Day 15: Blumenstein to Schwarzenburg

We started the day making good milage along a forest path towards Wattenwil,

when suddenly there were cows coming at us!

(Sorry for turning my camera half way through the video). Fortunately they passed by without incident.

Walking through Wattenwil we see an interesting food station – how does it work? Unfortunately we do not have time to find out.

A little further on we come across a crazy iron work artist, reminiscent of Dr. Evermore in Wisconsin (if you do not know his work, look him up), with lots of interesting iron animal figures.

Reaching Riggisberg we have to climb up to visit the local church (why did they always put them on hills?).

But there we met an 81 year old day hiker, very knowledgeable of the pilgerweg and eager to talk (in Deutsch, aber natürlich! Actually, Bernerdeutsch, but he graciously switched to Schriftdeutsch for us).

We take a break in Rüeggisberg to admire the ruins of the Rüeggisberg Priory, established between 1072 and 1076. This monastery saw mostly to the well-being of the pilgrims, but was closed in the 15th century.

As we come into Mättiwil our path is joined by the Pilgerweg coming down from Lucern. But we met no new pilgrims.

As we travel along we can see a clear change in geography and farms. No longer are there steep alpine pastures and the terrain has become more rolling allowing the cultivation of more than just field grass.

As we walk along the road, a farmer with his tractor load of Kuh Mist (i.e., liquid cow manure) pulls into the field directly in front of us. Fortunately, he is kind to us pilgrims and does not start his run until we are safely past (good thing too, because the backsplash went right over the path we had just walked on).

Along the way we come to a farm that not only has llamas, a camel, and who knows what else, but they have a sign post with directions and distances to everywhere. As much as we might want to continue to Compostela, it is not happening this trip.

And finally, after a 16+ mile trek, we arrive in Schwarzenburg, our destination for the night.

Day 14: Return to Spiez – Continue the Road to Blumenstein

I preface this post (this is Reid grumble-barking) by saying that WordPress is a piece of crap – you spend 45 minutes updating the page, saving it regularly, and then it loses it all. Beware any future WordPress users!

This morning we reverse our course down the mountains, but before doing so, we get one last look at the Eiger. It looks like an air strike on Kleine Scheidigg, but really only the sunrise.

Once back in Spiez we pick up the trail just where we left it, at the Spiez Castle and church.

Inside we final an interesting alter, perhaps to Harley Davidson?

Our goal today is Blumenstein, a very small village with very limited accommodation. Luckily for us Reid made a connection months ago with the hosts of Casa Sotero, a small B&B right where we need it! He was told that no English is spoken, but we should get along fine with German and Spanish!

But first we have to get there.

The landscape is changing dramatically, and our feet and legs appreciate it!

Kind of turning into horse country. It is Sunday, so quite a few riders out today.

They are slowly receding, but the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are still with us.

Finally we reach are destination for the night, Blumenstein.

And just to reconfirm a feeling we had back in Mürren: we are glad to be out of Touristlandia! At dinner tonight we were again the only non-Swiss in the place. In fact, this has been so for 14 out of the last 15 days!

On our walk back from dinner, we get one last look at our mountain friends.

And so to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day.

Day 13: Mürren – A Rest Day In The Alps

We left the Way of St. James late yesterday in Spiez, and traveled by three trains and a cable car to the village of Mürren high up and across the Lauterbrunnen valley from three famous peaks: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Our hope is that the weather will be clear because the plan is to take a luftseilbahn to the top of the Schilthorn.

The morning was not as clear as yesterday, but not too bad. It is definitely worth a trip up the mountain.

For James Bond fans, the Schilthorn is the site of the 6th Bond movie “In Her Majesties Secret Service”, with the revolving restaurant atop “Piz Gloria” presented as Blofeld’s mountain lair. The restaurant now serves a James Bond Brunch, complete with 007’s favorite Champaign,

and the bar serves a Martini, Shaken Not Stirred.

Sadly, this has now become a pilgrimage destination for those confused as to the identity of “St. James”, for in addition to the restaurant we find a “Walk of Fame”, an interactive “Bond World” Museum and a whole lot of other cheesy Bond stuff.

And this is just a small taste of the Bond attractions.

