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Jan 26

Switzerland : Luzern City & Carnivale.

 

Carnivale-Luzern Chapel Bridge

 

Round about this time last year (actually, I lie … it was in February) we were at the very end of our 15-day Switzerland holiday and we found ourselves smack-bang in the middle of Carnivale in Luzern city. With the pre-Lentern festivities once again looming up round the corner, on February 9th, I thought this an appropriate time to post this article. By the way, this article is also in conjunction with my Shrove Tuesday post on pancakes, so go check it out.

 

 

To recap, we had just finished spending a few days in the beautiful and most picturesque town of Como on the shores of a lake with the same name. From there we hopped on the SBB hi-speed Swiss train (yes, Swiss trains cross over into Italy and go as far as Milan), and sped away to Lugano where we had to change trains en route towards Luzern.

 

 

Map Como to Luzern

 

 

By the time we disembarked at Luzern Bahnhöf it was dark and close to dinner time. It was the eve of Carnivale, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. We hurriedly picked up bread and cereal for our breakfast the next day and went in search for our host for the duration of our stay, an Englishman named Bill. We booked accommodation online using AirB&B.com … a GOD SEND for those travelling on a tight budget … and that’s how we found him. Bill owns a pub in the city, yet he still found the time to come meet us at the station despite us telling him is was not necessary. We liked him instantly.

 

 

He drove us to his house where we’d be renting a room for the next three days. It was about a 10 minute drive and it was perched on a hill, overlooking lake Luzern and some spectacular mountains. On a clear night one can see the lights of the cogwheel train and the observatory on Mount Pilatus in the distance. Could not have asked for better accommodation. Bill gave us the master bedroom and we thought it was so generous of him to do so … it had the best view in the house amongst all the other bedrooms.

 

 

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The view from the master bedroom.

 

 

Bill’s house is by no means small. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living area with wood floors throughout and a patio to boot. Glass doors open out into the patio and garden area, which also boasts a small pool. Beyond the garden is the most awesome view of the lake, the city and the mountains all in one. Every so often you’d see the ferries gliding along from one point of the lake, heading to and from the city pier. Man, I sure could get used to waking up to this view very quickly! And the room cost us all of CHF 70 a night … a bargain by Swiss standards!

 

 

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During our stay we had the house to ourselves a lot coz Bill would be out at his pub. He has a spare room above the pub so he didn’t even come home when we were there. Not a bad deal, seeing as which we had a comfy house all to ourselves and we paid a lot less than staying at a hotel. That night I slept verrrrry well indeed coz I was absolutely knackered.

 

 

Next day it was crisp and fresh. Time to go check out the famous sights of Luzern ~ I had a list. It was also the first day of Carnivale and we were forewarned that the streets get a little crazy all day and all night long. The bus from Bill’s house could not stop directly in the city because many of the roads were closed to accommodate the celebrations. And Bill wasn’t kidding either … the city was all abuzz with Carnivale in full swing. People in all manner of costume roamed the streets; shop windows were dressed for the occasion too with scary masks on display. It was really nice to see people of all ages take to this wonderful celebration so seriously; they really put a lot of effort into their choice costume.

 

 

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Everywhere you looked, there were people in full costume. This particular one depicts a dude dressed as a witch.

 

 

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Elaborately decorated shop windows.

 

 

 

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The city itself is simply stunning, situated right on the shores of lake Luzern and straddling the Ruess river, which drains the lake. The buildings are all from another age; solid stone walls that seem to defy the passage of time. Possibly the most striking of all is the clear blue water of the river ~ the clearest I have ever seen ~ and the world famous Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) traversing it. Originally built in 1333, Chapel Bridge is the oldest overed bridge in all of Europe. In 1993, disaster struck when a fire, caused by a callously discarded cigarette, burnt the bridge down along with many of its paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne’s history.

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The Reuss river with the onion-domes of the Jesuit Church in the distance.

 

 

 

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All throughout the city there were marching brass bands in monster costume, and stalls selling mulled wine, bratwursts, doughnuts …. mmm, all the good things you’d expect to find at a carnival. The jam-filled doughnuts were exceptionally scrumptious! But I must say what struck me the most was the family-friendly atmosphere ~ no loutish drunken behaviour; nobody spewing their guts out in the gutter; no random street brawls. No, it was quite the opposite actually. Everyone was in a happy, jubilant mood; there was much merri-making and a large proportion of those who attended were families with their young children, often being pushed about in trolleys. It was beautiful to watch, coz I dread street parties that attract the wrong sort of people. Here, everyone got into the spirit of carnival and dressed for the occasion : Mums, dads, babies … even their dogs and horses! Often, families would be dressed according to a theme, as seen in the picture below.

 

 

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Multiple bands played on every street corner, from inside the train station to the city square. Many would keep circulating round to different areas, keeping the crowds well entertained.

 

 

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It was a very enjoyable day indeed. Carnival lasts about four days straight so if you are staying in the city, it’s kinda hard to miss. The good thing is we got to see bits of it everyday on our way to the various sights and tourist attractions around the city, the most famous of course would be the ‘Dying Lion of Lucerne‘. Oh, it looked so sad and serene all at the same time ~ took my breath away. We managed to get there on a quiet time, just after lunch … I think all the other tourists were probably caught up with the party scene along the river. Lucky us!

