Switzerland was undoubtedly the highlight of our European trip, and not just because the chocolate is sooooooo good!
While we spent two nights in Lucerne, we did not have as much time as I would have liked to see the city. We arrived on Monday evening after visiting the Rhine Falls, and after dinner we had time to tour the city. The good news is that the sun did not go down until around 9 p.m. Unfortunately, most everything closes by 6:30 p.m., so we had to settle for window shopping and walking along the shore of Lake Lucerne and into Old Town.
Perhaps the two most famous images of Lucerne are the Chapel Bridge (or Kapellbrücke in German) and the Lion Monument, and we were able to visit both. The Chapel Bridge is the longest and oldest covered bridge in Europe. The bridge is 670 feet long and spans the Reuss River, which empties into Lake Lucerne. The bridge was originally constructed in 1333, but much of it had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1993.
About two-thirds of the way along the bridge headed south sits the Water Tower (Wasserturm.) The octagonal tower was part of the original city wall and it dates back to the 1300s. The tower is made from brick, it is 110 feet tall, and it has been used as an archive, a prison, and a treasury.
At the north end of the bridge is the Jesuit Church (photos below). The Jesuits came to Lucerne in 1577 at the invitation of the mayor to set up a college. Construction on the church began in 1667 and the church was consecrated ten years later.
The Lion Monument is a tribute to the more than 600 Swiss Guard who died in 1792 during the French Revolution. The Swiss Guard were mercenaries who were noted throughout Europe for their fighting skills, their bravery, their loyalty, and their discipline. Beginning with King Louis XI in 1480, French monarchs employed the Swiss for personal protection and as mercenary soldiers during both times of both war and peace.
In 1789, during the early days of the French Revolution, King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were forced to leave Versailles and to move to Tuileries Palace in Paris where it was thought that they would be more accountable to the French people. On August 10, 1792, 20,000 armed French insurgents attacked the palace. Although Louis XVI had fled to Paris, the 950 Swiss Guard fought to defend the palace. Approximately 600 died in the fighting before the rest surrendered. Many of the remaining guard either died from their wounds or were massacred by the French.
One officer of the Guard was home in Lucerne on leave during this time and he mourned his inability to be with his comrades. He began raising funds in 1818 to establish a memorial to them. The memorial shows a lion that is impaled by a spear while protecting a shield with the fleur-de-lis. Next to the dying lion is another shield bearing the Swiss Cross.
The memorial was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor, and was carved in 1821. Not enough money was raised to pay Thorvaldsen but he chose not to damage the sculpture out of respect for the fallen soldiers. However, he did alter the nook in which the lion lays dying. If you look closely at the photograph above, you will see that the nook is in the shape of a pig.
We took an early day cruise around Lake Lucerne and the views were stunning. While the morning sky was a bit hazy, the Alps could still be readily seen. Mount Pilatus, a 2 km high peak, is the closest and most impressive (see picture on left.) The lake itself is crystal clear — it was very easy to see fish swimming and the seaweed on the floor of the lake. On the trip around the lake, we saw a couple of castles, or real big houses, and a statue of Jesus blessing the lake.
From Lucerne, we took a day trip to St. Gallen and then to Flawil where we toured a chocolate factory and bought probably ten pounds of chocolate to bring back to Thailand for our friends and my office staff. On Wednesday morning, we left Lucerne after breakfast for a trip into the Alps. Our bus took us to Lauterbrunnen, a ride of about an hour and a half. From Lauterbrunnen, we took a cable car to Grütschalp, an ascent of about 1.4 km (or 0.85 miles) that took under 5 minutes. At Grütschalp, we took an electric train to Mürren, a distance of 4.2 km (2.6 miles). Two trains run between these two stations on a single-track with a passing loop at Winteregg, roughly halfway along the journey. From the Mürren rail station, we walked into the town and left our overnight bags at the hotel where we would spend the night.
From the hotel, we walked to the nearby cable car station and took a second cable car up to Mount Schilthorn, another ascent of just under 1.4 km. Mount Schilthorn is 3 km (or 1.8 miles) above sea level, the temperatures were around 40 degrees, and there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground.
Schilthorn is probably best known for Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant that was used in the Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” as the headquarters for Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE. The views from Schilthorn were stunning. While we felt like we were on top of the world, the nearby Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau mountains are all over 4 km above sea level, a full km higher than Schilthorn. After walking around the observation deck and playing in the snow, we had lunch in Piz Gloria. From our table, we could see hang gliders sailing through the air.
After descending from Schilthorn, we went back to Mürren and took a two-hour hike through the nearby fields and woods to Winteregg.
On Thursday morning, we retraced our previous day’s journey down the mountain and back to Lauterbrunnen. Our coach was waiting for us and we drove into Interlaken where we spent the rest of the day. That evening, we had a large gala dinner complete with traditional Swiss music — an accordionist, a Swiss horn player, and a yodeler. I was invited to try the Swiss horn and I was actually able to make a good bit of noise, albeit not music, with it.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.