While our final night in Italy may have seen us off with an easy if not slightly melancholic farewell, the following morning was nothing short of the hottest of messes, rivaled only by our struggle to get hail an Uber in Marseille or my misreading of the departure time for my flight home out of Paris. But I’ll get to that at some point or another.
I woke up to grab some coffee before we left and I spent the initial part of my breakfast occupying varying levels of awkward silence at the common room table. At times I was entirely alone, at others I was accompanied by one or two fellow travelers – neither of which made a sound more than the crunching of their toast – but eventually found myself at the head of the table with a half-dozen strangers around me, most of which were more than happy to actually have a conversation. It was a fine way to start the day, as the chance to just meet a handful of new people from all over the planet (however briefly) could warrant any ticket price. But as you realize too often when traveling, time can get away from you, so I returned to my room to pack as manically as I could. (Pro-tip: Pack as many of the same items as you can so that you aren’t always worried about what you’ll wear that day of your trip. My stockpile of plain black t-shirts came in handy countless times.)
Harman and I weren’t running late that day, so much as we didn’t plan for a lack of transportation options, yet again. (Spontaneity is underrated, in my opinion, even if that meant getting stuck in La Spezia for a bit longer.) You can buy a local bus ticket at any newspaper stand but apparently, there was no news to speak of that morning because every shop was closed. You can also buy a ticket beforehand online unless the app refuses to process any of your attempted transactions. Cash isn’t an option, although I guess we could have tried to barter with some well-placed gesticulating. And Uber also wasn’t along for the ride, so we had to hoof it for a few miles to the bus station which was inconveniently located on the other side of the harbor.
Lugging 30-40lbs of clothing on your back in even the mildest of climates is exhausting, let alone one as humid as coastal Italy. At one point I almost stopped to put on more deodorant but by that time I was losing the will to live, let alone smell nice. After dragging our feet for nearly 45 minutes, we both looked like we had just lost the world’s least exciting triathlon, hunched over and sweating and begging for the sweet release of death at the finish line. The layout of the bus station parking lot appears to have been arranged by a blind man, as well, so we paced back and forth with our mouths sucking in incredible gusts of hot, seawater air for at least another 15 minutes in search of any sort of information. Thankfully we weren’t alone in our pursuit as we soon found a few other travelers waiting for the same FlixBus as us, so we took solace in the fact that, if we were actually about to keel over, we wouldn’t be dying alone.
We had a 9-hour bus ride ahead of us and even though there’d be air-conditioning, it was one that neither of us were looking forward to. It would be hellish, if only for the fact that both of us hadn’t slept well the night before. I, due to my superpowered insomnia and Harman, thanks to a remarkably noisy new bunkmate in his room.
I’ve never been able to sleep on buses or planes or in cars; Something about the eager anticipation of what’s down the road – even if not for 5, 10, or 13 hours away – keeps my brain wired constantly. In a moment of self-reflection later on the trip, I’d come to realize that, for better or worse, my fatal flaw resides in the fact that I am always focused on what’s coming next. But in Italy, there’s never a good time to be thinking about that kind of stuff, so I politely told my brain to fanculo off for a bit.
About halfway through the ride – passed Genoa and any hopes I had of somehow running into the girl on the train from before – we crossed the border and came to a rest stop for lunch. It was here that Harman and I both had simultaneous heart attacks at the hands of Swiss price tags. Just for reference, one Swiss franc (which is separate from the euro) is about equal to one US dollar – and at the rest stop, a 12oz bottle of Coke cost nearly five francs. However, judging by their soda prices neither of us would be able to afford our own funeral, so we kindly asked the Grim Reaper for a raincheck.
Speaking of rain, a lush pastel canvas of heavy, grey clouds was beginning to fill the previously-clear sky. Before we made our way back to the bus, I had scurried off behind the rest stop to some sort of service road with literally two minutes to spare so I could take a quick picture. Then I heard a commanding siren coming from behind me in the parking lot: The FlixBus was screaming as Harman begged the driver not to leave without his easily-distracted friend. It was at that moment that I realized, even if my life depended on it, I would never be any sort of a runner. But every FlixBus driver also happens to be a chain smoker, so I was able to sneak back while Paulo ripped another Marlboro. He pointed to his watch in a kind-but-perpetually-pissed-off-as-an-Italian sort of way. I empathized and appreciated the hand gesturing, but my Grazie did me no favors.
Then we were back on the road and at the mercy of the sprawling landscapes that dominate the country. Massive lakes and hillsides surrounded us as a mix of storm clouds and invariable sunshine began to swirl above in a graceful dance. Lofty mountain peaks filled our view in every direction and the grass was more vibrant than any I’d ever seen in my life. This, of course, is a stark contrast to the multiple highways and rail lines that tear through all of it, but you simply couldn’t beat the view from the window. No one on that bus knew which side to stare out of.
Much like in Italy, the cottages that I assume are small homes can be seen at a mesmerizing rate far off into the alpine distance. An impenetrable blanket of fog would fall on us only to be lifted moments later, and this process would repeat itself a few more times. Rocky, impossibly high summits connected to rivers of snow sit next to evergreen forests untouched by ice. It’s like another world — and the majority of my opinion is based solely on the window seat, let alone what you may see on one of the cross-country trains, or if you were lucky enough to call that place home.
The veins of Mother Earth are visible throughout Switzerland, and I cannot wait to explore the country more the next chance I get.
Our drive would eventually come to a halt in a small parking lot at Inseli Park near the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre, right by the Bahnhof Luzern railway station. From there it was a peaceful thirty-minute walk through the heart of the luxurious city, all in the shadow of Mt. Pilatus; Beyond Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques, through a network of multiple chocolatiers, and passed the shockingly glamorous Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern. I never felt more out of place in my life.
Extreme wealth – ludicrous wealth – is quite unsettling to me. There were many times that I was ‘in another world’ while traveling last year, but nowhere felt more arrestingly enchanting than Luzern; Ostentatious and over the top is really the only way to describe it all. It was definitely interesting to be standing a few feet from $250,000 watches and invaluable diamond jewelry, but who needs any of that stuff? Maybe if I had been born into a life like that I’d be thinking differently about it, and I cannot speak on behalf of all the Swiss and everything the culture has to offer. But as it stands, a chicken sandwich – no combo – at Burger King costs $10 over there. Hard pass.
It was still a beautiful trek to our hostel, however, thanks to expectantly elegant architecture, and a network of cobblestone alleys and walkways that spider-out from the town center. Finding your way could be confusing and I, at least, found myself accidentally wandering in circles more often than not while in the Lakefront city. But despite the fact that neither of us would even be able to afford to ask for help, there were worse places to get lost in.
This feeling would quickly evaporate, however, when we checked into our booking, at the Lion Lodge Luzern, and would experience once and for all the consequences of our infatuation with last-minute planning.