Tag Archives: Switzerland

I Love Lucerne: The 5 coolest things about Switzerland’s medieval metropolis

THE LION MONUMENT

When bloodthirsty revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace during the 10th of August Insurrection in 1792, more than 600 Swiss guards were slaughtered whilst bravely trying to defend the French royal family. In 1820, this truly moving statue was carved to commemorate their efforts. Whilst the throngs of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks take away from the atmosphere somewhat, it’s an important part of the city’s history. Plus, there are pubs nearby.

Moustachioed author/rhythmic gymnast Mark Twain is probably the only writer more revered by the literary community than myself, so it seems right for me to let him say a few words about this tragic beast. Plus, he’s dead, so there’s no chance of him suing me for plagiarism.

“The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

“Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”

I’m certainly not lion when I say it’s a must-see when visiting this wonderful city!

PILATUS

When a little Swiss bloke suggested that pilates is the number one thing to experience whilst in Lucerne, I assumed he was on the drugs. After all, I’ve been thrown out of pilates classes across the globe, so they’re nothing new to me. Then I realised he was actually talking about Mount Pilatus, and kind of regretted reporting the little bloke to the cops for heroin possession.

The big slab of rock is close to the centre of town and it’s a short bus ride from the main station to the base. There’s a cable car to the top that can save you an eight-hour round-trip hike, but it costs close to $100, so do what I did – wait till the attendants at the bottom aren’t looking and just hop on. Like beer, cable cars are even tastier when they’re free!

I’m not sure what the view from the top of 2118m Donkey Peak is like, because the weather was shithouse and it was draped in clouds, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had on the mountain. There are bars, ropes courses, and paragliding launches. On the way back down a crazy black man started chasing me and I had to hide in a small cave. Good times!

THE CHAPEL BRIDGE

I’ve been infatuated by old, wooden buildings ever since my nextdoor neighbour Mr Pringle took me to see
The Bridges of Madison County at the cinema when I was eight years old. It was difficult for me to see the film through my tears of shame, but it certainly left an impression on me.

Known to locals as Kapellbrücke, this structure is the oldest surviving wooden covered bridge in Europe, having been built in 1365, and is seen as the symbol of the city. It’s right in the middle of town, just a stone’s throw from the station, and can get really bloody busy. There are all sorts of fancy paintings in it, including a number depicting beheadings and lynchings and all that fun stuff, so psychos should be satisfied.

I would have liked to stroll along the bridge with my good friend Mr Pringle, but he’s currently enjoying his honeymoon with his seven-year-old Vietnamese husband, Tran, at Disneyland.

YE OLDE TOWNE

Lucerne is older than Hugh Jackman’s wife, and the historic heart of the city is really well preserved. I had fun pretending I’d found a time machine and had been transported back to medieval Europe, smugly swaggering around with iPhone in hand whilst the backwards peasants around me amused themselves with sharpened sticks and dried dog turds.

Then I started thinking about the black plague and what I could do to prevent it ever happening, so I raced around warning people not to fuck rats. I thought about World War II and started telling anyone with a little moustache that nobody’s impressed by mass genocide. I tried to warn the clueless Euros about the atrocities to come, but it didn’t work. Nobody appreciated my heartfelt pleas and eventually some locals threw me in the frigid Reuss River. Oh well, enjoy coughing up your intestintes and getting chucked in concentration camps, you ungrateful pricks.

THE LUCERNE GOLEM

Everyone knows that the Swiss have been involved in a brutal war with vampires for the past 4000 years, but what’s not so well known is the reason Lucerne has never been overrun by creatures of the night. It’s because of Plugg, who’s some sort of magical golem.

Legend has it that the vampires were about take over the city when the locals, out of sheer desperation, crafted Plugg out of mud and horse manure, danced around her a bit, and then sacrificed 683 virgins in order to bring her to life. Sounds like a waste of perfectly good virgins to me, but anyway, it worked. Plugg came to life, splattered the vamps, and has looked after Lucerne ever since.

I found Plugg beneath the ancient Musegg Wall and, magic vanquisher of demons or not, she wasn’t able to protect herself from my roving hands. I just hope no bloodsucking freaks snuck in whilst we were making out.

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Interlaken: A paraglider’s paradise

There have been three perfect moments in my life; watching Paul Osborne’s around-the-corner offload to Dave Furner during the 1994 grand final, seeing my girlfriend for the first time, and soaring above the unreal azure waters of Interlaken. But they say the darkest night is before the dawn, and that was certainly the case during my first solo paragliding trip through Switzerland.

Interlaken has dozens of launches, but I decided to head to th 1060m-high Luegibrueggli (know as Eggs by the locals) for my first flight – mainly because it’s easy to get to by bus from the middle of Interlaken. After 20 minutes scraping up the hill from town, and a brisk walk through the woods, I found myself in a tiny clearing looking out over the most beautiful lake in the world. I set up my gear, took a deep breath, and cruised out into the clear Swiss air.

It took me about five seconds to realise something was wrong. Very, very wrong. After narrowly missing a tree after launching, I realised my left brakeline was tangled, meaning I couldn’t steer the bloody thing and was being dragged dangerously close to town by the swelling valley breeze. I was a kilometre above the Earth with barely any control over my glider, a thin stream of urine dribbling down my leg and regret on my mind. I needed to use all my experience as a pilot to somehow drag my glider down to the green valley floor, and drop into the tiny landing zone. When i finally landed safely, I took a moment to scrape the fright shite out of my pants and reflect on how close I’d come to disaster.

