Day 6 - Lucerne, Switzerland
Yummy hotel breakfast! I decided after reading and re-reading my guides that we really could just hop on any train with the Swiss Pass without reservations, so we took the nearby funicular (free with the pass for us, but since we didn't have the kids' pass yet, we had to pay for them) up the hill to the train station (should have taken it down yesterday), arriving an hour early to sort out the kids' pass and be sure about hopping on. The train schedule was posted the same as the Italian ones, so that was comforting, and though we didn't find the train we were looking for, we found one that left a little earlier. We just hopped on and took a seat (seemed too easy). Sure enough, all we had to do was flash our pass at the conductor. Cool.
I had planned to take a scenic train that connected with a boat ride to Lucerne, but we got the wrong train for that - it didn't stop at the boat dock. Once we figured out what train we were on and where it stopped, we figured out a plan-B that included a cog rail ride up to the top of Mt. Rigi and over the other side, with a boat ride connection to Lucerne anyway - a better deal and more scenic. The Swiss Pass came in handy, as all that transportation was just free (cable cars and boats included). Nice! All the Swiss transportation is timed (exactly) for transfers from one place to another, so we just walked from the train station to the mountain transport station, then to the boat dock with less than 10 minutes wait at any stop.
The cog rail ride was quite scenic, passing cow/goat herder homes along the way (and stopping to deliver mail to a few mailboxes). We saw cows and goats at the top of the mountain, and ate lunch at the café on top. The boat ride was nice too, going along the shore of the lake so we could see the castles and beautiful buildings along the way.
The boys were not having a good day of interactions or listening to instructions so we had to cut short some of the fun. Zach was refusing to wear his pack much as the waist strap "pushed his pants down" and it was "too heavy to carry on his shoulders" and he insisted on wearing crocks so his "toes got smashed" when he walked downhill, so Jim or I carried it a lot of the way.
The boat docked at the train station and we hopped on the city bus (still free with the Swiss Pass - lovin' it!) to our hotel which was a little ways around the lake (10 stops or about 15 minutes). What a nice hotel! Not fancy, but the desk clerk told us to put our bags away and get settled, then come down for a welcome snack and orientation. She gave us drinks and some bread and cheese while sitting down with us and explaining the bus schedule and what was going on in town. There were gummy bears on our pillows and cookies at the reception desk too. That's Swiss Hospitality!
The town of Lucerne was in the last day of its Blue Balls Festival (can't say why it's called that) - an international music and arts festival. Apparently it has been raining for the past week and good weather has just arrived so everyone is excited about attending the festival tonight. They had food booths of various nationalities and booths of stuff from different countries (not appealing since we had backpack with souvenirs like that already). Our plan was to grab a bite to eat at a food booth after walking the famous Lucerne covered bridges and old town. We enjoyed the walk around town. There was a dog that swam across the (very fast moving) river - we watched it get out of the water and watched its owner seem rather unconcerned about it - he said something in German about it being the second time for something, but I couldn't catch it all. Later we saw that same dog (and owner) on the other side of the river .Apparently the dog is obsessed with sticks to the point of jumping in the water to get them. We watched the dog come out of the water again, then later drag a medium sized limb through a crowded sidewalk. The owner hid the branch behind some bushes, but as we were walking away, the dog had just found it again and was dragging it out from under the bush. The owner kept explaining to those around that the dog was crazy (but didn't seem to mind the attention). There's a character in every town.
After wandering around we got hungry and decided that rather than sit down to eat at a café, we would grab something at one of the festival booths. The problem was that we didn't really want to go to Switzerland to eat food that we could get better versions of at home (Mexican, Thai, Indian, etc.). After walking back and forth through throngs of people we gave up and settled on kabobs for the boys and Indian curry for Jim and me. It was fun to people-watch as we ate. The people were so different than in Italy. Everyone was much more modestly dressed - mostly pants or long shorts and not much shoulder showing. Most people were wearing tennis shoes of some form, as opposed to Italy where most shoes were open-toed and always stylish. The crowd was mostly local. Nobody was carrying water bottles (except us), whereas in Italy, everyone had one (granted, it wasn't as hot here, but we were still draining ours on a regular basis - just as in Italy/Greece, there were water-bottle fillers (fountains) in almost every square, for which we have been eternally grateful).
The boys were doing much better earning "G-points" (Noah's term for Good behavior points vs. "B-points for Bad behavior) this afternoon/evening. We decided we had one more must-see place before going back - the Lucerne Dying Lion statue. We fought our way through the crowds of the festival and saw two tractors decorated with Swiss flags "racing" down the street on our way to the Lion statue (there's always something interesting to see).
The Lion statue was truly impressive. The story behind it is that it was commissioned to commemorate Swiss mercenaries who died fighting in the French Revolution. The lion has a spear in his side, and appears to be crying. It is a massive work cut into the rock hillside - beautifully done.
We caught the bus back to our hotel.Jim and I did laundry while the kids fell asleep. I wasn't sure things would dry by morning, so I only wanted to do just enough for tomorrow.