We had been warned by our Swiss pal (see: Munich) that Switzerland was pricey but … oh boy.
I had bought our train tickets before the trip because I was worried about the possibility of fewer trains running during the holidays and tourists filling up the seats. This ended up being a pointless worry because our train was largely empty. We departed at 7:17 am and arrived in Lucerne (after a quick transfer in Zurich) at about 1 pm. We treated ourselves to a delicious breakfast of croissants/random things in bread, coffee, and a juice. Our breakfast was savored on the train (which was always a fun thing to get to do).
I walked our tiny coffees back to where the lady was seated. Everywhere we went the coffees were tiny and powerful. Like Mighty Mouse. They must think Americans are insane with how large our coffees are, perhaps until they taste the coffee and think how insane we are for drinking so much weak coffee.
Once we arrived we got some money (a guessing game for how much to get) and then walked to our hotel. Oh, oh. Our hotel. I have stayed in an actual real life palace and met the (would have been) queen that owned said palace … I’m just establishing my credibility as a wearer of fancy pants. But this place was amazing: The Grand Hotel National. In Lucerne you leave the central train station, walk outside and your eyes immediately travel to Lake Lucerne, then your eyes come to something closer, the ferry boarding area, and then your eyes jump again to the lake and finally across the lake, where you notice The Grand Hotel National. Oh, and if you take a quick glance to the right, an astute observer will notice the Alps dominating the landscape with their magnificent beauty.
It’s not a bad view.
We walked to our hotel, which was a half mile or so (and I bet we were some of the only guests who walk there rather than cab it). We were too early to check in so we left our bags and went looking for food.
A tiny, casual cafe grabbed our attention. This restaurant, and a number of others, had a seating style where you sat yourself. If you asked someone, “do we just sit anywhere?” they look at you like you’re crazy. I think the majority of the places we ate were ‘seat yourselves’ establishments. It’s confusing, as an American, because generally if I see a wait staff that means I don’t seat myself. But there this rule did not apply.
The lady and I ordered a water, a soda, and each a sandwich. A simple meal. The sandwiches were ok. Not bad, not good, ok. And the bill was a bit over 40 dollars. WHAT.
We took stock and realized: perhaps 2 days in Switzerland is sufficient. Honestly, whenever I first saw prices there I would try to translate the Swiss Franc into dollars. “Let’s say 1 US dollar is … oh, right, just about 1 Swiss Franc.” I kept assuming it must be that 1 US dollar equaled 2 Swiss Francs.
Most of the shops were closed because it was Christmas day (which is a fact we had to continuously remind ourselves of). We wandered slowly back to our hotel, hoping to spot shops that were open so that we could find a tourist gift for ourselves but without luck.
At the hotel a guy behind the desk (a slim, fantastic-suit-wearing, must-be-a-part-time-model-ing, blonde, giant-awesome-watch-wearing guy) showed us to our room. Our room, which had a giant window that looked out over the lake, back at the train station, back at the bridge covered in lights for Christmas, and to the left, the lake, and beyond them, the Alps. WE COULD SEE THE ALPS FROM OUR ROOM!
We Facetimed with our families some for Christmas and also to say things like, “IT’S THE ALPS! THIS IS OUR ROOM!” Oh what a room, late December back in Switzerland, I was never gonna be the same … late Decemberrrrr what a room. (Apologies to The Four Seasons.)
After relaxing for a bit and marveling at the fact that we were staying there, we headed to see the stone lion (a famous statue there) and an old wooden bridge which is also famous. We decided to save our wallet a little pain and we ate at a delicious shawarma place.
After dinner we relaxed in the room, taking in the local culture via TV. There was of course delightful darts to be watched, but that night Dirty Dancing in German won out. My wife had seen that movie enough times that she thought she could translate it. It worked out … sorta. There was an occasional question like, “oh … I think right now he’s telling her he got fired? Oh wait, maybe that didn’t happen yet? Uh … I don’t know.”
I’d never seen Dirty Dancing before, but I would highly recommend, if you have never seen that movie, to watch it in German with my wife guessing at translations.
We woke up and knew that day would be spent traveling up into the Alps. We would have to find a ferry (I had a schedule I’d picked up) and then we planned to get off at a certain stop. But first … we had to take advantage of our view and our coffee maker.
It turns out a Nespresso is a little brainier than I expected a coffee maker to be. I put a little pod in, put down a coffee cup, and started the machine … Out came a nice, hot little cup of water. What? I open up the spot where I put the pod and IT’S GONE. WHAT? I put in another pod, start the coffee machine … and out comes another nice little cup of hot water. What, what, what. (At this point I decided maybe reading the directions would be nice, so after a few google searches I find out that a fancy Nespresso machine likes to clean itself and will create three cups of water before it actually makes a cup of coffee.)
I realize this is probably a very dull story, and I don’t know why I feel called to keep it, but I do. So, I’m sorry you just wasted your time reading that.
