mountains

Biking, Hiking & IKEA: Switzerland

· 9 min read ·

The past two weeks have absolutely flown by as we’ve been busy exploring Switzerland with our friends here. We have three(!) Meet the Host posts now in our backlog to share with you, and have been very lucky to be able to spend such quality time with amazing people.

But where did we leave off? We had sped through Munich on our day trip there, prior to heading to Zurich and our friend Hue’s spot. Located scenically in the “Somerville of Zurich,” Hue enjoys a central studio apartment complete with classic European balcony and a five minute walk to the River Limmat, where the locals all congregate to swim. Over the next few days, we definitely took advantage of this and swam in the river several times.

A typical Swiss view
A typical Swiss view

Zurich City Living

View of the Alps from the top of the Lorenchopf observation post
View of the Alps from the top of the Lorenchopf observation post

For the next few days, we settled into life in Zurich. Our first day, we hiked up to the Lorenchopf, a scenic overlook offering stunning views of the Alps. The “hike” itself was entirely flat - we use the word because ascending to the trailhead involved moving upwards through the hills of Zurich, which definitely rival anything found in San Francisco. Neither of us had realized how steep some of the roads in Zurich are!

Swimming in Lake Zurich
Swimming in Lake Zurich

If you know Switzerland, you know that it can magically make all your money disappear. Zurich has quite a number of free or cheap things to do and if you have read Sheila’s most recent post “Saving For Travel & Making It Fun” you know that this was right up our alley. For example, lululemon has a free yoga class TWICE a week - what a deal! Zurich also offers free bike rentals, which we quickly took advantage of to bike down to Lake Zurich and swim around. The summer heat felt good, particularly since we’ve been weathering quite a few bouts of cloudiness / rain thus far.

Zurich’s Street Food Festival with friends!
Zurich’s Street Food Festival with friends!

On our first Friday in Switzerland we met friends after work, and we went to a street food festival! The festival itself runs for a number of weeks, which is pretty crazy, so the food and drink stands are more permanent and elaborate than the name may typically suggest. It was so fun to walk around and take in the sights and smells of everything from Romanian sweets on a stick to vats of Indian curry.

Dinner with the Italians - an absolute treat!
Dinner with the Italians - an absolute treat!

Riccardo, a friend and old coworker, lives right across the street from Hue and generously decided to make for us an Italian feast. After the hors d’oeuvres filled us to the brim, we were promptly showered with a full kilogram of pasta. Only by the ingenious use of Sheila’s hollow leg did we escape from this gastronomical buffet of deliciousness alive! In all seriousness, the night was filled with laughter and good friends. Riccardo and his roommate Andrea have been friends since kindergarten, and sharing a meal in their home with them was as much a comedy show starring two best friends as it was a culinary treat.

Probably not the first time star jumps and IKEA have gone together
Probably not the first time star jumps and IKEA have gone together

Hue recently relocated to Zurich and is in the process of making his home a home. We were excited to help him do so! Over the weekend we rented a car and went to IKEA—where all European housewares are made of course! It feels very special to play a part in redecorating and apartment, which will serve as a nice place to come home to between Hue’s (quite extensive) travel plans. This is WHY we’re staying in each destination for more than just a few days. We have the luxury of time right now and want to gift it to our friends— whether that means simply experiencing their daily life, talking through career shifts, or creating more memories in their home.


Thalwil: Lakeside & Loving It

About a 10 minute train ride from Zurich is the lakeside town of Thalwil. This is where our dear friend, Palma, moved to when she left Boston. You’ll be able to learn more about her soon in an edition of “Meet the Host”! Similar to our experience visiting Hue’s stomping grounds, it was a treat to be able to see the home and life that Palma created in Thalwil. She loves to cook and enjoy scenic walks as much as we do, so this was a stop we were really looking forward to!

After a few days living in the city-feel of Zurich, it was nice to pass time in an area that was a bit quieter. The first two days that we spent with her we walked 7+ hours in total, which was pretty unbelievable considering how quickly time passed as we went along, catching up. With the long days of sunlight, we got to see large stretches along Lake Zurich as well as Silhwald Wilderness Park.

After passing a few days in Thalwil, we hopped on the train toward Lucerne. James had visited Lucerne a handful of times, so Sheila was excited to see the places he had spoken about and hopefully discover new ones too 😊

Palma made us this incredible lentil stew
Palma made us this incredible lentil stew

Lucerne: Hiking, Biking & Swimming Galore!

The view from Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne
The view from Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne

Day one really kicked off with a bang! We arrived to Lucerne and picked up tickets for Mount Pilatus. Then we headed to our friend Simon’s house where we would be staying. It’s funny because perhaps the more American version of ourselves would have gotten the tickets, quickly dropped our things, and headed for the mountain to “maximize our time,” however our European selves took it easy. Instead we arrived to the flat, enjoyed a coffee with Simon, and eventually looked up boat times for Pilatus. We’ve learned to adapt a lot here (especially Sheila 😉).

Finally we did make it to the boat and had a lovely ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad. From there we took the funicular up to the top of Pilatus. 1 Surprisingly the mountaintop was not all that cold, though you could see snow still on the trails below. Cloud coverage came and went and we had the opportunity to see some pretty cool views. Instead of the funicular, we actually took the cable cars down to Kriens, which ended up being one of the most scenic parts of the experience. While not our typical outing - and indeed, most Lucerne locals consider Pilatus to be overly commercial - we enjoyed being able to get such great views so quickly.

