Lovely Lucerne and Dragon Mountain
Considered the birthplace of Swiss tourism, Lucerne is indeed a very popular destination. More than 5 million visitors spend time here each year where many
natural attractions are within reach. The city with a population of around 60,000 hugs Lake Lucerne on the northern edge of the Alps. Paddle steamers
traverse the lake and offer an excellent way to enjoy the surrounding "mountainscape." At nearly every stop, you can get off the boat and go on up the
mountain for a spectacular view of the lakefront and ongoing boating activities.
The bus/train station is centrally located on the lake, and we quickly found the best city bus to transport us to our
hotel, the Best Western Montana Art Deco Hotel (firstname.lastname@example.org). Interestingly, the
hotel features the shortest funicular or cable car in the world, and it's the only way to access the hotel on foot from
the Lake Promenade at the lower street. The very comfortable four star hotel is within easy walking distance from the picturesque Old Town of Lucerne. For hotel rates, click here.
Lucerne is almost like an outdoor museum. Its medieval history is evident in Old Town, which is small enough to be explored on foot
in half a day. An ancient wooden covered bridge, the "Kapellbrücke," (Chapel Bridge) crosses the Reuss river and is the
most visible medieval landmark. Built in the early 14th century as part of the city's fortifications, the paintings that were added in the
17th century illustrate scenes of Swiss and local history. Be prepared to stroll quickly through the bridge as the masses of people
carry you and give little time to enjoy the paintings inside. Halfway through the covered bridge is an octagonal water tower, which was
used as a treasury, prison and torture chamber. Now it houses a small, incongruous souvenir shop which we quickly by-passed.
The north shore of the Reuss River is home to a cluster of medieval houses, with cobblestone squares and
fountains as the centerpieces. It was not easy to get the feeling of a medieval town with the numerous cafes,
shopping and vendors taking up much of the space. A self-guided walking tour takes you to the interesting
Mussegg Wall, impressive stone ramparts built in 1386 which are still nearly intact. There are nine watchtowers
throughout its length, and three towers are open to the public. On one of the towers, the oldest city clock still
chimes every hour one minute before all other city clocks. For more information on Lucerne, check out http://www.luzern.org/001zch_0201_en.htm.
Despite awakening to the only rainy morning of our 12 day trip in Switzerland, we decided to explore the
famous Monte Pilatus (http://www.pilatus.ch). It is one of the most unique features of the area and really a "must-see" attraction. The "Golden Round Trip" to
Pilatus and back to the city can be scheduled in as little as half a day and combines a picturesque lake tour, a ride up the steepest cog railcar in the world
and a spectacular cable car ride down the mountain. We took the city bus from our hotel to the train station which is across the street from the docks.
Once again, our Swiss Pass allowed us to travel aboard the boat. While we had enjoyed the free breakfast at the
hotel, we would recommend the breakfast buffet on the boat (additional fee). The lake tour takes 90 minutes and
schedules several stops on the way before reaching the "Pilatus" dock at the tiny village of Alpnachstad.
Daring the Dragon
There, a short walk leads to the Pilatus cogwheel station. As the train slowly climbs upward
toward the peak of the dragon's mountain, various posted signs signal the change in gradient from 25% to 38% to finally the impressive 48%. Scenery near and far captivates the eye.
When the train finally "docks" at the top, you are at 6,990 feet above sea level. A short walk along the rock-hewn platform leads to two hotels, a German-style beer hall and a restaurant
with scenic windows. On a clear day, you can see 73 alpine summits surrounding Pilatus Kulm.
It's no surprise that there are five hiking trails, from easy to medium, leading to several vantage points. Any one of
the trails gives visitors an even closer experience to finding the mythical dragons which legend say inhabit the
mountain top. The round trip culminates by taking a cable car down the other side of Mount Pilatus to Kriens. The
four-person gondolas are a serene, tranquil ride gliding over scenic chasms and slowly reaching the bottom. Along
the way you can hear the bells from grazing cows, but we couldn't see them due to the giant pine trees which nearly touched the gondola.
On our trip down we saw a fun summer-time toboggan slide and numerous hikers walking from the summit. (Note
- do not get off the gondola until you reach the final destination at Kriens. The gondolas go through a station and
even if the doors automatically open, you must stay seated). The only caveat we would suggest is pick one of the many sunny days to visit the Dragon mountain peak.
Even after 12 days, we agreed that our time in Switzerland was not enough. We plan to return again soon and enjoy the traditional Swiss hospitality by planning
even more outdoor activities and perhaps scheduling some of our trips by car in order to have a more flexible
schedule. Ending our journey at the impressive Lucerne on the lake was one way to always have a fond spot in our hearts for the many showcases of this beautiful country!
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