This is going to sound like a strange reason to put someplace on my list of destinations, but given the might that the Rhein showed in the great German cities of Koblenz or Cologne, I figured it would cool to go somewhere close to its source, where it might have been only a trickle. Then I would stand there above it, thinking to myself, "About five hundred kilometers later, this stream will become one of Europe's greatest waterways." One might think that was a silly reason to go to Switzerland, but I had already used Alpine scenery, chocolate, and fondue as excuses for previous trips. I needed another reason.
Chur (pronounced kh'oor) sat on high ground above the confluence of the Rhein and Plessur rivers, nestling just inside the Plessur valley on the way to the mountain village of Arosa. Chur's position relatively far from the Rhein River suggested the occasional flood, something definitely not present when I was there. The same could have been said about the Plessur, whose canal through the city was incredibly deep. I figured about ten meters. Chur's old city was on the highest ground, with the modern residential and industrial districts expanding down to the river.
I naturally started my tour with the old city. Touring it was super easy, as Chur's walking map was very easy to follow. I began at the Obertor, shown in the first photo, that overlooked the Plessur canal. Like many cities I've seen in Bavaria and nearby Austria, this tower gate was inserted among a densely-packed circular expanse of houses and manors.
The inside of the circle was a maze of narrow pedestrian streets, with churches, residences, tiny marketsquares, and shops. Many of the buildings were beautifully decorated, the best example of which is shown in the second photo (the Café Zscholler). The largest marketsquare was along Obere Gasse just inside the Obertor near the river, but most of the half dozen others were barely half the size of a soccer field.
Predictably, the city's main churches were concentrated on the highest ground. The most visible was the Kirche St. Martin, whose tower is visible in third photo. That Evangelical church sat the lowest of the three and had a fountain of Saint Martin in front. Behind it was the Roman Catholic Cathedral, that sat in an inner city on an elevated plateau, accessible through its own gate, the Hof-Torturm. The Hof was the Cathedral's own marketplace, surrounded by the impressive golden-painted Bischöfliches Schloss (Bishop's Palace). The Cathedral grounds had the best view of the Plessur River below and the surrounding vineyards.
Further up the hill, in its own compound, was the St. Luzi Seminary and its church St. Luzi, a fairly spartan-looking church. As the Cathedral was completely undergoing renovation and therefore closed for worship, St. Luzi took over -- normally the seminary was closed.
Much of the old city was fairly quiet during the weekend, except perhaps on Saturday afternoon after many of the stores had closed. The majority of the people congregated on Poststrasse (third photo), that bisected the old city and contained most of the mainstream European franchises. Poststrasse intersected with Chur's other major street, Grabenstrasse, that contained the theater, several museums, and the tourist information bureau.
The bulk of the new city spread westward, following the base of the mountain range along the Plessur valley past several large industrial complexes and tall apartment complexes. My hotel was out that direction, amongst a strip mall district that almost seemed American (in fact, my hotel was combined with a McDonalds in one building -- interesting).
Along that way was Chur's ski-lift, the Brambrüeschbahn, that accesses the lower ski resorts. Although downtown Chur was snow-free, the mountains still had some snow on them, and the lift was servicing customers. However, it was clear that most of the skiiers had elected instead to take the hourly train up to Arosa where snow was still plentiful.
My trek to see the young Rhein took place on Sunday morning before I went to church. The fourth photo was taken from behind the Cathedral in the general direction of the route I pursued, with the Rhein being nestled at the foot of the mountain you see. I followed the Plessur River canal from the downtown, passing underneath the train station and through the lower, ultra-modernized industrial district on my left, and prominent residential district on the right. Clearly, Chur was economically very active.
And lo and behold, the fifth photo shows the mighty Rhein River, with the snow covered Alps far off in the distance. It was clear that the river waters were low even for that time of year as the river bed was very wide, but the water lines didn't indicate any great depths. I could have walked across if I wanted to, only having to pull my pants up to my knees.
Lo and behold, "about five hundred kilometers later, this stream will become one of Europe's greatest waterways." There, I said it!
While many of Switzerland's cities were expensive and seemed to wear an aura of excessive sophistication (witness Zurich), Chur was a pleasant small city with lots of charm while not being an expensive place to stay or dine. It also seemed like a good place to base for visiting the surrounding region as it sat at the end of the main train line from Zurich and was the hub for the Graubünden province that included Arosa, plus the popular lakeside town of Bad Ragaz, the Alpine city of Davos and the Olympic village of St. Moritz. I enjoyed Chur and its environs very much, and hope to go back some time in the future.
Trip Taken 8-9 March 2003 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin