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krisek Lucerne - A travel report by Krys
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Lucerne,  Switzerland - flag Switzerland
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krisek's travel reports

Having a jaw dropped in Lucerne (Luzern).

  6 votes
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One of Switzerland's loveliest cities, Lucerne (Luzern) dazzles with colourful medieval facades, little cobble stone squares and highly unusual wooden bridges. When the surrounding Alps are covered in snow, the picture is perfect.

Chapel Bridge and the Alps
Chapel Bridge and the Alps
I used to confuse Lucerne with Lausanne. Only by name! And only by name Lausanne sounds like a beautiful girl while in fact it is Lucerne that is the beautiful one. I had known it from the pictures, which most often concentrated on the wooden bridges. I had no idea that the city was much larger and much lovelier than that.

[If you keep on reading, may I suggest listening to Eurythmics's Julia from the 1984 album in the background?]

I was lucky when I visited. Snow fell in the Alps just days before and although occasional rain disturbed the wandering, the sun's often spells generated wonderful lighting conditions and a pleasant atmosphere for visiting.

Lucerne (Luzern) was established in the ancient Roman times, but it was not very important for the empire. Only after a Benedictine monastery was established there in the mid eighth century, it started attracting attention. It was bought by the powerful Murbach Abbey, which controlled for over 300 years until it gained its independence in 1178. When King Rudolph I Habsburg started taking advantage of Lucerne's growing success from the commerce along the Gotthard trade road, the city created the Swiss Confederacy with the cantons of Unterwalden, Uri and Schwyz on 7 November 1332. The alliance then was enlarged when Bern, Zug and Zurich joined. The city flourished but the wars and the plague did not make it easy. Particularly when religious wars between the Protestants and the Catholics erupted several times (Lucerne was Catholic).

Lucerne truly impressed me. It was clean, well kept and very colourful. Its location at the foot of the Swiss Alps also helped a lot. It was beautifully conserved and the architecture was stunning. It had all the expected qualities that Switzerland represents with its name, particularly if one stated the old town was packed with chocolate-box houses. It was almost dreamy. There was plenty to admire.

Favourite spots:
Kapellbruecke, originally built in 13th century, tragically burnt down in 1993, now reconstructed
Kapellbruecke, originally built in 13th century, tragically burnt down in 1993, now reconstructed
The Chapel Bridge with the water tower by its side were so distinct that they dominated the sights of the old district. It would be unlikely to pick a different favourite spot in Lucerne. I know I am probably unoriginal, but it is hard to pick out from a good number of the grand structures, palaces, castles, mansions, churches, and towers. The bridge inside had very old paintings on wood (not on canvas, Leonardo da Vinci painted on wood, usually walnut) and had a roof, which made it so special. Both sides of the bridge were decorated with flower boxes, which made it look tremendous. Sadly, this is not the original bridge built in the 14th century. It tragically burned down 660 years later, in 1993, together with the unique paintings. Some of them were salvaged and when the bridge was rebuilt, they were displayed - charred. But many had been lost forever and their copies replaced them on the bridge.

What's really great:
Lucerne travelogue picture
All grand sights were so close to each other, and immediately opposite the main train station. No map was needed and the relaxed but party-like atmosphere was easy to absorb. I could stay there for days! Next time, I could come in winter to face the cold and subject my body to fair quantity of mulled wine. It was cold when I visited. I had to put two shirts on, which turned many heads (I might have been viewed as incredibly fashionable or sadly stupid, I am not sure) and the warming items were not mulled wine but hot roasted chestnuts sold from wooden booths scattered around the old town. The chestnuts denoted the coming of the autumn, if the snow in the mountains was not enough, of course. Chestnuts have never been my favourite snack, but the mysterious vibe they created I always associated with having to put on a warm coat and scarf. In Lucerne they created an unforgettable trait.

Lucerne travelogue picture
Lucerne's old town is a sight on its own. The number of picturesque medieval and Renaissance buildings packed along cobble-stone alleys and the shore of the Lake Lucerne, was astonishing. There was another, less famous, but still original, the Mill Bridge constructed in 1408 over the River Reuss, which had the same construction as its famous neighbour. As the Chapel Bridge had to be rebuilt, the Mill Bridge claims the title of the oldest wooden bridge in Europe. It also had some wonderful painting inside, right under its roof. The bridge had a chapel constructed in the middle of it - very special, indeed.

