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Lucerne, Vaduz and Zürich

Switzerland photos

While I loved exploring the Jungfrau region in the Swiss Alps, the same cannot be said for the subsequent cities I visited. Lucerne, Vaduz and Zürich were undoubtedly the most boring succession of destinations I have ever travelled to. The magnificent landscapes of the alpine mountains had offset my internalised pain of the cost of travelling in Switzerland, but in the Swiss cities it was difficult not to be preoccupied with thinking, “what a total waste of money”. Cramped dormitory accommodation for $75 a night, basic meat-and-stodge meals for $30-$40, bread for $6-$10 (in neighbouring France, its enshrined in law that traditional baguettes must be sold for no more than 1 euro)... utilisation of a public lavatory for $2.50! The exorbitant expenses required to survive as a tourist in these cities was definitely not worth it, as they were uniformly sterile, grey, soulless and not particularly beautiful. My mood was further soured by 5 days of overcast and rainy weather, ruining my adherence to a European summer wardrobe and obscuring the views of nearby mountains. For those after an amiable read, best wait for the next entry… but for the integrity of Globo Trip, I must report both the good and the bad!

Lucerne is often described as “Switzerland’s most beautiful city”, no doubt because the competition is rather lacking (and actually I think Berne is nicer). Misguided by Lucerne’s reputation, I allocated 2 days to visit a city where 2 hours would have been more than sufficient. I’m probably being unjustifiably negative, because ideally Lucerne should be used as a base to explore the villages and mountains surrounding its namesake lake. But unfortunately I was not blessed with the privilege of clear weather, and besides, I’m never enthralled by the scenery of a lake anyway. Once you’ve seen one tepid body of water, you’ve seen them all. The colours may vary, but my emotional response is always the same: underwhelmed and desiring movement (I’m writing this from the edge of the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake and also rainbow coloured (oil extraction)). My experience at Lake Lucerne was no exception. I ambled through Lucerne’s lush, lakeside parkland which was obviously pleasant, but more from a residential perspective than a tourist that has just travelled from the awesome heights of the Jungfrau region.

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Lucerne is located at the northwestern corner of the lake, with the Ruess River bisecting the city. The old town consists of buildings preserved from the Middle Ages and onwards, with impressive murals on many of the facades. But the area is incredibly small, commercialised and not uniquely enamouring on a continent littered with historic cores. The only genuinely interesting site is the Kapellbrücke, a wooden footbridge that spans the Ruess. Originally constructed in the 14th century, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world and consists of panels of 17th century paintings depicting the city’s history within the roof structure. The bridge, spanning the Ruess from the old town to the central station area, and its octagonal water tower form the only truly majestic scene in Lucerne.

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For readers who are totally oblivious to the identity of Liechtenstein, a country that would absolutely never make the evening news, a brief synopsis as followed. Liechtenstein is essentially a valley of the Alps sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria. As I learnt from the two-room national history museum (discounting the perennially mundane ancient pottery and Christian iconography exhibitions), the formation of the Principality of Liechtenstein in 1718 was the conclusion of a rather complicated, centuries-long scheme of acquisitions of neighbouring estates by the House of Liechtenstein to improve their social status within the Holy Roman Empire. The country’s existence is thus derived from the political expediency of 18th century aristocracy, exemplified by the Princes failing to even visit Liechtenstein for the first 100 years. Liechtenstein became completely independent with the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and has strangely remained a sovereign nation ever since, a quirk of historical geopolitics. Contemporary Liechtenstein, formerly an infamous tax haven, is the second richest country in the world (narrowly behind Monaco) and home to just 38,000 people. Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy, yet the Prince still wields considerable power in the governance of the country.

