Let's head back to September, shall we? Time is a construct anyway, so it checks out that chronological order wouldn't exist when you're writing during Coronavirus.
I felt a little tickle in my throat on the plane to Zurich, and by the time I rolled in to my hostel in Lucerne a few hours later, I was barely coherent. The three days that followed were a blur of sweats, chills, hot showers, cold showers, sleep, movies I didn't retain, and more sleep to battle some kind of flash flu. Luckily, my fever broke after the first night, and the remaining days were spent trying to feel remotely like myself again.
Truly, most of what I can remember involves trying to procure extra blankets, sheets, pillows, towels, whatever, to pile on top of me while I remained supine for the better part of 60 hours. That first night I had to find some kind of food and Ibuprofen, coming up empty on the latter as pharmacies had closed, and stumbled upon a Chinese food restaurant who I convinced to make me soup before they locked up for the night. I think I got two spoonfuls down before I passed out again.
I couldn't thank my lucky stars enough that somehow nobody else was placed in my room my entire stay. The lady at reception must have taken pity on me. That said, I was actually, miraculously, able to go on one single walk each day, so at least I can say I saw some of Lucerne. I'd love to go back when I'm not in a delirious haze of Nyquil, juice, and Gilmore Girls.
The times I could get out and about, I walked slower than my grandma perusing bedding at Bloomingdale's and kept my radius small. A cool fall breeze had come in, and I took ample breaks alongside Lake Lucerne and The Reuss. This was dead center of me rereading the Harry Potter series (all in all, I finished all seven books in eleven days, pretty proud), so I had the gang to keep me company every time I stopped to catch my breath as if I had just run a marathon. Not knowing what to expect of Switzerland outside rolling hills alive with the sound of music in the Alps, Lucerne was somehow still everything I imagined it would be.
Then -- hallelujah! -- on my last day I turned the corner and could sit at a restaurant among humans for my first proper meal in three days: may I present the best gnocchi I've ever had, ever. Sorry, Italy, this one goes to La Terrazza just east of Reussbrücke.
The next day, I left for what would become one of my most-mentioned destinations when asked about favorite cities in Europe: Lugano. Big shoutout to a good friend of mine who studied abroad in Switzerland and sent me maybe the best recommendation of my entire eight months of travel. She told me to look up the Willhelm Tell Express, now called the Gotthard Panorama Express, a roughly seven-hour boat and train journey running north to south, from Lucerne to Lugano, through the Alps. She called it a "lifetime experience," and it was. The first-class ticket (necessary for the 180º train cars and upper deck boat seating) was worth the £200 price tag and included a three-hour boat ride around Lake Lucerne then another three hours on the train through the Alps. The views on the lake were some of the best I've seen anywhere, and browsing the photos still delights me to no end.
The train station was a hop and a skip from where the boat docked, and settling in to first class was a treat, let me tell you. The "Panorama" part of the trip was named in honor of the windows in the first class cars - curved glass up to the ceiling for maximum views of the Alps. This also meant maximum sun exposure, with less than ideal A/C on the trains, but that would be my only complaint of the whole trip.
If I'm being really picky, it would've been nice if the mountains were snow-capped, alas, guess I'll have to go back in the winter. I arrived in Lugano with just enough time to wander down from the train station, get lost in side streets with my heavy backpack, find out that Google Maps had my hotel address incorrectly listed as a building that didn't exist, check in with the visitors center, and make it to my room before it got dark.
Lugano is in southern Switzerland, and its eastern edge shares a border with Italy, so I went from "Danke" to "Grazie" in six hours. It also meant I could continue my gastronomic search for the best Italian food outside of Italy - let's be honest, this is a forever search I'm in no rush to complete. I've already decided the next time I hit up Lugano, I'm making my way from there to Lake Como and Milan.
Back to 100% health and also 90º weather since I had just traveled 160km south, I kept to the shade as much as I could the next few days, but finally enjoyed proper sweaty walks again.
It was a wonderful luxury to be able to "reading spot hop," which is something I just made up to describe walking until I want to stop and read, lose myself and time in a book, and continue on again, repeating that pattern four or five times in an afternoon. The joy of having no responsibility to a job, a partner, a dog, an itinerary, or anything outside of myself -- for eight months -- is something I will remember, long for, and treasure for the rest of my days. It's what vacation should be, and I'm incredibly lucky I got to call vacation "life" for so long.
We all know I'm never happier than when I'm on the water, so what would my time in Lugano be without a lake cruise? It was about an hour route to Paradiso, where I got off to head to the top of Monte San Salvatore.
A funicular takes groups up the mountain and is split into two sections where the grade goes from 37% to 61%. There is only one car on each, so it runs about every 30 minutes, nice and slowly. It's awesome, but not conducive to great photos from the inside (so you can look at someone else's). The top offers stunning 360º views, a restaurant, a church built to honor pilgrims who used to worship there in the 1200s, and hiking trails. After lunch and, yep, more reading, I wound my way up to the very top and for a little while even had the entire church to myself. The top landing was so overrun with flying bugs, I mean, so, so badly overrun, that even with sunglasses on I could not open my eyes longer than three seconds. I basically felt my way to the four corners, blindly pointed my camera in the general direction of the landscape, and hoped for the best. As soon as I stepped off the landing, though, the bugs didn't follow me. It was the strangest thing.
After descending the mountain, a leisurely walk brought me back to Lugano. If there's something better than people watching, it's dog watching, and I found a couple furry fellas playing "fetch" with rocks. Aka, their owner would throw stones into the water, the pups would swim out, inevitably get upset that the rock had sunk by the time they got to the splash zone, turn around, and whine all the way back until their owner threw another. Nothing beats Swiss dog water fetch, so it was the fitting way to close out my time in Lugano.