Monday, July 20, 2009

Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

We decided that for our second travel day this weekend, we would do a trip with fewer train transfers and something more kid-oriented. After researching our trusty embassy brochure, we decided to go to Lucerne and take a tour of Mt. Pilatus.

Because Lucerne is a direct, relatively short train ride from Basel, we were able to take the 10am train rather than an early train as we've done for our other trips. Although I hoped we'd have time to look around Lucerne a bit, the schedule required us to take a local train directly from the Lucerne station to Alpanstad, where we would then get on the "steepest cog rail" in the world to go to the top of Mt. Pilatus.

The weather here has been trying, and our last two train trips were a bit rainy and cold. We checked the weather for our Lucerne trip and saw that it promised to be sunny and cool, so we were really excited. As we left Basel, however, the weather was still gray and rainy.

By the time we reached Mt. Pilatus station, the sun was just starting to peek out of the clouds. Our Swiss Flexi Pass got us to the cog wheel train station for free, but to do the actual mountain tour, we had to pay 50% of the ticket cost -- about $60 US (the kids were free, as they are for most things in Switzerland). Since there were quite a few people in line ahead of us and the train runs regularly, we decided to grab lunch first and then go up the mountain.
We ate at the Cafe Chalet Restaurant across the street from the Pilatus station. Since it was still a bit cool outside, we ate inside the restaurant, which had plain pine walls and rustic tables. Jim ordered weinerschnitzel, I ordered macaroni and cheese with applesauce and the kids split a weiner and pommes frites platter -- it came with two weiners and plenty of fries, so they were thrilled.

I often joke with my friends that if I was limited to eating food of one color, I would pick white -- cheese, bread, pasta, cream, apples (the inside), potatoes -- anything that was white/off white in color suits me fine. The macaroni and cheese I ordered was the ultimate in all white meals! It was Emmentaler cheese over pasta and potato chunks, with applesauce in a side dish. I told Jim the next time he makes mac and cheese at home, I want him to do it the same way. Delicious!

After the meal, I took the antsy kids outside. They both picked seats on some stones in the garden next to the restaurant.

Then we headed over to the cog wheel train. It's built like a stair case -- each car of 8 people is a "step" up from the next car, so that even though the train is practically heading straight up the mountain, you are able to sit upright.

Once we started going, Jack was thrilled. From his seat, he could look straight up the train at the track ahead!
As we first left the station, this was our view:

After a few minutes, the sun really started to shine.

The ride up the mountain was something I'll never forget. The scenery was beautiful and there were places where the mountain just dropped away right next to the train. A couple of times, there were cows grazing so close to the tracks that I could have reached out the window and touched one. And...we had to travel through several tunnels in the mountain where the rock sides of the tunnel were close enough to touch. It was really unforgettable. Unfortunately, this is where I realized my camer battery was getting low, so I didn't take a lot of pictures.

At the top of Mt. Pilatus, there are two hotels. This is a view of the Pilatus Kulm Hotel. We stopped into their panoramic cafeteria for some hot drinks and dessert shortly after we arrived at the top.
Here are Jim and the kids at the top. We were up in the clouds and it was pretty cool with the wind up there. Below is a view from near the Hotel:

There are a number of hikes and walks that you can take from the hotel area. We chose to explore the "Gallery" which was a tunnel through the side of the mountain with various "windows" that opened up to see views of the opposite side of the mountain. This is the door to the Gallery.
Unfortunately, most of the cloud cover was on that side of the mountain -- here is a picture where you can see some lines from the mountain disappearing into the clouds. As we explored the cave, the clouds started to move over the mountain top and into the little cave with us.

Here is a picture of Jim and Jack inside the cave by one of the window views, with the clouds rolling in.

After spending some time at the top, and shopping at the little souvenir store, we took a large (30 person) cable car down to the next mountain level, where they had a ropes course set up and a Rodelbahn, or summer toboggan. Jim seems to be making the tour of Switzerland's Rodelbahns, because our sole purpose for stopping there was so he could take the kids on a couple of rides. As we headed down the other side of the mountain, the weather finally started to clear on that side.

This is Lake Lucerne from the first cable car stop.

This is a view of part of the city:

And this is an overhead view of a part of the Rodelbahn, which is apparently the longest in Switzerland.
Jim and kids bought tickets to the ride and I settled down at some tables near the start of the Rodelbahn. The sun finally came out to stay. Here is Jack in his Swiss Military cap (his souvenir choice).

I snapped another picture of the lake when the sky brightened up:

The kids (including Jim) really enjoyed the Rodelbahn. After they took their rides, we got into the smaller gondolas and headed to the next level, which featured a children's playground.

Here's Lily checking out the view:

The playground was absolutely amazing. It had a castle playhouse with all sorts of nets and ladders to climb, an underground "cave" complete with gnomes, a small brook to splash in, and a ton of other play equipment. Needless to say, the kids had a blast.

After they played for about and hour, we got on the small gondola again and descended to the bottom of the mountain. Here is the last shot I got on the camera before it died.

Jim got a number of great shots on his iPhone, too, so we'll have quite a collection for the family album. Once we arrived at the foot of the mountain, we took a quick 5 minute walk to a local bus station and went back to the train. We were home by 7:30. What a great trip!


cath said...


Anonymous said...

What beautiful pictures! Now I want to go to Switzerland!!

Barry and Carol

Anonymous said...

Just beautful.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful pics, makes me want to go back to Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus.