Switzerland

Trip Summary:

Dates:    July 3rd to July 7th

Year: 2014

Main Language of Country:   Swiss-German, French, Italian, Romanish

Capital City of Country: Bern

Transportation Used:   Train, Cogwheel Train, Toboggan, Gondola, Cable Car, Bus, Paddle Boat

Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)

Accommodation: Bed and Breakfast

Number of Photos Taken: 543

Favorite Place: Mount Pilatus

Average Cost of a Full Meal: 25 – 30 Canadian Dollars

Average Cost of a Night per Person: 35 CHF to 45 CHF (About 65 CHF to 75 CHF per room)


Introduction:

I travelled to Switzerland with my girlfriend, Hilary, and we arrived there after spending a few days in Venice. To get to Switzerland, we took a train from Venice to the city of Lucerne.


TIP: We travelled from Venice to Lucerne by ItaliaRail. To give you a rough estimate, it was about a 7 and a half hour trip and cost roughly 60 Euro each.


 

Once we crossed into Switzerland, I couldn’t stop looking out the large windows of the train. Everywhere that I looked, I could see small Swiss towns along the ridges and valleys of the mountains, as well as waterfalls, fields, and rivers around every corner. It seemed like the landscape wasn’t real and the windows of the train seemed like gigantic TV screens showing a program from Planet Earth or something.

Swiss houses along hillside in Grindelwald Switzerland.
When I think of Switzerland, the first things that comes to my mind are the huge landscapes with steep mountains and lush green meadows, glaciers, and waterfalls so seeing it for the first time from the train was quite stunning and both Hilary and I were full of anticipation for what the next country on our trip through Europe would bring.

Lucerne (July 3 – 7):

Covered wooden bridge spanning Reuss river in Lucerne Switzerland.


As we only had about 4 days in Switzerland, we were only able to see a very small part of Switzerland. We stayed in the city of Lucerne and used it as our home base to explore the surrounding area.

There is a ton to do and see in the area around Lucerne, and the city itself offers a lot to explore. Sometimes a country like Switzerland can actually feel a little overwhelming because there is so much to see and do in that you have to pick carefully where you would like to go each day as it’s nearly impossible to see and do everything that you would like to.


TIP: In Lucerne, we stayed at a place called the B&B Bettstat. It cost about $392 (Canadian Dollars) for the 4 nights that we stayed there. It had a shared bathroom and a really great breakfast in the morning. It was also the most affordable accommodation that we could find in Lucerne as everything is Switzerland is generally very expensive.


 

In the four days that we had in Switzerland, we saw as much as we could, and our favorite things to do in the Lucerne area were:

 

  • Mount Pilatus:

Trails on Mount Pilatus near Lucerne Switzerland


We dedicated nearly an entire day to exploring Mount Pilatus and it was definitely one of the highlights from our time in Switzerland. We didn’t do a tour to get to Mount Pilatus as it’s very easy to get there independently and we started by catching a train from Lucerne to
Alpnachstad. When you arrive in Alpnachstad, there is a cogwheel train that you can take all of the way to the top of Mount Pilatus on what is apparently the world’s steepest railway.

Cogwheel train on Mount Pilatus Switzerland


The cogwheel train takes you to a building on top of Mount Pilatus where there is an information centre, restaurant and a hotel. From the information centre, there are several hiking trails that head off in different directions along the ridge.

The hiking was definitely the highlight for us and we headed on a trail west of the information centre to a high viewpoint along the ridge that looked back towards Lake Lucerne. From here we found a small trail that took us around the north side of the mountain and eventually to the small Klimsenhorn Chapel that is just below the information centre on the north side of the mountain. From there we climbed the steep trail back up to the top of Mount Pilatus and took the tunnels that cross through the mountain and back to the information centre.

Narrow trail along rock face on Mount Pilatus


The best part about a day on Mount Pilatus is that, even though the mountain is a major attraction for many tourists to Switzerland and it is quite busy, as soon as you head out on the trails leaving the information centre, there is hardly anyone and it feels like you have the entire area to yourself. Because of this, for most of our day hiking around Pilatus (around 4 or 5 hours), we hardly saw anyone else until we returned to the crowds of people that mull around the information centre.

Rocks in apline meadow in Switzerland Mount Pilatus hiking.


Once we had explored the trails and areas around the top of Mount Pilatus, we then took the cable car down from the information centre to Fräkmüntegg. The cable car takes you down the opposite side of Mount Pilatus than where the cogwheel train travels up from. Because of this, you’re able to do a loop from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus, and back to Lucerne without ever having to retrace your steps.

When you get off of the cable car at Fräkmüntegg there is an area with a toboggan track. We had never done one of these tracks and it looked pretty awesome, so we decided to give it a shot. If you’ve never seen or been on one of these toboggan tracks before, you sit on a small plastic luge with your feet outstretched and a hand brake to control your speed. The track is then a half section of pipe that is a shiny stainless steel. The track has steep corners, small drops, and tunnels. When you get to the bottom, there is then a conveyor belt that takes you back up to the top of the run. It was pretty awesome and we were happy that we tried it out.

