A Short Road Trip
Munich - St. Gallen - Lucerne - Interlaken - Bellinzona - Lugano - Innsbruck - Munich
I got to a later start than planned, and so I took the more direct route from Munich to Lucerne. I got stuck in a traffic jam so did not arrive until mid-evening, but was still able to see the shopping area while it was still open. On the way, I stopped in St. Gallen for a walk through the old town.
On Friday, I went to Bern via Glasi Hergiswil, Brünig Pass, Brienz, and Interlaken. I had lunch in the Restaurant Neuhaus before returning to Lucerne via the highway. I had time for a bit more sightseeing in Lucerne, and of course, shopping.
On Saturday, I headed down to Lugano and stopped in Bellinzona on the way (as you know). There was a big market going on in town, and I was lucky to find a parking space. It was great to browse through the market and exploring medieval Bellinzona before having lunch in the Castelgrande. The view from the Grotto San Michele is amazing!
I continued my road trip and arrived in Lugano in the afternoon. I took a round-trip on the boat and then had coffee at the place you suggested - very good! I stayed at the Grand Hotel Eden on a discounted rate, probably the best value of all of the hotels I stayed at (and the best view).
On Sunday, I headed back to Munich and decided to go via Innsbruck, which was an awesome city to walk through. The city center was packed but beautiful. Driving through the Alps with the top down was a lot of fun, though earlier in the day, the driving was a bit hair rising. The temperature gauge was down to 0C going through the winding approach to the San Bernardino tunnel.
If I were to do it all over again, I would probably not get a manual transmission car! The last time I drove one was 14 years ago, and then only for a few times. This is pretty typical of the US. I'm fairly mechanically inclined, but it took a bit of time to get the hang of driving one again - and it was a bit stressful driving through the hilly areas, especially on the first day. They also gave me a sports tuned car, so the clutch was very sensitive. By the last day I generally got the hang of it. However, having the manual transmission car took a bit away from the experience and I avoided doing some things that I otherwise would have done because I wasn't that comfortable with too mountainous roads.
This also was my first time driving in Europe. The challenge for me was learning European road signs, finding garages and at the same time relearning how to drive a stick! I did notice that the drivers here in Europe are much more skilled and courteous than in the US. Everyone follows the rules. Oh, and you just cannot beat going 180 km/hr in rush hour in Germany, when traffic is going the same speed as you, with the top down - legally!
I was expecting the language barrier to be more of a problem than it was. There seemed to always be someone who knew passable English when I needed it. The weaknesses of the mono language culture in the US really became apparent to me on this trip. I wish I had learned German - though if I had, I might not come back to the US :)
My advice would be for travelers who don't drive a car with manual transmission on a regular basis - do the automatic!
I've noticed this before on previous trips to Europe, but it feels like there is a real sense of community and heritage here that is missing in the US. Though at the same time, differences in prosperity come through; such as between Innsbruck and Lugano/Lucerne for example. Switzerland is much cleaner and more affluent (at least as measured by the average age and model of cars that is!). I was also interested to learn that much of the laborer work force in Lugano commutes from Italy.
The weather forecast was not reliable at all. On Thursday, it was supposed to rain all day in Lucerne and Lugano. However, it ended up not raining much on Friday until mid-morning on Saturday. Lugano didn't get much until Saturday night, but the temperature got down to near freezing!
Thanks for the great suggestions even though I wasn't able to utilize them all! All in all it was a wonderful experience!