Map of Lugano (Top Center) and Riva San Vitale (Bottom Center).
Riding on the train at 7:45 AM this morning with the locals as they commuted to work in Lugano was very interesting. I quickly noticed the quietness of the train, with the exception of our group. The Swiss people on the train were almost without exception reading a newspaper or very quietly looking out the window. After a few minutes on the train (about a 15 minute ride), I noticed a few Swiss start to stare at our group and begin to look slightly annoyed, I assume this was because the volume of our conversations and casual laughter.
Stepping off the train into Lugano was refreshing. The bustle of people moving and the crisp morning air was a refreshing way to begin a new adventure. We all met at the Cathedral of Lugano(also known as St. Lawrence Cathedral) which is perched high on top of Lugano (near the train station). A church has been at this location since 818, but was not converted into a cathedral until 1888. After taking a group picture and setting a meeting time and location, I was off in the city on my own.
Lugano is a city, about the size and population of Roanoke, Virginia, that the Romans settled back in the first century B.C. Lugano and Lake Lugano have always been very important in the region because of the lake and the several crucial Alpine passes that are so near. With this extreme importance came conflict. Since, the foundation of Lugano was set over two thousand years ago, many battles have been fought on its soils including soldiers from several different armies. In current times, Lugano is the third largest banking capital of Switzerland, with over 100 banking institutions, and is, as stated above, known for its tourism.
One of the first things that became obvious was that Lugano is not a normal Swiss city. Being the 9th largest city it Switzerland, it is also one of the main vacation spots in the country leading to the development of a tourist culture as well. At some points in the city the local culture and the culture that had been established for tourist seemed to fuse together into an unidentifiable product of commercialism and authenticity. Walking down another street I began to notice the window advertisements, way beyond my price range, showing fancy name brand watches, designer tobacco pipes, and diamond encrusted clothing. It seemed as if the town was compiled of almost only retail stores catering to the rich and the exclusive retired businessmen whom happened to be vacationing in Lugano . These luxury goods were also owned by most of the residents and workers who call Lugano home.
As I continued my walk, I found a pedestrian area, near via Piazza Alighieri Dante, which had a great view of a modern shopping mall. Intermixed with this background was also S. Antonio’s church, which was built out of dark red brick in 1633. I found this mixture of extremely modern polished steel and 17th century brick architecture to be fascinating and even found a small café to grab a cappuccino at, almost for the sole reason of having an excuse to just sit down and observe the local atmosphere and its people as they traveled to work, school, and to go shopping.
Interesting enough, contrary to the average American, the Swiss seemed to look happy, content, and in deep thought early in the morning. However, as the day went on this happy mood changed at a staggering speed, because by mid-morning a large percentage of the population that walked by seemed slightly annoyed, tired, and frustrated. I am not sure why this was, but this did start to happen as the when younger people started showing up on the streets. Even with this minor look of discontent, if they heard “buongiorno” (good morning in Italian) they would give a slight smile and return the favor. One can only guess that the business class may have mixed feelings about the next generation of Swiss? Or that the new reports released this morning did not look very positive for the Eurozone’s economic crisis?
Some more of my observations found that there also was a large population of older women in Lugano. They almost unexceptionally were wearing expensive looking full-length brown fur jackets and two to three inch heels walking around on cobble stone in groups of two or three. On the other hand, almost everyone else who was out was quietly walking in conservative blues and blacks with the occasional red scarf or maroon hat. Everyone, including the older ladies, moved at a relaxed faster pace until lunch time where people casually strolled the many piazzas in conversation with each other just as it has been done for hundreds of years. Around lunch, the air began to fill with the smell of sweet tobacco from different sections of the world. With Europe’s persistent fascination with tobacco, and smoking in general, I could not help to think what might have been the scene in Lugano in the early 1800’s at Virginia tobacco first made its way into what we now call southern Switzerland.
Today has been a wonderful experience and a neat journey. Sitting at the café enjoying life and enjoying the clean crisp air and wonderful mountains made me miss home, although this experience thus far as been nothing short of incredible! Can’t wait for more!