I love a bit of spontaneity, and that’s exactly what this trip to Switzerland was; a trip with a friend to see a culinary school in Lucerne that became a pure pleasure trip for me with only a week and a half’s notice. Free hotel, just pay for travel, how could I say no?
A 3am wake up, a drive in the darkness of sleeping London, then a quick hour and a half flight over to Zurich. When we arrived we then realised we needed to get an expensive train to Lucerne, adding to our already fairly expensive last minute flights. (Spontaneity can come at a price.) I almost said ‘bugger it, let’s get the bus,’ but where on earth I thought we would catch this bus I don’t know, so my stubbornness relented and we paid the money for our train. I don’t regret it one bit, I don’t miss the money, there are some things that are worth spending money on. A near silent, futuristic, double decker, cross country Swiss train that glided past glistening lakes and under snow capped mountains was a beautiful hour long experience in itself especially in the early Swiss mist where snowy mountains seem to float above the clouds.
Upon our arrival at Lucerne, we realise that we are in one of Switzerland’s beauty spots, a place that really cannot be fully imagined until it has been seen. The city is all clustered around the curve of the idyllic Lake Lucerne, which I might now refer to as Luzern, which is the Swiss-German spelling, being now in the German rather than French speaking part of the country. Numerous bridges cross over the lapping lake, some new, some fabulously old. My favourite, and the one that most clearly depicts the ancient and unspoilt beauty of the town, is the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). This long wooden structure built in the first half of the 14th century stands proudly over the lake upon slim stilts and was decorated inside in the 17th century with historical paintings in the roof of the bridge. Part way along the bridge we come across the Wasserturm (Water Tower) which is an impressive 13th century tower built as part of the original city wall and was used as archives, treasury, prison and, wait, torture chamber. A bit of darkness is always intriguing. Of course, now, it is not longer used for such activities and merely houses a small tourist souvenir shop.
Now, I must pay some attention to the Culinary Arts Academy which was the whole purpose of this trip, and in itself was a highlight; for my friend because she loved it, and for me, because we were given a huge bag of hand made chocolate truffles, all eaten within 24 hours. Well, when in Switzerland, eat chocolate! The academy, which has only been open for a few years in this particular location, is set just up from the lake in the centre of the city and is in a beautiful, grand building, chandeliers and all. They offer a select range of courses, but the one that my friend has her eye on is their Swiss pastry and chocolate art course. The kitchens looked professional and well-equipped and the living facilities simple yet comforting. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, almost a little too welcoming as Taleesha and I exchanged glances considering that they were luring us in under over friendly false pretences. But, of course, we had no reason to be suspicious and the array of nationalities that found themselves living and working in happy harmony was charming. Although the course is expensive (around £25,000) the first 6 months sounds like a drilling of culinary practice, all expenses paid (including gym membership which may be advisable if being surrounded by pastry and chocolate all day). Then in the latter 6 months you are whisked away to try out your new skills in a professional kitchen somewhere in the world, I like to imagine that they choose by throwing a dart into a spinning globe, but I’m sure they are more specific. Taleesha fell in love, I admit I found it hard not to as well (they gave me chocolate), and she’ll be joining in October.
After seeing the culinary school we enjoyed the sights of Lucerne… on a budget. We explored the miles of winding cobbled streets which would throw you out into unexpected squares hosting ornate, figured water fountains or modest churches. The buildings were stacked tall and we stumbled across a few quirky, boutiquey shops that wound themselves up flight upon flight of narrow stairs with only a handful of goods on each small floor. Other buildings were painted with vines and spirit like figures; quite a change from London’s vastness. We also visited one of the free wonders of Lucerne, the Lion of Lucerne. Situated just outside the main bustle of the city is a beautiful, tranquil, clear pond that sits at the foot of a stone cliff-wall. Carved into its face, with its giant paw dangling down towards the water, is the brave Lion. This solemn, wounded lion, sculpted in 1820-21, is in commemoration of the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The words above spell, ‘to the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss.’
As with many of my holidays, food plays an essential role. We very much enjoyed the pastries, the quiches, the bread and the ice cream; food is what ate up most of our Swiss francs. Living on a budget meant that most of our meals, of which there weren’t many on our short stay, were sourced from a bakery and eaten outside in the crisp March sunshine, legs dangling off the wall surrounding Lake Lucerne and staring, always with a little disbelief, at the stunning snowy mountains. The one ‘posh’ dinner we did stretch to having was in the middle of the Lucerne street labyrinth. Taleesha, being one of those lucky, worldly, travelled types, decided that I must try raclette. It was a strange Swiss dish. Tasty, but man there was a lot of cheese, fitting I suppose. We wandered into what was probably the Swiss equivalent of an English pub. It was a tall, timber structured building that had all of its walls, inside and out, covered in paintings as well as the occasional protruding wooden head. They served us mountains of crusty bread as soon as we sat down, which meant that they had immediately won my heart! We were then served our raclette which consisted of a large plate covered in melted cheese that squeaked when you chewed it, a few boiled potatoes, a sprinkling of paprika, and some pickled onions and gherkins on the side. Simplicity was King. I mean, it was basic, but why tamper with something that was really so comforting and ultimately satisfying. It wasn’t served in the traditional manner, I was told that usually there was a continual supply of cheese melting away upon your table and you just scrape it off onto your plate. This way, at least, I wasn’t tempted to eat my body weight in cheese. (I did that in bread instead).
Our final meal was that raclette (apart from the chocolate brioche bun on the train obviously) and we were off. Flying away from the brevity that was Switzerland and Lucerne. At my plane window seat I could watch the cities light up in the darkness, webbing themselves together like neuron pulses. I was happy to see home again, but I could have sat and stared at those Swiss mountains for years… or a really long stretch of time anyway.