Link to pics: via Jakobi
25.8. Rorschach to St Gallen 14 km
Got up early on a rainy Sunday morning in Konstanz, fetched rolls for our last breakfast with my family and then suddenly it was time to go. A hurried trip to the train station and we got there with 1 minute to spare. It was raining and cold and did not feel like summer any more. We got off the train at Rorschach Hafen around 11 am, picked up our pilgrim passport at the Tourist Information Centre and then we hit the trail. Well we tried to. Not sure what happened to Swiss Precision, but the Wegweiser were sadly lacking and after much confusion and some wrong turns we finally left the suburbs behind and started climbing up the hill through lovely meadows of extreme green. Again the Wegweiser left much to be desired, the walking times to St Gallen read, 1.50 hrs, 1.10 hrs, 1.20 hrs in that order, someone obviously got muddled during the installation.
We enjoyed the view back over lake Konstanz and the first examples of Swiss Picture Book farmhouses. Cows with enormous bells making deafening sounds, do they get hearing loss we wondered? We had a fantasy of a nice lunch in a typically swiss Gasthaus, but it was not to be. Being Sunday everything was closed and finally, when the rain hit again a bus shelter had to do. We munched our way through Jakobsweg Kaese a rather bity Raclette type cheese made from raw milk. Scroggin and a mandarin later and we ventured out into the rain. My first day of walking was an unexpected struggle. I had forgotten about the fact that I had put on 4 kg in weight over the last few months whilst practicing eating Swiss chocolate in preparation for my trip and at the same time not practising my walking due to laziness and other more important matters, such as moving house and playing with Mirabelle. My trusted Meindl boots gave up the ghost and I replaced them foolishly with a cheap option called Grisport and whether it was the boots or the extra weight or both, my feet started to hurt. I was wiped out after 4 hours of up and down hill and glad to arrive at the sweet little Pilgrim Hostel in St Gallen. It was set up by a group of local volunteers and lovingly put together. There was free food in the cupboard, towels, chocolates on the pillows. There were 5 other women staying that night, 3 from Dresden and 2 Swiss. One of the Swiss women is about to work as a hospitalero in one of the Hostels we will shortly be staying at and she was excited about the prospect of seeing us again and asked what we wanted her to cook for us. At that point we did not know that 10 days or so later we would be craving for lean protein and greens!
We had bought some quiche and couscous salad and were pleased to hit the sack around 9 pm.
26.8. St Gallen to Schwellbrunn 18.5 km
A seemingly endless walk through suburban and light industrial areas after a lovely Bircher Muesli and Dinkelcookie breakfast. A short reprieve through some meadows and hills, mainly on concrete paths and then another drawn out town called Herisau to negotiate. Finally up and out and over the hills past fine examples of Appenzell Farmhouses. In the forest we bumped into Kobi a 70 year old very fit looking man with his arm in a sling. He had fallen off his bike on one of his 150 km per day excursions and ruptured a tendon. To keep fit he goes walkabouts in the local surroundings and opted to accompany us to our destination. He saved us from loosing our way again, which has become a bit of a habit. We seem to get so into the rhythm of walking that we miss the signs over and over again. We arrived at the Hirschen Gasthaus, which was not really a Gasthaus any more. A rather dingy looking place, 50 CHF per night each with breakfast, no dinner, we had no more food with us, no shop, no thanks.
Fortunately we took the chance and walked over the hill off the trail and knocked on the door of a wonderful Appenzell Farm House with a B and B sign. Frau Frehner an energetic young attractive woman with 4 young children welcomed us, yes she has space and yes she would cook for us, no problem. We were led to a cosy room under the eves, lined with wood, wooden floors and built in wooden furniture. Huge featherbeds and pillows and little windows looking out over the Saentis, a 2500 metre high mountain with grand alpine cliffs hugging it on both sides. Unfortunately we could only imagine the views, as the mist and fog and rain continued.
The Saxonians arrived also and we shared a bottle of homemade bramble wine by the fire, they had carried in their pack for days after a delicious meal cooked by Frau Frehner called Aelplemacronen, it is basically Penne pasta and potatoes cooked in one pot with several cheeses and cream, roasted onions sprinkled on top. A very filling gooey and satisfying dish after a long day of walking. Although I must admit after having it 3 or 4 times, I found the heavy, carb and fat mix rather problematic and was longing for fresh lean and leafy food.
Frau Frehner told us that the farm had been in her husband's family for 500 years. How incredible. Like the other Appenzell Farmhouses we saw it is built of wood with a single gable construction. The back of the house is clad in semi-oval wooden shingles and the front which tends to face the view has a golden wooden facade with 3 parallel rows of little windows, decorated with window boxes overflowing with white and red geraniums. The stable forms an extension and is attached to the house at the ground level.
27.8. Schwellbrunn to Wattwil 15.1.km
Fabulous walking, but rather grunty. The ups and downs added to well over 1000 metres in height difference. The meadows and the farm houses were gloriously picture book like in spite of heavy fog. We got lost yet again (3 times today), the visibility was very poor. After lunch the rain hit and it took us no less than 7 hours to reach our destination.
Glad to be in Wattwil we checked into a private home, Anne and Rudolf, their children gone, they now offer their home to pilgrims. Anne is a Sound Therapist, but we did not get to have a demonstration as they were busy renovating a little house, they had just bought for their daughter and were under pressure to get the job finished. Originally from Germany, Switzerland has been their home for 27 years. Anne in particular has found the Swiss rather reserved and felt quite isolated as a young mother here.
Retired, they keep busy with organising an Organic Food Store, which is run on a collective basis with a fair price philosophy. Their house has a bunker! Since the threat of German Invasion and Cold War it has been compulsory in Switzerland to have one in your house and if you don't you have to contribute to the cost of a neighbour who has one. It is a room in the basement with a massive concrete ceiling and walls and a huge safe like door. About 20 square metres in size it is equipped with 18 planks to set up for people to sleep on, a composting toilet, an oxygen supply, food and water. There is a round exit hole which leads to a tunnel which leads you out from under the house and opens up into the garden. I shuddered at the thought of spending even 5 minutes locked into this space let alone days on end with hoards of other people.
We had an interesting evening of conversation and a not such a good sleep, unexplained.
