Day 9 - 23 Sep
Flexibility remains the driver for us - so much to do in Switzerland, so little time! The original plan for today was to take the William Tell Express, to Lugano, the first of the 'Big Three' panorama trains that we were planning to ride over the next few days. The standard route for the WTE is a three hour lake cruise along the length of Lake Lucerne to Fluelen, then connect with the dedicated train for the two hours or so on to Belinzona (where we were to change for Lugano) and Locarno. However, we still had a couple of places we wanted to see in Lucerne and felt that we should give Lugano a little more respect than to just treat it as a place to sleep. So, in the end, we elected to spend a couple more hours in Lucerne, then take a real Express train to Lugano, to give ourselves a few hours to look around there.
To round off the self-guided walk of Lucerne that we began yesterday, we made an early start and crossed the river to see the Benedictine and Jesuit churches. The first was closed for renovation, but the latter was open and well worth the visit. It is a real testament to the skill and dedication of the monks and artisans of the day - the carved timber pulpit in particular, is amazing. We also happened upon a street where the merchants are focussed on maintaining ancient and traditional crafts. We saw a goldsmith and talked to a cobbler, who was happy to describe - and let me handle! - his collection of medieval shoes from Venice and Paris. Then, to our final cultural stop - the local Co-op to buy supplies for our lunch!
Back at the apartment, we prepped our lunch, finished our packing, bade farewell to the most IKEA'd place we have ever seen, and strolled off to the Bahnhof to catch our train. Lucerne was still somewhat overcast, but not as much as on previous mornings so we were able to admire the Chapel Bridge one last time in much better light.
The train was an Inter City Express tilting train and took exactly the same route as the WTE. On the plus side, we were able to enjoy the same views of delightful scenery and impressive road rail structures, while on the negative side we missed out on the commentary and panoramic windows. However, we did arrive in Lugano in the early afternoon, which allowed us to enjoy the area a little.
First things first, get to the hotel. In Lugano, we had the longest walk between station and accommodation, about a kilometre. Not really a problem, but as we descended the 180 steps to our hotel near the lake, we couldn't help dreading the climb back up tomorrow with our fully laden backpacks! However, the descent did provide some tantalising views of the lake, which took our minds off that thought. The hotel proved to be right in the middle of the town and only one block back from the lake - a great location. The receptionist was also very helpful, advising us about the ferry terminal and suggesting a lakeside village, Gandria, as a good place to visit. We promptly dropped our bags in the (very nice) room, grabbed cameras and batteries and rushed off for the ferry.
Our plan was to follow through on the information Angela had gained yesterday and visit an attraction called 'Swissminiatur', which is a small park filled with miniature replicas of many of the iconic buildings and attractions of Switzerland. But first, we had to get there. This meant catching a ferry to Melide, several kilometres down the lake, and we were running late. Fortunately, we were in the Italian region of Switzerland, where a somewhat more 'laissez faire' attitude seems to exist, and the ferry was even later than us! After a lovely 30 minute cruise (free, with the STP), we arrived at Melide and found our way to Swissminiatur. Once again, the STP proved its worth as we were given a 30% discount - on top of the seniors price!
Swissminiatur is a really attractive little park. There is at least 150 models and displays showcasing everything from the legislature in Bern to various castles, the Jungfrau Mountain, the Glacier Express train and Zurich airport as it was in the 1950s (complete with 1970s aircraft, such as the Boeing 747...). It was all very interesting and instructive, but perhaps the most impressive display is not Swiss at all. There is a model of the cathedral in Milan that is so big it is possible to walk inside it. If one did not already feel like Gulliver, walking around the models outside, then being inside 'Milan Cathedral' certainly generates that feeling!
Interesting and attractive as Swissminiatur is, it took us less than two hours to stroll around, so we considered what else we could do. We checked the ferry schedules and routes, and found that we could make it to Gandria after all, and spend an hour there. We were on time (this time) for the ferry, which took us to a very interesting place called Campione d'Italia. This is a tiny exclave of Italy, only 1.6 sg kms in size with a population of just over 2000. How it came to be a slice of Italy surrounded by Switzerland is a fascinating story. - for some other time! I do suggest you ask Mr Google about it.
After our flying 25 minute visit to Italy, the next ferry took us along the South Eastern shore of Lake Lugano, calling at a few little hamlets, before crossing to the Northern shore and Gandria. With a name like that, this village could be from Middle Earth and it certainly has a suitable appearance. Built right down to the lake shore, the village climbs dizzyingly up the steep cliffs. To reach the streets, we had to climb several sets of stairs, seemingly through private buildings. We soon found ourselves 30 m above lake level, on narrow pedestrian-only streets, and surrounded by a glorious hodgepodge of houses and shops. It is a lovely village and, as evening drew in, the haze lifted somewhat and we had delightful views across the lake with any number of attractive buildings to frame our pictures. As we wandered the streets, we came across a potter's shop. All of the articles were made by a husband and wife and were very good. Despite our backpack limits, we couldn't help ourselves and bought a small vase - our only souvenir!
Pretty soon, we had to make our way back to the dock to meet our ride back to Lugano. The weather had improved sufficiently for us to enjoy a lovely sunset over the city. Back on shore, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at one of the many restaurants that front on to the main piazza. It was a very relaxing end to a delightful and varied day. Tomorrow is all about the Bernina Express, which reputedly traverses the most attractive section of railway in Switzerland. Looking forward to that!
TTFN - RandA