Travel break part four: Lugano!

Nov 14, 2006 • Karen

(Edited from journal entries written in Switzerland.)


The train ride from Zurich to Lugano was quite enjoyable. The mountains got taller and rockier and mistier as we chugged southward. I saw a few peaks with snow. Switzerland truly wins the Most Badass View award. I mean, one of those deep blue mountain lakes with some cottages nestled into the green hillside and the mountains robed in fall foliage, under a blue and white sky? It can't be beat. Or if it can, it would be by those Swiss mountain streams falling out rocksides into nowhere. I had to be careful to ration my phototaking while I was on the train--I could have *easily* filled my camera up.

Around 1 I decided to have lunch, so I had an apple and made myself a cheese sandwich while we went through a long tunnel. (So many tunnels! Swiss engineers are geniuses--they *have* to be, with this kind of terrain...) When I looked up again, we were out among houses and cornfields and goats and vineyards and--wait, was that a palm tree?

I mean, I already knew there were palm trees in the Ticino. However, that doesn't make seeing them, after all those austere, rocky rapids and pine forests, any less weird. Sure, you have the same thing with Scripps' campus and Mount Baldy (indeed, in some ways Lugano does remind me of Claremont, only everyone speaks Italian and there are a zillion steep hills), but even then Mt. Baldy's pretty far away. Here the mountains are In. Your. Face.

So now I'm sitting in front of the hostel waiting for the proprietor to come back from her lunch break. Which ends at 3 PM. The Swiss like their long lunches, I've noticed...


Today I resolved to spend the day down in Lugano. Thing is, I don't really have a map. (The directions to the hostel are a start, but most of the streets are unmarked and the shape seems like of inaccurate, too.) So by guesswork and the tourist "You Are Here" map boards I made my way to Parc Ciani on the lakeside. This was my first real view of Lake Lugano (the view from the train station the first day was misty and mostly obscured by buildings) and it just floored me. I took some pictures; we'll see if they turn out. It's still pretty misty today. But yeah. The placid lake, with the mountains rising out of

The park was pretty, too, with green things and trees and sculptures. I keep forgetting that swans are a native species in Europe. It seems weird for something so fancy to just be there, like any old duck or pigeon or squirrel.

As I was sitting on the stone wall marking the shore, three swans made a water landing in unison in front of me. "Showoffs," I muttered. The others were preening themselves on the beach and glared at me if they caught me looking. They didn't seem to like it when I was watching an "ugly duckling" go fishing, either. (I would have taken a picture of the damn thing, but he was too small and too far out for it to have turned out.)

Yet... when I was eating some dried cranberries one swan came over, seemingly expecting me to feed him! I told him he was pathetic, and he swam away.

There was a sign in Italian by the wall that I think prohibited fishing. Too bad, because there were a lot of fish. Just looking down into the water below me I saw tons of minnows, schools of somewhat larger fish, and even a few trout! There were some sort of fish leaping out of the water every so often to catch bugs, too. With all that so close to shore, I imagine the fishing elsewhere in the lake would be phenomenal. The Swiss must take care of their environment pretty well.

I had been planning to take the funicolare up to Mt. Bré. I had intended originally to do Mt. San Salvatore, since that was the one written about in Bloomability, but all the tourism pamplets and such were for the Mt. Bré one. I didn't know whether or not the Mt. San Salvatore one even ran anymore, let alone where it was! But, comparing the two mountains from the park, Mt. Bré was both shorter and much more built-up. Mt. San Salvatore, on the other hand was steeper, less tamed. No matter how much you might like to, you can't build luxury condos on vertical rock faces. When I walked back towards the center of town, I found a map that finally showed the Mt. San Salvatore funicolare station. That settled it.

I'm writing now from the top of Mt. San Salvatore. It's still rather misty to the south--meaning you can't see Milan--but the view is gorgeous all the same. There's a little Catholic chapel up here; I ate lunch on its roof. According to the museum up here, the chapel is owned and run by the Archfraternity of Good Death and Prayer (formerly known as the School of St. Martha), who in the old days would comfort and accompany convicts sentenced to death, then give them a proper burial after their execution. O-kay...

Ha ha, the top of Mt. Bré is all clouded up! It's sunny here.

When I first decided to visit Lugano, I was determined to have some gelato while I was there. And, this afternoon, indeed I did. I think I have been spoiled by Denmark, though. This was my first time visiting an establishment that served food on this trip (I've been living off of groceries) and I assumed (or hoped) they'd know a little English. Nope. Not the place I went to, anyway. And I don't speak *any* Italian or German. Fortunately I managed to get my gelato fix through hand-pointing and such...and JESUSFISH was it worth the trip. Fifteen years down the road, I'm going to get pregnant and be like, "Honey, I need to go to the Ticino and get some melon gelato. NOW." Actually, now that I think about it, I don't think I even need to be pregnant and hormonal to crave that stuff. Yum.


None of the three people I met at the hostel in Lugano were backpackers. One, whom I met while cooking dinner Tuesday night, was an American from Maine studying at the university in Lugano. So was my roommate, Yu, a Chinese citizen whose sister was getting her Ph.D at Vanderbilt.

Yu was very stressed out the second day because she had orally committed to one apartment in Lugano, but then got a better offer and wanted to back out. She hadn't signed anything, but the first landlord was very angry and was threating to talk to a lawyer or to her academic advisor about it, since he'd already turned away other potential tenants from the apartment based on her word (he said). She asked my advice, and I said that since she hadn't signed anything she ought to be okay. But I'm neither a lawyer nor a Swiss citizen; I don't know how it works here.

The third person I met yesterday, also in the kitchen. I never got his name, but he was a Swiss citizen, born in Lugano, but I gather he had spent a lot of time in France--he spoke French and he mentioned that his mother lived there. We ended up eating dinner together and he seemed like a very nice guy. I guess he's in Lugano to look for a job. We talked about food, the US, travels... Then the topic of Muslim immigration came up...and so went one of those conversations that always start out with "I'm not a racist, but..."

Sigh. I don't know what the solution to the banlieues is, or how to turn parochial Europe into a functional multicultural society, but going on about how so many of the immigrants' children aren't français, and how a bunch of them are drug dealers, or how this Muslim dude stole your skateboard when you were a kid...doesn't seem to help any.

But of course everything works better in Switzerland. No immigration problem, because of the closed border. (It was at this point I realized--the paskontrol in Zurich didn't stamp my passport! Dammit!) Better food, on average, than France (by his estimation). No poverty; few people begging for money. But, he said, lowering his voice and facetiously leaning in close, if you want to stay on the Swiss' good side, "don't talk about the Jews!"

Heh. Heh. I took another bite of pasta.

Tune in next time for the wonders of Bern!