Lucerne, a postcard perfect city known for its medieval architecture, sits on Lake Lucerne surrounded by the snowcapped peaks of Switzerland’s Alps. It is the most populated town in central Switzerland and served by a network of public transportation including trains and busses. People have lived there since long before medieval times. Its colorful Altstadt (old town) is bordered on the north by 14th century ramparts and remnants of the old town walls with 8 watch towers.
The town’s most famous bridge, the covered Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) was originally built in 1333. Parts of it had to be rebuilt in 1993 after a fire suspected to be caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. The Chapel bridge links the Aldstat to the Reuss River’s right bank. Another famous bridge is the Mill Bridge built in 1408 and painted with a macabre series of plague paintings known as the Dance of Death. A small chapel was added to the middle of the bridge in 1568. You could walk across this bridge and never even notice the paintings as they are up in the rafters. You have to look up to see them. The chapel bridge has paintings in the rafters too, just not plague paintings.
The twin needle towers of the Church of St Leodegar (named after the city’s patron saint) are all that remains of the original structure built on a small hill above the lake in 735. The present building was constructed in 1633 to 1639 on the foundation of the Roman basilica that burned in 1633.
After an uneventful train ride from Zurich, we arrived in Lucerne with a 2-night booking at Roesli Guest House, which the booking info said was near the train station. We had no directions of any sort so as we exited the train station we consulted Google maps. While Google maps usually works quite well, this was one of those places where in its sometimes frustrating fashion it kept changing the direction of the walk this way arrow depending on which way we went, always pointing us to go in a different direction no matter which way we tried. There’s only so many directions you can go and it said all of them were wrong. Not knowing the area at all we gave up and took a taxi. We tried uber first, but there were no cars active in the area at the time, and taxis at the train station were plentiful.
The taxi went a round about way, perhaps due to one way streets, or to their GPS, or maybe just to have a longer drive so he’d make more money. Anyway the distance he drove made it seem way too far to ever consider walking back to the train station from there. Everything online spelled the name of the guest house as Roesli, but the name painted on the building wall said Rosli. The door to the guest house had a sign saying to check in at a nearby hotel, and the lady at the desk there said it was a 10-minute walk along the pathway by the river to the train station. Just about everyone we came across in Switzerland spoke English, which was a good thing since we speak no German. The next day we found that 10 minutes was a long estimate as we walked to the train station in half that. Too bad Google maps had never pointed us toward the river the previous day.
We got settled into our room and then went out for a walk around the local area, which is in the old town section. I tried to book all our lodgings in a touristy area near the train station. Being in the old town area, this room was unsurprisingly in an old building. It had 2 bay windows with window seats and uninsulated windows with radiators under them for heat. The bathroom was average size with shower toilet, and sink. The tap on the sink moved around loosely when used so it needed a bit of work. It was a big room and they provided 2 sets of bath and hand towels, plus 2 washcloths and a bathmat, which is really good for Europe where many places give you a bath towel and nothing else. The beds had the same odd sort of all-in-one sleeping bag style quilt and sheet thing that most of the places we stayed in Europe had.
From the windows you could see down to the narrow street below, a little ways up and down each way of the street, and the buildings on the other side. It was a fairly quiet street most of the time with very little traffic and not too many people walking by. The bakery across the road would take all the goodies out of their window each night and put new ones out the next morning.
The room had a bed, couch, and chair. Also a desk, closet, and free wi-fi. It reminded me
of a cruise ship cabin in several ways. It had a cruise ship style clothesline that extended from the wall by the sink into the shower when pulled out of its container. The shower was also just like those found in cruise ships, except they generally have shampoo and sometimes conditioner where only soap was provided here. The bed consisted of 2 beds pushed together in cruise ship style so they can be split apart for those who want separate beds. The couch could also make into a bed, and had above it a bunk hanging sideways in a frame that could lower over it when a fourth bed is needed. Modern cruise ships have the bunks concealed in the ceiling, but there are still older ships out there with the wall style bunks. In spite of being an older place we liked our stay there. The room was spacious and the guest house conveniently located in the old town area by the river.
