Day 1: Mount Rigi and Zurich

View of Swiss Alps from Mount Rigi

“This is your captain speaking. Due to intense fog in Zurich with visibility around twenty meters, landing will be delayed for about twenty minutes or so. Thank you for your patience.”

I didn’t mind, since it gave me more time to soak in the glorious views. Fog? Nada. Soaring through the clear skies, I saw the Swiss Alps, ragged tops capped with endless snow. I saw green hills, covered in lush pine forests, and topped with medieval stone castles. I saw lush valleys, dotted with houses and farmlands. And then I saw what the captain was speaking about.

At first, I thought it was a huge lake of some sort, but as we flew closer I realized it was a valley, filled with thick, white fog. As we plunged through it, I waited for a few seconds, expecting it to clear up and be able to see the city of Zurich below me, but I was startled when, momentarily, the plane hit the runway, fog still swirling all around.

I then understood the full meaning of ‘visibility of twenty meters.’ I could not see past the width of the runway, and maybe some grass, but everything else was a vacuum of grey mist, as if the clouds had dropped from above and hung around the plane, concealing everything else beyond.

Though I was fascinated by this immense amount of fog, I was somewhat annoyed at the inability to see what Zurich looked like from above. Maybe later the fog would lift.

But even after we boarded a train about an hour or so later, though the visibility was, at least, more than twenty meters, I could still only catch a glimpse of some houses and buildings before they were lost in the mist. What houses I did see, however, were beautiful, built in the traditional German style, with cute wooden panels.

After a while, we whirled through a tunnel, and as the train emerged, I gasped at the sight that rolled into view. A gorgeous pine forest, with a broad, bubbling stream, glistening in the golden sunlight, without a hint of mist to be seen. The water danced over rocks, reflecting the grand, tall trees above. But this bright, colorful corner of paradise disappeared in a flash as we zoomed into yet another tunnel…

…and out again. Oh, the shimmering water, majestic trees, glorious sunlight – another tunnel…

…and out again. Oh, the shimmering water, majestic – another tunnel…

…and out again. But this time, a whole valley slowly opened up before me. It was then that I realized a benefit of sitting backwards, if you don’t get motion sickness, that is. If you sit facing the direction the train is going, one can see the land in front and far beyond. But if you sit facing the opposite direction, with your back hurtling forward, you must absorb the scenery in sight and wait as the land reveals itself to you, inch by inch.

The valley was green and lush, with soft hills surrounding the farmland. Cattle grazed around quaint cottages, and the clang of the bells could be heard from within the train. I was immediately charmed, excited to step into this peaceful land and ingrain it into my head.

When we disembarked from the train shortly after and emerged from the station, the town of Lucerne did not disappoint me. What a beautiful bridge over such blue waters! What a dazzling lake pooling beneath the mountains!

I wanted to stay and explore, but that was not our purpose this time. We had to catch the ferry!

So we ran through a cute carnival and dashed on board, with easy access because of our Swiss Passes. Once there, a seat could hardly be found, but I wandered around absorbing the sights around me.

Soon, the ferry started chugging along, and Papa excitedly told Micah and I, “You’ve got to see the paddle wheels! It’s an amazing sight!”

I checked them out, and it was true that the gushing water swirling over the red wheels was cool, but it didn’t appeal as much to me as it did to my engineering father and brother.

The view outside, however, was much more splendid. Adorable little villages on the edge of the lake, water lapping gently on their shores. Lush, tall trees, reflecting their greenery into the blue, crystal water. Castles perched on hills every now and then. Misty mountains and hills in the distance, protecting the valley in a warm hug. What I imagined to be paradise.

Mount Rigi (pointy and centered) in the distance

Since there wasn’t a seat with any sort of view, I was parked on the side of the ferry for most of the ride, my head leaning over the railing as I breathed in the fresh, crisp air blowing against my warm face. The swirling water captured my attention, since every bubble, every wave was fascinating.

Soon, we arrived at our destination, and disembarked. The cog-wheel station was very conveniently right in front of us, and we managed to board onto the front of the crowded train. It was quite a terrifying experience climbing up at such a steep slope, feeling as if the train was going to tip backwards and we would all fall down the mountain. But the views were magnificent, the glassy water of Lake Lucerne pooling underneath the mountains in the distance covered in misty lush green forests. The slow ascent built up the suspense of what I would see when I reached the top.

Here is a picture of the cog-wheel train I pulled from the internet, and yes, there were actually cows there, which contributed to the nauseating farm manure smell the whole ride.

