FUSSEN, Germany - APPENZELL, Switzerland 2018
September 15, Füssen Germany to Appenzell, Switzerland via Urnäsch.
“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle
Definitely. Definitely worthwhile!
Leaving the Austrian Lechweg trail behind me and heading to Switzerland to see the cows come home. I had planned this day very closely and carefully and it was important that everything go according to schedule in order to work out the way I wanted. ...and it worked out perfectly!
But the part that I didn't plan was the best of all!
The yearly cycle for the alpine cows goes like this. In the Spring time there is Alpfahrt, the ascent to the alpine pastures and around August into September there is Alpabfahrt, the descent back to lower lands for the winter time.
The little town of Urnäsch has the set day of September 15 for Alpabfahrt for the farmers in their area and they have a festival, with a market and music, etc. It starts sometime in the morning and ends around 1pm. I left Füssen, Germany on the 6am train which put me in Urnäsch at 11:43, just in time to see several farmers, some with their kids helping, bring their cows through town on their way home to their farms. I have wanted to see this for years, but had no idea it would be such a tourist affair, and I get it. It was fabulous. There was music and yodeling and traditional clothing. Awesome experience.
When it was over, I set out to walk to the town of Appenzell. As I walked along, there was a lot of car traffic backed up on the road. I thought it was just standard traffic trying to leave the small town. After a bit though, I realized that I had actually caught up with the cows still making their way home. That was what was causing the backup. Another woman was walking the same way with her baby and we walked and talked and she gave me some Swiss insider cow farmer information as we went along. Eventually I realized that I had basically walked 5 miles with the cows in the wrong direction...and loved every minute of it! I hopped on a train going in the right direction and was in to Appenzell by about 4:00.
I had a warm greeting from our friend's who own the Hotel Adler, the Leu family. After a great salad I decided that there was still enough good day light to high tail it up to the ruins of the castle on the hill. I've made that trek a few times before, but always in the winter when the cows are in the barns. This time I was walking right amongst them. Holy Cow! It had been a great day.
September 16 - Appenzell
After a cozy night at the Adler, I hiked from Appenzell, past the train station and up to the Kronberg, about a 3000 foot climb over 6 miles. It was tough. There were families with children and elders up enjoying the peak, but I think they took the cable car up, rather than the walking route. I took the cable car back down and walked back to Appenzell. It has been unseasonably warm and dry here lately and I was very happy to stop in town center in the shade for a little lunch. Storybook surroundings.
A post script on yesterday evening's walk up to the castle. I took a short cut on my way back down the hill, as I recalled doing on past visits. I also recalled there being a gate in the cow fence. But, alas, I couldn't find a gate anywhere, but wasn't about to give up and ascend once again to the top to go a different way. I scoured the fence line while stomping cow pies until I found an area I thought I could possibly get over it by standing on a downed tree branch. The problem really came though, not because it was barbed wire, but because I did not know if this fence was electrified....which most are. So, there I stood, for quite a while, not really liking any of my options, and trying to get up the courage to touch the fence to find the answer. Anyway it shaped up, I figured being shocked on my finger was going to be better than getting a crotch shock while climbing over. Hallelujah! It was only barbed wire.
September 17, Appenzell.
Back in 2006 when we first came as a family to this area, I wanted to stay at the little guesthouse on the lake, Seealpsee. We were coming in late March and they weren't open for the season yet, so we made plans to stay in Appenzell at the the Adler Hotel. When we rode the cable car up to Ebenalp with views of the whole area, with snow all around, we then understood how isolated and closed off the Seealpsee was in the winter. Here on my 4th trip to this area, finally for the first time I was here in a season that was user friendly for hiking in to the lake and on the mountain trails.
My plan today was to take the train over to Wasserauen, take the cable car up to Ebenalp then hike down to Seealpsee and maybe walk the 2-3 hours back to Appenzell. My hostess at the Adler, Böza, a fierce athlete with a humble servant's heart suggested that I INSTEAD take the train to Wasserauen, hike UP to Seealpsee, then hike UP to Ebenalp and then take the cable car down.
Now, I don't see myself as competitive, so I'm not sure how to explain what inner turmoil was going on in just the first 20 minutes of today's extravaganza of verticalness (EOV). The road was very vertical-y! My inner voices were having a wrestling match over what I should do with the plan. "Should I just hike up a little way, then go back down and take the cable car up to Ebenalp??? Yes! Do that. No! don't wuss out." (Sweat/Sweat) The "Don't wuss out" voice spoke loudest (so, I guess I'm competitive...or at least have pride issues) and I followed Böza's suggestion / challenge and I turned UP and Up and Up for what the sign says was to be 1 hr., 50 min. But, felt like a full 2 hrs.
