A little over a month ago, Jimmy and I were browsing some flight websites, checking to see if there were any cheap flights for sale. This has become both an expensive and useful habit, but having a mostly free weekend schedule, we can plan trips around when the flights are the cheapest. We were considering a quick trip to Copenhagen or maybe even back up to Lapland some time in February, but as it turned out, some of the cheapest flights for the month would land us in Zurich the weekend prior to Valentine’s Day and our impending 10-year date-iversary.
So without plan or agenda, we booked the tickets!
I started research on where to go and what to do; those Swiss have efficient trains that can take you across the whole little country in a matter of hours. Initially, we had a crazy itinerary that had us traipsing across the whole country in just 3 days, seeing every darling ski village I could squeeze in.
And then we decided to breathe a little bit on this trip and instead booked a hotel in Lucerne. The city seemed to be within day-trip visit of a few notable sights and also boasted a darling Old Town and cultural scene.
Jimmy is usually in charge of finding hotels while I take care of itineraries, sights, etc. He has all of these different points to use with different hotels and airlines -I have completely lost track- so he does that part. The place he booked was a Marriott affiliate and ended up being this extremely trendy boutique hotel just 2 blocks from the train station. The receptionist walked us up to our room, gave us the run down and boasted a bit about the famous interior designer who had individually appointed each room. They later gave great recommendations to excellent restaurants in the area (oddly, all of various Asian varieties). The crowning-and most important -feature of this place was that the included breakfasts were amazing. Europeans, in general, do not have the breakfast thing down, but we had a beautiful spread each morning. I would highly recommend The Hotel Luzern to any future traveler in the area.
It was late by the time we got settled so we went out for a wander and to find dinner at one of the hotel’s suggestions. We got a little confused and ended up in the highly rated Thai restaurant, Thai Garden, instead of a Korean-Street Food joint. They were literally right next to each other with non-specific signs. We went into the shady, small entrance around the corner, which we figured was more suited to a street-kitchen type of restaurant. However, it opened up through a large stone staircase into a massive and opulently appointed Thai garden, complete with a mandolin-plucking woman and decorative rickshaw. Once recovered from the confusion of finding ourselves suddenly transported to the far-east, we enjoyed a really amazing meal with extremely friendly waitresses and a fun atmosphere.
The rest of our trip was spent – blissfully – agenda-less.
The next day – our full day in Lucerne – we spent on top of a mountain, looking down onto the city and across the Swiss Alps. It was so beautiful that it will be detailed in a full post later.
After returning from the mountain, we went on a hunt for food that lead us into the throngs of people out celebrating Carnivale (see below).
After a long and largely unsuccessful search, we ate dinner at a bar nearby our place and finished off the night with some drinks in our very posh hotel bar.
The next day, we made for the famous Lion Monument in the city, via a walk along the lake before catching out train to Zurich. The lake was moody and dark, but dotted with – no exaggeration – hundreds of swans. It was incredible and majestic.
The Lion Monument is a relief carving in a stone face, nestled in a quiet grotto in the city. It commemorates 760 Swiss Guard who were massacred in the 1792 French uprising while defending the Tuleries Palace in Paris. The Lion, dying from a spear still lodged in his side, is lying on top of a shield bearing the French fluer-de-lis and one depicting the Swiss cross. Mark Twain called it “The most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
Lucerne, as it turned out, has a Carnival celebration for the record books. Even just on our short walk from the train station to the hotel, we saw groupings of people in full costume meeting in clusters. We didn’t put this together with the high-school style marching band that was playing in the station. For them, the festivities had started that night and continued through Fat Tuesday. And boy was the town dressed up for the occasion.
After our unexpectedly fancy Thai dinner, Jimmy and I wandered the Old Town by night, following the sounds of various bands. They were playing in restaurants, marching in huge numbers down the streets and congregating in tiny squares. They wore creepy masks and matching furry suits or uniforms. These bands were comprised of people of all ages- 80 to 8 – each carrying some instrument, all playing the same song, mostly all getting it correct.
That was the cool part. The not so cool part was that every major square was lined with “food trucks” and funky kiosks. Jimmy and I thought “Awesome! We will do this tomorrow afternoon! Eat our way through every square in the town!” However, as it turned out, the stands were more like tailgates, and certainly not the ones we were used to. Neither of us are horribly shy about inserting ourselves into new cultural experiences, but it was pretty clear that these were closed stands. Furthermore, half the stands never seemed to be open. Overall, we were completely confused and discouraged. While it was a riot to watch, it was frustrating to a tourist like me, who plans her entire trip around food.
So then we made our way to Zurich, where we planned to see the city that afternoon and some of the next morning. We had a bit of bad luck there, too.
As it turns out, our hotel was not right next to the central train station, as we had believed when we started walking. It was, however, in a really awesome revived industrial corner of the city that boasted all sorts of hip warehouse-turned eateries, a viaduct plugged with boutiques, and many hotels. Despite being in a really cool area, it still was not in the center, which took an hour or so off of our day. And it was Sunday.
We planned to spend Sunday in Zurich assuming that it would be more open as it is a larger city. We were wrong. ALL shops along the famous Bahnhofstrasse were closed. Most stores in the tourist Old Town were closed. And the restaurants that were open were crammed with tourists -like us- who were seeking shelter from the incessant rains.
Fortunately, Zurich still proved to be a darling city worth an afternoon of wandering. We had a lovely time poking through narrow streets and gazing in store windows at the expensive watches and extravagant chocolates. We had a quick bowl of soup in one place and then an excellently curated plate of cheese in another. This place was a tiny little restaurant on a small side street with a single waitress (who was also prep cooking) that was very accommodating. We were the only guests inside their 3-table restaurant, and we perched on creaky old wooden benches and watched small groups of people peer inside the curious little place before continuing on their way. The cheeses were all mild but flavorful, of a variety of milks (goat, cow, morning milk, afternoon milk…) from France, Italy and Switzerland. Washed down with a nice Chianti Classico, and I was one happy traveler!
That night we indulged in a Swiss delicacy of veal in a mushroom cream sauce, over a fried potato pancake and fell very happily into a food coma while watching a Disney film in our room.
This trip was in many way very different from out usual trips: there was no plan and no expectations. Just a weekend away, to wander some cute towns and consume inordinate amounts of chocolate and cheese. At least, that was my goal. Usually when we travel, I would be panicking that there was so much we were missing and generally upset that so much was closed. This time, however, I was blissfully happy for it. Despite all of the random things that were off, the amount of times we were confused of just looked at each other like “well, now what should we do?” it was a lovely place to just be with my sweetie, holding my hand and enjoying the discovery of a new place.
So, Happy Anniversary to us! One decade and counting. May we continue to fall in love with each other as much as each new world we discover. May we look at closed doors and unfamiliar paths with the knowledge that another experience is to be had, perhaps more comfortable or more awkward, hand-in-hand and content with just the presence of the other.