A Swiss Alp wonderland
07.09.2007 - 08.09.2007 17 °C
As a last minute idea we decided to take a trip to Appenzell on Friday, September 7th. The trip was a bit more than 6 hours and consisted of a couple long train rides; a warm, relaxing and lightly scenic boat crossing; and a short, but breathtaking ride on a regional train through the beginning of the Swiss Alps. The last leg of the trip presented us with a wonderful introduction to the absolutely amazing landscapes we would see and experience in the next while. Under a brilliant blue sky, the train wound itself between tall, green slopes which were dotted with cows, brightly painted houses, little churches and patches of forest. We knew we had reached the Alps when clouds began covering the tops of the hills.
The town of Appenzell is small, cute and although it is filled with tourists, it maintains an authentic atmosphere. A main street lined with Swiss bakeries, cafés and tourist shops winds its way through the town and across the bubbling river in the centre of the village. The first thing we noticed was how all of the houses have intricately carved eaves and beautifully painted exteriors. After some searching we found the tourist info office and snatched up the last room in Appenzell that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. It was still quite early, so we decided to have supper before we headed out to the bed and breakfast. Most of the restaurants were quite pricey and served non-meat dishes, but we found one called House Lydia that had meat dishes and was relatively inexpensive. The restaurant was all wood on the inside, with a low ceiling and long, sturdy tables and benches. The food was absolutely delicious! Kyle had an extremely tender piece of chicken breast with roasted and spiced potatoes, and I had a pork steak that was baked with a cheese and egg mixture. The lady that served us seemed quite surly at first, but after some locals dropped in for a beer and a group of women came in to play a Swiss card game she warmed up a bit. We began talking and she shared her travel stories from Canada with us and advised us on what to see in Appenzell. At the end of the meal we had learned a lot about the area and felt like we had experienced a true piece of Appenzell culture.
The walk to our bed and breakfast took us past tons of beautiful houses and cow pastures, pierced with spectacular gardens and the odd cat. In the grass we found the hugest slugs ever! They were light brown, the length of an index finger and much fatter than in Canada. They left a thick slimy trail behind them and smaller white slugs crawled over it and disappeared into the grass. Our B&B was a cute wooden A-frame surrounded by immaculate gardens and prune trees. They offered us prunes, because they had way too many and then showed us to our room. I think Appenzell carpenters must specialize in inlays because extremely intricate Edelweiss inlays decorated the ceilings of not just our room, but the hallway and entrance as well. The son of the owners invited us to come downstairs to have a few drinks with his friends and later come to the bar with them in the nearby town of St. Gallen. For me it was really exciting to be able to speak Swiss German again and after a short switch over period, I was babbling away like crazy. They made us try special Appenzell liquor which is made out of a large number of herbs, but tastes nothing like the popular Jagermeister. I liked its bitter taste, but it didn’t agree with Kyle. The rest of the night was quite fun, but getting into the club at St. Gallen was ridiculously expensive: 14 Swiss Francs! And the drive there and back was an adventure all on its own. We drove at least 100km/h the whole way, even though the roads are very narrow, twisty and steep, not to mention pitch dark. They said that they weren’t even going fast, but Kyle and I still hung on for dear life, and I was close to getting sick.
The next morning we slept in, had a wonderful breakfast, checked out and walked back to ‘downtown’ Appenzell to do some souvenir shopping. I bought a black leather wallet decorated with a small Swiss flag. That day we were going to ascend the tallest mountain in that area of Switzerland, the Säntis, but it was quite cloudy and wouldn’t have been worth it, so we decided to ascend a smaller, but more scenic Alp called the Ebenalp, and then walk down the other side of it to the Seealp See, which literally means ‘Lakealp Lake’. After a short train ride through the beautiful area we arrived at the Ebenalp and were surprised to see tons of Para gliders floating down from the Alp top. We were interested, so we asked how much it would be and when he only said 24 Francs I realized that you would obviously need your own parachute and extensive training, which we both had zero of. The gondola ride to the top was a little shaky, but quite nice and through a conversation with a Para glider we learned that the one to two year training and all of the equipment costs between 6000 and 9000 Francs. The air at the top was noticeably thinner and colder. After enjoying the splendid, although slightly foggy view, we watched a few Para gliders jump off the Alp and then we started on what we thought was a two hour hike down the mountain. We passed many people and almost everyone had hiking boots, metal walking sticks and very small bags, which made us wonder if our regular running shoes, lack of walking sticks and heavy baggage would be a problem. After a short deliberation we decided that we were much younger and surely capable of it.
The hike ended up being more like three hours, but it was definitely worth it. The view changed after every turn in the path, we climbed through caves, saw a church (with a random wild donkey in it) and a restaurant built into the rocky mountain side, found plenty of unique wildlife and happened upon a Swiss flag. The path turned out to be very well taken care of and was quite easy to walk on, but we would have never though that walking downhill would be so strenuous. It was very hard on our knees, ankles and toes, and after awhile our legs would shake if we were standing still. Getting to the bottom was a great relief! The mountain lake at the bottom was smaller than we had expected, but still very beautiful and serene. We had lunch at the restaurant on the lake and, while we ate, we enjoyed the surrounding mountain-scape. In order to get back to the train station we had to walk along the valley floor, but we didn’t reach the valley floor until we got to the train station. The path was an actual road, but it was steeper than any road I had imagined, and most of the time we were half running down it because it was impossible to walk on it normally. It put extreme strain on the hamstrings and gluteous and we felt the pain the next morning.
We had just missed a train, so we had to wait and it was then that we realized that we probably wouldn’t make it home that night. The train ride was just as beautiful as the first one and for the majority of it we hung out the windows, breathed in the fresh mountain air and enjoyed the scenery whizzing by. We made it to München that night, but it was already 12:30 at night so no more trains were running from there. On the way there we met Veronika, someone in the same situation as us, so we all went to the lounge at the train station to wait out the three hours for the first morning trains. It was uncomfortable and full of people, but at least it was warm and we had someone to talk to. There was no hope of sleeping because a group of loudly snoring punks had camped out on the floor, and didn’t show any signs of leaving or quieting down. Our train came at 3:30am, so we had to leave Veronika, because her train didn’t come for another few hours.
So overall we had a fantastic two days and could barely believe they happened. When we got home we were dead tired and slightly overwhelmed, but we both agree that going to the Alps was one of the best trips yet. We just felt at home with the surrounding nature and could it enjoy it much easier than the large, unfamiliar cities, which were still totally exciting, but too busy for both of us. So if anyone doesn’t have the money or the desire to go to Interlaken, the tourist over run hot spot in Switzerland, we definitely suggest Appenzell.