We felt like the luckiest people on the face of the earth because not only did we have such a scenic day, but also we arrived back to the flat and Simon had prepared an AMAZING vegetarian quiche and salad with fresh greens from his terrace. His flatmate, Klaus, also arrived and the four of us lingered long over a meal that left us all feeling fully satisfied.

James had requested that Simon round up a group of their friends who were still living nearby, and our host was quick to oblige. That night we were out till past midnight (😮) catching up with our friends Bernat and Lea at a fun bar called Neubad - located in a converted swimming pool!

“Summer raclette” - a full spread!
“Summer raclette” - a full spread!

The following day, Friday, Simon organized a party on our behalf. But the day also was notable for the incredible bike ride he took us on - some 40 kilometers of scenery around the Lucerne area, including a return to Alpnachstad (where we had taken the funicular up Pilatus the day before). We spent so much of our Boston lives biking around, and it was truly special to be led through the area by Simon. More to come on that during his own edition of “Meet The Host” ! We finished our ride by taking a nice dip in the lake.

Old and new friends unite for raclette!
Old and new friends unite for raclette!

With our appetite fully whetted by our long bike ride and swim, the night saw us embarking upon a culinary experience that will long live in our memories. With Simon’s tongue-in-cheek humor, the “summer raclette” 2 party brought together a big group of people. James was extremely grateful to see some friends that he hadn’t seen in years, and Simon proved the superb host in organizing the meal, side dishes, and people (despite battling a cold)!

Pilatus, on the right, peeking out over the clouds at the start of our hike of Rigi
Pilatus, on the right, peeking out over the clouds at the start of our hike of Rigi

We also took the chance to walk around Lucerne. Though it’s the height of tourist season, the crowds didn’t seem too crazy and we took the chance to explore the old town. Most visitors will either be familiar with or will see over the course of their stay in town a few highlights:

  • The chapel bridge and its old prisoner’s tower
  • The lion monument - hard to describe, but impressively carved!
  • The preserved facades in the old town, which lend an air of seniority and austerity to the buildings as you walk alongside them
  • The KKL, or Lucerne’s concert hall. Most people just grab a drink outside, as it’s right on the lake

Lastly, we decided to embark upon a more serious hike. We had wanted to do Pilatus from the bottom, but our friends exhorted us to expend our efforts on Mt. Rigi, the neighboring mountain. Rigi, which was made famous in America by Mark Twain’s humorous account of his three-day hike to the top, is accessible by public transportation from Lucerne. What sort of public transportation you use to get there depends on the time you book your tickets - as we found out very quickly on Monday morning when we arrived at the train station … only to find out that we had purchased boat tickets instead!

Luckily the boat terminal is directly across the street from the train station in Lucerne. In another city, particularly with only five minutes to spare, we probably would have missed our ride 3 , and been out the Swiss francs we’d used for our super saver tickets. Full price boat and train tickets in Switzerland are … costly … and only through the use of their super saver tickets can you catch a ride for a reasonable amount. Luck was with us, and we enjoyed our second boat voyage of the week as we rode across Lake Lucerne to Weggis, at the foot of Mt. Rigi.

One of many incredible views on Mt. Rigi
One of many incredible views on Mt. Rigi

If you choose to visit Mt. Rigi on your next trip to Switzerland, we highly recommend going to Weggis (as there are various ways up) because we were instantly WOWed by our moments simply standing in the town. The morning haze was drifting from the water, people were paddling lazy boats on the crystal river, and there was a perfect view of Mount Pilatus across Lake Lucerne. We agreed that no matter what the hike brought, we had already had a perfect day. It was only 9am!

The Mark Twain route we chose was fun because it had quotes and information at different markers along the way. There were also beautiful vantage points as we climbed, with little to no other hikers to share with. Closer to the top there were also some cows just beside the path, which made the experience feel especially Swiss 🐮

We arrived at Rigi Kaltbad and decided to have this be our ending point, instead of climbing an additional hour to Rigi Kulm. The reason being that our day had already been made, now many times over, and it was time to break out lunch (a very “us” meal of homemade veggie burgers from the night before) and enjoy! Our time in Lucerne was truly special, and hiking Rigi (and the ensuing meal that Simon casually whipped upon our return) was the perfect way to spend our last full day there.


Andddd now we are back in Thalwil with our friend Palma, beating the heat with daily swims and frozen grapes. Life is good!


  1. FUN FACT: The Pilatus Railway is the steepest cog railway in the world, with a gradient of up to 48%. (Also shared in Sheila’s weekly newsletter for Thorn Alexander).

    ↩ back to post!
  2. Raclette is made by heating the cheese and then, traditionally, pouring the melted cheese over potatoes. We also enjoyed it with some stir fried veggies, as you can see; still, not the lightest meal in the world AND the raclette griddle gets super hot. Warm griddle, hot cheese - obviously the perfect dinner for a hot summer’s night!

    ↩ back to post!
  3. The Swiss don’t wait. That’s how they keep the trains and boats running on time!

    ↩ back to post!
It's us!

Adventure travel blog by James Simone & Sheila Murray. Travel along with them on their backpacking trip(s) as they actively explore the American West, Europe and beyond:

Follow @sheilaanne.lifecoachFollow @mrwordsmith#travellightexperienceheavy