Before I went to Switzerland I found myself asking “well, what are the things to see?” Even when I told people about my vacation a few of them gave me a quizzical look. At the start of our tour I felt like those people, and at the end of it I told Alistair’s friend that it was my goal to “get everyone to go to Switzerland because it's worth it.”
Our tour would start with Gruyère and Lucerne, then Lugano (in Italian speaking Switzerland), a night in Lake Como, Italy, and finally a night in Zermatt. Alistair had planned everything with hand drawn maps and efficient train transfer flowcharts. Like most of Switzerland, Alistair runs like a well-made clock. He counts minutes and seconds under his breath, he knows exactly how many meters and how long a walk from point A to B. Whenever I doubted a piece of the plan he would smile as if I’d forgotten: he loves logistics, there wouldn’t be a problem. I was, and still am, so grateful to Alistair for putting it together so flawlessly. I was so grand a trip that on day three I woke up to messages from friends who were following along on Instagram stories. They thought this trip was a big lead up to a finale of another kind: a proposal. I told Alistair about this and we laughed.
At 9 am on day one we raced down the sidewalk of Coppet dragging our suitcases behind us to catch a train. Our first train ride was comical, a loud Australian girl told the story of her romantically challenged sister who turned up pregnant (“she called me and asked me if I was ‘sitting down preferably with a drink’”) and two elderly woman talked about the price of fruit at the supermarket in French. Alistair was annoyed that the noise detracted us from the scenic ride through the little towns on Lake Geneva. After an hour we transferred to the next train to take us to Gruyère, home of the famous cheese, the Gruyère castle, the Giger museum, and as Alistair kept reminding me, “the ground zero of fondue.”
The train arrived at a crowded station; everyone was going to Gruyère. A bus climbed up the hills to the valley and in that valley was the town. There was one cobblestone main street and on either side cute little yellow buildings with shops, restaurants and chocolatiers. It seemed that everyone was a tourist, but the mix was pretty exotic: a gurus going to the Tibetan museum, goths going the Giger Museum, and everyone else was just there for the cheese.
We did a little shopping and then went to the restaurant for my very first fondue. The restaurant was split into two halves over the cobblestone street, one outdoor porch and the original indoor restaurant. This required the waitresses—while head to toe in native garb—to carry heavy trays of fondue and meats down the hill to the tables. Alistair ordered us the typical potatoes, bread and fondue plate. We got two glasses of white wine. During my fondue lesson I learned later that ice water is a no-no, eventually it turns into a ball of cheese. The waitress returned with a red pot full of hot bubbling pure Gruyère cheese. It was delicious and heavy. For dessert we had two espresso's that they served with little pots filled with chocolate and heavy cream.
We went from there to the castle which had the best views of green lush mountains surrounding the town.
Then we went to the Giger museum. (I was against it from the start, but I learned a lesson on how to embrace the darkness and took copious mental notes.) Right before our 4 pm train, we managed to stuff ourselves with another specialty—creme de Gruyère—a heavy cream that we ate spread over a belgian waffle.
Around four o'clock we caught a train to Lucerne. I say "caught a train" so casually, but truly all our train rides in Switzerland were gorgeous. We moved through hills of green grass, little houses and chapels. Right before arriving in Bern we crossed a river and Alistair said, "We just crossed the border into German-speaking Switzerland." I had him give me a lesson in Swiss-German.
Ah, Lucerne. It's such a charming town and I was instantly impressed with it. Around 5 pm we alighted at Lucerne's busy station and rolled ourselves and our luggage to our hotel. The light was beautiful coming off the lake, squeezing between the buildings. In that way, it reminded me of an understated Paris.
We checked in, took a glass elevator up to our floor and opened the door to our room. The hotel was a boutique hotel, so everything was millennial pink and designed within an inch of its life. Alistair turned on the light to reveal our millennial pink bathroom, except, it didn't have a wall. A white curtain separated the bathroom from the room. Alistair marched to the phone, picked it up and asked for another room. We were at the end of our rope concerning this issue, the last five hotels we’ve stayed in all had sliding glass pocket doors that echoed bathroom sounds, you get the idea.
"There are some things that you shouldn’t see," Alistair said comically to the concierge. She told us to come back to the front desk and she would get us a new room (for a price). On our way up to room number too, Alistair threw up his hands.
"It's a tue-l'amour!" he said. We laughed about it the whole trip. And yes, the new room had a nice big bathroom with four walls.
That night before sundown we walked through downtown Lucerne. It was August, and a weeknight, so we had the old cobblestone streets to ourselves, everything was so charming and clean.
We had grilled fish and wine at a Greek restaurant right on the lake. The sun set behind the buildings on the opposite side and the sky turned pink. I asked myself: Ariel, did you ever imagine having sunset dinner on Lake Lucerne? The answer, no.
We decided to walk more and crossed a bridge to the other side. The embankment was lined with restaurants beautiful lights and romantic candles. We stopped by fountains and passed churches and Medieval hotels.
There were little places where steps were built leading right into the lake and people sat with their feet in, whispering together in the dark. We walked over the Chapel Bridge on the way back, the oldest bridge in Europe, built in 1333.
I really fell in love with Lucerne that night.
The next day we'd spend the morning in the city and then travel to Lugano by boat and train, but that, dear friends, is for the next post.