Though we approached Lucerne by train, as we're doing with all our locales, the lively, light-filled station immediately drew us into a stunning city whose medieval, renaissance and baroque buildings are reflected in its lake and fast-moving river.

The weather finally cleared. Hungry and hot from making our rail connections, we went luggage and all to the upper floor of the station to a place called Tibits, part of a regional or national chain of vegetarian cafeterias. Empanadas, curried rice, varieties of vegetable and fruit salads, and a free brotli (a kind of whole grain roll)! Jan ate vegetarian! Turns out the train station was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (fans of Milwaukee's lakeside museum will recognize his style) after the old one burned down. One of the only features remaining was an arch that the city left in place. At the time, we didn't realize the entire lower level of the train station, as with many others in major Swiss cities, was filled with kiosks, take out food shops, cafes, stores, etc. The area above ground is such a busy part of Lucerne that it's often more convenient to escalator down from one side and out one of several others.

Across from the train station is the city's newest cultural center, the KKL, designed by a renowned French architect, Jean Nouvel. It houses a museum, performance spaces, cafes, and looks out on Lucerne's harbor where boats carry passengers every day to points of interest along Lake Lucerne. One evening, we attended one of the first events of this year's Lucerne Music Festival--the Swiss National Youth Orchestra performing Mozart and Beethoven. These young adults are outstanding performers! The building interior has massive amounts of polished wood, each tier from its adjoining lobby looking like the hull of a ship.

In the other direction, in the shadow of both the twin-spired Hof on one side and the twin onion-domed Jesuit church on the other lies the picturesque covered and crooked wooden bridge and ancient water/prison tower--all symbols of the city. Each triangular section of the bridge's roof has a painting honoring the city's patron saints. A fire in the 1990s of unknown causes (with so much smoking everywhere, it's possible a stray cigarette could have started it) burned so much of the bridge and the paintings, that they had to be restored. A charred section remains to show the the extent of the damage.

Swiss Food

Swiss cuisine has its sophisticated side, I'm sure. It's been a long time when Grandfather welcomed Heidi with a hunk of bread and a bowl of warm milk. However, menus in even non-touristy areas stress the same plates--rosti, a sort of cheesy-buttery pile of hash browns, served as a side or smothered with a fried egg, bacon, sometimes other meats; raclette, potatoes and gherkins sort of stuck as in amber to a hot, melted plate of cheese; and, of course, fondue. Jan tried raclette once, and we both had rosti, but decided an appetizer of bread and pickles, sometimes potatoes, dipped in hot, alcohol-rich cheese was probably delish but not worth the nearly $30 per person. Plus you'd want something else. Meat and vegetable fondues with hot oil and sauces were priced even higher. I wanted to try it, but it just wasn't practical for us. (Geja's is around the corner from us in Lincoln Park, and we still haven't been there. Ha!) In fact, unless you went to the Coop or Migros stores for essentials and breakfast items, food and entertainment was, as mentioned before, almost twice what it is in Germany.

Oh, and there are Italian restaurants everywhere, offering loads of pastas and pizzas in expensive, white-tablecloth settings. Of course, they have the best views. So, eithert Italian tourists from just over the border feel like home there, or everyone else loves Italian and will go there rather than a German or Swiss place.

We happily found a German-Swiss place we went back to several times. The patio, right on the river, was only first come, first served, but they served beer on draft and freshly prepared, nicely garnished and presented food, reasonably priced. One very busy night a rough-looking fellow and his friend beckoned us to share their table. They were smoking, so we said no, even when a waitress translated for us that they were happy to share their space. Finally, when the guy said he was no longer going to smoke, we sat down and had a lively conversation. Turns out he's a chef and in the wine business, his wife is a chef at one of the Swiss restaurants, Taube, we had already been to, and he is opening a wine-tasting place in northern Germany soon! Oh, and he's from the same area where Jan's ancestors are from--they're related! Lots of laughs. The other fellow was his partner, originally from Africa, but had spent time in the states. The chef gave us his address for our next visit. After they left, we finished our meal and had a dessert we'd had our eye on all week -- Beeramisu. You guessed it--the Italian layered dessert soaked in beer instead of liqueuer. It was amazingly good. We also found a farm-to-table sort of place in the old quarter, on a square, under a fountain, within view of the area's oldest apotheke (pharmacy) from the early 1800s, on a corner of a building a lot older. I had a barbecued pork and vegetables stuffed into a large pita. The sauce was more Asian or even middle eastern. Have a photo somewhere.