My final post of this trip is a long one, but I hope you feel it was worth it in the end!
This was the view that greeted me as I stepped out on the balcony upon wakening on our last full day abroad. On our final day in Lucerne, we were scheduled for a group tour of the lake and Mt. Pilatus, so we were hoping for good weather. We had a wonderful lake cruise in a boat chartered just for our group of 40 Vantage Travelers. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, so the photographers opted for the top deck and enjoyed the fresh air and warm sun. The views were spectacular, including the top of Mt. Pilates, 7,000 feet up. There were beautiful white puffy clouds hanging about, however, so we were hoping they would stay put and not cause a white-out at the top of the mountain.
It was a day of experiencing many forms of transportation. Following our one-hour boat tour, we disembarked at the railway station and boarded rail cars for our 30 minute trip up to the top of Mt. Pilates. It was a steep ride, often at a 25-30% grade and I was fortunate enough to get the spot right behind the conductor where I could either shoot photos out the front window or out the open side window. In many cases, I stuck my camera out the side window and pointed straight ahead where I was able to get some dramatic wide-angle (24mm) shots. FABULOUS! The conductor was a sweet man, too, pointing out everything he thought I should capture with my camera.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we were in awe with the fabulous view. The facilities were quite nice at the top with a restaurant, self-serve takeaway, and wonderful walking paths with stairs leading up to view points or down through tunnels leading to the backside of the mountain. I hiked up the two main paths to the highest points of the mountain and down through two tunnels. In between, we were entertained by Swiss men playing haunting tunes on their traditional Swiss horns, as well as by three paragliders! Now, that wasn’t something I expected to see, but we sure were entertained, especially when one of the paragliders returned to buzz by the onlookers a couple of times, so we could get some good shots. I was so surprised at how close they came and how quick he flew by, I wasn’t able to get a good shot off. Instead, I cheered him on!
After almost an hour and a half we were given to explore the hiking trails at soak in the beautiful picture postcard scenery, we boarded a large cable car that took us part of the way down the mountain. While we were boarding, a cloud enveloped our car for a complete white-out! We all just laughed, because we knew how lucky we were to have enjoyed perfect weather up at the top of the mountain, so we would have been asking for too much to expect it to continue any longer; especially since white-outs are common up on the mountain.
As we descended, we were ecstatic to drop from the cloud, back into bright sunshine, again! My Vantage travel mates, Mom and I were back to snapping away…
On the way down, we took in the scenery of gorgeous trees and cows happily grazing on bright green grass. We loved hearing the bells around their neck, but I wondered if the cows ever get tired of hearing them…
The remainder of our 20 minute cable ride was spent in smaller cable cars that seated four people, after transferring from the larger car, part-way down the mountain. What a breathtaking experience it all was! Again, I felt like I had lived in the pages of a photo calendar or coffee table picture book; the kind I loved to pour over as a kid (and still do).
After being transported by bus (our final mode of transportation for the day) back into town, we visited the Lion Monument. The dying lion of Lucerne, carved into natural rock, was created in 1820/1821 in memory of the Swiss heroes who gave their lives at the Tuileries in Paris, in 1792. As you can see, it is quite the stone carving! We were all in awe…
We still had a few hours to enjoy the gorgeous weather, so Mom and I stayed in town to do some (more!!!) photography. Needing to cool off from the warm sun, we also popped into Denner to write down some grocery store prices and pick up some (more!!!) chocolate. Prices in Switzerland are steep. A lake-front home will set you back 3-9 million Swiss Francs (which is stronger than our dollar). A Big Mac will cost you 12 Francs; $15 in our currency. Dine in a restaurant and you will go broke in a hurry. Main courses start at 25 Francs and shoot on up from there- even at small, casual restaurants in the city. (Something as basic as a bratwurst at a cart is 6 Francs.)
In Denner, these are some of the prices I noted (all are in Swiss Francs):
Yogurt- 175 grams (about 6 ounces) = 1.25
Bag of four small oranges = 2.25
Baguette = 2.20
6pk cans of Coke = 3.95
1 kg (2.2 pounds) of sugar = 1.95
100 g (3+ ounces) of Denner store brand chocolate = .45 (Wooohooo; what a deal!)
So, my conclusion was that some prices were comparable to prices in our stores (cereal and several other items were priced the same), however, others were steep. Basically, if you do all of your own cooking and avoid dining out, you would be ok in Switzerland. But, their standard of living and income is one of the highest in the world, so it is all relative. The lowest annual salary anyone makes there is 30,000 Swiss Francs.
As for how the prices affected me, I quickly learned to only photograph the chocolate in the chocolatier displays and admire their artistry. At US $60 per pound, on average, purchasing any was not an option. Instead, I stocked up at the three grocery store chains, mostly buying their store brand at bargain prices.
“Dining” on our own was stopping for to enjoy Gelati for lunch or eating a bratwurst at a cart in the square. One night for dinner, we found a back street takeaway and picked up a couple of falafels that we ate at the little café table outside. It wasn’t a bargain at 8 Swiss Francs, but it sure beat the ridiculously high price of dining.
Mom was determined to dine by the river just once, though, so she treated us to a shared Tarte Flambe and main course-sized Swiss salad (with Swiss cheese, sausage and mixed greens). Thanks Mom!
Our last night was lovely, dining at the Palace Hotel with a view of the lake. It was our included farewell dinner and we dined in style. What a wonderful way to end a spectacular trip on a high note! And, to cap it off, Mom and I took the funicular to the hotel up the hill from ours, so we could soak in this gorgeous view:
And, on that note, I will wrap up this marathon post by saying this trip was no less than PERFECT.
Nico was a wonderful program manager (our guide for the 44 of us in the yellow group) and Vantage Travel was excellent. I feel completely comfortable highly recommending them, so please let me know if you are interested, so I can provide them your contact information to receive a catalog. Disclaimer: I do receive a $100 discount on future travel if somebody I recommend books a trip; however, that is not my motivation. Besides, whomever I refer ALSO gets $100 credit! Vantage Travel is fantastic, and, from what I hear from other passengers, a better deal than competitors and (almost) everything is included in the price.
Thank you for sticking with me and reading my posts; I hope you enjoyed them!