch, which would take place in Havana bar. This was not the greatest stammtisch location, but given the limited options, it seemed the best available.

There was no messing about when Amal and I returned to our room and we were soon off to the stammtisch. I speculated that we might have a chance of being the first there. I was pretty sure that we'd beat Chris and Rupert, but thought that it was possible that Michael and Dave were just ahead of us. We made it to the tram stop and caught a tram heading in the direction of the station. It was then that I made a critical mistake.

Keen to get to the stammtisch as quickly as possible, I suggested that we stay on the tram for one stop beyond the main station, which would get us onto Bahnhofstrasse.

Disembarking, we crossed the street and hurried down the narrow alleys. It was then that I realised my mistake - we needed to cross the river and the quickest way of doing so would have been to get off at the station and cross there. Annoyed that my attempt to save time had ended up costing us, I decided that it was too late to walk back and that we would press on. We wandered through the square with the church that we had visited earlier and onwards until we were able to cross the river near the cathedral. Once on the other side, we wandered back towards the bar. It was much closer to the station end of the street than I had remembered and my attempted short cut was starting to look very foolish. To his credit, Amal didn't comment on my blunder.

We finally arrived at the Havanna Bar and looked around, spotting Michael sitting beside the far wall. Michael, but no Dave. Curious, we approached and sat down, waiting to find out what had happened. Michael explained that Dave had fallen asleep and that Michael had been unable to wake him. Not knowing what else to do, he had written a note explaining that he had left for the stammtisch and then pushed it into Dave's hand. I found this story hilarious.

It was another half hour before Chris and Rupert arrived and, of course, we had to relate the story to them. Strangely, they didn't seem quite as amused. There was some debate about whether to give Dave a ring and suggest that he get himself ready. I was opposed to this since it seemed to violate the concept of a stammtisch, but somewhere along the line it seemed that I was over-ruled because Rupert started to dial. As it turned out, there was no response, so we were saved having to make an issue of it. Dave arrived not long afterwards in any case.

All present and correct, we wandered along the street to Restaurant Dialog, where a long table in the window had been reserved for us. We all took our seats with Michael and I sitting opposite one another in the middle, Rupert to my left and Amal to my right. Dave was opposite Amal and Chris opposite Rupert.

Having placed our orders, the draw for mascots began. This was to be the first use of Dave's new draw tiles that had been meticulously prepared by him in the weeks leading up to the break, the idea having been conceived on the final day in Amsterdam. Since I was already playing Reardon, the other five drew out a tile first. Michael got the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Rupert drew Grosser Vass, Chris ended up with Glogg, Dave chose Shaft and Amal selected Barney. We then had a second draw which included four blank tiles. I managed to draw Steve whilst Chris got Kurt. The others drew blanks. As our starters arrived, we did the draw for the order of revealing. While I sampled my soup, the long process of revealing destinations began.

Dave was first to go, and explained to us that he desperately wanted to go back to Spain which was why he had chosen:

GRENADA

I pretended to cough while mumbling "veto" under my breath. Michael understood. This was not a good start.

Next to go was Steve and I was confident that things would pick up. I was handed Michael's phone so that I could read out Steve's destination that was in a text message. He had selected:

LISBON

A country I had not been to, at least. Given that I was next, I tried to get things going by revealing:

REYKJAVIK

It was now Michael's turn and I had great hopes for his choice. He went for:

REYKJAVIK

I couldn't help thinking that this was a marvellous choice.

By now the waiter had arrived and was clearing the table in preparation for our main course. When our pizzas had arrived and Dave had successfully managed to get the man at the table next to us to give him a chilli, we were on with the next person. Rupert was ready to reveal, and I knew that this could go badly wrong. Having told us that he wanted to go somewhere slightly different, which worried me even more, he selected:

GDANSK

Things could have been worse, but I was still worried about the prospect of going to Eastern Europe. With Amal next, he opted for:

WARSAW

which I saw as kind of a development of what Rupert had said.

The last man remaining without a destination was Chris. He completed the set by revealing:

TALLINN

All the choices had now been revealed and there followed a long discussion over the choice for the Little Lucky Leprechaun. Eventually, we settled on:

HUNGARY

With Reardon's choice of:

HELSINKI

already revealed, the list of destinations was now complete. We were coming to the end of our pizzas, so it was time to begin a new regular feature of the final night, the draw for diplomatic immunity. There would be a 1 in 2 chance of someone being selected, and that someone turned out to be Chris.