28.8. Wattwil to Rapperswil 31 km
What a day! We bought some provisions from our hosts' organic shop and set off up and over the Laad Pass, only 300 metres in elevation gained and then 400 lost. It poured with rain again and you could not see a thing. Suddenly I noticed water in my boots and to my horror I found that the sole was becoming detached from the body of the shoe! Not again! It was raining "blisters" as we say in Germany and my feet were getting wetter and wetter. We passed a little Gasthaus around lunchtime and sought refuge in the warm and cosy dining room leaving puddles of water under our feet and raincoats. Jenny's pack was so wet it left a huge pool of water on the floor. The proprietor seemed relaxed about our arrival and we enjoyed the lunch menu of hot soup, Schnitzel in cream sauce and chips. After lunch the rain had eased off and by 3 pm we arrived at the farm where we had intended to stay the night. It was deserted and in the rain the thought of sleeping in a barn on straw did not appeal. We called the Pilgrim Hostel in Rapperswil, 3 hours away and Peter the very friendly hospitalero told me that it was fully booked, but not to worry, we could easily make it and he would find us somewhere to sleep. So for better or worse we carried on. After 1.5 hours we had completed our descent to Schmerikon a little town on the edge of lake Zurich. It was close to 5 pm and we decided to call it a day, except, no chance, there was not a bed in the entire place. The sign to Rapperwil said 3 hours of walking, our hearts sank. My feet were really uncomfortable, wet and sore and I could feel blisters coming on. We had no choice other than the train, but pride got the better of us. So I limped along, Jenny well ahead of me, we kept on hoping we may find a place to sleep on the way, but no such luck. The Convent on the lake edge was full and so was the Bed and Breakfast we passed. Finally around 8 pm we reached our destination. Peter greeted us cheerfully at the most amazing pilgrim hostel I have ever seen. In the heart of the old town it has been tastefully and creatively restored by Bruno a former pilgrim. The sleeping room is huge with stone walls and wooden beams, handcrafted beds and wonderful simple pieces of art. The showers were hot, herbal shampoo and body wash was free flowing and the homemade elderberry syrup an instant pick up. The Saxonian women stayed there too and due to the fact that one of the groups that had reserved did not arrive, we got the best beds in the house. Everyone ran around us with cups of tea and beer and after a simple meal of bread and cheese we felt almost normal again.
29.8. Rapperswil Rest Day
What luxury! Since we are a day ahead with our schedule and I had to sort out my boots and deal with my blisters we have the privilege of staying here for a second night. We are the only occupants tonight and have the whole place ourselves. We washed our clothes in the machine in the basement and will be off to a fresh start. I found Meindl boots in the sale and wore them in all day. We had a divine lunch at the Rathaus Restaurant of Tomato soup, followed by Saibling ( fresh water fish) pan fried in a very light wine batter. Peter joined us for lunch too. We leisurely strolled around the pretty historic town in finally glorious sunshine and warmth.
So time to enjoy the sunset over the lake and get organised for tomorrow.
30.8. Rapperswil about to leave. What a beautiful little town. There is a polish museum here, in the 1830's the town became a refuge for polish refugees who had fought against Russian dominance and during WW2, 16 000 polish troops were based nearby. I thought Switzerland was neutral, did Hitler know about this one? What a risk to take.
Alone last night in the Pilgerherberge, what a treat. Peter allowed us to use the computer in the office and there was even a hairdryer, what luxury. Last night we went for a stroll along the lakefront to watch the sunset. It was a magic evening. Along the lakeshore there are numerous elegant establishments offering fine dining and one had live piano music to entertain the guests. We realised that being a pilgrim you kind of experience the place "under the radar". The main courses at the lake front restaurants range from about 45 to 60 CHF. Our daily budget all up is around 60 CHF per person, it is quite amazing. The pilgrim hostels are 20 CHF for the night and the Sleeping in the Straw opportunities 24 CHF with breakfast. We tend to have a picnic lunch or dinner and sometimes have the lunch menu at a restaurant which is cheaper than the dinner menu. There are organic dried soups which cost around 2 CHF and serve 2 to 3 people, a can of beer is 0.55 Rapps, which is just over 1 NZ dollar. They are a great dinner standby. Sorry to some of you if I go on about the money side, but there are some would be pilgrims on my list and they always like to know what to budget for.
Just went to the local baker and got some delicious Bircher Muesli, all freshly made up in a little pot, 4.50 CHF, enough for two. It keeps you full for hours. Great breakfast and nice with my Avalanche Mochaccino I brought from NZ. Off now. Local market is on in the main square.
Rapperswil to Einsiedeln continued
A pleasant exit from Rapperswil along a board walk over the lake almost as far as Pfaeffikon, then a mean ascent up steep tracks and steps through forests and glades. Lovely to be in the shade in the hot summer sun. After gaining 600 heightmetres we crossed the Etzelpass at 1000 metres above sea level. Then we descended 200 metres, ascended 100 metres and all the while enjoyed panoramic views of Lake Stihl with finally a grand alpine backdrop, still a bit hazy, but visible. We enjoyed the drama of snow-covered peaks and steep cone shaped mountains reaching for the sky- We crossed a historic pilgrim bridge built of huge stones arching across a crystal clear mountain stream. It was roofed over with a magnificent shingle roof. We walked past the little chapel at Meinhaardsbrunnen which was erected in honour of Meinhard, a monk who lived here in the 9th century for some years and then moved on to Einsiedeln. The legend has it that he was beaten to death by robbers in the forest. Two ravens followed the murderers all the way back to Bale and their screeching alerted the locals that they were the villains. The were sentenced to death by hanging. We arrived in Einsiedeln around 3 pm and checked into our rather eccentric ancient weavers cottage, The Haus zum Webstuhl. We attended the Vespers at the Monastery, a magnificent church and the monks Gregorian chanting was wonderfully soothing and hypnotic.
Takeaway kebabs for dinner as all the eateries are frightfully expensive.
We bought tickets to the open air Weltspiel, an event with 300 cast, which is performed every 7 years. It a moral examination of the world as it is today. It turned out to be a rather unsophisticated almost embarrassing affair and we did not last to the end. A long way from the kind of productions you may see in NZ. The message was good, just lacked in execution and the Swiss German dialect was a bit of a challenge.
