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Lucerne

Ah, Switzerland; home of banks, cheese, clocks, chocolate, armies, and their feature–creep knives. Famously neutral, it’s the only country on this leg of our trip not yet part of the European Union (meaning we have to convert our physical and mental currencies again) and (for reasons beyond my understanding or desire to research) doesn’t even have its own language, instead opting for an anarchic mish–mash of the French, Italian, and German tongues. Plus, if you overlay the Swiss and Red Cross flags you get a pink flag… and pink flags are hard to come by.

Our train from Munich took us through some of the most incredible countryside I’ve ever seen, wending its way through mountains and picturesque snow–covered villages along the trail to Lucerne. I won’t say “prepare to be amazed” when you check out the photolog (not that I’ve updated it) because I’ve learned that photographs do absolutely no justice to things of such magnitude. Mountains, no matter how well you shoot them (and we didn’t shoot them that well… we were behind glass in a moving train), just don’t look very big. And they are big. They’re huge. Mountains are all about the huge.

Lucerne is a lungful of fresh air: a mountain town with no skyscrapers or big tourist attractions to speak of, but breathtakingly beautiful in its own right. Lake Lucerne is a crystal clear mirror set below the mount Pilatus, brimming with aquatic life. As the lake draws into the river Reuss the water’s clarity —surprising enough after seeing the rest of the world’s waterways— lets you spy fish loitering below, and above the surface the ducks and swans (white swans, an amusing novelty to we Western Australians accustomed to our own special black variety) glide around the place looking charming. The air is brisk, though certainly not cold, and the buildings and cobbled streets of the 15th–Century ‘Old Town’ give it a fairytale feel in a way that the sprawling metropolis of Paris could never match despite their many similarities.

Much of the town center is clearly geared towards tourists —despite what I said about a lack of tourist attractions— where the streets are dotted with more jewelers, knife shops, and chocolatiers than the locals could ever make use of. If I regret anything of my reluctance to shop too heavily for souvenirs in a place like this, it’s passing over multiple opportunities to buy a glass music box. Through the glass the miniature clockwork machinery is visible in all its intricacy, the engineering and the workmanship just gorgeous, though reminding me a little too sternly of Paley’s analogy of the watch. But hey, this isn’t a holiday for religious philosophy or regrets; as I said in Paris, I’ll be back.

Lucerne does have one tourist attraction though (and I mean besides the cleanliness, location, architecture, and scenery): the Lion Monument. Dubbed “the saddest chunk of rock in the world”, it’s a gargantuan sculpture of a slain and tearful lion built in memory of the Swiss mercenaries perished during the French Revolution. Set high into a sheer sandstone cliff face, the scale (as usual) is difficult to capture on film. It’s just huge… and lions, like mountains, are all about the huge; it adds to their majesty. The story goes (or so I’m told) that the artist commissioned to sculpt the piece was not paid the agreed sum at the work’s end, so he vandalized the inset to resemble a pig’s silhouette. Giant lion, spears, shields, death, pig frame. With respect to the spear tearing through his rib cage, methinks the real reason the lion is so sad is that he’s deep in the belly of a huge freaking swine; I can think of much better places to die.

In short, Lucerne was a great place to get some fresh air and is certainly the kind of place you’d want a summer house when you need to unwind. Kind of like Perth… except it’s landlocked and one twentieth the size. It’s beautiful, it’s clean, the people speak three to five languages, they have great chocolate, and you’re never short of places to buy clocks and knives. What more could you want?


Life without iPod

I’m not sure exactly how I managed to get through life pre–iPod, but I assume the void I’m feeling now is the kind of feeling smokers get when they kick the habit… just without any physical withdrawal. It’s a social withdrawal, kind of like breaking up with a girlfriend; you wonder how you’re supposed to fill up your day without her and stumble about aimlessly as you see all your friends enjoying themselves with their little white girlfriends playing music into their ears.

Most often, I’ll be walking along the street and a song will pop into my head for no reason —let’s say O Sole Mio, since it’s been in and out of my head since we arrived in Italy— and I’ll feel like listening to it… but the option is gone. Or Dave will ask how part of an old song we used to play would go, and I have no way of finding out. Or I’ll be on a train writing a style sheet and I’ll have forgotten the syntax for some obscure and poorly–supported selector before reaching into my pocket for WestCIV’s CSS podguide only to find… nothing. It blows, it really blows.


Venice

Our first of three major (and two one minor) stops in Italy is the city best known for its ridiculous network of canals and its unique blinds. Venice, a city that, despite a lack of roads, has cars on display in several of the larger piazzas. Brilliant marketing strategy Subaru: drive the message home in a place where there’s absolutely no competition. It’s like advertising a texas steakhouse on a fishing boat; when you’re out to sea you’re in no position to be eating t–bones in a saloon, but once you’re sick of the fish you’ll know exactly where to go.

Venice is… kind of what you figured it would be. There are canals, obviously, and the opportunity for gondola riding is always present, and there are Italians everywhere; what more did you expect? The boutiques are amazing, the markets even more so, the couples making out on every damned bridge over every damned canal a tad enviable, and the architecture… oh, the architecture. The buildings are simply superb, and the Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark… as in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is a jaw–dropper. Any institution, particularly a church, that wasted this kind of money on a building today would be lambasted, and twelve hundred years ago I’m surprised the poor didn’t rise up to behead the cardinals behind this kind of misallocation of funds. Something about the opiate of the masses, I’m guessing, but this building remains impressive nonetheless. It’s a gigantic church essentially built to house a saint’s remains (brought to Italy in a barrel of pork, dontchaknow) decorated with the most elaborate mosaics ever contrived by man. A few billion tiles arranged to decorate, well, the entire building, whilst doubling as a place of worship and an art museum.

Before this trip I was never sure I’d want to see too many of the world’s churches. Come to think of it, I doubt I would ever have been too big on the world’s museums either, but churches and museums have been my bread and butter for the last two months. Since Washington DC I have seen some of the most amazing shit in the world in some of the best–known museums in the world, with more to come, and have loved every minute of it. The church experience began in Paris with Notre Dame, whose magnificence lies mostly in its stained glasswork, but Italy takes worship to whole new places. And this is just Venice; I wasn’t expecting this kind of thing until, well, Rome. Vatican City seems an eternity from now.