Traveling to Zurich in the middle of January. What was I thinking??

Zurich in January

Back in the middle of December I stumbled on some really good prices to Europe on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) for this month that were just too good to pass up. I mean seriously – no matter that it’s freezing cold in Europe right now. No matter that I really can’t afford to be traveling like this. But how could anyone with any desire at all to travel pass up airfare across the pond for only $350? I sure as heck couldn’t, so I decided to go for it just for the sake of adventure alone. I knew it was going to be cold and miserable, but wow…that was a fantastic price!

Here’s the itinerary:

01/23/03 SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) A340-300X economy class ORD-CPH
01/24/03 SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) MD-87 economy class CPH-ZRH
01/26/03 SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) MD-87 economy class ZRH-CPH
01/26/03 SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) A340-300X economy class CPH-ORD


There’s some good and bad with that itinerary. First of all, it kind of sucked that I had to drive all the way out to ORD and back to catch these flights. But on the other hand, this was my first time flying SAS, and I always love adding new airlines to my flight log – so that made all of this quite ok in my book.

Day 1: The drive to ORD and the overnight flight to ZRH

Traveling in the middle of winter is always a bit of a gamble assuming that part of it consists of being in a place that is cold and snowy. Lucky for me, it was snowy both here in Michigan AND in Zurich, so it didn’t really phase me much when I started the two-hour drive to ORD under heavy lake-effect snow and very (very bad) roads. It was nasty, and very slow going for a while but I left early enough to account for delays – so driving along I-94 towards ORD at 20mph didn’t hinder me (much). Luckily it did start clearing up the closer I got to Chicago so it wasn’t a completely miserable experience.

Despite the slow drive, I still managed to find myself with much more time than I needed before my flight to CPH, so I just killed time taking pics from the international terminal here at ORD. I’ve only been here once before so I took advantage of the opportunity. Unfortunately I didn’t get any really good shots but it was fun to try nonetheless.

Apple Vacations A320 ORD
Apple Vacations A320 parked at the gate at ORD.
Condor / Apple Vacations 757-200 ORD
Condor / Apple Vacations 757-200 parked at the gate.
Royal Jordanian A310 ORD
Royal Jordanian A310 moments after pushing back from the gate here at ORD.

My flight to CPH was delayed slightly, and it ended up being one of the last flights out the international terminal that night – the place was completely silent and dead by the time time they started boarding! I was starting to feel a bit dead myself, as it was pretty late by that point. Making it even more difficult was that once onboard, all the people sitting around me knew each other so it was quite lively for the first portion of the flight. All I wanted to do was sleep but there was far too much noise for that.

By the time we landed at CPH the next afternoon, my connection to ZRH had already departed. That meant making a dash for the connections desk, just to see what they could do for me. I wasn’t even nervous about my missed connection at that point. I was like “whaaatever” as I was standing in line waiting my turn as I knew that these sort of things happen. Long story short, they were able to get me on the next flight to ZRH leaving in just a few hours. Nice! It even gave me enough time to exit the airport and walk outside for a brief minute – just to say that I’ve been in Copenhagen. It was very anti-climatic though, and the cold was too much to handle – I had to scurry back inside after just a few minutes.

The flight down to ZRH was easy and quick, and being seated in one of the first rows meant that I was one of the first to eat. Yes, they served a full dinner on this flight, which was a nice and unexpected surprise.

Day 2: That observation deck!

My primary goal for this trip was to check out the observation deck at ZRH and do a little aviation photography. The morning greeted me with overcast skies and snow flurries, but no matter – I was determined to check out that observation deck! My plan at the the time was to spend the morning taking pics here at the airport, then take a train into central Zurich in the afternoon to check things out. This would be my only full day here before flying back to ORD (hey, I’m poor and can’t afford to stay) so it was going to be a day packed full of adventure.

That observation deck simply blew me away. It’s very difficult to get this close to aircraft back home in the US, so I was pretty much in heaven walking around taking pics all morning. I was completely frozen, hungry, and the wether was abysmal – but I was having a blast!

ZRH observation deck aviation photography
Just some of the shots I got while out on the observation deck at ZRH.

By the time noon rolled around, I really had to struggle to pull myself away to hop a train into the city. I really wanted to stay out there on the deck, but at the same time I felt like I just HAD to go into central Zurich. I came all this way, so I felt like it was a bit of a requirement.

I’ll just say this: the train system in Switzerland is not easy to figure out. Somehow I managed to get on the right train, but I’m not going to lie when I say that it was a struggle. It was so confusing that I was a bit worried once I got to the city – would I be able to find my way back to the airport?? I tried not to think about it and set off on foot to explore Zurich…

Unfortunately, the miserably cold weather and my strong desire for being at the airport taking pics made for a rather crappy afternoon. Actually, it wasn’t even a full afternoon of walking around and exploring. I lasted about an hour before I said “screw this” and hopped a train back to the airport. Don’t get me wrong – Zurich is beautiful, but it was miserably cold and so gloomy and I thought that I’d much rather visit during warmer weather. I knew I’d make it back someday, so it wasn’t all that difficult to call it quits and get back on the train. My exploration of Zurich will have to wait for another day, and I was ok with that.

Zurich in january
The weather was miserable, and I couldn’t help but to think that this place must look amazing in the summer time!
winter in Zurich
It was at this moment that I realized why the airfare was so cheap – it’s too cold to do any proper sightseeing!
winter in Zurich
Someday I will make it back to Switzerland. In the summer that is…

An hour later I found myself back at the observation deck, in my happy place, frozen solid and perfectly content.

Day 3: Back to Chicago

My flight up to CPH this morning wasn’t all that early, so it wasn’t completely necessary to get up insanely early to get to the airport. My hotel was pretty close anyway, so I took my time to get packed before hopping on the shuttle bus to ZRH.

Once again we were served a full meal for the short(ish) flight up to CPH, and it was very…Scandinavian. The raw salmon kind of freaked me out at first but it was surprisingly good. And it was a heck of a lot better than the junk they serve on US airlines.

Scandinavian (SAS) A340-300
This wasn’t my ride to ORD, but I was about to get on one just like it here at CPH.
JAT (Yugoslav Airlines) 737-300 YU-ANV
CPH isn’t a very busy airport, but the variety of traffic is interesting. Here’s a JAT (Yugoslav Airlines) 737-300 pushing back from the gate.
Thai Airways 747-400 in they Royal Barge livery
Bummer that the sun wasn’t shining when this Thai Airways 747-400 in they Royal Barge livery rolled up.

The ride back to ORD from CPH was long and uneventful. I had an aisle seat on one of the outside rows (which have two seats), and the guy sitting next to me was on a business trip to Chicago. His English was quite good, but luckily he wasn’t very chatty and I was able to sleep for most of the way home undisturbed. And for some odd reason I had a craving for Baileys on the rocks after the meal service, which I’ve seen being offered on other airlines, but the flight attendants didn’t have any today. Grrr – I don’t hardly ever drink the stuff, but the one time I wanted it…


This wasn’t the most exciting trip I’ve ever taken, and I will admit that it was downright miserable and gloomy at times. But you know what? For the price I paid for this little bit of travel, it was totally worth it. I got to try a new airline, visit a city I’ve never been to before, and I even managed to get a bit of aviation photography in. It sure as heck beat sitting in the office.

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