Day 7. Einsiedeln Brunnen 24.6 km. 600 metres up in height and 1100 metres down in height.
Another full on day. Fortunately it was a beautiful summer day and the walk up onto the alm rewarding, albeit steep. We had lunch at the top of the Hagenegg Pass, Roesti potatoes with Speck and onions and a fried egg on top along with a beer. I have corrupted Jenny into drinking a daily beer. She has lost about 16 kg since the end of last year, at first on purpose, but now not and there is some concern, although it is likely that having got her metabolism into gear, walking daily for days on end and not eating like a god in France, but a pauper in Switzerland, weight loss should be a natural by product, at least for some, not for me as usual. Instead of the lavish 4 Course dinners with wine and Aperitif, which are so much part of the French Walking Scene, we are working our way through the dried soup department in the Supermarket. It is the only way to not blow the budget completely here. We feel that Switzerland is pricing itself out of the market, even for the locals, they drive over to Germany to shop for groceries and go there on Holiday.
We arrived in Brunnen after 5 pm and checked into the wonderful Herberge provided by the Benedicitine Sisters of Mercy. Spotless room and a simple, but delicious breakfast. Sister Irene told us that the sisters had built up the local health care system, which has now been taken over by the state, so their work is done. The few sisters that are still alive are living in the convent, looked after by the younger sisters and the state.
Day 8. Brunnen to Stans We shaved 7 km off the 22 km day, as we were pretty worn out by the day before and I have a pressure point and blister on my ankle from the new boots. The sister had also warned us against climbing the pass as it is treacherously steep and on the whole the pilgrims take the boat instead. So that is what we did. A pleasant ride across Lake Lucerne as far as Beckenried. We arrived in Stans absurdly early, like lunchtime and the man at the private accommodation booking we had made was not going to be home until 5 pm. We had sent him an email to say that we would not come as we would get there so early and we intended to sleep in the straw on a farm just outside Stans. When we arrived at a very neglected old farmhouse and barn we feared for the worst. A dishevelled man, dressed in a once white robe and jacket greeted us. He was a pilgrim from Italy, staying there for a week. The portable toilet looked unclean and there was no shower. The straw looked old and dusty and there was a Kapok mattress which looked like it dated back to pre world war 1, grubby and stained and a rickety bed with an even worse looking mattress. We fled and were pursued by the farmer who was trying to entice us to return. CHF 23 it was meant to cost with breakfast, no way. Once in Stans I tried the hotels, unfriendly and full and then we were lured into a Pizzeria by an Italian host who said there was free WIFI. Well there was not, but there was a Computer you could use at 1 CHF per Minute. We had already bought a beer and I made a bit of a fuss and they did not charge us for the 3 minutes of computer use in the end. We were no further with our accommodation arrangements and there was no way of contacting our host, where we had cancelled, as his phone continued to be off. We sat on a bench for a while and read a book. As I rummaged around my little bag out fell a piece of paper I had forgotten about, an ad for sleeping in the straw, 10 mins on foot from the centre of Stans. I passed a young baker, who kindly called for us, he used to go out with their daughter he said, and yes they had space and we could choose whether we wanted a room or sleep in the barn. Off we trotted and the sleeping in the straw, which was part of an accredited association Aventure sur la Paille, was fabulous, pristine clean barn attic, spotless toilets, shower, blankets, towels and individually created large room type spaces surrounded by hay bails with fluffy mountains of hay to make your bed on. Quite a novelty. We did not exactly sleep that well, but it was a fantastic experience. A very nice german couple, who had also stayed with the Sisters in Brunnen shared the attic with us. We had dinner Pizza and Salad at a relatively inexpensive little restaurant just up the road and breakfast the next morning was great with fresh bread, bircher muesli, home made jams and cheese.
We have not been getting lost at all the last few days. Jenny generously shouted me a new Edition of the Stein Verlag guidebook about the Jakobsweg in Switzerland as the Swiss brochures I had obtained were useless. It is wonderful to have a proper little map, elevations and kms rather than a vague time estimate between places.
Day 9. Stans to Flueli Ranft, 18.7 km elevation 400 m up and 150 m down.
A wonderful day through fields and forests with lovely alpine views again. Great weather, hot and sunny. This part of the route is also referred to as the Brother Klaus Route. Brother Klaus is the patron of Switzerland. He lived in the 17th century and was a well regarded family man, having produced 10 children with his wife. 5 girls and 5 boys. Aged 50 he set off on a pilgrimage, but soon returned as God told him to be active close to home. With the support of his wife he became a hermit come diplomat, living only 5 km from his family in a little valley in a simple room adjacent to a small chapel. His room and chapel can still be viewed today. He used a rock as a pillow. His gown was spun, woven and sewn by his wife. (On display in the church at Sachseln). The story has it that he did not eat for 10 years, yeah right, or may be he just ate certain things. He was instrumental in resolving conflict between neighbouring cantons, this avoiding a civil war and assisting the unification of cantons which later formed Switzerland as a country. Long after his death he was awarded holy status by the Pope as it is believed that he prevented the German invasion of Switzerland during World War 2. The German and Swiss troops saw a large hand (his) in the sky which signalled Verboten, so the Germans turned back. Just as well as Switzerland only had 1 Million ill equipped troops and not an awful lot of ammunition. The Swiss retreated to the mountains and blocked the access with tank stopping zigzag bits of concrete, which are still present today.
We walked through the pretty pilgrim village of Flueli and descended towards the Samer Lake, where we had booked into a Sleeping in the Straw farm, very brave, 2 nights in a row, we thought. We had aelplimacroni, again, for dinner with apple purée and a salad. Simple but nice, but we are craving for a plain sausage vegetables and salad one day. Meat is sinfully expensive here.
We slept reasonably well in the straw, the farm had fantastic views of the lake, but it did get a bit cold and we both had runny noses and I developed a bit of a rough throat. No more straw for a while.
