Lugano At Night

 

Lugano was beautiful at night and the weather was warm enough to enjoy a stroll.  We walked down to the city past the San Lorenzo Cathedral and enjoyed the view. The steep, narrow streets head up from the Old Town to the San Lorenzo Cathedral.  We walked past it on the way to the hotel and paused to enjoy the view.

 

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Ciao Bella Lugano

We took the Bernina Express train and bus around Lake Como to get to Lugano. Lugano is the largest and busiest town in the Italian part of Switzerland.  Depending on who you believe, it’s Switzerland’s second or third most largest banking center.  In his book on Switzerland, Rick Steves’ says George Bush is rumored to pop in yearly.  If it’s true, I can’t blame him.  Lugano has better weather than Geneva or Zurich.  While we were enjoying the sun, it hailed in Geneva.

Looking at Lugano, you can tell it has some money.  High-end boutiques and private banks line the lakefront.  Luckily for us, it is also lined with parks, statues, flowers and shaded walks.  While that is all pretty standard for Switzerland, its Italianate Lombardy style buildings let you know you are south of the Alps.

Lugano isn’t magnificent, but it is pretty and interesting.  Surrounded by mountains, Lugano has a traffic-free historic town center, and wonderful Italian food.

Piazza della Riforma is Lugano’s liveliest square.  As the name of implies, Lugano has a progressive spirit.  The region (Ticino) gave Napoleon the finger by creating the independent Republic of Ticino.  Italian revolutionaries met in Lugano (near Milan but safely over the border in Switzerland) to plan Italian unification.  From teenagers joking with each other, to couples strolling, to children chasing pigeons to flashy Italian sports cars in garish colors, there was always something happening in the square.

Via Nassa is one of Lugano’s main shopping streets.  Like Geneva, that are lots of places to spend your money while killing time before your meeting with your private banker.

Lugano isn’t flat.  If you aren’t up for climbing some hills, you can take the funicular.  You can ride it for free with your Swisspass train pass.   Please note that I mentioned free in a post about Switzerland.  It doesn’t happen every day.

We strolled through Parco Civico Ciani on the shores of Lake Ceresio.  It has subtropical plants, loads of flowers and ancient trees.

With its Italian influenced culture, the smell of Italian food wafting through the air and mild climate, it is easy to forget that you are not in Italy.  Lugano put up signs on how to cross the street in Switzerland.  I am not sure whether it is for the pedestrians to learn how it is done in Switzerland or to provide guidance for dealing with the many Italian drivers.

Lake Lugano (like many of the lakes in the region, including Lake Como) is polluted and swimming isn’t advised.  This is unusual for Switzerland.  How can you not want to jump into this baby?

An Interesting Bus Ride To Lugano

The Bernina Express deposited us in sunny Tirano, Italy.  It’s not a big town.  We planned to stay the night in Lugano.   Switzerland’s railway network provides bus transport from Tirano to Lugano.  Easy peasy.

It is a 2 hour trip through through the Valtelina Valley, past Veltlin‘s vineyards, along the banks of Lake Como, and climbs the mountain to Lake Lugano (Lago di Lugano or Ceresio).  While it’s not a naturally beautiful as the Bernina Express, it is interesting (and air-conditioned).

The bus route was operated by an Italian transport company. Rhätische Bahn (Rhaetian Railway) now has the Swiss Postbus operating it.  Postal buses serve more rural hard to reach areas in Switzerland (very useful for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts).

Our Swiss driver must have grown up driving narrow, winding mountain roads because he did a great job.  Several times, he had to honk heading into tiny towns.  This let cars on the opposite side of town know not to enter the town’s narrow streets.  The roads are not wide enough for more than one vehicle at a time.  I don’t mean one in each direction.  I mean they are only wide enough for a single vehicle.  Every once in awhile, there was a wisenheimer who thought he could make through.  They had to back out of town on the narrow roads because there was no way they were getting past our bus.

The experience confirmed that I should never take a bus tour.  It was all I could do not to get up and run from one side of the bus to the other taking pictures.

Note:  If you are interested in taking this route, please be aware that the bus doesn’t run year-round.

Epic Ride Through The Alps On The Bernina Express (Part Two)

The Bernina Express is the only rail line through the Alps without a major (meaning kilometers long) tunnel.   That translates into stellar and diverse views.  There are so many amazing pictures that I’ve divided this train ride into a few posts.

After passing through the famous Landwasser Viaduct, we continued to climb toward Bergün/Bravuogn with its  onion-shaped 17th-century “Roman tower.”  We got a great look at it because the train continued climb, looping around the valley.  And climb some more.  And more.   After all, we were crossing the Alps.

After Bergün/Bravuogn, we gained more than 1,365 feet in altitude on the way to Preda.  To gain that much altitude required some clever engineering.  The train loops up through five spiral tunnels, passes through two other tunnels, crosses nine viaducts and travels under two galleries in almost eight miles.  The spiral tunnels allow trains to  ascend and descend steep hills.  It was amazing to look out and see the train we were riding on curving up the track through the stunning scenery.

Albula Pass the train enters the Albula Tunnel immediately and spirals down to Bever on the way to Samedan.  It’s another outstanding piece of engineering with more spiral tunnels, looping viaducts, galleries, and bridges spanning the Albula Gorge.  The views change.  It is more sparsely wooded with Arven pine and larch trees.  The train follows a river bed that was filling with snow melt.