Now, we are big 007 fans (especially as portrayed by Sean Connery and Daniel Craig), but this strikes us as absurd: here we stand on one of the highest summits in the region, with a 360* vista of over two hundred peaks (on a clear day), a near perfect conception of the Swiss Alps, and people are here for Hollywood? We head back down the mountain to find some redemption at the bierstubli!

But at the cable car station halfway down, Reid gets a wild hair: he wants to experience the Adventure Walk! So we get off at the Birg station, and while Mark enjoys the vistas from the terrace, Reid hangs it out over the cliff.

Reid did crawl through this tunnel, but since Mark chose to stay behind and enjoy the view, there was no one to record it.

Eventually we complete the decent to town. The whole trip we have been looking out for that elusive alpine flower, The Edelweiss.

Today was our best chance of seeing one, but no luck. So back to our room to rest our feet and soak in the view!

Day 9 Updated – Bouchs to Flüeli-Ranft

Our last attempt at this post was a disaster, so now that we have a rest day we will do a small update. Here are a handful of photos from that day that are worth a revisit.

Leaving Bouchs we had a climb up to the next substantial town, Stans. Along the way we investigated a couple of interesting chapels.

Also some very elaborate woodpiles.

Coming into Stans we started to notice a theme: skeletons and death. And by the time we got to the town square there was no doubt. Standing in the center, just by the cathedral, stood Death and the Maiden! But wait! Inside the church we found another bejeweled skeleton.

Further along in the town of Kerns we passed a self-serve way station for pilgrims, complete with water, juices, dried fruit and local cheese. Just take what you want and leave the appropriate amount of money.

Almost to our destination we visited another chapel with a painting of Bruder Klaus.

And so we walked until reaching St. Niklausen, where we found more death themes.

And finally into Flüeli-Ranft with its chapels and their surprises.

Finally in town we found our lodging in the gasthaus, and enjoyed the view out our window.

Day 12: Ringgenberg to Spiez

The view from the hotel this morning is not as spectacular as some of the past days, but at least it is clear and sunny.

From Ringgenberg it is only a couple of miles of wonderful level walking along the lake shore to the world famous town of Interlaken.

Even here in May, and at this hour of the morning, it is filling with tourists. We avoid most of the mess by staying on the opposite side of the Canal from the main tourist drag. In any case we move through quickly! But as we d so, we get a few glimpses of the mountains in the distance (our destination for later today).

And being Switzerland, the land of constant construction, what is more appropriate than a crane directly in the view.

Fortunately, after a brief walk the crane is no longer in the view..

We finally leave Interlaken and continue toward the Thunersee. The walk is level and we make good time as we pass through a wildlife preserve at the head of the lake.

Our real goal today is to visit the site of the renowned St. Beatus, slayer of dragons and pretender to the title of Apostle of Switzerland.

But first we have to get there. As as been often the case during our walk, the road hugs the lake, but the trail goes up, around and down.

But the view is wonderful.

The  stories of St. Beatus of Lungern are at best conflicting, and certainly far from coherent: Was he from the 1st century or the 6th? Did he chase off a dragon? Was he Irish or Scots? Whatever, he left a large impression! And lived in an awesome spot!

We do know that he wandered from England to this part of the Alps and was then largely successful in converting the locals to Christianity. Known for his piety, he lived as a hermit in a cave above the Thunersee (the Beatus Höhlen),  and that he is credited with driving away a Dragon that lived there (perhaps a metaphor for chasing away the devil and introducing Christianity?).

In any case the Beatus cult was huge in the Middle Ages, and despite Zwingli‘s best efforts to suppress it the pilgrimage to his caves not only survived the Reformation, but thrived and remains popular to this day (though mainly for tourists!). So naturally we have to check it out for ourselves!

Whatever else you can say about this tourist trap, the setting is truly spectacular!

As an aside, there was a really cool self-service phone charging station there. For no cost, plug your phone in (all different adapter types provided inside the locker), lock it up, take the key, and after your tour, you return and pick up your phone, leaving the key behind.

After visiting the Beatus Höhlen we endure some ups and downs to finally reach Merlingen where we catch a boat across the Thunersee to Spiez. The walk is uneventful, but does provide numerous photo opportunities (of course).

And finally we arrive in Merligen to catch our boat to Spiez.

