A few weeks ago, we were one of a lucky few to get to participate in something that is only done once a year, primarily by local citizens – float down the river that runs through the middle of Zürich, the Limmat. Normally swimming in the Limmat River is verboten – forbidden – with the exception of a few designated Schwimmbäder (swimming areas). There is boat traffic going up and down the river all the time, as the river’s source is the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich).
Like all bodies of water in Switzerland, the Limmat River is clean, clear, and cold. But that didn’t stop our drive to join in on the float! The day couldn’t have been more perfect, either – sunny and very hot (close to 90F). Our good friends Stacy and Oliver pre-bought tickets for all of us over the internet. This turned out to be a very good idea, as only 3,500 tickets were sold, and folks were turned away after a certain point in the day. Stacy graciously watched our son and her daughter while her husband, my husband, our friend Pat who was visiting us from the US, and I were on the river.
You have to jump through a few hoops before getting started. It is a good thing that we got there early, and had a friend who speaks perfect German to help us. The ticket area was right next to the Fraumünster. We got in the (far shorter) line for people who had bought their tickets over the internet. They checked our printed tickets, we signed a release form, and then were given a bag to put our clothes and other items in. Next we got a wristband with a number on it, with a corresponding sticker for our bag. Participants were being released on the river in batches of 30 people at a time. We were also given a sheet of paper with a list of times and wristband numbers. It was first-come, first-serve, but even though we were there pretty early, we still had to wait until 1:45 for our time slot.
While we were waiting, we got some lunch at a really neat restaurant that I have always wanted to try. It is called the Bauschänzli, and sits on a tiny island in the Limmat River, right next to where it drains from the Zürichsee. They are generally open only May through September, and periodically have live music. The food was really good, and I had one of my favorite drinks – Möhl’s Apfelwein – which is more like hard apple cider than wine.
It was getting close to our time slot, so I kissed the baby and sent him off with Stacy, and the remainder of us pushed through the crowds to get to the starting point. We first were admitted into the Frauenbad Stadthausquai – basically, a women’s swim area. It was pretty nice, and I’d like to possibly go back there again. The water looked so inviting, and we were so hot! But no swimming in the pool – it was corded off.
They had divided up the dressing rooms into male and female. We all changed, and put our things into the provided bags, and put our stickers on the bags. Next we got in line and waited in the hot sun for a while. We were given our floats – small inflated ducks. It was a bad sign that we were told to not hold on to the ducks directly by the attached string – it turns out that every one of ours deflated by the end of the day! I’m glad I had an extra ring float that Stacy loaned me.
Next we passed off our bags of belongings. As part of the fee, the organizers run your back of clothes, etc, to the end point via boat. It’s a well-organized excellent idea. Finally, after a slight bit more waiting and listening to a local radio commentator, we were set free! We had the option of either jumping off a pier, or walking down a set of stairs into the water. Somehow we originally shuffled over to where the dock was, but I was so overheated and afraid of going into shock that I convinced the boys to go with me via the steps. Before you knew it we were in the blessedly cool water!
It was pretty cold at first, but it didn’t take long to acclimate. The river moves very swiftly and is very deep, but it is an easy river to float. To reassure my mother, yes, there were indeed hundreds of support staff lining the river in boats and on the sides of the river and on bridges, ready at a moment’s notice to help any one in trouble. Heath and I have innertubed down the Guadalupe River in Texas half a dozen times, and this is nothing like those trips. For one, they really space everyone out so you’re not piled on top of each other.
What’s really neat about floating down the Limmat is the views that you get. Even if you take one of the ferry boats down the river, they go kind of fast, and it is hard to see out the windows sometimes.
You’ll notice in some of the pictures that the guys appear to be sitting high up in the water. They are nowhere near touching the bottom as it is very deep. They are actually sitting on their duckies, as this seemed the most comfortable option. Again, I’m very glad I had the innertube!
After about an hour, we reached the end. I wish we could have floated longer, but the current moves you very quickly. When we first got out, you were immediately handed you a cup of steaming hot tea. It was nice and since you had to get out on the shady side of the river, it kept you toasty.
Next we went to retrieve our clothes. I’m really impressed by how efficient they were. I guess they were sorting each boatload of bags as it came down the river, because it only took a few minutes for them to find all four of our bags. We also obtained three plastic tokens that were our claim for our free souvenir, drink, and snack. After we were all dressed, we breezed through the line to get our souvenir (a glass cup with the Limmatschwimmen memorialized on it). Next we walked down the river a little further and across a bridge to find… a ridiculously long line to get our snack and drink. That was a little disappointing way to end the day.
We met up with Stacy and the boys stood in line to get our drinks and snacks: Rivella (revolting Swiss soda), and what else but sausages mit brot (bread)! For a change of pace, I told them to grab me the vegetarian option which was a really interesting breaded falafel-esque thing sandwiched between two thick slices of bread. After we’d rested and eaten, we all took turns taking dips in the swimming area of the river until the babies had had enough and we headed home.
All in all, it was a wonderful unique experience that I’d do again in a heartbeat! Though, next year, if we are still lucky enough to be living in Switzerland, I already promised Stacy that I’d take a turn watching her kiddo so she can take a turn floating down the Limmat.
If you live in the Zurich area, or are planning on visiting it in August next year, they already have information up about next year’s float down the river. It will be held on August 21, 2010, with a rain date of August 28. You can find more information about it here. The fee covers your float, transportation of your things to the finish point, a souvenir, snack, and drink. I highly recommend buying your tickets in advance, and bringing a secondary float if you aren’t a great swimmer, assuming the ones they supply in 2010 deflate as quickly as ours did. Make sure you also check the website before you go, as the details could differ next year.
Since our friend Pat was wonderful enough to bring us a waterproof disposable camera with him (and he brought one for himself as well) we were able to take pictures as we were floating down the river. It took me a little while to get mine developed and put on CD. Priciest development that I’ve ever paid for, too! Yikes! I’m glad that I have a digital camera for all our other needs. Anyway, for more pictures of our float trip down the Limmat, taken by me, Pat, and Stacy, click here.