The Retirees return to Europe – Luzern/Lucerne

Our trip by train to Luzern was uneventful save for the surprise that Euros are not accepted in Switzerland due to the exchange rate for the Euro against the Swiss Franc instability. We have had to convert our euros to Swiss Francs and the exchange rate is almost par at the moment. Our lost luggage and the money spent to replace the essentials has reduced available holiday funds and Switzerland is more expensive than I had expected.

Luzern rail station is the ideal station with a tourist info centre within the terminal and a terminus with all possible destinations lined up across 14 platforms. No problems collecting our luggage – love these trains – and we can just stroll over to the Tourist Info centre to locate our hotel and obtain some other valuable information on things to see and do. Then its off to Hotel Rossli. The hotel is a doorway off the road in the old city on the northern side of the Reuss River and the reception is in another hotel across the road – in the short space of time it has taken to walk here we have learnt to be aware of cyclists who flash past pedestrian in all directions. After registering at reception we return to the doorway and enter up two flights of stairs to our room which is quite tidy and serviceable with a view over the adjoining roof to river glimpses.

Various photos – the train station, the front door of our hotel the view from the window in the hall and some of the art features in the hotel

Luzern has a long history and the most notable is the Kapellbrücke or Chapel Bridge. Part of the bridge complex is the octagonal “Wasserturm”, which translates to “water tower,” in the sense of ‘tower standing in the water.’ The tower pre-dates the bridge by about 30 years. Over the centuries, the tower has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later a municipal archive as well as a local treasury. Today, the tower is closed to the public. The bridge itself was originally built c.1365 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications. It linked the old town on the right bank of the Reuss to the new town on the left bank, securing the town from attack from the south (i.e. from the lake). The bridge was initially over 270 metres (890 ft) long, although numerous shortenings over the years and river bank replenishments mean the bridge now totals only 204.7 metres (672 ft) long. It is the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. The bridge almost burned down on 18 August 1993, destroying two thirds of its interior paintings. Shortly thereafter, the Kapellbrücke was reconstructed and again opened to the public on 14 April 1994.

There is a second bridge of this type a few hundred metres up stream called the Spreuer Bridge. The first bridge was constructed in the 13th century to connect the Mühlenplatz (Mill Place) on the right bank of the River Reuss with the mills in the middle of the river. The extension of the bridge to the left bank was completed only in c. 1408. This was the only bridge in Lucerne where it was allowed to dump chaff (in German: Spreu, therefore the name Spreuerbrücke) and leaves into the river, as it was the bridge farthest downriver. The bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1566 and then rebuilt, together with a granary as the bridge head, called the Herrenkeller.

Photos of bridges – Spreuerbrücke then Kapellbrücke and the dam whereby they manage the water flow and generate some hydro electricity

Our accommodation being very close to the Chapel Bridge and old town made it easy to explore however we chose the remnant of the old city wall as our first target. We passed over the foot bridge closest to our flat and into the old town and in the distance saw Chateau Gutsch high on a hill within walking distance of the old town however we did not know that at the time. Passing through the streets we came upon a square with restaurants and hunger took hold so lunch first and explore later. Did I mention that Switzerland is expensive. We shared a pizza Kerry had a soft drink and I had a small beer – 39 Swiss Francs about AUD$55.00.

Without any plan we followed the road which gradually climbed up to the city wall passing an old workers hut. We must have walked about ten minutes uphill before finding a set of stairs which we climbed thinking this would get us onto the wall but no it brought us to the base of the wall but it gave us a good vantage spot to take some pictures including the clock tower in the wall. We entered through the modern door which contained a “spare” clock up some narrow wooden stairs to the wall – no interest in climbing to the top. we ventured out onto the wall for some grand views over the city. On the other side of the wall (the outside I presume) is now parks and sports grounds. Attached to the wall is a house with a metal deck leading to its roof (an Italian style “altana” ). There are a number of towers remaining with connecting walls leading almost to the lake and we walked as far as we could before leaving the wall to follow a road and visit a large church “Peters Chapel” in Kapellplats. And of course, there was a confessional.

We continued our exploration through the streets of the old town finding the restaurant we had stopped at in 2015 on the way to Basel. We decided to enjoy a dessert for dinner and unfortunately the occasion was not as good as our remembered occasion. We then crossed the river and passed what has to be the oldest extension to any building in Lucerne on our way to our flat.

Lucerne is on the banks of Lake Lucerne and one of the tourist musts is a boat trip on the lake. The experience in Bregenz made us wary of just taking a boat trip so after some research we found that a visit to Mt Rigi included a boat trip but the price was eye watering. The other mountain trips on offer were even worse. We had decided to suck it up and do the trip to Mt Pilatus. But when booking it at the Tourist Info Centre we learned that because we had an EUrail Global pass we got the tickets to Rigi at half price. Woo Hoo! But the ferry left in 10mins and we had to get on the boat before then. Handing over the folding, we got the tickets and ran to the wharf which fortunately was only across the road through the park from the Tourist Info Centre. Jumped aboard just in time and went straight to the top deck as the boat was jam packed with other tourists and locals. Ticket Inspector came along and pointed out we were in 1st class on a second-class ticket – so we got kicked off the top deck but not off the boat. The boat appeared to be a restored midship panel steamer only the engine was no longer steam powered. The restorer had exposed and polished the large diesel pistons and created a window into the engine room and the wheel chambers so the visitor could observe the pistons and the paddle wheel and the clean neatly arrayed tools of the diesel mechanic.

We travelled east across the lake stopping at various ports including Weggis and Vitznau. We left the boat at Vitznau to catch the cog train to the top of Rigi. We could then return by cable car from one of the train stops on the return journey and pick up the boat at Weggis.