All we had to do to get to the river was walk through a tunnel passing through the building we were staying in. The train station was less than a kilometer upstream, and there were buildings, shops, restaurants and bridges in both directions and on both sides of the river.
The area has lots of interesting old buildings and some narrow cobblestone streets as well as the bridges, river, shops, and restaurants. For dinner on our first night there we tried a nearby place called Taube, recommended for local Swiss food by the desk clerk at the hotel where we checked in. Prices on pretty much everything in Switzerland are sky high, but that place was lower than most others in the area. Which is not to say they were low, just not quite as high.
We had an appetizer of onion soup, which was nothing like French onion soup, but quite tasty. Dinner was pork with barley and potatoes with a bit of veggies mixed in. Nothing like anything we’ve had before, but quite tasty. Food is very expensive in Switzerland so while we were there we pretty much always just ordered one meal and shared it – and the price on that was about equal to ordering two meals in most places. Money in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, which is pretty close to equal in value with US dollars.
There were several bridges crossing the river near where we stayed. Two of them were
covered, and the closest was the Mill bridge – the one with a series of plague paintings in the rafters and a tiny chapel partway across. We actually crossed that one a couple times the first night we were wandering around there without even noticing the paintings in the rafters in the dark.
We walked up a little cobblestone road and found a gateway through the city walls where we could walk alongside them on a trail with views of the city outside the walls. One bit of the trail passed a small pasture with highland cattle and alpacas.
The trail went down a steep hill from there, turning at a round tower where the trail went a short distance along the lower wall before rejoining a nearby street.
From there we could see what looked like a funicular going up a steep hill to a castle. The internet says the Gütsch Bahn was a funicular railway running directly from Baselstrasse in Lucerne up to the Hotel Château Gütsch, (which looks like a castle). The funicular was built in 1881 to provide access to the hotel and opened in 1884 as a water ballast railway. In 1990 the Gütschbahn was converted to automatic operation and in 2015 the old funicular railway was replaced by two modern inclined lifts. The journey to Gütsch today takes just one and a half minutes. So apparently it was the inclined lifts we could see in the distance. Going up to the hotel is free for booked guests, and other people can buy a ticket.
While in Switzerland we tried Swiss chocolate, both in the sort you buy individually from a chocolate shop and the packaged kind. While definitely tasty, we didn’t find it to be any more spectacular than any other sort of fine chocolate, just more expensive. (Everything in Switzerland is expensive.)
Things to do in Lucerne
Things to see or do in Lucerne include Lake Lucerne, Mt. Pilatus by cogwheel train (steepest in world) and gondola, old town, Museum of transport (which also has a Swiss chocolate adventure and a planetarium), and other museums and artworks, lion monument (stone carving) glacier garden, and musegg wall with 9 towers (disagrees with the other site that said 8.) 4 towers are open to the public.
The internet says you can walk on the wall between towers, but we didn’t find anywhere to walk on much of it. After we went through an archway to the other side we walked next to it for awhile, and around one end where there was a little pathway below part of the wall and above a lower bit, but that soon turned into a road so if there is actual wall access to walk on top it for very far it was somewhere else.
The clock on the oldest tower chimes 1 minute before all other city clocks. More things to see in Lucerne include Hofkirche (church of Leodegar) and other churches, chapel bridge (with water tower), mill bridge (Spreuerbrücke), Reuess River, and Nadelwher (needle dam). Death seems to be a theme in this town. Besides the plague paintings on the mill bridge, the stone lion is dying and so is a virgin Mary at the Hofkirche. More attractions include Town hall and other medieval buildings, Mt Rigi cog railway, a Jesuit church, Hammetschwand Elevator – the highest external lift in Europe, Meggenhorn Castle, and Strandbad Tribschen beach – a beach with a view of the alps.
We went to Mt. Pilatus on our one full day in Lucerne. Other than that we just wandered around the old town area. If we’d had more time to see them there were a lot of other things there to see.
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