If you look up the definition of a trip planner in the dictionary, you’ll see Jordan’s picture next to it. We are textbook planners, sometimes planning our longer trips down to the hour. But COVID has brought out a sort of whimsy in both of us. We don’t have the luxury to plan in advance right now, and so we don’t. Thrown out the window are our spreadsheets and itineraries in favor for taking spontaneous trips, like the one we took to Switzerland. We plan our days on vacation as they unfold right in front of us.
As most borders are closed to France right now, I looked up the restrictions on the official Switzerland website. Surprisingly, we realized our region’s residents were allowed in the country. It’s because of a rule that allows residents from the French areas bordering Switzerland in. And with that knowledge, we decided to take a last minute-trip to Switzerland at the end of October.
*Note: We are responsible travelers. We follow all rules and regulations. In France, we rarely come in contact with someone else for more than a few minutes and our overall exposure to others is low.
It didn’t initially start off as a week-long trip. We were just going to go for a long weekend to see the fall foliage in the area. We had been following the Swiss foliage map to know when the peak foliage would be. The last weekend in October looked the most promising, but we didn’t dare finalize or actually plan to go. Lyon was already under curfew, and the situation in France was getting worse. But, Jordan had to put his time off request in a week before. He planned to Friday and the following Monday off, regardless if we could make it into Switzerland or not.
We planned to catch a train on Thursday evening, October 22. Two days before we were set to leave, we talked it over and decided to turn our long weekend into a full week of fun. Jordan had to use a week of vacation by the end of November anyway. How’s that for whimsy? And with the time off secured, our trip was set! We had no itinerary and a one-way train booked. We would figure out the details after we arrived. Figuring out what to pack for a week with no plans was the biggest obstacle.
On the day of our departure, Jordan had to attend a work conference in downtown Lyon. He would not have enough time between the conference and our train to come home, so I planned to meet him at the train station with our bags. I scheduled an Uber and lugged both mine and Jordan’s luggage down to the car. The Uber driver told me the train station was closed because there had been an incident earlier. I didn’t think anything of it. Weird things are happening all the time at train stations in Lyon.
The Uber driver dropped me and all our luggage off nearby the train station. Jordan was not too far behind. But travelers still could not enter the station. We had learned that there had been an attempted terrorist incident at the station around 2:00 pm that afternoon. A woman had dropped her bags and yelled out a threatening statement. Deminers went inside to destroy the abandoned bags and police stopped anyone from getting close to the station. Not a problem, we thought. Our train was still an hour away.
The station reopened about 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart. The monitor showed our train as still on time with no delays. However, the station was chaotic. Hoards of people crowded the monitors to see when their train would be leaving. Train travel had been disrupted for over four hours, and many trains had been canceled or diverted to different stations. People were now impatiently waiting to go to their destination. We looked to the monitors to see what platform our train would be on. Suddenly, the monitors were completely blank.
We saw blank blue screens as the train station employees worked through the logistical chaos. Trains and their platforms slowly started to reappear on the screens. It felt like a game. Platform A – Marseille. Platform G – Barcelona. We were waiting for the screen to call out our platform to Geneva. One of the downsides of train travel is that there is no system to show if the train is delayed or rescheduled. You are at the mercy of the monitor on the screen at the station.
Three hours later, we were still sitting in the train station waiting for our train. We didn’t know whether the train would be coming at all; it didn’t look like we had a winning ticket. Jordan asked an employee, and the employee said to simply wait and look at the screen. At this point, we already missed the last possible connecting train in Switzerland to our final destination. We considered this attempt a loss and took the tram back to our house to try again tomorrow.
Attempt two to get to Switzerland
We woke up early on a rainy Friday morning to catch our train. This one would not be direct to Geneva but had one train change. This time, no delays were prohibiting us from catching our train in Lyon. The first train ride was quick. We stopped at a small station to change trains to Geneva. Everyone on the train quickly went off the platform to their next connection, but we hung back. We looked at the monitor to determine what platform to walk towards. Our tickets showed an image of a train with the words “autobus” written on it. We soon were informed that it was not a train at all, it was a bus!
With no other option to get to Geneva, we walked through the rain and stopped behind a line of passengers waiting to board the bus. So, that’s where everyone from our train went. We were in the back of the line and the bus was nearly full by the time we boarded. It was not possible to sit together. Jordan could have sat in the aisle across from me, but the woman had taken up the empty seat with her copious amounts of knitting materials. She was not quick to move them. Defeated, Jordan moved to the back of the bus while I remained at the front.
A little while later, we had made it to Lucerne, our home base for the week. Lucerne is an old picturesque medieval city in Switzerland. It is part of the German-speaking region, which was great for us as we could take a break from speaking French. Lucerne also has a large train station that allowed us to quickly bounce from city to city. And with no itinerary or plans, we thought this would be the best choice. That, and the fact that we had hotel points we could use to make our trip less expensive!
Jordan had called the hotel the evening before letting them know we would be arriving the next day due to the train’s issues. The hotel took that information and decided to cancel our entire reservation! Luckily, they still had rooms left when we arrived and helped us rebook our stay. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Kriens, a brand new hotel right on the train line. Kriens is only two stops away from Lucerne and took a total of four minutes to travel between the two. The trains also consistently ran every 15-minutes into Lucerne, making this hotel very convenient (and cheap!). Our stay here was more convenient than had we chosen a hotel in the heart of Lucerne. We would have spent more time walking from a Lucerne hotel to the train station each morning!
This wasn’t our first trip to Lucerne. Jordan and I previously visited in 2019 while on a ten-day trip to Switzerland. I had hurt my knee in the Spring and finally was off crutches in July of that year. I was still in physical therapy and honestly was not in a position to travel abroad. I’ll always remember that trip as the one we should not have taken. I was still regaining strength to be able to walk and could not walk far. When we first visited Lucerne, I could not walk from the train station past the iconic Chapel Bridge. This time, we were able to walk throughout Lucerne, and I could finally experience the city. It was such a win to see how far I’ve come in a year.
That evening, we were craving authentic fondue after a long day in the rain. We chose Fondue House Du Pont, a small restaurant overlooking the river. It was a Friday night, and we assumed the restaurant would be busy. We made reservations online but didn’t end up needing them. When we walked into the restaurant, it was completely empty! I even had to ask them if the restaurant was open, which it was. Usually, an empty restaurant is a sign that the food isn’t good, but anything goes in COVID times! We ordered the Moitié-Moitié, their most popular fondue made from local alpine cheese. It was a delicious blend of cheese and the perfect way to end a long day of traveling.
On Saturday, we decided to go on the Chessiloch waterfall hike. Switzerland is known for its integrated public transportation system. It is easy to go by bus or train to any destination. The journey to the destination is almost as exciting as the destination itself. We found ourselves glued to the windows on the train to take in all the stunning landscape that quickly went by as we sped along the tracks.
The hike started as a nature walk along a paved path as we left the tiny town of Flühli. We walked past traditional Swiss homes, colorful trees, and cows with bells gently chiming as they grazed on the grass. We continued along the trail and finally started to get in the trees. The ground was still wet from the rain that fell the day before. Now that we were on the “real trail,” we took out our trekking poles to help give us stability against the slick leaves on the ground. We followed the trail and were welcomed with not one but two waterfalls.
The first waterfall was right along the path and had a viewing point above it. At first, we thought this was the end of the hike, but we noticed the trail didn’t end here. We continued on the route to the real Chessiloch waterfall. As we turned the corner, there was a steep descent with a ladder and bridge waiting for us at the bottom. The trail was tricky, and water was dripping from the rocks above onto the path. The ladder was wet and felt cold as ice. We set our trekking poles down and climbed up the ladder and over the small bridge.
The waterfall has been a tourist destination for almost 100 years. Next to the suspension bridge was a photo of visitors wearing proper suits and dresses. Not something that you would see today! We continued over the bridge and down the ladder on the other side. The 35-meter waterfall cascaded down from the steep rocks soaring above us. It was the real waterfall we expected to see on our hike!