The train continues through increasingly dramatic scenery, with steep cliffs and Val Bernina’s deep gorges on to Pontresina (1,774 m) and its view of Piz Bernina (the highest summit of the Eastern Alps).

I wish we could have gotten off at Morteratsch station (1,896 m), to do the one-hour hike to the edge of the  Morteratsch Glacier.  Apparently you can hike past posts that track the glacier’s recent retreat.   Our seats were reserved through to Tirano so we stayed put.  If I’d been smart, I would have booked seats  on a later train or stayed over in Pontresina.  Our day turned out pretty stellar anyway.  I even caught some glimpses of blue glacier ice like we saw when we were skiing in Saas Fee.

Continuing on, we saw Lago Bianco and its a broad riverbed.  The Lago Bianco dam marks the watershed between the Danube and the Po.

We even saw some frozen waterfalls.  They must be spectacular in summer when they are filled with snow melt.  This stretch is the highest public railway open year-round.  You have a great view from the Alp Grüm station.  Auf Wiedersehen Deutschsprachigen!  Ciao realtor italiani!

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The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland

Courtesy of the BBC

After a bit of research I determined that they celebrate April Fool’s Day in Switzerland.  Although it isn’t a holiday like Swiss National Day, St. Bartholomew’s Day, EscalandeFasnacht or Tschaggatta, so government offices and schools are open (or would be if it fell on a weekday), they do play practical jokes.   I hope you forgive me for my last post on the southern Switzerland’s spaghetti harvest, it was a bit of an April Fool’s Day joke.  Sorry.

One of the most famous April Fool’s Day Jokes involves Switzerland…in a way.  The British news show, Panorama, broadcast a three-minute news segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland on April 1, 1957.   The previous post was the story verbatim.  People swallowed it hook, line and sinker.   It generated an enormous response and became one of the most popular April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time.

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I thought I would explain how they came up with the idea and managed to pull it off so successfully.  The spaghetti harvest prank was the brainchild of Charles de Jaeger, a cameraman for the BBC and jokester.  Growing up, one of his teachers told the class, “boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.”   How could he not turn that into a joke on film?  He pitched the idea to several bosses over the years with no success.

In the 1950’s, Panorama was the BBC’s leading news program with ten million viewers.  It aired every Monday night.  When de Jaeger realized that April Fool’s Day fell on Monday night, he shared his idea with the writer David Wheeler who loved it.  They convinced Panorama’s editor, Michael Peacock, to produce the segment (with a budget of only £100).  Peacock agreed, but insisted it be kept a secret, fearing the BBC would veto the project.

When they went to Switzerland to film the segment, it was cold, misty and trees hadn’t blossomed.  They traveled to temperate Lake Lugano in Italian Switzerland where there were evergreen Laurel trees.  They hired some local girls in their national costume string 20 pounds of uncooked spaghetti from trees at a hotel in Castiglione.  He filmed climbing ladders carrying wicker baskets, filling them with spaghetti, and laying it out dry in the sun.  He also filmed his actors eating a spaghetti feast.  The footage was then edited into a three-minute segment with background music.

At the end of Panaroma’s April 1st broadcast, the show’s highly respected, eminently dignified and solemn anchor, Richard Dimbleby, introduced the segment, adding the necessary gravitas.  He made a great straight man, without cracking a smile started the report with “And now from wine to food. We end Panorama tonight with a special report from the Swiss Alps.”  They then showed the prepared footage.  At the end, Dimbleby closed the program with, “Now we say goodnight, on this first day of April,” emphasizing “this first day of April.”

The BBC immediately began receiving calls about the segment.  Some were complaints about such frivolity on a news program, some were to settle arguments about the origins of spaghetti,  and still others were inquires about where viewers could purchase their own spaghetti bush.

The hoax worked for several reasons:

  • Richard Dimbleby was so distinguished, authoritative, and revered that people took everything he said as true.
  • At the time, spaghetti was not a widely eaten in Britain.  When it was, it was it often came from tins. It was a foreign dish, an exotic delicacy.
  • It was pre-internet, encyclopedia Britannica didn’t even mention spaghetti and so it was hard to research and/or verify the origins of spaghetti.

Even the head of the BBC Ian Jacob, fell victim to the scheme.  Nevertheless, like much of the British public, he was a big fan of the hoax.   It became legendary and Johnny Carson even rebroadcast it.  You can see it for yourself by clicking this link to YouTube.

In case you were wondering, to start your own spaghetti tree, place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.

Bumper Spaghetti Harvest In Southern (Italian) Switzerland

This year has been a great year for spaghetti.   The success of the this year’s crop was attributed to a strong freeze followed by a mild winter south of the Alps and to the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.

Courtesy of BBC

In Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower at least a fortnight earlier than usual.

Courtesy of BBC

But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? Well, it is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well. Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.

The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.

Courtesy of BBC

Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.

Courtesy of BBC

Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depradations have caused much concern in the past.

After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who suceeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.

Courtesy of BBC

Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is, of course, spaghetti — picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti.

This story is verbatim from the BBC.  Thanks. BBC.