Two days before our grandpa passed away, Clare and I were in the early stages of planning our trip. Because we knew our grandfather had limited time left — although, at the time, we didn’t know quite how limited — and because he had traveled quite a bit (especially after being stationed in Germany after WWII), we asked him what he would recommend seeing.
He named several places we already had on our list of cities to see before writing down the word “Lucerne,” underlining it and circling it. We knew nothing about Lucerne, but the city’s name stuck with us.
The next day, Thanksgiving, my grandpa took a turn for the worse and was barely communicative. We woke up the next morning to the news that he had passed away during the night.
When Clare and I got down to the more nitty-gritty details of planning the trip, we decided that, to honor our grandpa, we wanted to try to find a way to visit Lucerne. We
almost had to pass up the chance to go there, but our crazy night at the train station actually kind of forced us to go there. (We hear you, God!)
The train ride to Lucerne was beautiful, even though the whole area was blanketed by rain. Still, the sheer amount of green was not to be believed. I can now understand how Dorothy (and Elphaba) felt when she arrived in the Emerald City for the first time.
Because we dressed to be comfortable on the train, we didn’t really have time to change into something cute or put on any make-up, so we wandered around looking like the walking dead in Lululemons. Hey, even zombies need a good pair of sweatpants.
As we walked off the train, we quickly realized that Lucerne is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. And I thought French was hard. Yikearonis!
We were able to leave our stuff in the train station lockers, but because the locker cost seven Euro, we need to break a 20 somehow. The answer? Breakfast. We got these two pastries with really long, harsh sounding names I’m pretty sure were just doughnuts, and we got our locker.
Unfortunately, we locked the umbrella up, and we didn’t realize that the locker wasn’t a time-based thing. So, we unlocked it. Now, we had the umbrella, but we had an unlocked locker. D’uh oh. Once again, we didn’t have seven Euro on hand, so Clare set off to buy something to turn a 20-euro into the necessary money. She picked up a pack of fruity Trident gum only to realize when it was time to pay that the pack of gum cost 3.40 Euro.
Now I know why no one here in Europe chews gum. What a rip-off!
After leaving the train station and making our way over to the tourist office — they even hand out pamphlets on where to find the “friendly toilets” — we decided just to wander around. We didn’t have anything we had to see; we more just wanted to get a feel for the city.
I had to go to the bathroom desperately, so we tried using Clare’s map to find one. Too bad we didn’t grab one of the “Friendly Toilet” pamphlets from the tourist office. It literally took us 25 minutes, including a walk across what must have been the longest, unnecessary bridge in the long history of that kind of bridge.
We finally found a restroom, made our way back to the train station as kind of a base of operations and set out to explore the area.
There were some cute shops, so we popped into those (we bought some insanely amazing Swiss chocolate), and we made our way through a market that was just closing up shop. Clare and I then walked into more of the heart of the city, a place filled with expensive fondue restaurants and shops with interesting window displays. We found what was essentially a mall in the center of the city. We tried to go to the restaurant at the top (the words “Free Wi-FI” carry a lot of weight), but everything was overpriced and you had to get a code for the Internet over SMS, which is turned off on my phone.
After a bit more walking around (I couldn’t decide what sounded good, so I made us walk in circles), we found this hotel restaurant that supposedly had good pizza. I was sold. The place was charming, the staff was friendly, and the pizza was to-do-for. Who would’ve thought the best pizza I’ve had to this point would come from an Italian restaurant in the German part of Switzerland?
We only ate half of the pizza because we wanted to eat the other half on the train ride to Milan, but this plan confused the waiter. Before we could ask for a to-go box, he walked up to us looking very concerned and asked us, “You not like?” Clare and I immediately rushed to gush about the pizza. I guess you’re expected to eat the whole pizza, no matter how big it is.
I could get used to that.
One of the famous spots in Lucerne is Chapel Bridge, a covered bridge decorated with paintings from a really long time ago. The bridge is covered in flowers and overlooks the water. It was beautiful, but the crowds of people made it a bit difficult to maneuver. Besides the bridge, we didn’t really hit any of the other “major” spots in the city. I really wanted to go hiking so I could say I’d been hiking in the Swiss Alps, so we decided to put our pizza back in a locker and head out for what we hoped would be some trails.
