Have you ever enjoyed a detour?
This is the story of a scheduled detour that proved to be worth slowing down for. While visiting Europe last summer, I planned a detour to Switzerland. My initial plan was to take a night train from Paris to Milan. After a little research, I learned the night train would not allow my family to enjoy the journey or incredible views. With that in mind, I mapped out this little side trip!
We departed Paris mid-morning and enjoyed the next few hours of beautiful scenery as our train made its way through the French countryside and into the Alps. As we pushed on toward Lucerne (or Luzern as some refer to it), our train meandered alongside lovely Lake Zurich on this delightful adventure. A charming Swiss man riding the train to his job in Zurich decided to chat with our family. We had a great conversation where he shared his honest impressions of America and asked specifically about politics and politicians in the U.S. We enjoyed a lively exchange and I hated to see him depart for work.
Our train continued along Lake Zurich for many miles. The lake was filled with sailboats and the water was the bluest of blue. Before long our train pulled into Lucerne where we made our way via taxi from Old Town to The B & B , 34 Taubenhausstrasse, or grandmother’s house as I like to call it. The owner inherited this home from her grandmother and fills the rooms each night with guests from many countries. This happened to be one of the few B&B’s that had three beds in one room (a.k.a. the family room). Over a luxurious (and complimentary) Swiss breakfast we chatted with a group of bicyclists from Germany and a family from Australia. This bed and breakfast is nestled near the foot of Mt. Pilatus and is such a comfortable place to stay.
Looking to explore Old Town, we quickly dropped off our luggage and set out walking to locate some dinner and adventure. Thinking we were heading the right direction, we began our hike. Before long I was approached by a distinguished Swiss gentleman who asked me where we were headed, most likely because I appeared lost inside a large map in my hands. When I told him “the covered bridge would be my first stop” he asked me and my family to follow him to his car and he would give us a lift. Normally, I would never do this. But today, I accepted his offer and told my family to follow the nice man with the tennis racquet. My ten year old son expressed concern to me and reminded me that we should not be accepting rides from strangers. I told him that he was indeed correct but today would be the exception to that rule. With your entire family in tow (picture the Griswolds in European Vacation) a little adventure is par for the course! This kind Swiss fellow dropped us right off at the covered bridge and continued on his way. The Swiss locals are so kind and fantastic!
When I exited the car and oriented myself, I found I was overlooking lovely Lake Lucerne. There were mountains as far as the eye could see, swans swimming gracefully, pink and purple flowers in full bloom and an ancient wooden covered bridge just across the street. Old world charm surrounded us. Cue the sound of a record scratching and suddenly I was yanked back to reality when a sharp voice with a heavy accent (NOT Swiss) yelled at me “get out of my sunlight!” Welcome back to reality!
Let me be clear – the woman yelling at me was not from Switzerland nor was she a local – she was just another tourist trying to exert some influence on what I imagine she decided was an annoying American family. Luckily, she was a little speed bump on an otherwise perfect day and pretty easy to ignore.
That evening, we dined in the shadows of the Kapellbrucke (the historic wooden bridge) that spans the Reuss River. The bridge, built in 1333, is the oldest surviving truss bridge and is decked out in full bloom. It is just lovely to see and walk across. We discovered a wonderful little ice cream shop alongside the Reuss and made plans for a journey to Mt. Pilatus the next morning. My family stopped by the Swiss Army Knife Store located on the bridge and made a few purchases.
After another delightful breakfast at grandmother’s B&B, we purchased what is known as “four golden round” tickets for the Mt. Pilatus tour. This tour includes three different aerial cable car rides up a 7,000 foot mountain, attractions at each stop along the way that include Switzerland’s largest suspension rope park and the longest summer toboggan run. Our descent from Mt. Pilatus would be via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. It takes you on a 30 minute steep and slow journey down to the lake where you are met by a boat that takes you from the town of Alpnachstad back to Central Lucerne (hence the name – the golden round ticket).
This was our starting point of the day. We picked up the first of three cable cars in Kriens.
The aerial cable ride up Mt. Pilatus moved quickly. Literally no lines and fast moving cable cars. The views of the mountain and lake below were amazing. This would need to be repeated two more times before we arrived at the summit.
Next stop was the summit. At the peak, the clouds rolled in but never completely obstructed the amazing views. We encountered people from many countries on this adventure and even met a family from Utah. As I clung to the inside of the rocky footpath that led to the summit, some parents let their toddlers jump around near the edge of the mountain. Quite interesting to see the different parenting styles on display at an elevation of 7,000 feet.
Once we made our way back from the summit via cogwheel railway, we arrived in Alpnachstad. Here, we boarded a double level boat on Lake Lucerne that would take us back to Old Town Lucerne.
My daughter called this boat ride one of the best parts of our entire trip. There was truly nothing to do but lay back in lounge chairs on the top deck of the boat and cruise with wine in hand on a summer afternoon in the Alps. Life is good!
Switzerland is a lovely country. It is certainly worth more than a detour and has left me wanting to return. The people I met in this country are amazingly kind and most are multilingual. The food (wienerschnitzel and noodles) surely must be sampled. I am already planning to see more of this country on a return trip.