Monday, January 21, 2013

PURE SWISS



Lucerne has got the lot. I fell for its charms and enjoyed the city, lake and the mountains – who said you can’t have it all?

I was an hour late arriving in Lucerne from my last stop. No, it wasn’t a Swiss train running late, it was me, at the last stop huffing and puffing up stairs with my big, fat suitcase and as I hit the platform the train silently glided out of the station – damn, I was five seconds late – and Swiss trains wait for no man or woman.
Arriving in Lucerne at midday in the middle of the week threw me into the energy of a city dressed to kill and glorying in an Indian summer. Along the shore of inlets and quays of Lake Lucerne, office workers sunned themselves, ladies lunched, dogs walked and wagged and travelling backpackers drifted, dazed by this overwhelmingly attractive city, with a range of mountains as its backdrop.
There’s a lightness of spirit here, nothing too heavy or formal, and the late summer displayed flowers in every receptacle. I trundled my way across the famous, beautifully preserved (constructed in the 14th century) Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) and pondered at how well it accommodated the 21st century foot traffic, and continued to display – to the world and its elements, the original 17th century paintings that illustrate scenes of Swiss life including the resume’s of a few of the city’s patron saints Leodegar and Mauritius.
I’d crossed the bridge and walked towards one of the most elegant hotels I had seen – gleaming in the midday sun, the hotel and I became as one when I entered the foyer. Happy days in my beautiful room at Hotel Des Balances, a chic, boutique hotel in the heart of the traffic-free old town.
Out and about to tackle Lucerne by foot. It’s not a vast city, and small enough to get the gist of the layers of history that unfolds as you criss-cross from one side of the water to the other. Between coffee, cake, ice cream, lunch and cool drink stops, I explored what’s there:
The wondrous Culture and Convention Centre, famed for its amazing acoustics. The architecture is bold and there’s a vast, sweeping platform veranda roof jutting out over the front of the building sheltering the walkways and cafes. There’s a huge pool of water in front of the building. When the building opened, the architect, Jean Nouvel refused to add a railing around the pool as it ‘would spoil the aesthetics’. On the opening night’s gala event a woman stepped back and fell in the pool – it was the architect’s mother. There are now glass walls.
The old town still rings of its mediaeval past, and with its intact towers, walls, bridges and old houses there’s a sense of solidarity among the newcomers to the city – those trendy 17th century upstarts.
There are magnificent edifices and monuments, such as the Jesuit Church and the Lion Monument, which Mark Twain described as the ‘the most mournful and moving piece of rock in the world’.
On the lake is where you can find all of what Switzerland is: lakes, mountains, the city, villages, spas, mountain peak activities, lakeside beaches, restaurants in town and by the sea (lake), nature walks, ski fields, and an unspoilt rugged landscape.



Golden round trip
I catch the ferry from Lucerne along the lake to Alpnachstad and for the thrill of the day head for the world’s steepest cogwheel railway - it’s fantastic, you are pulled up almost vertically through the clouds and then the sun shines as we alight after seeing the entire mountain experience of Heidi. Ticking off 2132m above sea level, it’s time for a cuppa, on the Pilatus Kulm peak. Looking around at 73 mountain peaks within photographing distance I enjoy pure mountain air and – the strains of an oompah band at the restored hotel on top of the world.
Saturated with sun and a-grade ozone, I headed for the next mode of transport. The aerial cableway opened its doors and we began the gentle swoop into the nothingness of a cheeky cloud that wouldn’t budge. Left it behind and enjoyed seeing Lake Lucerne and its shoreline perimeters; graded mountain sides; eagles diving and a winding go-cart track going down the mountain that looked like a lot of fun.
The airborne finale was the trip in a gondola to Kriens, where I ambled through the suburbs, and caught number 1 bus back to Lucerne – a 15 minute trip, with enough daylight left to enjoy a cool drink on the balcony of Hotel des Balances, overlooking the lake and city.
If you only go to one Swiss city, make it Lucerne. It’s  Switzerland – the city, the lake, the mountains.


Getting there:
Visit: www.balances.ch (hotel); www.lakelucerne.ch (lake cruise); www.pilatus.ch (mountain trip); www.luzer.com (tourism office); www.st_aus@switzerland.com



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