Monthly Archives: September 2015

Logistics Notes on Switzerland 

This is my fifth year walking Europe’s pilgrimage routes and Switzerland is the fourth country I have walked in (not counting the US). Here are some observations that may help with your own journey planning.

  • Switzerland is quite different from the other countries and well worth your consideration as a Jakobsweg section.
  • The most dramatic scenery (and the most demanding climbs and descents) are east of Interlaken and mostly east of Briënz. And I do mean dramatic – comparable to Yosemite Valley in drama (not in wildness of course). Both were formed by similar geologic processes.
  • The availability of lodging and stages is quite good. The section between Thun and Fribourg has smaller towns with fewer options; in some places very limited indeed. 
  • The availability of food shops, both location and opening hours, is quite good; the best I’ve encountered in Europe yet in fact. The variety of cheeses, butters, yogurts, prepared meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables is excellent. One could easily self-cater all three meals a day.
  • While there is not a baggage transport system in place, Switzerland has Europe’s best public transport system.  There are buses and trains everywhere and it is easy to shorten days or skip sections if you need.
  • The way-marking is excellent, again the best I’ve seen in Europe. Still, the Swiss Mobility app with its downloadable maps for offline use was invaluable.
  • The variety of lodgings is quite diverse. Sleeping on straw is in fact enormously comfortable and I highly recommend you try it. Some places were exceedingly plain and almost shabby. Others were splendidly spare and modern. Everything was clean and appropriately priced when compared to other similar Swiss lodging. That is to say, 30 francs gets you one level consistently, 60 francs a different level.
  • Quality of lodgings is quite good. A sleeping sack is generally mandatory; I was very glad to have a light sleeping bag. Blankets were always available; pillows not always (apparently I should have asked, but I do not know the word). Toilet and shower down the hall and shared was common. Soap and towels were not always provided. I hung my wash in the room and it dried overnight.
  • I reserved lodging two months in advance for my travel in September and even then there were some places already full. Email in German and English worked well. My reservations only covered the German-speaking zone; my French-speaking Swiss friend has been making daily reservations for us by phone, with no problem but it is near the end of the month.
  • The list of available lodgings is on the Swiss pilgrim association site, www.jakobsweg.ch
  • Lodgings often offer a discounted price for walkers, so do ask. The price you get by showing up in person is lower than the one offered for Internet booking, sometimes.
  • Weather this time of year is lovely for walking, most days. There was a serious storm about once a week however. A lightweight fleece and rain gear are essential.
  • Pricing is, well, Swiss. Over 16 days ranging from some extremely simple lodging and meals to some very comfortable, I averaged SFR 86 daily, including transport. This compares to EUR 60-65 in Germany and EUR 40-45 in France. In Switzerland one pays per person rather than per room.  I could have spent less and stayed only in the simplest lodgings and self-catered all meals, reducing the average.

23 Sep 15: Lausanne

Distance: 10 km Total Climb: 100m Total Descent: 200m

After a very wet and windy night, dawn broke to a light and weakening mist. We set out on an immediate hill climb, which was at first glance gratuitous, until we came upon this historic and perfectly charming street.

  
  
Then it was downhill and across the river Broye, which had risen at least a half meter since we last saw it yesterday afternoon, and was now boiling merrily along. We continued along the riverbank at least an hour before turning uphill again. Darkening clouds loomed over the turkey farm and the single track woodland trail. As if we had planned it, the rain started the moment we sat down to lunch at the entryway to the Vucherens chapel, and ended with our meal. 

Not much further along, we encountered a woman walking from Lausanne to Strasbourg (northbound). With a donkey. In five years of walking the pilgrimage routes, this is the first time I’ve personally seen this historic mode of travel. Many times I’ve heard tales, so it’s nice to see in action.

   

Another hour and we found a bus stop at Eschedeboef, a couple kilometers before Montprevere. It was equipped with a bus, which we quickly took advantage of. Line 62 runs to Cloisages, which is the transfer point to Lausanne’s Metro. Five stops on, at Ballages, we left the Metro and once on street level it was only two blocks of level walking to the Lausanne Cathedral. 

  
Just as we entered, there was a guided tour beginning – in English! So we took advantage of that too. Much interesting information on the Swiss reformation as well as the construction of the cathedral and its role as a pilgrimage site.

And that was the end of this year’s pilgrimage. I travelled onward with Beatrice to their home north of Lausanne, where I will visit for a few days before returning home on Sunday.

22 Sep 15: Moudon

Distance: 17.5km Total climb: 181m  Total descent: 365m

Breakfast at the abbey was generous: brown bread with butter and jam, choice of yogurt, three cheeses, coffee and tea. And do your own dishes, thanks. The Congolese priest joined us, making for a merry start to the morning. 

We got underway at a decent hour, stopping at the abbey church to see the modern stained glass windows, by British glass artist Brian Clarke.

   
 Then it was a lengthy climb uphill (Romont could easily be categorized as a “Hill town” in the French sense) to see the Church of the Assumption (Stiftskirche Maria Himmelfahrt) and its remarkable modern stained glass windows. 

   

   
The route led down to cross the valley, up and over a very exposed pastured knoll, and made a long descent down to the valley of the river Broye. The last two hours were a pleasant and park-like farm road along the river to Moudon. Definitely not remarkable scenery, and I was cheered to have the companionship of Beatrice along an otherwise rather dull section.

Our lodgings tonight are on the main square, directly across from the St Ettienne church, which also has modern stained glass windows, by yet a different artist. I do not know the source of this fondness for modern glass, but it is definitely the high point of today’s walk.

