During the early 1800s, the city of Lucerne, Switzerland became the playground of the European royals, making it the first city to embrace a sort of tourist industry. It’s easy to understand why with the beautiful scenery around Lake Lucerne. Our day in Lucerne consisted of three different things. First, we had a short walking tour of the city. Second, we took a trek up to the top of Mt. Pilatus. Third, we went to a tacky but fun Swiss Folk Show. Unfortunately, it continues to rain and temperatures were in the upper 40s, so we spent most of the day cold and wet. Makes it kind of hard to really enjoy yourself when you’re miserable like that.
The two highlights of the walking tour were the Chapel Bridge and the Lion Monument (both pictured below)
. The Chapel Bridge was originally built in the early 1300s and is a beautiful covered bridge with a water tower. All through the bridge on the inside of the roof, paintings depicting various scenes of local stories are hanging. Tragically, in August of 1993, a small boat was tied to the bridge and somehow caught fire. The wooden bridge was quickly in flames. If you google images of the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne on fire, you’ll see some dramatic images of this tragedy. Much of the bridge was destroyed, with the beautiful paintings inside forever destroyed. Fire is such an important, life-sustaining force, but is also so incredibly destructive. It is tragic when such beautiful, historic treasures are lost forever in fire. Renovation work was quick and the bridge was rebuilt and restored, only a small portion and the water tower survived, over 100 paintings were lost. Regardless, is has been returned to its former glory, but the empty spaces where paintings once stood, and the charred wood marking the transition between original bridge and restored bridge, are a reminder of what was lost in the fire.
Moving on through Lucerne, we ended our walking tour at the Lion Monument (photos below). Despite Switzerland’s neutrality, the Swiss Army is famous for its well-trained soldiers, its knives, watches, etc. During the Renaissance period, Switzerland began hiring our their soldiers to wealthy families and even to the Catholic Church
. Swiss guards have long guarded the Vatican in their clownish costumes designed by Michaelangelo himself. in the late 18th Century, even Louis 16th had a contingent of Swiss guards at his palace. During the French Revolution, many of the Swiss Guards were killed. The Swiss government decided to honor the loss of these soldiers with a sculpture carved directly the side of a mountain. Mark Twain, upon visiting the monument, called the sculpture the saddest piece of stone in the world. For me, this is my favorite memorial in the world. It’s not that famous, and most people have never heard of it, but I feel like the artist captured more emotion from that piece of rock than the masters in any museum. The sculpture is a lion, which we often think of as a strong animal, king of the jungle. But here, the lion has been injured, stabbed in the back. He is lying there in pain, in sadness, in defeat, dying. The lion is expressing each of those emotions in perfect detail on his face. It’s just so powerful to see in person. This was the second time I’ve visited the monument. The first time was 12 years ago, and as today, it was raining steadily, which added to the emotional significance of the sculpture. I have to agree with Mark Twain.
After visiting the lion monument, we made our way towards Mt. Pilatus. Unfortunately, the rainy weather was a real pain for the excursion
. We went up the mountain on a 45 minute gondola/cable car trip. It was pretty cool, but we were literally just floating along in the clouds. You couldn’t really see much more than about 50 feet. Once at the top of the mountain, I went on a short hike up to the top of the mountain, which was cool except for the fact that I couldn’t see anything! It was cool, but I really had to leave a lot to my imagination. So, we made our way down the mountain on the steepest cog railway in the world. It was about a 30 minute trip or so, and luckily the clouds had cleared a bit so we got some great scenery shots. Once at the bottom of the mountain, we transferred to a boat to travel about 90 minutes across Lake Lucerne. It’s funny because the whole point of the trip was to go to the top of the mountain to enjoy the scenery, but it ended up that the different modes of transportation provided the best adventure. In the end, we missed the mountain but had a lot of fun along the way.
In the evening, we went to a cheesy, tacky, touristy Swiss folk show/dinner. The food was pretty good, the music was entertaining, but we were packed into the room with hundreds of tourists from all around the world. Somehow, we ended up have a lot of fun singing along, yodeling, etc. I also had the chance to go up on stage and try playing the Alphorn, which most people recognize from the Ricola commercials back in the day
. Needless to say, it’s a lot harder to play than I’d thought, but at least I was able to make some noise come out of it. One of the people on our tour said I made it souind like a dying elephant. Oh, well. How many people can say they’ve played an Alphorn!
All in all, Lucerne was a great stop. Now, it’s back to Germany for the last bit of our trip: exploring the Rhine River via bus and boat.
On a completely separate note, for those of you who were asking about the progress of my trip later in the summer. I finally received word that I’ve been approved to apply for my visa to Iran. It’s a complicated process that I started back in October. Basically, you first have to apply for an application number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once you receive that number, then you can apply directly to the Iranian Embassy to receive the visa, which takes about one week to process. So, after this tour is over, I’m heading to Berlin to stay with my friends Silja and David for a little over one week. While I’m there, I’ll be submitting my application at the embassy in Berlin. I’ve made it through the first step, which is the biggest step, now it’s just a question of being approved at the embassy, and then I’m off to Central Asia.
It may be a few days before my next blog entry. Thanks for reading, I hope you continue to enjoy. I’ve appreciated all the comments I’ve been receiving! Hopefully the pictures have been turning out okay and add something to the blog.
Until next time….