On our hike, we spotted a suspension bridge high in the trees above our heads. Jordan had not read about it beforehand, and I certainly hadn’t either. I didn’t even look up where we were going! We knew we had to go walk up the trail and explore. The suspension bridge was a hidden gem. We don’t know why it was there or who built it. But we do know that we had fun walking across and seeing the expansive forest beneath our feet.
After we returned to Lucerne and freshened up, we set off for dinner in the city. We did not have reservations for tonight. Based on our restaurant experience Friday night, we didn’t think we needed them. Maybe it was the pleasant weather that evening, but everyone in Lucerne was out enjoying a meal! The first restaurant we tried, Restaurant Lapin, was completely booked for the evening. We decided to go ahead and make reservations to eat there the following evening. Just in case! Jordan looked online and found another nearby restaurant that we would give a try.
We walked into the Old Swiss House restaurant, a landmark in Lucerne since 1859. This place was fancy. And it looked fully booked. Jordan asked if there was a table for two. The waiter responded that they had one table available for the evening and seated us. The tables were covered in authentic silver plates and utensils. The waitress immediately came over and asked if we wanted still or sparkling water. We said “still water,” not thinking that this water would cost us almost $15! Note to self, just say tap water instead. Or decline all together and just drink wine!
Jordan ordered the restaurant special, Wienerschnitzel, which got the waitress really excited. A little later in the evening, the waitress wheeled a cart over near our table. The cart had a giant slab of butter (more than two sticks worth!), eggs, breading, and a single stove top with a pan on it. The waitress would be making Jordan’s meal right in front of us! Although, it may have been better not knowing how much butter went into one plate. She came to our table and showed Jordan the cut he would be eating, and he nodded in approval. We watched in awe as she prepared his meal before us.
“A deluxe Wienerschnitzel as you have never tasted before! Very tender cutlets of veal are dipped in our own top-secret blend of beaten egg, Swiss cheese, and herbs. The cutlet is then coated in specially prepared breadcrumbs and cooked in pure butter at your table. We serve our delicious Wienerschnitzel with half a lemon and fresh egg noodles.”
The Old Swiss House website
- 150 grams of best-quality veal, pounded till very tender
- Five lightly beaten eggs, 50 grams grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper
- Homemade breadcrumbs
- A generous quantity of butter
- Half a lemon
- Serve with: fine egg noodles garnished with roasted breadcrumbs
The meal was delicious and we cleaned our plates. Our stomachs had no room left for dessert. We watched as a nearby table had dessert made to order in front of them. I’m always amazed at how it seems like everyone else in Europe can enjoy a starter, a main course, AND dessert. We typically can only eat our main dish and nothing else. Where does it all go?! Jordan and I joke that Europeans must have an extra stomach that Americans don’t have. It makes no sense.
We decided to do two days of back-to-back hikes. Jordan had found another location with a bigger and better suspension bridge than we had walked across on Saturday. The trail was only accessible by gondola, and today was the last day the gondola was running for the season. It was a good thing we checked the website beforehand! We booked our gondola tickets after dinner Saturday night. The website forced us to select a time up and down. The window between the two was only two hours, not nearly enough time to complete the hike. Jordan said that we would just ask when we arrived about taking a later gondola. This will be important later.
It was an early morning for us. To get to the gondola, we had to take two trains and a bus. We had a quick layover in Meiringen, a famous town because of its reference in a Sherlock Holmes book. Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty fought and fell to their deaths in 1891 at the nearby Reichenbach waterfall. Hopefully, that wasn’t a spoiler alert for anyone! The city also has a Sherlock Holmes museum and a bronze statue engraved with sixty clues from the books. We spent a few minutes walking around reading about Sherlock Holmes before continuing on our journey.
