Back home in Kentucky, as I began to plan my trip to Europe, I decided that “Ski the Swiss Alps” was definitely a bucket list item. Now I’ve never really been one to have a bucket list; in fact, I can’t even think of another item on it. I did my homework and learned that three mountains would be open around the time I’d arrive in early November. Sure, there’d be limited lifts open and the conditions wouldn’t be ideal but I’d take what I could get. It’s the Swiss Alps! After my surprisingly warm visit to Italy I chose Lucerne as my jump off point because it’s a short train ride to the Engelberg Titlis ski resort, and they were open for business. I got super psyched because they also have the highest suspension bridge in Europe at 1500 feet (you’re already in the mountains upwards of 10,000 feet) AND they have a rotating gondola! With my train to Lucerne booked, five-night hostel stay squared away, and ski resort determined, I was set. Except for a little detail that Engeblerg shuts down for maintenance the first two weeks of November. There will be no skiing the Alps on this trip.
Surprises will come up when traveling without much of an itinerary and you just have to roll with it. You’ll pick a boring city or hostel full of teenagers or miss your train. Don’t sweat it. You’re still doing what many people only dream of.
So now I find myself in Lucerne with a little more time to kill than I expected. It’s a nice city centered around a beautiful lake, reliable public transport, and incredible, beckoning mountains within sight. This is Switzerland, don’t forget, so things can be a bit pricey. A Burger King Whopper meal will set you back nearly $15 USD. The pace of the city is nothing like Rome or Florence. Hardly any scooters and very few honking horns; I’d feel comfortable driving here. Bicycles are everywhere and it’s quite a sight to see hundreds of them lined up in custom bike parking corrals.
Day one I just strolled around the city, which is what I pretty much do in every new city. I don’t like to have a set itinerary on the first day. I prefer to get the feel of the place at my own pace. My favorite way to explore a city is by bike but I’ve found it difficult to find a place to rent one. I guess everyone has theirs already. The city reminds me a bit of Queenstown, as both are on a beautiful lake with mountains in the distance, though Lucerne is much bigger.
One of Lucerne’s most popular sights is the “Lion of Lucerne”, carved in 1820 to commemorate the massacre of Swiss Guards during the French Revolution.
After confirming with a staff member at the hostel that I wouldn’t be able to reach Engelberg he suggested that I check out Pilatus Klum, which is a mountain just a $10 train ride away. The draw to this place, besides the incredible views, is that you can go up the mountain via something called a cogwheel train, which was new to me. It kind of looks like a regular train car set at an angle, and it rides along tracks with gears that grab a toothed track in the center. Google it. 🙂 The end result of all this is that you can go up crazy steep grades, the Pilatus Klum journey being the steepest cogwheel track in the world.
The train and the view from near the bottom (sunny and green):
Ascending through low-lying clouds and starting to see snow on the mountain:
The payoff… spectacular views from around 7000 feet:
I almost forgot to mention the couple I met on the train ride from Lucerne. She was a Doctor in Dentistry, he was a lawyer, both from India and living in Dubai, practicing Muslims and as warm and friendly as could be. We marveled at the mountains on the cogwheel train ride up, took photos for one another up top, snacked on dried fruit they had brought and just had a really good time.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know that my favorite aspect of travel is probably the people I meet. My own stereotypes get challenged, my world expands, and (hopefully) I represent my country in a humble and respectable way.
On to Interlaken next!