   
   
This is the season for game, so when the hotel restaurant had venison as the daily special, I could not resist.

  
(Note to readers: pictures from the past few days have now been updated to the previous blog posts, now that I have wifi access.)

Lodging: Hotel Chemin de Fer

21 Sep 15: Romont

Distance: 20km Total climb: 200m Total descent: 100m

After a very simple breakfast of brown bread with butter and jam, plus coffee or tea, we bid a fond farewell to the very hospitable monks at Hautrive. 

  
We three set out, up a wooded hill and through small towns and farmland. The terrain is gently rolling; we can see mountain crests to the south but where we actually walk is very gently contoured. I have come to the conclusion that all the dramatic scenery in Switzerland is east of Interlaken.

Lunch is a picnic on one of the many wayside benches provided here by the local hiking groups. Because of the time constraints today we did not take advantage of the village offering fried chicken as the local delicacy (I think they schnitzel it – Colonel Sanders has not passed through here just yet). Some more brief bits of woodland shade break up the long grind of shade-free pastures on a sunny afternoon. 

  
We push on, as the nuns at tonight’s convent have directed that we arrive before 5pm, or we lose our beds. And it’s 20 km, a distance I would not undertake unless there were no big hills. We made it with time to spare, but my calves are really complaining! I haven’t had much soreness at all this trip, except for the two 20km days. 

The convent is right on the route, just at the beginning of town. Quite convenient since town proper appears to sit on a hill, which will be the first order of business tomorrow. The convent dates to the 1500’s but the guest quarters have been recently renovated and it is quite comfortable.

Dinner was a most congenial cream of spinach soup, followed by a generous portion of creamed spinach and a delicious cheese quiche. All vegetarian and all very tasty. We were joined at table by a Congolese priest on temporary assignment from the Gregorian University at the Vatican, filling in for the local priest. Since he spoke French, Beatrice was able to translate and we had a lively and very interesting discussion.

Lodging: Abbeye Fille-Dieu

20 Sep 15: Kloster Hautrive / Abbeye d’Hauterive

Rest Day.

  
Every large group of people has a daily routine to help things run smoothly. Here is the daily routine for this Sunday at this monastery.

4:15 Office of Vigils

6:30 Office of Lauds

7:10 – 8:00 Breakfast (brown bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea)

09:30 Office of Terce combined with Eucharist (on weekdays Eucharist follows Lauds and precedes breakfast) This is quite a long service, complete with entrance procession, incense, and chanted entrance psalms, as well as introit, Kyrie, gloria, sanctus, angus dei, with an offertory anthem also chanted.

11:50 Office of Sext

12:10 Midday meal

2:30 Office of None

5:15 Office of Vespers

6:30 Evening meal

8:00 Office of Compline

The Offices are sections of the Daily Office, lasting about thirty minutes each and including several psalms, each sung to a different plainchant melody; a short reading or two; and a litany of intercessory prayer.

The midday meal is the big meal of the day, at least here in the European monastery guesthouses. Starter was a delightfully light cream of vegetable, mostly green onion I think. Main course was an assembled pork roast, with mushroom gravy, pomme frites and freshly pickled kraut. A cheese plate and fresh watermelon completed a very nice meal. This was a Sunday, and I don’t know if the weekdays are similarly grand.

The evening meal this Sunday was lighter fare: brown bread, assorted cheeses, sliced salami, butter and jam, coffee and tea. The Swiss call this coffee complete and it is a common Sunday evening meal.

The Abbey church is late Romanesque (the arches are beginning to show a slight pointedness) including the decoratively painted plaster walls; parts of the building date to the 12th century and it was completed in the 14th century. The main building, including the monks’ residence, refectory and quarters for male guests, dates to the Baroque. Outbuildings including the guesthouse for women also date to the Baroque. But it is a rather simple Baroque, if that’s not an oxymoron: the ornate urge is limited to the railing ironwork and a small bit of ceiling moulding in the public spaces. 

  
The Cistercians, as best I can summarize, are reformed, less-comfortable Benedictines. The history and lineage of the monastic orders makes fascinating reading, especially the story of the powerful Benedictine abbey at Cluny (which funded construction of most of the infrastructure along the Chemin St Jacques in France and the Camino Santiago in Spain).

My Swiss friends Beatrice and Yves have arrived now, so tomorrow we will walk on together. 

19 Sep 15: Kloster Hautrive 

Distance: 9.2km Total Climb: 200m Total Descent: 230m

The hotel breakfast room was the madhouse one might expect with a bus load of Chinese tourists. The offerings were quite varied, including cold meats and cheeses, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals and muesli, and a hot line, plus juices and the coffee maker. I’m afraid the food was disappearing faster than the kitchen could replenish the trays.

It took a few minutes to work my way over to the cathedral, dedicated to St Niklaus, for my credential stamp. The stained glass windows appeared to be early 20th century, and the interior decor was an interesting combination of French and German styles. Certainly more Gothic than Baroque.

  
From the cathedral, the Jakobsweg route (now Chemin St Jacques) works uphill through a pedestrian shopping street that is just beginning to come to life this Saturday morning. At the main train station, several hiking routes converge, so pay attention to the markings and your Swiss Mobility app. Once north of the tracks, it continues uphill through residential districts towards the edge of town. It is likely possible to make this bit by bus (from the cathedral to the edge of town) but today is a shorter day, it’s not raining (yet), and I do enjoy the walk.

Lunch was at the parish church cemetery in Villars-du-Glâne; lest you think me ghoulish, I must point out the French dead are very hospitable. They always provide a bench and fresh water. The French-speaking Swiss follow suit.