Our bus arrived at the Triftbahn gondola a little after 11:30 am. We walked into the office to check in for our gondola ride. The woman behind the counter gave us two cards to carry: one with our time up and one with our time down. Jordan asked if we could have a later time, and the woman quickly said no.
Our card for our trip down said 2:38. The suspension bridge was at the end of the trail, and the hike wouldn’t be worth it if we couldn’t walk on the bridge. Two hours would not nearly be enough time to get there. We needed at least double that! If we could not take the gondola back down, we would have to hike an additional two hours down a sketchy and narrow trail. We wanted to avoid that at all costs.
The gondola was small and slow; there were only two cars in total that could fit eight people each. After a ten-minute ride to the top, we were ready to start our hike around noon. At the base of a gondola was a small shop selling drinks and snacks. Jordan thought it would be good to ask the workers if we could take the last gondola down. His logic was that they had had to get down the mountain somehow!
After negotiating in broken French, the workers said we could come back at 4:30 pm and go down with them. They wrote on a sheet of paper “4:30 pm” and handed it to us. We assumed this would be our new card to get us down the gondola. Perfect! We now had over four hours to complete the hike.
In my ignorance, because I did not research anything in advance, I thought that we would go up a gondola and do an easy hike to the suspension bridge. I assumed because there was a gondola up, that the rest would be easy. How wrong I was. Ignorance was not bliss in this case! The trail was uphill the entire time, narrowly winding along the mountainside.
It took us an hour and a half to reach the end of the trail, and we finally had made it to the suspension bridge! The suspension bridge hovered over 300 feet (100 meters) above the ground and was 550 feet (170 meters) long. Luckily, neither of us is scared of heights. We stopped to eat a snack at the top before walking across. Finally, it was time to take our first steps on the bridge.
The bridge felt secure but was wobbly. It was barely wide enough for two people to pass each other if needed. Only a few people were on the bridge as we made our way across. I didn’t think it was scary, but I kept both hands on the rails, just in case. The wind had picked up and was howling on the way back. But I had gained more confidence and kept my phone out to document the experience on the bridge.
Our hike down was uneventful. I was starting to get hungry and my body was quickly becoming exhausted. We made it down back to the gondola around 4:00pm and had thirty minutes to spare. We sat down to relax at picnic tables situated outside the small shop. The shop was selling food and drinks but was cash only. We didn’t have any Swiss Francs, but they said they would gladly accept Euros. We searched through our backpacks and scraped up ten Euros to buy two hotdogs. Food was food!
At 4:30 pm, Jordan went up to the workers again and showed them the sheet of paper they had given us earlier in the day. They pointed us to walk up to the gondola. It turns out we would not be going down with them after all. To get to the gondola, we had to walk up a steep set of stairs, maybe 100 of them. The gondola was arriving, and we thought we were supposed to be on that one. We ran up the stairs and arrived at the top panting and out of breath.
There was a line of 6-7 other people waiting, all of who did not have tickets down. We walked past them and showed the attendant our card down, along with the written sheet of paper that said “4:30 pm”. The attendant sighed and told us that our time down had passed. This is when I started to internally panic. I did not want to hike down an additional two hours, but I honestly didn’t think this woman would let us on the gondola down.
Jordan pleaded with the woman and told her the guys working at the food stand below had told us 4:30 pm. She sighed again and told us to hold on. Ten minutes later, she gave us a new card down for 4:48 pm. I was so thankful. I was too exhausted to continue hiking, and the sun was starting to go down. Instead of reading this blog post, you would probably be reading a newspaper article about two stupid Americans who hiked down in the dark by the light of their cell phones. International crisis avoided!
We were not going to make it back to Lucerne in time for our dinner reservation, so Jordan called and changed them to another evening. To hold us over, we enjoyed a beer and a bag of expired pretzels on the two-hour train ride home. After arriving back in Lucerne, we were too tired to go sit down and eat dinner at a restaurant. Instead, we finished the night at “the golden arches,” McDonald’s.
