Trip to Europe: Day 7 – Lucerne, Switzerland

10 June 2012. I woke up to the sound of church bells, so naturally I was already in a good mood. Church bells just don’t happen in South Africa. Well, they probably do, but its so noisy and chaotic here that you can’t hear sounds like that. And we are totally missing the magic of the Alps in any case.

After breakfast, we took a short walk to the bus stop. Steve bought a group ticket and we all got on when the bus arrived. It was a pleasant drive through the town of Kriens, and it wasn’t long before we got to town. We got off near the post office, and had to follow Steve to the Lion Monument.

Mark Twain wrote:

The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, is wanting.

The Swiss Guards, in my opinion, are superhuman soldiers. Yes, I know I can’t pretend to not know of the SEALS from the United States, but I feel like the Swiss Guards are at a classier level. I don’t know much about Switzerland’s history, but I do know that they were neutral during both World Wars, which I really admired. And how could I forget the Swiss Guard that protect the Pope to this day. The reason why I speak of my admiration for them (other than the fact that I love the Swiss, which I’ve mentioned numerous times already) is that the Lion Monument seemed to really do justice to them. I don’t think there could have been a better monument to honour them by. The more I looked at it, the more it moved me. The solemn face, the broken spear in its back, the shield with the Templar cross on it, and the general look of exhaustion throughout its body. It really was a fitting depiction of the fallen soldiers. It was very humbling.

We took some photos as Steve told us more about the history of the monument. He then let us have some free time to walk around before we could meet up again for the Swiss Fondue and Folklore show. I didn’t want to be alone that day so I made sure I stuck with some people, and that was easy because a fair number of them wanted to do the same things that I wanted to. One of the things was to see the glacier which was just around the corner from the Lion Monument, apparently, but one of the girls didn’t want to go and we didn’t wanna leave her alone, so we decided that all of us wouldn’t go. I don’t think anyone regretted that decision.

It was our only chance to get souvenirs or postcards, so my entourage and I took some random turns and we ended up at a little shop, where, surprisingly, it was run by a Chinese man. Dude, what are you doing smack bang in the middle of Switzerland? I found that rather amusing. I was so confused about what to buy because I didn’t have much time to make a hasty decision about a watch or a Swiss Army Knife, especially since I knew we were going to be taken to Harry’s Swiss Watch Centre later on where time would be dedicated to that (no pun intended). I then realised that this was my chance to get that little Swiss cow bell that my mother asked me for. About Sfr8.50 later I got one that I liked. I should have gotten one for myself. Oh well, I suppose my mother’s one will be mine one day.

After everyone picked up whatever they wanted, we continued strolling around the town. We finally got back to where we had been before, outside Bachmans. It was the perfect opportunity to get some chocolates. Walking in there was a little mind blowing. I had never seen that much chocolate in a shop before. Yes of course we have some chocolate shops in South Africa, but none are as big as this one. They had slabs, boxes both big and small, gift bags, assorted chocolates, and a whole lot of other desserts like cheesecake and tiramisu. I had no idea what to get but my favourite chocolate is Lindt, and it is, after all,  a very Swiss chocolate. My plans to go to the Lindt factory in Zurich wasn’t going to work out because of the time constraints. Besides, I knew that I would come to Switzerland again so I needed to use the time I had to see Lucerne.

Kiara wandering about

The Lindt section was at the back. As you can see from the image, it was massive. It had flavours we don’t get in South Africa, so those are the ones that I decided to go for. I bought 2 slabs, one that was extra milky and one that had hazelnut. I didn’t want to try outrageous flavours because what’s the point of spending money on flavours that you may not like. And you can’t go wrong with extra milk or nuts! I was also a little peckish and I could not resist the look of the tiramisu. I just had to had some kind of baked thing and so decided to get myself a mini tiramisu. It came in a huge pink box and it looked as though I bought half the bakery.

