Switzerland looks like a postcard of Switzerland. Green mountains plunging into crystal blue lakes. Grassy fields as far as the eye can see. Immaculate trains that are on time except when they catch on fire (more on that later). Bike trails that run like a swiss watch, ticking back and forth between countryside and town centers. Cool sunny weather.
On Lake Lucerne near Fluelen.
We left Italy by train, following directions given to us by a couple of Swiss bike tourists that we met in Italy: Siena to Milan (where we stayed overnight), Milan to Chiasso (the border), Chiasso to Bellinzona, Bellinzona to whereever. We had a day to spend around Switzerland before meeting Suzanne’s family friends in Lucerne. We did Google Images searches of the nearby train stops and chose the town of Fluelen since it seemed the most quaint and scenic. It also had a Swiss National Bike Route running through it.
At Chiasso we switched from Italian trains to Swiss trains. TrenItalia usually got us where we needed to go (except when the workers went on strike, but that was only for half a day), but the trains were always a little wild-west: there may or may not be a bike car, or a conductor, or air conditioning, and when there was air conditioning often someone would open a window anyway. The Swiss trains, by contrast, look like something out of a train magazine, as if each car had just been washed and/or painted. All the train workers spoke English, often excellent English. We had a six-minute transfer in Bellinzona, which was worrisome: would we have to dash across the station running down and up stairs to get to another platform (which we had done in both France and Italy). But no, the trains were both on the same platform: the Swiss were organized. We got off one train, waited in place for five minutes, and then got on the other train. On the more local trains, there are multiple monitors in each car indicating the next few stops.
However, the train to Fluelen had an uncharacteristic event: the conductor came walking hurriedly through our car, talking animatedly in Swiss German, and a minute later the train stopped and lots of smoke started wafting around the outside of our car. It turned out that one of the brakes on the car behind us had locked up. The Swiss put out the fire, disconnected the last three cars, and continued on, announcing that we we running 34 minutes behind. We were pretty happy about the whole thing, because the cars that were disconnected were all second class, so there was no longer space for all the second class passengers — so we moved up to first class, where there were full-height windows that allowed us to see more of the mountain valleys that we were going through.
First class wife
Fluelen, where we stopped, did not disappoint. Its train stop was directly on Lake Lucerne, surrounded by mountains. There was a cafe next to the station on the lake, with many people who had backpacks and trekking poles, and were apparently doing hikes around the area.
Suzanne is very happy to be in the Alps.
In addition to being super-beautiful, the other thing we immediately noticed about Switzerland was that it was super-expensive. Ten dollars for a bratwurst, seven dollars for a slice of cake, fifteen dollars for a cocktail. Without a place to stay here, we probably woudn’t have come at all due to the cost.
The first day of biking around Lake Lucerne was a radical departure from the Val dal Infierno in Italy. It was cool and sunny, and there was a marked national bike path (route 3) that went around the lake. We didn’t have a map, and we didn’t need one either: there were signs at every turn, and often when there wasn’t a turn. There was almost always a separate bike lane, and when the road went through the mountain, there was always a lane and often a separate bike tunel — in one case about three-quarters of a kilometer long.
We camped out on the lake, and went to the next day to the house of Suzanne’s family friends, Denise and Kjell Mattson. It was an excellent change of pace to stay with them, to be in an actual home instead of a campground or a hotel. We did laundry, surfed the internet, and generally lounged around.
With Denise and Kjell at their house.
Denise and Kjell took us to a mountaintop restaurant, where you order in sausages and cook them yourself, enjoying the swiss beer and the spectacular view at the same time.
Enjoying Swiss barbeque.
After a very relaxing And rejuvenating stay with the Mattsons, we set out going north on Swiss national bike route 3 again. We spent 2 days on route 3, going from Lucerne to Basel. It twisted and turned through cute towns and fields and hills, with excellent singnage almost the entire way except for one construction site where a sign was taken down at an important intersection. Nevertheless, it was an inspiring demonstration of how easy biking across half a country can be with a national bike route.
From Basel we headed north by a train to Strasbourg, where is Suzanne spent the first year after college.