 

 

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The stone carving of the dying lion commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. When King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were forced to leave their palace in Versailles and return to the Tuileries in Paris, a regiment of Swiss Guards accompanied them, as they were part of the Royal Household … they’re king’s bodyguards I suppose, functioning much like the Secret Service would towards the President of the USA. However, we aren’t exactly talking about a handful of highly trained bodyguards back in Louis XIV’s day. On the 10th of August, an angry mob of revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries palace and overwhelmed the guards, who had run out of ammunition. In all, about 600 guardsmen lost their lives in that single day … some during direct conflict with the mob, while others were executed after they surrendered. A further 200 more would lose their lives in prison. Gruesome indeed!

 

 

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Other places of interest was the Jesuit Church, situated along the river, with it’s onion domes pointing high into the sky. Built in1666 in honour of St Francis Xavier, the church was considered the most beautiful of all Swiss churches, with its pink and white interior. Architects and artists from Austria and Italy were commissioned to create this marvel of Baroque architecture, which stands proud to this day.

 

 

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No flash photography is permitted inside the church, however I made a boo-boo. There I was happily snapping away, sans flash, but as I was fiddling with the settings on my camera I failed to notice that the auto-flash had come on. I was way back, up the aisles trying to snap a picture of the altar, when this almighty POOOF of a flash went off. The minister who was prepping the altar for service whipped his head round, scowling up the aisle in my direction and was about to come tell me off when I said my goodbyes and fled back out into the street. I was mortified! R thought it was funny, obviously.

 

Jesuit Church, Luzern

 

 

Outside the weather got progressively worse. It started out a light drizzling which gradually got heavier. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was still less than an ideal day out in the city. R was fearing the worst.

 

 

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Within minutes it turned into hail. Perfect! But oh well, a little hail never hurt anyone (except when it hits you full in the face). I was determined to enjoy the city inspite of the grey skies and slightly damp weather. R however, was a touch miffed ~ being Aussie, he’s not the biggest fan of wintery days.

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I assured him that if he sucked it up just a little more that the weather would turn for the better … and I doubly assured him that it was simply a passing cloud; the sun would be out real soon. I mean how much worse can the day get anyway? Least we’re warm and dry in our coats.

Sometimes I really ought to keep my big mouth shut … for when the hail stopped, the snows came. A LOT of it, as if to expressedly prove me wrong.

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The snowflakes came down in relentless fat blobs, seeping into our boots and gloves. Temperatures dropped and I soon realised we were fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature here, as she continued to punish me for my arrogance but minutes ago. Eventually I could barely see 5 ft in front of me. I was very cold, my fingers were frozen through my gloves, I had soggy socks and my jacket was beginning to soak up water as well. We conceded defeat and spent the rest of the afternoon indoors at one of the first museums we came across.

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We entered the museum foyer as if we had just come in out of a tropical storm … we were soaked to to bone; squishy shoes and all. We peeled our coat layers and hung them over radiators and that’s where we stayed for the rest of the afternoon, drying off and thawing out in a museum amongst ancient Roman artifacts.

 

 

The next day we were back out in the city, taking in day 2 of Carnival. We took things pretty free and easy in Luzern, seeing as which it was out last major stop before training it to Basel and then flying back to Amsterdam from there. So we kinda just wandered around doing not much really. Taking in the party atmosphere.

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So in all, I feel fortunate indeed to have been in Luzern exactly during Carnivale. That is at least one more thing I can tick off my list of things to see and do whilst living in Europe. I cannot believe some of the things we have seen on this trip … it was amazing and it completely blew our brains. The Netherlands is such a flat country, much like Singapore, so when we crossed over into Switzerland and laid eyes on our first proper mountain complete with glaciers, we were stumped for words.

 

 

This will be my last post with regard to our Swiss vacation. I believe I have covered pretty much all the important bits from our 15-day journey {although it has taken me forever to write it all on the blog}. It was tiring, yes, but we made sure to not rush around simply to tick things off our tourist list either. I think it was a happy medium.

 

 

Things I have taken away with me from this trip :

a)  Everything in Switzerland is expensive, so be prepared with wads of cash!

 

b)  The Swiss favour local produce; pretty much everything in the supermarkets is made in Switzerland.

 

c)  National hobby = skiing + hiking

 

d)  The Swiss are very environmentally conscious. Everyone recycles their trash. The majority of public transport runs on electric.

 

e)  Eat fondue somewhere NOT at a mountain ski resort where prices are double.

 

f)  When travelling the length and breadth of Switzerland, the Swiss Pass is a definite win.

 

g) Citizens of this single country speak three different languages … French, German or Italian … depending on where you are on the map.

 

h) The airport of Basel has an international border INSIDE the airport itself. Cross this red line and you’ll find yourself officially on French soil … and all the vending machines will no longer accept your Swiss Francs. I was physically awaiting departure from Switzerland, yet I managed to go to the loo in France.  🙂

 

 

 

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed my stories thus far. Please feel free to browse my other travel logs and hopefully it will help shed a little light on the subject before you embark on your own Swiss journey. Switzerland is indeed a very beautiful and picturesque country. Food is good (albeit, much too expensive to fully enjoy on a travel budget like mine), the scenery is even better. I don’t think I would ever tire of looking at the mountains and valleys, the rivers and the spectacular waterfalls. Switzerland offers something for everyone, from the trendy shopper, the nature-lover and the sportsman.

 

 

Join me again next time as I bring more of my travel adventures to the screen of your PCs. I can confidently say the next trip is going to be a real highlight of the year for me ~ for we are going to ICELAND!! That’s coming up in April. We’ll be there for a week, because R is attending FANFEST and the 10th anniversary of EVEonline, which is an MMO PC game. A preview of our trip will be available in the following months before our trip. So watch this space.

 

 

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Until next time …. take care and thanks for the love and support.

 

 

 

~ THE END ~

 

 

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