Monday 14th – Thursday 17th September
Lugano to Lucerne, Switzerland
Train journey Lugano to Lucerne
The train journey from Lugano to Lucerne on Monday took us through the Alps. Often we read or work on our blog during long train journeys, but on this occasion we both decided to listen to podcasts on our headphones instead, so that we could watch the views passing by the windows. We enjoyed some amazing sights, including some incredible waterfalls caused by the large amount of rain that we had experienced while in Lugano.
Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland
When we were planning our trip to Switzerland one of the days out that interested us, and led to us choosing Lucerne as a destination, was “The Golden Route” up Mount Pilatus. Tuesday looked like it might be clear enough to enjoy some views from the top.
The journey began with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, known in Swiss as the Vierwaldstättersee, the Four Forested Cantons Lake, after the original “cantons” (or states) that joined together in the Middle Ages to found Switzerland.
Next we boarded the world’s steepest cog-wheel railway, to climb to the summit of Mount Pilatus, at over 2,000 metres above sea level. Although the track does not look too steep in the picture below, some sections are at a 48%, or close to a 1 in 2, incline (for those who know our street in Gateshead, the section downhill from our house is a 1 in 10 incline, which certainly feels steep enough when we try to walk – or cycle! – up it!). The railway here is over 125 years old, and was originally steam-operated, although it is powered by electricity these days. It also gave us brief glimpses of the lakes below.
Initially when we reached the top we emerged into a world of clouds. But within an hour or so (during which we grabbed some lunch at one of the two hotels(!) at the summit) the weather had cleared, providing us with some fantastic views.
We then travelled back down via two cable cars, including the modern “Dragon Ride” pictured below. As an added bonus, we could actually see the building housing the apartment that we stayed in during our time in Lucerne – it is one of the two tower blocks close to the football stadium about three quarters of the way up the right hand side of this photo.
Walking tour, Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne is a very beautiful and historic city, and we were keen to learn more about it, so we took a walking tour on Wednesday morning. The guide was very knowledgable and engaging, and we enjoyed hearing about how the city originally became rich due to its location on the main trade route between Germany and Italy (allowing it to charge tax on the goods that passed through). Later, the source of its wealth switched to tourism, particularly visitors from Britain in the early days. This remains the case, although today they get visitors from across the world.
We were also interested to hear about the modern culture and congress centre that was built in the 1990s, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. It houses a concert hall and other exhibition spaces.
Nouvel’s original vision was to place the building on an island in the middle of the lake, but this plan was rejected by the people of Lucerne in a referendum. (On this occasion, the vote took place at a local level, but even on the national stage Switzerland has direct democracy, meaning that any law or decision can be challenged by members of the public and, if enough people join the petition, a referendum will be called.)
Having been foiled by public opinion, Nouvel therefore decided to incorporate the lake into his design in another way, with pools both outside and inside the centre. Our guide told us that the pools are usually fenced off to prevent people falling into the water (which has apparently happened on several occasions) but Nouvel does not approve of the fencing, so the city removes it whenever it knows that he is coming to visit, and then replaces it once he is safely out of town!
In the afternoon we also visited the Lion Monument, by Lukas Ahorn. Carved into a rock face and sitting ten metres long, it commemorates the Swiss soldiers who died during the French Revolution, while defending King Louis XVI (although Switzerland has been neutral for many centuries, that hasn’t stopped it providing mercenary soldiers to other countries, a tradition that continues to this day with the Swiss Guard who protect the Pope at the Vatican). The “dying lion” was a draw for tourists in the 19th Century and continues to be popular with visitors to this day. A lot may have changed in that time, but Lucerne remains a beautiful and fascinating city to explore.
Linguistic challenge of the day
Although I speak (and understand) some German, it soon became clear to me that this would not be sufficient to allow me to catch all of what is going on in Switzerland. Although Lucerne is in the majority “German-speaking” section of the country, the mother tongue of the locals is actually Swiss German, which is very different. I am not certain whether it is a dialect of German or a separate language, as some of the basic words (such as “und” and “aber”) sound similar, but others (incuding “hello”, “goodbye” and the numbers) are very different. The accent is also very dissimilar to German, being somewhat “sing-song”, like the Swedish chef from The Muppet Show!
After reading a little about the language situation in Switzerland online, I was reassured to learn that Swiss Germans also speak Standard German, as all of their lessons are conducted in that language throughout school and almost all written communication (with the exception of short text messages, etc) tends to take place in Standard German. Therefore, I have been able to communicate pretty well while we have been here (certainly helped by the fact that most people seem to also speak excellent English), although I still find it odd to be greeted with “Grüezzi” rather than “Gutentag”, and to hear people saying “Merci” rather than “Danke schön”!