When the waiter arrived to clear away the plates and take a dessert and coffee order, I found that I was feeling a little sick. I had a pounding head ache and, worst of all, felt in imminent danger of losing my dinner. Although it pained me to turn down a pudding, I decided that I had no option and had to pass.

The next stage of the draw was Glogg's round and Rupert drew the tiles that determined that Kurt would be helped. This would mean that only two votes were required for a veto.

With that decided, we handed out the ballot papers for the veto round. Chris, with his choice of Tallinn, was safe from the veto, having been selected for Diplomatic Immunity.

This left a choice of the remaining eight destinations. I quickly made my selection and returned my paper to the bag ready for the reveal. Michael did the honours and revealed (in no particular order), "None", "None", "Grenada", "None", "Grenada", "None". With Kurt having been helped, Grenada would thus be vetoed from the draw.

The rounds for Shaft and Grosser Vass passed quickly and without affecting the draw. At this point, the puddings arrived and I was, annoyingly, feeling a bit better and almost wanted to order one for myself. As the others began to eat, we prepared for the rehearsal draw. Chris maintained his diplomatic immunity through the first immunity draw and so I received the hat on behalf of Reardon and eliminated Helsinki. Reardon did a Barthez.

Chris managed to maintain diplomatic immunity through the next two rounds as he eliminated Lisbon and as Amal eliminated my choice of Reykjavik. Before the next round, Chris' diplomatic immunity was revoked and so his destination was returned to the draw. Rupert then eliminated Michael's destination, Reykjavik and Michael removed Tallinn. I received the hat and drew out Hungary. This left only Warsaw and Gdansk, the two Polish options, and I was next to go, on behalf of Steve. I eliminated Warsaw, leaving Dave to reveal the winner as Gdansk. Rupert celebrated with a Shearer.

As the coffees arrived, I was certainly hoping for a different outcome in the main draw. Once we were settled with our coffee, it was time to begin and we kicked off, once again, with the diplomatic immunity round. Chris was safe, so it was over to me to draw the first tile. I picked

HUNGARY.

The Little Lucky Leprechaun did a Barthez. Chris retained diplomatic immunity and then eliminated:

WARSAW.

As Chris again held on to his immunity, the draw passed to Amal, who eliminated

REYKJAVIK.

Fortunately for me, this was Michael's choice so I was still in the game. Michael didn't look too pleased, though. With Chris still immune, Rupert would be next to eliminate. He removed

HELSINKI.

Things had taken a serious turn for the worse and I was worried. Things began to turn as Chris' diplomatic immunity was revoked, returning his destination to the draw, and Michael immediately eliminated

TALLINN.

Once again, there would be no win for Chris. It was now up to me to get the draw back on track. I received the tiles and eliminated

LISBON.

We were back in business. The final two would be a showdown between Reykjavik and Gdansk. Me versus Rupert. The prospect of two wins in a row was still there for me. On behalf of Steve, I would have the final elimination. As the hat passed to me, I reached in and grabbed a tile. As I lifted it, I could feel the letters stamped on the surface and I knew in my heart that I was about to eliminate my own destination. I briefly toyed with dropping the tile and going for the other one, but decided that this would not be in the spirit of the draw, so I stuck with eliminating what I knew would be my preferred option. I indeed revealed

REYKJAVIK.

As Rupert celebrated with a Shearer, Dave confirmed the winner as

GDANSK.

We all announced, "Well, it's Gdansk next time!" to confirm the decision. I then explained to the others that I wasn't happy with the tiles since I had known immediately which tile I had selected, before it was drawn out of the hat. Dave suggested in future that we should grip the tiles by the neb to avoid such an occurrance.

At this point it occurred to me that it had been a fantastic break for Rupert. Not only had he just won both draws, but Dave had also credited him with application of the break. I explained this to the others and they readily agreed that Rupert had indeed aced Zurich.

The final meal had come to an end and I was feeling like getting back to the hotel for some sleep. I still wasn't feeling great and thought it safer just to rest up for the night. The journey back was uneventful, though when we finally reached our rooms, it seemed that Amal would, once again, not be sharing with me. I thought this was ridiculous, but was glad of Michael's company instead. We settled down to sleep in preparation for the final morning.