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.


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


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.


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. 


China Restaurant Bamboo, Untere Bönigstrasse 4, 3800 Interlaken


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  


Hotel Silvana, Passhöhe 1007, 3860 Brünig


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. 


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


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.


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!


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


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.)


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.


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.

Why I walk Europe’s pilgrimage routes

I must admit, the first year (Le Puy – Cahors) was motivated initially by curiosity (what is this like?) and personal challenge (can I do this?).

By the time the plans were in place for that first year, and I actually started walking, my mother had passed. So I was given a “homework assignment” at the beginning of that walk: the work of grieving that loss. Each year since, I seem to have been given a similar “homework assignment”, some individual work that can only be accomplished in the inescapable dailiness of silence and solitude that is pilgrimage.

Sometimes this work becomes apparent well before I start walking, during the months of training and preparation. Other times, it is only after I have been walking a week, and have finally managed to leave behind the busy mind of daily routine to enter the more meditative pilgrim mental state.

I have learned many valuable life lessons on these walks.

  • I am not in control.
  • I need less than I think.
  • The path goes where it goes; there is no sense in complaining about that.
  • Others, even on the same path, are on a different journey.
  • I depend upon others along the way; I cannot reach my goal through my own efforts alone.
  • The most amazing things happen while living in the moment.

10 Jun: Einsiedeln (Recovery Day)

Today was for recovery. Not so much me, myself, mind you – as much as to retrace my steps a few days by train to recover a personal article left behind a few nights ago. The train connections here in Switzerland, especially the Zurich region, are truly excellent.

And so I got an all-day pass and headed back to Fischenthal, where I completed my errand and had a nice lunch at the Gasthaus Blume, where we had stayed earlier in the week. Then, for the return trip, I headed in a loop north through Zurich before turning south again to Rapperswil. This routing let me see some different valleys as well as the north end of the Zurichsee. It was a lovely, mostly sunny day.

I can see, with the trains, that people commute from fairly far out. That is how all these lovely small towns are surviving – someone has a day job in a bigger town. Still, I marvel at the major investment in the heavy rail transport system. There are spur lines everywhere! And the rolling equipment is different too – I see much steeper grades on these lines than in the US, and we’re not even really in the mountains here.

Having had a nice restaurant lunch, I went with a picnic for dinner. There is a small but well-supplied grocery near my B&B in Einsiedeln, and they have nice produce, prepared sandwiches and salads, even fresh fruit tarts. It’s a nice option where a salad, a plate of pasta and meatballs, and dessert runs $26.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

9 Jun: Einsiedeln

Distance: 16.8 km
Elev: 630 m up, 188 m down, net + 450 m
Time: 8 hours total (quoted at 4.5 hrs)

Starting on the Jakobsweg again in the morning, we pass by a bakery-cafe only a block from the Herberge; it would certainly be possible to have breakfast there, in addition to picking up lunch supplies. The tourist office and an ATM face this same plaza.

It is cool and cloudy, with a promise of showers later, as we start walking across the lake. It’s not what you think! There are several islands scattered along the middle of the lake, with a pedestrian boardwalk connecting them.

These islands and their surrounding marshes make wonderful waterfowl habitat, and the boardwalk provides a unique observation point.

At the train station in Pfäffikon (another supply point), we turn inland and start climbing. For a short while the clouds lift, so we have spectacular views of the Zurichsee lake, as well as warming sun. The way is steep, often fitted with steps that are uncomfortably tall, and very little shade.

We stopped at Luetegen for a park bench lunch, and marveled at the cyclists and the cars, snaking up and down this slope with no collisions.

The next section still continued steeply, the trees now providing shade from their canopies and footholds from their roots. It was just as steep going downhill of course, and we were frequently dodging mountain bikes headed down.

At last we reached the day’s highest elevation at Etzelpass. St Meinrad, the Benedictine monk who founded the abbey at Einsiedeln, started as a hermit here. There is a chapel shrine to his memory, and the old Pilgerherberge is still operating as a Gasthof. Their terrace has lovely views all around and we sorely needed our cold drink! Then we descend to the Devils Bridge, build of stone as the quarry and the abbey are on opposite sides of the river.

