Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pristine Beauty of Lucerne, Switzerland

Really, I've never seen a city so beautiful.  Set upon Lake Luzern, with snow capped mountains in the background and a lake so clearly pristine, this is a city that takes your breath away.  And with over 200 pictures on the first full day, it clearly is a haven for photography as well.

Barcelona is an impeccably clean city.  With city workers out daily cleaning up trash, washing the streets and power washing buildings, I'm always in awe of how clean it is for a city.  Lucerne makes Barcelona look like a dump.  And by no mean is Barcelona a dump.  That's just how clean Lucerne is - pristine.  Even the water in the lake is so clear you can see the bottom.  When have you ever been in a harbor area and been able to see the bottom??  Um, probably never!

We slept in a little bit on our first morning in Lucerne as we didn't make it in til after 11 the night before from our tobogganing trip and we were all pretty wiped out.  Figuring that it was supposed to rain all day, we didn't have super ambitious plans of what we would be able to see.  However, in the end, it was a gorgeous day!  We didn't have sun the entire day but I would say we had it most of the day and when you walked in the sun, you could feel the warmth on your skin and it was hard to believe it was the end of December in Switzerland.  With little to no breeze, it was a perfect day to be walking around town.

Lucerne (or Luzern as it is called locally) is located in the north central part of Switzerland and is located in the German speaking part of the country.  With a population of about 76,000 people, it's relatively small by city standards.  This is not quite double the size of Attleboro, our hometown back in the States.  And as another comparison, Barcelona is home to about 1.6 million people.  Yeah, it's a small city.  

Because this was a chill, touristy day before we start 3 consecutive days of skiing, we played it all by ear with absolutely no itinerary in mind.  We started off walking thru some of the old city which is where our hotel is located.  The streets in the old city were filled with shops, most of them chains.  I was hoping for more local artisans and I'm sure they are somewhere but they weren't located on the main drag of this part of the city.  

One of the many bakeries that made my mouth water

Walking thru the old city

We saw many buildings with beautiful frescos on them

Aidan near the river

Both of these buildings had beautiful paintings outside

View from the river

The walk thru the old city took us to the river which then opens up on to Lake Lucerne.  On the river there are 2 covered bridges.  The first that we came upon was the Spreuer Bridge which zigzags across the Reuss River.  It is a covered wooden bridge that dates back to 1408 (yup that's pretty old!) and even has a chapel that was added inside in 1568.  I don't know many bridges... ok, I don't know any... that have a chapel inside them!!  

Spreuer Bridge

Looking at the pristine clear water below

 It's not just beautiful on the outside

From the inside looking out to the rest of the bridge

Also inside this bridge and the next one were interesting paintings in the arches - these date back to the 17th century and the ones in this bridge had a them of the plague called Dance of Death (by Kaspar Meglinger).  Josh and I were in awe of these paintings that are essentially exposed to the elements daily - and it's not exactly the most benign of climates here!  

One of the many paintings inside

A close up

View downriver

The chapel inside?????  Weird...

We crossed the Spreuer Bridge and walked down river towards the lake, coming upon the Chapel Bridge.  Before we got to the bridge, however, we found a bunch of swans.  We actually had seen a number of them last night and personally, I was surprised at the number of them as it's my understanding that they are very territorial and often you won't see more than a few in one location. We're talking well over a dozen of them.  Maybe it's a family???  Anyways, the kids are obsessed (and admittedly, myself as well) and we took a ton of pictures of them too :)  

Spreuer Bridge

What we loved about this house is that it looks like a giant Avent calendar!

There are several of these towers in the area, though we have not seen them yet.  But we are planning a possible excursion to the top of one of the mountains where we can supposedly see a number of them.

"Let us out!!"... they actually put themselves in there... if only there were a lock on the outside...

A few of the many swans

Boys LOVED the swans

While territorial and usually only found in pairs, I did some research and apparently in good feeding areas you can find up to hundreds of swans in an area... I had no idea!