After yesterday’s hike, we were not going to do three days of hiking! It was going to be rainy everywhere in Switzerland. We hopped on a train and set off to enjoy a day trip to Basel. Neither Jordan nor I had visited Basel before, so it was a new adventure for both of us!
We love doing walking tours when we visit new cities. It’s the best way for us to see many sites while having the flexibility to stop and go into different shops or restaurants when we feel like it. With our rain shoes and jackets on, we planned a walking tour to see the city’s highlights on the train ride.
Our walking tour guided us to different historic churches and buildings scattered throughout the city. We passed by a Ferris wheel next to a church. It symbolically commemorated the annual Basel Autumn Fair that had been canceled this year due to COVID. This year would have marked the 550th anniversary of the Basel Autumn Fair. Yes, you read that right. 550 years! It’s one of the oldest and largest in Switzerland. This fair has been going on twice as long as the USA has been a country.
Next on our trip was a stop at a local pastry shop serving up famous sweets. They sold Luxemburgerli, a lighter and fluffier version of macarons. They were smaller than traditional macarons and resembled tiny hamburgers. There were plenty of flavors to choose from: rosé, lemon, pistachio, caramel, vanilla bourbon, coconut, strawberry, and chocolate. We couldn’t choose just one! We bought two of each flavor along with an espresso to wash them down.
The box was quickly empty, and we were on a sugar high! My favorite was the lemon, and Jordan preferred the strawberry. The most disappointing flavor was the rosé. It tasted awful!
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, appreciating its vibrant fall foliage against the dreary gray sky. Basel was a neat city to see, but not one that we would go back to. We jumped on a train back to Lucerne and finally made it to Restaurant Lapin that evening. When we arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 pm for dinner, all the tables were full! After about fifteen minutes, the restaurant quickly cleared out. We were one of the only tables left eating. We realized that the Swiss do not eat dinner nearly as late as the French. At another enjoyable dinner, we made our plans for the next day.
We knew we wanted to see the golden vineyards up close at some point on our trip. In the Fall, they turn from bright green to deep shades of yellow, orange, and red. We had talked about traveling to Montreux on Lake Geneva, where the hillside is filled with vineyards against the lake. However, we had already visited there in 2019, and I wanted to go somewhere different.
On our initial train ride on Friday from Geneva to Lucerne, we quickly passed through an old town with a beautiful church and rolling hills filled with golden vineyards. This was our answer! We said to each other, “let’s go here!” Jordan pulled up Google Maps on the train and learned we were traveling through the city of Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel is in Switzerland’s French-speaking region, and we would have the opportunity to practice our French on this trip after all. We booked our tickets to the city and planned on going on a bike ride through the vineyards.
We immediately fell in love with how picturesque the city of Neuchâtel was. The town was very hilly, and narrow streets are winding through the buildings. Seemingly endless rows of golden vineyards met up with the lake. And on a clear day, you can see snowy peaks of the Swiss alps on the other side!
Before going on our bike ride, we walked through the city. Our main stop was at the Neuchâtel castle, located high on the hill overlooking the city’s old part. This medieval castle is over 1000 years old. The King of Burgundy initially built it as a gift for his wife. What a fantastic gift!
The other main thing we saw while in Neuchâtel was Rue des Chavannes. It’s a steep street with a brightly colored walkway. Artists have painted the walkway multiple times since the 1980s. It was painted last in 2018 and is more than what initially meets the eye. The road is also a game! We didn’t play the game because of COVID, but shops have giant foam dice they will give out to play the game.
After exploring the city, it was time for the main event: our bike ride! Jordan found a bike rental option for us, but no e-bikes were available. I wasn’t thrilled about going up hills using a three-speed bike but was up for the challenge. The hills were no match for me, and I walked my bike up to the top. The rest of the bike ride was much more comfortable after we got past the initial hurdle.
We biked past endless rows of golden vineyards. Some vines still had grapes on them! A few rows of vines were unexpectedly bright red or orange in a sea of yellow. We heard what we thought were wind chimes. Upon further investigation, we found a few sheep munching away on the grass in between the rows of vines! I didn’t want our trip through the vineyards to end. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if we could actually stop and enjoy the wine! Unfortunately, it was time to head back to Lucerne as our Switzerland trip was winding down (and so is this blog post!).