And back up again, as the rain clouds finally get serious with a shower before we reach Einsiedeln. The guidebook and the waymarking indicate this trip is 4.5 hours of walking. With probably 2 hours of breaks, all told, it has taken me 8 hours.

Dining. The Restaurant Sihlsee (named for the local lake) has schnitzel 30 ways! And the salad was quite good too.

Lodging. In Rapperswil we saw an advert for a bed-and-breakfast in Einsiedeln with private rooms at pilgrim rates, less expensive than the dormitory at the Kloster. This Gasthaus Zum Webstuhl is a few blocks off the main street, about 10 minutes from the Kloster and 5 minutes from the train station. So, in a residential area with restaurants a few minutes’ walk away – not terribly convenient but acceptable. Host is mainly a German-speaker, with a bit of French and very little English. Breakfast was nice but not exceptional.

8 Jun: Rapperswil

Distance: 17.5 km
Elev: 18 m up, 356 m down, net – 338 m

It’s Saturday morning, and the Swiss are up and about. Some are working the hay fields (an ongoing project every day). Some are cycling (we were nearly mowed down by the peloton several times). With all these hills for training, I don’t think I would ever bet against a Swiss cyclist.
We followed the valley for a while, seeing mountain vistas ahead, and spotted some ski jumps.

Then the route turned uphill, and we had gorgeous views of the Zurichsee valley and the mountains to the south. Just jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery. We had lunch under a shady tree with a million-dollar view.

Then it was the long slog downhill. On the outskirts of Rütli, which the route detours around, there was an old women selling coffee and cake on her porch. So we enjoyed a cool drink and some rhubarb tart – just the best break from the hot afternoon. We also picked up bread for tomorrow.

Rapperswil is a good-sized town, and would warrant a day for exploration on its own.

Dining. The Cafe Rossini is very near the Herberge and had outdoor seating. I had the daily special, linguine with squid and shrimp in a light tomato sauce. Tasty!

Lodging. We are at the Pilgerherberge only a block from the lake, behind the Rathaus. It is possible to make advance reservations online, but we were successful by telephone. Friendly host, modern and comfortable facilities. Very highly recommended.

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7 Jun: Fischenthal

Distance: 10.4 km to Steg plus 3 km by train
Elev: 520m up, 438m down, net +82m

The abbey here has been renovated and re-opened by the Benedictines, after it was closed and put to secular use in the 1860’s. The restoration in the church and chapel was just beautiful.

One of the lovely, pilgrim-esque benefits of staying in the abbeys that were (and still are) pilgrim shelters, is to be able to attend Mass, and to receive pilgrim blessings, as thousands have done before us, for centuries. And so we began our day with a pilgrim blessing.

Then it was steadily uphill all morning, past lunch, with spectacular views looking east.

We passed the three-canton junction point, leaving Thurgau with its light-blue waymarking and entering Zurich with its brown marks with white letters. (Really! Who thought this up? Brown marks on brown trees? The darned things are hard enough to spot without the camouflage paint.)

We kept climbing, getting some very welcome shade occasionally, until Hörnli, at 1133m the highest point on the Swiss Jakobsweg until Einsiedeln.

Then it is steeply downhill, sometimes on sunny farm roads and sometimes on graveled forest tracks. The westerly views are breath-taking, but gravel and steep slopes are not a good combination.

And so we arrive at Steg, our planned destination for the day. But there was no room at the inn. So we took a 3-km hop by S-Bahn train to the next town. It is along the Jakobsweg and so certainly walkable. But the views are suburban and tomorrow would be a very long day, so this works well for us.

Dining. The Gasthaus dining room includes a terrace, which we took advantage of on thus warm summer evening. Rösti is one of the Swiss national dishes – this is a gussied-up hash brown. So I had the local version, which included chicken and raclette cheese. Tasty and rib-sticking!

Lodging. We are at the Gasthaus Blume, which is two blocks south of the train station on the main street. Good location and clean, modern rooms. My WC and shower are down the hall but it works out ok.

