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!

Day 6: Einsiedeln to Brunnen

(Wherein Mark channels his inner Choctaw)

5:30 in the morning, first the abbey bells and now this!

We had hoped for an early start but dozed off again after the cows passed. Then we spent a lot of time bandaging and wrapping sore feet for what is anticipated to be a long hard day of walking. Then to the fountain for the good stuff, and we are off.

The first two hours are easy and peaceful. Leaving Einsiedeln we pause to chat with fellow pilgrims having breakfast. One we met earlier, but the two women and Molly the dog started three days away from Nuremberg and are walking to Compostella.

We start with a pleasant walk along the Alp river, eventually glimpsing a sight of the Mythen. We will be walking toward them for the next few hours.

Along the way we pass a shrine to Bruder Klaus, an important figure in Swiss history – we will be seeing more of him in the coming days.

And of course there is the beautiful scenery.

The Alptal is lovely but before long it is time to face the daunting Haggenegg Pass. And it is steep and tough, especially on tender feet!

Finally we reach the top!

Just on the other side of the pass is a small inn first documented as a pilgrim’s hostel in 1483 (photo). Fun fact: Goethe stayed here twice, in 1775 and again in 1797.

The climb up was hard, but now comes the torture: the downhill to Schwyz is long long long and steep steep steep! Mark especially is having trouble with very painful blisters, shins and knees. Oh no, we are still a long way from down! What is to be done? Fortunately a mantra told to us by our brother-in-law Tyson, who learned it from his Choctaw grandmother, starts pounding through Mark’s head: “You can hobble, you can sweat, cry a little if it helps; but no whining, and never ever quit!”

The decent is murderous, so we stop at a small shelter to give the knees a rest. Here we are overtaken by our fellow pilgrims from earlier in the day and they stop to chat. Molly the dog still has lots of energy, but finally settles down for a picture and a quick nap.

And then the 4 of them are off, while we struggle to get back on our feet.

Decending now toward Lake Luzern, Mark hobbling and sweating like anything, our spirits are lifted a bit by something we have just learned: the Haggenegg is the steepest/hardest/longest most feared pass on the entire Way of St. James!

Finally a view of our destination in the distance.

Looking back, we can see where we have been.

At last we come to the town of Schwyz, capital of one of the three founding cantons.

A bit further along we pass through Ibach, internationally known as the home of the Swiss Army Knife. Unfortunately, it is Saturday and the factory shop has closed for the day.

And so, after walking the last few kilometers in a thunderstorm, we finally arrive wet and exhausted in the lakeshore town of Brunnen (which appeares to be enjoying some sort of tuba festival, in the rain), where we will take a day off from walking!

Day 5: Lachen to Einsiedeln

Having visited the town and harbor of Lachen last night, we set out directly from our self-service motel on the highway. The weather is much better this morning, the sun is shining and we can see the mountains in the distance, a nice change from the past few days!

It is a long climb from the lake up to the Etzel Pass. Along the way we encounter a couple heading off to work (at least that is what we think they represent).

On our hike (trudge) up the hill, we get a view looking back a Lachen and of Rapperswil and the Zürisee. We can even see the Holzbrücke that we would have crossed if we had chosen the path through Rapperswil.

Continuing up the hill we pass through an arbor next to a farm house celebrating the Pilgerweg (note the scallop shells).

Farther on we see evidence of the preparations Switzerland made during WW2.

It’s a long climb, but finally we find the Chapel of St. Meinrad.

Martyred by thugs and revenged by his raven friends, he is now recognized as the patron saint (if not the actual founder) of the Einsiedeln Abbey. But before we start down the hill, and since today is to be a shorter walking day, we decide to enjoy a long lunch at the nearby inn.

Although the “famous garlic soup” was not on the menu today, we had a wonderful meal and relaxed our feet and legs for a brief while. Resting on the terrace, within sight of the chapel, we are struck by how already we have encountered two saints with important and faithful animal friends and familiars: St. Gall with his bear, and now St. Meinrad with his ravens.

What’s next? From here on to Einsiedeln we will have our eyes out for raven sightings.

After lunch the rest of the day’s walk is mostly downhill, but with a fair amount of uphill thrown in to make it interesting (and more painful). On the way we cross a small stream on the Tuefelsbrugg, a wooden bridge dedicated to one of Einsiedeln’s native sons, the 16th century mathematician, philosopher and alchemist Paracelsus.

