A guest post from my dear friend with whom I had had the chance to travel with, to Lucerne:
Welcome to the Land of the Alps, the country that immediately brings to mind the aromatic romance of chocolate, the silent whirring of the gears of a Swiss watch or the gentle swish of the blades of a Swiss-knife. Welcome to Switzerland where Mother Nature has taken the time to carve this land into a masterpiece of eternal beauty.
The land of the Alps and Wilhelm Tell, the Swiss archer had always been on my list to visit ever since I was a kid. The people, the political system where the citizens get to vote on every major decision is truly fascinating. With their concept of direct democracy, the Swiss have left their indelible mark on world history and the bravery of the Swiss doesn’t need an introduction. In order to explore this truly wonderful land, I started with one of its tiniest but most charming places tucked in its innermost regions – Luzern
As soon as I stepped out of the train station with my dear friend, a zephyr from the magnificent lake greeted me with affection. Fresh air coupled with a little wetness from the lake refreshed me after my long journey. Gratitude engulfed me as I saw the beautiful Swiss mountains beaming in pleasure at my arrival. Mountains are an integral part of India as well, for if it weren’t for the Himalayas which stop the moist laden clouds from passing, India would have been a very dry land. Furthermore the greatest philosophical and spiritual works of the entire world, the Vedas, originated from the highly illumined masters of the Himalayas. I always had a sense of awe about these magnificent landforms that dominate the Earth which we live in. With a sense of grandeur that is unsurpassed, the Alps towered in the distance. I had read about Luzern from various articles on the Internet but nothing prepared me for the view that greeted me as I walk out of the train station. The human eye is a magnificent organ that puts even the most advanced camera to shame, for it inadvertently takes in so much beauty which the camera cannot. With the Swiss flag flying over the station and the beautiful swans cackling and swimming effortlessly , Luzern welcomed me with open arms.
I slowly lumbered along with my suitcase and arrived at my hotel, the magnificent ‘ Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern ’, a true gem. I will not even go into how charming it is. With the grandfather clock ticking away, a magnificent staircase welcoming me and the warmth of the hosts, it is the first introduction to Swiss hospitality that I shall always remember. I was informed that the room was not ready yet and they gave a free drinks coupon that could be used anywhere in Luzern. I deposited my bags and decided to have lunch. Luzern is a very pretty place but is not very big and the concierge told us that the shops close at 4:00 pm in the afternoon. I looked in disbelief, “ This is a tourist city and the shops close at 4:00 ?” He answered in the affirmative and gave a list of places to visit.
With the words of Tolkein , ‘ Not all those who wander are lost ’ playing in my mind, I walked around aimlessly enjoying the feeling of being on vacation. It is like an eternal spring that rushes up from the heart. I was on the other side of the world with joy in me, around me and by me. Finally I decided to have lunch at an Italian place and even by my standards, it was ridiculously slow service. They only had a few vegetarian dishes but this was much better than some of the other places I have been to in recent trips. The food arrived fresh, hot and sumptuous and I felt appeased. There is an atmosphere of relaxation in Europe that permeates every pore of your being. Time itself seems to go by slowly. I trudged back to my hotel and by this time, the room was ready. I relaxed for a little time and got some sleep before I started out again to explore tiny Luzern with a much more refreshed mind.
Luzern is a very beautiful place and as I found out, the entire city can be covered on foot in less than four hours. The first and the most important bridge to see was the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), the oldest bridge of its kind in Europe. The stairs creaked as I walked on it. It is a relic from the days past. As with any other tourist destination, it was very crowded and there were lots of European, American and Asian tourists. There were too many selfie sticks being used and this really annoyed me for I have never been a fan of selfies at all! Further, the selfie sticks were always disturbing my composition when I wanted to take a picture. You however live with things like these being a traveler. I could not be annoyed for long as the gentle sound of the river rushing by calmed me with ease. Do not forget to look at the paintings that are above your head which are waiting for you to look at them. The beautiful paintings from the 13th-14th centuries on the ceiling of the bridge captivated and took my breath away. I spent a lot of time walking back and forth on the bridge gazing up at the paintings by Heinrich Wägmann that depict the historical stories of the Swiss and that of the saints of Luzern and wondering as to how Luzern must have looked in the days of yore.
