LUCERNE, Switzerland  

  Debra's Diary ~ July 2005

Lucerne was exactly as I remembered it from my school trip; what I didn’t know was that the old covered bridge, the Kapellbrüke over the Reuss, had burnt down, destroying over half of the ancient monument.  In typical Swiss fashion, it was rebuilt within in a year, and if one doesn’t go looking for the unweathered wood, and apart from several missing triangular paintings, no-one would ever know.  Strolling through old Lucerne is a joy; the buildings are painted, and the centre of the old town is compact and easy underfoot. 

Take a stroll along the riverside past the pristine churches, chapels and museums to Spreuerbrüke, the covered mill bridge, with more paintings that are decidedly macabre – they are all themed around the Devil, and unusually, there is a chapel in the middle.

We climbed up the 15th century city walls to get a better look at the celebrated clock in one of the towers that, as befits its ancient status, is the only one that is allowed to chime a minute before the other clocks of the city.  Of course it is perfectly restored, this is Switzerland after all, and the walk atop the battlements affords a brilliant view of the haphazard rooftops.

Two visits stand out for me – one is to the Bourbaki Panorama, which I found to be mesmerising.  The 112 metre by 10 metre large painting is one of the last giant panoramic dioramas of the 19th century that have been preserved.  The subject is dour – the retreat of the defeated Eastern French army in the Franco-German war of 1870 – but the skill of the painting and the added foreground objects that give it its 3-D effect simply draws you in.  I sat on the central round seat and just gazed – and gazed.  One of the last of its kind, this 360° painting truly involves you by surrounding you with its pathos.

The other place of special note was the Dying Lion monument.  Again, a morbid subject but the skill of the sculptor brings a lump to your throat as you look upon this magnificent creature in its death throes, its pain etched poignantly.  I don’t think you can fail to be moved, but I could be a touch too sentimental, it has to be said.  For a lighter note, the Glacier Garden next door is an interesting antidote.

A ride on the paddlesteamer is a ‘must’, and I am beginning to suspect that I am regressing to a point where something as simple as a boat ride can fill me with delight.  I adored the steamer; I loved the way the captains saluted – and tried to outdo - each other with their steam whistles, only try to avoid sitting underneath one of these as it truly makes you jump out of your skin at full volume.  Cruising around Lake Lucerne on a warm and sunny day is charming, and unfortunately makes me terribly lazy to do anything else.  You can hop-on, hop-off at any of the pretty lakeside villages, and there is always the fabulous view to be had from Mount Pilatus.

Lucerne is home to the Swiss Transport Museum, and I thoroughly recommend it, whether you have children with you or not.  I love museums, whether they are about knitting or electronics, and this one is superb (without the knitting bit).  It takes you from the early days of learning to get about in their mountainous country, to the Swiss solution for difficult transport situations and finally to space travel.  You really need a good half-day to get through it all, if like me you do actually read the text beside the exhibits, and there is an Imax theatre there too.  We were fortunate to have an interviewee that was not only knowledgeable but was extremely eloquent and enthusiastic about his museum.  I was surprised to learn that the British and the Swiss have a long association, particularly to do with boats and trains.  The Swiss like their models, and we found them both inside and outside the museum.

There is a lot to do in Lucerne, it’s a quite a mixed bag of attractions new and old, and there is even a retired paddlesteamer that is now a stationary restaurant. There is even a Lido for those hazy days of summer when a dip in the lake is the only way to cool down.  Lucerne isn’t the biggest city in Switzerland or the most important, but I did think it might be the most interesting.

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