I had hoped to sit and have a drink at the Äscher, the gästhaus built into the side of a cliff on the mountain. However, finding a table for one is an impossibility. I'm sure it has always been a place of interest but since it's explosion to fame due to Rick Steves and a FB posting by Ashton Kutcher, it has become totally overrun and it's family run operation is coming to an end from a lack of sustainability. At any rate...it was interesting to walk through as I continued the way up to Ebenalp, where I knew I could find a table, with a fantastic view.
Just beyond the Äscher is the set of caves...if you're interested, look it up. One has a little "chapel" built in the cave. Ideally, what might have been a reverent moment of reflection for me, didn't quite happen (see video clip). Anyway, I forged on to the top of the peak and had a lovely lunch over looking all of Appenzell below. Quite pleasant.
PS. Franz, the host of the Hotel Adler took me down to see the new oven in their basement. It is where his brother Hans (no joke) makes the breads and pastries for the hotel. The amount of items they turn out has diminished since we first came in 2006, but Hans still has a passion and drive for the baked goods. And for that, I give thanks!
September 18, Appenzell to Stein am Rhein.
"We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there." Pascal Mercier
Every time I've left Appenzell, I felt a sorrow that I would probably never come back. Today was no different. It is not just the sweet town, the beautiful countryside, the cute hotel... it is the warm hospitality and gracious embrace of the Leu family, Franz, Böza, Matthew, Clemens, Lorenz and Uncle Hans. We as a family have come twice, and I have made two additional visits to stay with them. Clearly there is a connection. But this visit was special. There was a greater personal connection. The pace of my visit allowed for much more meaningful conversation.
And, with tears in my eyes now, I think about my sweet soul sister Böza who works so hard to hostess that hotel, but who's mind and heart long to roam and adventure...to climb mountains. She speaks only a little English, but it is enough for us to get by. Our conversation is mostly through our eyes...I feel like that spirit in each of us is linked. Anyway, saying goodbye was difficult for me this morning. And, in classic Böza style, she appeared at the train station while I waited for my train...Swiss flag in hand, and proudly wearing her USA made cowboy boots, to wave me off. Until we meet again my friend.
A train, A bus and another train and I was at my last stop, on the northern border of Switzerland and Germany in Stein am Rhein...a Steiner on the Rheiner. I keep hearing about this unusually long and hot summer in Europe generally and Switzerland especially. Honestly, it's bloody hot and humid.
I got off the train and meandered into the old part of town to find my hotel, staying toward the shady side of the streets whenever possible. The picturesque streets are packed with tourist...bicycle tourist. Old men and women in lycra shorts. It's a real fanny-fest. I got a little lunch and grabbed some things at the market to have for hotel room dinner, then completely crashed for a long nap in the heat of the afternoon. The horn of a river boat outside my window jolted me out of bed as the sun was getting low. The view outside was pristine, serene, really something from imagination.
So still. So quiet. I opened the windows and set out my little Euro-picnic, put on some Boccelli and tried to mentally review this amazing adventure. Two weeks in Austria and Switzerland has been a year's worth of fantastic moments...incredible views...peace-full, grace-filled, shameless introspection, physical triumph beyond imagination, and real consideration about having visions for the future while living very much in the moment.
As the sun set and the air had cooled I took a walk around town again with the tourists gone and only a few people in the out door cafes. Tomorrow I'll take one last long hike...probably more of a walk, then it's Auf Wiedersehen Stein am Rhein...and off to Zurich airport.
September 27, 2018
"Travel does not exist without home...If we never returned to the place we started, we would just be wandering. Lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world." Josh Gates
It's true that all good things must come to an end. I can't believe that it's only been one week since I got home. It feels much longer. When I arrived in Austria I felt the stresses of life slowly trickle away leaving only peace, and next to no responsibility. When returning home, real life didn't just trickle back in. It rushed. It flooded. With all my thoughts about how I wanted to "bring the peace home" with me, getting hit with the full force of the responsible life has left me feeling like I'm on my heels, flapping at circumstances trying to keep my balance.
It is a reminder that we get to choose everyday how we are going to live... In peace, or in chaos... relaxed or stressed... free or bound up... victim or victor. That's the beauty of it... we get to choose. I really want to live intentionally. I don't have to get up behind the ball everyday. I can choose to get up and Clear my thoughts... Prioritize my goals... Focus on peace... Sharpen my hope... Take aim to love.
This is Home...