When I was done I went outside and joined some of the others who were digging into their chocolates. One of the girls had bought a whole lot of little chocolates and gave us all one to try. It was heaven. Well, of course it was, it was an original Swiss chocolate. And Swiss people are the bomb. Just like the tiramisu. Sam joined us and had a massive ice cream, cookies and cream flavour, which she bought from Bachman. Now, like I mentioned before, I’m an ice cream queen. I had just eaten a tiramisu, but looking at the way Sam was “mmmmm”ing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have one myself. And, at roughly €3, it was actually a bargain considering how big it was. I had eaten ice cream in Rome before at around €2.10 for one scoop, so I knew! I gave myself a few minutes to get over the tiramisu before briskly walking to get myself one so that I’d get back quick enough to join the others for a little walk around to see the Chapel Bridge.

We took a leisurely stroll towards the bridge with the intention of crossing it so we’d have a view of both sides of Lucerne. Apparently it had been burned down in 1993 and had to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, it was still impressive and truly beautiful with the flowers lining either side of it. The sun was peeping out too, so it made it even more beautiful.

When we got to the other side, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We didn’t have much time before our rendezvous with Steve outside Bachman, so we decided to head back, but over the other, more modern bridge.

Not all of us were going to the Swiss Fondue and Folklore show at Stadkeller, so we knew we’d be missing a few people. Steve counted us and instructed the others on the time to meet for the cruise on the lake. Once he was done, it was time to follow him to the show. It was a short 5 minute walk there and we had to wait a few minutes outside while Steve confirmed the seating arrangements. There was going to be another Contiki group there, too.

I was one of the first people inside and could not wait to watch some of the traditional Swiss music. I knew there’d be yodeling too, even though I associated yodeling more with Austria than Switzerland. Oh well, I wasn’t about to complain.

I got a seat right at the front with Tiffany, Kelly, and Adam. Poor Adam looked so out of place without his clan (the 2 sisters and the one’s husband). I realised that we had picked a prime spot too, because I didn’t want my view of anything Swiss to be obstructed. Before any of the entertainment started, some women walked around lighting the little burner in the centre of our tables. They then placed a little red bowl with white hand painted cows of cheese fondue on it. We had some cut up bread to dip into it. The cheese was really tasty but I didn’t really like the bread, it was a little too sour and hard for me.

Now, let me just make one thing clear before I continue. Until that day, I had never drank beer in my life. When I was younger, I smelled my dad’s beer and I found it revolting, so I never tried it. I always thought of beer as being the most disgusting drink you could possibly have. Ever since Contiki started, however, I smelled others’ beers and it was actually a little inviting. Surprisingly, it smelled nice. I was itching to try it, but I still thought that it would be terrible and that it would be below my dignity to try one. Because of that, I still did not get one.

Back to the show.

There were 4 performers. A woman, who was the singer, and 3 men. Two on the accordion and one on the piano. At least, for starters. Later on they alternated. As soon as the music started, my goosebumps kicked in.  It was another one of those feelings that I couldn’t control, so again, the tears welled up in my eyes. It was not because of the beauty of the place, but the fact that I had been waiting my whole life for this. The previous day was a feast for the eyes, but here it was a feast for the ears and the soul. I tried my best to not let the performers see my wet eyes because there were several occasions where I made eye contact with them.

The lady called some people up – Taylor (the American girl who was forced to chug the red wine in Amsterdam) and Adam to blow the Swiss horns. The fact that I was sitting practically on top of the stage made me a bit nervous because something told me that I would be called on stage too. I was a very easy target.

Of course, God had a plan to make my Swiss experience even more memorable because the lady did call me up, but not for the boring (to do, not listen to) horn blowing. It

was for nothing less than yodeling. Now, yodelling is something I tried doing many times. But its not easy trying to yodel without people looking at you funny. So I never knew if I could do it or not. I always liked singing, but yodelling was something totally different and I never knew how I sounded.