We dumped the pizza box in a locker right near ours but didn’t pay for the locker figuring no one would dare eat someone else’s pizza (some things are just sacred), and we started walking using Clare’s map. After about 30 minutes of trying to stick to the map, we still had no idea where we were going. So, of course, me being me, I decided I knew where we should go. Clare just kind of looked at me like I was nuts but said she’d follow me. (Important lesson: Never trust me with directions.) We had already purchased our tickets to Milan later that evening, so we just needed to make sure we were back at the station by 7 p.m.
I made the decision that we should start walking upward. I mean, we were in the mountains, so I figured if we walked up for a long enough period of time we would eventually hit some sort of trail. We passed some buildings that looked like some sort of hospital, but we kept walking up.
Up, up, up.
Eventually, we got to the point where we were, quite literally, off the beaten path. After 10 or so more minutes of walking, we came across a path. The only problem? You had to go through a cemetery to get there.
As the cemetery path wound on and on, it eventually let out at a path along the river. This seemed to be the kind of path we were looking for, although the gravel meant I didn’t get to imagine skipping through the Alps whistling. (The rain kind of hampered that. As did the fact I can’t whistle.)
All of a sudden, we did hear a loud whistle, although it wasn’t coming from some tourist girl trying to live out a childhood fantasy. About 200 yards away from us was a river with the kind of boats that are used for crew, and the Czech Republic coach was whistling to help his team with their cool-down. Clare and I had no idea what exactly was going on, but after seeing the Australian, Russian, Italian and Dutch teams we realized that
whatever was happening had to be a pretty big deal. (A quick Google search when we got to Milan revealed it was the World Rowing Championships. I guess that’s kind of a big deal.)
While the path continued on, Clare and I figured we should start making our way back to the train station. That wouldn’t have been a problem if we had any clue where the heck we were. Oops.
After crossing a couple of busy roads — cars literally stopped to let us cross what could have been considered a highway back in the States — we decided that maybe trying to navigate solely based on the river wasn’t the best idea we’d ever had. So, instead we tried to walk through a couple of cute little neighborhoods. The little houses were absolutely picturesque, and I dreamt of just popping into one of these places and asking for a hot chocolate.
Eventually, we found someone to ask where the heck we were. I was petrified I would ask and she would respond rapid-fire in German, but after taking a quick look at us, she spoke to us in English.
Swiss people are seriously the nicest. She gave us incredibly helpful directions (take the first left, go past the school, turn right immediately after), and we found the center of the city. That still meant we needed to make our way back to the train station, and we were standing at the middle of a literal crossroad. Of course, then a young man walked up to us, asked us where we needed to go and pointed us in the right direction.
I’m just imaging how all this would have gone down in New York City:
“Sorry, I’m too busy talking on my cellphone and drinking my Starbucks non-fat latte to talk to you.”
Clare and I made one last quick stop at an ice cream place, even though it was freezing and raining. (Don’t question us!) It was actually a chocolate place but offered ice cream flavors like mango-lemongrass (mine), caramel fleur de sal (Clare’s), proseco, pineapple-thai basil, edelweiss-lime, apple-rosemary and Tahitian vanilla.
And man alive did the ice cream taste good.
Next stop was the train station, where we were bummed to realize that our pizza was gone! We have no idea what happened to it!
We also realized that we were going to have no way to watch the Germany-Brazil soccer game. So, we called our Dad and made him promise to call if anything big happened in the game.
Next thing we know, we get a call from him saying,“ Germany is up four to nothing. Oh, wait, make that five to nothing.”
I’m sad to have missed the thrashing.
Our hostel here in Milan seems pretty nice (although the guy downstairs just kicked me out of the main area where the wi-fi is the best because it was too late). I’m not sure if the bed actually feels nice or if it’s just better than the cold, hard train station floor. All I really care about is the fact that the bathroom meant I actually got to brush my teeth and wash my face properly.
Tomorrow is our only day in Milan, so we’re going to try and pack as much into the trip as we can. (Aka lots of gelato and pizza.)
Because I want to make people jealous of Switzerland’s beauty: