A Day In Lugano
So, now we begin our journey from the Riviera into the Alps—Italian, Swiss, and German. I’ll admit I was relieved to be heading to Lugano, and away from Genoa, but I’ll also take personal responsibility for the experience.
Everything I read on the internet (post-walking tour) said it was a medieval city with hidden splendors abound. The cheeky part of me thinks… yeah—really hidden. And, if by “medieval,” you mean dirty with safety hazards down every alleyway, then sure, “medieval”… I guess I would advise folks reading this not to take my word for the visit, rather to do better research than we did so you can ensure a better experience.
Switzerland Via Milan
We hopped a train connection to Lugano through Milan, which for the record, is a pretty large train station. I think the station had 22 platforms. We also had to walk a fair distance down our platform just to get to our car because the train itself was so long.
The rocky, arid landscape I’m so used to seeing in Italy gradually changed to green and plush and we eventually approached the Como stop, complete with a picturesque view of Lake Como. Lugano is a similar town, just on the other side of the border in Switzerland with its very own lake.
We suddenly realized when crossing the border that Switzerland is not part of the EU, nor part of the Schengen Agreement, thus we actually had a passport check. I guess if we thought hard enough about it, we’d’ve come to that conclusion easily enough; it’s just never actually occurred to me until now.
Arriving In Lugano
We disembarked at Lugano and were really pleased with the choice of stop. Especially after Genoa. Similar to Monte Carlo, the train station sits atop a hill and the streets and buildings are stacked on top of one another down the hillside. Here, however, there’s a crystal blue lake at the base of the mountain instead of the sea, of course.
The houses were all sorts of bright pastels with flowers everywhere, lots of tiny cobblestones streets and beautiful little churches. There were intricate little fountains everywhere where people stopped and drank water directly from the spouts. Lugano is a pedestrian town with winding, steep streets lined with shops.
We checked into our hotel to drop our things off and were happy to find that the service was significantly better than any of the service that we’d been receiving on our stays. Free minibar, free breakfast buffet, free public transportation tickets. It was just nice. And inviting. Swiss Hotels. (The chain.) I like them.
Also of note was that we were expecting the Swiss to speak… Swiss… or German, or even French. But they all speak Italian here, which is nice since I know zero German. And, for all my fellow design geeks out there, they also had a 3D printer in the lobby that was printing rubber duckies for donations to a prosthesis program. Very cool on multiple levels.
Unusual Lugano Temperatures
You’d think our destinations would be getting cooler (temperature-wise) each time we went north so we’d get a little break. But they’re not. They’re getting hotter. Avignon was hotter than Barcelona. Lugano was hotter than both Monaco and Genoa. To be clear: they’ve all been hot as balls.
Add the heat to carrying packs and hiking the hills of Monaco and Lugano and it really takes everything out of you. Lugano, Switzerland was in the mid-90s yesterday. (Sort of all the more reason to keep traveling in the shoulder seasons instead of during peak seasons, if you ask me.) Maybe Switzerland in April is a little more pleasant. Not that Switzerland is not pleasant.
Our heat-fatigue and, well, just plain being out of shape played nicely into an afternoon of just strolling the lakefront, taking photos, and grabbing a late lunch. Beautiful, beautiful town. Reminds me a bit of Bled in Slovenia. I’d put this one on the list, folks.
We were both completely wiped out, so decided a quick nap would be acceptable. That’s when we woke up to the terrible news in Barcelona. Keeping in mind this is the second set of sobering headlines we’ve learned of while on this trip. It’s all disappointing and disheartening.
A few texts came in confirming our safety. Watched the news for a bit to track the goings-on. I checked in here and there for the remainder of the evening and into today, but Barcelona and Charlottesville are exactly the types of things I can get sucked into obsessively for hours on end, and I just can’t focus on that right now. I want to focus on Lugano.
We actually didn’t do much at all in the evening. Got room service and chilled. This is the part of the trip where our energy reserves deplete and we just start moving from town to town, but otherwise ditch our itinerary.
Just soak up the cities by wandering and eating and drinking, instead of powering through one hundred sights in a single day. We’re both always fine with it and, frankly, these last couple towns are super small, so it’s not like we’re missing the Notre Dame Cathedral or something.
Ended up falling asleep hard to MTV’s “Ex on the Beach.” You can always count on Europe for English-speaking MTV. The only time I ever watch the channel anymore.
Lugano to Zurich
Woke up and grabbed our free breakfast. Yet again, as soon as we sat down, an English couple next to us started talking about Donald Trump. I have the urge to interrupt the conversation and just let them know I’m not at all a fan, just to save the United States some sort of embarrassment abroad, but decide to just mind my own business.
The fact that this keeps happening this trip is not at all lost on me. At least before (in Iceland, in Sweden, in Chile—all actual, specific examples), people would just ask us how we felt openly; they were genuinely curious about American politics. Now, I feel a little like… well, probably how Trump felt at the G20, er, the “G19 + 1.”
A Lugano Funicular & A Train to Zurich
We packed up a grabbed our free funicular tickets from the front desk. You know where the funicular stop was? Right in front of our hotel. Want to know the one stop it takes you to? The train station.
Another cruel consequence of my lack of research. If I brought my FitBit, at least I’d be getting my FitBit points… but I didn’t. At least we don’t have to walk up that damn hill… because I might die.
Our train ride to Zurich was insanely gorgeous. It’s exactly what you imagine train rides through the Swiss Alps to be. Super green, sky high mountains, lakes galore, all turquoise, little Germanic-style homes dotting the hillsides.
We went through the longest tunnel in Switzerland—24 kilometers long. I wouldn’t say I was a claustrophobic person, but after being in that tunnel for that long, I was kind of ready to get the hell out.
Our Zurich Hotel
Just under a mile walk to our hotel. You can tell this is where I start to research our hotels less and less. It was a super cool boutique hotel within walking distance of the train station, but it was in the exact opposite direction of Zurich’s Old Town.
I wouldn’t say the neighborhood was sketchy, but it was up-and-coming, sort of hipster. Some graffiti, some construction. It’s fine. Jeff says it’s his favorite hotel thus far. (If you’ve read my posts before, you know he has a thing for boutique hotels ever since Montreal.)
In my defense, Switzerland is ridiculously expensive; I don’t think there was much hotel availability when I booked at all, let alone ones with reasonable prices. Once you’re here, you just kind of resign yourself to the prices and pay whatever because it is what it is.
Jeff and I were suffering from heat stroke again and took it easy for the rest of the day. We had drinks, talked, got dinner. To make things more confusing in Switzerland, everyone seems to be speaking German in Zurich. I’m sure it changes with the region, but I wished I knew what was where because it’s like a special surprise every stop.
Tomorrow, we’ve got a Zurich city tour and we’ll be making our way to Liechtenstein! This will be my 43rd country and Jeff’s 39th. He’s catching up quick. (For the record, everyone—because he keeps telling me this—he doesn’t care at all about the 40×40. I just tell him in return that I care for him… because that’s what wives do.)
Touring Zurich & Liechtenstein
Funny thing about our awesome boutique hotel is that it’s also a restaurant and a bar. It’s quiet on our fifth floor, but as you go downstairs throughout the night, the music gets louder and louder and the crowd gets larger and larger.
When you wake up at five or six o’clock in the morning, the main intersection is still packed with partiers from the evening before. I’ll put Zurich in the same bucket as Reykjavik for this—total party town.
All of that being said, while Jeff and I both woke up at five and six, we went back to bed and slept in until 8, which hasn’t happened in I don’t know how many years.
I think it’s safe to say we’re officially tiring out. Probably a good thing our tour today doesn’t start until 11 and is only 7 hours long; this is a short one for us. We wandered over to our tour meeting stop to begin the big day.
Old Town Zurich
First up was a city tour of Zurich. Nice city. Got to see Old Town, which as mentioned before, is on the exact opposite side of the train station from where we’re staying. Seems like a lot of museums, which isn’t really my thing, but might be someone else’s idea of a perfect European vacation city.
Got to see the university and a thousand rivers. All the Swiss water is potable and there are hundreds of lakes. The Swiss pride themselves on being green and have made big moves towards clean energy.
Our guide told us that Zurich had approximately 400,000 residents and, as we drove past the bus station bike racks, Jeff quipped, “And, clearly, a million bikes.” Yes, Zurich is a bit like Copenhagen in the sense that there are seas of bikes everywhere you look and, if you’re not very, very careful, you could very easily get hit by one moving at fast speeds. Head on a swivel, folks. You’ve been warned.
The Swiss Language
We also finally uncovered the mystery of the twenty languages in Switzerland. They have four national languages—French, Italian, German, and Romansh.
Romansh is a Latin derivative and is only spoken by 0.6% of the population (about 40,000 people, our tour guide being one). And, if you laughed at me because I thought they spoke Swiss in Switzerland, you shouldn’t have, because the German in Switzerland is a German-Swiss dialect… which would explain why, every time someone speaks German to Jeff and I, neither one of us can make out a single thing they’re saying.
It’s not because it’s German; it’s literally because it’s a completely different dialect. Even their “thank you’s” and “you’re welcomes” are different. I knew I wasn’t losing my mind. Not about that, at least.
While we’re on the language topic, Jeff mentioned that, whenever someone speaks German, it always sounds like you’re yelling at someone. To which I replied, “Passa me ze cammerah, ya.” (It was in his book bag.)
More About Switzerland
The Swiss government is comprised of a president and seven elected representatives. The president is female and, of the seven reps, three are female! (Ah-mazing, I know.)
We were told that the women representatives are much more popular than the males and were deemed to be far more diplomatic. The president was much loved and had “no enemies whatsoever,” which elicited a chuckle from the few Americans on the tour.
We had this interesting older, American couple from Minneapolis sitting behind us on the bus. I spent a good portion of the day eavesdropping, trying to figure them out. They sounded nice enough. Based on their conversation about having been to New Zealand and other places in Europe, I supposed they’d done some traveling here and there.
But, when the guide talked about Switzerland’s 3% unemployment rate, lack of homelessness, women in government, healthcare system, education, etc., the gentleman actually said, “This all sounds amazing. I don’t understand why we can’t have these things in the United States.” The woman replied in a sort of clueless fashion, “Well, I suppose it’s because we’re a capitalistic society, aren’t we? They’re all Socialists here.”
It sounded like it was the first time they’d ever wondered these things on their travels, which completely baffled me. They also didn’t know what countries they were visiting on their itinerary, apparently, and had to check their tour paperwork to see if they were going to Austria or not.
At the end of the day, I commend anyone willing to branch out and travel. For the exact purposes of opening your eyes to the ways other countries do things, so… I shouldn’t make fun. …Keep up the good work, Minneapolis. Question everything. Especially what countries are on your itinerary.
Rose Gardens & Cheese Pies
After our city tour, we stopped off at a medieval town, known for it’s rose garden that displays over 550 different types of roses. Completely beautiful, but also completely packed. Got to walk around on the old streets, check out an old church, grab some lunch. I was able to secure one of my all-time favorite meals—jaeger schnitzel!
Jeff tried something new, well-known in the area from a specific restaurant… a cheese pie. He said, “I like pie, and I like cheese, so let’s give the cheese pie a try.” It was pretty amazing, though the serving size was… healthy.
I don’t think eating an entire slice would be a good idea for anyone’s digestive system. We asked what kind of cheese was in it, but were told it’s an ages old secret family recipe and actually has three kinds of cheese in it. Even the wait staff don’t know how to make it. Whatever’s in it, it’s delicious.
Two Paragraphs About Liechtenstein
We continued on to Liechtenstein, where we only had 45 minutes or so to mill around. There just… isn’t much to it. At all. We got a Liechtenstein passport stamp for 3 francs each. Mailed some postcards to the kiddies. Lots of watch shops. Lots of shopping.
The castle sits high above the town center and the royal family actively lives there. Apparently, the king owns the largest personal art collection in the world. And… that’s about it. It’s 5 kilometers wide by I dunno how many kilometers long. Something like 25 or 40. Not much. I wouldn’t put it on the list. Moving on…
Heidiland, Then Home
Drove through a cool resort town and another neat medieval town. The Alps were pretty breathtaking and surrounded us as far as the eye could see. Stereotypical scenes from “The Sound of Music.”
Our last scheduled stop was at Heidiland, the location where Shirley Temple’s “Heidi” was filmed. It was definitely pretty enough, but considering Jeff and I have never seen “Heidi,” we really weren’t interested in hiking a half mile to tour the house.
We just hung around outside taking selfies with the Heidiland lamb statues in the meantime. Our own bus driver almost hit me when we were trying to board the bus early and he started the bus up to move it. We all laughed, but I’m not quite sure how he didn’t see me. I was only a few feet from the front of the bus right in front of him.
The drive back only took about and hour, an hour and a half, and we walked from our drop-off back to the hotel where we got some dinner. Packed up as much as I could since we have to get up at some ungodly hour in the morning to get to the airport. At least we be physically at home snuggling the furbies by early evening. Just one long travel day and it’s all over.