7 Jun: Fischenthal

Distance: 10.4 km to Steg plus 3 km by train
Elev: 520m up, 438m down, net +82m

The abbey here has been renovated and re-opened by the Benedictines, after it was closed and put to secular use in the 1860’s. The restoration in the church and chapel was just beautiful.

One of the lovely, pilgrim-esque benefits of staying in the abbeys that were (and still are) pilgrim shelters, is to be able to attend Mass, and to receive pilgrim blessings, as thousands have done before us, for centuries. And so we began our day with a pilgrim blessing.

Then it was steadily uphill all morning, past lunch, with spectacular views looking east.

We passed the three-canton junction point, leaving Thurgau with its light-blue waymarking and entering Zurich with its brown marks with white letters. (Really! Who thought this up? Brown marks on brown trees? The darned things are hard enough to spot without the camouflage paint.)

We kept climbing, getting some very welcome shade occasionally, until Hörnli, at 1133m the highest point on the Swiss Jakobsweg until Einsiedeln.

Then it is steeply downhill, sometimes on sunny farm roads and sometimes on graveled forest tracks. The westerly views are breath-taking, but gravel and steep slopes are not a good combination.

And so we arrive at Steg, our planned destination for the day. But there was no room at the inn. So we took a 3-km hop by S-Bahn train to the next town. It is along the Jakobsweg and so certainly walkable. But the views are suburban and tomorrow would be a very long day, so this works well for us.

Dining. The Gasthaus dining room includes a terrace, which we took advantage of on thus warm summer evening. Rösti is one of the Swiss national dishes – this is a gussied-up hash brown. So I had the local version, which included chicken and raclette cheese. Tasty and rib-sticking!

Lodging. We are at the Gasthaus Blume, which is two blocks south of the train station on the main street. Good location and clean, modern rooms. My WC and shower are down the hall but it works out ok.

6 Jun: Fischingen

Distance: 15.5 km
Elev: 106 m up, 5 m down, net +101m

After Frau Feuz told us her secret to making wonderful muesli for breakfast, we set out on another “Chamber of Commerce” day.

There was an interesting chapel to St Margareten in the town of the same name, where we stopped for lunch. The chapel has a pilgrim stamp in the style we are seeing often in Switzerland: a pre-printed address label. I guess the rubber stamp was too much trouble to maintain! Lunch was at a pub on the corner directly opposite he chapel; they have a Tagesmenu and made a terrific salad plate.

We have enjoyed interacting with the livestock as we pass the farms. Today we saw freshly-shorn alpacas (the head is not clipped, so they look like they’re wearing toupees). And the Swiss cows wear these enormous bells so they can be found.

It is the warmest day of the trip so far in the mid-70’s. We are all in shorts and sun-protection shirts and sunscreen. But it is still a long, scorching day, with little shade until the end, where we encounter some gratuitous hills.

Dining. The Kloster guesthouse had a simple single menu meal, with a nice salad, grilled wurst with potatoes and vegetables for 16CHF, beer additional.

Lodging. The Benedictine Kloster has a guesthouse with private rooms (90 CHF single, 150 CHF double) and also a bunkbed dormitory (Mehrbettenraum) at 38CHF with WC down the hall and showers upstairs. Towels provided but not sheets. Breakfast is included.

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5 Jun: Tobel

Distance: 13 km (plus 6 km detour to Loomis)
Elev: 115m up, 89m down, net + 26m

A beautiful morning with a cloudless sky and my Swiss friends and things are just lovely. We passed interesting old houses and an old mill, as well interesting new houses.

We climbed a meadowed ridge with spectacular views of the Alps foothills to the south.

The chapel at Kaltenbrunnen , where we ate lunch, has a St Jakob window and a pilgrim stamp.

From there we detoured along the bikeway to Loomis, where there was a noteworthy Gothic church with a lovely baroque altarpiece.

Also the interior has been painted – a very worthwhile detour.

But it was a warm and sunny afternoon, with the roadway offering no shade, so we wandered through some forest paths that were trending in the right direction and eventually arrived at Tobel.

