Thursday, April 15, 2004

OK, now, how 'bout some Luzern photos and stories?!

We left Venice for Luzern on the morning of Monday, April 5. The train from Quarto d'Altino (our Venetian suburb) to Milan was uneventful, but when we got on the second train in Milan, there was an Italian lady sitting in one of our reserved seats who refused to remove. No matter how many times I showed her our reservation ticket, she stayed put and chattered at me in a stream of Italian that sounded something like this: "Rigatoni pasta primavera American lasagna pepperoni pizza not obligatory!" I think the gist of it was, "Ha ha, you stupid Americans! I am going to psyche you out and try to make your think your reservations are worthless!!"

When I failed to learn Italian despite this sudden immersion course, I decided that I needed to call in more firepower. So I left the rest of my band of weary travelers in the 7 unoccupied seats and went in search of a conductor, hoping all the while that Ethan could be counted on to produce an especially vile diaper that they might then wave in the squatter's direction. I returned with the conductor, who was finally able to convince her to move on to greener pastures, and Ethan promptly snuggled into her recently abandoned seat and took a nap:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were surprised upon reaching Luzern to find that the reception desk at our hotel was temporarily closed due to a funeral. We wound up loitering in their darkened foyer while we waited for a clerk to return. Once we got checked in, we set out in search of supper and found the best fondue I have ever had in my entire life. Teresa and I shared a cheese fondue, while the guys opted for the beef. Here are Fred and Frank getting fondue lessons:

Ethan was unimpressed by the wonderful restaurant and promptly went to sleep. Years from now Ethan is going to think he once had a really long dream about Europe, 'cause I promise you all that little guy did was sleep. He took naps to get ready for his naps. Here he is snoozing peacefully at the fondue restaurant:

Meanwhile, Elliott enjoyed his schnitzel and posed for this picture with his mom:

Our hotel in Luzern was our big--if unconventional--splurge. The Hotel Löwengraben was a jail up until 1998. Even now it has maintained a prison-like ambience. In fact, for extra money they will dress you in prison garb, lock you in your room (um, I mean "cell"), and feed you bread and water. While we didn't indulge in this, it did cross my mind that it might be a good source of childcare so we could go out for a kids-free meal. Maybe next time.

Here we are in our cell:

Unfortunately, the photo I took of Frank's crew in their cell blurred, but this one of just Ethan and Elliott in their prison bunks came out OK:

The strangest thing about our very unconventional hotel had to be the bathrooms. When the rooms were jail cells, the toilet and sink was simply stuck in a corner of each room. To tranform the cells into high-priced hotel rooms, it was necessary to put up room dividers to create separate bathrooms. The divider, however, didn't reach to the ceiling, so when you turned on the bathroom light in the middle of the night, it was as good as turning on the light for the whole room.

Another strange thing about the bathroom was this rather large duct that snaked up the side of the toilet, thus preventing the lid from being put all the way up. In order to use the facilities, one had to pull down one's pants, lift the lid as high as possible, and slide in from the side, thus doing an amazing, if accidental, imitation of a turtle. I am told that those who stand to pee faced challenges of their own, but I'm not qualified to speak to that.

Tuesday morning we set off by bus for the Lion Monument, after having deposited our luggage in lockers at the train station. The monument is in memory of Swiss mercenaries who were killed serving in the French revolution. According to Mark Twain, the lion is "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world." I think he might have been right:

Next door to the lion is the glacier garden. It was discovered in 1872 during excavation for a wine cellar. It's rather like a moonscape in the middle of Switzerland:

If you think the potholes in your local roads are bad, get a load of this one glacial pothole. According to my brochure from the garden:

These impressive potholes were formed at the bottom of the glacier by the sheer force of the water. As is still the case in alpine glaciers today, the melt water initially flowed on the surface of the ice before seeping into the glacier through fissures. At the bottom of the glacier the water was under tremendous pressure. As the flow of water gathered speed, vortices with speeds of up to 200 km/h [that's about 120 mph] began to form. Within a few years, potholes had been eroded out of the rock. Most of the erosion was done by sand and gravel trapped in the cloudy melt-water flow.

This particular glacial pothole is the largest one in the garden and measures 9.5 meters deep, with a diameter of 8 meters:

Inside the museum at the glacier garden, there was a room dedicated to miniature dollhouse-type scenes. Most of them were traditional--wee school scenes and cunning little tea parties and such. This one was my particular favorite. I am especially fond of the duct-taped Barbie being tormented by the scary green guy (is that the Hulk?) and ET while the red Teletubby looks on in wicked anticipation.

For the rest of the afternoon, we slowly made our way through town and the driving rain to get back to the train station to catch our train home that night. It was a great trip, but it felt so good to fall into my own bed! Even the cat seemed unreasonably happy to see us.

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