The End of the Spontaneous Road Trip – Lugano
The ride to Bellinzona was beautiful. First we twisted our way through the Devil’s Gorge, the train alternating between riding the end of a narrow gorge and tucking itself under avalanche roofs and tunnels. We reached the outskirts of the town of Goschenen easily enough and switched trains to head south. The tracks entered the St. Gotthard Tunnel and then dropped slowly down Goschenen Pass and down a deep valley. Waterfalls were a constant sight on both sides of the tracks; at one point I was able to count six waterfalls visible at the same time. Small towns were nestled at the base of the falls and vineyards were tucked into sparse open spaces. I was very tired, but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes and miss anything. The architecture started to change, ever so slightly. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to describe the change precisely. Think of the cliché Italian villa and that’s how the houses were starting to look. There were also more stone structures, although they were very old and not well kept.
The valley opened up and a set of tracks led off to the east, to the St. Moritz region. That was the one area we wouldn’t be exploring on this trip, but I was ok with that: it left us something to look forward to the next time we came over. Our train continued south under a constant cover of clouds, clouds that looked darker and more ominous the further south we went. Therefore it was no surprise when we alit from the train in Bellinzona that it was sprinkling lightly. Fortunately the rain eased up and we were able to meander through the old city of Bellinzona in comfort.
The Devil’s Gorge
Road and walking path both cross Goshenen Pass
Some of the many (many!) waterfalls seen on the way to Bellinzona
There are three castles in this large town:Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. Castelgrande was the closest so we headed that direction. Despite being able to see the towers from just about anywhere in the old town, it was not quite so easy to find the access to the castle itself. We skirted around the bottom of the hill it was built on until we came to a likely-looking road and headed up. It was a good choice. It wasn’t long before we had a view of the entire town sprawled out at our feet. Rooftops and farms covered the fertile flat valley while the forested mountains guarded it on both sides. I could see the two other castles, one just on hill on the other side of the Altstadt, complete with stone walls wrapping around what was once the entire town. The other castle was much higher and almost buried under a canopy of trees.
View of one of the castles of Bellinzona
Clock tower – for an age before pocket watches and cell phones
Exploring the old town of Bellinzona
Narrow alleys entice me
We tromped around the towers; no real access was visible to the main building unless you were part of the catering crew busily scurrying around the courtyard. After seeing what we could we made our way back to the surface streets, this time taking an even less obvious walking path that snaked around tiny back yards and down narrow alleys. It was hot by the time we reached the train station and I was looking forward to a short rest before our next stop in Lugano.
Making our way up to one of the castles
Houses line the old route to the gatehouse
Looking down on the old city
A second castle on the other side of the town
The town stretches across the valley
The third castle is visible on a far hilltop
Lugano is about as far south as you can get and still be in Switzerland and not Italy. The architecture had taken on an almost Mediterranean quality and the locals were definitely dressing to a different level. The train station, unlike Lausanne, was at the top of the town and it was an easy walk down to Lake Lugano. Palm trees and tropical foliage gave me no indication that I was in the land of the Alps. The clouds continued to haunt us, so the sun was unable to come out and add to the lush atmosphere. By now we had quite a bit of “luggage” with us, having stuffed our backpacks with overnight essentials, and we secured these bags into one of the public lockers available at the station. It was nice to walk light again!
It was mid afternoon and we were more than ready for lunch. I thought that this would be an easy thing to do as we strolled through the heart of the old city. I felt like I had stepped into an Italian postcard, with everyone in finely cut suits and leather shoes. The rain had started again and the umbrellas came out in force as people made their way to meet their lunch dates. We, on the other hand, had found ourselves on the waterfront with very little in the way of acceptable food options. We mutually refused to eat at Burger King and we kept on walking. We skirted around some residential streets and made our way back to the heart of the town. I left lunch up to Dan and Claudine and for whatever reason, they couldn’t decide on a location. We climbed stairs, hiked up steep streets and more stairs and eventually found ourselves on the same level of the train station. I stayed out of the conversation, as the two of them seemed to be having trouble communicating and I didn’t want to get in the middle. I do know that there was talk of walking back down the hill to the main town, but in the end we ended up eating at a bizarre Middle Eastern hamburger place. Being in “Italy” I felt obligated to have pasta, which was tasty, but alas, not extraordinary.
My own hotel – who knew?
A light rain doesn’t deter the lunch crowd
Ferry on Lake Lugano
Park along the shores of the lake
Another city built on the side of a hill
Going back up
Juxtaposition of architecture
New construction attached to an ancient church
Lunch under the yellow awning
We were hot, tired and had been on the road together for three days straight. It was time to go “home” to Suzanne’s. We trudged back to the train station where we picked up our luggage and sat around, waiting for the next train north. Hindsight showed us that a quick bus ride to a nearby town would have taken us to some Roman ruins and other interesting sights/sites. But it was too late for us, mentally at least. We climbed aboard the train and ruefully gazed at the dozens of young teenagers who crammed themselves into seats around us. Mindless (and constant) chatter filled the car for the rest of the trip, with overstuffed bags cluttering the aisles despite the conductor’s repeated requests to keep them clear. Kids these days…
The sun peeks out just before we leave
Family car on the train
I escaped some of the frustration by sleeping. I had seen the valley on the way down and while beautiful, was still the same valley. Unfortunately I slept through some of the more amazing and technical aspects of the rail line over the Goschenen Pass, although I was awake for a couple of the spiraled tracks that give the train quick upward elevation gain at a steady rate.
It was with some relief that we got off the train in Luzern and boarded a local link to get to Lenzburg. The local link was crowded with workers heading home for the day and the train made many stops. But it was relatively quiet and the tracks passed through some very quaint towns and beautiful countryside. I marveled at how well Switzerland managed to keep the old-time feel of each village and surrounding farmland without giving in to the suburban sprawl that has made America so unattractive. Once in Lenzburg it was a short wait for the bus and then we were home 8 minutes later. What a “day trip” it had been!
A Day Trip to Luzern
Moriken ** Baden ** Appenzell ** Bern ** Lausanne ** Zermatt ** Lugano ** Luzern ** Zurich ** Lenzburg
The destination for today was Luzern, but on the way there we had a quick stop at Muri. There were five of us today: the three musketeers from North America and then Peter and Suzanne to guide us around. We were in Peter’s car, not that it made the trip that much easier (I love the train system here, can you tell?). Peter used to work in Muri so he was very familiar with the area. As you can see from the pictures, this is not your average church!
Cloister at Muri
Inside the cloister
Bones! Also known as relics
Hand made gate
Photo of a photo showing the renovation
The compact little machine is still outside
The cloister rooster
Luzern is another one of those “must-see” cities in Switzerland. I think that really comes true on a day with blue skies and snow-capped mountains. We had neither. Instead, it was the first day of real rain during our adventure. The first thing we did when we got into Luzerne was take advantage of Peter’s inside knowledge and parked the car in a nearby and free spot. Score one for the locals! Then we walked to the outer wall of the old city, climbed the hillside beneath the stone face and passed doe-eyed cows lazily chewing the grass. The wall was thick and a passageway led into and then up a tower. Three levels later and we were at the top of the city, the old buildings stacked before us, bisected by the Reuss River that was fed by the Lake Luzern. The view would have been astounding if we had any visibility, but all that we did have extended only to the low hills that surrounded the city. We went back down the stairs, followed the wall some more and then dropped down into the heart of the Altstadt. There is a lot of history in this city but I will confess that between the weather and it being the 9th day of a 10 day trip, I was a little historied-out. The bridges that spanned the Reuss River were ornate and wide and there was no traffic other than pedestrians. The ancient and famous bridge, the Spreuerbrücke, was chock full of people, all of them stopping to gawk at the murals inside, or the buildings along the river.
Heading for the city wall of Luzern
Climbing the stairs
View from one of the towers
Wandering in the rain through Luzern
The equivalent of “George Washington slept here”, but for Goethe
Rough cobbled streets
Crossing the Reuss River
Looking down the Reuss River
Unfortunate shopping cart
Looking across the Ruess towards the old city
We met up with Nichole, Mirjam and Ali and together we found a place for lunch that was convenient for groups of 2 or 4, not a group of 8. But we maneuvered tables and squeezed ourselves in and had a great meal. From lunch we walked towards the lake shore and then towards the train station. The KKL building is across the street from the station, and is known for its massive cantilevered roof.
The day was short and we soon broke off into smaller groups to head back home.
Charred portions of the bridge remain (arson, early 1990’s)
Other portions were untouched by fire
View of the bridge and one of the towers
The new KKL Building
All that remains of the original train station