I also visited the Spreurbrücke (Chaff Bridge) that had the Plague paintings by Kaspar Meglinger. However, this one had fewer visitors and was not taken care of properly as the other bridge was. This trip gave me ample time to perfect my map reading skills. With the map the concierge provided me, the next fabled stop was the Löwendenkmal (Weeping Lion Monument) of Luzern.
I always wanted to visit this for this was one monument my grandfather had visited and I could always remember the sadness he felt when describing this. The monument was designed by the Danish sculptor Berthel Thorwaldsen and carved out of sandstone by Lukas Ahorn and commemorates the brave Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI of France at the Tuileries in Paris in 1792. This wonderful masterpiece is that of a very badly wounded lion that is about to die on a broken shield, with a pierced arrow that is making it bleed. It evokes very powerful emotions and the more one looks at it, the sadder one feels. The Lion casts a magic spell with its stoic yet serene gaze filled with pain as it awaits for its eyes to close one last time. We were told that the Latin inscription carved on the top means ‘To the bravery and the fidelity of the Swiss.’ Images like these make you think as to how much of a sweeping change this continent has gone through and how much Switzerland has changed. It was once so poor that people would travel to other countries to offer their services in the protection of other rulers. Even now, don’t the world famous Swiss Guard protect the Pope in Rome? Now though, the Swiss enjoy their freedom and are world renowned for their chocolates and banks and for being a neutral country. Time is indeed the greatest healer and conqueror and makes even the mighty dance to its tunes. It was a poignant moment as I felt a part of the sadness of this magnificent beast.
By the time I walked back, it had crossed 4:00 pm and all the shops had already closed for the day. Suddenly, Luzern felt very silent – the hustle and bustle vanished except for the tourists chattering and the toot of the big tourist boats docking in their harbors and the sounds of the swans swimming with a silent swish. A must to do in Luzern is to sit near the banks of the lake and see the delightful swans groom themselves looking around to see if anybody had noticed. I clapped my hands in awe and with a proud, condescending gesture they slowly slipped into the water with the webbed feet hardly making a ripple as they ducked in.
As I slowly walked back, I was wonderstruck at the beauty of this tiny place. It is strategically situated on the river Reuss and Lake Luzern and has wonderful lake side dining options. A stroll through the enchanting pathway is a must for relaxation lovers. One gets to see smartly dressed couples walk by with a slight nod of the head and the slow setting sun offers a one of a kind experience. As I said though, Luzern is not very big and there are not too many places to see. This is a place to come out and relax for a day offering a gateway of sorts to the mountains. I was glad that I only had one day in Luzern and the next few days would be for the magnificent Swiss Alps.
The next morning dawned and as usual, I got up early. I love the mornings for they are very peaceful and you can feel the stillness of Mother Nature. It was not even day-break when I started on my early morning walk of Luzern. Every city is different in the morning when the Sun has not risen up; one sees a different facet of the city which vanishes like darkness with the rising Sun. Luzern had tranquility written all over itself and I mused as to how different this was from Beijing or Shanghai where one could see people practicing Tai-Chi with fans and music. There was neither music nor fans waving around. It was serene and the morning Sun was starting to rise over the horizon. I walked around the lake and I saw that I was even earlier than some of the Swans for a few were still sleeping. The bright early orangish-reddish rays of the Sun started to break over the horizon and the sky started changing colors. It was very beautiful and was reminded of the famous Aditya-Hrudayam where the Sun is extolled in India.
I went to the famous Kapellbrücke and had it all to myself. If only it could talk, it would tell you long tales of all it had seen – how it was constructed, how it was almost destroyed by fire and how it was reconstructed. With the Sun’s rays now turning slightly yellowish, it looked as if the antiquated wood had turned into gold. The Golden Time as the photographers called it had come and it was a stunning delight to be here and take in the beauty of the bridge with the delightful birds swimming past. With the legs of the bridge decked in delightful, colorful flowers and with the misty skies giving way to the beautiful golden light, I really felt myself being recharged for Mother Nature is an inexhaustible repository.
I slowly trudged back to the hotel for a hearty breakfast with lots of bread, cheese and apples and freshly squeezed Pineapple Saft. By now, the Sun had risen high up and the early morning stillness had vanished. As I collected my suitcase to leave Luzern and the charming hotel, I looked back and saw the magnificent Swiss flag wave and I knew that a part of my soul is being left in Luzern. I knew that I had to come back to pick it up and as I slowly walked in to the train station, I asked the Alps to let me come back one last time. The answer was a gentle waft with the fragrance of Luzern filling up my entire being.