Following the advice gleaned from “My Swiss Alps”, we booked 3 nights accommodation in most of the key places in order to give us the best chance of a “good” day to visit mountain peaks and hopefully get the best chance for a view, and also to give us some rest time as well as our holiday was supposed to be a time to kick back as much as to see the sights.
So after 3 nights in Interlaken we headed for Lucerne for 4 nights. The reason for the 4 night stay was that as it was relatively close to the middle of our holiday and we figured Lucerne would be good for an extra night’s stay as there is really quite a lot of choice for mountain peaks in the Lucerne area, and being a city, we thought a days shopping would be a good idea as well.
Another thing that was pressing on us was the need to get some laundry done. Getting Hotels to do your laundry is a pretty expensive exercise, so we had researched two possible scenarios in Lucerne to resolve this. The first place was a company called Jetwasch, but when we got to the place, we discovered that the next day was a local Public Holiday and therefore they would not be working and they also did not operate on the weekend either. This left us with our 2nd choice which was a small laundry outfit tucked away in the corner of the Lucerne train station (5aSec Textile Expert). The lady there was most helpful and told us that our bag of laundry was going to cost us 11 CHF (according to weight) and that it would take 3 days. However, for an additional 2CHF we could have it done express and collect it the very next day.!! This seemed very reasonable to us and so we left our laundry in her capable hands and true to her word we collected it the next day as promised.
The next day we decided to head to Mt Titlis. Lucerne was covered in fog as we left for Engelberg from which one has to catch the gondolas to Mt Titlis. The train ride took about 45 minutes from Lucerne, the last 15 minutes being in a tunnel from which when we emerged, the whole carriage burst into “Oooh’s and Ahh’s” as there was no fog to be seen, only brilliant sunshine and we were completely surrounded by magnificent snow covered mountains and Engelberg itself was also blanketed in heavy snow and the views in every direction were simply magnificent. There is a free shuttle bus from the Engelberg train station to the Mt Titlis Gondola station, just walk through the station and you will see the bus stop on the street right outside and it’s well sign posted. Otherwise it is about a 15 minute walk if you choose, the which we did on our return.
The Gondola journey and Cable car heading up to Titlis is magnificent, and the views from the Skywalk Bridge I think are as good as from any other mountain in Switzerland. There is the opportunity to have your photo taken while on the Skybridge, it’s an automated camera, you simply press the button, smile, and then take the ticket that comes out that a unique number related to your photo. Present this at the kiosk in the main building near the restaurants and for a fee you can purchase a copy of the photo in various sizes.
Our second day in Lucerne was a local public holiday. We were unaware of this at first and were told by Hotel staff that nothing would be open other than the train station shops. We asked if the “Old Town” shops would also be closed and they assured us nothing would be open. We decide to venture to the “Old Town” anyways just for a look, and everything was open. So we turned this day into our shopping day and walked the cobbled streets, crossed the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) and purchased a few gifts for the family back home and generally had a relaxing day of it. In the evening, we returned to the “Old Town” to take a look at the Christmas lights and enjoy the fresh air. As we returned to the Hotel we came across a procession of young and old men dressed in white ringing very large cow bells that resounded around the streets. I understand it may have had something to do with the Public Holiday. (Immaculate Conception Day)
We woke the next day to snow steadily falling and we figured that a trip to the mountains was probably not going to be our best option. However by lunch time we could see very little cloud around Mt Pilatus and decided we would go and hope for the best. This turned out to be our coldest trip of our 18 days. It was literally freezing in the Gondolas as we headed up the mountain and once in the cable car we could not even see out as the windows were covered in ice, not just on the outside, but also on the inside.!! We loved it. Yet another different experience as we had been to Pilatus in the spring about 12 years earlier and then there had been only a little snow at the top of the mountain. This time the tunnels at the top even had huge piles of snow inside, and at times the mountain was almost in blizzard conditions. Even so, we still had enough breaks in the cloud to see the views and they were fantastic. The cog railway was not operational at this time, but we had done this the last time we were at Pilatus, so we made the same cold return journey by cable car and Gondola.
