Wednesday, April 29, 2015

europe trip 2014, day 2.

Finally, we were well rested and ready to do our first full day in Switzerland! Our itinerary worked out perfectly as August 31st just happened to be the final day to do the “Golden Pass” from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus.  The Golden Pass is only offered during certain times of the year, and is definitely recommended for the best Mt. Pilatus experience.  We were a little early for our boat, so we got to hang around out in front of the beautiful Lucerne Culture and Congress Center

After about an hour ride on Lake Lucerne to Pilatus, we boarded our first cogwheel train. This was definitely a cool experience (and one of many to come) as we made our haul up the mountain. The weather was not in our favor that day, but it still made the journey beautiful in its own way. Once at the top, we took in what views we could while shivering from the chilling wind. After snapping a few pics, we went inside and enjoyed a beer with lunch. Of course, it just happened to be the cutest damn beer bottle we had ever seen. Introducing our new Swiss friend, Eichhof.

Mere had lost her  Grandfather and Uncle within the past year and wanted to pay a little tribute to them at the top of Mount Pilatus. 

We then took a cable car down to the next stop, which we were really excited about. This is where we get to toboggan! If you ever make it to Mt. Pilatus, we highly recommend spending the cheap 8 Euros to do this. It was so fun, we almost did it twice. While no cameras were allowed, you can easily find a way to sneak it. Too bad I did not have a proper mount for the GoPro, but there are plenty of videos to see online. My only tip would be to make sure you leave plenty of space behind the person in front of you. I had to slow down many times, because there was a more timid tobagganer (made up word I think) in front of me. To get back, they pull you backwards up the mountain. This is when we got to see our first group of Swiss cows. It was such a neat experience.

For a larger version, check it out here.

There is a little concession stand where we got some hot chocolate to share, talk about our ride, and take in the amazing views. There were a bunch of mountain bikers riding the mountain, which made me very jealous. Once we were all the way down the mountain, it is just a short walk to get to the bus which takes you back to Lucerne. We took our time and did a little exploration around Kriens, which included finding a neat cemetery. Mere really does not like them, but I convinced her and she actually enjoyed the stroll. 

The Mount Pilatus trip did take up most of our day, but we did have some downtime at the hotel before finding dinner. This time, we really winged it and ended up at a pretty crappy bar…that was kind of a restaurant? I’m pretty sure they were serving us microwaved frozen food, but luckily we didn't really care at this point. What was more important? That would be our Vodka Tonic lesson, or maybe the first lesson out of a few about drinking in Europe. So, first thing is that it was almost impossible to get limes. Mere would even go as far as to say that she wanted green limes, which then progressed to “green lemons” but it was a lost cause. I know, small things right?! Freaking picky Americans. 

After our failed dinner, we were on a search to find some booze and ice to make our own drinks back at the hotel. Introducing our next lesson. Ice cubes are not always easy to find in Switzerland. We went all over the place. I even had a lady at the grocery that kept sending me to the ice cream section, and started making me unsure of my sense of normal. I finally found a liquor store that sold ice. They were very proud of this, as a 2 pound bag of ice was 5 Euro. I got a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and Mere got herself a bottle of some Absolute. In the end, I think the ice was the highest cost item in our drinks. Oh well, we were smitten in our hotel room with the windows open and looking out at Lucerne having our drinks and talking about our next adventure.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

europe trip 2014, day 1.

Arrivée!...or Ankunft!

Here is our first view of Europe as we descended through the clouds into Zurich. While we were only there for an hour and saw very little other than the airport/train station, the Zurich area looks beautiful from above.

We are here and can hardly believe it! First things first, we are greeted by our Bucher Travel representative to hand us our documents/tickets/vouchers, and to give us some tips on the way to the train station.  She was extremely helpful and made us feel pretty comfortable in a place with different languages, currencies, and customs which were all new to us. Onward to Lucerne!!

We went ahead and checked our luggage at the Hotel Waldstatterhof, which is conveniently located right next to the train station and close to the center of town. We were starving, so the first goal was to find the most reasonable place to grab a sandwich. The cafe was nothing to write home about, but we had an awesome window seat and had the most fun just people watching. Once finished, it was time to meet our walking tour guide to discover Lucerne.

You will see a trend through most of our Switzerland portion, and that will be towns on beautiful lakes. Lucerne is the first, and it is well known for the ornate pedestrian bridges crossing the water. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge, or Kapellbrück. The tour took us through some street markets, the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier (Jesuitenkirche), and some of the plazas in the old town center.

Once we concluded our walking tour, we made our way over to the Verkehrshaus (Swiss Transportation Museum) via bus. Mere was starting to drag by this point, but she hung in there like a champ as I ran around like a little child. I might have spent 30 minutes just staring at their miniature train display. The thing was awesome and reminded me of my model building days as a child and my years in architecture school. WHY DIDN’T I EVER INCLUDE A TRAIN RUNNING THROUGH ONE OF MY PROJECTS!! If I had to plan this all over again, I would have found a way to rest before seeing this museum. There was just so much to see, but we still had to find dinner before finally getting get some much needed sleep. My highlights were all of the life size planes suspended from the ceiling, and the train car exhibit which sadly I did not get any pictures of. Another highlight was the boat ride back to Lucerne, which was beautiful. I met an elderly Englishman and we had a nice little chat while waiting for his boat to arrive. The Swiss transportation system is just magical compared to back home.

I should title this paragraph, The Death March. While there was hardly any marching involved, this is when we encountered one of the dreaded extremely drawn out dining experiences that my parents warned us about. This might not have bothered us on any other night of the trip, but we were freaking ready to get back to the hotel and sleep.  For that reason I am still not entirely sure why we chose a fondue dinner for our first night, but we ended up at the Spycher Fondue House. The restaurant was definitely cute and cozy, and we had a cave like room all to ourselves for most of what seemed like an 8 hour meal (it was really more like 2.5 hours). At one point, I swear they had forgotten about us, and then….the lights went out. It felt like a joke and that they had closed the restaurant for the night and left us behind, or were now going to hold us hostage in our cave. Luckily, neither scenario played out and someone had only tripped a breaker. They did sit a friendly Canadian couple next to us that gave us some future travel destinations to keep in mind, and helped prevent us from falling asleep. Finally the bill came and we got the heck out of there. My review of the meal was probably sub-par, so I can’t recommend it to anyone.

At last, we make it to our hotel room! That’s when the Swiss play their next joke on us. There is no AC in our room. We were sweating from our walk and it had just started raining hard outside, so we didn’t want to leave the windows open. Silly Americans…..that’s when we realize there is a switch for louvers. Disaster averted, although it was a little bit more warm and humid than we would have liked it in our fragile state.