Of all the places in Switzerland, the city of Lucerne endears itself to me with its beauty and charm. I fall in love it the moment I set foot on it. It is a city in north-central Switzerland, in the German-speaking part of that country. The word ‘Luzern’ is actually German, while Lucerne is in French. Having a soft corner for French, I love to refer to it only as Lucerne.
With beautiful swans swimming freely in the Lucerne Lake in the midst of the city, and sparkling waters of the river Reuss reflecting the gorgeous structures, Lucerne paints a pretty picture. From my balcony in the lake shore hotel, The Grand Hotel National, the view is scenic. On a clear day, I can see Stanserhorn, Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps. Built in 1870, this period luxury hotel has further added to my fond memories
With stunning sights all around, Lucerne is a town that has to be explored on foot. Walking on the cobblestoned pathways is a great pleasure, like in most cities of Europe. The city’s tourist bureau is located right outside the main train station, and its city guide offers a full walking tour of the city that can be done in a few hours. I take a guided walking tour around the city.
This town lies on the western shore of the Lake Lucerne. Swans in the lake add to this picturesque place. Not just in Lucerne alone, swans are common in many parts of Switzerland. These swans are so well-fed by local residents that they simply swim close to the shore expecting to be fed. They are so used to human presence that even their nests are less than two metres from a walkway.
The city straddles the River Reuss where it drains the lake and has a number of bridges. The most famous landmark is the Chapel Bridge, a 669 ft long wood-covered bridge that was originally built in 1333. It goes across the mouth of the Reuss River as it leaves the lake. It is the oldest covered bridge in Europe, although much of it had to be replaced after a fire on August 18, 1993, allegedly caused by a discarded cigarette.
Part way across the bridge lies Water Tower, an octagonal tower that served as a lighthouse, a prison and a treasury, a fortification in the 13th century. Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne’s history, listed in the four official Swiss languages (German, French, Italian, and Romantsch).
The Bridge and its tower are the city’s most famous landmarks. Old Town Lucerne is located just north of the Reuss River, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above Lucerne, complete with eight lofty watch towers. An additional gated tower sits at the base of the hill on the banks of the Reuss River. The water level in the river is controlled with a series of wooden water spikes, which are raised and lowered by hand every day.
Besides the lake, the river Reuss and the mountains, Lucerne painted houses are another awesome attraction of what is one of the loveliest cities in Switzerland. Lucerne’s famous Chapel Bridge leads into the Old City. It is here that I found several houses decorated with façade paintings, most of which date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some frescoes on the houses display delicate colours and ‘classical’ features, others are a bit flashy, but all of them are wonderful to look at. Like those in Bavaria, numerous buildings on this street are covered with elaborate and colourful murals. Lovely architecture abounds outside the Old City as well. “The Dying Lion of Lucerne” is a world famous monument, hewn out of natural rock in memory of the heroic death of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tuileries Palace (Paris) in 1792 during the French Revolution.
The monument is dedicated “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”. The dying lion is portrayed pierced by a spear, covering a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis (a stylised lily) of the French monarchy; beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. The inscription below the sculpture lists the names of the officers and gives the approximate numbers of soldiers who died (760), and survived (350). Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad describes the dying lion in these beautiful lines: “The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble.
His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies. Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”
But that was in 1880. Now in 2013, the surrounding scenario is different, mostly crowded with tourists and the associated hustle bustle. If you look closely at the statue in isolation, yes, you can relate to everything that was said about the lion, except the water- lilies and the accompanying beauty. Lucerne’s railway station, Banhof, is one of Switzerland’s principal stations. The bronze sculptures on the distinctive arch in front of the station lend a rich, artistic feel to it. The large underground shopping arcade in the station building bustles with people making last-minute purchases as well as those looking for a variety of quality products in one place.
I am told that every year, towards the end of winter, a carnival breaks out in the streets, alleyways and squares of the old town. This is a glittering outdoor party, where chaos and merriness reign and nothing is as it normally would be. Strange characters in fantastic masks and costumes make their way through the alleyways, while carnival bands blow their instruments in joyful cacophony.
Thousands of bizarrely clad people sing and dance awaay the winter. I promise myself to return. As the city hosts various renowned festivals throughout the year, cultural tourists may have more reasons to visit this fascinating place. The Lucerne Festival for classical music takes place in the summer. I heard that its orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, is hand-picked from some of the finest instrumentalists in the world.
The Lucerne markets amaze with their variety. A stroll through the farmers’ market early on Saturday or Tuesday morning rewards you with homemade Swiss cheeses, wines, farm fresh vegetables, homemade-marmalades, and many many more things. After this, you will be in for a surprise, nothing can match enjoying first rays of sunlight with a coffee in a restaurant by the Reuss. When you think of Switzerland, you will invariably think of watches, army knives, and of course, chocolates. Don’t leave the land without any of these. They are certainly the best quality in the world. Meanwhile, I rely on my Swiss watch to remind me of the most beautiful country I have ever visited.