Image from

When we reached the top, however, I was met with the delicious smell of barbecue, and an awe-inspiring view. Words cannot describe the feeling of being eye to eye with the Swiss Alps, everywhere you turned being a thrilling display of glory. I felt like the lens of my camera couldn’t fit everything in, all the hills and valleys and mountains and lakes and clouds. Some people imagine the tropics to be paradise, an endless life of relaxing on the beach watching the sunset. Although I do enjoy that, I hold the view of this to be my paradise:

I had always dreamt of walking along mountaintops, absorbing the perfect painting of green hills and blue skies and shimmering lakes. Hiking through fresh forests with not a soul in sight, not a sound but the trickling of streams, the wind through leaves, and a choir of chirping birds. There, overwhelmed by the vastness of the peace and beauty of Switzerland, I was able to fulfill that dream, standing atop the crest of Mount Rigi, Queen of Mountains.

Lake Lucerne

Lake Zug

Surprisingly, the weather was very warm and sunny, which I discovered was a very rare occurrence in Switzerland at that time. A Swiss man on the ferry said that ‘this just does not happen!’ I wandered around the top of the mountain absorbing the sun’s golden rays and the vastness of beauty all around me.

I hadn’t taken my coat off…yet.
The gorgeous view from the bench where we ate lunch (and later relieved our backs from the heavy backpacks – our only luggage!)

 Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay forever, and after we finished our sandwiches and when I wished I had brought a T-shirt, we were ready to leave. We boarded the cog-wheel heading down, which was absolutely sweltering, and soon started on our way. The forests were just as beautiful going down as going up, although it was strangely less frightening.

Ah, it was such a perfect time to be there! The trees glimmered with golden leaves, a swirl of reds and oranges. Trees so perfectly straight that they might have been leafy poles. Random waterfalls and streams hidden through rocky cliffs and crevices. I could have sat there staring for all eternity.

Quite soon, we neared the bottom, and to my delight I saw a pen of sheep, their bells clanging and their throats baaing, and little lambs biting pieces of grass! I had never seen a sheep in real life before, much less a lamb, and those were simply adorable!

There were also goats…who doesn’t love goats? 🙂

Once at the end, the train station was conveniently right in front of us, and it was conveniently chugging up to us. I was surprised at the perfect timing, and as I would soon discover over my days in Switzerland, there really is such thing as Swiss precision. If they said they would leave at 3:00, they would leave at 3:00. No delays, no early departures. Always exactly on time.

We rode the train all the way back to Zurich, but this time, the fog had lifted so that I could continue winning staring contests with the nature. Still, the many houses prevented me from getting a full view of Lake Zurich, with only brief glimpses of blue water.

We arrived in the station underground, and we continued travelling like moles through the metro. Finally, we popped above ground in the middle Zurich, and I adjusted my extremely heavy backpack to take in the sights without pain.

The city was beautiful, with stone buildings and thick, tall green vines curling up them. Even a museum had such charming character!

Papa hurried us over to the boat, but it had just left when we arrived at the dock. So we waited, entertained with the ducks riding on the river, and soon enough another boat pulled up. We piled in, and I was very surprised to find that the water line was at eyelevel. Two-thirds of the boat, which resembled a tube, was underwater.

As a result, I got the same view of Zurich as those ducks did, and I saw beautiful churches with chiming bell-towers shining golden against the slowly setting sun.

The boat/ferry arrangement was, apparently, slightly messed up, so after we toured the lake, we returned to a dock, boarded another ferry, and…toured Lake Zurich again!

Waiting for the second ferry…and resting my poor back.

Still, the view from the second one was much broader, and I was able to watch the sun set over the glistening waters and green trees splashed with an occasional orange or yellow. The air grew quite crisp and fresh, which stung me awake just as I was about to nod off.

By the time darkness spread and the stars twinkled above, I was starving and exhausted. Lugging around a backpack stuffed with a week’s worth of necessities is much more tiring than you might imagine, especially if you include waking up at a very ungodly hour of the morning.

We ate a typical Swiss dinner that was identical to a German one: sausage and biscuits. Earlier, I had been surprised to find out that they spoke German in Switzerland, instead of, you know, Swiss, but if they were going to do that, I supposed it was only natural that they would eat German food as well. Not that I was complaining, because the sausage was delicious.

After wandering around the town searching for a grocery store and transportation to our hotel, I eventually collapsed in bed at eleven. It was a restless night, with many people tramping around outside our room like a herd of buffalo, but I was finally able to drift off into a much-needed sleep, eager for what the next day in our Swiss back-packing adventure would hold.

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