Day 10. Flueli Ranft to Brienzwiler. 26 km. 600 m up and 850 m down. Another hard day of lots of ups and downs, most of it towards the end of the day in the hot afternoon sun, at least a lot of it was through forest. The path along the turquoise Lungern See was stunning, with dramatic rocky mountains on the opposite side. What soured our day was the seemingly endless concrete paths and the noise, cars, train, agricultural machinery and when we finally hit a patch away from the roads we were treated to the Swiss air force jets. They seemed to be doing training flights and they kept on coming, you needed earplugs to shut out the roar. The downhill was very steep, roots, pinecones and loose stones, just as well it was not raining, it would have been even harder. We reached Brienzwiler at about 5 pm, having set off at 8 am. I had booked into a pilgrims hostel and we were delighted to be welcomed by Regula, a Swiss pilgrim, we met in St Gallen, our first night. She was volunteering as a hospitalero at Brienzwiler, with Lisbeth from Northern Germany. The little house in the most picturesque little Swiss village you might ever see (no tourists whatsoever) was exquisite. We had a room to ourselves, wonderful showers, washing machine and a delicious frittata laden with vegies, a huge salad and poached pears with chocolate sauce for dessert. 40 CHF all up including breakfast. The village was quiet and peaceful and the noise of the day soon forgotten. Just before dinner Barbara and Eberhardt arrived, hot and exhausted, we met them originally at the Sisters of Mercy convent in Brunnen and they shared the straw with us for one night. We had a great dinner conversation with them and may meet them again in Interlaken. This is more like it!
Day 11. Brienzwiler to Interlaken. 25 km. 650 m up and 450 m down.
We left at 8 am and got to Interlaken at 3.30 pm. Not bad going to say the least. Fitness levels starting to rise a little. The first hour we walked in the company of M, a German pilgrim, who filled me in on his successful recovery from substances. He said that goals had been the most important factor in his turnaround, along with a supportive employer. He ended up taking the boat from Brienz to Interlaken, as he had to buy replacement footwear and was then intending on walking on, so we will not see him again.
It was boiling hot today, but the scenery was again superb along yet another beautiful lake, called the Brienzerlake. A deep turquoise green, still and inviting us for a swim, but we did not find a suitable spot, so passed the opportunity. We sailed across (almost) the ups and downs and when we arrived at the Backpackers Sonnenhof in Interlaken we treated ourselves to a room with balcony and the view of the Jungfrau and Eiger North Wall. Very exciting. Snow covered, not a cloud in the sky and the air is crystal clear. I can't take my eyes off these mountains and the challenge they have presented to climbers, some of whom have lost their lives trying to conquer their heights. I had forgotten to charge my camera, how stupid, so all day I missed the best photo opportunities to date. We are just off for dinner. It is Jenny's last night and from tomorrow I will walk alone for a few days. Through the backpackers we bought a 3-course dinner for 19 CHF, which is a bargain by Swiss standards...
We just worked out our budget and we have managed to do the Swiss pilgrim route on less than 60 CHF each per day so far, without falling from flesh as they say.
That is all for now....not sure when I will next get near a computer.
Day 12. Interlaken to Einigen 21 km via boat from Merligen to Spiez. Elevations 200 up and 200 down, not so bad.
Left Interlaken at 8.15 after saying good bye to Jenny. We had a lovely last evening in Interlaken. Barbara and Eberhardt turned up having sung their way through the chapels on the way. They are both members of a church choir and carry a pilgrims song book. Unfortunately our chapel visits did not coincide with theirs. We shared a farewell glass of wine and then went our separate ways for dinner. The meal that was part of the backpacker package was great, crispily fried fish, potatoes and a huge salad from the salad bar, with pastry to follow. I had a Japonais, a kind of caramel cream filled small pastry with a crunchy outside.
Today was another scorcher of a day and my first day of walking solo since the Geneva/Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in 2010. I spent most of the day lost in thoughts, so much has happened since 2010....I loved the walk through forest along yet another beautiful pristine turquoise colored swiss lake, Lake Thun. I took every opportunity to admire the Jungfrau on the way, at 4158 metros it is the highest peak in Europe. I realised that what I thought was the Eiger actually was not, the steep cliff I saw to the R of the mountain was part of the Jungfrau. There is a railway that goes up to the top of the Jungfrau via Grindelwald. The tickets are 180 Euros per person and once you get up there it is Tourist Ville total, complete with Indian Restaurant. I decided to pass, I prefer the illusion of wilderness looking up at the mountain from below. I passed the Beatus limestone caves and when I reached Merligen I took the boat across to Spiez, an alternative route which avoids the busy town of Thun. After a steep hot climb to the railway station and bank, I had to descend again and finally reached Einigen via a shady path through the forest. The home where Rosemary Loosli welcomes pilgrims is the first house you pass, I said hello to the goats ( the swiss love goats as pets, they commonly have 3), the pussycats, the chooks and the horses and found myself in garden paradise by an old farmhouse overlooking lake Thun and the Wetterhorn, another large mountain. Rosemary had left me a note to make myself comfortable. She arrived home just before 5 pm, half an hour after my arrival and welcomed me warmly. I had a nice little room above the chook house with views of the lake and an outdoor toilet with sea views, quaint.
Dinner was served on the terrace, boiled potatoes, cream cheese with herbs, a salad and cheese for dessert. Switzerland is definately not for the dairy intolerant, I have had hard cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days, as well as yoghurt, quarg and cream. God knows what my cholesterol level is like right now!
I am craving a steak and vegetables and no carbs or dairy for a few days.
6.9. Day 13. Einigen to just before Ruiggisberg. 30 km Elevations 450 m up and 100 m down.
I left Einigen at 7.30 am after a light breakfast and not such a good sleep. It was very hot during the night 20 degrees and there is a storm brewing. It was cloudy and muggy and I worked up a sweat within the first few minutes of walking up hill. After a couple of hours of walking I left the lakes behind for a while and the big mountains too. I am now in the Bernese Oberland. In Amsoldingen I visited the largest basilica in the region, which dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Then I passed through the village of Blumenstein and when I reached Wattenwil I was seduced by the lunch menu at the restaurant in the heart of the village. I had a delicious affordable lunch at 16 CHF, which included a big bowl of radicchio salad, pan fried freshwater fish with a lemon cream sauce and pan fried potatoes. The quarg and berry compote was very refreshing.
