This month, we had a weekend away to a place quite special to us. Four years ago we were on holiday in Europe in winter, and whilst visiting Lucerne, we were suspended in a private Gondola above the snowy Swiss landscape when James proposed to me. We were also married in December (two years later, in NZ on a hot summers day) so it was the perfect time now to go back for our wedding anniversary.
For once, we managed to make our train connections so it was a very relaxing trip from Tubingen to Lucerne, taking just under 4 hours with two quick changes. Our hotel upgraded us to a Junior Suite as an anniversary present, no small thing given the prices of … well… EVERYTHING in Switzerland! We arrived in the evening and didn’t have to venture far from our hotel to find wine and Italian food, so it was a good start!
Lucerne is one of the most picturesque cities I have ever visited, with its charming wooden bridges and centuries old houses, serene lake, abundance of fairy lights and of course being surrounded by snow capped mountains. Even the train station is magnificent! Similar to many European towns, the “Old Town” is a collection of cobblestoned alleyways and market squares, although these are lined with high end watch, chocolate and fashion stores which ooze sophistication. There are two wooden footbridges bridges running across the river which separates the Old town from the New town. The most famous of these is the covered Chapel bridge, built in 1333 as part of the town fortifications. As well as the ceiling being adorned with colourful paintings about historic events in Lucerne, the bridge is interesting because of its connection to the “water tower”. This existed before the bridge, and has been used for everything from a torture chamber to a gift shop, but not as an actual water tower.
While we were in Lucerne, the snow had not yet arrived for the season so we couldn’t ski or toboggan like during our last visit. We did however take a 10 minute train around the lake to the Hergeswil Glassworks. These have been in existence since 1817, when they produced craft glass like that in Venice. Soon they were producing glass for industry such as bottles and jars, and during the war provided many jobs to create preserving jars and similar essentials. The Glassworks were a representation of the social system of the time, with the workers being very separated from the upper class owners in their work, their pay, their living conditions and even a physical wooden railing in the director’s office where they went to collect their wages. In 1975 the factory stopped being able to compete in the market and was nearly closed down. It has however been preserved as a historical location and produces beautiful glass pieces once again, such as platters and wine glasses. We visited the museum, which was a unique exhibition. Visitors enter at timed intervals, so that they have the place to themselves. Only one room or section of a room is lit up at a time, and a voice-over narrates the story of the Glass Works as the visitors walk through. As the light fades from one exhibit, it starts to illuminate another, guiding the visitors through. Doors opened automatically and it felt a little like being Alice in Wonderland!
After the museum, we ended up in the factory where we could watch workers blowing glass and creating the actual products for sale.
It is fascinating to watch the molten liquid glass (a mixture of sand, minerals and old glass) being wielded by the workers, poured into moulds, beaten into shape and solidified to create recognisable forms of plates and glasses. There were no delicate figurines being made here as there are in Venice, but it was no less impressive to watch the strength required for some of the massive creations, and interesting to see how easily a piece could be ruined by not pouring the liquid just right. To the side, was a place where I could blow my own glass ball… yes, it may be touristy but I couldn’t resist! I had to blow surprisingly gently, and the difficulty was in turning the stick evenly and quickly so that my ball wasn’t lopsided.
We of course rode up the Gondola, for nostalgia. The view from nearly 2000 metres up Mt Pilatus is stunning, and we enjoyed a peaceful walk together through the snow (not enough for the pistes to be open, but still enough to be magical). Crunching snow underfoot, green pine trees overhead, the blue water of the lake, the pitched roofs of the town in the distance and mountains as far as the eye can see.
In the evening on Saturday we went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. The “Thai Garden” was beautifully presented, with live background music, water features and three different dining areas. The food and experience lived up to the reputation… as did the price. Compared to Germany, Switzerland is extremely expensive, however we found the prices to be similar to Auckland in a relative sense. For example a coffee in Auckland can easily cost $4.90, and it cost 4.90 francs in Lucerne. If you are earning in dollars and pay for your coffee in dollars, vs earning in francs and pay for your coffee in francs, that’s pretty similar. Of course visiting Switzerland with dollars (or in our case, euros) means it is very expensive!
On Sunday we leisurely wandered around town, checking out a craft market and visiting Lion Monument (a tribute to the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss Guard during the French Revolution, carved in 1820).
A stroll around the edge of the lake, watching a lone fisherman on the water, children playing on the tree lined avenue and a mixture of tourists and locals going about their day, was the perfect way to end a relaxing weekend together in Lucerne. After leaving on Friday afternoon, we arrived home on Sunday evening – we are so lucky to be able to just pop to another country for weekend away!