We took the train from Innsbruck to Zurich, and while it isn’t our first choice mode of transport, in the end we’re so glad we did. It wasn’t our first choice because train travel is the most expensive mode of transport in Europe. Buses are cheaper, car pooling is cheaper still, and for the adventurous you can always stand on the side of the road and stick your thumb out hoping for a free ride.
Unfortunately for us we couldn’t secure a seat on the bus, that’s what happens when you travel without a solid plan and everything is done at the last minute. We checked the car pooling website and there wasn’t anyone travelling in our direction when we needed to go, and I’m not sure Jack is ready for hitchhiking just yet, so it was the train for us. For the three and a half hour trip it cost us about 129 Euros (AU$185), which for us is definitely on the expensive side, so luckily Jack travelled for free!
Reluctantly I handed over the cash and we were on our way. From the moment we left the station and cruised past the city limits I was so happy we were on the train. The countryside through this part of Europe is nothing short of spectacular. Huge rocky mountains, lush rolling green hills with storybook houses nestled into its nooks and crannies, and gorgeous crystal clear rivers and lakes were all part of our visual pleasure. Despite the expense of the tickets, it was an experience you just can’t replicate on the road. And the trains are so quiet, a major change to the clunkers we rode on throughout India!
We then changed trains in Zurich and made our way to Lucerne. We enquired about buying tickets in Innsbruck for this leg, but they were going to charge us about 60 Euro (AU$86) for the 45 minute journey, but we’d found it way cheaper on the Swiss Rail website so booked and paid for our tickets there. If purchasing Swiss Railway tickets, make sure you buy Supersaver tickets online and print them out yourself. You can save quite a bit of money by doing it this way. Click HERE to book your rail tickets for Switzerland. Locals get a good discount on regular prices, but foreigners pay full whack which, like everything else in Switzerland, is not cheap!
We arrived in Lucerne and had an hour to kill before we made our way to our accommodation for the night, another first for us, which I’ll get to later. In the meantime Sarah found a Starbucks next to the train station so she could do some work, while Jack and I went for a stroll around town. At first glance Lucerne is a beautiful city. Built around Lake Luzern, the place really is alive with tourists and locals enjoying the everything the city has to offer. Unfortunately for us we had somewhere to be, so we couldn’t explore as much as we would have liked. That would have to wait until tomorrow, but for now, we had to make our way to our couchsurfing host for the night.
When searching for hotels to stay at in Switzerland, it became glaringly obvious this country was incredibly expensive. We couldn’t get anything for under AU$150 per night, so we thought we’d give couchsurfing a go. We’d heard plenty about couchsurfing, particularly the opportunity to meet locals who wanted to do a good thing by helping travellers have the best, and most economical, experience possible. I think it’s a brilliant concept, and once we get back to Melbourne and settle in the future, we will be opening up our home to fellow travellers for sure. Obviously one of the main draw cards of couchsurfing is free accommodation, but the other great thing is meeting locals. Swapping travel stories, getting great advice, even exploring the city together is far more enjoyable than being by yourself and not knowing anything.
We contacted a number of people in Lucerne a couple of days before our arrival and a really nice French guy called Julien offered us a room at his place for our two night stay. He lived about 15 minutes outside of central Lucerne by train in a beautiful suburb overlooking the lake and the mountains. We met him at the station after he’d finished work and walked to his place. Unfortunately for us it also happens to be the hilliest suburb I’ve ever been to, and with our packs, a pram, Jack and all of his gear, it was a tough walk. But the exercise was good for us and by the time we got to his place we were starving. Julien even cooked for us which was awesome, pasta for the main meal and a traditional strudel for dessert. We couldn’t have been happier!
The next day we made our way into Lucern to check out what the city was all about. Here’s what we got up to:
WALKED AROUND THE CITY
Surprise, surprise, we took a walk around the city to soak in what Lucerne was all about. We visited the tourist office inside the train station where we got a city map which had a suggested route to follow, allowing you to take in most of the main sites. So off we went, into the beautiful sunny Swiss day to see what this place had to offer. We wandered down Bahnhofstrasse along the edge of the lake, past a number of bridges before crossing at Spreuerbrucke, one of the two old wooden bridges crossing the lake. On the way we stopped at an outdoor food market, thinking we’d buy some meats, cheeses, olives and breads, and perhaps prepare a nice meal for Julien and us tonight. However, when the salami alone was going to cost us about 60 CHF (AU$72) for little more than a double-fist sized chunk, we decided to come up with another plan!
After crossing the bridge we snaked our way through what is the main retail area of town where you can find all of the major brands, plus a number of cafes and restaurants, most of which were out of our price range. We even went into McDonalds which we never, ever do, and a medium-sized meal there was going to cost us about 14 CHF (AU$17). We figured if we ventured a little further away from the water the price may come down. It didn’t!
As we made our way towards the Lowendenkmal (Lion Monument), commemorating the massacred Swiss Guards during the French Revolution in 1792, we came across a nice looking cafe with wi-fi and what looked like a lovely vegetarian burger salad. So we stopped there while Jack slept so we could get some work done and eat. The vege burger salad was absolutely delicious, the best meal we’d had in a long time, and the staff were young and really friendly. However, for a couple of smallish salads and two cups of tea, the bill came to 43 CHF (AU$51), which in anyone’s terms is pretty expensive.
We didn’t go into the Glacier Garden next to the Lion Monument, but it would be a great place to take kids. There’s Ice Age glacier potholes, interactive activities and multimedia presentations, and a mirrored labyrinth from 1896 to keep the kids amused too. It’s also relatively cheap by Swiss standards, 12 CHF (AU$14) for adults, 8 CHF (AU$9.50) for kids 6-15 years of age, and 35 CHF (AU$41) for families. If you’re like us and have a toddler, kids under six are free. But we were only in town for one day and had plenty of other things to see, so we didn’t go in. We took a walk along Haldenstrasse, the street running along the lake opposite the train station, which was very pleasant. There’s heaps of boats on the lake, and you can board any number of them to go on an excursion near or far.
We made our way back into town and crossed the focal point and symbol of Lucerne, the Kapellbrucke mit Wasserturm (Chapel Bridge with Water Tower). The original dates from the 14th century, however most of it was burnt down in 1993 when a small boat next to the bridge caught fire, but the restoration is superb. We then made our way to the train station for the ride back to Julien’s place.
TOOK A RIDE ON THE CITY TRAIN
While we were wandering around Lucerne, we noticed a blue tourist ‘train’ making its way around the city, and given Jack is right into trains at the moment, we decided to see if we could catch a ride in the afternoon. After a quick Google search over lunch we discovered it departed from the Hotel Schweiznekhof by the lake on the hour every hour, with the ride lasting 40 minutes. So Sarah took Jack while I had some time alone by the lake to relax and unwind a little. It cost Sarah 12 CHF (AU$14) while kids under six were free. It followed the tourist trail we’d pretty much already walked, but it did provide commentary in many languages, and if it’s raining or you don’t fancy walking, it’s a great way to see the city quickly.
Lucerne is a beautiful city around the edge of the lake, and is well worth a visit. However, once you venture one or two streets back from the lake, it really is the same as any other clean, reasonably modern small European city. There are other wonderful things you can do such as take one of the many ferries for a trip around the city or further afield to other towns on the shoreline. Or you can take the incredibly popular Pilatus Railway which includes a train ride to the summit of Mt Pilatus (approx. 2,132m above sea level), a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, and cable cars to several valley stations in the mountains. It’s not cheap, but it is a whole days worth of adventure and takes you to some of the regions most spectacular locations.
Click the link below to check out a photo gallery of our stay in Lucerne…