Then it was down a big hill, to make a very interesting river crossing. The bridge there dates to before 1250 (when stone replaced the preceding wood) and there might have been a bridge there since prehistoric times. Apparently the lay of the land drives these things for thousands of years. 

  
So these past few days I have been walking the actual historical Jakobsweg route. It is not always the case – sometimes the best route got paved over as a highway, or the hiking association decided the view would be better from that hilltop over there. After the bridge, the route continued in historical fashion; you can see how deeply the trail has eroded over the years (more than 3 m or 10 ft).

  
At the top of the next hill I have an interesting conversation with the trail-marking people:

  • The Abbey is 30 minutes off the Jakobsweg route, that-a-way.
  • Keep going.
  • Keep going.
  • Not that building. Keep going.
  • Keep going.
  • Oh all right you can turn here. I tried to keep it a secret.
  • Keep going
  • Still
  • You’re here! Reception is the 4th door down

This is a Cistercian monastery dating back to 1185, home to about 20 monks. Of all the times I’ve stayed overnight in monasteries, I’ve never been able to take a rest day or attend services, so I’m really looking forward to this time. 

 Cistercians are the white monks – their choir dress is a while wool habit. Outside the church, I see some in the white habit with a black apron and others in a gray cotton habit (which one might think of as a working uniform I suppose). Vespers was conducted in French, and the psalms are sung to antiphonal tunes that were new to me (that is they didn’t sound recognizably Gregorian).  Dinner was in silence for those at table, while a reader read a piece in German. We visitors ate in a separate room and never saw the monks together. After dinner we visitors all did the dishes together in silence. (For folks at Grace: try to imagine the kitchen on Tribe Sunday, in silence.) I’m lodged in the guesthouse, in a spacious room with two windows overlooking the garden and main building. From 7pm onward they observe the Great Silence (you’ll remember this from Call the Midwife). 

Lodging: Kloster Hautrive

18 Sep 15: Freiburg/ Fribourg

Distance: 20 km Total climb: 130m Total descent: 310m

This city has two names, one in German and one in French, because it sits on the line that divides the two parts of Switzerland. Half the city is on the east side of the river and speaks German, the other half lies on the opposite shore and speaks French. I’m told the French can tell the French-speaking Swiss are not French, but they can’t tell whether they’re Swiss or Belgian. Apparently the vocabulary rules are looser outside of France proper.

As you might imagine, this dividing line is somewhat fuzzy. I started hearing the schoolchildren say Merci outside Wattenwil two days ago, and there was a whole table of French-speakers in the breakfast room this morning. Some of them were having difficulty with the German-speaking server.

The route this morning descends some 200m on an old and historic section of the Jakobsweg. It is a good thing I did not attempt this bit during yesterday’s storm: I would have slipped on these wet smooth cobblestones and slid all the way to the bottom of the hill. The freshly shorn sheep looked well-washed though. We continue along the wooded edge of pastures, and then through forest. 

   
 The Swiss, consummate innovators, have done a fine job of engineering the trail for water drainage, so the erosion damage is minimized. I have not seen this anywhere else in my European walks.

By the time I reached Heitenreid the threatening clouds started to make good on their promise, and even though I had rigged for rain, the bus shelter was very inviting. So we had a 45 minute rain delay. Then I marched onward, being passed by the first of four walking pairs out with me this morning. Lunch – a sandwich made from breakfast surplus – was on a quiet church porch, which gave some shelter from the breeze as well as a nice view of the surrounding rolling countryside. Small town, both Protestant and Catholic Churches, noontime : bell wars. 

After lunch continued through pastures and small farms, with quite a lot of pavement walking all told. In Tafers, there are two side chapels that are actually outside chapels, and one was dedicated to St James. The pilgrim association here has been going on since the 15th century. 

  
Across the street was a small grocery, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So I went in to restock supplies. As I was checking out, the young man who is cashier asks me, “Apfel?” Now, my speaking of German is not half bad, apparently, but my listening needs some work. Still, this just did not compute. Finally we shifted to English and he explained that today was Apple Day, they were giving them away free, and would I like one? Why yes I would. An Apple a day …

No sooner had I stepped outside and finished stashing the new supplies in my pack than another pair of pilgrims stops me. “Are you American?” Why yes. Then he asks my name, and I tell him. “You left your credential in the chapel. We have it!” This is really good news because the credentials are necessary for the pilgrim accommodations at the monasteries, where I am planning to stay tomorrow. I thank them – two young men living outside Munich, one Austrian and one German -with some of my new favorite cookies.

More pastures, some suburbs, and Fribourg looms across the river. This is a big city! So after having made 20km on my own steam, I hop a bus for the last leg into the middle of town. I’m staying at the NH Fribourg, which is centrally located and decently priced (this is Switzerland after all).

Since I’m not inclined to wander far after such a long day, dinner was in the hotel restaurant and classic French. A huge salad of fresh tomatoes dressed with balsamic

  
Veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce, Rösti on the side

  
And for dessert a multi-layer berry cream

  

17 Sep 15: Schwarzenburg

Distance: 15.9km Total climb: 160m Total descent: 130m

What a day of joys and sorrows! The dawn was overcast and there had been light rain intermittently overnight. And the forecast was for a chance of rain early, with certainty later on. So after a small breakfast in the bakery workroom, I rigged for rain and set out. (Rigging for rain means: pack cover on, hat off, Ferrino Trekker hiker raincoat on, gaiters on)

Through mist that grew progressively more serious, I made my way up the big hill of the day. It would have been a nice walk with a gentle grade on a sunny day. After 45 minutes though, what we had was real rain, and wind that was blowing the rain nearly horizontal. The eaves of a barn in the hamlet of Thomwil offered me a dry and sheltered corner. In another 45 minutes things let up a bit, and I was able to progress another 100 m before the next wave of wind and rain. Fortunately this was a road junction with a bus stop and a shelter. 

By this point I realized I was damp all the way though and cold to the bone. The Trekker raincoat was not as waterproof as it should have been. Time for a fleece and an additional jacket. And a little exercise to warm up again.

I had just begun to consult the transport apps on my smartphone for some ideas as my next step when I got a text from my Pilgrim Friend that the weather report for the afternoon is for a lot of rain, and could I use a lift? (As in, if what I am looking at is not considered “a lot of rain”, then I’m not sure I want to see what is!) What an angel! Since I had not received a response to my reservation request at the Heitenreid monastery, we agreed the nearby town of Schwarzenburg would be a better choice. It has a train station as well as bus connections. And TripAdvisor showed a Gasthaus nearby.

Gasthof Bühl offered several lovely lunch plates. I had the cured pork loin in mustard sauce, with potatoes and green beans. A very rich cream of vegetable soup was a fine starter for such a day of miserable weather.

  

Lodging:

Gasthof Bühl, 3150 Schwarzenburg, +41 (0)31 731 01 38 , http://www.gasthof-buehl.ch

16 Sep 15: Riggisberg 

Distance: 16.3 km Total Climb: 207m Total Descent: 185m

The day dawns cloudy and briefly spatter rain, as I follow the meandering route across rolling pastoral countryside.

This is the halfway point in my journey this year, and I must confess the length feels about right. It is long enough for mental space and healing, and takes some effort — but not so long as to be a grind (or intolerable for my household left behind). So for those of you who do not have the time to spend months on the Camino or Jakobsweg, be reassured that shorter stages can still offer considerable refreshment.

Each day I have seen a few other walkers; more on the weekends of course. Yesterday there was a pair of women heading to Geneva and then doing the three week stage from Leon to Santiago, the last of the Spanish sections. Today – only one walker, up ahead of me and pulling away.

   

 Cresting the big hill before Blumenstein there was a “free cold drinks for Pilgrims” kiosk that was most welcome. Shortly before Wattenwil, the darkening skies finally made good on their threat and it started to rain. I met a pilgrim forum friend here, and we had a delightful lunch at Rendezvous-Vous, located two blocks from the middle of town. Pork roast stuffed with prunes and a red wine sauce, plus carrots and polenta, and a mixed salad before. Highly recommended.

  
The hill coming out of Wattenwil is a substantial 170m climb, so do not underestimate your afternoon’s work. The rolling pastures and farmland continue all the way to Riggisberg, where I have my room for the night. There are only three places with rooms here, as it is such a small town. Backeri Ernst is to the left as you enter town, and two flights up is my small and simple room. But it has all that I need, in true pilgrim fashion.

Dining

Rendezvous-vous Restaurant, Musterplatz 4, 3665 Wattenwil

Lodging

Backeri Ernst, Vordere Gasse 9, 3132 Riggisberg, +41 (0)31 809 36 36, beck.ernst@bluewin.ch , http://www.beckernst.ch

15 Sep 15: Amsoldigen 

Distance: 13.5km +2km +2km Total Climb: 300m Total descent: 250m

A great storm passed though last night, with much rain and wind. But the morning dawns quietly, with broken clouds and a light breeze. Thirty minutes’ walking through the byways of exurban Spiez and I am once again on the pilgrim route.

Speaking of which, I must say that the way-markings for the route in Switzerland are the best of anywhere I have walked in Europe. The Jakobsweg in Switzerland is called the Via Jacobi, and it is numbered as Route 4 of the 6 transnational hiking routes. So at major trail junctions there will be a vivid green pointer with a big 4. At minor junctions there will be a yellow pointer, often with a hiker icon. And in the forest, or other places where the way is not clear, yellow diamond markers are used. That being said, I have had to launch the Swiss Mobility app at least once a day, and quite a few times this particular day, to get a fix on the map. Usually this is in or near town, where I have had to leave the route for some reason, such as lodging.

This was definitely Old Churches day – as in dating back to the 1200s. A small Romanesque church in Einigen by the lakeshore was very interesting, and I was treated to some organ practice while I was there. There is a larger Romanesque church here in Amsoldigen with a crypt.

There were some moderate hills today, but nothing too taxing; a mix of pastures with views, and forest with shade. 

  
I am at another private B&B tonight, which has wifi. The restaurant here in town takes its Ruhetage on Tuesdays, so my hostess kindly drove me down the hill to Allmendingen, a suburb of Thun, to Restaurant Kreuz. A stupendous mixed salad (Herbstsalat) with sautéed mushrooms (it’s mushroom season) and a top-notch venison ragout (Rehpfeffer) with spaetzle and seasonal vegetables were absolutely wonderful.

   
 The rest day and the moderate walking today were very helpful to my pilgrim mind. So was this poem:

Tourist or Pilgrim by Macrina Wiederkehr
I stand on the edge of myself and wonder,

Where is home?

Oh, where is the place

where beauty will last?

When will I be safe?

And where?
My tourist heart is wearing me out

I am so tired of seeking

for treasures that tarnish.

How much longer, Lord?

Oh, which way is home?

My luggage is heavy

It is weighing me down.

I am hungry for the holy ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me

with the truth, a voice within me

gentles me, and says:
There is a power in you, a truth in you

that has not yet been tapped.

You are blinded

with a blindness that is deep

for you’ve not loved the pilgrim in you yet.
There is a road

that runs straight through your heart.

Walk on it.
To be a pilgrim means

to be on the move, slowly

to notice your luggage becoming lighter

to be seeking for treasures that do not rust
to be comfortable with your heart’s questions

to be moving toward the holy ground of home

with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home

until you’ve loved the pilgrim in you

One must be comfortable

with pilgrimhood

before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?

There’s a road that runs

straight through your heart.

Walk on it.

Dining

Restaurant Kreuz, Thun-Allmendingen, +41 (0)33 336 80 60

Lodging

Gasthaus Rosalie, Waldeggweg 3, 3633 Amsoldingen, +41 (0)33 341 12 77, hirschams@bluewin.ch

14 Sep 15: Spiez

Today is a rest day (Ruhetage) for me; usually I try to plan one every week. Ralligan is about halfway down the north shore of the Thunersee and Spietz is opposite on the south shore. There are two ways to get there: one, going around the far end of the lake by way of Thun, the other taking the ship directly across. Much as I like ships, buses are faster, cheaper, and more frequent.

   
    
    
  So I visited Thun and its well preserved old town (Altstadt), then bused down to Spiez. An ideal rest day would not involve the pack at all, but I was carrying it some, it seems.

Like the other B&B places I’ve stayed, this one is a clean and modern private home in the suburbs, with no nearby restaurants or groceries. If staying at a B&B do have your big meal at midday in town, and restock your larder for a picnic dinner. My hostess tonight is quite a character – she does historical reenactment with several different characters (mostly blue collar women from a century ago) and is well known in these parts. It was a real treat to meet her and hear her story. Not to mention, she makes a dynamite banana-rhubarb conserve for the breakfast table. She also has written directions for regaining the Jakobsweg without having to go back through the Spiez train station.

Lodging

B&B Eva Frei, Studweidstrasse 38, 3700 Spiez, +41 (0)33 655 05 66 , Eva.frei@bluewin.ch

13 Sep 15: Rallingen 

Distance Walked: 8 km Climb walked: 5m Descent Walked: 5m Distance skipped by ship: 18.2km Distance skipped by bus: 7.5km

On the dot of 8, breakfast materialized, surprising both of us: I hadn’t heard a peep out of my hostess, nor she from me. And a 20-minute walk along the Jakobsweg into town brings me to the ships’ pier. The lake steamers spend the night at Interlaken, at the other end of the lake, so there are no early departures from Briënz. I should have researched the schedule better before settling on this itinerary, as the hour and a half lost would make a big difference at the end of the afternoon.

  
It is a peaceful cruise, with only a splatter of the threatened rain. The steamer stops at towns along the way, alternating north shore with south shore in zig zag fashion. There are marked hiking routes along both north and south shores; the north shore route gives the better views of the higher Alps to the south. But the southern route includes the Grand Hotel Geissbach – which resembles greatly the Grand Budapest Hotel, including the funicular. If you haven’t seen that film yet, treat yourself. 

Finally we arrive in Interlaken, where the  tourists have been hanging out: Chinese, Australian, French, Japanese, and American. For a change of pace I choose Chinese for lunch; the Turkish pizza next door, menu in German, was just too much of a challenge.

  
From Interlaken east to Interlaken west is 2 km at least, and given my mis-direction, a bit more than that. Much of it follows a scenic and quite full canal waterway. Then the path crosses a very large nature reserve for an hour, before arriving at the shore of the Thunersee, and following it around. The problem is that Gut Rallingen, my lodgings for the night, are well past Merlingen, even though they have a Merlingen postal address. At this rate I won’t arrive until after 7 pm; so I elect to take the bus for this last section, to the Rallingen bus stop.

  
The hospitality at Gut Rallingen is warm and personal, and the accommodations are quite comfortable. There is a pilgrim dorm and a shared bath and toilet, which I have to myself. This is a hospitality offered only to pilgrims or those making a retreat. Dinner is an assortment of cold salads, hot roast pork, penne pasta and bratkartoffeln with fresh apple tart for dessert. Breakfast was equally abundant, with three types of cold cuts, four cheeses, yogurt with muesli, coffee and juice, as well as several freshly baked breads and a platter of fresh fruit. Very highly recommended for pilgrims and retreatants. 

Dining

China Restaurant Bamboo, Untere Bönigstrasse 4, 3800 Interlaken

Lodging

Gut Rallingen, Schlossweg 3, 3658 Merligen , +41 (0)33 252 20 30 , Rallingen@christustrager.org

12 Sep 15: Brienz

Distance: 13.1 km Total climb: 390m Total descent: 540m

I must say, I can heartily recommend sleeping on straw: ten hours of the best sleep so far this trip! Although I may be picking out bits of straw from my clothes for a few days yet. 

Breakfast in the farmhouse was yogurt with muesli, fresh bread with butter, local cheese and homemade preserves. Quite the fuel for today’s adventure, which involves climbing across the Brünnig Pass. Since Lungern is halfway up, this is not as bad as it might be. 

  
It’s the old road, due to constraints of topography . Although we climb separately, the train, the highway, and the footpath all converge in very tight quarters at the top. Along the way I pass some archeology work: they are excavating down to the original roadbed stones. I don’t know if the Romans came through here, but certainly the Swiss have been using this pass for a thousand years or more. 

