Cities / Towns Visited: 22
Countries Visited: 8
Steps Taken Today: 11,074
Steps Taken Around the World: 950,138
After a restless sleep in a rather uncomfortable bed, and a quick hostel breakfast, we headed out for our day’s adventure. The dull overcast weather wouldn’t dampen our spirits though. During the planning stage of our trip we had realised that the day we were planning on going up Matterhorn, the lift would be closed for maintenance, thus we reversed the direction in which we had decided to circle the country. Due to this we were fortunate enough that our timing had henceforth almost perfectly aligned with the opening of the seasons running of the world’s steepest cogwheel railway in Lucerne, which climbs the side of Mt Pilatus, as it had opened only the previous day.
Coupled with the half price discount we received by way of our Eurail pass we joyfully bought our Golden Round Trip ticket; a scenic circle route which includes a boat cruise across Lake Lucerne, the cogwheel railway up the mountain, two scenic cable cars back down the other side, and the bus back to the city. There was a chill in the air as the boat pulled away from the dock, but the sound of smooth jazz drifted from the other side of the lake, and we had seats right at the edge near the bow of the boat, so our sightline and the general atmosphere was spectacular. The boat floated smoothly over the placid lake, stopping occasionally to pick up passengers alongthe way. The mountaintops were shrouded in mist and a few other boats bobbed lazily on the lake as we continued. An Asian American woman beside us spent the entire time not only taking selfies with her selfie stick, but unashamedly asking almost every single person around her to take her picture as well. Once I’d done so twice for her, I made a point of turning my back as to not be roped in again. I’d paid good money to enjoy this view, and I intended on doing just that. No part of me could understand why she couldn’t just do the same. By the end of that boat trip she must have had around a hundred photos, and not a single one didn’t have her posing in it.
After almost an hour we eventually pulled into our final dock, and as the boat was moored, we watched a pair of young men land a fish off the pier. As we alighted the vessel and headed towards the cogwheel railway, it was with a level of disdain and bemusement that we saw the aforementioned woman head to the pier and ask the men attempting to wrangle their fish, to also take her photo. We chuckled and shook our heads at the absurdity of it all as we took our seats on the train. Now when I say steepest, I mean steep. The seats have to be set in such a way that they are grouped and levelled, so the carriage is essentially a stepped series of platforms. The track varies in gradient, but sits, for the most part at around 45° or more. Our ascent took the best part of 40 minutes, and as the gears ground under the weight of our excitement, we passed up through the lush green forests of the foothills, through the thick mist, and finally rising up through the clouds, into the bright light of day beside the sheer cliffs and snow capped peak of the mountain.
Once more we were above the clouds, and I will attest to the fact that it doesn’t get old. With joy, we stepped off the train and scurried upstairs to the viewing platform. Now Lucerne sits at the end of the Alps, and, as a result, from one side you looked out into the distance at the backs of the mountains we had been so close to only two days prior, on the other, not a single peak pierced the fluffy white blanket of clouds, which spread out before us until it met the horizon. It was like looking at the ocean of some alternate reality. Feeling a little peckish, we settled down to a couple of bratwurst with fries, as a group of alpine horn players serenaded all of us lucky tourists with their hauntingly beautiful sound.
As we assessed the map we soon discovered there was a few different paths in which to explore the top of the peak. A couple were closed as the winter snow had not yet melted enough to allow clear passage, but two remained open. The first circled around, out of sight from the station, and as we rounded the corner and headed down a series of steps, we were spat out on a path etched into the side of the cliff. The view was stunning. At one point you could see a small Alpine church just sitting in the middle of nowhere on a dip in the peak; a large cross standing proudly on higher ground. A little closer to us sat the closed entrance to a hiking track, which I’m assuming was shut due either to the weather related ground instability, or wind. This of course didn’t stop a couple from completely ignoring the sign and climbing to a precarious cliff edge to obtain the perfect selfie. They were then replaced by a series of others following their poor example. We simply shook our heads, commented on the fact their travel insurance (should they have any) definitely wouldn’t cover ‘fall from closed cliff’, and moving on, as neither of us felt like bearing witness to their stupidity should they topple off the edge. But at least they got that selfie right?
The path continued, going through a long tunnel in the rock, with small openings looking out to the scenery beyond. The ‘Dragon’s Den’, they call it, mainly due to the old folk legend in which they believed that healing dragons lived up on this peak; this coupled with their belief that the Roman Prefect, and the man who reluctantly sentenced Jesus to be crucified, Pontius Pilate was buried at the top; was the reason that climbing it was forbidden for a long time. This is obviously a fantastical story, however as you stand in the dark tunnel and look out over the clouds, it’s does seem like the kind of place dragons would reside should they exist. The trail ended just near the hotel, and we lamented slightly at not having the means to stay in such a magical location.
We eventually stepped back into the station, and after taking a quick break, and downing a cider each, we headed to the other short trail which heads up to a viewing platform fifty meters or so above the level of the station. As we ascended we laughed once more as we spotted the Asian American woman from the boat, now hassling passers-by to take her photo once more. The highlight of course being a man quite abruptly denying her request and trudging on, leaving her looking somewhat astonished at the idea that not everyone is interested in feeding her ego. ‘She’s definitely going to get photos on that cliff,’ I thought to myself as we continued.
After snapping our fill of sweeping panorama photos, we wandered back down, slipping onto the first of two cable cars and descending back down through the mist. The second cable car took a good 20 minutes to reach the base, swaying casually over leisurely hiking trails. From here we located the bus and headed back. A quick bite to eat for dinner and we were tucked into bed again soon enough.
As I looked back at the days journey, my thoughts couldn’t help but creep back to the Asian American woman. I wondered why she had bothered to waste her money when she had seemed totally disinterested in actually appreciating the incredible environment surrounding her. To top it off, she was actively taking away from everyone else’s experience. If she simply wanted a series of photos with herself in front of different backgrounds, surely it would be cheaper to simply learn how to use photoshop. It wasn’t just the cogwheel railway who’s gears ground up that mountain today. It’s people like that which give us Millennials a bad name; the reason the rest of the generations believe us to be self absorbed and vapid. These are the people that spout about the importance of travel and living life to the full, and yet here they stand, imprisoned by their devices, stuck in some sick cycle of requiring likes to sustain them, seemingly incapable of obtaining a sense of self worth without the meaningless approval of strangers. They travel to far off places, but are they really actually there. If you don’t stop to be present in your surroundings, have you really travelled? You may think every one of us who grew up in this age of social media is cut from this same cloth, but I’m here to assure you that we are not.