The extremely steep 200 m climb to Burgistein was less than ideal after a full lunch and I huffed and puffed my way up with stops under every tree that provided some relief from the burning sun. I reached Burgistein where I had planned to stay at 2 pm, far too early to stop and decided to carry on to Riggisburg. When I arrived there an hour later, there was a Rodeo festival on and not surprisingly there were no beds. So I carried on, hoping to find a place in Ruiggisberg another hour on. None of the establishments there answered the phone and I was getting worried, but held the belief that the Camino will provide as always. And provide it did in style. A farmer pointed to a beautiful looking house up the hill, a neighbour called the inhabitants and yes they take pilgrims.
When I arrived around 5 pm Elsbeth and Alfred greeted me warmly. They showed me to a wonderful new room with en suite and views of Lake Thun in the distance and the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau behind, Elsbeth asked for my laundry and it disappeared in the washing machine. I was welcomed into their home and the beautiful terrace and we dined together on curried chicken fricassee with rice, a huge salad from the garden, a delicious fruit platter with figs, plums, peaches and grapes and Alfred opened a bottle of Rioja wine prior to taking off for his yodelling practice. Elsbeth and Alfred have been amongst the most open and friendly people I have met in this country, apart from Peter our hospitalero in Rapperswil. They both find their fellow countrymen somewhat closed and uncommunicative and don't like the way people tend to feed the pilgrims separately from the family, "like dogs" they said.
While I was not looking Alfred cleaned and sprayed my boots for me. I was in pilgrim heaven and after an unusually good sleep and a superb breakfast of home made bircher muesli, home made bread, fruit, jelly and cave ripened Emmenthal cheese, I left in freshly laundered clothes, with peppermint tea in my bottle and a cheese sandwich for lunch. Elsbeth said that people were criticising her for only charging 60 CHF for the whole package, but she believes in doing this as a service to pilgrims. We farewelled as friends and I was told to call if I got into difficulty whilst in Switzerland and they would be glad to help out. It was lovely to meet people like this.
Day 14. Ruiggisberg to Heitenried 20 km. Elevations 200 up 100 down or so...
An easy day today and I savoured my memories from last night. Elsbeth told me of a Cool Chamber Treatment she is having at a local hospital. It is a Swiss thing I think. Used to treat insomnia and rheumatism. You put on a bikini, boots, faceguard, hat and gloves and go into a cell of Minus 60 degrees centigrade, this is the antechamber, then you put on a full gown and go into a room of Minus 110 degrees, just for a couple of minutes. You do this a few times initially and then monthly. Elsbeth says she now sleeps like a baby after years of sleep problems. Her blood pressure has come down too. at CHF 39 per treatment, this seems pretty reasonable. Would be a good thing for a lot of our clients at CADS, may be we can make a case to the DHB?
Open country, meadows and patches of forest today and I am having another superb welcome at Heitenried. Klaus and Frida have opened the entire bottom story of their house for pilgrims. Frida is a nutrition consultant and is preparing a soufflé of mangold (chard) and cheese for dinner. I am already nibbling on pesto and tapenade, feels like home and Klaus lent me his MacBook so I can write my emails.
Tomorrow is only a 4 hour walk into Fribourg via a gorge, where I will be meeting my school friend Brigitte, who will walk with me for a few days. I am over half way!
Day 15 Heitenried to Fribourg 14 km
Not a good night for sleeping. I shared the dormitory with 2 young men from Zurich, students, J snored and L's Smartphone made noises all night. They both reported having slept well, strange that. After a delicious breakfast with Klaus and Freda joining us, the boys suggested we walk together into Fribourg. It was raining slightly on and off and we walked at similar paces, in spite of their youth - they were compromised by blisters, muscle pains and huge packs as well as a guitar.
We said goodbye as we crossed over the bridge into Fribourg, supposedly a city with the largest intact medieval centre in Europe. It is a wonderful picturesque town, not overwhelmed by tourism. Suddenly one feels like one is in France, the ambiance and architecture is completely different to the German parts of Switzerland. So is the state of the public toilets unfortunately too.
I made my way through the old town to the Abbaye of Maigrauge, where I was to meet my friend. The convent is set in a park, in a Loop of the river Saane, very peaceful and quiet. The nuns belong to a Cisteriensian order, they observe silence most of the time, only speak briefly after morning prayers, which start at 4 am, to discuss their work for the day. The only sister who is allowed to speak is Marie Emmanuelle, who welcomes visitors. We had a wonderful lunch in the dining room, prepared by the nuns. Soup, salad from their organic garden, tended by the youngest nun, who is 40 years of age, followed by turkey breast baked in the oven with bacon and cheese, a vegetable platter, fresh bread and to follow, an ice cream meringue cake made from berries from their own garden. A bottle of red wine to go with it. We caught up with lots of conversation over lunch and then went for a little digestive stroll around the town, prior to dinner.
I slept terribly badly in the little pilgrim's room, partly due to the "exfoliating" towelling sheet on the bed and the fact that one of the sister is on bell duty overnight and manually rings the bell very loudly every 15 mins, once, twice, three times and then four times on the hour plus one gong for each hour that has passed. On numerous occasions I had almost dropped off to sleep, then bingo, here it was again.
Apart from that the convent was a wonderful and peaceful place in this busy modern world.
Day 16 Fribourg to Autigny 20 km
A beautiful summer day and easy walking with little elevation differences. At lunchtime we passed a little restaurant in the country, called the Croix D´Or, which is renowned for chicken and chips, we shared one delicious portion along with a fresh salad and a cold beer. The owner was having lunch in the company of a couple of ladies and on his way out to his rather ostentatious car, he asked whether we had a place to stay for the night. We answered in the affirmative and winking at us, he said he may have been able to assist...strange little interlude we thought. All was revealed a little later, when we arrived at Marie Rose's pilgrim accommodation. An old farmhouse in the village of Autigny, charming on the outside, the inside overwhelmingly cluttered with knick knacks, decorations, 5 cats and mountains of just stuff, empty bottles, cans, books etc.. Marie Rose, an elderly woman, only receives pilgrims, no tourists she says and along with a beer and an aperitif one is quickly filled in with an abundance of information about the local community and it's inhabitants. The proprietor of the restaurant is also the owner of a number of establishments, brothels in fact, disguised as dancing clubs etc., hence the ladies at the restaurant, the fat car and wink. Recently an Austrian pilgrim fell pray to one of his employees under the influence of alcohol and when he turned up at Marie Rose's, still intoxicated the following morning, his wife had left by train and that was the end of their pilgrimage, or the beginning...