Photos

The train was a modern electric powered vehicle rather than the historic looking tram advertising the trip. It climbed rapidly up the mountain side and at times appeared at risk of falling off sheer drops. As we climbed postcard pictures were available of rural homes and panoramas of the larger towns in the valley on the shores of the lake. After several stops at stations for hikers to alight, tourists to make their way to accommodation and locals going home, we made it to the last station some 30m below the summit. Then to my surprise a 2nd train appeared. Apparently, there is another line running to the other side of the island and the blue train was a whole different bunch of tourists. We ascended the summit some 1700+ metres high. Took some fabulous photos including some panoramas and these are following.

The summit is the site of the first survey point for the Canton of Luzern and this is highlighted by a raised concrete peg and a type of tepee over it. Just in case you are not familiar with cog trains I snapped a shot of the under carriage on the blue train (it was more obvious than on our train) to show you the centre rail and the cog wheel that fits into to it to give the train traction up the hills.

After filling our lungs with fresh air on a rather warm day at the summit and avoiding any of the numerous cow pats along the paths we joined the train for the return journey getting off at Rigi Kaltbad where we could use the cable car to travel down to Weggis. We captured some beautiful views of the lake and its towns travelling down. Those photos follow.

We had not seen everything of Lucerne its statuary and tattooed buildings, so we took a walk with the plan of visiting the Wounded Lion Monument. Here are a few photos of the interesting things we saw.

The Wounded Lion Monument recognises the sacrifice of the Swiss mercenaries employed by the King of France as his bodyguards and their massacre at the hands of revolutionaries of the French Revolution in 1792. From the early 17th century, a regiment of Swiss guards had served as part of the Royal Household of France. On 6 October 1789, King Louis XVI had been forced to move with his family to the Tuilieres Palace in Paris. In June 1791 he tried to flee to where troops under royalist officers were concentrated. On 10th August 1792 revolutionaries stormed the palace. Fighting broke out spontaneously after the Royal Family had been escorted from the Tuileries to take refuge. The Swiss Guards ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by superior numbers. A note written by the King half an hour after firing had commenced has survived, ordering the Swiss to retire and return to their barracks. Delivered in the middle of the fighting, this was only acted on after their position had become untenable. Around 760 of the Swiss Guards defending the Tuileries were killed during the fighting or massacred after surrender. An estimated two hundred more died in prison of their wounds or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from about a hundred Swiss who escaped from the Tuileries, the only survivors of the regiment were a 300 strong detachment which, with the King’s authorization, had been sent to Normandy to escort grain convoys a few days before August 10. The Swiss officers were mostly amongst those massacred, although the Major in command at the Tuileries was formally tried and guillotined in September, still wearing his red uniform of the Guard. Two surviving Swiss officers achieved senior rank under Napolean.

Mark Twain is said to have commented that this was the saddest monument he had visited. It’s location in an English garden is now out of the generally trafficked areas but worth a visit to view the extraordinary workmanship of this monument carved into a cliff face.

So, having viewed the monument and read all the information boards in the park we toddled off “home” and on the way discovered that the lane next to the front door of the hotel connected us directly with the River Ruess. It has been joyously decorated and not vandalised with graffiti.

You may recall my mention of Chateau Gutsch and the desire to visit the white palace on the hill. It turns out the palace is now a 5 star hotel with a funicular to take visitors to the hotel (of course there is car access also). With nothing better to do we donned our best clean clothes put on our thongs and tracked down the hotel which happened to be literally 5 minutes from our place. Finding the funicular proved to be no challenge at all and riding up in it gave us an outstanding view of the city wall and its towers, as well as views of the River Ruess, the lake the whole panorama of Lucerne. Inside the entry foyer is an elegant pictorial history of the Gutsch and from the lower balcony theses extraordinary views.

We were the only visitors at this time and had the deck to ourselves. The kitchen was not open, but they could offer coffee and a croissant. The cost was no more than we would have paid at a grubby street cafe – a pleasant surprise.

We left the Gutsch vowing to return after 2pm for cocktails at the American Bar. We returned to the town via the garden which in fact is a forest on the ridge behind the hotel. As we walked through the forest, we encountered workmen and Kerry struck up a conversation with the bloke standing in a trench. He was an Austrian from Bregenz – an Anthropologist completing an investigation on the impact a new freeway would have on the forest – fortunately the freeway was being tunnelled underneath the forest and it was more the impact the exhaust stack would have on the forest. He completed the friendly chat with some directions back to the town (how to avoid any steps). Our course took us through a residential area where we made a few discoveries like the self-serve nursery with an honesty box, the family bike (battery assisted for all those hills), Farmer paying a visit to the big smoke, some Advokatur and Notorial offices below the symbol of an iron dragon (??), and a visit to St Paul’s Church with its confessional before stopping for lunch. We then retired to our flat to rest up for the big afternoon at Gutsch.

Rested and raring to go, we went to Gutsch and the American Bar. This time we went into the hotel itself and the bar was all classic with portraits of all descriptions and sizes hanging on the wall. The receptionist who was German not Swiss could not say if it was the family and was unable to explain the portrait of a woman holding a severed head on a platter. We left the mysterious portrait and adjourned to the deck in front of the bar. The view had improved with the earlier haze having lifted. The following photos and Kerry’s posts on Facebook will give you a good idea of the old-world opulence of the place.

The Bar has that opulence that we imagine the rich and famous enjoy with views of the town and lake that cannot be bettered. Speaking of which I don’t know if he was rich or famous in his own right but the gentleman in the apartment overlooking the Bar decided to take the sun in his underpants as we enjoyed our drink and tried to enjoy the view. After the “show” and drinks at the American Bar we toddled home for tomorrow we take the train to Interlarken.