Dining. Restaurant Löwen, two blocks down the hill from Frau Feuz’ place, is the nearest and very neighborly. We had cool drinks there in the shade during the afternoon, while waiting on the clock. Dinner was a terrific vegetable soup, nice salad, very tender veal cutlets pan-fried with rice and gravy.

Lodging. We had booked private rooms with Frau Feuz; there is a lot of this in Switzerland – which makes having local language speakers in the party very helpful. The peculiar practice with these lodgings is, you cannot gain entry until 5 pm. No sense arriving early, one can’t get in. So we had elected the Loomis detour as a way to kill time. I forgot to mention that the Herberge yesterday had a pocket-sized list of accommodations (I meant to pick up a copy). The German guidebook only lists a few for each town.

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4 Jun: Märstetten CH

Distance: 13.5 km
Elev: 146m up, 42m down, net +104m

After discovering the Kreuzlingen tourist office did not open until late morning, I continued on, climbing steadily, through wooded greenbelts until breaking out for a last vista of the lake. The Jakobsweg is called the Via Jacobi in Switzerland, and the markings are different.

The route marking is frequent and consistent. The trails are well maintained, well drained, and in excellent condition.

Some sections are steep, but fitted with handrails and steps.

The answer to the question, “When do the walkers show up?” is … Today! I had one German woman pass me early in the morning, and another two at lunch. Shortly after, a Swiss couple (from the French-speaking section) caught up with me, and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon working our way past spectacular vistas and painted farmhouses with beautiful gardens until we arrived in Märstetten.

Dining. We enjoyed a cold drink at the Cafe Kanape on the main street in town, 10 minutes away. For dinner, we had nice meals with big salads at Restaurant Rössli, across from the church, 5 minutes away.

Lodging. There is a pilgrim hostel, with phone numbers posted on the door for the host-on-duty. Ten beds in two rooms, one bathroom and an auxiliary WC accessed through the garden. Also a kitchen, and a small grocery across the street.

And a full house! The two Swiss, myself, two Germans, and four women from Singapore. The morning start was a bit trafficked, but we all managed to get started, at staggered times.

3 Jun: Konstanz (Rest Day)

This was the plan even before all the rain and mud came along, and it was an even better plan after. There is a full panoply of services for the Pilgrim walker here: tourist office will help with ongoing reservations, there is an outdoor store (Jack Wolfskin) as well as a discount store (Mühler) on the market plaza. Not to mention the biggest city since Ulm, so it’s a good place for a rest day.

Konstanz was an important pilgrim waystation in medieval times as well, and many buildings from that era are included in the walking tour (brochure and map available in English from the Tourist Office, adjacent the train station).

Dining. At the House of the Elephant (in the old days, the houses were named rather than numbered, and this tradition has been preserved in the Altstadt) the menu was German, but the table next to me was Japanese, so I was translating into English – rather the flip side of yesterday’s experience. Very nice fresh fish from the Bodensee (by the time I thought about takin a picture, it was gone!).

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2 Jun: Konstanz

Distance: 11.5 km to Meersburg, then a ferry to Konstanz
Elev: 35m up, 75m down, -35m net

The birds were singing, but it was off-and-on again showers all morning. Sometimes it was just a light drizzle, the sort that counts as a sunny day in Seattle. The route was very wet, as you can imagine from several days of heavy rain. But the actual walkway was for the most part well drained. There were a few exceptions, however.

This last really is the Jakobsweg, not a stream, regardless of the appearance. The ducks were swimming around and invited me in. However I decided on the field alongside instead; it was no cakewalk, as I acquired an inch-thick coat of mud all over my boots. That stuff is heavy!

The fields really were soggy. I passed a place where the Windhund club was holding a meet; lots of greyhounds and Afghan hounds in evidence.

One fellow had taken his Land Rover off the roadway to dodge around an immobile RV (caravan), and got stuck in mud up to his axles.

Eventually my mud and I made it to Meersburg, which is an absolutely lovely town on the east side of the Bodensee. Some friends used to spend time in the many vacation rentals advertising here; I can certainly see the appeal!