We had our dinner on a bench outside the church, after our generous lunch a few bits of cheese and bread was all we needed.
Marie Rose was entertaining family for dinner when we got back, 3 men of varying ages, one was about to drive to Belgium to pick up a homing pigeon, his hobby he said. They were tucking into huge charcuterie platters, followed by roast lamb and there was to be meringue for dessert.
Day 17 Autigny to Moudon 26 km
Huge breakfast and Marie Rose insisted we make a sandwich for the road, very generous. Boring Walking, concrete paths most of the way. We stopped for coffee and tarts in Romont and interesting little hill town. We had decided to deviate from our original plan of turning off just before Moudon and taking the Jura 3 Lake Route North, because of the weather forecast. There were several days of rain forecast for the Jura Plateau and the weather looked better in the direction of Geneva. So we opted to stay on the Via Jakobi and walking all the way to Geneva. Not a good decision as you will see.
We arrived in Moudon late in the afternoon and went to the Tourist Office to find a place for the night. They were particularly incompetent, helpful, but uninformed. Eventually we secured a little apartment for the night and I cooked a simple dinner of Ravioli with tomato Sauce and salad. We found a recent note in the guestbook from 2 New Zealand pilgrims, Max and another man, whose name I have forgotten. Moudon itself turned out to be a seedy little town, with dancing clubs much in evidence and dodgy looking characters all over the place. The apartment was dark and a bit austere, but clean enough and what we needed.
Day 18 Moudon to Morges via Lausanne 27 km
Glad to leave Moudon, the upper old town was much prettier than the lower town, where we had stayed. The first part of the walk was pleasant through little patches of forest and even odd bits of natural paths. When we reached Montpreveyres, it was obvious that we had got to one of the dormitories for Lausanne. From here the path seemed to follow the main road for large sections and since black clouds were closing in all around us and there was an icy wind, we hopped on the bus and then the Metro into the centre of Lausanne. A quick look at the cathedral and we were off heading for Lake Geneva, and along the shores to St Sulpice, where according to our accommodation list and guidebook there were to be several options for pilgrims to stay the night. When we got there a 4 pm, we were unpleasantly surprised. The Bed and Breakfast had long been demolished, only the garage remained and there was a multi-storeyed apartment block in it's place. 2 hotels mentioned in the guide were signposted and when we got there both had been demolished too. There was an Apartment Hotel at 180 Swiss Francs without breakfast and we decline in horror. Morges, which offered a promising array of accommodation, was another 6 km on along the lakeshore . I walked on and Brigitte took the bus, as she felt she had walked enough for 1 day. We agreed to meet at the railway station in Morges at 6 pm. When she arrived shortly after with her pack still on, I had a feeling that all was not well. Again no accommodation, the Tourist Office, where she was the only customer, had been totally unhelpful. They gave her a list of places, but refused to call to ask if there were vacancies. The pilgrim hosts mentioned on our list, were no longer in operation here either and the only room available was in the Hotel Mont Blanc du Lac at … wait for it! … 265 Swiss Franc for the night. We had no other option, so we bit the bullet and decided to at least enjoy the view over the lake from our little room. I hopped into the shower, lovely and hot and when I finished reached for the towel only to find that there wasn't one.
I stood there, wet, cold and finally ended up resorting to my muslin pilgrim's towel which I had to fish our from the bottom of my pack. I was fuming!
Crisis over, we treated ourselves to a fondue dinner and a glass of schnapps to aid the digestion.
Day 19 Morges to Rolle 21 km
We made the most of the buffet breakfast and filled our lunch boxes with fruit and sandwiches. We had decided to book ahead from now on and yet again tried the numbers on our pilgrim accommodation list and or guide book. Again, no one answered or they were fully booked. We finally reserved beds in the pilgrim lodge in Gland, which we were told had 7 beds. 10 Francs for the night, not bad at all, this would balance he excesses from the night before. We had left Morges rather late and when we arrived in Rolle at 5 pm, Brigitte went on strike, she did not want to walk any further and Gland was still 10 km away. We cancelled Gland and the hospitalero sounded disappointed. We asked if there were others staying and she said yes, 5 others, strange we thought as we had seen no other pilgrims at all for days. We settled into a nice bed and breakfast by the lake front, "modestly " priced at 65 Francs per person with breakfast and ate the rest of our lunch box contents. My mood had deteriorated as the day went on, I was disappointed with this stretch of the route and felt misled and lied to by the route description and total lack of infrastructure for pilgrims. The bit between Lausanne and Geneva does not deserve to be referred to as a pilgrims route and I would recommend taking a boat from Lausanne to Geneva instead of trying to walk. By the time we checked into Le Courtil in Rolle, I felt so sour, that the poor guy at reception copped the accumulated rage, when I found out that there was nowhere to wash your clothes, which is a basic daily need when you are on the trail. I was outraged that one had to pay a fortune for a place, and end up leaving the next morning with clothes stinking like a French pissoir.
I shot myself in the foot, I knew that, because after my outburst, it was obvious that he would do nothing further to help us and when we needed a cork screw later on to open the bottle of Rioja we bought at the Supermarket, of course he did not have one! I poked around with a pocket knife for a while and soon realised that this would take forever and that the risk of cutting myself was growing by every impatient minute. The other occupants of the B and B, all Swiss men, did not have their Swiss army knives with them, how useless. There was nothing at all in the sitting room, other than table, chairs, a couch and a coat stand. I noticed that the coat stand was held together by a couple of screws and I managed to dismantle it and use the screw to push the cork into the bottle. The night was saved!
We talked about the walk, today was nice, through vineyards, little pretty villages, wonderful lake views and the mountains on the other side, 3000 metres high. No rain.
I had ended up washing my things in the basin in our bedroom and used my towel to dry them out as much as possible. I hoped it would be dry by morning.