The lady called up a lot of people from the packed room. There were around 45 people from my Contiki group, and I think around the same from the other group, as well as some other small tour groups. There were at least 110 people in that room, easy. I walked on to the stage, my face probably red, to join the others. One of the other American girls was there already, as well as Travis, the Australian guy who came with his wife Tracy. There was also a little girl of about 7. In total, there must have been at least 13 of us. I didn’t count, but seeing as 13 comes up everywhere in my life, there were most likely 13 people on that stage.

The lady began by yodelling, and we clapped along, laughing like blithering idiots. At least, I was. I was in my element though, I was experiencing ultimate happiness again. The lady then called each of us, starting at the end of the line on my left, where Travis and the American girl stood. She yodelled, and each person had to repeat after her while the background guys played the music. The girl did ok, but Travis was hilarious. We couldn’t help laugh at him. It just sounded so wrong for a deep voice to be yodelling. Eventually it was my turn, and I walked up to the mic. I tried learning the tune as the others did it, and it basically went something like “yoh lo lo ee uu”, which I had to repeat a few times. Of course, the tune of each line was different. I didn’t think I did too bad a job. I just hoped that someone took a picture of me doing it (though, I doubt anyone did. I’m yet to see one).

When we were all done, we thought we could just walk off the stage. But oh no, the lady had a surprise in store for us. She gestured towards my right and I saw that one of the accordion players, the tall bald guy, was pushing a table (with wheels) full of tall glasses of beer. I was slightly nervous because I didn’t know how I would refuse it. But at the same time I thought “this is a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m in front of at least 100 people, don’t be an idiot and back out”.

The lady took a glass and offered it to the American girl. Immediately most of the people in the room started shouting “chug chug chug!”. She tried, but failed. Travis was next, and he downed it effortlessly in barely 3 gulps. A glass of water was given to the little girl, which was really cute. I did not expect to be called next, since I wasn’t next in line. Again I thought that it was something that I’d probably never experience again, but I still wondered whether I should chug it or not. After all, it was my first beer so I didn’t know if I could do it. It was a split second decision to try, and yes, I chugged it successfully. I didn’t think as I put the glass to my lips, and I don’t really know how I downed it the way I did. I just remember it being cold towards the end. It was actually pretty good, and much lighter and than I expected it to be. I was rather proud of myself. I don’t remember the crowd’s reaction but I think  I did get some cheers (no pun intended here, either).

I realised after getting back to my seat that I can put myself down in history as the girl who chugged her first beer. Not something I’d want to be remembered by, but certainly not something I’ll forget.

Once the show was over, we had some time to kill before meeting up again for the Lake Lucerne cruise. It was to be our third and final cruise on the tour (I don’t really want to count the gondola ride in Venice as a cruise). It was around 1:30pm and we had until 3:15pm to do whatever we wanted before meeting up with Steve again. Some people wanted to get some toiletries, so Steve and Driver Steve said they’d take us to the station where there were some grocery stores, and we could waste some time there.

I went with them and we all split up when we got there. I wandered around not really sure what to do with myself, but I knew I’d catch up with someone later on. I found some call boxes and thought of calling home, but I didn’t have the right type of calling card and I thought it would be too much effort to get one, especially since my parents had the phone number of the hotel and would probably call that night. I also came across another chocolate shop, which I walked in to, but left empty handed.

When I came out of the station I met Steve, Tiffany and Kelly again. We also bumped into Chloe and Seeta, who also weren’t sure what to do. We then decided to ask Steve for suggestions, and thought it would be a good idea for him to show us around himself. Personal tour guide. Woohoo!

We walked towards the lake and saw some blue paddling boats. It was a great way to kill time and also admire the sights. We were told that the boat would fit 5 people, which was perfect since there were 5 of us. But in order to balance the weight, one of us would have to sit at the front. That someone would be Tiffany. We paid a deposit and all pitched in around €4, which allowed us to have the boat for an hour. The timing would be perfect and we’d be able to finish quick enough to meet up with everyone else later.

