Welcome to Switzerland!
We left Germany behind and crossed over in to Switzerland today, which may not be that different to Germany in terms of language and basic cultural norms, but is vastly different is terms of scenery. We’re in Switzerland for 2 weeks exploring its epic peaks, alpine lakes and rolling green hills – starting first and foremost with the lovely lakeside town of Lucerne.
Lucerne is the largest city in this German-speaking, central part of Switzerland (population 76,000), and is one of the country’s most popular tourist stops. Some 3 million visitors descend on this town every summer; they come to see the altstadt (translation = old town) with all its churches and bridges, and to marvel at the scenery. Lucerne sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains, right on the shores of Lake Lucerne, where the River Reuss drains the lake. This setting makes for a beautiful backdrop…
Since the city straddles the Reuss River, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Kapellbrücke (translation = the Chapel Bridge), a 200m long wooden bridge built in 1333 to link the “old” part of the town (i.e. the parts first established in the 9th century), with the “new” parts (i.e. those built during the 13th and 14th centuries). Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne’s history and the length of the structure is decorated with bright summer flowers.
Apparently it is the oldest covered bridge in Europe, although much of it had to be replaced after a fire in 1993, caused by a discarded cigarette. After the cigarette incident the entire bridge was rebuilt and is today once again helping tourists get from one side of Lucerne to the other in style. Part way across the bridge runs by a stone, octagonal tower that was originally built in the 13th century as a prison and torture chamber (thankfully it’s just used as a souvenir shop now). The bridge and tower are the city’s most famous landmarks, alongside the Lion of Lucerne.
The Löwendenkmal (translation = Lion of Lucerne), is a sculpture created in 1820 to commemorate the death of some 760 Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed Tuileries Palace in Paris, France. These mercenary guards served as part of the Royal Household of France and were simply overwhelmed by superior numbers during the bloody attack. The sculpture shows a dying lion collapsed upon the broken symbols of the French monarchy, the jagged end of a broken spear protruding from its side and a truly mournful expression on its face. It’s an incredibly touching and expressive piece of stonework.
We arrived in Lucerne with plenty of time to explore so not only did we visit the Kapellbrücke and the Löwendenkmal, we also went exploring through the streets of Lucerne’s altstadt. The oldest part of Lucerne is located just north of the Reuss River and still boasts several timber-fronted, medieval buildings with painted fronts. There are numerous small squares in the altstadt too, each once a gathering place for villagers where news and gossip could be shared freely. Today these same squares are used for a very similar purpose, there’s just more coffee, ice cream and beer involved! On the hill behind Lucerne’s old town are remnants of the old town walls and watch towers. And on another small hill sits the Church of St Leodegar, named after the city’s patron saint. Originally built in 735, this is Lucerne’s oldest church.
We were absolutely beguiled by the lake, the river, the mountains, and the beautiful old town. All that joyful bliss came to a bit of a screeching end however when it came time for dinner (sound of a needle being dragged unceremoniously across an old vinyl record). That’s when we discovered now incredibly expensive Switzerland can be. Holy moly – it’s almost like being in Norway again (almost)! We knew Switzerland would be expensive (our accommodation, for example, is easily 1.5-2.0x what we paid in Germany), but again the shock of $6AUD coffees, $10AUD beers and $60AUD steaks left us a little shell-shocked. We miss Germany and its $12AUD schnitzels already!! *SIGH* I guess that’s just the price you pay for the extraordinary natural wonders that Switzerland has to offer! Well, it’s goodnight now from us here in lovely Lucerne – we’ve just had the coolest ragtime band set up shop downstairs (they’re buskers I think) and the music is seriously cool so we’re off to join the crowds and enjoy some free entertainment! More to come from Switzerland tomorrow…