As travelers go, Mr. M & I are wickedly expeditious. My itineraries are the sightseeing equivalent of whirling dervishes and inspire incredulousness on tripadvisor forums (“Far too ambitious… you should consider staying in [fill in name of any town] for at LEAST five days…”). Even for us, today was Epic. We may have set a record for the most we could possibly experience on any given day.
Day #11,036… no, 37… wait…???: [Los Angeles, 3:37am PST]: Awoke for trip to the airport after 2.5hrs of sleep. Cursed devil-may-care Last-Night Me for staying up late and screwing exhausted 3:37am Me.
[JFK Airport, New York City, 2:22pm EST]: Met Mr. M at JFK after my cross-country flight (I had been visiting family in Southern California). Got super-excited about our upcoming trip to… SWITZERLAND!! True to stereotype, Switzerland (including Swiss Air, which we took on the flight over) is deliciously efficient. We took off half an hour EARLY. Before I had even downed my flying sedatives, a German accent over the PA declared “Too meenoots to take-ohf,” like a highly synchronized space shuttle countdown. And precisely two minutes thereafter, we were hurtling through the air toward Switzerland.
[Zurich, Switzerland, 8:10am, unknown time zone]: We’re here!! Every time I survive the erratic 45min taxi ride from JFK into Manhattan, I feel a little like I’ve cheated death… the Zurich-bound airport train was the exact opposite: clean, spacious, about 10 minutes in duration… and somehow leaving me with that vaguely relaxing feeling you get from drinking a good cup of tea.
Swiss train travel is made incredibly easy; every train station has lockers in which to store your luggage, so you can sightsee along the way without your baggage. After pounding my gigantor luggage into a manageable size and shoving it into the biggest locker available, we headed off into the city of Zurich.
First on the itinerary was a stroll down the Bahnhoffstrasse, the major shopping thoroughfare of Zurich, which conveniently begins at the train station. Mr. M & I were surprised to find that Zurich is a much quainter place than the modern, bustling metropolis we had imagined.
Even the tree-lined Bahnhofstrasse was relatively peaceful and amazingly clean. After admiring the shiny storefronts of Rolex, Omega, and like 4 different H&M’s in an 8-block stretch (apparently, Zurich is to H&M what Seattle is to Starbucks), we stopped in at the famous pastry shop Confiserie Sprungli for kaffe crèmes, a pot au chocolate, and a raspberry mousse cake that had a mellifluous-sounding Swiss German name that now escapes me.
Newly caffeinated, it was time to explore the cobblestoned, winding streets of Old Zurich (the Alstadt). The city is full of hidden alleyways, tiny treasures of cafes, and lots and lots of Swiss flags.
[Lucerne, Switzerland, 1:30pm]: After a quick and easy one-hour train ride, we were in Lucerne. We stored our luggage at the station and found Lake Lucerne and the boat docks directly across the street. How is this country so ridiculously convenient? After a scrumptious picnic of veggie quiche, we boarded a boat to tour Lake Lucerne and take us to the town of Vitznau.
Stepping off the docks at Vitznau, you’re pretty much facing the oldest rack railway in Europe, which is perfectly timed (of course it is, you’re in Switzerland!) to meet the boat and take you to the peak of Mount Rigi. The rack railway looks like a glorified San Francisco cable car, and I will readily admit I was nervous about trusting this thing to drag me up a veritable cliff-face. But the ride was AMAZING!!
The first part was reeeeally steep… which only meant that the views of Lake Lucerne and the surrounding hillsides were stunning. It looked *just* how you imagine Switzerland should. Love when that happens. :)
The tracks end at Rigi-Kulm, the top of Mount Rigi, where there’s a small hotel and the start of several hiking trails.
When we arrived, it was very foggy and starting to rain, which meant most of our fellow rack-riders stayed onboard the train to head back down. I took the weather as a glorious excuse to buy hot cocoa (called “Schoggi” in German, which made it even more appealing) and to enjoy Rigi Kulm without the crowds. Although we didn’t get much of a view at the top, the fog made the scenery seem almost mystical (mist-ical? sorry, couldn’t help it).
