Day 1: To Zurich
This trip started the planning phase all the way back in November or December 2015 with the tentative idea that we would ‘go somewhere’ on the way to Heika and Paddy’s wedding round 2. Switzerland was developed somewhere between then and now. We had some hiccups along the way, our excitement to discover a place called ‘Orla’ right there above Lucerne on Google Maps, only to breakdown in laughter when we realise Orla is just logged into Google Services and that IS her name at the top. Oh dear lord. Against all the odds, we somehow got through the planning stage and after what seemed like an eternity of exams, moving apartments and working, the time for holidays is here and hopefully, after a failed attempt to buy some 21 year aged Kilbeggan Whiskey, we should be landing in Zurich in a couple of hours.
Our first impression of Zurich Airport is an absolute disaster of a situation with regard to our rental car. The very unhelpful, but for some reason apologetic, attendee. Nothing they can do and they are not bound by the terms of a third party. It’s not worth getting into details. Train to the hotel so. We’ll have to start implementing an, as yet, non-existent plan B in the morning. Orla is amazing though, while I contemplate the ‘why’ she remains optimistic and by the time we reach Oerliken we’re over it. After that day, we need a beer. A large Eicchof in the closest bar to our hotel and then swiftly to bed.
Day 2: Zurich
We’re back at the airport trying to get our car. So much waiting around. The number of people at the airport is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There are hoards scrambling about the place. About an hour later we have secured our Renault Kadjar and can now traverse the sun drenched, narrow streets of Zurich. Or at least those on the way back to the hotel. Parking is a funny business here. Everyone is telling ‘yes, validation’ and at the same time, ‘no validation’. It’s hard to know if they’ve just put a comma in the wrong place. I need written instructions to figure it out.
We finally make it down to the Old Town, spotting the Rathaus, a market right beside it full of jewellery and apparently very expensive dresses. The river looks wonderfully refreshing and a dip is very tempting in the heat. Zurich is, word has it, the city of fountains. I’ve seen maybe two so far, but to be fair we haven’t done that much exploring yet. Not one hour later I’m listing off what I’ll do if I see another fuppin’ fountain! Fill up our water bottles is the height of it, before taking some photos for a Mauri looking English man and turning down his kind offer of two cans of beer. His disbelief at Irish people turning down alcohol is comically dramatic. No to stereotypes!
We hit the Bistro-Grill am See for a veal sausage and bread followed by, probably, the best Walnut ice-cream I’ve ever tasted. All this as we sit on the river bank watching the fish, birds and passers by. The weather is perfect. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful, but very much there. It’s a shame to have to head back to the hotel for a nap and a bottle of Schwinger Bügel. Very tasty, I want to say lager….but, maybe amber. Orla’s Swiss wine is surprisingly delightful. Who’d have thunk it?!?
Having realised we’d just completed about 13Km in the day, and at a stupidly quick pace given the heat. Our legs like lead, tired and emotional, we are forced to develop ‘holiday walking’. A style with a pace so slow, sloths are leaving us in their dust. Hours later, we arrive at Mamma Mia’s Italian restaurant (about 200m from the hotel) for a real tasty meal. Pizza Toscana and black tiger prawn Bolognese house special. Trés expensif, but when in Rome……themed restaurants and all that.
Again we retire to the Marriot for a night cap. I’m forced to open my Löwen Weisse beer with the security latch on the hotel room door. It works a treat on the third attempt and I quickly forget the injuries sustained on the first two tries.
Day 3: Zurich to Bern
We’re woken up by a knock on the door from the cleaning staff…..just another 3 hours to check out…..seriously, what the fuck! Anyway, quick breakfast in the hotel, complete with Nespresso coffee from our in room machine. Swanky? I don’t know anymore. Then it’s just the 45 CHF for parking in Zurich for less than 24 hours. Not too bad, or rather very bad. The Courtyard Marriott advertise parking but inform you, upon arrival, that they only have 3 (yes, three) car spaces. That’s nice of them. Seems like important information.
