Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day Five: Lucerne and Mount Pilatus

This was the first and only morning that we had a pee accident in the sleeping bag. After a lot of confusion we wound up being able to do a free load of laundry at the campground. The prepaid cards were not working, and the stress in my face convinced the reception to throw the bag into the staff machine. Woohoo!

For the rest of the day's adventure, we boarded a boat near our campsite and spent an hour and a half cruising on the Four Canton lake. Further along the lake there are some really impressive, cliffs rising vertically out of the water, and villages only accessible by boat. We then got off the boat to board the train. This is where the idyllic vacation (sleeping bag pee notwithstanding) came to a screeching halt. We wondered why everyone was pushing and shoving to get off the boat. This is Switzerland, the land of orderly and efficient transportation. Except at Pilatus. We stared in dismay at the crowd of hundreds in front of us, standing as a crowd across the main road and up the train station entrance. Some cars stopped, did a 3-point turn, and decided to try another way around. It was noon. It was hot. Several people bailed out, but we had pre-paid and I wasn't sure how to go about getting our money back, so we persevered.

Funnily enough, all around us were Canadians. There was a group of retirees from British Columbia right beside us who were quite taken with L. His habit during the entire trip was to strike up conversations with anyone he could find, particularly if he found they could speak English. He would boldly commence "Hi! My name is L. I am 4 years old." Several of the adults would tell me later how happy they were that he wasn't afraid of strangers and willing to speak to adults, a skill I hope to cultivate. Being shy myself, I beamed with pride as he guilessly chatted away. We have been listening to the Barenaked Ladies new kid's album "Snacktime" and L and M would give little concerts to all the people waiting in the heat. After slightly more than 2 hours we were able to board the train.

In order to climb an incline of 48%, a double cog system was designed by William Locher and the Pilatus train is the only public train to use this system. It was really quite spectacular, but also the reason why we had to wait for 2 hours. The design means that trains can't switch tracks and there is one spot in the middle of the mountain where the tracks are able to move horizontally to allow 2 trains to pass. M was asleep by the time we reached the top and stayed asleep while we watched some alphorns and found a picnic area. I went off in search of juice (nope) and beer (oh yeah) and by the time I returned M had awoken. L was more interested in feeding bread to the birds than actually eating himself. The birds were great entertainment for the boys and C and I could relax. We then went through a rock path (Dragon Path) carved into the mountain with rock windows looking out. It was done in honour of a local artist, Hans Erni, who illustrated several of the Pilatus legends. Most have to do with dragons, but there is also the legend that Pontius Pilate's soul rests in a mountain lake and if it were disturbed....bad stuff would happen. In 1585 an expedition of priests and local men went out to test this prophesy and found that nothing happened when they disturbed the lake's waters. Spoil sports!

As we were climbing up to one of the peeks we heard a helicopter approaching. We saw the characteristically red rescue helicopter land just below the deck with the picnic tables. It looked like the helicopter was going to plow right in to the hundreds of tourists crowding the railing to get a good look. I had a barely controllable urge to cover M's eyes but of course the helicopter landed safely. It was a pretty cool sight though, to see a rescue helicopter in action on a mountain top. Maybe not so cool for the person actually being rescued, although someone once told me that riding in an ambulance was really cool even though everything else that was happening was decidedly not cool.

The way back down was by cable car, only capable of fitting 40 people at a time, so it was another hour long wait to get on board. It was more like a roller coaster as the cable car swung out from the mountain and sped quickly down the line suspended over limestone rocks below. We then had to find the city bus back to Lucerne. By this point we were all tired and cranky and we stopped for the first and only time on the trip at McDonalds. I had been hoping to walk around Lucerne a bit in the evening but it was already past our bedtimes as we sat down to dinner. I did insist on walking through the historic covered bridge, prominently featured in billions of postcards and tourists photographs. Looking at the map I thought we could handle walking along the lake back to our campground. It was a lovely walk, and we were all so very tired by the end it.

Next stop....North to Schaffhausen.


Mama P said...

Wow, you lead the most amazing life ever. And no, you're not crazy to not obsess about schools. I didn't obsess about many things. But I did with school because of Stink's Tourettes. I wanted him in a place that, if it ever got bad, he would have the best social experience. A private school wasn't an option and our local public was HUGE. So a close by charter with 160 kids only was perfect - community but FREE.

I am so excited following your journey. It'll make a great book some day. "How to raise smart, mannered kids by traveling with sleeping bags" or something.

kristina said...

I agree with Mama P: Your life is pretty exciting and rich.

And hooray for the camp laundry folks. I giggle thinking of the mom look that made them just throw in the laundry.