Switzerland (I): Lucerne (Luzern), Lake Lucerne and Mount Rigi

I had been dreaming about visiting Swiss alps for years, finally we set foot on the Swiss soil this past month. It was even prettier than I had imagined!

Lake Lucrerne from the Rigi Kulm Summit!

Our day in Lucerne (or Luzern) was divided into three parts: the city walk, Lake Lucerne boat ride and Rigi Mountain.

Lucerne is Switzerland’s tourism capital, it is very pretty and walkable. We had covered lot of ground in the city in two hours, starting our walk from Lucerne Bahnhofplatz, the central train station.

The followings were our favorite attractions in the city:

  • Bahnhofplatz
  • Chapel Bridge
  • Jesuit Church
  • Lucerne’s Lakefront around St. Peter’s Chapel
  • Lion Monument
  • Bourbaki Panorama

The boat dock for Lake Lucerne was conveniently located by the train station. Our destination was Weggis (#3 on the map), from there we would take a cable car up Rigi mountain (#4). The boat cruised about an hour, perfect time for a lunch break.

It turned out that the cable car to Rigi summit didn’t run for the day because of scheduled maintenance.

So we hopped back to the boat to the next stop, Vitznau.

From Vitznau a cogwheel train, the oldest one in Europe (since 1870), chak chak us up to the summit, Rigi Klum.

The view of ascending was magnificent!! Make sure to sit on the left of the train for the best views!

We had a panoramic birdeye view of Lake Lucerne as shown in the beginning of this post. You had to have camera ready as it passed by very quickly.

Although Mt. Rigi was only 5900 feet in altitude, it was still covered in snow in mid-May. And the temperature dropped from comfortable 55 F to near zero. To make it worse, the Sun was gone too!!

To our surprise, there at the summit of Rigi stood a giant basalt rock labeled “Mt. Emei”, a famous mountain in Southern China. How miss leading! 🙂 As it turns out that Mt. Rigi and Mt. Emei are sister mountains. This stone was shipped from China in 2015, weights 8 tons! And a similar stone from Rigi was shipped to Mt Emei a year earlier.

To save time, we didn’t take the return cruise, instead we rode another cogwheel train down to Arth-Goldau (left of Rigi Kulm on the map), then took a regular train back to Lucerne.

Tips: All the transportation and museums mentioned above and in the future posts of this trip were covered by Swiss Travel Pass. A great deal!

Bruges, the Venice of the North

Bruges (broozh) in English, or Brugge (BROO-ghah) in Flemish, is a popular tourist town in Belgium. Through small, less than one square mile, Bruges is packed with charm. Our family visited there the summer of 2009.  It took about three hours with fast train from London.  The train dropped us right in the center of the town, and there were plenty taxi at the station to take you to hotel.

We stayed at Hotel ter Reien, at the top floor suite overlooking the Huidenvettersplein Canal.  I highly recommend this family-owned budget hotel: great location at the town center, although in the center of the action, the hotel was quiet; the owners were very friendly, they served delicious home-made breakfast.

For sights and attractions, the Bruges by Boat was a must. It was a relaxing and scenic tour with the captain narrating. Bruges was quite photogenic from the canal.

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There were two renowned Squares.  Burg Square was the political and religious heart of the town, a popular place for outdoor concerts during summer night.  Carillon bells could be heard every fifteen minutes.  Make sure to visit “Basilica of the Holy Blood” at the square (below, left). This church was built by the crusaders who had brought back the drops of Christ’s blood in 1150. For a small donation, we touched the vial containing the blood!  Tourist trap or not, we WERE tourists. 🙂

Talking about church, another memorable one was Church of Our Lady (above, right), made famous by the white marble Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. This was the only Michelangelo statue to leave Italy in his lifetime, a testimony of the wealth and power of Bruges in her heyday.

Bell Tower (Belfort) stood over the Market Square.  Around the Market Square, you could find many eateries and shops. Make sure to try frites, the Belgian-style fries. As detrimental to health as frites actually were, Belgians took pride in creating the frites. They were deep fried twice, first round to cook the potato strips, second round to crisp and brown them, the frites were traditionally served with mayonnaise, not ketchup. They might clot my arteries, but boy, they were heavenly with a capital H!

Another snack to try in the Market Square was the pickled herring, and ate it the Dutch way!

For dinner, moules, the Belgium mussels, were a must dish. We ordered ours with white wine (vin blanc), and with shallots (mariniere).  Ever since the trip, the Belgium way has become the only way for me to cook mussels at home. Of course, pair them with dark Belgium beer.

Another delicacy, and great gifts to bring back home, was Belgian chocolate.  Freshly made and sold the same day, Belgians know how to make divine chocolate. The best ones were from Dumon just off Market Square. After Belgium it was hard to go back to American chocolate, no offense Hersey.

My last advice was to pack a warm jacket even in the summer months.  We were there in mid July, the highest of the day was in the 60s. We had to cancel our biking trip because it was too cold!