A fascinating guy: more on him here.

A bit further on we pass the Galgenchappeli, marking the spot where up until 1799 convicts were hung, their last view being of the abbey below. Actually, we could not see the abbey from this spot, but a little father along we did get our first glimpse of it in the distance.

And finally, closer.

Einsiedeln is not only an important stop on the Way of St. James to Compostela, but arguably the most important place of pilgrimage in Switzerland. Since tomorrow will involve a very long walk on very sore feet we go directly to visit the Einsiedeln Abbey, check in on the Black Madonna(and, by the way, we have seen many black Madonnas in the small chapels along the way to Einsiedeln, so are they recent additions, copies, or what? Something to look into when we have time)and get our credentials stamped at the church gate. Then it’s time to relax!

Passing through the large plaza directly in front of the church, we note the pilgrim’s fountain, whose waters are said to flow from Meinrad’s original spring, dedicated to Mary. Pilgrims from all over Europe have come to drink from these faucets, many believing in their curative (or at least health-giving) powers. Taking no chances, we plan to fill our bottles here in the morning, and may they heal feet!

Our hotel it turns out is only a few meters away, right on the edge of the square, and here we take a well earned rest! And our 6th floor attic room has a view!

After a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant, complete with a view, we finally get to settle down for the night – tomorrow will be a tough one, but then we will have a day of rest.

Mark may even sleep better hearing the church bells all night.

Day 4: Neuhaus to Lachen

Leaving Gasthaus Ochsen we are optimistic about the weather. All through breakfast there was even a little sun to be seen. So no rain gear needed, right? Wrong! Three blocks down the road and time to suit up! And so it will be for the next five hours or so: rain, steady but not too hard. Unfortunately we are still damp from yesterday, but oh well. As we leave Neuhaus and head to Schmerlikon we repeat a similar sight while trudging up the hill.

On the why we encounter another pilgrim impersonating a mailbox (note the scallop shell).

And a goat fountain, with a cow behind that seemed to be wondering what we were interested in.

As we head down the hill we get a glimpse of the end of the Zürisee as we approach Schmerlikon.

Skirting the marshland at the very end of the lake we come to the Aarbach and the old covered bridge that crosses it.

Crossing over the Aarbach, we come to the Linth Canal. Built in the early 19th century to connect the Zurisee with the Walensee, it was considered an engineering marvel of its time and helped launch the industrial revolution in Switzerland. Fascinating as that may be, we have something else on our minds as we walk along the tow-path: we have discovered that there is great fly fishing here in the Linth! Yes, not only abundant greyling, but rainbow and brook trout swim in these waters. Even more, very large lake trout are known  to regularly visit from both the Zurisee and the Walensee!

Oh well, today we are walking, not fishing. Maybe next trip!

We Leave the Linth Canal and head toward the town of Tuggen. On the way we pass by the Lindtbord Kappel.

We stop there to for a short visit, mostly to get out of the rain and have a rest. But we do get to meet a new friend. Dog lovers know this noble beast as the Berner Sennenhunde

And we get to struggle speaking Schweizerdeutsch with his owner. Not perfect, but at least we understood each other.

Finally we approach our destination for the day, the beautiful lake side town of Lachen. But, well…

OK, this is a bit hard to confess, …we are staying in a self- service hotel tonight! It is right on the Jokobsweg, which is good, but also right on the highway! and we have a view of tomorrow’s climb out our window. And self-service? In any case we got here early enough to take a bus (it’s ok, we are now off the Weg) down to the town on the south end of the Zurisee for a look around. We head for the twin spired Late Baroque church for our stamp, but alas no stamp is to be found! So we wander down to the harbor. We’ve heard that the restaurant at the Hotel Marina is great, but we settle for a pretty good pizza. We are told by almost everyone we meet that the sunset from here is absolutely the best, but it is cloudy and we just can’t last. So we catch the bus back up the hill to the highway, and to our self-service hotel. At least we will be well positioned for tomorrow’s walk!

Day 3: St. Peterzell to Neuhaus

Trial By Water!

But before we get to that we just want to mention how great our stay was in St. Peterzell. Claudia even drove to pick us up after the surprising dinner at Heidi’s!