  
I made Brünnig in 2-1/2 hours, in good order. The climb up, while not gentle, is well constructed and flattens out frequently. A roadside gasthaus offered a good lunch: Rösti, bratwurst with the ubiquitous brown onion sauce, and a beer. Rösti is the Swiss national dish; we might call it gussied-up hash browns. The ringside seat (we were quite literally roadside) on all of Europe’s new motor toys was free. There was a motorcycle club. There was a Porsche club. There were campers and RVs. A sunny Saturday afternoon and everyone hit the road.

  
However, Brünnig is not the top of the pass; there is still climbing to be done, another 100m up or so. Then the descent begins, and it is treacherously steep- so much so that informal switchbacks have worn their way into the track. This is a tree root by tree root, white knuckle affair for a solid hour before the slope eases up some. In bad weather, I imagine people die up there. 

   
 
Fortunately this trial eventually comes to an end, and the route flattens out for the next two hours, through the picturesque town of Brienzweiler. 

  
And on to Briënz, where I am staying for the night at a nice B&B Haus Trauffer. Directly on the Jakobsweg, in a large and nicely furnished private home. Three double rooms share a bath and a reading area. Since I had a substantial lunch, dinner will be a simpler bread and cheese (no restaurant close by).

As I walk each day, I often sing. Here is today’s earworm:  In Wisdom’s Pleasant Ways  

Dining

Hotel Silvana, Passhöhe 1007, 3860 Brünig

Lodging

Haus Trauffer, Rothornstrasse 11, 3855 Brienz, +41 (0)33 952 22 30 , Cristina.trauffer@traufferag.ch

11 Sep 15: Lungern

Walked Distance: 12.1km Walked Climb:100m Walked Descent: 450m.  Skipped section: 8.7km Skipped Climb: 232m

  
The heavy weather of last night has cleared off, leaving a low-hanging puddle of cloud over the lake below, and puffy white clouds forming a backdrop to the peaks above. The views from the monastery dining room are absolutely spectacular; I wish I could stay another night here. One does not need to arrive on foot; there is a car park and also a bus stop down the hill a short ways. 

The way continues downhill rather steeply (stairs are involved) until it crosses a stream. This entire section of the Jakobsweg is called the Bruder-Klaus-Weg. Brother Klaus is the  Swiss national saint. There is quite a large pilgrimage site here. And here at this stream Brother Klaus settled, building a hermitage chapel and living the last 20 years of his life, dying c.1487. The current chapel was erected c.1687 (there must have been a religious fever in those years, as many of the shrines and chapels I have passed have had similar dates). Here is a contemporary wooden statue of Bruder Klaus; the Swiss do a nice job of integrating the old and the new, in many areas of their life. 

   
 Further on, down a long steep slope with many steps (to which my knee is objecting), is the town of Sachseln. Since the dark thunderheads that have been threatening all morning are now producing rain, I duck into the church for a bit of journaling. It appears Brother Klaus is buried in the altar: a full body reliquary is on display. Then it’s time for lunch, and in my continuing effort to sample some of everything that Switzerland has to offer, I sit down at the Gasthaus Zum Klaus, a four star establishment immediately adjacent the church. They have a specials sheet: steak tartare, which I have never had. So, salmon tartare it is. Excellent! Very highly recommended.

  
From there the route heads downhill to waters edge and follows the lakeshore. And so do I, as far as Giswil, where things start going uphill again towards the Brünnig Pass. A local train takes me to Lungern, and my lodgings at Erlebnishof Ming, which is a sleep-in-straw place.

   
   
Since the Sleep-in-Straw places are something of a tradition in Switzerland, so I felt I must try it out. This is a very clean – and very large – former milking barn, with some two dozen sleeping places. There is a deep bed of loose straw (maybe 2 ft) that is penned in by hay bales. Fortunately it was not crowded (I imagine there is quite a ruckus when they have a full house); an Austrian fellow from east of Salzburg was the only other guest. He’s going all the way to Santiago, and he’s making 30km a day. Should be done before Christmas at that rate. A toilet, laundry sink, and kitchen are also in the barn. A shower room with two stalls and a toilet is on the far side of the main house. Our host was a nice lady, the family’s grandmother, who speaks quite a bit of English. The Austrian chap not so much, so I carried on as best I could with him in German. 

Dining

Hotel Restaurant Kreuz, Bruder-Klaus-Weg 1, 6072 Sachseln, +41 (0)41 660 53 00 , info@kreuz-Sachseln.ch , http://www.kreuz-Sachseln. Ch

Lodging

Erlebnishof Ming, Bruenigstrasse 49, 6078 Lungern, +41 (0)41 678 12 86 , fam.ming@erlebnishof-Ming.ch

10 Sep 15: St Niklausen 

Distance: 15 km Total climb: 330m Total Descent: 80m

The hotel offered the regular hotel breakfast buffet, with yogurt, cereals, breads, cold cuts, hard boiled eggs, juices, teas, and coffee drinks. The bus load of Chinese tourists was putting quite a dent in the larder. 

   
    
 A ten minute bus ride brought me back to the Stans town center, and the route runs uphill from there. It’s quite steep at first, until one reaches the shoulder of the slope, then it turns to run along at the same elevation for a ways. Gorgeous vistas of The valley, Stans, the lakes either side, and the mountains all around. One could certainly spend several days here, hiking, taking the funicular and gondola, and so on. Perhaps another year. 

We climb past pastures and through orchards, following the contour line of the hillside. Yes, the Swiss have cows! Mostly Holsteins and Brown Swiss, with some Goldens occasionally. The apples are ripe and are being gathered in; the others on the ground are fermenting already, perfuming the air with the scent of cider. Haying is also in progress (rain will come soon and that’s not good for hay); every meadow either has cows or has been recently mowed, and drying hay waits for the baler.

