Thursday, July 23, 2009


Switzerland is an example of the benefits of diversity. While larger nation, like the US and France, entrench themselves in a singular identity and language, the Swiss have adopted four official languages. These include French, English and German. Crossing through the central mountain ranges between Geneva and Luzern, road signs and architectural styles suddenly changed from French to German. But throughout the country, you can be easily understood speaking any one of the three main languages.

The German culture is the norm in Luzern. The lager is decidedly German and so are the boisterous evening crowds. It appears to be custom for a crowd of drunk men, following a ring-leader dressed as the village idiot (perhaps wearing a watermelon helmet or being pushed in a baby’s pram) who spends the night attempting to sell flowers to unsuspecting tourists. The revelry reaches it’s height at one of the nearby pubs.

Amid this scene, we searched for a table along the decidedly picturesque midtown river. A scenic covered bridge bisects the river. Beautiful Alpine peaks provide a romantic backdrop for the city. The dichotomy of candle lit dinners and broken beer steins seems perfectly normal.

In the morning, we embarked on a five hour voyage to the summit of the nearest mountain, known locally as Pilatus, the red dragon. The trip began by boat. We were ferried across lake Luzern. Less developed than lake Geneva’s shores, the rustic hillside was still home to hundreds of cozy-looking chalets. I was reminded of a previous trip through Oslo Fjord.

One by See (German for lake), two by cog wheel train – the second leg of our trip. I’m not exactly what defines a cog-wheel train, but I do know that they are used to climb steep slopes. The one up the back face of Pilatus is the steepest train of its type in Switzerland. The car, even when docked in the station, was constructed on a 45 degree diagonal, so that the seats would be comfortably level while ascending the slope. As we climbed steadily into the serene and surreal mountain landscape the hustle and bustle of Luzern seemed a distant memory.

Even Roxy, our dog, was relaxed. She was able to join us for all legs of the trip up Pilatus – boat, train, cable car and ski lift, no problem in pet-loving Switzerland. I’m not sure if she was more impressed by the amazing panoramic from the top of the mountain or the curiously clanging cows high up on the mountainside.

Two hotels and several restaurants provide hospitality at the summit of Pilatus. Several short hikes up to lookout platforms are worth the effort. One even leads through tunnels in the rocky mountain top. Roxy practically pulled me up the slick stone steps, welcome assistance on the way up – not so helpful coming back down. We ate lunch at the summit and then descended via cable car back down to the city of Luzern.

The voyage was successful. Surrounded by beauty, it’s easy to see how such disparate culture call Switzerland home.

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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.