When booking Hotels, I had carefully selected only Hotels that provided breakfast. All our hotels with the exception of one provided more than enough for us to start the day feeling well fed and ready for the day. Most often there were eggs, bacon, sausages, croissants, cereals, fruit, cold meats, cheeses and many other delicacies available in some shape or form. On days that we were off to the mountains, we took basic snack supplies that we had purchased from Migros or Coop (muffins, sandwiches, general snacks) but always took advantage of the self serve restaurants at the peaks as they seemed to be relatively cheap compared to restaurants in the towns and cities, and there was usually something on the menu that was palatable to us in one way or the other. In the evenings if we were still hungry, we mixed things up a bit, eating at a restaurant every now and then, and once or twice when we didn’t feel like eating out we dared to enter a McDonalds or Burger King just for convenience sake.
From Lucerne we headed to Zurich for one night, mainly because we had heard the Christmas market at the train station was worth a look, and also because our train to St Moritz had to leave from Zurich anyways, so it seemed to make sense to us to take the short journey from Lucerne to Zurich and check it out.
It was snowing heavily by the time we arrived in Zurich, and we were only minutes off the train and I was googling the way to our Hotel when a Train Station attendant walked up to me and offered his assistance, pointing us in the right direction. This was something that happened to us several times on our journeys. All over we found the Swiss most helpful and courteous. The shopkeepers in particular astounded us at their way of assisting you ever so politely yet without that pushiness that we find so regularly here in Australia.
The Zurich Train Station Christmas market was indeed worthwhile, and I think the second best market we came across on our travels, the best being Montreux by far. The Swarovski Christmas Tree with its crystal stars is definitely a spectacle. While hunting around the markets we came across a stall advertising “Autralien Coffee and Tea”. The seller had a strong accent that should have been the signal for us to move away, as the only thing Australian about it was that the drinks were warm J
The Zurich train station has many levels, and more than once we got confused and had to stop and carefully figure out just exactly where we were. But that being said, seeing as so many shops are closed across Switzerland on a Sunday, if you can work it, finding a Hotel close to a large train station over a weekend does make it possible to always find something to eat there are many shop always open for most essential items.
Zurich to St Moritz. – We left Zurich at about 9:30am and arrived in St Moritz at 1pm with one change of train in Chur. At this point I must say that the whole rail system in Switzerland is simply brilliant from a travellers point of view. The detail that the SBB app gives and the way the notice boards at the various stations present their information is so clear and precise, even providing you with enough detail to know where exactly to stand on the platform to easily access first or second class carriages. The worry about changing trains and getting from one to another soon vanishes after you have done it once or twice. The key is not to panic, read the signs carefully but ALWAYS make sure you check the time as well as the train number so that you do not board too early, or you just may be on the wrong train, heading in the wrong direction. We saw this very thing happen in Visp where two gentleman travelling together were parted temporarily. Both boarded the wrong train bags and all. They had the right platform, but the train positioned there was heading to Brig and not to Geneva which is where they needed to go. One of the men alighted from the train I assume to have a cigarette, when no sooner had he got off that he realised it was the wrong train and as he turned in panic calling out to his friend, the train began to pull out. It was gut wrenching to watch him running down the platform yelling in panic as he hilariously grabbed the handle of one of the doors as if trying to hold the train from leaving, being dangerously dragged along the platform until the door suddenly opened and the train pulled to a stop and all hell seemed to break loose with guards shouting and the two men hastily throwing their luggage off the train onto the platform. For this reason it is wise to always just double check that time and train number match where you want to go. And…. Make sure each traveller carries their own pass, and a mobile phone so that should you be separated, you can at least make contact and plan your way back to each other.
More to come in the next few days…..
A few Pics below for those interested.