Today we went on our last panoramic train journey, except we did it in a half-baked manner. Consequently we got to Lucerne early enough to get some sightseeing in.
Wilhelm Tell Express (lite)
The Wilhelm Tell Express is a first class only journey from Lugano to Lucerne, half by train and half by boat. Buying reservations in the US would’ve cost us $200 all in, and I decided not to spend that money.
Instead, we took the same train, except we sat in second class. No reservations necessary and no tickets necessary either for we have the Swiss Travel Pass. And when it came time for the boat, well, we just stayed on the train instead and skipped the boat altogether. We got to Lucerne about 2 hours earlier and didn’t have to worry about seasickness, wind, sun, or fighting for prime viewing spots.
It’s true that the second class experience wasn’t as good as the first class experience – no panorama windows, for one thing – but I don’t regret our decision at all. It’s hard to top the glaciers of the Bernina Express.
We first checked into our hotel, which was technically in Emmenbrück rather than Lucerne, but it was still an easy 15-minute bus ride from the train station. Switzerland, and in particular sbb.ch, has me trained so well that I was actually shocked when the online timetable didn’t provide a bus bay for the line we needed, and I had to reference a legend by the bus bays themselves. This is the level of information, organization and competence I’ve come to expect from the Swiss Travel System: complete information on all platforms, gates and bays for all connections.
Oh man, I love travelling in Switzerland. It’s the best.
Anyway, our hotel was great, just great, after our last three nights in St Moritz and Lugano. I have no complaints whatsoever: a window that is large, lets in light, and opens. Recent renovations. An AC unit that actually works. A first floor room tucked into a quiet corner, nowhere near reception.
After checking into our hotel, we went back to Lucerne in search of food. Unfortunately, it turns out that most kitchens close between 2 pm and 6 pm, and by that point we were past 2 pm. Eventually, we found a restaurant, the Storchen Cafe, which had an open kitchen and, interestingly, a tapas menu, so we decided to go with that.
Besides being absolutely destroyed by the second-hand smoke (the cafe had highly desirable outdoor seating as well as counter seating by large open windows, ashtrays placed invitingly) the whole experience was excessively awkward, between language and custom fumbles. The food was meh, the prices Swiss-high. I assume the high reviews for this place are for the atmosphere rather than the food. It’s true that we were entertained by the wedding going on in the church across the plaza.
I hadn’t planned anything for Lucerne, and it was too late to go explore outside of the city (my understanding is that the whole lake region is gorgeous and there are beautiful, easy hikes), so we headed to the tourist office (always located within or adjacent to the train station, because that’s how it should be), where we picked up a map with a walking tour of all the city’s major sights.
The walking tour was a lot of fun. It felt a bit like a scavenger hunt, looking for and being pleasantly surprised by the next sight. The other bonus of the walking tour is that we happened to come across a mall. Looking around, we found a Chinese restaurant, your standard issue food court Chinese fast food place. I don’t know what it was about the place (Hide claims it was the picture menu), but somehow it signalled to me subconsciously that this was it. This was my chance.
So I took a deep breath, went up to the cash register, and, in Mandarin, asked if they had any bok choy. They said they did, and what did I want stir-fried with it? I said, nothing, I don’t care, I just want bok choy. After a brief pause, I attempted to explain myself. Since we came to Europe, I began, we haven’t – and the lady behind the counter finished for me – had any vegetables, yes, I understand.
The bok choy came out, freshly cooked in sauce with bamboo shoot and other things, and even a bowl of rice. Hide and I fell on it like ravening beasts (hence no pics). I could feel my body inflating with health as we ate. Hide graciously allowed me to have the greater portion.
Of course, we had to pay in cash. It was CHF 18 and we had CHF 17 and change. Consequently we gave her all our remaining cash, as well as a GBP. Hide says that she could sense my desperation and fleeced me. I’m not so sure; I suspect bok choy may be relatively expensive in the area. But in either case, what was done was done. We would just have to hope that we wouldn’t need any more cash for the rest of the trip.