I opportunistically travelled to Liechtenstein for the solitary purpose of “bagging” a new country. With such an inept, vain and ultimately baseless purpose, my visit to the world’s sixth smallest sovereign nation was destined to disappoint. The height of my excitement was when I crossed the Switzerland – Liechtenstein border by bus and thought to myself, “63!” If only that number reflected the seconds I spent there. My impressions were obviously blighted by the worst weather of my trip during the 24 hours I stayed within the country’s borders: interminable drizzle and clouds. Hiking through the country’s Oberland (alpine slopes) was therefore not appropriate for my visit – I was restricted to the Unterland (flat lands between the Rhine (Swiss border) and the slopes). I stayed in a characterless youth hostel roughly equidistance between Vaduz, the nation’s capital, and Schaan, the largest municipality. Unfortunately, this resulted in cold, 45 minute walks in the rain, which was most unwelcome as I had limited cleans clothes available at that point (I was holding out for departing Switzerland to avoid the obscene prices for laundry). Vaduz is more of a village, than a sovereign capital, with a population of just 5,000 and vineyards within the urban boundary. I spent an afternoon attempting to entertain myself in the centre of Vaduz, which makes Puckle Street seem comparatively riveting. The area is composed of one pedestrian thoroughfare with modernist buildings, an uninspiring 19th century church and innumerable Chinese tourists noticeably more excited than I was. The Prince’s rather petite fortress castle is located in a commanding position on the steep slope above Vaduz, providing the solitary trace of intrigue in Liechtenstein’s capital.

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Zürich is often cited as one of the capitals of global commerce, an extraordinary reputation for a city of less than 400,000. Yet while the city might be a deserved magnet for bankers and purveyors of luxury brands, Zürich holds minimal interest for a traveller and ranks at rock bottom of my “favourite cities in Europe” list. With geographic similarities to Lucerne, Zürich has formed along the Limmat River where it connects to the northwestern corner of Lake Zürich. The utterly uncultured old town straddles both sides of the river, a drab collection of grey stone churches and pale buildings filled with expensive chocolate and watch shops. The only enjoyable aspect of my time in Zürich was the city’s free walking tour, where I learnt that the Swiss have the third highest rate of gun ownership in the world (after the US and Yemen) and every Swiss citizen is assigned a place in a bunker in case of a nuclear attack or natural catastrophe (the country has developed a complex network of underground shelters for such scenarios).

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Unfortunately the cost of dining in Switzerland was a serious barrier in developing a thorough appreciation of Swiss cuisine. Consequently, I never sampled the country’s most famous dish, cheese fondue, which needs to be shared by at least 2 persons. I was at least able to try raclette, finally discovering an affordable and single-serve option just before departing Zürich. The dish consists of a block of cheese (raclette) melted in a specific contraption, which is then scrapped over boiled potatoes and pickles. Indulgently delicious, gloriously and calorifically rich… but somewhat simple and unsophisticated for a nationally venerated dish. Aside from a good value but rather bizarre and slightly sickly buffet I had at the (not so) youth hostel in Vaduz, the only other dish I ate of note was panfried pork fillet with creamy mushroom sauce and rösti at a beerhall where no one spoke English.

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Been there, done that! My advice for developing an itinerary through Western Europe is that while the nature in Switzerland is definitely worth exploring, the country’s cities should be avoided; they’re not architecturally or culturally intriguing and grossly expensive. The only exception from the destinations I visited is Berne, a little gem of a city – as its World Heritage listing indicates. Meanwhile Liechtenstein is literally the only country on Earth I have absolutely no interest of returning to. Obviously if you were to visit friends it would be a totally different experience, but for the solo traveller, Lucerne, Vaduz and Zürich are absolute no-go zones.

That’s all for now,

Liam

Switzerland photos

Posted by Liamps 22:38 Archived in Switzerland

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Comments

Basle (Basel) mate one of my favourite cities esp for their art galleries. Glad you finally made it to the Bernese Oberland even if the weather wasn't so great. I'd be back there in a flash. Dunno where you were eating I found it all fairly reasonable but I'm a cheapskate. I could spend a summer camping through there, been four times now never long enough. See you on return Cheers Kev

by Kev

And women didn't get the right to vote in Lichtenstein til 1984!
Tells you all you need to know really.

by Jo

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