Lugano is not what I thought it would be, but it has not been a disappointment either. Instead, it’s been a welcome break from the regularity of what I expected and to which I was accustomed in Italy. It’s been somewhat of a transition city that has taken me from where I was to where I am about to go.
66.6% of the time, I feel comfortable with the language in Lugano. I can order, ask for directions, wish people well. I am not so out of my element here. Three languages are spoken primarily in this small border town of Switzerland: Italian, first and foremost, supplemented with German and English. The air is electric with languages lighting up a circuit board somewhere above, and making new paths to familiar ears.
Lugano has been in my future since I was 14 or so, right after my first trip abroad to Italy. I read Bloomability by Sharon Creech, one of my favorite authors from my childhood. Her main character arrives in Lugano for a year abroad with her aunt and uncle. She explores the streets lined with palm trees, takes the funicolare from the main square up to the train station, and she climbs Mont San Salvatore and completes the percorso fitness route with her friend, Guthrie. It all sounded so mythical and worldly to me. This book was my Narnia, and so I took the train through the wardrobe and here I arrived.
The city center is small and rich. Overpriced cafes with heat lamps dot the piazzas and weekend strollers tote their Louis Vuitton and Rolex bags in one hand, and a leash to their happy canine in the other. Lush palm trees mix with bare, trimmed trees along the lake street, where city workers brush the sidewalk with legit stick brooms. Somehow, this place combines bourgeois European living with old world “whatever works” mentality. It’s an impressive amalgam, but one I can’t quite delve into, as I don’t really belong to either.
|Along the lake path.|
|Lugano by night. Mont San Salvatore in the background.|
Regardless of socioeconomic status or nationality, this city creates a challenge for even the most geographically gifted. Tiny streets meander and jog in the town center, and eventually spit you out in the main piazza or along the waterfront. I was armed with a map from the moment I arrived, but this small town has undone and outsmarted me. I have involuntarily taken many crisscrossing routes and passed unmarked alleys only to wind up where I started. Instead of find this new inability to navigate unsettling, I’ve found it to be more of a quirk of the city (unmarked streets? Poor city planning?), and less user error.
Lugano is also known for its gorgeous foliage and vegetation, though I must assume this is more of a summer time you’ve-gotta-see-this-place kind of thing. Today, it is foggy and misty, and an impenetrable wall of fog begins at the water’s edge of Lake Lugano. This time of year, the city is not seriously touristy or experiencing seriously good weather. It’s winter in a southern Swiss town on a lake.
Instead of shopping or banking (whatever that is and what Lugano is known for, after Zurich and Geneva), I’ve sat in cafes, gotten lost, eaten amazing dairy, climbed Mont San Salvatore, and made a few friends here, despite the weather. Peter from Zurich, and Robert from Annapolis. My company seems to reflect the city’s eclectic attitude.
|That's me, on top of Mont San Salvatore, and Lugano below.|
|This was dinner my first night. Wine and chocolate and writing-->amazing.|
As I write, Robert and I are sitting in one of those overpriced cafes that dot the piazzas. We are sitting directly beside the heat lamp, and my ears are warm from the flame and listening to all sorts of languages with all sorts of accents. The town has finally woken up a little on this sleepy, drizzly Sunday, and every now and then I look up to see a running toddler or chic Swiss couples, scarves wound expertly around their necks.
Before my trip began, this is what I imagined my days as. Cafes, coffee, writing, piazzas. That’s it. And now here I am. This pleases me to no end, and I have the fog and brutto tempo to thank for it.
The next part of my adventure begins tomorrow. I’ve unfolded and refolded my EurRail map numerous times today, counting the hours, looking up connecting trains. On my radar at the moment is how to get to Portugal in the fewest days possible. It’s become a game of Tetrus, and pieces are constantly shifting to make the mass fit better. I still have no idea to where I will take my first train tomorrow, but I’m confident I’ll figure it out by tonight. And if not, I know of a good hostel in a town on a lake in Switzerland where I can spend the night, and maybe do some shopping, if all else fails.