The 20 minute trip gives us a few moments to sit. Once in Spiez, we leave the Jakobsweg and find the train station – and surprise! Another steep walk up the hill to the Bahnhofstrasse. But not discouraged, we are on our way to a rest day in Murren! The train ride reverses our trip back to Interlaken, but then we head south into the Lauterbrunnen valley and on to Murren. After two trains, a cable car from the valley floor, and another train, we arrive in the car-free village of Murren.

Here’s an observation: enjoying a beer on our hotel terrace, we hear for the first time in twelve days English being spoken at a nearby table. We have been eating in very local gasthauses, and until today have always been the only “gringos” in the room. This is a tourist town (very rightly so), so no surprise. A bit jarring nonetheless.

Day 11: Brünig to Ringgenberg

We wake up to a clear morning and admire the view from our hotel room as we retape our feet and repack our bags.

Leaving Brünig Pass, there are lots of great vistas at first …

but then the trail gets steep and tricky.

And then we descend into the clouds as we walk along an old mule trail.

Finally we are down, passing through the village of Brienzwiler and its pilgrim inn Bärren. And along the way, we get many more incredible views (as an aside, it is only when you get deep in the woods that you get a real alpine quiet, otherwise you hear the sounds of the highway, the passing trains (that are not obnoxious), and today, the Swiss Air Force flying circles above us).

On one of the houses, we see a cute figure of a pig lusting after a gipfilie (and they are as great as ever!).

Approaching Brienz we cross the Launnen Fields, meadows regularly scoured by avalanches and mudslides. Today they appear to be recently mowed.

Passing through the town of Brienz we make a point to traverse “arguably the most romantic street in Switzerland. The Brunngasse in the oldest part of the village is famous beyond the country’s borders and was once awarded the title of most beautiful street in Europe“. Or so say some of the guidebooks. “Most of the wooden chalets date back to the 18th century and are inscribed with woodcarvings.” Our verdict? It doesn’t suck.

Leaving Brienz on the north side of the lake we are disheartened to see that, far from enjoying an easy lake shore walk to Riggenberg, we are fated to endure several pointless ups and downs before reaching our night’s rest. (Comment from Reid: They are not pointless climbs, rather they are long periods of pain allowing one to meditate on one’s life, as pilgrims should do. Also, without the exhausting climbs and descents we would not have seen or traveled over the next few areas. In other words, it is a Swiss thing). But just as we were feeling a little down, who should appear behind us other than our fellow pilgrims and their dog Mali! They had somehow fallen behind us and are just catching up.

After a brief chat, they continue on. As we continue to struggle up and down our side of the lake, we get multiple views of the luxury Hotel Giessbach on the opposite side of the lake – if only we were not poor pilgrims.

As part of the walk up/walk down experience, we get to cross a number of ravines, some that have very extreme conditions in certain times of the the year. Here is one that was very mild, but the warning sign to bicyclists was eye catching.

Further on we cross a deep gourge, the Ebenglingengraben, on a long suspension bridge.

This bridge is taken apart and removed every winter because of avalanches, and then rebuilt again each spring.

More ups and downs. More meditation, contemplation, aches and pains …

Then a second surprise, Mali and his peeps taking a break, and Mali eager to play with a big stick.

So more walking, and more downhill to Oberried where we stop in the town church to see if we can get another pilgrim stamp (we did), but the church also had a nice stained glass of St. Beatus, of whom you will hear more tomorrow.

Climbing again, we get to an avalanche chute. Obviously a big one, with broken trees and boulders everywhere. We cross on packed snow. (A bit later we pass a sign warning hikers coming the other way that the trail is closed!).

After a long day we arrive at our destination, Ringgenberg.

We are staying at the Gasthaus Bären, and appropriately enough they warned us that a real bear has been spotted on our next stretch of the Pilgerweg. We’ll think about that tomorrow. Tonight we enjoy the tagesmenu, so reminiscent of dinners we had long ago.

Day 10: Flüeli-Ranft to Brünig

Woke up this morning to to a cloudy sky after rain last night. The prediction is for rain later today, but hopefully that is not correct. In any case, getting an earlier start to hopefully avoid any afternoon thundershowers

After a short 40 minute walk down the hill we make our first stop of the day in the village of Sachseln, said to be the geographic center of the country.

