Wilhelm Tell Lite

Steps: 19,477

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.wpid-20150710_115219.jpg

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.

Lucerne

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.

Mere stop announcements aren't good enough for Swiss buses. No, they provide advanced notification of the next five stops, plus the terminus station, and estimated time until arrival. I'm so in love.

Mere stop announcements aren’t good enough for Swiss buses. No, they provide advanced notification of the next five stops, plus the terminus station, and estimated time until arrival. That’s what I call badass. (Note: this picture is from when we were in the Engadin Valley, not Lucerne.)

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.

Goat cheese crostini dribbled with honey. Sounded better than it tasted.

Goat cheese crostini dribbled with honey. Sounded better than it tasted.

Chorizo potato dish. Tasted fine but pretty simple.

Chorizo potato dish. Tasted fine but pretty simple.

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 chapel bridge and water tower (Kapelbrücke mit Wasserturm), possibly Lucerne's most famous sight. It as actually not the only old wooden bridge, there's another one (Speuerbrücke) within easy walking distance and it's much less touristy.

The chapel bridge and water tower (Kapelbrücke mit Wasserturm), possibly Lucerne’s most famous sight. It as actually not the only old wooden bridge, there’s another one (Speuerbrücke) within easy walking distance and it’s much less touristy.

The middle of Spreuerbrücke contains a chapel, but the middle of the chapel bridge contains a fucking souvenir shop.

The middle of Spreuerbrücke contains a chapel, but the middle of the chapel bridge contains a fucking souvenir shop.

Both bridges have painted panels like this.

Both bridges have painted panels like this.

So this wasn't on the list of official sights, but I couldn't resist. This was my first time seeing a double artic and I nearly peed myself I was so excited. I ran around like a lunatic trying to find the best angles to take pictures in the late afternoon light. Then this one came along, practically posing for me. Ah, glorious.

So this wasn’t on the list of official sights, but I couldn’t resist. This was my first time seeing a double artic and I nearly peed myself I was so excited. I ran around like a lunatic trying to find the best angles to take pictures in the late afternoon light. Then this one came along, practically posing for me. Ah, glorious.

The distinctive double towers of the Hofkirche. I did go in (and unlike Sacre Coeur, I was not creeped out), but out of respect did not photograph the interior of the church.

The distinctive double towers of the Hofkirche. I did go in (and unlike Sacre Coeur, I was not creeped out), but out of respect did not photograph the interior of the church.

The lion monument. It is a memorial to the Swiss soldiers who died defending Louis XVI during the French Revolution. My picture doesn't do its size any justice; it is quite a bit larger than life. Although Mark Twain is quoted as saying that the lion monument is the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world, I beg to differ. Just this trip I have seen a sadder depiction of a lion - the lioness in one of the Assyrian bas reliefs I saw at the British Museum.

The lion monument. It is a memorial to the Swiss soldiers who died defending Louis XVI during the French Revolution. My picture doesn’t do its size any justice; it is quite a bit larger than life. Although Mark Twain is quoted as saying that the lion monument is the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world, I beg to differ. Just this trip I have seen a sadder depiction of a lion – the lioness in one of the Assyrian bas reliefs I saw at the British Museum.

The old city wall (outside view). I love how there are random medieval ruins all over Europe (though this one has been consciously preserved).

The old city wall (outside view). I love how there are random medieval ruins all over Europe (though this one has been consciously preserved).

The old city wall is punctuated by watchtowers, some of which you can enter and climb to the top. The stairs are steep and narrow, particularly at the top levels,. Definitely challenged my acrophobic self.

The old city wall is punctuated by watchtowers, some of which you can enter and climb to the top. The stairs are steep and narrow, particularly at the top levels,. Definitely challenged my acrophobic self.

The most interesting tower was the clock tower, which displayed clock mechanisms (again the British Museum comes the rescue!), including the pendulum-driven mechanism for the clockface on the outside of the tower. The top level includes a helpful warning about time until the clock strikes the hour; I made sure to get out of there fast.

The most interesting tower was the clock tower, which displayed clock mechanisms (again the British Museum comes the rescue!), including the pendulum-driven mechanism for the clockface on the outside of the tower. The top level includes a helpful warning about time until the clock strikes the hour; I made sure to get out of there fast.

View from one of the towers. Lucerne is supposedly Switzerland's prettiest city. I can believe it. The city is photogenic from every angle.

View from one of the towers. Lucerne is supposedly Switzerland’s prettiest city. I can believe it. The city is photogenic from every angle.

Don't believe me? How about this?

Don’t believe me? How about this?

Or this?

Or this?

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.

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One Response to Wilhelm Tell Lite

  1. William says:

    That Chinese restaurant probably makes a killing off all the Chinese tourists who, after several days in Europe, are desperate for anything that resembles their home cuisine.

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