It started at breakfast, our first meal in Switzerland. You see some interesting food on breakfast buffets around the world. Some I wouldn’t eat any time of the day, like congee, and some I wouldn’t think to have for breakfast, like miso soup. The potato salad on the Lucerne hotel breakfast buffet fell into the second category so I thought I’d give it a go. I spooned in a mouthful and to my surprise and horror found it contained a secret ingredient – pickled herring.
I tried to forget the herring incident and enjoy a day exploring Lucerne, a pretty lakeside city in central Switzerland. We strolled along the 14th Century wooden chapel bridge, decorated with scenes from 12th Century life and Swiss history and wandered through the old town with its beautiful murals. We spent a solemn moment at the Lion Monument, which commemorates the Swiss Guards who died during the French Revolution. As Switzerland is known for its precision and clocks, we climbed the clock tower on the old city wall to see the enormous mechanism ticking away. The clock has ‘First Strike rights’ which allow it legally to chime at 1 min before the hour.
Lucerne – Image courtesy of Miquel Fabre @ Flickr
There is no such allowance made for the clock at the train station. Later that afternoon I watched through the carriage window as the second hand tick, tick, ticked its way around the clock face. At exactly the second it marked our departure time, the brakes released and we started to pull out of the station – what Swissfficiency! We were bound for Engelberg and the train wound its way through a landscape of green pastures where cows grazed contentedly. I kept an eye out for Heidi as we climbed into the Alps passing picture perfect scenes I was sure I’d seen on a chocolate box or a cuckoo clock.
Swiss Alps- Image courtesy of adina*raul @ Flickr
At Engelberg we walked to the Titlis (some giggling at the name) gondola station to commence our bergfahrt (uphill journey – more giggling) to the Panorama-Restaurant. We’d managed to get a reservation for the candle-lit fondue dinner held only once a month on the full moon which luckily coincided with our visit. The views from the gondola during our ascent and the panoramic views from the top were spectacular.
View from atop Mt Titlis- Image courtesy of Takver @ Flickr
We watched night fall and the moon rise over the Alps as the candles and fondue pot burners were lit for our dinner. We were expecting a cheese fondue, it is the Swiss national dish after all, with maybe a chocolate fondue for dessert so were somewhat disappointed to find that it was ‘Fondue Chinoise’ or hot pot that was on the menu – we’d be cooking meat and vegetables in broth.
Soon the fondue pots were steaming and it was not long before the packed restaurant became uncomfortably hot, further thinning the air which at 3000m (10,000’) was already lower in oxygen than the typical aircraft cabin. We started to develop pounding headaches and a search through handbags and pockets revealed no painkillers. At eight thirty, having had our fill of hot pot and suffering from mild altitude sickness we made our way to the gondola to head down the mountain, only to discover that the gondola would not start running until ten thirty. We were trapped and could do nothing but sit and wait.
Finally it was ten thirty and we piled into the gondola, packed in like sardines with all the other fleeing guests. Down, down, down the mountain we went until we were finally disgorged at the base station. We hurried to the train station. A bus passed us heading away from the station but we paid it no heed as we had tickets for the train. We arrived at the station to find that the train was not running and we should catch the replacement bus which, you guessed it, had just passed us on the road. The next bus was in an hour. We enquired in a nearby hotel about cabs but there were none to be had. Thankfully they let us shelter from the cold in their lobby while we waited for the bus. At last the bus arrived and we climbed aboard, it took us to another train station where a train carried us a few stops to a third station where we needed to catch a second replacement bus which would take us the rest of the way to Lucerne. I watched the station clock mark midnight as we waited for our final bus. Wearily we climbed aboard showing our tickets to the driver. “These tickets are not valid,” he told us, “they are for yesterday”. Utterly exhausted and defeated we bought new tickets and slumped into our seats. I have never been so glad to finally arrive back at a hotel.
Solitary Vodka & Soda- Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk @ Flickr
At the airport on the way home, we decided to blow the last of our Swiss francs on drinks at the bar. Airport bars are never the cheapest place to drink but we were stunned to find that our last 30 francs was enough for only a single vodka and soda. We shared our drink and hurried to board our flight out of Switzerland, keen to get back to the delicious food and cheap drinks of London.