We got into the boat as slowly and carefully as we could, trying not to make it rock too much, before we set off. We had to keep close to the left side of the lake so as not to come in the way of bigger boats. Steve and I were the paddlers, with Chloe and Seeta sitting behind us. I left the steering wheel to Steve.

Now, I’m pretty hydrophobic. I’m fine if I can touch my feet down when I feel tired, but as soon as I’m in water that’s deep enough for me to struggle to keep myself afloat, I panic. What was weird here though was that even though we didn’t have life jackets, I felt so safe. I didn’t think that anything would happen, and even if something did, I’d probably drown happy because I’d be drowning in my favourite place on Earth. Yes, I know I’m crazy.

As we paddled, the sun came out even more and it made the surroundings all the more beautiful. Steve showed us some of the monumental buildings, which included some of the top hotels. I asked him which side which country was on, and he pointed out the direction of Germany, Italy, and France. It was amazing hearing that. I felt like I was in the centre of the world.

We were enjoying ourselves so much that Steve suddenly wanted to go faster, so we both started paddling madly which made the boat rock. This didn’t go too well with Tiffany because some water started coming in and conveniently ended up right where she was sitting. So, while I’ll go down in history as the girl who chugged her first beer, Tiffany unfortunately will go down in history as the girl who got her butt wet in Switzerland. Sorry Tiffany, that was just too hilarious to not mention. And let’s not forget the photo that she wanted with the “ducks”, which were actually swans.

About 20 minutes into our ride we spotted some girls from our tour walking along the lake side. We paddled towards them to say hello before heading back “out”. At one point Steve began complaining that his legs were sore. I didn’t know what he was going on about because mine weren’t sore at all. He then decided to let go and let me do the hard work. Ow, that was bloody painful. I hadn’t realised how much effort he was actually putting in so that I didn’t have to. I thought it was sweet of him but I could understand why he couldn’t go further! Eventually he had had enough, and Seeta offered to take over. It was a rather awkward affair for the 2 of them to swop places, since Seeta was behind me. When she took his place, I kept paddling with the same amount of effort. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer, either, and then got Chloe to swop places with me. I ended up back next to Steve on the back of the boat. We had a chance to stretch our legs and relax a bit, and to enjoy the view from a different angle.

I was also the time keeper, but unfortunately I made the girls turn around too soon. We still had around 10 minutes to go. Oh well, at least we got to the rest of the group early. We had to meet at a sundial which was just a stones throw away from Bachman.

By 3:30pm we started making our way to the cruise boat. We each got a token which would allow us one drink. If we wanted any more we’d have to buy it. We all went to the upper deck of the boat as of course this would allow for the best views. The cruise lasted around an hour, and it just got better the further into the lake we went. The Alps were breathtaking, and the water of the lake was insanely clean. In some places you could see right to the bottom. There was more than one occasion where I thanked God for where I was. Again, my dream had come true. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, in the place I loved the most.

At some point I decided to use my token. I didn’t want more wine. In fact, I wanted a beer. After that surprisingly tasty one I had earlier, I was in a way craving another. I felt weird about it though, but decided to go for it. I went to the lower deck and handed Steve my token, which he exchanged for a beer. I then went back up and wondered about whether I should tell the others that the one I chugged earlier was actually my first one ever. I decided I should, after being praised by Tracy for my yodelling, for which I got some cheers. That was great.

After the cruise, Steve took us straight to Harry’s, where we’d have our chance to get our Swiss watch and army knife. There was so much to choose from that it took me a while to find what I wanted. The watch was my top priority, and I decided to get an army knife only if I had time. Of course I had to get a Victorinox knife too, as that is an authentic Swiss brand. Plus, if we bought a Victorinox knife, we could have it engraved for free.

I found myself a watch that I loved, which had a brown face and a brown strap, and what looked like silver crystals around it. It was a Candino watch, Swiss made. When I asked the lady to pack it for me, she said that they do not call it brown, they call it chocolate.

I love the Swiss.

