Postcard 3 – Billy no mates tour of Switzerland

Luzern, Kriens, Pilatus Kulm, Oberhaupt and Hergiswil

The train drops us smoothly into the centre of Luzern (if you’re looking it up try Lucerne) and I make my way out of the station looking for a Tourist Information and bingo, as usual, perfectly placed. I peruse the racks looking for cable cars and rack trains and find two in no time. The leaflets are both in English and contain detailed instructions on how to get there. However, in a fit of wisdom I decide to ask about the weather and the two shortlisted trips. The lady is helpful beyond call and assess the current weather with a quick check on her computer and responds with a question coupled with a serious look on her face, “When would you like to do these trips?” I answer by saying I need to be back in Geneva by Friday and she shakes her head.

“You will be able to do one of them and I suggest this because you can be at the base of the cable car in forty minutes”, she continued, “…it is now noon”

I agree and ask about hotels, they’re usually good at that.

“Hotels will wait, it isn’t yet the tourist season, you need to go now and be back down by five o’clock this afternoon when it will rain very hard”, she gestures with her hands the intensity of the rain as if she is talking to a child, she’s not being condescending, just wanting to emphasise the storm expected. I ask about my rucksack on cable cars and she tells me it’s fine so over the road I go looking for the number 1 bus to Kriel.

I’m grasping my one day travel card bought as part of the package but nobody asks. I’m also watching the monitor for telltale evidence of being where I need to be and nearly come unstuck as Pilatustrade is indicated as the next stop and we’ve only been travelling five minutes so I ask in a voice loud enough for the immediate area, “Pilatus cable car” and add the upwards inflection to turn it into a question as is the practice in Europe (Australians think on!).

There’s lots of German accented “Nos” and “Neins” and two locals who point at my iPhone map showing me where to alight all done without English and with warmness and charm – I like people that travel on buses!

It’s a minor walk from where I leave the bus and it’s all up but well signed and I note that other people who are intent on this trip are also carrying rucksacks of various sizes but I don’t think theirs have all their worldly goods.

At the cable car station my pass needs to be magically turned into something the gate can read so a QR code is produced by a lovely lady who is standing by for anyone who doesn’t have the requisite ticket (or looks old) not sure of my category but the next thing I know is I’m on.

It’s a four seater and the family before me and after me are composed of four so I get one to myself which means I can wriggle about a bit with my camera – result.

I reach the cable car station in less than ten minutes which is a surprise. The views thus far have been spectacular as I look down on Lake Lucerne and its towns. The vista is fabulous but further away they turn hazy as the Alps are cloaked in thick intimidating cloud that are a photographers delight so I get off. The attendant at the station looks surprised and gestures for me to return to the gondola. I’m a little confused until I realise that this is an intermediate stop where people can alight and walk either down or up the mountain on well maintained paths – well they are going down!

I jump back in and ten minutes later after I’ve been suspended in cloud that intermittently thins to reveal fabulous views each time higher and each time more dramatic. I love this.

At the top (which turns out not to be the top) there’s a restaurant where a well anticipated coffee is enjoyed looking out over the cliffs, cloud, lake and mountains and it’s still warm.

I spend half an hour looking at the facilities that the Swiss provide. There are zip wires, tree walks, chair lifts through the forests and even an all year tobogán run, then I discover I’m only half way up and the next leg is the “Dragon Ride”.

The Dragon Run has been completely shrouded in the thick cloud (or maybe it just breathed out) and I notice its existence by virtue of a sinister dark shape actually moving in the cloud, it’s heading down at a fair rate and it’s almost vertical. I can get closer to it by virtue of a path and discover the cable car to the summit actually runs every fifteen minutes from a different part of the building where I’d arrived half-an-hour ago.

So the summit it is then.

The Dragon Ride in heavy cloud is not challenging although we are assisted in our understanding by an American lady who’s done this before. She assures the whole gondola that, “On a clear day you can see clear down the revine and it can ‘render you shitless…” Sooo, I’m doing a bit of mental arithmetic, a dozen people on a gondola this size could be alarmingly productive – I’m glad it’s cloudy!

At the top there is a Hotel and a couple of places to eat and snow!

I spend some time taking snaps and looking down the rack-railway line that’s being trialed ready for full use in early June. Apparently it’s been the victim of late snow so the summer start time has been put back three weeks. There are also some steps to the summit of this peak. It’s a bit of a stretch as the air is thin but I do it for completeness.

There’s the inevitable cross up there, this one is about ten feet high and made of metal with lots of covid masks wrapped around one of its support wires. I think of them as metaphors for good and evil and, rather than looking bad, I find them a symbol of hope and togetherness for the future.

I make my way back to the reception area of the cable car and do a quick TripAdvisor run for hotels in Hergiswil and get a result that requires a bit of detective work to ensure it isn’t a ruse. It’s got a jacuzzi, heated pool and hot tub and they’re doing a deal with breakfast for 98 Swiss Francs (about £90) and it overlooks the lake and it has 4.8 on it’s reviews. It’s so good I decide to wait until I’m in a position to see it and risk loosing it.

The cable car going down seems to take forever as I think of the hotel on the lakeside but it’s still showing when I get to the bottom.

I phone-map my way to Hergiswil by way of two busses and a train then walk along the lake front in the predicted rain complete with loud thunder and the occasional light show.

The hotel looks outstanding so I go back on line and book it then walk in. I find that they’d put two rooms on for that price just for one night to raise the profile and I got the second one so being a bit of a chancer I said I’d have it for two nights if she could hold the price – after a brief discussion in the back – she did!

I’m a happy man, the room’s good and the facilities are outstanding and if the forecast is to be believed I may be spending at least some of tomorrow looking out over the lake in the heated infinity pool – it’s a hard life being retired.

Tonight I walk the front of the lake but it seems the cafes and bars have Mondays off so it’s back for a light meal and an even lighter alcohol intake, at £9 for ‘nearly’ a pint my sobriety has time to catch up.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

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