Having fallen asleep around 9pm, Michael and I were both wide awake by 3am, and we could see from the window of our hotel room that a few stray revelers were just heading home for the night. While we waited for the sun to arrive, I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, landing on a German-dubbed episode of Frasier. Around 5am, we started getting dressed for the day and then went for a walk through the dark, pre-dawn city around 6am.
The one benefit of going for a stroll before anything is open is that you have everything to yourself. The streets were empty, save for a few garbage men and early rising chocolatiers, the latter of whom fill their storefronts with impeccably crafted and arranged confections such as these:
I wanted to see Luzern’s famous Lion Monument, and after a long, uphill hike and an unnecessary detour, we found it. But it was 7am and the uncooperative sky was still black as midnight, so the sculpture, though drenched in a sort of ethereal, misty quietude, was barely discernible, and our trek was all for naught. We made the long journey back to the city center and stopped in a small cafe where we dropped 13 francs on two small cups of coffee and three dry but quickly-devoured croissants.
Before heading back to our hotel, we visited the Jesuit Church, one of Luzern’s most distinguishing landmarks. We went inside and were the only ones there, the silence adding to the hair-raising creepiness that always overwhelms me in any church, especially old ones (except for Notre Dame in Paris, which I love). The sanctuary was filled with the echoes, gold leafing, and various adumbrations of eternal piety typical of most European churches.
Our Luzern itch sufficiently scratched, we returned to our hotel room, packed up, and walked to the train station, where we set out on our first ride on the Golden Pass, one of the Swiss rail system’s scenic/panoramic routes. It did not fail to please, and I can’t imagine a ride on the Polar Express would be more magnificent, awe-inspiring, or surreal. The journey from Luzern to Wilderswil (via Interlaken) climbed up, up, up through mountains that heaven itself would have difficulty replicating. Cozy chalets and fairytale villages dotted the snowy landscape, topped by chimneys exhaling inviting plumes of smoke into the cold, clean Alpine air. Children could be seen sledding down hills in their own backyards, and foggy-breathed livestock huddled for warmth aside rustic barns. It was a feast for the eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel consumed by gratitude for somehow being lucky enough to experience such a beautiful place.
Once we arrived in Wilderswil, we walked all the way up the tiny village’s main road, at the terminus of which our hotel, Hotel Baren, was located (I would like to make an aside here to note that the Swiss seem to be preternaturally obsessed with bears; this was one of three hotels we stayed at which were named after said beast). It was a quaint bed and breakfast with ascetic but clean accommodations. It was getting to be late in the afternoon by the time we’d checked in and cleaned ourselves up, so we explored the village for a while after dark, picked up some rations at the grocery store, and holed up in our room for the night, drinking wine and eating bread and cheese and watching movies on our laptop. Perhaps not the most adventurous way to spend an evening in a foreign land, but it suited me quite well.
The next morning, we got up early and decided to take the train to Grindelwald to see what kind of wintry trouble we could get into. We’d heard that Grindelwald would be crowded, and indeed it was, but not to the extent that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. It’s an adorable village with plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy even if you don’t feel like hitting the extensive slopes in the surrounding area. Michael was hoping to get some skiing in, but since I have all the grace of a cracked-out, epileptic Rhesus monkey on even the most delicately pitched of bunny slopes, he took pity on me and we rented two sleds instead. And oh what fun it was!
A bus filled with the fracas of a half-dozen foreign tongues and the wailing of children took us up a series of precarious hairpin turns to the top of a mountain. The view on our ascent gave me that almost fearful feeling I get whenever nature manifests itself in such a large and consuming way. The stunning peaks seemed to stare down at my small, insignificant self with ancient authority. When we reached our drop-off point, almost above the tree line, we fetched our sleds from below the bus and took off down the trail. Any nerves I had about careening down the mountain were quickly calmed when I realized how immensely fun the sport was and how incredible my surroundings were. As much as I loved gaining speed, I had to pause periodically to take in the landscape.
Eventually, we made it back down to Grindelwald, returned our sleds, and explored the shops before getting on the train back to Wilderswil. We spent the evening in our cozy room and ended with a nightcap of Switzerland’s finest one-franc brew:
I wouldn’t say it was “Lager Hell,” but I don’t think we’ll be importing it any time soon.
Next post: Day 4 – Murren and Bern