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?