I’m not sure if it’s just that we were looking in the wrong areas, or just a trait of a typical tourist destination, but finding an easy meal in Luzern, Switzerland is no easy task.
A cold October evening had my wife and I fervently scurrying down cobbled streets of Old Town, left-righting in desperate search for a hearth and hearty meal. Each sign outside a restaurant divulged a fine, sumptuous meal, designed solely for making your tastebuds dance a merry jig as you gesticulate wildly to the staff, touting the genius of a chef.
But it was cold. It was dark. We just wanted sustenance.
Luzern – Lucerne
Bred on meals in Adelaide, our stomachs yearned for our traditional staple. It was the hunger that can grip you mercilessly, and refuses to let go until you’re met with a serving the size of your head.
A serving of schnitzel.
We scurried around the alleys, viewing menus of glazed this, honeyed that and braised whatever on a bed of some wine jus. Somehow, we landed on Rathausquai, near the iconic Kapellbrucke (customs bridge), staring at Hotel Pickwick.
Fine dining, this isn’t.
The windows glowed, and rowdy laughter emerged from the door as though containing a merry monster, who desired to share a riddle with you.
The place was bustling. A game of football showed on the various screens around the room. The décor was resplendent in timber and traditional pub motifs of sporting memorabilia and beer taps. The place seemed like a refuge for tourists like us as well, with the Aussie drawl permeating through the laughs.
Scanning the room quickly, we spied a corner booth being vacated, which we quickly seized. The menus reassuringly were written in English to allow linguistic morons such as ourselves to find something we could eat, however we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being a little selfish.
My wife and I, two people, had taken a space better suited for a group of people. In between selecting items from the menu, we would glance up to see if anyone was giving us scornful looks or was threatening to confront us.
Schnitzel was on the menu, to our glee. Our order was taken without incident and without disdainful looks from the waiter, but that feeling simply could not be shaken. Like a child’s voice, it would needle away, incessantly, begging you to succumb.
The room continued to bubble with mirth, beer and aromas of grilling meat. Space was at a premium. When a smaller table finally became available, it was quickly snapped up by a family of four people.
My wife points the table out to me, “There. There’s a family there. Your German is better than mine. Go.” I nod, somewhat relieved, although I’m hesitant because the German I did speak was from a few years at High School, which I had left eons ago. The language was in me, but in a state of coma, with a sign of life twitching every now and then when I recognised a word or two.
“Excuse me” I began, having a mental blank at how to politely interrupt someone in German. The family stared at me quizzically, clearly confused at the funny sounding stranger. They spoke no English.
“Tisch fur vier?” I stammered out, pointing to our ill gotten booth in the corner. Again, blank looks replied. I somehow manage to wave my hands in the air to indicate that a swap was desired. The young son of the family, finally realising what the foreign idiot was wanting, spoke some German to his father who quickly smiled, stood and walked over to the replacement seating with a grateful “Danke schoen”.
Satisfied that all was well with the pub universe, I approach the bar to tell the waiter who had taken our order that my wife and I had changed tables. He greets me with a wide smile and a bellow, “Thank you so much for swapping with that family!”
I shrug. Seemed like the right thing to do.
Kapellbrucke at night
“No, no! I have never seen anyone do that before! People just don’t care. They will take seats and not care about anyone else in the room”
I shrug again. Again, it seemed like the right thing to do.
“What are you drinking? You and your wife can have what you like!”
I blink. Seriously? However, I am only human. A beer loving human. He pulls me a local brew and hands it over with more thanks.
Our Schnitzels are delivered, and they are very reminiscent of home. We’re talking big meals with sauces, chips, and salad on the side as a cursory reminder of your future heart attack.
Each time I approach the bar, the waiter… who turns out to actually be the manager, greets me warmly and reminds nearby staff to “be good, this is a good one
“I wish we had more customers like you.”
We were only in Luzern for a few days, but we dined at Hotel Pickwick each night. Not necessarily for the couple free beers (and only a couple) that we obtained (although that was a nice part of it), but also for the kind reminder of home that it provided.
Everything about the place seemed unpretentious. The cook was easily visible behind the bar, creating simple meals in generous serves and bar staff happily chatted with patrons about anything and everything. Hours drained away as easily as the beer.
Hotel Pickwick was a nice refuge from the previous weeks of schizophrenic eating, which would involve either the fancy finer dining, or the functional convenient sandwiches from grocery stores.
Just an honest meal, in honest surrounds.
Hotel Mr. Pickwick
* Photographs are copyright and courtesy of Andy H.
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