Switzerland by Train: Waterside Lucerne

Lucerne was the final city of our trip – a busy urban spot that hugs a massive lake. The train station in Lucerne was vast and sweeping, with sky high ceilings and hundreds of people rushing past us. It was a complete change from the tiny town of Grindelwald, and for a minute I forgot that I was a New Yorker and felt a pang of overwhelm by the hustle.

One of the appeals of Lucerne is the fact that it’s home to the famous Chapel Bridge, covered in hand-painted murals from the 17th century. In the 1990s a fire destroyed nearly the entire structure – a theory is that a tossed cigarette ignited the thick series of spiderwebs inside of the thatched roof. Most of what you see today was rebuilt and reimagined, but a few original paintings can still be seen on burnt sections of wood.   

On our final full day in Switzerland, it was 93 degrees out. Air conditioning is not a common fixture, even in nicer hotels in the city. My blood descends from Eastern Europe which means that I run hot on a brisk fall day; so needless to say, I was living on the surface of the sun. We made the brave choice to explore a nearby park, “Dreilindenpark”, that sits on top of a steep hill and displays the city in front of it like a sprinkling of lights. Our hotel told us that it was thoroughly “un-touristy”, which was extremely appealing. We hopped the bus (AIR CONDITIONED JOY) and trekked up a few hundred stone steps to the top (aaaand the joy was gone). The view was beautiful though, and we were able to explore some cool old castle-like structures that were tucked into a nature path. It was completely empty, and the silence was almost as soothing as the cool shade from the trees above.

After our sweaty park walk, we signed up for a 1-hour boat tour around the lake. It was a scenic ride with some chatty older ladies from North Carolina riding alongside, but the heat was so unbearable by then that I could barely squeak down a bud light.

Afterwards, the only thing we wanted to do was swim. A nearby swimming spot, “Seebad Luzern”, is essentially a large floating two-story dock. For about $6 USD you get a day pass, access to lockers, sun chairs, bar, and snack bar. We locked up our phones which meant that we had no photos, but it was a rare moment to enjoy an activity without distraction. We spent the next couple of hours jumping off the back docks and into the perfectly crisp water, over and over, until the heat was nothing more than a fleeting memory. The sun deck was cluttered with locals baking in the fierce rays, and intermittently dipping into the water to reset. I was finally feeling like a human again.

For our last night we grabbed a traditional Swiss dinner outside in one of the main squares with musicians playing instruments nearby. The air was finally cooling down, and the breeze from a nearby canal was a treat. After dinner we went wandering with no real direction, choosing a street that looked especially quiet. In just a few minutes we’d gone from a bustling square to near perfect silence. Up at the top of a steep hill was an unexpected surprise – a tiny beer shack with a few round metal tables overlooking the orange sky. A few locals chatted quietly over a pint and birds filled the trees above. I went to pay for my beers, but I didn’t realize until after they were poured that I was short on local cash (it was cash only). I quickly told him that I’d only take one beer after all, and he just shrugged and told me to “pay whatever I had” with a smile. As always, such a small friendly interaction was immediately grounding. It sat with me.

After our drink, we followed a group of locals further uphill on a whim. We were curious to see what existed past a set of 13th Century castle walls that lined the hillside where we had been sitting. We climbed a set of steps that crossed a large field with tall spindly grass. Katie said that it had a spiritual energy to it. The breeze was light, and the sky was a hazy denim blue. A stray cat walked up and down the steps. It felt so far away. At the top of the staircase was an entirely separate neighborhood full of local’s homes, which seemed like they were in a different city entirely.

On our way back down to our hotel, it felt a bit like wandering through Venice at night. It was Sunday and absolutely everything was closed, leaving the skinny streets with nothing but lamplights and the sound of a few shoes echoing off cobblestone.

I always want to freeze my thinking when I’m traveling. “I need to know that I experienced it this way, with this thought”, but maybe it isn’t all meant to be immortalized. The fleeting nature of those perfect thoughts is part of why they’re special. We are just a series of experienced moments. A tiny snapshot of who you are in this time, in this world, as it continues to move forward.

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3 thoughts on “Switzerland by Train: Waterside Lucerne

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    1. Yes it was very sweet! Since it was our last night, I couldn’t even come back later to pay him (though I did find one last coin in the bottom of my bag before we left and added that to the tab!). The heat wave was unexpected, and particularly tough in Lucerne, when it barely cooled down enough to sleep comfortably at night. Still, it was beautiful.

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