After sitting, sipping, and gazing at the beauty of the Alps and the town, we headed out to get ourselves a breakfast on the go (croissants and coffee) and then went to the ferry. We paid some obscene amount of money for ferry, train, and air gondola tickets. We would be heading to Vistnau, where we would catch a train that goes up, and up, and up. The ferry ride was beautiful – there was a cloudy haze blocking the mountains, little towns right next to the lake, everything was beautiful. Maybe Swiss people are more attractive because their bodies just absorb some of the natural beauty, I don’t know. I don’t recall seeing a building there that made me think, ‘huh, that architect made some poor decisions.’ No, it’s all pretty.
In Vistnau we disembarked and hustled to the train (everyone was going there). We managed to secure seats across from a couple, and wouldn’t you know it – they’re from the good old U.S. of A. Not only that, but Shreveport! My wife was shocked I couldn’t recognize the particular accent, but I’ve got a lot less Louisiana accent experience than she does.
This couple is living the dream (a dream that requires you to be gutsy). They had both worked most of their careers in the U.S., and then the woman found a job working at a school in Indonesia. Bingo, bang, bongo, they lived and worked in Indonesia for two years. (Where the dollar is strong and they got to buy some amazing souvenirs.) They were mentally prepping for moving back to the U.S. when the woman got contacted by a school in Italy and so … well, what else can you do but move to Italy and work there?
They were taking a little winter break holiday to Switzerland and a few other countries. We ended up spending a chunk of our day with them, talking, hearing about their work in Indonesia and Italy. (If you recall the German buddy from Christmas Eve dinner, who said that Italians get things done somehow but never on time and yet it’s all kind of enjoyable instead of maddening to be perpetually delayed? Well, this couple spoke to the exact same experience – the Italians are consistent.)
At the top we hopped off the train and got to experience breathtaking views, and breathtaking wind. That’s not a joke, the wind was very strong, it was hard to breathe when walking into it. Snap, snap, snap, the camera was practically taking pictures without me doing anything. Now that we’re back home and I’m looking at these pictures, I can’t help but feel frustrated over my inability to capture how beautiful it was … but hey, that’s nothing new, eh?
Next we took the train back down to head to our stop for the air gondola. We stayed with our Shreveport pals and a group of us crowded into an air gondola. Like a little container of toothpicks we gently floated back down to Earth, staring at the Alps, the lakes, the small towns, and the tourists blocking my view.
The Shreveport pals told us about another must see – Mount Titlis. We were going to get there late, but they said it was better than what we’d seen that day. Well, ok then pals, we’ll make it work.
After the ferry back to town we rushed into the train station, grabbed a snack, and then tickets to Engelberg. One train ride later and there we were, the base of Mount Titlis. We asked if we weren’t too late for tickets to the summit and the guy informed us, ‘not technically, but kinda.’ It was a cloudy day, and the sun would soon be setting, we could go to the top but we likely wouldn’t see much of anything. We ended up getting tickets to the first stop along the route to the top and wandering around there for a bit. There were lots of skiers coming down, and a frozen lake (Trübsee) that two American teenagers were playing on (confident, I suppose, in the ice). The wife and I shared our doubts about their intelligence while I took pictures. A classic tourist tradition.
The sun had set, the dark sky had taken its spot and with it colder weather. We caught a train back to Lucerne because the shops in Engelberg were closed.
Our Shreveport pals had recommended a Mexican restaurant in Lucerne, Pacifico. Mexican sounded delicious, and we were curious how a Swiss treatment of Mexican would look. We were fairly excited about the goodness that is Mexican food.
There was a short wait, so I had a beer and enjoyed taking in the people around us. At our table I switched from beer to a Coke, which generated a look of muted shock from our waiter (he literally tilted his head back and lifted his eyebrows). I know it is weird to switch from beer to soda, but I like soda with Mexican food.
We ordered an appetizer, “chips and dips” because chips and salsa are not standard on the table. Our dish arrived and we dove in, trying each different dip. The basket of chips was normal and what you’d expect. The dips …
1. Something they referred to as picante sauce but seemed to be mostly ketchup
2. Something that looked an awful lot like refried beans but actually tasted more like a peanut sauce (I felt betrayed every time I used that dip)
3. Guacamole made with a large quantity of celery (a betrayal to the avocado gods)
4. Sour cream with mystery herbs
5. Cheese dip that tasted just like the cheese you get at a ball park with a pretzel (i.e. confusing)
This was a fancy seeming restaurant, mind you. The liberties they took with Mexican food were astounding. (But, to be fair, Mexicans must go to Mexican restaurants in the States and think the same thing.)
The lady of the house ordered chicken enchiladas which were served with corn on the cob … tasty, but confusing. I ordered a burrito which was served with kidney beans mashed up like refried beans, and there were potatoes in my burrito. Every bite was stealing a slice of all things that I knew to be logical and right in the world.
It was an intense dining experience.
We asked for our check without the usual European dining style of taking a while (which again drew a look of shock from our waiter – we were quick movers that night because we were tired after a long day of running about).
Oh Lucerne, your taste in Mexican food is heartbreaking, your prices are soul crushing … And yet: Would I go back? Yes. Most definitely yes, the beauty is something that deserves a few more long glances.