The past few days, there has been the opportunity for a sit down restaurant lunch, near the time and place I have chosen to picnic. So today, in my continuing effort to eat enough to prevent bonking, I stopped for lunch at the aptly named Restaurant St. Jakob, in Ennetmoos. Now, you must understand that this is way out in the country by Swiss standards, and the rural folks speak only Schweizerdeutsch (Swiss German) which is not so much a dialect as a language. Standard German (Hochdeutsch) is a foreign language. As I’m waiting for a menu, I see several “blue plate special” type plates go by, so I just ask if I can have what they are having. A goodly crowd of senior citizens and workmen can’t steer you wrong. So I got a large cup of boullion with noodles, a very nice fresh salad with a house-made Parmesan dressing, and a generous plate of roast pork with brown gravy, potatoes au gratin, and green beans. With beverage, SFR 20. Very highly recommended. The restaurant is located at the St Jakob bus stop; you can take the bus here from Stans if you need to shorten your day.

A half hour after I resumed walking, the napping spot magically appeared, and a short snooze was refreshing. It is a good thing to be more alert when one comes suddenly upon a squad of Swiss army troops, who have set up a checkpoint where the route crosses a woods. Fortunately they wave me on through. I have been hearing gunfire across the valley for two days now, and military jets and helicopters frequently, so I assume these are partnof the annual fall maneuvers.

  
Mid-afternoon is always a deadly time for me; the energy level ebbs and the finish line is not in sight. So I was very grateful for the pilgrim snack bar one farmer had laid out. Cookies, ice cream, coffee and tea, all with an honesty box. Thank you, Family Windlin!

  
By 4:30 I was very glad to find my lodgings for the evening, at Bethanien, a Dominican cloister. Very modern and comfortable. I am in the pilgrim dorm room, which sleeps 5 but I seem to be the only one expected. WC and bath are across the hall. Room, dinner and breakfast for SFR 50. Dinner was quite good, served almost family style. Boullion, a lovely salad table with a choice of six varieties, and a pasta bar with four sauces. I was seated with a German woman from Munster, and we were able to carry on a decent conversation in German, although I didn’t catch many details.

Lodging

Bethanien Kloster guest house, 6066 St Niklausen (OW), +41 (0)41 666 02 00 , info@kloster-Bethanien. Ch

9 Sep 15: Stans

Distance (on foot): 12 km Descent: 190m total Climb: 130m Total

It was a good night’s sleep, regardless of the Berlin woman who returned to her neighboring room at 11 pm, making all sorts of racket and knocking on my door (I didn’t answer). Three short blocks to the main square and the Pfarrkirche (parish church) of St Martin (that would be “of Tours”, I think, rather than “of Luther”), where I was finally able to get the first Pilgerstempel (pilgrim stamp) in my credential. A large, high Baroque sanctuary and a good place to start my day. An even better place was the next block over, the Cafe-Konditorei Haug, where I had three different rolls with butter and jam, a cup of coffee and a soft-boiled egg for SFR 14 (the Swiss franc is almost on par with the U.S. Dollar this week). Lovely setting, white linen and fresh roses on the tables, and excellent service. Open for lunch and early dinner as well; very highly recommended. 

A few blocks onward, as the route started to work its way out of town center, a small grocery allowed me to restock cold cuts and cheese. Then as we wend our way through suburbs, the route passes a small shrine to St Francis, and out of town to gardens and fields. In the course of the day we pass about a half dozen of these chapels, some quite small and others much larger.

Entering Brunnen, I pass the Ingebohl Abbey; quite an enormous place (8 stories) and still very much a going concern. I should have planned to stay there tonight, and explore the Brunnen area; the scenery is just super (one runs out of adjectives after awhile, sorry).

From Brunnen the plan was to take the lake steamer to Buochs; however only the 9:15 run stops there. So I took the steamer to Breckenreid and continued by bus to Buochs. I could have stayed on the bus to reach Stans.

   
    
  

It’s time to discuss the Swiss theory of routing the Jakobsweg. Every country so far has had a distinctly different approach, and the Swiss are not to be outdone. Now, you’re in Switzerland for the scenery, right? And it is an indisputable fact that the very best observation point for scenery is from high up. So, Ms. Pulgrim, we are going to make you climb hills. Many hills. You will thank us later, I am sure.

The view really was good; just wish I hadn’t had to work so hard to see it. Also I’m finding, despite the quite cool mornings, the afternoons are really warm still and there is no shade to speak of. So I’m going through twice as much water as planned. This afternoon one saintly farmer made water available, so I got another liter. Tomorrow I’ll try refilling at midday.

 Tonight my lodging is the Hotel Stans-Süd which is a business hotel on the main highway a mile back in the direction of Buochs. I bussed here from the Stans town center and I’ll bus back there in the morning, to pick up the route again. Modern, spacious, private room, en suite bath, and the bus garage on the ground floor won’t wake me up in the middle of the night. Perfect.

Dinner (remember dinner? You know, that meal I haven’t eaten since Saturday night. And today is Wednesday) was a five minute walk across the Autobahn to Gasthaus Allmendhuisli. It was a pleasant walk across broad sidewalks, but it was a walk nevertheless. This was a perfectly acceptable bistro, with outdoor terrace seating. A nice large mixed salad led off. The Swiss do a much better job of salads than the Germans do.