Day 20 Rolle to Founex 27 km
Delicious breakfast and with our lunchboxes once again filled we set off. We decided to walk separately today as I needed time alone to deal with my grumpiness, which was with me most of the day. After 10 km I passed the pilgrim lodge in Gland. Gland is a new and ugly town, the lodge used to be used by the army. I went inside, as I had the code to check the guest book. I was interested to find out who had stayed last night and found that 3 People had not registered and the others were all males, in fact most of the people in the guest book were males and most said they came from Geneva on foot. Brigitte had suspected that the place was not used by pilgrims at all, but the homeless and I think she is right. We were relieved not to have stayed there last night. All beds had been used in the lodge, but only 3 people showed on the list, it was all rather odd.
2 minutes walk from the lodge, I passed a large cage like enclosure and inside were dozens of African men, a very peculiar sight in the middle of Switzerland and I learnt later, that it was a reception centre for asylum seekers. Such a weird contrast to the ostentatious residential villas a few km away on the lake front. Glad to leave Gland behind, through the pretty village of Prangins, the busy town of Nyon and through more vineyards to Founex, another wine growing centre. We checked into the Auberge de Founex, at yet again a frightening price of 150 Swiss Francs, no breakfast. Run by 2 men from Kosovo, the room was tiny, stark, grey, not one pic on the wall, unbelievable, again none of the pilgrim accommodations listed answered their phones apart from one, which was booked. The evening was saved from further disappointments by the very kind mayor of the village, who is also a winemaker, who invited us to taste his wines and then drove us to the local sports club, where we got a good meal of Chanterelles mushrooms in cream sauce at an affordable price. The views across the lake as far as Mont Blanc were stunning. We treated ourselves to ice cream, mocca and pear, divine and then slept rather badly on the narrow little beds for fear off rolling off the mattress onto the floor. We awoke at 6 am to men coughing and spluttering in the terrace below our room and then lighting up cigarettes. Get me out of here!
Day 21. Founex to Coppet 4 km train to Geneva, Train to Fribourg and back to Konstanz by car.
We passed through the village of Commugny and the marriage celebrant stopped to talk to us and took us into the sacristy to provide us with stamps for our pilgrims passports.
She was very nice and a little kindness goes a long way as always. We enjoyed the last of the expensive Swiss coffees and divine pastries and hopped onto the train to Geneva, walking into the suburbs was not our cup of tea. The route again was to lead on concrete paths along the railway line, forget it, we had too much of this over the last few days, and we were not into blowing our dwindling budget even further by staying the night in Geneva.
Day 22. Now in Konstanz again, where I started this trip. We are staying with Roland, Brigitte's ex husband and since I have a few days up my sleeve I will walk from here to Rapperswil via the Schwabenweg, which is the alternative start of the route to the Rorschach route we took initially. Due to the rain and fog, I did not see much of the mountains before, so hope to make up for this now. There are lots of pilgrims' accommodations for real on this stretch and I am looking forward to catching up with the hospitalero in Rapperswil to talk with him about our experiences and the challenges of the last 100 km of the Via Jacobi.
Day 23. Konstanz to Tobel 31 km including getting lost
Left Konstanz at 11 am, lousy weather forecast for days to come and the rain soon set in. Easy walking, crossing into Switzerland. I decided to stock up on dried Knorr Soup packets, half the price in Germany, in spite of the fact that Knorr is a Swiss Company. The same goes for Swiss chocolate, it is cheaper in Germany also, absurd. I had planned to stay at the pilgrim hostel in Maerstaetten, which is meant to be lovely, but when I arrived at 2 pm, it was too early to stop walking, the hostel was not going to open until 2 pm and the Gasthaus did not appeal. I had heard a hygiene horror story. The, from the road, normal looking Gasthaus is owned by an elderly bearded eccentric seafarer, who has decorated the interior with a naval theme. Rambling rooms behind the small facade, which go on and on down dark corridors, windows unable to open as bullseyes removed from ships have been placed in front of them. The woodwork is decorated with thousands of buttons, not sure of their significance. The owner once upon a time was involved with or owned a highly reputed restaurant in Zurich and is a brilliant cook they tell me, but the place as a whole is somewhat frightening. A woman I met on the trail walking her dog told me that a pilgrim had found dirty torn off toe nails in his bed. Grrrr.
I carried on, the rain got heavier and when I finally got to Tobel after 31 km, including getting lost, when I wasn´t, there simply were no more signs, I thought I was on the wrong road, turned back, then realised I had been right after all! 3 km it cost me!, I was drenched to the bone and freezing cold. Autumn had set in quite suddenly. I found the pilgrim hostel in a valley a few minutes walk from the little town and the ancient little half-timbered house was in darkness, a note on the door. I feared the worst, knocked, no answer. Tentatively I tried the door, it opened and I was welcomed by 2 women pilgrims, one, Traude, a psychiatrist from Germany and Elle Marie a retired physiotherapist from Cape Town. We had a room each to ourselves and since the rain continued to pour, we decided to stay put and made dinner with vegetables supplied by the lovely young hospitalera, mixed into my soup, shared bread and cheese and a glass of beer. The storage heater took forever to kick in, so having found some hot water bottles, we opted for an early night and took ourselves off to bed to warm up.
Tobel to Fischingen 16 km
We left Tobel in the rain after a hearty cooked breakfast. It had poured with rain during the night and the sky looked ominous and forbidding. Fortunately all we had to contend with were a few minor showers. Traude, Elle Marie and I walked together, even (rare ) speed and arrived in Fischingen around lunchtime. It was miserable and a shower hit just before we arrived and we sought refuge in the little Hotel Sternen, where we indulged on the day menu to warm ourselves up. Traude ventured out to explore the accommodation options at the Monastery, but came back with a list of inflated prices, so we decided to take the offer of 2 two bedded rooms in the hotel. Traude was expecting her sister to join her later in the day and I shared with Elle Marie. Again the room price was rather inflated, 50 Swiss Francs per person and in retrospect we wished we had stayed at the convent in the dormitory at 38 Francs. We would have had the dorm to ourselves and the Convent had lovely rooms and a library to retreat to.