I liked the squares and the narrow alleys, but there was also the church St Leodegar, originally erected in 735 and then changed in the 17th century. But its original (with two needles) remained.

The Town Hall looked very special and the little fountains centred on the squares often featured knights, the protectors of the canton.

Lucerne travelogue picture
Accommodation options in Lucerne were plenty. Even few cheapish hostels could be found. But they did try to keep a much lower profile than the establishments at the lake or along the river by the world famous bridge. Generally, hotels and hostels in Switzerland were good value, safe and clean. Whenever a canton received more tourists than another, then there were more options to fit various budgets. Sometimes, some might cut corners and offer less than hotels of higher category charging less, though. So, it was worth checking. Lucerne was the most popular tourist destination in the confederation and this meant that some of the prices were higher than normal and did not fluctuate between seasons.

Weekend in Lucerne at a budget hotel in a single room with ensuite bathroom still set one back by approximately CHF100, which was not cheap. Some 2* and 3* hotels had rooms with shared bathrooms, and charged about CHF60, which was slightly more than a Bed & Breakfast in the UK.

The Mr. Pickwick Pub
The Mr. Pickwick Pub
The pub at the Mr. Pickwick Hotel was the liveliest spot in the old town. A few cafes open late were competing, but the best mix of people could be found right there. The location could not be beaten, either. Right by the lake, across the Chapel Bridge with perfect views towards the snow-capped Mount Pilatus. It looked a little alien in Switzerland, as it was styled as an English venue, but I did not care that much.

I checked in the guidebook on my iPhone that Lucerne had also very (I mean extremely) posh clubs listed under nightlife. They looked that they were built for royalty - with elaborate chandeliers and equisite decor. I did not venture to those. Visitors, who wanted a thrill of gamble could try the casinos. But for a city like Lucerne, the rustic (and more elegant, too) bars and cafes felt less out of place and attracted open minded and mixed crowd. Although many bars were on hotel premises, which felt a little odd to me. Yet, this seemed normal in Switzerland.

Lucerne travelogue picture
It would be difficult to upstage the dozen or so cafes and restaurants along the River Reuss's northern bank in the heart of the old town for a better place to sip tea, coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine, or a beverage on ice - depending on the season, of course. And when I visited, beer was amongst the most popular choices. The view containing centuries of municipal and canon history and the breathtaking Swiss Alps would make Big Mac taste like an Argentine steak and Beaujolais Nouveau like Chateau Margaux.

I sat at one of the busy cafes, ordered tea and wrote a few postcards to friends. I put on Eurythmics song 'Julia' on the iPhone, which isolated me from the chatter and put me in the autumn mood, around the fallen brown leaves, feeling the cold breeze, breathing the crisp fresh air. Can you picture that?

Euro-Thai Food Take Away
Euro-Thai Food Take Away
Tucked behind a square with a fountain boasting a knight in tights, there was a small Thai eatery called the Euro-Thai Food Take Away. Officially based at Schlossergasse, a dark little street, not necessarily looking very inviting. The eatery was run by a Swiss-Thai couple and offered authentic Thai fare. All was available to take away, but five tables inside could fit 25 hungry guests.

European dishes such as pizza (CHF15) and burgers (CHF9) did not look very promising, but I entered this tiny place for some red curry with chicken (CHF16). Other Thai dishes, which looked yummy, were padthai (CHF20), nam tok (CHF20). My red curry was fantastic! It was a little milder than those I had in Thailand, but it was delicious. The service was very personal and efficient. Perhaps not the best decor in the city, and the Thai karaoke playing from a plasma screen, might be a bit too much, but hey does one not come to a restaurant for food, primarily?

Other recommendations:
Lucerne travelogue picture
Even if you are in Zurich or Bern, and have three hours for lunch, or a little longer for dinner - the perfect train service connects Lucerne with both. The trains take about one hour and run every 30 minutes. A return ticket is CHF60. It is totally worth it. Lucerne is so cozy and has this inexplicable and powerful charm that a meal by the lake at a table under the open sky is really unforgettable, even on a cold night - if the restaurants keep the tables outside open for service. The train do not run all night, though. Those bound for the capital stop at about 1 a.m., and those to Zurich - at about midnight.

Published on Thursday October 9th, 2008

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Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 03:58 AM rating by rangutan

Very well written, your style works perfectly here, not so much for Zurich :-)

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