Of course we look into the town’s pilgrim church St. Theodul where we pay a quick visit to the tomb of Holy Brother Klaus and admire the frescos that show him giving counsel and thus preventing Swiss civil war.Unfortunately we are too early for the nearby Brüeder Klaus museum, so we Guggenheim it and continue on walking along the Sarnersee towards Giswil, a town first written about in the year 840.

Now we have a climb up to the next lake and the town of Kaiserstuhl.Just past Kaiserstuhl, we find an inn at the north end of Lungerersee that is just too beautiful to pass by … but we must as we have a way to go and a pass to climb. But we do get a good view of the lake and our destination for the day (high up the distant mountain).

The walk around the lake is relatively flat (for a change) and we make good time.

At the end of the lake we see an interesting building – it is a collection point for milk from surrounding farms, and a milk Automat – BYOB?

At the tiny village of Obsee we see the St. Beatus Chapel from 1567 (more about St Beatus in a couple of days).

Then up through the Sattelwald (and wait, are we walking on a Roman road?).Part way up the pass we come to a small shelter where we pause to sign in a pilgrim’s log, and take time to leaf through the register, hoping to catch a familiar name. And we do: Mali the pilgrim dog passed through just a few hours ago with his companions!

Not able to procrastinate longer, we resume the climb.

Yes, there are turnstiles in the middle of nowhere.

Finally we reach the top of the Brünig Pass, where we are spending the night.

Hard climb today, but hardly the Haggenegg! Check out our first up close look at the Bernese Oberland!

Day 9: Bouchs to Flüeli-Ranft

Today we are heading to the second of the two most sacred pilgrim destinations in Switzerland: The hermit-home of St Nicholas/Brüder Klaus.

Due to technical difficulties, namely really bad internet at tonight’s hotel (causing the loss of many updates) today’s blog will just be a series of pictures, Perhaps that is appropriate having just traveled the Bruder Klaus Weg where silence and contemplation is encouraged. So until tomorrow.

Bis Morgen!

(Possible update later)

Day 8: Brunnen to Bouchs

This morning at 6:00 was beautiful (views from our hotel balcony).

Perhaps a good omen for today’s walk. As we wait for the boat, we have the opportunity to chat with a couple of German pilgrims heading to Interlaken; it is amazing how easy it is to converse in Hochdeutsch after struggling with Schweizerdeutsch.

We set out from the Brunnen harbor as pilgrims have for centuries for the short crossing of Lake Lucerne to Trieb.

Trieb has historically been a safe harbor in more than one sense: first as a refuge for boatmen from sudden storms on the lake, but from at least the 15th century the local inn was recognized as a place of refuge for pursued criminals (rebuilt in 1659).

Some of our fellow pilgrims choose to take the funicular from Trieb up to Seeslisberg, but we choose the more difficult traditional path that climbs up beneath the cliffs along the lake.

The path is steep at times, but it has wonderful views of the Vierwaldstättersee and the surrounding mountains (we are slowly leaving our friends the Mythens behind – hard to believe we were right next to them two days ago).

The path eventually leads into the woods directly under the cliffs. The trail is narrow and steep (in places), but just another example of the Swiss building walking trails through the mountains.

After a few hours we finally reach the top of the climb and approach the town of Emmentten.

As we approach Emmetten, we stop at the St. Anna Kappel. Inside we find a display recognizing the pilgrims that pass through.

And also an interesting fresco on the chapel wall.

After Emmetten, we are faced with a steep descent down to the lake, one that definitely tests the knees.

Finally we make it to the bottom.

The town of Breckenried turns out to be a pilgrim stamp goldmine and we gather three.

it is also a good time to stop for a well deserved break and lunch.

And finally into Bouchs to find our hotel and rest for the night.

Day 7: Rest Day – Brunnen and eine Urnersee Rundfahrt

Ok, we are really tired and the feet, knees, well everything can use a good rest. We went to bed early and tried to sleep in, but can’t sit idle the entire day…so after a late breakfast we are off on a one day mini-pilgrimage, circumnavigating the Urnersee to visit four sites central to the founding myths of Switzerland.

