Lucerne seemed more like a large, gray city than a quaint, pretty town like the brochures hyped it to be. It was probably the drenching, dismal drizzle that colored our perspective.
Lucerne is a busy city center with tourists tucked around lots of street activity.
We waited our turn to take photos of each other in front of the lake. Here are Tracy and Rachel in Lucerne, Switzerland
Where do I start? More important, where do I stop? The chocolate in Switzerland is perfect: Rich, creamy, delicately flavored. One shop after another displays pretty little confections worthy of gifting but begging to be tasted. So we tasted. My favorite is a dark chocolate filled with a raspberry filling.
Kapellbrucke Lucerne, Switzerland
We agreed to skip the boat ride into the harbor and settled for a stroll through the extraordinary covered bridge with 17th century paintings still intact even though exposed to the elements for nearly 500 years. Part of the bridge burned in a 1993 fire but it was quickly restored and is extraordinary.
The oldest truss bridge in the world, the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) is a covered wooden foot bridge built in 1333 as part of the city’s fortifications. It’s 560 feet long and crosses the Reuss River at an angle in the center of Lucerne.
The Kapellbrucke is named for St. Peter’s chapel which is located near one end of the bridge. In the 1600’s, artists added 110 paintings to the inside support beams of the bridge. Lucerne’s city councilmen paid for the paintings that illustrate scenes of Swiss and local history, including the biographies of the city’s patron saints, St. Leodegar and St. Maurice. The councilmen got to include their coats of arms in the paintings they sponsored. Blogger Michele writes, “The depictions of St. Leodegar and Swiss history were meant to call the citizens of Lucerne to recall that a pious way of life and service would lead to happiness as well as a strong city.”
After visiting the Kapellbrucke, I found interesting information about the fire: “85 of the 110 pictures under the roof, dating back to 1611, were destroyed by the 1993 fire, only 25 could be saved or restored. The others have been replaced by pictures from the second part of the bridge that had been safely stored since 1834. A few burnt panels are still shown to remind of the fire. During the carnival season, the ancient pictures are replaced by modern ones showing carnival motives. This provides a platform for the creativity of today’s population and besides the original pictures can be saved from thoughtless ‘attacks’ with all sorts of fun materials like paint and glibber bombs used during carnival these days. So if you’re interested in the old paintings don’t choose the carnival season for your visit to Lucerne” (http://lucerne.all-about-switzerland.info/lucerne-chapelbridge-watertower.html).
Lucerne is all about the river and the lake. These geographic features first brough people to Lucerne. These are the same waters we saw upriver in Interlaken.
We saw many painted buildings in Switzerland. They are beautiful but require constant maintenance. I kept bumping into people because I was so busy looking up to the stories above the street.
Shopping in Lucerne
Good-bye, but not forever! The main reason we stopped in Basel– in addition of the bonus of sharing days with Stephan and his family – is that we launch from Basel on our week-long Viking river boat cruise. Much more of that in the next blog entry as we bid good-bye to Rachel and Tracy.
Since we were in the neighborhood (only one or two mountains away), we chose to visit Interlaken on our way home from Abelboden and Our Chalet. Interlaken is a beautiful, graceful city with the clearest water imaginable. Stephan said it was the color of melted snow. We could see the bottom of the Aare river even when it was more than 20 feet deep.
The dam keeper decides how much water to let out at any time – on the day we visited it was gushing out of four sluices and into the rivers that feed all the cities — including Lucerne — below. It was August and this was snow melt.
A sign near the river gave us a bit more information:
Since the Middle Ages, the bridges over the various arms of the River Aare provided the only options for getting from Neuhaus on Lake Thun via Unterseen to Aarmuhle, Interlaken, and on to the valleys of the Jungfrau Region.
The River Aare has formed a boundary since the land between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz was settled. Relations between the city of Unterseen to the north and Interlaken Monastery to the south was hostile. Unterseen belonged to the diocese of Constance, while the monastery followed the orders of the diocese of Lausanne, a fact often used to the advantage of the people of Unterseen. Fishing rights, control of the market, and bridge tolls caused endless disputes.
An emerging tourist resort under the name of Interlaken emerged after 1891. Interlaken, meaning “between the lakes” was renamed to attract hordes of 19th century English-speaking tourists.
It was interesting to me that an informational sign would air the region’s dirty laundry. I was impressed that the area recognized disputes of the past as significant history to share with others.
The way to a girl’s heart
Lunch in Interlaken
We enjoyed a fresh, tasty lunch along with a handful of tourists. Maybe it was the mountain air or maybe it was because we are always ready to eat, but we were hungry and this more than satisfied.
Doorways of Interlaken
The doorways of Interlaken are painted to look especially inviting.
As a tourist, I sometimes forget that I am visiting a little town of 5,500 people that has a real life beyond tourism. When I lived in Chagrin Falls, we used to smile at the “cone lickers” who would day visit to enjoy the charm of our little town, including the ice cream. The tables turned for me on this adventure as I was the cone licker in Interlaken.
Scenes from Interlaken
Hotel, Interlaken, Switzerland
Scenes on the road between Interlaken and Lucerne
If you are considering a visit to Interlaken, Rick Steves says to pick up a free town map, timetable and hiking guide at the main TI at the Interlaken Ost train station (Rick Steves Best of Europe 2015). He also offers a self-guided 45-minute walk of Interlaken complete with maps. I hope you enjoyed my little visual tour as much as I enjoyed visiting Interlaken.
Basel, Switzerland is a little jewel in the Alsace. (Say it like this: Bah-sel and Alls-ace.) One night we parked in France and walked across a footbridge to Germany for a Chinese dinner while visiting with friends from Switzerland. It was done with about as much fanfare as parking in South Russel to have dinner in Chagrin Falls with friends from the west side of Cleveland. No big deal to the locals but awesome to me.
We traveled to Basel for two reasons – first to meet with Maureen’s Mardi Gras friend, Stephan. He grew up in Basel so showed us around town, plus drove us to Interlaken, Lucerne, and Girl Scout’s Our Chalet. What we thought would be a pleasant break in our travels turned out to be great fun thanks to Stephan’s energy.
The second reason for our stay over in Basel was that we launched from Basel on our riverboat tour via Viking up the Rhine River to Amsterdam. Basel marked a turning point in our tour as Maureen and I took the river boat, Rachel traveled to Bruges to visit friends for the week and Tracy returned home to the US. We thought of Basel as the Viking launching pad but it turned out that Basel was a grand adventure in itself!
We booked most of our reservations through Airbnb.com with outstanding results. We rented real people’s homes in real neighborhoods. The homes were roomy, convenient, and reasonably priced. For about $150 a night, three or four of us stayed in homes that were clean and comfortable, included a refrigerator, and often included a washer and dryer. Our three criteria were that we did not want stairs (we were carrying our own luggage), we needed wifi, and we wanted to be the only lodgers. This was our lodging in the Alsace:
We each had our own sleeping areas (three bedrooms plus two bathrooms) and a full yard. Our hosts even left us breakfast food in the fridge. Absolutely perfect.
The Rhine River drew settlers to this important transportation hub well before the birth of Christ. Today it remains a key stop on the Rhine.
Doorways of Basel
I was fascinated by the doorways of Basel. The doors are old, really, old. Like before Columbus-set-foot-in-America old. It’s a simple matter of telling just how old a home is – it’s written right on the front of the house.
Basel’s Town Hall (Rathaus Basel)
Basel’s 500-year-old town hall is locally referred to as the Roothuus, a play on words that means councilhouse but sounds like red house in the Basel dialect. This cute play of words is so appropriate because the town hall is RED.
Paintings around the exterior of the Basel Rathaus extoll the virtues of citizenship:
Basels signs date from a time when all people could not read. So when you hung your sign, you made sure it included a symbol of what service was offered by you. Can you tell what these two establishments offer?
Basel’s Munster (Cathedral)
Basel’s red sandstone cathedral was built by the Catholics but is now a reformed protestant church. Many of the artworks of the cathedral were destroyed during the reformation when Huldrych Zwingli condemned idolatry and the church was stormed by townspeople. The colorful roof tiles can be seen from all over Basel, making a good landmark for touring.
Stephan invited us to his home for authentic cheese fondue with his parents. Ladies, this man is available and he’s a catch! Not only is he a humorous host, he’s also a great cook.
We were so lucky to visit Stephan’s family home and meet his charming parents. These dishes are part of his mother’s collection.
We got to see Switzerland through Stephan’s eyes as his home rather than a destination. He said when he was born, his family was living in France (or was it Germany?) but when it came time to give birth, his parents made sure Stephan was born across the river in Switzerland so he would have Swiss citizenship like his parents. Stephan thinks nothing of traveling between France, Germany and Switzerland but it was a huge treat for me.
We parked our car in France and crossed the Rhine River via a footbridge to Germany for a Chinese food feast with Stephan and his parents. The food was prepared with a light hand and just delicious. Stephan waived off the doggy bags and told us people don’t carry away left over food like we do in America.
Stephan’s very proud of his heritage and he should be. Switzerland’s legacy of independence has been hard-won and is protected with vigilance. For example, fortified caves strengthened during WWII still line the mountains and until the very recent past, every home and building was required to have a bomb shelter.
Driving in Switzerland
Stephan drove us swiftly through crowded city streets, breath-taking mountain passes, and flawless freeways punctuating the ride with lots of “asshole!” and “shitty drivers!” He pointed out special spots with colorful remarks and skipped most of the touristy stuff that was beginning to jade us. Of course, every time something didn’t go our way during the rest of our trip, we’d look at each other and say, “assholes!”
Basel street scenes
This quirky water feature included several steam-punk-like water fountains that were interesting to look at, yet strange. I think I lacked context to understand what was going on – yet, I watched fascinated.
Basel is the best!
It was hard saying good-bye to Stephan and his family. They were caring hosts with a twinkle in their eyes that said happy times were close by.
I looked for information on Basel and tourism and found almost nothing on the internet or in tour books. But Basel is lively, happy, livable, and worth time to visit. I found it in many ways to be more approachable and more interesting than Lucerne and definitely a better destination than Zurich. So let’s keep this between us so it doesn’t get over-run with tourists: Basel is a worthy destination in Switzerland.
A visit to the Girl Scout’s Our Chalet was a must for our journey because Maureen, Tracy, Rachel and I got to know each other more than 25 years ago through an on-line chat site on Prodigy for Girl Scout leaders. We were all leaders of Girl Scout troops looking for ideas that worked for other leaders throughout the country. While finding ideas, we also found each other.
We were once a group of more than 100 men and women who chatted day and night – you’ll never believe what one person can do with a bandanna or a can of pie filling and a box of cake mix. Our troops got the great benefit of Girl Scout ideas from people we never would have met locally — this was before the growth of the internet — but we made friends for life. We are now a group of about 12 and we still talk daily, throughout the day. But for this very special trip, there are four of us: Maureen from New Orleans, Tracy from Richmond, VA, Rachel from Columbia, MD and Barbara from near St. Petersburg, FL.
So, of course, we had to visit Our Chalet, WAGGGS world center in the Bernese Oberland. I expected a big camp site in a chalet high in the Swiss alps with caper charts, places to cook, paths to climb, and lots of camp fire circles. That’s exactly what we discovered. I was surprised to find the site a bit smaller than expected and quite shabby due to the constant use of troops from all over the world. But it’s a camp site, not a resort.
In spite of cold and spotty rain (which marked so many of our camp outs as leaders), I was so excited to finally visit Our Chalet. There was a big troop of girl guides and boy scouts staying there from England and like every camp out I’ve ever been on, we became quite friendly very quickly. We received an orientation video and tour with this troop from the interns.
Interns are selected from all over the world to spend six months at Our Chalet in one of four areas: kitchen, program, guest services, or marketing and communications. During our stay, I had a chance to speak with a charming intern from Oregon who was taking a brief break after her freshman studies in biology to live at Our Chalet. She introduced me to a guide from Zimbabwe who was practicing her English and to a husband-wife team from England.
On the day that we visited, the husband had been hiking when he discovered a suitcase alongside the road. When it was still there on his return trip, he picked it up and brought it to Our Chalet. He said sooner or later someone would claim it. You could tell the husband-wife team knew exactly how to interact with guests: be quick, be friendly, get out.
Our photos tell a better story of Our Chalet.
Our Chalet, Adelboden, Switzerland
A visiting troop of girl and boy scouts from England hiked up to Our Chalet singing and skipping. We arrived by car at the chalet huffing and puffing.