Bright and early on a Monday morning we took the train out to Lucerne from Zurich. It was about a 45 minute ride, so we grabbed coffee at a place called Oscar at the train station (with a very friendly man working the till), then boarded for adventure!
Our original plan was to meet a free waking tour just outside the station under the archway, then to head to the glacier museum for some learning along with a stroll through the mirror maze. Instead we were greeted to a veritable onslaught of people in costumes and band music drifting through the air. Lots of people were pulling little carts behind them, drinking gluhwein or setting up stations along the street. So after we failed to find the waking tour (no doubt cancelled due to the event), we went to the Tourist center for a map and some info. As it turns out, it was Carnival!
Our initial wanderings took us past old bridges and through streets lined with people in elaborate costumes, dancing or drinking next to massive stalls in varying themes. Occasionally a group of people in matching outfits would march by, most carrying instruments and usually accompanied by a beat from their drum line. Sometimes they were stationed in squares (some even had stands to perform on) and played fantastic music. Behind old town the crowds dimmed towards the hill to the Lion of Lucerne monument, but even then there were a couple of tables set up.
At the Lion of Lucerne we were awed by a massive carving of a dead lion on a broken shield, crafted into the stone face of a cliff over-top a small pond. Pictures do not do the size of this monument justice. It was created to honour the Swiss soldiers who died protecting the palace in the French Revolution with a long inscription carved out beneath it. It was very sad figure with impressive detail and a must see if you are in Lucerne. Luckily the town is very small, so the walk isn’t all that far, and a museum stands beside it. We didn’t go in, as we wouldn’t have had time to do that and see the parade, but one ticket gets you into the handful of museums plus the mirror maze should you choose to do that. We would have on any other day, and would upon returning should that ever happen, but with Carnival it just wasn’t feasible. So we sat a moment and took in the calm serenity of the monument, saddened by the poor stone creature.
Back down the hill and through town we went, passing by a grand church and hitting the walkway by the water to get a clear view of the Alps. The weather was getting steadily clearer and warmer, so the mountains could be seen quite easily above the lake and around the city. With some photos taken and the view enjoyed, we went to the train station for lunch at Tibits (and some wine) before heading to the main bridge to snag a spot to watch the parade.
The parade was interesting, allowing a view of the many groups and costumes and floats that were both participating and observing, though sadly less bands played as they were no doubt tired from playing all day long otherwise. Additionally we were getting warm and the area crowded, so part way through, with our wine empty, we walked back along the bridge and water to see the parade as it passed, to pass through some camp outs of people still performing, and to make our way up the city side to the wall by the castle. From up there the view is magnificent, as most views in Switzerland seem to be. It was a good place to relax, the sounds of Carnival and the parade below still reaching us up where we sat surveying the beautiful little town. I would definitely love to go back, both for Carnival (clearly I need a costume next time) and for all the other things we missed. It doesn’t help that lots of places were closed thanks to the festivities, but I got the sense that if you stayed in town you could party long into the night and then hit up the tourist stuff the next day no problem. And personally, I really want to walk through the mirror maze.
So with the sun setting, the parade over, and the festivities becoming a street party, we wound our way back once more to the station to await our train back to Zurich. And maybe started planning our own band with theme costumes for a future year. After all, watching was so fun, participating, in some manner, could only be more so, right?