Back to this morning: Reid looked out the window and announced that there was some good news and some bad news. The good was that the view is great, and it is not raining. The bad was that we have to start the day by climbing that hill!

So after breakfast featuring three kinds of very local (Appenzell) cheese and Claudia’s homemade jams (the strawberry and rose was very good) we get after it, and aside from the gasping and heart thumping, it was ok…at least for the next hour or so.

About halfway up the first hill out of St. Peterzell, we come to an old pilgrim hostel with wonderful paintings.

On the side of the building is a sign welcoming travelers to stop and have a bath (probably few and far between in those times).

We did not feel the need, so continued on up the hill (and it was a good one).

And eventually reached the top – not really, just the end of that steep climb.

But then the rain set in.

And the weather was only fit for our web footed friends …

Today we walked for over ten hours, and at least seven of those were in the rain!

The upside to all that was that we made some new friends.

We had to cross a field with 3 cavorting young cows (and a few older ones who were more interested in grazing than us). The two most curious decided to follow us to see what we were up to and show us the way out of their field. We got a hard stare on the way out as if they were saying “Don’t come back this way, pilgrim”.

And then we met a fellow pilgrim walking from Munich, on his way to Santiago de Compostela. Hopefully we will met again along the way – Buen Camino!

Descending towards St. Gallenskappel the rain finally stops! Too late: we are soaked, “waterproof” boots and all. But we can start to see hints of the mountains to the south. Can you see them in the following pictures?

And finally we get a view of the church at St. Gallenkappel, only 1.5 km from our destination .

We pause there to get our pilgrim stamp, and then a weary mile or so on to tonight’s rest in Neuhaus. We know that there are sights to see here, but…tomorrow! 

Day 2: St. Gallen Through Herisau To St. Peterzellq

Leaving St. Gallen we do some more road walking: sidewalks, suburbia, industrial district and transition to countryside. On the outskirts we cross a small marsh with beautiful wild flowers.

Then we observe the real border between farming and commuting:

And then we are in the country.

Finally we are in the real Appenzell.

Arriving in Herisau we missed the pilgrim fountain (bad route planning), so we continue to the 1000 year old St. Laurentius church to get our credential stamped.

Aside: Also known as a Pilgrim’s Passport, the credential is used to collect stamps from locations along the way: churches, hostels, bars or whatever. These serve as proof of the walker’s status as a pilgrim, and so give the pilgrim access to pilgrim’s hostels, specially priced meals and a certain deference along the road… or so we hope! Here is what we have collected so far.

(The stamps themselves are often quite interesting. We are looking forward to showing off our full collection at the end of the trail!)

Since it is nearing lunch time, we head to a COOP to buy a couple of Schinkenbrötchen (ham sandwiches) and a small bag of paparika potato chips (honestly, it was only a small bag). As we are finishing lunch, the sky opened up and we got our first taste of rain while on the Weg. After quickly donning our rain gear, we head off. The next hour is wet!

But what a walk! Easier than yesterday, though longer, mainly because we are getting used to required hydration and nutrition. Some more rain along the way, but what landscape!

And finally we arrive! And even better, our destination is directly on the Weg well above the village: Casa Claudia!

After 16.8 miles, we have arrived! Our hostess (Claudia, naturlich) is not only welcoming to the nth degree (can you say 2 appenzell beers?) but is a world traveller who has walked the Camino to Santiago twice, once from Zug! After settling in we realize all the local restaurants are closed for “Ruhe Tag” (i.e. “Rest or Quiet Day”), so what to do? Claudia solves things by calling her friend Heidi 5 km away to say we are coming to her restaurant, and we will be there in 15 minutes…because she will drive us (pouring rain btw)!

Well, what a dining experience! Tiny locals’ only place, owner/manager/cook seats us at a table with a Swiss couple (other open tables available), suggests (strongly) that we order the same meal as the other couple, and we (being quick on the uptake) order the same red wine as theirs.

Great decisions!

This couple is wonderful! We converse on all sorts of subjects in German, and a little English, Spanish and French, and share a bottle of local wine (Pinot Noir, very good).

Now to tomorrow!

Day 1: Lindau By Boat To Rorschach, Walk To St. Gallen

Our first day, and off we go! img_0009-1We start the day at the Lindau harbor and board a boat, as pilgrims have done for centuries, to cross the lake to Rorschach.