   
The main course was a pork cutlet (grilled rather than pounded and breaded) with mushroom cream sauce (it’s mushroom season). Plain noodles and a few steamed veggies rounded out the plate. 

  
Finally! My first square meal since the Frankfurt airport!

Dining

Restaurant Allmendhuisli, Enetbürgerstrasse 5, 6370 Stans, +41 (0)41 610 12 37

Lodging

Kloster Ingenbohl, Klosterstrasse 10, 6440 Brunnun, +41 (0) 41 825 20 00 , Haus.maria-theresia@kloster-Ingebohl. Ch

Hotel Stans-Sud, Rieden 4, 6370 Stans, +41 (0) 41 618 07 77 , info@hotelstans.ch , http://www.hotelstans.ch

8 Sep 15: Schwyz

Distance: 19.3 km.  Climb: 532m. Descent: 900m

A good night’s sleep, a simple breakfast of bread, cheese and coffee, and I managed to get underway by 9 am. First days are always a bit later to get going, but usually I try for 8 am.

I am using the Swiss Mobility app on my iPhone to assist in way finding. This is my first time with this particular app – which I recommend, by the way – but I was not accustomed to their marking system. So it took longer to get out of town than I hoped. By the time I passed the abbey at Au, the office was already closed for morning Mass, so I wasn’t able to get a stamp for my pilgrim credential. That will have to wait for tonight in Schwyz (pronounced Sch-veets).

   
   
However, my delay at the abbey meant I met up with another walker, a Swiss gentleman from Wädenswil, where I changed trains yesterday. We were able to make small talk about families and home towns for most of the big climb up the Heggenegg (1500 ft of climb and it is steep and stony). Distraction during such pain is very helpful! Also two other walking pairs passed us, lightly loaded local Swiss folks. Today’s route winds along a small river up the Alpthal valley for the first two hours, with glorious views of steep pasture and forested ridge crests. Then it heads up quite steeply. About a mile short of the pass, at a wayside shrine dating to 1795, we parted ways. He was ready to continue while I needed lunch. The descent was twice as long and just as steep, over a path that was mostly covered in loose gravel – very treacherous footing.  I was having to take a break every half hour. 

   
 Coming down into Schwyz, I had a terrible time finding my lodging for the evening. The street number wasn’t where it should have been, which threw both me and Google off the scent for an hour. Scent would have helped, actually. As it turns out, I’m sleeping over the dairy barn. An aromatic location with no dinner or breakfast provided; restaurants are ten minutes’ walk towards town, and the bathroom is down a steep stair. Despite the clean room, inexpensive price, and central location, I’m not strongly recommending Bauernhof Steinstockli. 

(Note to those following me in real time: it generally takes me about a day to get the post completed, with edits and additions and photo uploads. So if you read it hot off the press, you might want to go back to catch the revisions.)

Lodging

Bauernhof Steinstockli, Rickenbachstrasse 33, 6430 Schwyz, +41 (0) 41 810 10 51 / +41 (0) 77 418 22 52, reto.betschart@bluewin.ch , http://www.steinstockli.com

7 Sep 15: Einsiedeln 

Zurichsee looking south

Zurichsee looking south

Since the rest of Central Europe is convulsed by the refugee crisis, I wondered how things would flow at my layover in Frankfurt. The answer is: mixed. Despite valiant efforts by the queue marshals at every station, the inspectors are still their excruciatingly thorough selves. Inspection standards at security checkpoints are more stringent in Germany than when I left the US yesterday. Liquids in their quart bags must be separated, e-book readers must be removed (putting them in he laptop category), and all accessories (scarves, hats) as well as jackets must be removed. Unlike the previous trip, I still have my e-reader in my possession.
Frankfurt Airport has quite a few panini counters and a few healthy-fresh takeaway delis, as well as decent sit down brasseries. My plate of grilled Nürnberger sausages with mash and a local craft IPA really hit the spot.

Zurich airport must have had a re-do by the HGTV people; that’s my only explanation for the granite-everywhere. It does have excellent rail connections, if one remembers where to find them. So, just for reference, an S-Bahn is not a tram. The S-Bahns are in the basement along with the long-haul rail, while the trams are at street level. The S-Bahn (suburban rail) ride down to Einsiedeln was just exquisite: a sparkling blue September sky, white sailboats dotting the Zurichsee as if they were swans – and we also had some of those swans. I settled myself into the same lodgings I used on the last trip (Zum Webstuhl), and got caught up with the host. Afterwards it was time for a quick grocery hit for a light picnic dinner and some sandwich makings for tomorrow’s lunch.

Lodging

Gästehaus & Pilgerherberge Zum Webstuhl, Wänibachstrasse 22, 8840 Einsiedeln,  +41 55 412 4304/ +41 77 412 6139 , bab.webstuhl@bluewin.ch

6 Sep 15: Leaving Home and Entering the Pilgrim Mind

How is it the Universe knows when you are trying to leave town, and the tasks on your to-do list multiply three-fold? But I managed to get most of them done – despite the power outage this morning. What is done is done; what is not done is not done. So be it.

The cheerful acceptance of this hard fact marks my entry into the Pilgrim Mind. In which, one is grateful for whatever is received. In which, schedule is a general concept. In which, everyone you meet is a contributor to the journey. In which, there is a difference between needs and wants. In which the journey is entered into with the expectation that plans will not execute as originally anticipated, and the results cannot be planned. And in which, time moves at a walking pace, allowing so many more details to be observed along the way. Still, this transition is not a quick thing – usually it takes me about a week. Pilgrimage is an experience that unfolds in its own time.