It is not possible for a travel blogger to do justice to every amazing city he or she travels to. We had two weeks in Switzerland and one of these weeks was based in Wengen which we used as a base to set out each day to visit the key cities of Switzerland. Given that we had to get to Interlaken from Wegen before we could even catch the direct train to our destinations, a lot of time was lost in a day actually travelling. So our visit to Lucerne was undermined from the start by the two hour train trip and then by the fact that it was a rainy day when we arrived at the central train station. Wet tourists aren’t the best judge of a new city. Despite all this, we came away regretting that we didn’t have more time to leisurely see all we wanted to see of this lovely city.
After coming out from the station and getting a map from the nearby tourist bureau, we set out on our determined expedition to see the best of Lucerne. There are lots of websites that set out the top “10 best Things” to see in Lucerne and such was the basis of our tour as we wandered along in the drizzle on the edge of the Reusse River. Experience and prior knowledge is a great thing in touring a city and we realized, after catching the train back to Wengen later that afternoon, that the first thing we should have done is visit the ‘Lion Monument’ after we left the station. By walking up the hill, we would have passed the lovely Church of St Leodgar, built over a Roman basilica from 1633.We then would have found the park with the dying lion sculpture that has been the symbol of Lucerne for centuries. The famous Mark Twain visited it and wrote… “The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.” By heading to the famous ‘Chapel bridge’ first and then travelling back across the Reuse to the station side, we ran out of time to visit this impressive site. Thus we didn’t hear ‘in situ’ the famous story linking Lucerne (like Bern) to the early days of the French Revolution.
But there is no point crying over rain or spilt milk; we had to be satisfied in the first place with the lovely wooden covered bridge that was a feast for the eyes and respite from the rain. Lucerne is a city of bridges as it is built around both Lake Lucerne and the Reusse River that is the outlet to the lake. The first bridge encountered right at the mouth of the rive is the ‘Seebruke’ (Lake Bridge), a modern traffic bridge built in the 1990s. In contrast, the second bridge is the pedestrian Kapellbruke built in 1333 and is the iconic landmark of Lucerne. It was greatly damage by fire in 1993 and completely rebuilt. It has everything for the tourist;
- Rain protection as you cross the river and check out the great views up to the lake and down to the river.
- It has an indoor art gallery attached to the roof as you stroll along. The paintings completed in the 17th century show scenes from Lucerne’s bloody history like the one above.
- It runs next to a fortification from the 14th century called the Wasserturm (Water Tower), apparently used for many purposes including as a prison with the usual associated torturous practices.
After you exit the Chapel bridge, you encounter the Jesuit Church of Lucerne with its beautiful ‘onion’ towers. It is significant, not only because of its beauty, but it represents Catholic Lucerne’s response to the Protestant reformations of Calvin and Zwingli in the other major cities of Switzerland in the 16th Century. The Jesuits were called to Lucerne in 1573 by the city council to assist in combating Luther’s theological onslaught.
A little further down you can cross a more modern metal bridge that takes you back to the other side of the river and your choice is then to explore the old part of the city or continue further along the river to the next fabulous bridge across the river. As the rain had reduced to light showers, we chose to wander in the old town and check out the beautiful buildings with their extraordinary paintings on the external walls.
After a very enjoyable wander through the old town the city streets take you back to the river to where some impressive Swiss engineering of the flow of the Reusse can be seen. There is a ‘dam’ across half of the river to control the flow and it can be raised or lowered when necessary to adjust the level of Lake Lucerne.
The next startling encounter is with a fifteenth century wooden bridge that zigzaggs back across the river (note opening image to this article). It houses a small shrine in the center of the bridge. It is called the Spreuer or Mühlenbrücke,(Mill Bridge), to remind 21st century tourists of its past when a mill was built into the center of the bridge, driven by the river flow. It also has, like the Chapel Bridge, a series of 17th century paintings on triangular boards attached to the roof pediments. The paintings tell the cheerful traditional story called the ‘Danse Macabre’ that was meant to remind the bridge traveller that death was all around, apparently even in the restaurant depicted in the image above right. Note the donor of the painting is also illustrated in the image; presumably a cheerful town burgher.
After examining the Mill bridge, we walked down to the edge of the old medieval walls of the city that headed up the side of the hill that was the backdrop of the river scenery in Lucerne. It was just another example of a walk that demanded to be done but we didn’t have time to wander the walls of the city. Before our train was due to leave back to Interlaken, I wanted to see the Franciscan Church that was in the streets behind the Jesuit Church. It was worth the walk to view the amazing interior, particularly the 15th Century wooden carved pulpit. St Francis died in 1226 and so it was only 14 years later when his monks arrived in Lucerne, a city that has a long Franciscan tradition.
It appeared that any walk around Lucerne meant that you encountered wonderful sights such as one of the oldest buildings in the city, pictured here. It summed up the frustration of a swift visit to a city that demanded so much more of our time and attention to do it justice.