Whenever I take a cruise that includes a significant investment in airfare (i.e. Europe), I try to add a few a extra days pre/post cruise. Why not? I'm already there, so I take advantage of the opportunity whenever my schedule allows it.
I did just that last month both before and after my Rhine River cruise. Prior to, I spent a few days in Zurich and explored the beautiful surrounding region. I'll share more about my time after in Amsterdam in another post.
Freezing temperatures and snow that even surprised the locals greeted my arrival into Zurich. I learned years ago I can't do anything about Mother Nature, so when she hands you some lemons, adjust and make some lemonade!
Even though I knew ahead of time the first few days would be iffy weather-wise, I have to admit it was really cold walking around Zurich's Old Town, which limited exploration time in the city. The hot chocolate and coffee sure were good though, and that stop in the chocolate shop - well, let's just say the cold weather kept us in there longer than advisable!
But the cold and dampness spurred us into action. We adjusted our plans, and for that we were justly rewarded.
The original plan was a trip to the mountains on day two, but we changed that to a day later (can't see much in a snow storm) and took the open day to venture out of town on the train. This unexpected excursion turned into a fun and fascinating time. The clouds finally cleared on days three and four, and we took advantage of this too.
The four areas we visited make for wonderful day trips from Zurich year round.
Rapperswil is a quaint and historical town located on the upper end of Lake Zurich and easily reached by train. At the end of the line from Zurich, the one hour ride takes you through the towns along the lake, offering lovely views along the way. The round trip rail tickets were under $20 per person and were purchased right before boarding the train - no reservations required.
We decided to explore this area partly because we wanted to stay out of the rain yet still see the surrounding beauty. The train ride was quite nice and walking around Old Town and the castle did not disappoint. The castle, or schloss, sits on top of the hill and provides wonderful views of Lake Zurich. A little early in the season, we did not get to see the rose gardens, but I imagine they are quite pretty in the summer.
The castle dates back to the 13th century, originally built by area nobility. It has quite a history, and today it is home to the Polish Museum, a restaurant and serves as a venue for special events.
Best way to warm up before venturing out again? Enjoy the local cuisine!
I found the town to be a bit touristy, but considering it is a quite popular destination, this is not surprising. We visited over the weekend AND it was gorgeous day - both I imagine added to the number of people in town. Nevertheless, I found Lucerne to be quite charming and the scenery spectacular.
We were in town for only a short period of time as it was a stop on our Titlus tour - not near enough time. Having a full day or two to explore the town and surrounding area would have been perfect. A cruise on the lake, a visit to the Swiss Museum of Transportation or simply enjoying the town makes for a nice time. Lucerne is also the starting point for a number of excursions , including Mt. Rigi or Mt. Pilatus, as well as the Gotthard Panorama Express, which takes you to the foot of the Gotthard Pass via the lake.
Mt. Pilatus is the mountain that overlooks Lake Lucerne. The peak is reached via gondola from Lucerne or via the world's steepest cog-railway from Alpnachstad. The rail option is only available in the summer months. The summit offers spectacular views, not only of Lake Lucerne but also as far as Germany's Black Forest and the French Alps.
Mt. Pilatus is open year round, with summer months especially popular with hiking opportunities. The area does not offer any skiing, so the crowds were far fewer than what we experienced at Mt. Titlus. The views were indeed amazing and a very different experience from Mt. Titlus.
The weather held out for us on our visit and we were treated to Alpine Horn music, making the entire experience quite special. For an extra ordinary time, consider staying at one of the two hotels at the summit - WOW!
Mt. Titlus is in central Switzerland, a few hours from Zurich, and accessed from the town of Engelberg. The peak is reached on a series of 3 gondolas - the last one a Rotair which turns a full 360 degrees during the 5 minute ride. The top offers stunning views of the surrounding Alps, as well as the opportunity to walk through an ice cave, a venture over the Cliff Walk, Europe's highest suspension footbridge and a ride on the Ice Flyer, a chairlift ride over the Titlus Glacier. I had to the cliff walk - fun and very "bouncy". I had just as much fun watching people walk holding on for dear life! In a permanent winter zone, the top always has some snow and attracts skiers from all over.
This day was our reward for minimal complaints about the previous cold days.
Even though we experienced some of the largest crowds I've ever seen in my life, we were so so fortunate for this experience. Perfect days like we had are quite rare. Sunny days they do get, but combined with late spring snow and perfectly clear skies come around less often. I love being in the mountains, and the views we had presented to us were so stunning, words don't give it justice. I will leave it to the pictures to explain why this a wonderful excursion.
Needless to say, take advantage of your time in an area. My first few days were less than ideal, but they were rewarded with wonderful experiences of a lifetime. Cherished memories - ones that will be with me for a long time.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder