Sunday, January 11, 2009

strolling in Lucerne.

After our mountain excursion, we arrived back in Lucerne. Located on the shore of Lake Lucerne, this historic city of 57,ooo people was founded in 1178, and has a well-preserved old-town area. We decided to walk around the historic area and seek out some lunch.

Chapel Bridge

One of the major landmarks in Lucerne is the Kapellbr├╝cke, or "Chapel Bridge", the oldest wooden bridge in Europe. Built in the 14th century, it was designed to protect the city from attacks. The octagonal water tower has been used for various purposes over the centuries, including prison, torture chamber, treasury and watch tower.

Chapel Bridge Painting

Inside the bridge, there are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Luzerne's history. I would have liked to take pictures of each painting, so I could translate the German captions later, but there were so many that time didn't permit.

Bike in the River

We were enjoying the swans as we walked by the lake, when I looked down into the water and saw this odd sight. A few feet further along, and there was another bike on the lake bottom. I counted a total of eight bikes, all were fairly new. We postulated that some vandals had come along and decided to make fish bait of a bunch of bikes from a nearby rental stand.

Lucerne Street

Across the river, we enjoyed the variety of medieval buildings. It was interesting to note that although the buildings were well-conserved, there were many modern shops at the street level. I just thought it was ironic seeing a "hip-hop" clothing store located on the ground floor of a building built in 1650.

Lucerne Old towne

Note the Levi's store.

Lucerne Sign

One of many beautiful, intricate shop signs.

Lucerne Building

Goethe lodged here in 1779, but we had lunch here in 2009.

Lunch in Lucerne

We had an enjoyable lunch at La Fenice, an Italian restaurant located on the ground floor of the building where Mr. von Goethe lodged. My seafood salad was a relative bargain at 18 francs. The salad consisted of various seafood items, including strange little creatures with tentacles. I had already eaten horseflesh on this trip, so I didn't let a few tentacles stop me. They were delicious despite their appearance.

Lucerne fountain

I couldn't resist getting a picture of this quaint fountain. I guess these are the original elephant men.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

chillin' on a mountain top. Part 2

So, here we are at 7000 feet up on Mt. Pilatus. What a view!

view from Pilatus

View from Pilatus

Lisa had ample opportunity to make the most of the new lens that she received for Christmas.

Lisa the Photographer

We decided to venture into the tunnel that had been cut into part of the mountain. There were openings in the rock at intervals so that you could look out at the view.

Inside the mountain

It was about 20 degrees outside in the sunshine, but it was so windy in the tunnel that it felt waaaay below zero. We would have liked to venture in further, but we had to retreat back into the sunshine before we turned into chunks of ice.

Pilatus Visitor center

This is a view from the tunnel looking out at the visitor's center. The round part of the building is a small hotel. The last cable car down the mountain leaves at 4:30, so if you miss it, you get an obligatory night in the hotel.

Andre wants a bratwurst

Andre decided to hang out by the bratwurst stand for a while. He was convinced that there was a bratwurst in there with his name on it. The building in the background is the Hotel Pilatus Kulm, which was built in 1890.

Hot chocolate

After being out in the cold for several hours, we ventured into the hotel to thaw out a bit and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. It was delicious, but missing the marshmallows. Apparantly, marshmallows are an American thing.

Chillin' on Pilatus

Back outside, we observed a somewhat strange sight. (sorry for the blurry photo) Lounge chairs had been set out, and people were enjoying the sunshine. Just like a day at the beach, but all covered up instead of half-naked. Apparently, the locals visit here frequently just to get a dose of sunlight. Makes sense when you realize that the sun rarely shines in the winter at the lower elevations.

Picture taking on Pilatus

With all the layers that I was wearing, I stayed pretty comfy. Long underwear rules!

Pilatus visitor center

Inside the visitors center, snow was piled up against the windows. You just don't see this at home, thank goodness.

Large cable tram to Pilatus

Time to go back down the mountain. This car was packed, but there were only the three of us and the operator on our car.

Towering trees

Back in the fog, it was a different world. These trees towered over us, while on the ground we could see the occasional skier and lots of sledders.

After our trek up the mountain, we decided to check out Lucerne for a bit. More on that later.

This one is for you, Lauren. You can add it to your growing collection of favorite Ian photos...

I've Fallen and I can't get up

We were trying to get out the door to go to visit Lisa's doctor, when Ian decided that he just didn't want to be zipped into his coat. So, he just threw himself down and had a mini-meltdown right there in front of the door.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

chillin' on a mountain top. Part 1.

The last time that I was in Switzerland, I didn't get to go up in the mountains. This time, I was determined to get above the clouds in something other than a plane. So, with higher heights in mind, we boarded the early train for Lucerne and nearby Mount Pilatus. We switched trains in Zurich, and then it was about another 45 minutes to Lucerne. Then, a short bus ride and a 10-minute walk up a hill, and we arrived at the cable-car station. Yes, we were wondering how a typical tourist would have found their way there. Thank goodness we had Andre to figure it all out.


Directions

Lucerne from the cable car

So, we hopped on the little 4-seater cable car and embarked on the 30-minute ride up the mountain. We picked a beautiful day for this excursion. NOT! It was snowing, cloudy, and 20 degrees. Brrr. This is Lucerne from the cable car.

Into the Fog

Did I mention that it was very foggy?

Lisa on the cable car

Lisa on the cable car. They were kind enough to provide genuine Swiss Army blankets for added warmth.

Halfway up Pilatus

About 3/4 of the way up the mountain, we got off and transferred to a large 40-passenger cable car. We were there fairly early in the day, so there were only four people on the car. The larger car was actually a little scarier for some people, as it swung in the breeze a little more than the small car.

Just for Andre

Andre noted that there was a railway designed just for his family. That's just special.

Winter wonderland

Traveling through a snowy, winter wonderland. These are the large 40-passenger cars, so you can see how very large these trees really are.

Breaking out of the fog

Suddenly, we ascended out of the fog and there was sunshine and mountain-tops!

Chapel

This little chapel sits all alone on the Klimsenhorn saddle. It is the only thing left of a conservatory from the 1800's.

Scary ride

We're here! I loved the ride, but I'm glad that I didn't see how steep it was beforehand.

Lisa on Pilatus
7000 feet up! Stay tuned for Part 2....

Friday, January 2, 2009

visiting the monastary of the hermit.

In 835, this monk dude named St. Mienrad decided that he wanted to get away from it all. So, he went to the most isolated place that he could find, a place where no one had lived since the stone age, and built himself a little hut. This was on the side of a mountain now known as Mt. Etzel.

Now, St. Mienrad really wasn't all alone in his little hut way up there on Mt. Etzel. Oh no, he had with him this really cool, miracle-working statue of a black Virgin Mary. Of course, he had to pay the statue the proper respect, so he set up a small shrine and ensconced his Madonna there. Big Mistake. Of course, word got out about the miraculous Madonna, and his little shrine became a magnet for pilgrims bearing gifts. Well, some low-class hoods heard about the treasures left at the shrine by pilgrims, so they decided to make a heist. They killed the monk, but didn't get too far with the loot, because they were followed by two ravens into the next town, who called attention to the thugs with their loud squawking. Thus, the reason for the two ravens on the Einsiedeln village flag.

After St. Mienrad's untimely death, other monk dudes decided that they wanted to be hermits, too, so they came up to Mt. Etzel and lived in his hut. Then this monk named Eberhard became tired of life in a hut, so he built a monastary and church in 934. Over the years, Einsiedeln village built up around the monastary and thus Eberhard ended up ruling over his own little fiefdom.

In 1746, the humungous church that is presently there was completed. There were a lot of rich benefactors, because there is more gold decor in that church than you can shake a stick at. I mean, there is so much gold that they had enough left over to completely cover some of the statues outside the church!

So, of course, I had to see all this magnificence for myself, so we made a little road trip up the mountain from Zurich. It took about an hour to get there by car, which allowed us to see some of the local countryside.


Lake Sihlsee

This is Sihlsee, which is a reservoir near Einsiedeln. Lots of recreation available here, including camping and boating. The dam prevents flooding downriver in Zurich.

Lake Sihlsee Homes

Nice little chalet and barn by the lake.

Einseideln 3

This is the front of the church, and only part of the monastary. I couldn't obtain a good vantage point to get a decent photo of the whole thing.

Einseideln 2

This is a view of a portion of Einsiedeln village from the church steps.

Chor der Klosterkirche

Remember all that gold that I was telling you about? Well this is only a small portion of the vast church interior. I could have just sat in a pew all day and gawked at the frescoes and ornamentation. Of course, they wouldn't allow photography in there, so I nabbed this photo from another website.

The Black Madonna at Einsiedeln

This is the famous black Madonna that was brought here by St. Meinard in 835. She appears to be about four to five feet tall. Yes, that is real gold behind her. She has her own elaborate shrine within the church.

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The gold decor is continued out in front of the church, where this large statue guards the fountains.

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Catholics making pilgrimages to Einsiedeln are supposed to drink from each of the spouts in this fountain. No, I did not attempt to drink. I was afraid that I'd be like the kid in "A Christmas Story" and have my lips freeze to the spout. Now, that would have been embarrassing.

Einsiedeln Town Hall

This is the upper story of the town hall. I guess their renovation strategy means no more upgrades until 2133 or so.

Sleigh in Einsiedeln

This demonstrates true Swiss enterprising ingenuity. A tourist can obtain a horse drawn sleigh ride no matter what the season or the weather. And, the Swiss entrepreneuer can make a buck (or franc) no matter what the season or the weather. It's a win-win situation for all involved.

New Trollbead

Of course, I had to make my own little contribution to the Einseideln economy by purchasing a new Trollbead for my bracelet. I selected this one because it reminded me of the snow and ice of the Swiss Alps. The other bead is from the beach in North Carolina, and is reminiscent of ocean water.

We also stopped in at a local cafe, where Kurt treated us to a little afternoon tea. Well, Lisa had tea, but I had an apple-cinnamon crepe and Andre had the largest doughnut I have ever seen.

Rega to the Rescue

The Einsiedeln area is also known for its ski slopes. On the way out of town, we spotted a Rega Rescue helicopter. (Kurt does the avionics for Rega.) He said it was probably on it's way to pick up an injured skier.

Rega Zoom

See? There it is.... It almost got away before I could snap the picture.

Sledders

I sooo wanted to do this, but we didn't have time. I can't ski worth a hoot, but sledding is no problem! And what a hill!

Mountain Fog

Sunny one minute, and almost night-time the next. We hit the fog going down the mountain, and it was like entering another world. This explains why it is overcast and cloudy through the winter months in Zurich and Kloten - there is almost always a high cover of fog obscuring the sun.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

celebrating New Year's

Happy 2009 everyone! Yes, we are such party animals. Instead of going out to Zurich and joining the throng of 200,000 people by the lake, we were at home watching silly stuff on TV. But first, we did have a most excellent dinner over at Kurt and Amelia's, complete with champagne and chocolate cake.



Good Luck Cake

Amelia said that Sprungli had produced about 1,500 of these cakes, and sold out of them almost immediately. We were "lucky" to get one.

Snowy New Year's Eve

Here's the real reason we didn't go into Zurich. This lovely wet stuff was a surprise, and we thought the fog would block the fireworks.