As I sucked on a frosty can of Tell that night whilst watching the sun set over the Alps, I was still thinking about what had happened. I’m so proud of myself for having reached a stage of my flying that I can travel to a foreign country alone, find flying spots, check out the conditions and take to the air by myself, but I always have more to learn. Today’s lesson was patience – and to wear dark-coloured undies when I fly a new spot. The next day, I promised myself, would be perfect.

With great conditions forecast, I took the bus all the way up to the 1280m-high Waldegg (known as Eggs by the locals) launch. After quadruple-checking my lines, I once again launched into the beautiful alpine valley, and this time everything was absolutely perfect. I hooked into a thermal and climbed up into the clear, blue sky, as the magical scenery shrank beneath me. Dozens of other gliders were dancing through the sky and heading off in all directions, and I managed to cross the valley and play above the monumental peaks of the Andes. Finally, I was able to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Swiss flying – and I was doing it completely alone.

After a couple of hours of the best paragliding imaginable, the wind picked up and it was time for me to head down, down, down to the ground. I spiralled towards Lake Thun, watching its crystal clear water rush towards me as I ended my ride. And then, just like that, it was over. As I packed up my wing and graciously accepted an ice-cold Rugenbräu from fellow pilot Hans, I looked up at those indomitable mountains and smiled as I thought about cruising over them. Paragliding is all about ups and downs – both literally and figuratively – but the apex of this wonderful sport surely exists in the pristine skies above Interlaken.

Intensely interesting interactions in Interlaken

Switzerland is best known for reliable watches, multi-purpose knives, successful tennis players and its lively gangsta rap scene, but all I was really interested in during my visit was climbing a really big mountain and then paragliding into wild. So after bidding adieu to Hamster I headed straight for Interlaken, an adventure playground high up in the Alps that offers something for everyone.

Switzerland (not to be confused with Swaziland – if you’re not sure which one you’re in, just look around and count the black people) is about the size of your average Manly fan’s penis and has great public transport infrastructure, so it’s easy to explore. With some time to kill in Geneva before catching the train to Interlaken, I took a stroll through the buzzing city centre and along Lake Geneva’s lively waterfront. The mixture of history, culture and architecture makes for a stunning place to spend an arvo – shame there was a half-pissed Aussie ruining the authentic Euro feel of the place.

A few hours on a modern train brought me to the fairytale village of Interlaken, with it’s shimmering lakes, cute houses, thunderous mountains and swarms of Chinese tourists. Ignore the throngs of selfie-snapping shitheads and it’s easy to fall in love with the place. The sweet scent of freshly-baked bread and cakes wafts through the streets, and the sound of energetic music competes with bird songs for attention. There’s something beautiful to see on every corner, it’s easy to get around, and there are usually paragliders soaring through the air, so it’s pretty much a slice of heaven.

As the name suggests, Interlaken is in-ter-middle of a couple of wonderful lakes. The water is cold year-round, but slug a few cans of Quöllfrisch and they’re fine to swim in. There are dozens of hikes to take on, a couple of funicular railways that look like they’d be plenty of fun(icular) if they didn’t cost so much, and the opportunity to go bungy jumping, sky diving and jet boating. Whether you’re poor as a dog’s foot or have cash falling out your anus, there’s no reason to be bored in Interlaken.

A word of warning, Interlaken is more expensive than a Filipino mail order bride, and even a night in a bog-standard hotel costs as much as buying a three-bedroom house in Wyong. Luckily, there’s a cheaper option – the less-than-salubrious Balmers Tent Village. The beds aren’t comfortable, the toilets aren’t clean, and the whole shebang feels like its going to blow away in anything more than a gentle breeze, but at least it’s in the price range of your average drunken Aussie. The fact the old birds I was sharing my tent with brought me breakfast in bed each morning didn’t hurt, either (even if it left me wondering whether they’d been sucking me off in my sleep).

Interlaken is the heart of the rugged Bernese Oberland region, but there are lots of great little villages surrounding it, and they’re all worth checking out. I caught the train to Grindelwald – which is sure to put a grin on anyone’s face – and was astonished by how beautiful it was. The mountains are so enormous and imposing they even put the Andes to shame, and as the sun peeked through the clouds and shone off the verdant green pastures and eternal glaciers, I really felt like I was somewhere special.

There’s a cable car to the 2166m-high First summit, but it costs $90, so being a work-shy deadshit budget-conscious backpacker I decided to hike it instead. It’s not a particularly tough trip, and the views are unreal, but it is pretty bloody dangerous. Not because of avalanches or rockslides, but because the path up the hill is shared with Asians scooting back down on go-karts. Our little Oriental mates aren’t great drivers at the best of times, and their skills don’t magically get better when hooning down the side of an astonishingly steep mountain at 150km/h.

When I made it to the top I looked out in wonder at the magnificent landscape in front of me, then got the hell out of there before anyone could ask me to join the search party for the half-a-dozen Chinamen who zoomed off the cliff to their deaths that afternoon. All in all, not a bad way to check out the Swiss Alps, but now it was time to fly over them…