One night a fisherman saw an angel holding a lantern in the sky. The fisherman followed the path illuminated by the angel to a heavenly lake.
“Wow!” said the fisherman, “This is the most beautiful lake in all the land. I proclaim the name of this lake to be: Vierwaldstättersee”
The angel scowled and shook her head.
“What’s wrong with Vierwaldstättersee?”
The angel glared at the fisherman, with an eyebrow raised.
“Oh, ok, fine,” said the fisherman and he looked around for inspiration. Settling his eyes on the lantern he said, “How about Lake Lucerne?”
The angel nodded and then instructed the fisherman to build a chapel, which he did. A settlement grew around the chapel and, in time, the city of Lucerne was born. The name means “luminous”, in recognition of how the angel illuminated the fisherman’s path.
The lake is still known to some by the ever so slightly less catchy Vierwaldstättersee, which means “Lake of the four forested settlements” in Swiss german. Writer George Mikes once said of Swiss-German dialect, “it is as though the Venus of Milo were to belch suddenly in public. One cannot imagine the Mona Lisa speaking Schwyzerdeutsch”.
In the morning, Michael had a chat with Evelyn, the hostel manager.
“Do you know where the best place would be for us to hitchhike from?” he said.
“Where do you want to go?”
“If you want to go that way, you need to find this tunnel, here,” she said, pointing on a map, It’s in the middle of the town. It goes out to the highway to Basel”.
When we got there, however, it didn’t seem right at all. It looked like a terrible place to hitchhike from and we didn’t even bother. Disappointed, we had a wander around the city of Lucerne.
The city of 80,000 people lies on the shore of Lake Lucerne. They call the lake, the heart of Switzerland, because of its position in the centre of the country. Every building, structure and statue looks as if it has been crafted with the fastidious care and attention of a model city builder. This is especially the case when you walked across the Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge spanning diagonally across the river in the centre of the city. The rafters on the inside are home to over 100 intricately crafted medieval frescoes. From the bridge, you can look out onto the lake and when the water is still, as it was for us, there’s a flawless reflection of the city’s architecture that borders the banks. Peering over this curious combination of old and new buildings, staring at its reflection in the lake, is a great white mountain range. Every now and then a ripple of wind flows over the surface and the illusion flutters away in a shimmer of sunlight.
As lovely as all this was, skipping around with Michael over bridges admiring shimmers of sunshine and whatnot, we had a job to do. We had only 3 days to hitchhike 1031 km.
“Snap out of it, Mike!” I said, trying to grab him by the shoulders as he gazed out at the lake. I shook him and slapped his face a couple of times.
“I said snap out of it, Mike!”
“Whoa, what? Sorry, Rich. Where are we and what are we doing? The last thing I remember is crossing a bridge and then…”
“Yes, we got hypnotised by this enchanting town.” I said, looking left and right, “We’ve got to get out of here”
We set about devising a plan. We were told that there was a big radio event in the city. Maybe, we thought, we could ring in and see if they could help us. We reasoned that if we could explain how far we had hitchhiked so far and that we were trying to get home for Christmas maybe someone who is going that way could give us a ride.
We crossed the bridge and made our way towards the sound of a large event. With the gorgeous Lake Lucerne as the backdrop the radio event appeared to be some sort of Christmas fundraisers. There were thousands of red-cheeked people wearing earmuffs and sipping mulled wine. Next to a large stage was a radio studio with a large glass window where the crowds could look into to watch famous Swiss people being interviewed live.
“That’s where we need to get, in there!” said Michael, and we quickened our step through the crowd, pushing our way to the front. Next to the studio, there was a large TV screen showing the action which was being recorded by a television crew.
A telephone number flash up on screen.
“I got the number!” I yelled to Michael.
Feeling hopeful, we backed out of the crowd and back into the streets in search of a payphone. At the train station and I found one, and called the number. As it rang, Michale huddled into the payphone next to me so he could her. A flush of excitement ran though and I could feel my heartbeat increase.
“Hello, do you speak English?” I asked.
“Wait, please,” was the brogue response.
“Hello, how can I help you?” said a bouncy female voice
“Hi there. What is your name?”
“My name is Nadia”
“Hello Nadia, this is Rich from the Rich-Mike Hitchhike”
“Ok,” she said
“She’s heard of us!” I whispered to Michael, covering the receiver.
“My friend and I have hitchhiked, ‘autostop’, do you know ‘autostop’”
“Yes, ‘autostop’, yes”
I put my thumb up to Michael.
“My friend and I have ‘autostopped’ from Indonesia. We have ‘autostopped’ 19’000
km, in 97 days, for charity. We need to get back home to England for Christmas. Can you help us get home?”
“Ahh, no sir, I am sorry. This is a fundraising number. We are a bank sponsoring the Christmas event today. This is the number to give donations for charity. There is nothing I can do for you. I am so sorry”
“Oh. This isn’t the number for the radio studio then?”
“No. I am sorry. I have an email address for you that may be able help?”
“No, it’s ok. I don’t have a computer but thank you, Nadia’”
I hung up the phone and looked at Michael. Somehow, the whole day had nearly slipped away from us. It was 6pm. Dejected, we walked back into town trying to think of some ideas. Before we knew it….
“Hey, we’re back here!” said Michael.
I looked up form my feet. We were at the tunnel that Evelyn had recommended 8 hours before. I stuck out my thumb and after 10 minutes a car pulled over. Dumbfounded, we got in the car, sped through the tunnel and in 30 seconds flat were on the highway to Basel.
Leaving Lucerne, I couldn’t resist the thought that if the fisherman had chosen to ignore the angel trying to illuminate his path, as we had done today, then maybe the most beautiful city in Switzerland would not exist at all.