On our first night in Switzerland we wanted traditional Swiss food...and something near our hotel. We're at the Renaissance, about a quarter of a mile from the Lucerne Rail Station and across the river from the old town. With no planning, research, or even asking for a recommendation from the hotel, we set out wandering the neighborhood, looking for dinner. When you take your chances as we did, there's a well-worn saying that applies; sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

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Our empty first-class ICE car

Odd rail happening. Today we traveled from Heidelberg to Lucerne. It required changes at Mannheim and Basel. Most of the journey was aboard German ICE 73 that starts at 0647 Kiel in the north and rolls into Zürich at 1600 (4pm). In order to get seat reservations on the Mannheim-Basel leg we arrived about an hour early at Heidelberg Bahnhof and stood in line for a few minutes to request the two first-class seats (we have rail passes). After a couple of minutes of peering at his screen the agent said that first-class is sold out on that train.

With a train to catch for Switzerland, there wasn't time for breakfast at Merlin, so we ate at the hotel. The choices were €15 euro per person for a continental breakfast of coffee, juice and rolls; €17 to add fruit, yogurt, and cereal, and €22 for the “full monty,” waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs cooked to order, and so on. We chose the €17 option and ate in the pleasant dining/breakfast room overlooking the Neckar.

I figure being picky is in my job description, so here goes; the OJ wasn't fresh nor were any of the hard rolls. The fruit included no berries, just the usual pineapple and rock-hard melon chunks. The selection of items was extensive but yesterday's baked goods is inexcusable. The previous two mornings at Merlin, at about half the price, the coffee was better, the OJ freshly squeezed, and the bread and rolls fresh from the oven. Half an hour later, at checkout, the final bill contained a breakfast charge of €44, not the €34 I had ordered in the breakfast room. While six people in a hurry waited behind me in the checkout line, the desk clerk left her post to go to the breakfast room to see for herself what I had actually signed for. She returned all apologetic adjusted the final bill (another five long minutes for those behind me) but my suggestion to Marriott is this: It was €10, take the customer's word for it, apologize and move on. And donate your day-old baked goods to a worthy charity.

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Heidelberg Marriott

American chain hotels in Europe are seldom our choice unless the deal is too good to turn down. This is one of those times. With a travel agent coupon we're paying €83 per night for a double room, not including breakfast, at the Heidelberg Marriott.