Summer toboggan luge run in Fräkmüntegg Switzerland


Afterwards, you can catch a gondola from Fräkmüntegg that takes you down to Kriens where you catch a bus that will take you back to the Lucerne train station.

Even though it seems like a complicated process to get to Mount Pilatus, it’s really simple and easy to do by yourself. It’s nice to have a full day, or at least an afternoon, to explore Mount Pilatus as there is a lot to see and it’s nice to have a few hours to do some hiking around the trails at the top of the mountain.


TIP: A quick summary of how we got to Mount Pilatus is:

  • Train from Lucerne to Alpnachstad
  • Cogwheel train from Alpnachstad up the south side of Mount Pilatus
  • Cable car from Mount Pilatus down the north side to Fräkmüntegg
  • Gondola from Fräkmüntegg to Kriens
  • Bus from Kriens back to the Lucerne train station

 

 

  • Interlaken and Grindelwald:

Large tree and church in Intralaken Switzerland


One of the other full day trips that we decided to do was to the Interlaken and Grindelwald area. We weren’t completely sure how the best way to travel there was, and we found a tour that would take you to both Interlaken and Grindelwald so we decided that it would likely be our best option to get there without any stress. Unfortunately, shortly after starting the tour, we regretted our decision, as the guide was very pushy and difficult to handle.

Colourful leaves and fountain pool with church spire in Interlaken.


They did drop us off in Interlaken and Grindelwald, but there is hardly enough time to do any exploring. In Grindelwald, we had more time and were able to look around the town briefly, before heading above town to do some hiking.

Hiking trail and Swiss houses in Grindelwald.


The tour cost us about 88 USD each, and provided us transportation to Interlaken, and then to Grindelwald which was our goal. In hindsight, however, we would have much preferred to travel to these places independently as it would have afforded us a lot more freedom to explore. In fact, there is so much to explore in this area that it would have been worth staying in Interlaken and dedicating two or three days solely to exploring Interlaken, Grindelwald and the Lauterbrunnen valley.

  • Explore Lucerne:

Church in Lucerne Switzerland with steep spires.


On our last day in Lucerne, we decided to spend it in Lucerne exploring the city. The city is a lot more modern than we had expected and is quite busy with lots of people and expensive cars everywhere. The old town is really beautiful though and there is a lot to see.

Night time along Reuss River in Lucerne Switzerland.


The most famous feature of Lucerne would likely be the Chapel Bridge, or
Kapellbrücke, which crosses the Reuss River in the centre of the old town. It’s a covered wooden bridge and on some of the inside panels there are paintings. I’m probably not the best one to tell you the history of the bridge as I don’t know all of the details myself, but there is a ton of information out there about the bridge’s history if you’ve interested. There is also another beautiful wooden bridge further upstream from the Chapel Bridge.

Chapel Bridge Kapellbrücke and Reuss River in Lucerne Switzerland.


TIP: It was a really warm day when we were exploring Lucerne, so after walking around the city for a while, we decided to rent a paddle boat for an hour to take out on Lake Lucerne. It was nice to be on the water and jump into the lake on such a warm day. If you want to get out on the water and cool down a bit, a paddle boat is a great way and you can rent them near the main bridge (on the other side of the river from the train station).


 

Paddle boating on Lake Lucerne.


Another popular attraction is the lion monument which is an impressive carving in the face of a rock wall. The monument is dedicated to members of the Swiss Guard that were killed during the French Revolution. It’s worth checking out and is an easy walk from everything else in the old town.

Dying Lion Monument in Lucerne Switzerland.

The last major attraction that we checked out in Lucerne was the Musseggmauer, which is an old city wall that extends down to the Reuss river. There are multiple towers along the length of the wall and you can walk along the top of the wall and into some of these towers for a great view over the city.

Old city walls Musseggmauer in Lucerne Switzerland.

View of Lucerne Switzerland from atop old city walls Musseggmauer.

Conclusion:

Even though we had a limited time in Switzerland, and definitely not enough time to see a major part of the country, we really enjoyed our time there. We found the prices to be extremely high, which made some things difficult like food and transportation. But by keeping things simple and cooking our own meals at our hotel rather than eating out, we were able to keep our costs lower, while still enjoying the country.

Because Switzerland is such a beautiful country with endless amounts of places to explore, I didn’t leave completely satisfied. We were excited about what we were able to accomplish and loved the area around Lucerne, but there was so much that we left untouched that I often find myself thinking of all of the places that we weren’t able to see, rather than remembering the awesome places that we did manage to see.

For this reason, I wasn’t completely ready to move on when we left Switzerland, but it gives me even more reason to return to visit more of the country one day. After our time in Switzerland, the next stop our Hilary and I’s journey was to Germany where we were to spend a few days.


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