An "E" ride at Disneyland. That's the way we describe the Gotthard tunnel show at the Swiss Museum of Transportation in Luzern. You take an elevator Museum of Transportation down, walk past talking figures, enter a mine car, get sped around to the tunnel drilling and explosions, and learn how this 15 km railroad tunnel was built beneath the Alps from 1878 to 1887, with the loss of only 199 lives. The talking figures themselves speak in French, German, and Italian, so everybody carries a handset. By pressing the right button, you hear the voices translated into either German, French, Italian or English.
This museum is immense; there are dozens of railcars and locomotives, dozens more boats and planes and cars and cable cars and bicycles and motorcycles and so forth and so on. Plus a planetarium, a communications exhibit with internet, and the Hans Erni Museum of art.
We liked the train section best. Perhaps it's because the Swiss are so wonderfully mechanical. The last time we visited Switzerland, we kept gasping at the vast quantity of beautifully engineered tunnels and bridges and huge viaducts for trains and cars. The Swiss were able to solve the problem of Goethe slept here 1779 transport through the Alps, and so obtained a great deal of business, both in terms of cargo and passengers which moved through Switzerland, and by obtaining lucrative contracts to design and build tunnels and bridges and viaducts and cog railways and cable cars all over the world. They had early superiority in transporting goods and people, but had to catch up when automobiles became popular and motorways introduced competition.
The museum has enough space to absorb the large numbers of visitors without anybody feeling crowded. We enjoyed the many working models, including a complex ball-rolling-down-tower sculpture featuring all the standard modes of transportation, and a cable car model -- how pleasurable, and how unusual, to find a museum with so many hands-on exhibits, and to find they all work! In the children's playground, the carousel contained not horses but motorcycles, cars, Covered bridge and fire trucks.
Yet the Museum of Transportation was neither the first nor the favorite sight we saw in Luzern. We reserve that praise for the remarkable old town, with its lovely painted buildings, and for the Jesuit church, with beautiful pastel stucco decorations on walls and ceilings and an impressive pink marble high altar. Covered bridges are the trademark of Luzern; originally built in the middle ages, they have been restored at various times and provide a pleasant walk across the river, with striking views of the massive old buildings on each side. If you crane your neck you can read historical inscriptions on the crosspieces of the bridges. Geraniums and other bright flowers fill window boxes. In the Hirschenplatz, the center of Old Town architecture, building facades are highly decorated, with painted figures and decorations, including the undersides of the upper eaves. In contrast, today's shops include Gap, music stores, and a shop where you can select beads and have them strung for you--commerce moving at the speed of business. Highly decorated building
Luzern is definitely more of a tourist destination than Zurich. We noticed several walking tours in various languages, and lots of tour buses in their own special downtown parking lot. The walk from downtown Luzern to the Transportation Museum was about a mile, along the beatiful shore of Lake Luzern. It reminded us of Montreux, on Lake Geneva. We passed massive 19th-century hotels, the Luzern Casino, elegant homes, and beautifully manicured public parks and private gardens with lots of statuary. It was lovely to have a charming lakeshore walking path, and lots of people were enjoying it. The weather, which had started out rainy, was clearing, and we caught some nice views of the mountains around Luzern.
Today was our first trip with our Eurail pass, and it went very smoothly. After checking our passports, the station agent was surprised to validate our pass for three months. She said she had only seen passes for shorter durations. On each train trip we merely show the pass to the conductor. We are also directed to carry our passports with us when using the pass; perhaps they will Mountain beyond Luzern ask for it as we cross from one country to another.
The train, of course, was clean, fast, and quiet; we didn't realize we were moving till we noticed the station was sliding away. We enjoyed the views of the neat Swiss towns and farms. We are a little puzzled by the community gardens outside of towns. These consist of dozens of quite small plots of land, about 20 feet square. The plots are all packed tightly together like squares on a checkerboard. Each plot has a few rows of vegetables and a small building. The vegetables vary a lot from one little garden plot to another. We saw beans, squashes, tomatoes, carrots and lots more that we didn't recognize. The buildings are not just tool sheds, because some of them have a tiny little porches with a table and chairs. Do people sit around and watch the vegetables grow? Do they eat fresh picked vegetables right at the garden? To be continued.
Returning to the Zurich station we found the great central area filled with foodstalls, from cheese and olives to Pakistani specialties. Long tables were occupied by happy people enjoying beer and sandwiches and listening to a trio of women--one base viol player, the other two playing small accordions / concertinas. It made a pleasant folkloric finish to a happy day.