En route to Bern we stop at the Bruno Weber Skulpturenpark, hard to find, expensive and not really worth going out of your way for. All the leaflets, videos and guides are only in German too, and pretty much everyone there is speaking English to each other. It’s an interesting place though. I had read online that it was a popular lunch al fresco destination, yet it is the most ridiculously impractical place to go for lunch for all but those who work there. The rain cuts short our stay when it arrives. It starts light, but is quickly followed by torrential rain on the A1 to Bern. Driving 30 or 40 Km/h, you can’t even see the car in front. Amazing lightning bolts striking the hills and forests around is. An incredible storm to be in the middle of, but not great for driving.
We make it, in one piece thankfully, to the Ibis Budget in Bern. It’s about a ten minute walk from our accommodation to the Old Town. We take a detour through the Rose Garden and are rewarded with some amazing views of Old Town Bern. We get close up with one of the Bern bears before walking, probably most of, the Old Town and getting some €40 Sushi.
Bern is definitely an incredibly picturesque city. Archways covering walkways which line the old streets. Cobbles and fountains, endless basement entrances which we later discover are bomb and air raid shelters that could house all the residents at one point. The locals have made good use of them now, cafe’s, shops and restaurants occupy the underground shelters these days.
Day 4: Bern
Through no planning at all, we’re in Bern for Swiss National Day. €40 per person brunches everywhere! Switzerland lives up to the expectation of expensive. We get two bagels, with cream cheese, two Americanos and a chocolate croissant for basically €30. It’s not better quality food for more, absolutely not. I’ve had better bagels from cheap supermarkets in Ireland. But, we are not here for the food, so one must put up with it.
The queue to get into the parliament building is about 5,000 people long. Why; it’s free entry. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to get into a building that bad. Instead, we take a quick swim in the Aare River. Well, I do. Orla chickens out. To be fair, the current is very strong. It takes a bit of effort to drag one’s self out. I bang my ankle and knee in the process. Nice and refreshing though. Afterwards we sit on the grass in a park with the sun beating down for a while before grabbing a bratwürst in Münsterplatz as the band play a few of the classics next to the Gothic styled Cathedral of Bern. Well, we’re pretty sure they play Star Spangled Banner really slowly about 4 times in the shade of the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, apparently.
Day four ends with a massive fireworks display on Mount Gurten for Swiss National Day. We join thousands of people in viewing the spectacle from the Rosengarten. Whistling rockets and minor explosions last the darkness until daybreak.
Day 5: From Bern to Interlaken to Luzern
We manage to get a free breakfast in the hotel, by mistake of course. We make Interlaken by 12:15pm. It’s an incredibly stunning place settled on a piece of land between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The surrounding scenery is magnificent. Orla driving the mountain roads with absolute precision. The roads duck in and out of unbelievable tunnels through the mountains, 3 or 4 Km long. Traversing steep and narrow roads across the Bernese Oberland on our way to Luzern. We see bikes struggling up the inclines, and buses consuming most of the road. There are familiar ‘Bond’ looking locations with overhanging rocks and deep drops into the lake.
Following a short rest upon arrival in Luzern, we walk over the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). See the Rathaus, and stroll through the narrow streets for the first time. It’s a charming, picturesque town with a great atmosphere this evening. We head back to Korea Town (which we spotted earlier, through a congregation of Asian people) for some Korean food to continue our trans-global food experience in Switzerland, of all places. Spotting Pilatus, as if you could miss it, on our way to bed.
Day 6: Mt. Pilatus & Luzern
Today we’re going to attempt to climb Mount Pilatus so we start with a massive early breakfast in the hotel, no getting away with paying here in Luzern. The waitress being as sharp and precise as a scalpel in catching us and getting our room number. We take some supplies for the trek, so it balances out the cost really.
