My last weekend was in Luzern, a small city not far from Zurich. You see this city in a ton of photos of Switzerland, primarily because of its medieval wooden bridges. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it sure looked pretty.
I arrived Friday evening and took a walk through downtown before heading to my AirBnB. It was quite a struggle, actually, the toughest AirBnB for me to get into. I had no wifi and no phone, I was staying in a large apartment building (but without a doorman), so it was unclear what door to use or anything, and my host wasn’t there. Luckily I found a bar nearby and after some more struggles managed to find wifi so I could message the host.
The next morning I walked the tourist downtown. It’s quite a touristy city – the volume of people is simply too much for such a small city. Lots of tour buses and group tours, huge groups of Japanese tourists. But it’s still pretty. The first thing I wanted to see was the lion monument, which was dedicated to Swiss guards employed by the French royalty, during the French Revolution. In particular, I was curious because Mark Twain, who toured Europe, called it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
It’s a remarkable work of art, carved into the side of a cliff above a small pond, in a little city garden. The statue and the pond overwhelm the garden.
While I was there, a large tour group arrived. The area around the park is gift shops and pricey looking restaurants. Right nearby is the Bourbaki Panorama, which commemorates the Franco-Prussian war (I decided to skip this).
Also downtown was the classic Church of Saint Leodegar, pretty much as stereotypical a Swiss church as you can imagine.
But my favorite experience in the city was visiting the city walls. They’re a little out of the way, and I mostly stumbled onto them. The walls are medieval and set on hills near the city. There are a bunch of parks nearby – kids playing soccer, and few tourists. The view from on top was spectacular, just how you’d expect a medieval city to be. For a while I had them to myself, and it was wonderful. Very calm!
I decided, a bit late in the day, to go for a hike. I’d really wanted to go for a hike in the Alps – how often do you have that opportunity? But in the morning I wasn’t in the mood. Now, though, it seemed a shame to leave Switzerland without properly appreciating the Alps.
There are a few popular mountains near Luzern, and I’d done some research beforehand and settled on Mt Pilatus as the destination for my hike. It offers a variety of trails and cable cars all the way to the top. There’s even a hotel up there. With my late start I also decided not to worry about the cable cars or anything – a very expensive proposition. Anyway, I prefer hiking.
Thing is, it was a daunting challenge. I felt pretty out-of-shape as I hiked, even in the beginning, but nonetheless it was good to get the blood flowing again. I always figured I could turn back. Hikers, who mostly seemed local, were friendly, and as I got higher there were some nice views of the city below. But I wasn’t even midway when I reached a cable car stop (there are stages up the mountain), and drenched in sweat. I considered turning back, but a co-worker had said there was a nice meadow near this stop. With the prospect of flat ground, I continued a bit further and BAM! there was a tremendous view of the mountain. It just appeared in front of me, I had no idea what to expect. Well, I couldn’t turn back then.
Slogging further up the mountain, I found some small ski lodges. I guess people can somehow drive up with jeeps, but these felt pretty lonely. The view here started to open up with more Alpine meadows. By now it really was starting to get late – maybe 4 in the afternoon. And I was tired. I don’t know how far I’d hiked, maybe 7 miles, and with several thousand feet of elevation gain.
Luckily, I rolled into the final cable car stop before the top. Here I considered paying to see the view from on top. But, I was satisfied with the work I’d done on my own two feet. Around hte corner from the cable car was a little sled run with people going down big slides on sleds. They were selling beer here, so I kicked back with a beer, some snacks I’d brought, and just enjoyed the view. It didn’t feel real – being so close to the city and having this incredible panorama in front of me.
This marked the end of my trip. I’d walk back down the mountain into the evening. The next day, I’d return to Zurich, see the city in daylight for a few hours, and then fly home. Overall, I had a great time in Switzerland. Luzern was pretty, and Zurich was underrated, but Bern was my favorite place. If (When!) I return, it’ll be to see more of the Alps, which are a gem I didn’t get to fully enjoy.