However that will have to wait for another trip (I keep saying that, don’t I?). As a Pilgrim comes down to the water, there are two ferries. To the north a few blocks, the car ferry runs year-round and arrives at Staat, a town 5.5 km north of Konstanz. To the south a few blocks, the passenger ferry runs during the “good weather months” (ahem) and arrives at Konstanz market square. I found the ferry pier, and it was time for a boat ride!

Dining. Time for a change of pace. The China Restaurant is on the market plaza, just around the corner from the hotel. I must confess, it is truly mind-bending to be ordering Chinese food in German. A wilted spinach salad and duck breast in preserved-ginger sauce. Very tasty, but see my pricing comment below.

Lodging. I’m at Gasthof Centro, right across from the train station. It is an excellent location and the room is modern and comfortable. However – start rant – the desk staff has a problem I have encountered elsewhere in Germany. Someone really should train these people! Guest arrives, says she had a reservation. Clerk spends a long time proving there is no reservation and this situation is not the hotel’s fault. All the while, there are rooms available! It would be so easy to train them to say, “I’m sorry, there seems to be some problem with the reservation, but we do have a room available for you.” how hard is that? (stop rant) Sorry to bother you with my complaints, but if you walk this way, you will doubtless encounter this situation.

The other travel issue here in Konstanz – and I fear it bodes ill for the continuing trip into Switzerland, is that prices for everything (room, meals) is 30% higher than my earlier experience in Germany this trip. And I’m still in the Euro zone!

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1 Jun: Markdorf

Distance: 15.5 km by route
Elev: -35m net

The heavy drizzle was lightening as the train pulled out of the Meckenbeuren station, and I was beginning to think I should have walked. Then we started passing the flooded orchards and fields: water at a depth of 1-2 feet. Knowing how much of the route goes through fields just like this, I was rather glad to be making a transit hop today.

I find this is a frequent topic of discussion in the pilgrim forums: how much pain, suffering, and inconvenience must be included for the journey to be a “real” pilgrimage? Some eschew any transit, ever; but they do fly to and from their starting and ending points. Some send bags ahead by taxi every day (in France and Spain, as this is not possible east of Le Puy). I enjoy the walking, and have managed to balance the pack weight and daily distance. There were a few days with short transit hops while I worked that out. But this is quite unseasonable weather; even the Germans were not expecting such heavy rain and flooding, this time of year. So I think it prudent to be cautious. When you walk this route, you may make your own decisions, and “your mileage may vary”. I’m finding every day is an adventure, with friends to be made and lessons to be learned.

The train routing involved a layover at Friedrichshafen, so I got to see a bit of that town and its views of Lake Constance (Bodensee). An Australian couple were also changing trains – we had a nice chat.

Markdorf is a fair-sized place. My Gasthof had a “closed until 5pm” signs hung out, so I walked up towards the center of town in search of lunch, or at least a dry place to sit and eat my sandwich. There was a lot of traffic backed up – not something I’m used to seeing. Turns out, this weekend is an annual city birthday festival. The Marktplaz was full of huts and booths, very much like a Christmas market without the shopping.

I found a place with grilled white Bratwurst (these are impossible to find, apart from food stalls at weekly markets or events like this one) and cold beer and dry seating.

These things work a bit like the Rotary fried chicken or the Kiwanis hot dog stands – a local group uses them as a fundraiser. This local group was the Swabischer Albverein, the hiking club whose route markings I had been seeing for weeks (they set up the regional routes). One the ladies staffing the beer table came over and we chatted, so she could practice her English.

Then I asked her to choose a cake for me from the “coffee and cake” table – the Swabischer Albverein has covered all the bases! She chose a very light cake: the bottom layer was a chocolate hazelnut cake (ground nuts instead of flour), then spread with sour cherry preserves and topped with whipped cream. All the cakes were made by the hiking ladies – I saw several of them being delivered – and they all looked very professional (not to mention delicious). I must try to learn how to make these ground-nut cakes!

It was time for the Gasthof and my usual afternoon laundry.

Dining. The Gasthof dining room is a contemporary design (only the second one I have seen in three weeks), and the food has a similar contemporary presentation. Even with the professional skill, the price is similar to my other meals. I had the curried chicken cutlets, and I wish I knew how he kept a skinless chicken breast so moist and tasty!

