Tag Archives: train travel

Lucerne

Hello from Lucerne! I’m approaching the end of a restorative week in Lucerne, Switzerland. Rainy days encouraged the slow pace, however, the goal of the week was to simply rest, eat right and relax on a level not quite possible moving from place to place – and it was achieved. I’ve been feeling a bit worn down from travel, having an erratic sleep schedule and not eating as well as usual. Getting the right variety of nutrients had been an unexpected challenge during constant travel. 

Well, not exactly healthy a food, but I appreciated the extra time to bake a Nectarine Pie

The luxury of having free time meant home cooking every meal, something I have missed a lot over the last month. Of course the week involved plenty of treats! After a few tries, I figured out a decent pancake breakfast by converting an American recipe to metric measurements that better fit the kitchen equipment. Math was never my strength but I’m a bit ashamed of the disasters I created my first two attempts. A nectarine pie made for another sweet treat near the closing of the week. I must confess though that I didn’t intend to bake a pie at all but was forced to when I realized the pizza dough that I bought was actually dessert dough! 

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A performance after a long rain.

Aside from wonderful tastes the week offered amazing sound as a music festival was on at the lakefront. The week-long Blue Balls festival meant free shows and art performances took place every night along the beautiful lakefront and brought out all sorts of people. The festival provided an excuse to walk around the old town and to the shores of Lake Lucerne after dinner or try food from a variety of food stalls selling everything from roasted nuts or cheesecake to spicy curry. Aside from the major stages, smaller-scale performances were on a few street corners or mini-stages, giving the festival goers a nice variety of sound and styles. Bands come from all over and a fair number performed with English lyrics so I was able to follow along very well. 

Lucerne is a wonderful base for challenging mountain routes and public transportation makes it easy  (but not cheap) to reach trail heads. Only the final full day of the stay was clear enough to for a day hike and I chose Pilatus. The mountain looms over the city and the dragon tales associated with it made it seem like the perfect Lucerne experience. I visited the city once before and did not have time to hike the mountain. So, I was really happy to do it on a second visit.

The hike began at Alpnachstad, an uncomplicated place to reach from Luzern while being less than an eight hour round trip. Alpnachstad is the start of the famous cogwheel railway which goes to the top of Pilatus and drops passengers off at viewing platforms and a cafe. I would have to really work for my coffee and walked the route starting behind the cogwheel rail station. The six kilometers up is very steep, winding through forest, pasture with happy cows and then a series of rocky switchbacks.

Following the steep footpath up from Alpnachstad took 3.5 hours and the views are amazing.

After gaining almost 1,700 meters, at the top I felt a mix of awe and relief. To the west and south are views of beautiful snowy peaks; To the east is glistening Lake Lucerne. I wish there had been another day for exploring the network of different trails around the mountain and beyond but I’m very happy with how the week progressed. 

Now I’m a bit sore, still hungry and planning a few days exploring Prague!

As always, thank you for reading!

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Accidental “Salzburg on a Budget”

I’ve never written a How to Travel on a Budget-type post but after reflecting on a recent day trip to Salzburg, Austria, I see that the visit could definitely be described as “budget travel.” Thus, here is an unintentional How to Visit Salzburg on a Budget post. Keep in mind I did none of the traditional “top” activities – no visits to any palaces, fortresses and no looking for one of the glockenspiels, or eating Mozartkugel (Motzart Balls) or listening to Motzart. Without doing all those things Salzburg is still enjoyable. If you feel that these activities would enrich your visit, go for it, just keep in mind that it will add significantly to the cost. Hopefully your visit can be improved by avoiding my mistakes and notice some of my luck.

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Fun on the wooded hike

Being a hugely popular destination, Salzburg is not especially cheap for staying the night. I recommend visiting as a day trip or a stop-over between any number of regional destinations (Munich, Innsbruck, Vienna). I came via train from Munich and the ride is typically around two hours – nice for throwing together an itinerary, taking a nap or, if it’s a clear day, just enjoying the scenery from a window seat. Bus service is also an option from some cities and a bus runs between the Salzburg train station and Mozart Airport regularly if you intend to fly to your next stop. The main train station has coin operated lockers and is within walking distance from most major sights; heading about one kilometer South will get you into the older area of towns.

The first and most obvious tip I have for you: Visit outside of the high summer season. I went in February but made the mistake of going on a Sunday, although the day was chosen because it promised full sunshine and warm temperatures. Sunday was tough because some shops and restaurants are closed, not all, but it narrows your options.

The second tip: Save money on transport and admission fees with a walking tour of the old town. Wandering the old streets, through squares and along the river is very enjoyable. One of my favorite aspects of this was spotting old iron signs above shops that took many forms like an umbrella, belt buckle and whatever used to be sold during a time when many shoppers were not able to read. An abundance of self-guided walking tour podcasts and PDF maps can be found on iTunes or copied from travel books. Rick Steve’s has a basic free audio guide but it’s rather Motzart-heavy (as you keep reading you will notice that I’m rather indifferent about this favorite son of Salzburg). I recommend finding a few guides ahead of time and creating your own route. It will be more fun and you can count on running into small and unexpected things that will make your adventure truly unique to you. The historic area of town feels small so it’s very easy to plan out a route that hits all of your “must-sees.” Also, think twice before paying an admission fee to see the inside of some grand building as it might not live up to the hype.

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Lunch time view! Riverside picnics are always fun.

Tip number three: Have picnic meals. As expected for a Sunday, few shops and cafes were open but that kept me outdoors and spending less money than I likely would have otherwise; to my horror, no beer garden had outdoor seating, so a leisurely picnic of bread, cheese and beer on the East bank of the Salzach had to do and it was lovely! Aside from a planned meal, it can be fun to go around and gather a selection of food, treats and drinks unique to Salzburg (or all Austria, if this is your only stop) over the course of the day and try them all at once. If you’re a “people watcher” or on a long trip and need some peace, I recommend this as an opportunity to restore your energy and get some sun. The view of the old city and mountains beyond was unobstructed and gorgeous. I’d heard that Salzburg was a very beautiful city but wasn’t fully expecting to be dazzled by it.

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My last tip: Enjoy nature! If you read this blog with any regularity you know how much I enjoy a good hike. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I recommend climbing Kapuzinerberg, the hill in the center of the city, which was the post-lunch activity. One can find several great hikes close to the city but if you’re crunched for time, money or just don’t feel up for something more demanding, visit Kapuzinerberg. If you take the route beginning at Linzergasse, you pass six Baroque Stations of the Cross, created by Salzburg artists between 1736-1744. You will also pass the Felixpforte (from 1632) which is a great place to stop to view the landscape. One cannot visit Salzburg without being constantly bombarded with images of Motzart but on the hill path is a marker noting that for about 15 years writer Stefan Zweig lived nearby – something I never knew. Continuing up the hill, it gets woodsy with leaves crunching under your feet and little purple flowers peeking out from the grass– in warmer weather it would make a nice picnic spot – and a webbing of paths extend over the top. If you want to reward yourself, there’s an inn and restaurant at the top for refreshments on a patio. This is also a place with a nice restroom. Going up and back down takes around two hours but isn’t very strenuous. Although I can’t guarantee it, you shouldn’t require a map for this. Paths are very clearly marked and you will be able to find your way. If not there will be enough other people out to help.

Final thoughts: Mid-February was a delightful time to see the Salzburg. Do take into account that in winter less sunshine means less time for some outdoor activities but lucky timing will allow you to watch the sun set over the city, and as little as 5 hours can give you enough time to get your feet wet.

Thanks for reading!

Ruby