Brigitte arrived around 7 pm, a fun woman, a bit younger than Traude, who was born the same year as me. Brigitte recently qualified as a herbalist and mixes her own creams and potions, collects all sorts of leaves and flowers along the way side for blister prevention and muscle relaxation, teas etc.
The restaurant was "heaving" with pilgrims, 3 men from Germany, 2 German women, seasoned pilgrims and the four of us. We shared stories and our impressions of the Via Jakobi so far. Everyone agreed that the amount of concrete one had to walk on and the constant proximity to civilisation, noise and relative cost made this walk less than perfect.
We admired the beautiful church adjacent to the monastery. We took turns to submerge our feet below Holy Iddas tombstone like pilgrims have done for centuries, hoping for miraculous cures of their ailing feet. (I was certainly pain free the next day and thereafter, but then I had not really had any pain in my feet to start with anyway. Idda was married to the local count a couple of hundred years ago. He gifted her a precious diamond ring, which she left lying on top of her clothes with the window open, silly girl. A raven stole the ring, which was then found in the nest by a young hunter, who liked it and wore it. Word got to the count that Idda was having it off with the young man and the poor sod was tied behind a horse and pulled along until he died. Idda was thrown off the top of a tower. Before she hit the ground she had the sense to swear to God that she would serve him forever if he saved her and save her he did. So she lived off berries and water in the forest and when the count got to hear of her survival and the fact that he had accused her wrongly, he took pity and built her a little cottage in the woods. Every night she came to pray at the chapel and a stag with golden horns would show her the way through the darkness. The Via Jakobi passes the statue of Idda and her stag on the way out of town.
We attended the monks' evensong in the small side chapel, all elderly monks except for one, who took the lead.
Another early, albeit sleepless, night. Not sure what kept me awake.
Day 25 Fischingen to Gibswil 16 km
Dramatic to say the least. We set off following Elle Marie, who had taken a wrong turn. There was a harsh cold wind and it was raining. We were wet through by the time we noticed the mistake and turned back. Damn. We climbed the Hoernli, at 1200 metres above sea level, this meant a 600 height metre ascent and the same down again on the other side. There was a stairway to heaven type thing to deal with the steep mountain side. The wind was blowing hard and cold and by the time we got to the top a gale was gusting at 130 km per hour. A sudden gust knocked me sideways against a bank and I felt like I was about to take off into the air. My main concern was getting hit by falling branches or trees, but fortunately the vegetation remained in tact. We avoided the worst of the rain in the Gasthaus on top of the pass and when we descended the sun came out for a few moments and the rain eased off.
The 3 German guys, 2 women and us had booked into a private albergue in Gibswil. All 9 of us shared a dormitory in the roof of an old barn. The one and only shower and toilet was across the yard and with the cold rain setting in thick and fast, we knew we had a troubled night ahead of us. We dashed across wrapped in towels, the wind was too strong to bother with brollies. We had opted for the dinner provided by the host, a fairly poor roesti and sausage meal, the saving grace was the complimentary berry liqueur at the end of the meal. The hosts were nice, but again the price of the bed and breakfast and dinner was ridiculous for what it was, we all agreed.
The guys snored badly and I spent at least an hour wide-awake hoping to avoid a trip to the toilet in the pouring rain. Eventually at 4 am my anatomy got the better of me and I dashed across, armed with my torch. Getting back into bed with wet clothes is not pleasant and I ended up wearing my down jacket in an attempt to get warm.
Day 26 Gibswil to Rapperswil 16 km
My last day of walking, Elle Marie and I walked together and were ahead of the rest of the crew. It was her wedding anniversary. Her husband died 10 years ago. She is the granddaughter of a Swiss family who emigrated to South Africa and set up as cattle and ostrich farmers. Her son now lives in Switzerland, her daughter still in South Africa.
We arrived in Rappi in time for our free and well-deserved pilgrims soup at the Hotel Jakob and Elle Marie treated me to a farewell glass of beer.
We had booked into one of my favourite hostels, the pilgrims hostel in Rapperwil, where Jenny and I had stayed for 2 nights a couple of weeks ago. It is wonderful and at only 20 francs for the night it is affordable.
My friends Sigi and Arno, who used to live in Fiji for many years and now live in Brisbane happened to be housesitting in a neighbouring village and met me for afternoon tea. It was wonderful to meet up again, the last time I saw them they helped me recover from food poisoning when I walked through Austria in 2008, when they happened to be on holiday close to the Austrian pilgrim route. They seem to be in the right place at the right time, yet again.
In spite of the luxury of the accommodation I got next to no sleep and when the first light stole it´s way through the crack in the curtain I was up, showered, packed and ready to go.
I had a breakfast date with Peter, the kind hospitalero, who had volunteered at the hostel when Jenny and I passed through and I filled him in on the challenges of the Via Jakobi, the accommodation highlights as well as problems around Lake Geneva and other useful pieces of information.
We paid a brief visit to the market and I spent my last Swiss Francs on cheese to take home to my family.
At 9.30 Ulrike a friend of a childhood friend´s brother, picked me up by car. She also happens to live close by and after a welcome coffee at her comfortable and luxurious little apartment, she took me to the railway station in Zurich, so I could catch the train to Baden Baden, where my brother and parents live. On the way Ulrike invited me for hot chocolate and insisted on purchasing bars of chocolate as family presents to take with me. How generous and kind. We had met for the first time at the end of last year, when she was on a world trip with her friend Beatrice and their ship docked in Auckland for a couple of nights. We had 2 fun days exploring Auckland, walking at Bethells Beach and finally they joined an evening with family and friends around the pizza oven at our old house in Pt. Chevalier.
It was with some relief that I completed the Via Jakobi. I had covered close to 500 km over 23 walking days and with the high percentage of hard surface to walk on, the constant confrontation with habitation, noise, expensive everything this was not one of my favourite walks. The views of countryside, mountains and lakes were exquisite, but for my personal taste no compensation for the drawbacks of this walk. I like peace, soft paths and solitude, unspoilt nature interspersed with historic architecture. It was difficult to pace oneself due to the constant ups and downs and the erratic availability of affordable accommodation.
Where will I walk next? At the moment I have no plans, but the Via Regia through former East Germany, the Voie Piemont from Montpellier or the Madrid route are on my list of favourites...