A cruise on the Rhine River is most often enjoyed as a one way journey. This enables you to visit more ports of call without repeating the itinerary in reverse as you return to your starting point. A Rhine cruise can either embark in Basel Switzerland and end in Amsterdam Netherlands or you could opt for the reverse. I chose to travel up the Rhine beginning in Amsterdam and terminating in Basel. My decision was based upon wanting to spend extra time in Holland to see the annual limited mass blooming of the tulips at Keukenhof. The availability of admission is very limited and my final itinerary was based upon when I could secure entry to the park. Even though my allotted time off from work was tight I chose to add on one additional night at the end of the cruise with the express purpose of visiting Zurich. However, my ultimate goal was to get up into the Alps!
After researching many tour options I reasoned that since I was in “the neighborhood” I should include Lucerne, also known as Luzern, in the itinerary. Storied to be one of the most beautiful areas in Europe, I opted for a package that included a stop in the city on the way to the Alps. I found an option with an early departure from Zurich that would include a walking tour through Lucerne before heading to the Alps and visiting Mt. Titlis. This had everything I could have hoped for. However, timing would be critical for the day to be successful. I ran through several itineraries and had everything planned to the Swiss minute. I confirmed that we could utilize an early departure from the boat and a pre-arranged taxi would pick us up at the pier to take us to the train station. A double check of the meeting point and location at the arrival train station boosted my confidence. I offered my travel companions two choices. The first option would have us boarding an 8:07am train and arriving 20 minutes before the required gathering time prior to the start of the tour. The second option was an hour earlier, but also meant a 6am departure from the boat. Relying upon the famed punctuality of the Swiss and the European train systems, with full confidence, we chose the 8:07am departure to arrive at 9:00am. The taxi arrived a few minutes early and we were ready, so we jumped in. The streets were empty, lacking work day traffic on a Sunday morning and we arrived at the train station with enough time to buy coffee and pastries. Being among the first to board the train, we had plenty of seating options. As a party of 3, we chose 2 seats facing 2 additional seats with a small table between us. True to Swiss punctuality, the train pulled out at the designated time of 8:07am and at precisely 8:34am the train came to a full stop. There was no explanation for the delay. My travel companions were understandably concerned, which eventually morphed into agitation. I was keenly aware of the passing minutes, constantly recalculating whether or not we would reach the tour group on time. We still had cell service and I was able to use my phone and contact the tour company to advise them of our situation. They assured me that they would watch for our arrival to assist us in joining the tour. When 20 or more minutes had passed, it was clear that the tour group would be departing without us. It was also very clear that our train was expected to be stationary for a long time since we were now being directed off the current train and on to the platform. A replacement train pulled alongside our dormant vehicle and we passengers were urged to get aboard quickly. It was obvious that this train was not in regular service. The older model had the appearance of a work horse that had seen a lot of service and bore the telltale signs of wear and tear. This train was like the ugly step sister to the newer, modern trains with Wi-Fi, food and beverage carts and upgraded classes of service. Likely, having been relegated to an out of service train yard, brought back to life only when an emergency required its reentry. Unsure of where we currently were located and even less sure of how to continue our journey to Zurich I reached out to a Conductor. He consulted with his dispatch office and with their help devised a plan. The plan would require boarding one train and connecting to a second train that would bring us to Lucerne instead of Zurich as originally intended. However, the most challenging part of the journey was still ahead. As Murphy’s Law would have it the train we needed to board was departing in 5 minutes on the other side of the terminal. Having no familiarity with the layout of this station, I reached out to the Conductor, once again, and explained our dilemma. This resulted in a second consultation with Dispatch and he advised that he would escort us to our replacement transportation. This seems like an appropriate time to use the euphemism “he was running like he had a train to catch”, and he did. We all did! So there we were, 3 very short women carrying an average of 40 pounds of luggage per person running behind a 6 foot tall Conductor through crowds of fellow travelers.
I often hear travelers say “getting there is half the battle”. That certainly proved true in this case. But was it worth it? Were we able to catch up with the tour group? Did we make it to the top of Mt. Titlis? I’ve run out of column space so, like all good dramas, I’ll leave you with a bit of mystery. Please join us again in two weeks to learn if we were successful in our quest to reach the Alps.