We take the train from Luzern to Alpnach, for our hike up Pilatus. The start offers up a major incline before we enter into forest land and yet more heavy inclines. There are lizards all over the track and Orla asks are there any snakes in Switzerland. I answer, no, but genuinely I’ve no idea. At about 3Km, and having seen no one, I deem it safe to let a fart out, only to look around and see a couple about 2 metres behind us! Gas. Literally. I’ve never sweat so much, and that says a lot. It’s seriously warm out and this would be a very tough hike in half the heat. 6Km in, and about two and a half hours of Lugnaquilla type climbing and we’re knackered in the heat. Orla hates me by now, it’s beginning to feel like Everest in front of us and we’re being eaten by flies so I delicately suggest we grab the Cogwheel the rest of the way up, occupying the drivers cabin as there’s no other room. Pilatus is about 2,132m (just short of 7,000ft). Serious stuff. We climbed 1,360m (4,462ft) apparently. Not bad. The views from the heavily commercialised top are amazing, but we definitely got a clearer picture at the station we picked up the cogwheel from. It’s the equivalent of €70 to get two tickets back down on the cogwheel or the cable-car. Fucking nuts! It feels like a case of rip off the tourists. But sure look, we weren’t walking down anyway, given our wobbly legs. A delicious ice-cream awaits us at the bottom, in the now 30 degree heat. A perfect way to get over the price of our 20 minute cogwheel experience really.
We had spotted the reasonably priced Hotel Ristorante in the Old Town yesterday and make our way back there for a pizza and anti-pasti mixed plate. Exactly enough food, and delectable to boot. We’re attacked by flies again, but I out smart them by placing a plate with some sacrificed cured meat on the table next to ours. I take far too much pride in besting flies.
The Brauerei Luzern is closed until Friday for some reason, so I won’t be trying Luzerner Bier on this trip. Instead we settle for the Rathaus Brauerei for a wheat bear that is a very close second to Lemke. That worked out surprisingly well. The setting is definitely head and shoulders above the beer garden in Berlin. Sitting looking out at the Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower on a fabulous evening. Still water and shrinking light. We’re tempted by more than we should before stumbling back to base camp.
Day 7: Luzern
We secure breakfast, lunch and snacks in Aperto (the Fresh, Fast & Friendly supermarket) for the value price of €35. Consuming the former by the lake, while helping out the local avian population. It is definitely shaping up to be a scorcher today so we leave the pedalo and swim for a while opting to seek some shade in a few shops for an hour or so. It took us 3 days to muster up the courage to utilise a free coffee in Nespresso, having spotted the shop on Tuesday. It’s not the €2.90 you save; it’s that getting something for free feeling. It’s the pick-me-up we need too.
We assume we’ll have a nice breeze to cool us if we take the Luzern City Train for some sightseeing. Not a bit of it. No breeze here at all. The tour is very informative though. All the boxes ticked; ramparts, towers, bridges and old streets, walls and all. Definitely worth the €12, despite the heat.
After lunch it’s cooled down a bit so we hire a pedalo for an hour or so. We aim for as far into Lake Lucerne as we can before pulling up and diving into the refreshing waters of the 5th biggest lake in Switzerland. I use the penguin method to haul myself out of the water to great effect. Graceful as always of course. The views of Pilatus and Rigi are outstanding. It’s nice to escape the increasingly busy streets of Old Town Luzern. It’s a shame to have to bring the boat back. We attempt to walk to Museggmauer and see the multiple towers but tiredness and hunger drag us back to the Rathaus Restaurant & Brauerei for some bratwürst, sauerkraut and bread. Washed down with another wheat beer. Astounding stuff. But too filling.
The heavens open moments after we get back to the hotel. Luzern is engulfed in a thunder storm for the next several hours, so we grab some Feldschlösschen from the lobby and settle in for the lightning show from the safety and relative comfort of our room.
Day 8: To Nuremberg
The long drive back to Zurich for our flight to Nuremberg. Staying up till 1am watching ‘Ransom’ probably not the best prep for a 7am start to travel. The drive is ok but dropping the car back to the Flughafen is quite stressful. They have a Parking Level 1 and a Parking Level 01, two different levels, separated by a Parking Level 0Z between them. Seriously?!?
It’s a shame that more often than not, our final few hours in a country are spent in the generic and mind numbing surrounds of an airport. It’s a stark contrast to the beauty of Switzerland. Best consider the airport entrance the threshold of the holiday really. Now, to Nuremberg, for Heike & Paddy’s wedding.