The surrounding meadows were covered in wildflowers, and what I originally thought was some sort of machinery on the rack railway turned out to be the cowbells of nearby grazing cows! They actually wear cowbells! Mr. M and I decided to walk one of the trails that lead us partway back down the mountain. We couldn’t get over how well-groomed the trail was- there were wooden benches every 100m or so where you could stop and enjoy the views- and we found it fascinating to walk amongst the wooden chalets and imagine living there. Since there aren’t any roads on the mountain (and therefore no cars), the locals use the rack railway to commute and the hiking trail serves as the town “Main Street.”
We hiked down to the town of Rigi-Katsbad, which has a gondola that takes you allll the way back down to the lakeshore. We had watched the gondola ascend while we were on the Lake Lucerne boat, and I had cringed, knowing that was where we were headed. I squeaked in terrified protest as we went over the edge, but then it was beautiful. Like we were slowly floating down to the lake, over the dark green cliff forest. So SO cool.
We got back on the boat at Weggis and headed back to Lucerne as a rainstorm brewed… and we didn’t have to pay extra for a single bit of that transportation with our Swiss Rail Pass!
[Lucerne, Switzerland, 7pm]: Exhausted, we took a bus to The Bed + Breakfast Hotel. Well, more specifically, we took a bus to near the hotel and promptly got lost. The city map of Lucerne available at tourist information desks is hand-drawn and showed the location of our hotel as a dot in the middle of a large bush. Charming, yes, but I prefer my maps with street names. Once we found our way, Simone the lovely innkeeper showed us our gorgeous attic room and helped direct us to the Old Town of Lucerne for dinner.
We opted to go big at the (surprisingly expensive, but really yummy) Old Swiss House restaurant. Mr. M got an uber-yummy local dish called rosti that involved veal, mushrooms in cream sauce, and potatoes sautéed in butter. I had a bit of difficulty as an herbivore and ended up with soup and a scrumptious cherry kirsch cake (black cherries and the cherry liqueur kirsch are specialties of the Lucerne region). Somewhere between soup and cake, the 40+ hours I’d been awake started to catch up with me, and my eyes refused to take such simple orders as ‘stay open’ or ‘point in the same direction.’ Mr. M commented that my wonky, darting eyes were freaking him out, and that it was time to go home and finally go to sleep.
[The Bed + Breakfast Hotel, Lucerne, Switzerland, 11:35pm]: Could not believe my “day” started out in Los Angeles. Head hit pillow. Out.
To explore my next day’s adventure missing the Matterhorn and turning the hotel spa into a Spring Break wet t-shirt contest, click here!
Details of the Day: Accommodation: The Bed + Breakfast hovers somewhere between best hostel you’ve ever seen and boutique B&B. We reserved the attic room, the only one with its own attached bathroom, and absolutely loved it. It was one of the most charming rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Note: if you have any difficulty climbing stairs, the hotel is without elevators, and the attic room requires ascending 2 flights of stairs (plus a third within the room itself). Pack light.
Eats: The Old Swiss House is pricey but delicious, if you’re in the market for classic Swiss fare. If you’re a carnivore, the weinerschnitzel sautéed in butter smelled heavenly and briefly had me considering whether or not I could order it under the “omnivore while traveling” clause.
Tips & Tricks: I pre-purchased Swiss Rail Passes, which turned out to be an excellent decision. The passes gave us 4 days of prepaid and unlimited rail and bus travel, and often included cable cars, gondolas, and even boats! By just flashing our Rail Pass, we never had to worry about purchasing tickets… we simply hopped on our transportation of choice!
The Zurich train station luggage lockers are one floor down and accept only coins (3-9 Swiss Francs, depending on the size of your case). A change machine is nearby.
Frommer’s provides free walking tour guides online for most major cities. Just googling ‘Frommer’s Walking Tour Zurich’ yielded two free tours. The walking tours are quite basic, but they’ll give you a good (did I mention free?) start.
Do yourself a favor and print out a map of Lucerne before leaving. As mentioned, the cartoon map they provide is fine for the tourist center of Old Town but borders on useless for anywhere else.