Lugano is a lovely town situated on a glacier-fed, blue-green lake. We only had a brief stop for lunch, due to the delays in Milano, but enjoyed some Burger King and a walk along the lakeshore. There were numerous cafes which would have been nice (but very expensive - 20 Euro for lunch?) and there was not enough time.
This picture was taken by one of our traveling companions by the fountain in Lugano. Don't we look happy and more relaxed? After our short break, we headed on through the Alps to Lucerne, driving through a number of tunnels including the world's longest tunnel. It took about 30 minutes to get throught it and I was only a little relieved as Simone explained that it had a massive air system for providing fresh air inside the tunnel and a parallel emergency tunnel adjacent to it in the event of a collapse. In fact, the Swiss stock these tunnels with months worth of provisions so that they can be used as bomb shelters if needed.
Simone decided to include the one sight we were scheduled to see in Lucerne upon our arrival - so we piled out of the bus and walked just a block or so to see the Lion of Lucerne. The Lion is carved into the side of the mountain as a memorial to the Swiss Guard who were killed in 1792 during the French Revolution. It is a beautiful carving, but the shadows at that time of day made it impossible for me to get a good picture that showed the detail.
Our next stop was the hotel - and this was one of our favorites. The Astoria. Our room had a beautiful view of the ancient wall around the city of Lucerne, built in the 14th Century and complete with turrets. The optional excursion for this evening was an "Alpine Folklore Experience" - we knew exactly what that meant - they would pack us in like sardines and yodel at us for two hours while feeding us mediocre food at an inflated price. Instead, we checked at the front desk, and decided to have dinner at the riverside cafe that cooked food that the desk clerk said was, "just like her grandmother makes."
What a wonderful treat! We sat with the cool breeze wafting off the river, watching the sun set on the flower-adorned, covered wooden bridge as the swans glided past. For less than it would have cost for one of us to go to the Yodel-fest, we shared a meal that included a farmer's salad with zuchini and yellow squash, a scrumptious soup, fabulous potatoes that tasted a little like a hot version of German potato salad, and a piece of viener-schnitzel that was as big as my foot. That's a size 10, thank you very much. And we had enough food left over that we easily could have fed a third person.
The view from our table at dinner...not bad, huh? See the swans over by the side?
We strolled along the river and planned our attack for the next day. While Simone's victims would be riding a boat on the lake and then taking a train up the side of the mountain (which we discovered later meant climbing huge steps at the top - 7000 ft. elevation - with no air left in your lungs), we planned to explore the shopping and see the town wall.
It was just turning dark when we returned to the hotel and we decided to visit the rooftop lounge. The lounge was actually divided into several sections and only one section was open each evening - so on this evening we had a beautiful view of the mountains and the city wall as well as the river. The lounge also provided free wifi access, so we were able to touch base with home.
The very best part was our sense of freedom. We just couldn't get over how different it felt to not be herded from place to place. And even better - since we weren't going on the optional tour - we could sleep in as late as we'd like the next day!