Day 8 - 22 Sep
When we arrived in Switzerland, we checked the local weather forecasts for the places we wanted to visit, to help in planning our excursions. As a result we were anticipating clearer skies today, so we decided to take on the Golden Circle to Mt Pilatus, which is around 10km South of Lucerne. The classic route begins with a boat ride from Pier 2 in Lucerne, down the Western basins of Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad. It was a lovely, leisurely cruise, but the fabled scenery was not on display, thanks to a heavy mist that lay over the surrounding hills and peaks. This gave us some misgivings about the views we may get upon reaching the peak of Mt Pilatus but, this time, we were committed!
The cruise took about an hour and the mist slowly lifted, raising our spirits in harmony with the improving visibility. For preference, we sat outside to begin with, but the lack of views and the chilly morning air soon drove us into the cabin. We ended up spending a very pleasant half hour or so with a couple of American sisters who were on the way to the Oktoberfest - sans husbands...
The weather had improved significantly by the time we bought our tickets for the cogwheel railway (half price, thank you STP!), so we were looking forward to a good experience. While we waited for our train to arrive, Angela got chatting to an Indian couple (SF residents) who had recently been to Lugano, our destination for tomorrow. She was able to discover some very useful information that we tucked away for future use.
The 30 minute ride up my Pilatus was brilliant. This railway is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, gaining more than 1600m altitude in just 4.6km of track length, and achieving gradients as great as 48%. The result is quite an exciting ride. As we climbed above the town, the air cleared like magic and soon we were enjoying great views across Lake Lucerne; adrenaline-rush glimpses down near vertical drops, right by the train; and then the spectacular sight of the peaks of Mt Pilatus and the surrounding mountains.
Once at the top, the weather was much better than we had feared when we set out; in fact, it was quite splendid. We had wonderful, panoramic views of the whole of the surrounding area, which we enjoyed immensely while we feasted on another gourmet picnic lunch! We considered climbing each of the three main peaks, but settled for just one. After scaling the 180 or so steps to Esel (2,119m), we decided to expend the rest of our limited energy on a walking tour of Lucerne when we returned in the evening!
However, before we left, we also strolled through the Dragon Path, a 500m tunnel (of course) along the northern perimeter of Mt Pilatus, formed into a gallery by the addition of several arches cut through the rock wall that provide stunning aspects of the surrounding countryside.
After our exertions, we treated ourselves to afternoon tea on the balcony. We watched the cars of the cogwheel railway climb and descend their vertiginous route; admired the awesome views; and considered - but rejected! - joining the intrepid hikers down below, as they meandered the various trails. Our lack of fitness had been sufficiently challenged for one day.
So, we continued on the Golden Circle route, the next leg of which is a 30 minute gondola ride down the northern flank of Mt Pilatus to the town of Kriens. Naturally, the views from the gondola were just as spectacular in the early stages, then they changed to serene rural vistas with the clanging of cowbells a constant background soundtrack. Then the busyness of the bustling town of Kriens approached and all that was left of the Golden Circle was to catch a bus back to Lucerne.
Once back at the apartment, somewhat rested from our exertions on the mountain, we stepped out to explore some of the main sights of Lucerne. Being resident in the Old Town, most of our objectives were within quite easy reach, so we were able to visit the Spreurer Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Switzerland (1408); the ingenious needle dam, which dates from 1860 and is still used to control the level of Lake Lucerne; and climb one of the towers of the Meusegg Wall, part of the ancient city wall; to name just a few. We finished our little tour with a visit to the rather understated splendour of the Hof Church, presently the parish church of Lucerne.
Then it was time for a change of pace. Back at the apartment, we changed into our glad rags - such as they were - for a night on the town. OK, so it wasn't a wild night, but the Swiss Folk Night at the Stadtkeller was a lot of fun. The meal was simple but delicious traditional fare, including cheese fondue, and the entertainment was, well, really entertaining! We were treated to a variety of folk songs, yodelling, traditional instruments and activities, and plenty of audience participation. Ray had a crack at blowing the alpenhorn and amply demonstrated his total lack of musical ability! It must be said he was not the worst, but it was a close run thing!
The Folk Night was a great way to round out a very satisfying day and we prepared for our next instalment of Swiss travel, happy that we had maximised our time in Lucerne. Tomorrow, on to Lugano.
TTFN - RandA