A year ago, we were in Hawaii on a family vacation during my birthday. It’s still weird to think that just a year later, we’re now living in Switzerland and can just drive a few hours to so many neat things! Sometimes the only hard part is deciding.
As it turns out, my big 3-7 fell on a Saturday this year, so we opted to head out of town for an unplanned weekend. We packed the car with our camping gear, some vittles, loaded up the dog, and hit the road towards parts unknown. Since it was unplanned, we spent my actual birthday in the Swiss town of Lucerne but ended the weekend at a castle in Liechtenstein. I know, right? How cool is that? I’ve always wanted to visit Liechtenstein! Of course, since we didn’t plan our weekend, I can’t even really say things didn’t go “as planned”…but they didn’t. It was an odd mixture of really awesome stuff, and some less than awesome stuff, like ending up at a pretty lame campground and detours because of a landslide on the highway.
Deciding to scope out the town of Lucerne about an hour and a half northeast of Fribourg, we bi-passed the main highways and instead took a more scenic route through the UNESCO Entlebuch Biosphere. Since all of Switzerland is so beautiful, the biosphere looked very much like the rest of the country. The craggy mountains, rolling green pastures, and show-quality cows with tinkling bells looked very much like what we see from our terrace every day (not that it’s gotten old, by any means!).
Arriving in Lucerne, we parked the car and set off to explore the heart of the city on foot. In minutes, we’d arrived at Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, the oldest of Europe’s covered wooden bridges. Since it was originally built in 1333, that’s a pretty nifty honor to bear.
The bridge takes its name from St. Peter’s Chapel, a fairly modest church at the northern entrance of the bridge. Far more grand was the Jesuitenkirche at the bridge’s southern entrance.
At 170 meters long, Kapellbrücke would still be cooler than most covered bridges even if it weren’t the oldest in Europe. And with thousands of flowers gracing the entire length of the bridge, it made for a pleasant walk over the confluence of the Reuss River and Lake Lucerne.
Midpoint along the zigzag bridge, it crooked near a large octagonal tower called Wasserturm (Water Tower), a name bestowed for no reason other than that the tower stands in water. At one time, it was used as a torture chamber, but thankfully, it’s now closed to “visitors”.
Kapellbrücke is also unique for its 17th century triangular paintings inside the walkway along the trussed roof. 158 paintings originally existed that depicted scenes of the Catholic Church and of the patron saints of Lucerne. However, a fire in 1993 thought to have been started by a smoldering cigarette destroyed much of the bridge and all but 47 of the paintings. Though the bridge was rebuilt, scorched wood is still visible inside the walkway.
Curling around the very northwestern tip of Lake Lucerne’s long and winding shoreline, the city of Lucerne spills right down to the lake’s edge.
We strolled along the waterfront, branching off a side street to investigate the impressive Church of St. Leodegar, where some sort of church has been present since the 700s.
Since it was closed (and locked), we just admired it from the exterior.
Just a few blocks from the church, we discovered the Löwendenkmal, or “Lion Monument”. Carved into a sandstone cliff face before a reflecting pool, the statue of a lion pierced by an arrow bears the words “HELVETIUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI”, Swiss faith and virtue. The statue is a memorial to the hundreds of Swiss Guardsmen who died defending King Louis XVI at the storming of Tuileries Palace in Paris in 1792 during the French Revolution. Vowing to fight valiantly to the end, the Swiss surrendered only upon the orders of the King, and many were put to death upon surrender.
A visit to the site led Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, to later summarize it better than I ever could.
The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.
Around about are green trees and grass. 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.
~A Tramp Abroad, 1880
After visiting the monument, we meandered back a different route to our car, stopping to admire the fun Swiss jars and bottles on display in one particular storefront.
The last rays of the sun were just disappearing as we arrived back at Chapel Bridge.
With the evening light painting the sky and water shades of orange and black, Lucerne looked every bit a medieval city.