So on to the Chapel Bridge, which is another covered wooden bridge that crosses the Reuss but does so on a diagonal.  The bridge was originally built in 1333 but 2/3 of it was destroyed by a fire (assumed to have been started by a disguarded cigarette) in 1993.  It was rebuilt but of the original 158 paintings in this bridge (147 were still in tact before the fire), only 47 paintings made it thru the fire and in the end, only 30 were able to be restored.  A shame... 

I love the sun on the top of the center building

Some of the saved paintings

Liam pretending to throw Aidan off the bridge

After travelling regularly with young kids on a regular basis over the last 4 years, we've become pretty good judges of when they need a break.  So when we saw the Starbucks across the river we jumped at the chance to just sit down with a mug of hot chocolate.  Yes, we are in Switzerland and yes, we know we can get better hot chocolate than Starbucks.  But for the kids, the familiarity is comforting and calming.  And so a decaf coffee frappucino for Aidan and an apple juice for Liam... and hot chocolate for me.

View from outside of Starbucks

 A non panoramic view and probably my favorite picture of the trip thus far...

We did a quick detour over to the train station to organize ourselves for skiing.  They have a promotion going on with the train company (the SBB) and the ski resorts so we were able to get our train rides and ski passes discounted.  We figured since we need to take the 7AM train tomorrow, it was best to get the tickets in advance so it will be one less thing to stress about in the morning.  It helps that we were already at the mountain last night for the tobogganing so we have an idea of where we need to go.

After the train station we decided to amble along in the search for lunch.  Our walk took us along the banks of Lake Lucerne.  It was supposed to rain but instead the sun was shining and it felt so nice to be outside walking along the water.  The stunning vistas of the Swiss Alps didn't hurt either!

Note the single swan swimming below

Our walk eventually took us to the Old Swiss House for lunch.  The building dates back about 150 years and has ties to the Anheuser-Busch family.  While Aidan, for once, was not thrilled with his meal, Josh and I both were.  Josh started with a lobster bisque and I started with a pumpkin soup, a specialty of this area and absolutely delicious.  We shared the famous wienerschnitzel which was prepared right at our table, something the kids really enjoyed.  They also loved seeing the crepes suzette being flambéed right at the table too!

As the kids were getting a bit cranky and were still recovering from the late night on Friday, we decided to hit the Lion of Lucerne which was right up the street and then head back to the hotel for a little downtime.  The Lion of Lucerne is a magnificent statue that was far larger in scale than I would have ever imagined.  The pictures do not do it justice.  It is actually 10 meters long and 6 meters high. It was carved into a cliff face in the early 1800s as a commemoration to soldiers lost during the French Revolution.  In the sculpture, the lion has been mortally wounded and you can see the look of pain and sadness in his face.  The sculpture can truly take your breath away with it's beauty and symbolism.

As Aidan was in a rush to get back to the hotel, it was just Liam and I on the walk back so we took a few more pics on the way...

The duck looks like he's just floating on air, but no, the water is just that clear

Can you see the sailboat way out?  Wish my camera could zoom just a little further so I could capture that one a little closer...

Unbelievably clear water - look at that reflection!

My baby...

After a few hours of downtime in the hotel to just watch a movie on the ipad, draw and relax, we headed out for dinner.  While we hadn't planned on fondue since we had it on Friday night, it's exactly what we ended up with and it was fabulous!  A feast - cheese, meats and of course, chocolate.  Liam who was definitive in his hatred of all things fondue, found that he, in fact, loves the meat and chocolate course.  Hey it's a start!  
Enjoy their dessert!

Tomorrow we are off to ski Mt. Titlis, a HUGE mountain in comparison to the tiny one we skied in France a few years ago.  The boys and Josh are super excited for the skiing.  Me, not so much.  I'm not a fan but taking one for the team because I know how much my 3 boys love to do it (and I'm hoping against hope that I can somehow skip out a little early!).  The boys will be taking private lessons early in the morning (hello 7AM train... um vacation sleep in anyone?) which will be good for them to regain the skills they've lost since they last skied 2 years ago.  I'm sure there will be tales to tell mañana!  


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