First a lake boat crosses us to the opposite shore, and then a short climb up to the Rütli Meadow, celebrated as the physical, geographic center and foundation of Switzerland. It was here in August 1291 that people of the cantons of Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri met and swore an oath of mutual support and resistance to Hapsburg domination. The pact they signed (the Rütli Oath or Schur) became the founding document of the Swiss Confederation.

Though not quite historically exact, this founding myth has been used over the centuries as an existential justification for the Confederation and as a call to arms, most famously by General Henri Guisan to rally his army to resist the seemingly eminent invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940. In an address to his officers on the Rütli Meadow he said: “I decided to reunite you in this historic place, the symbolic ground of our independence, to explain the urgency of the situation, and to speak to you as a soldier to soldiers. We are at a turning point of our history. The survival of Switzerland is at stake.”

For anyone interested in a very good, but rather long look into the significance of the Rütli Meadow to the Swiss (this might be you, Tyson), take a look at this: Rütli – An Idyllic Meadow Full Of Drama.

After the meadow, we re-board a lake boat and continue down to the southern end of the lake to the port of Fluelen.

We travel from Rütli to Flüelen on one of the steamships, which are simply marvelous to see. The workings of the ship are visible and incredible to watch, unfortunately this clip does poor service to the real experience – the engineer in some of us could watch this for hours.

A short bus ride brings us to our second stop, the village of Altdorf, site of the showdown between William Tell and the Apple. In the town square a monument commemorates the epic event.

The story, most famously told by Friedrich Schiller in 1803, is a cornerstone of Swiss identity. But as is so often the case with tradition and mythology, the past is murky and true history hard to come by. If you want to go deep check out this article from the Smithsonian Magazine: In Search of William Tell

One can also climb the Turm to see the view from above (Reid did, Mark chose to save himself for tomorrow) and it was great.

Catching another bus southeast for a mile or so (this is a rest day, remember?) we come to stop number three, the village of William Tell’s birth, Bürglen. There a chapel stands on the site of his home, and nearby we find the Tell Museum, which we Guggenheim.

Now we admit that our interest in coming up to Bürglen goes beyond William Tell. Yesterday in Schwyz we noticed something a bit strange in the church: skeletons dressed in finery, laid out in glass cases.

What the?? Then we heard that there was an excellent example of a skeleton dressed up in full armor over the alter of the parish church in Bürglen, so of course we went looking. We hoped to find the jewel encrusted skeleton of St. Maximus, but no luck. These photos from the internet will have to serve.

There is a huge story around how he came to be here, but the fifteen second Mark and Reid version is this. For much of its history the Catholic Church was very big on relics and other memorabilia of the saints. When the Reformation swept through this part of Europe, however, Zwingli, Calvin and their followers discarded or destroyed vast numbers of these items. Years later the tide turned with the Counter Reformation, bringing with it a renewed taste for saintly relics, but now they were in very short supply! Nature abhors a vacuum, and fortunately, in 1578 enormous 1st century catacombs were discovered near Rome. Relic scarcity solved! After being certified by the Vatican a  great many of these old guys made their way north, gaining amazing coverings of gold and jewels in the process. The Smithsonian Magazine goes into all the detail for anyone interested: Bejeweled Skeletons of Catholicism

Well, that’s the story of the Catacomb Saints, but of St. Maximus here in Bürglen there is a little more. Remember back in St. Gallen and Einsiedeln our observations about saints and their animals? Well here we go again! Legend has is that after it first arrived in 1682, the skeleton began to secrete a weird, yellow, sweet-smelling liquid. Soon after, locals started to see a big white cat hiding in the altar with the saint’s bones. Then the cat started visiting the homes of poor people, so whenever the cat showed up people believed they’d get some unexpected money. Well, OK. That was then, but this is now!

That was exciting, but it is finally time to get back to the landing in Fluelen for our return to Brunnen. In the harbor, we again see an example of how the Swiss have misspelled Reid’s name.

In fact, there is a street and an entire town named after him, but they just did not get the spelling correct (but the pronuncation is right).

As our boat cruised up the eastern shore we passed the last of today’s Tell sightings: The Tellplatte, the rock ledge onto which William made his daring escape from the dastardly Hapsburgs, and the Tellskapelle, the chapel built there in his honor.

Finally back in Brunnen we enjoy a well deserved sit-down and dinner. This was a rest day…wasn’t it? Early to bed!