Our journey together is nearing its end for this trip. As we leave Füssen we were heading to my final stop in Lucerne with David & Steph before heading our separate ways. They continuing on their vacation to Italy and me back to Sweden. Today would be about tripping through the GALS – Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein & Switzerland (and not the feminine kind). Four countries in just under 300 km. Where else but Europe?
Weather was brilliant for driving through the rolling country side, passed all the lakes and the farmers making hay. Reminded Dave and I of haymaking time at Ardmore in West Otago back in NZ, and me especially of the blistered hands. A lot of talking and reminiscing was done while Steph watched movies in the backseat on her iPad. I think it was during this drive a seed was planted of may be Dave & I celebrating our 60ths together. We arrived at the conclusion that we had missed most of the major events in one another’s lives due to the separation of half a world away, and with not too many milestones left, may be our 60ths was that chance.
Germany & Austria passed quickly and our first stop was the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein is bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and Austria to the east and north. It is Europe’s fourth-smallest country, with an area of just over 160 square kilometres, a population of approx. 38 000 and its capital of Vaduz. Economically, Liechtenstein has one of the highest gross domestic products per person in the world when adjusted for purchasing power. It was once known as a billionaire tax haven, but no longer. An alpine country, Liechtenstein is mountainous, making it a winter sport destination. Almost as many people commute to work in Liechtenstein as live there.
Liechtenstein means “bright stone” and comes from the Royal family’s original home Castle Liechtenstein in Lower Austria. Through the centuries, the dynasty acquired vast swathes of land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, and Poland. The Liechtenstein Princes served as close advisors to the Habsburg family who ruled Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. To gain political power and a seat in the Holy Roman Empire’s Diet (council), the head of the family arranged the purchase of the minuscule Counties of Schellenberg and Vaduz in 1712. After the purchase had been made the Holy Roman Emperor decreed Vaduz and Schellenberg to be united and raised to the dignity of a Principality with the name of “Liechtenstein.” The Princes of Liechtenstein did not set foot in their new principality for several decades, a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchases.
A bit of a useless fact I read: The 3rd Prince in line to the Liechtenstein throne is quite unique. Prince Joseph Wenzel is the eldest child of Prince Alois of Liechtenstein (the Regent and Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein) and his wife Princess Sophie (Duchess in Bavaria). He is also the eldest grandchild of the current ruling Prince of Liechtenstein. He is both second in the line of succession to the Liechtenstein throne – through his father – and third in the Jacobite line of succession to the thrones of England, Scotland, Ireland and France – through his mother. He is the first Jacobite heir born in the British Isles since 1688 and will be, assuming his accession to the throne of Liechtenstein and upon the death of his mother, the first Jacobite heir to become the head of state of another country. Elizabeth & Charles & William better watch out in case of another Jacobite uprising 😀
After a visit to Vaduz Castle and lunch, then a wander around the beautiful city centre of Vaduz, admiring goods at prices we could not possibly afford, it was time to cross the Rhine Canal in to Switzerland. Upon entering Switzerland you find you have to pay road taxes for your visit. Now I was not completely unfamiliar with this as I had encountered the same thing in Austria. I had to paid 9 euros (NZD 15) for 10 days. Which seemed quite reasonable. What I was not prepared for is that in Switzerland you have to pay for a whole year even if you are only visiting for 2 days – 36 euros (NZD 62). Admittedly it does last for the entire year but how often am I going to be driving in Switzerland in a year? Seems like a good racket to me and no wonder the Swiss are rich. So be warned if you are ever planning to drive through Switzerland – drive around it or avoid motorways.
Anyway, after moaning about the road taxes for the next 30 minutes of the journey we meandered our way through the Swiss countryside as the landscape became more and more undulating and in the end travelling around the edges of mountains & alpine lakes to arrive in Lucerne (Gr. Luzern; means lantern) an hour later. Lucerne was as Swiss as I had anticipated. Clean, green, well-organised, polite and expensive. After depositing ourselves at our respective hotels (or hostels for those on a budget 😀 ) and with some handy tips from my good friend Martin (who had lived here), we set off to explore the old city. I would only have this evening before setting off tomorrow on my two day trek back to Sweden.
After crossing the River Reuss at the mouth of Lake Lucerne we arrived at Kapellplatz containing the Fritschi statue and fountain in the old city. Fritschi was a legendary character associated with spring and joy. As we wandered the narrow streets past the Town Hall (Ratshaus b. 1602) on the old corn market, we discovered amazing buildings with incredible and intricate street signage and frontages covered in illusion paintings which delude the viewer into believing that the window frames and embossing are real stone work. Above the old city you could gain views of the Musegg Wall and its nine towers from the 13th century which we designed to protect the city from attack on one side while the river protected the other side.
Returning to the river we discovered the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge b. 1333). A covered wooden footbridge spanning 200 metres diagonally across the River Reuss. It is named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel at one end of the bridge and is unique in containing a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed in 1993 when a fire ravaged a large part of the centuries-old bridge. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge. It serves as the city’s symbol and as one of Switzerland’s main tourist attractions. All this walking had built up an appetite so time to feed the hunger and quench the thirst. Be warned if you do not earn a Swiss wage this place is horrendously expensive but as it was our last night together I suppose we could afford to splash out even if it was just a burger and a beer that made the wallet feel like it was champagne & caviar.
One place I unfortunately did not get to see but had read much about from Lucerne, is the Lion Monument or the Dying Lion of Lucerne. It is a rock relief designed by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and was hewn into the rock in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. The monument portrays a dying lion lying on broken symbols of the French monarchy. Mark Twain praised the sculpture of a mortally-wounded lion as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
The night and the trip were drawing to a close and time to head back to the hotel to pack and ready myself for the 1200 km two day journey back to Sweden tomorrow.
Sidenote: Upon arriving back at my hotel I found the floor of my room flooded with water. The evening was extremely humid and the A/C had been working overtime but the overflow pipe from the condenser had come loose and the condensation had just run out on the floor. The hotel staff were excellent and moved me with the greatest of assistance and minimal inconvenience to a new room. So Swiss 😀 Night night.