Both of us had wanted to eat spaetzle while in Switzerland, and we found an open restaurant in Lucerne. Not thinking that the Swiss eat dinner earlier than we are used to, we arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 pm. This is the standard dinner time for us! The waitress told us that they were closing within an hour and apologetically asked if that was okay. Absolutely, it was! Sometimes, the worst part about eating out in Europe is how long it takes to eat. It can be such a production and is not a simple in-and-out experience. Challenge accepted to order, eat, and be out the door within the hour. It was the most effortless dinner we have had in months! No tracking down the waiter to get the check or waiting to pay. And the spaetzle was worth it!
We needed to walk off our meal after dinner and spent the evening walking through Lucerne’s empty streets. And we still had one more day to plan but weren’t sure where to go.
We took a look at the Swiss foliage map again to see where some hot spots would be for color. Lugano was highlighted on the map and is part of the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. We had already been to the German and French-speaking parts, so why not visit the Italian as well? That’s precisely how we spent our last day in Switzerland.
On our train ride there, we traveled through the Gotthard Base Tunnel. This tunnel is 35 miles (57 meters) long and is the world’s longest railway tunnel. Cool, right? I slept right through it! Jordan took this photo of me sleeping and said, “it’s for the blog!”.
When we first arrived in Lugano, it felt like we were in an entirely different country. Palm trees lined the streets, and houses were brightly colored. Our first stop the top of Monte Bré to get a better orientation of our surroundings. We took two funiculars up and away from the city. At the top were panoramic views of Lugano and a clear view of the snow-capped mountains. We enjoyed a refreshing beer at the restaurant located at the top as we enjoyed the views. The fall foliage wasn’t as vibrant as we expected, but it was still beautiful.
At the top, we could see all the way across Lake Lugano into Italy. Now, if only we could go to Italy! We finished our drinks and went back down the funicular to find a pizza place for lunch. After all, we were basically in Italy. We had to get pizza while here!
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the city doing touristy things. We rented bikes and rode along the path by the lake. Then, we found an authentic gelato shop and ate gelato for an afternoon snack. Afterward, we went into a local wine shop to search for our favorite Swiss wine.
Jordan has traveled to Switzerland often over the past few years for work. On one trip, he was out to dinner with his suppliers, and they recommended a bottle of dry white wine, Granito. Jordan enjoyed that wine so much that he bought some to bring back to the United States for me to try. And that’s how it became our favorite Swiss wine. Jordan bought a wooden box from Total Wine to take with him each time he went to Switzerland. He would pack two bottles in the wooden box to bring back after each trip. Switzerland does not export the majority of their wine, so the chances of finding it outside of the country are slim.
But luck was on our side! The local wine shop had our favorite Swiss wine stocked and ready for us to buy. And finally, we were able to learn a little bit more about the wine we like so much. Granito isn’t the name of a region or type of wine like we thought. It’s just what the winemakers wanted to name it! It’s actually a blend of four grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Bianco. We always love our red wine blends, so it is no surprise that we would enjoy a white wine blend as well. The wine is described as fruity, intense, fine, and persistent. We bought two bottles and put them on either side of Jordan’s backpack.
With wine on our mind, we found a local wine bar in Lugano for dinner. We started off with prosecco to celebrate the end of our trip and then tried several different wines as we enjoyed a charcuterie board.
Our day trip to Lugano was coming to a close, and it was time to head back to Lucerne. We pulled up President Macron’s speech as we were waiting for the train and learned about France’s second lockdown starting. It was a somber and quiet train ride back to Lucerne as we processed what this meant. We are thankful for the memories we made on our spontaneous trip to Switzerland and can’t wait to enjoy our new bottles of Swiss wine while stuck at home.
Are you wondering how we are spending our time in lockdown? Check back next week for some big news!