I managed to get 2 Victorinox army knives. One for myself (a silver, rather tech looking one) and one for a recipient I haven’t decided yet, which was the traditional red. I asked for mine to be engraved with just my first name on it. I wouldn’t know until the following day how it came out, as Steve would receive them later.

After Harry’s we could either stay in town or head back to the hotel. It was quite early so a large number of us voted for getting something to eat. We didn’t have much to eat at all that day other than the lunch of sausage and mash at Stadkeller. We headed to one of the restaurants along the lake side and got ourselves 2 tables since there were 15 of us. I sat between Tina and Kiara, who came with her sister Coralie. Everyone at my table was Australian, besides the twins who sat opposite me, and Dylan, the South African guy. I didn’t have any Swiss Francs with me so decided to wing it with my Euros. I didn’t want to spend too much. Besides, everything on the menu was bloody expensive. Sam, Coralie and I opted for the mushroom soup which cost around SFr10, or roughly €9, which is insane for soup. But, price aside, it was the best mushroom soup I’ve ever had. It really was made of mushrooms. I’ve never had a soup that was so rich with the flavour of the thing it was supposedly made of.

I remember Kiara having something with Salmon, Tina having something with chicken, and the twins, with their beer jug, having something to that was like a sandwich. It was a great dinner with such nice company.

When the time came to pay the bill, someone went to call the waiter, but when he came round he said that the bill had been taken care of. We were all in shock, because how could a bill for 15 people be taken care of when none of us had a hand in it? It was not long before we found out that it was Tina who had paid the bill for everyone. We thought she was crazy because the bill came to around SFr160. How could you pay for all of us, Tina? I thought it was the nicest thing anyone could have done, though. She told us that she had done it because we had made her trip so special and it was her way of saying thank you. She felt that way after barely 4 days with us. Wow.

Thanks Tina, you’re the special one.

Once we left the restaurant we thought of popping in to one of the pubs to watch one of the Euro 2012 games, but all the pubs we passed were so packed that we had to stand outside. We weren’t too keen on that because it had started to drizzle and get a little cold, so we decided to rather get back to the hotel. It had, after all, been quite a long day. We got to the bus stop which Steve had showed us, and were fumbling to get tickets. Some of us did, but the majority of us didn’t. I don’t know how it crossed through everyone’s minds that when the bus came, we would just get on without buying a ticket. We were rebels for that little time. We knew that  no one checks the tickets. Most of us got on to the bus without a ticket, which was a big risk because we heard that there would be a ridiculous fine if we got caught. Sorry, people of Switzerland! We didn’t mean to, we were just young tourists who didn’t want to get cut off from our group!

When we got back to the hotel, some of us stayed in the lobby to take advantage of the free WiFi. We also met the old lady to whom Steve had spoken to the previous day from the cable car. I understood then why he had such difficulty explaining to her who he was and the number of rooms that were booked. Melissa, one of the Australian girls I had befriended, couldn’t get her laptop to connect to the WiFi. It sounded to me like an issue I had had about a month earlier at home when I couldn’t connect to my WiFi via my laptop at home. I tried fidgeting with her network settings but we still couldn’t get it to work, which I found very strange. Her iPhone could connect, however, so it baffled me. One of the guys (whose name I remember but won’t mention) decided to go behind the counter and fiddle with the router to see if that made a difference. Melissa shielded him with her laptop in case the old lady caught him behind the counter. The sneaking was hilarious. It didn’t help though and Melissa eventually gave up.

The guy had just gotten back from behind the counter when the old lady appeared out of nowhere holding the cordless phone asking for me. She pronounced my name in a very strange way but I knew it was me she was asking for (I’ve become accustomed to people not being able to pronounce my name). It was my mother, of course. After speaking to her and catching up more on Facebook and Whatsapp, I decided to head up to bed. The fact that I had told Steve earlier that I wanted to do the white water rafting the next day made me a little nervous, but it was another one of those “once in a lifetime” things that I couldn’t miss. Not in the Austrian Alps. It was with this nervousness that I went to bed, sad that my time in Switzerland had come to an end. At least, until next time.


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