As we leave Germany we get one last look at the lighthouse and the Bavarian Lion guarding the entrance to the harbor.

For early pilgrims this must have been an expensive and probably dangerous voyage…though their only alternative was to take the long walk around this very large lake. For us, it is an easy decision: just a quick hour and ten minute trip in a modern lake boat!

And during our passage we have an omen of good luck: we meet our first fellow peregrino! Markus left his home in Bavaria nine days ago and is determined to reach Santiago in September! Buen Camino!

Approaching the Swiss shore is as we imagined…

Stepping off onto the quay in Rorschach we look around and yes there is a way marker with the shell, leading us onto our first steps on the Way of St James in Switzerland.

Marking the WayFirst thing we do is visit St. Kolumban to get our pilgrim stamp and then head off to climb the long uphill away from the lake.

Today’s trek turned out to be tougher than expected. Shorter than most of our upcoming walks, this one nevertheless had its moments: long (long! Or so they seemed) climbs, capped off by a few miles of suburban concrete. Mark was getting close to crying uncle, and Reid wasn’t saying! Still, there were many views along the way that reminded us of why we are here.

Finally, we come to the old town of St. Gallen, whose name comes from the Irish missionary monk Gall, founder of a hermitage here around 612. Apparently Saint Gall was so renowned, and so successful as an evangelist that today he is often called the Apostle of Switzerland (though there is some contention for the title with St. Beatus, but more on him later).

Much more fun is noting the signs of the Bear everywhere we look: On flags, signs, coins and seals.

Where did this connection with the bear come from? Well, look here: St. Gall and the Bear

We find our “hotel” very near the Einsiedeln Abbey complex. Well, not a hotel exactly: our room is four floors above a pizzeria, but the view is great (and we know where we are dining tonight)! After a quick clean up we head out to admire the Abbey and Library, both of which are recognized today as World Heritage Sites, and well worth the visit:  Abbey of St Gall and Abbey Library of Saint Gall

Back to our room just in time: after a full walking day with no rain, the sky decides to open up! See you tomorrow.

Day 0: Lindau, Germany

After a wonderful two days of visiting friends and reacquainting ourselves with Zürich we are off, first by train to Rorschach, then an hour and twenty minutes by lake boat to the small town of Lindau on the German shore of Lake Constance/Bodensee. (And yes, that’s all OK because we don’t officially start walking until tomorrow.)

But why start here? Well, we want to share the experience of pilgrims from Eastern Europe in earlier times of setting out on a short cut over the lake, the anticipation of an early morning crossing, arriving on the Swiss shore in Rorschach and taking the first steps of our trek in Switzerland.

This evening we are girding up our loins for the rigors ahead, starting with getting acclimated to the weather: we arrived to a thunderous downpour, which then settled into a steady hard rain. Already soaked, we found our hotel, then ventured back out to find the rain had stopped. So on to the nearby Münster “Unserer Lieben Frau” to get our credential stamped and fill our water bottles at the Neptunbrunnen.

Then to dinner and a taste of the local red before an early bedtime.

Tomorrow we begin!

Day Minus X – Before We Start

Reid and Mark are going for a walk, and invite you to follow along.

This May and June we are walking a centuries-old path across Switzerland from the shore of the Bodensee to the French border beyond Geneva: the Way of St James, the Jakobsweg, the Via Jacobi, a way followed by pilgrims since the Middle Ages. Crossing Lake Constance by boat from Germany, as we will do, pilgrims continued southwest along the foothills of the Alps through St. Gallen, Einsiedeln, Spiez, Interlaken, Fribourg, Lausanne, Geneva and so on to France…only to then realize that they still had 1850 kilometers more to walk to reach their goal: Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, the resting place of the Apostle St. James.

But not us. Reaching the French border will be enough: our pilgrimage is about Switzerland. We grew up here and have wonderful memories of that experience, but have only visited occasionally over the years. Now we are following the medieval pilgrim’s way, paying attention as best we can to the history, culture and spirit of  the places we pass. Most importantly, we hope to rediscover and reconnect with this beautiful country.

And of course we will post photos as we go along!

So, we hope to succeed (and not get rained on too much), and if you choose to follow along…we hope you enjoy the walk!

We begin on Monday, May 14, so look for new posts any time after that.