Lodging. I’m at Restaurant-Hotel Bürgerstuben, which is located directly on the Jakobsweg route as it passes the train station before leaving town. This is an excellent location. The room is clean and modern with working heat. Very highly recommended.

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31 May: Meckenbeuren

Distance: 15.5 km by trail
Elev: -45m net

The weather report is saying winds 20-30 mph today with 90% rain, total half inch. Tonight winds 10-20 mph with 1-2 inches. Tomorrow 5-10 mph with 1-2 more inches. I think I don’t need to be brave/foolish. Looks like a washout for these two days. (Not bad for a month o walking, actually.) Fortunately there are good transit connections, even if they are not intuitively obvious, and require some asking about.

It might be a nice walk in decent weather; I could see the gentle ridge line running north of us on the train.

Immediately opposite the train station (on the west) is a small collection of stores: supermarket, drugstore, etc. The center of town is a block east, and a bakery. The hotel is further along, maybe a km easterly from the train station, on the edge of town, across from the athletic fields. So, while it is not conveniently located, it may be the only choice here.

Dining. The hotel restaurant calls itself the “Schnitzel House” for good reason. For a small place, mostly a neighborhood pub, it’s perfectly adequate.

Lodging. I’m in the Hotel Wiesenthal, where the hosts were very accommodating of my pre-noon arrival in the pouring rain. The room is modern and spare, but has all I need.

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30 May: Rest Day in Ravensburg

I rested! I slept late, had a leisurely breakfast, and marveled at the industrial-strength pod-type coffee maker on the breakfast buffet. Then I watched a bit of the Corpus Christi festival procession from my window, read some more, and I went out foraging for lunch as the hotel restaurant was closed.

A note on geography, as some of you have sent me notes about Regensburg; alas, I think it is a
case of “right church, wrong pew”. Regensburg is in southeast Germany, in Bavaria, near Passau, on the Danube. Lovely place, I’ve been there, their cathedral boys choir is world famous (Regensburger Domspaten). But it’s not where I am. Ravensburg is in southwest Germany, in Baden-Wurtemburg, very near Lake Constance.

It’s the Germans’ fault, really – they recycle many city names. I’ve actually been through “Heidenheim” twice on this trip, less than 30 miles apart. Then there are the two Frankfurts: F on the Main and F on the Oder. I almost bought a train ticket to Biberach for 66€ last week, when all I wanted was a short hop to a town of the same name, on a different river, 3€ in the end. When we were employing a researcher to delve into missing great-uncles, I was all excited, thinking we found the right guy and place; alas, one of a dozen towns with the same name. Puzzling!!!

Regensburg was lovely! Ravensburg is smaller but also very nice.

Dining. Lunch was down the block at a sister establishment, the Gasthof Zum Engel. Very nice place with gemütlichkeit, that coziness much beloved here.
There’s a standard method to achieving this: the seating along the outside walls is a continuous bench seat, backing up against those hot water radiators. Add lots of real wood (furniture, floors, ceiling) – who wouldn’t feel cozy?

The daily special was “green noodles” with mushroom sauce, and a side salad. Highly recommended!

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29 May: Ravensburg

Distance: 6 km by trail (3 km by road)
Elev: 115m up, 130m down, -15m net

The predicted rain has come overnight and has not yet moved through. So I decided some quiet time in the Basilica might be in order. Turns out, this is a very famous place, a site of pilgrimage in its own right. The altar is a reliquary containing the Relic of the Holy Blood.

There is a screen formerly between the nave and the choir, now relocated to the altar for “liturgical reasons”. Look closely – you can enlarge the image by clicking on it – it’s done in a perspectivist style. Even though the screen itself is flat, the images give the appearance of depth.

The side chapel is equally beautiful.

My timing is exquisite; two weeks ago on Ascension, they held a procession with the relic – 20,000 people and 3,000 horses. It would have been splendid to see, but impossible to find a hotel room.

It’s still raining, but the cafes are serving lunch, which seems a good strategy for waiting out the weather. After wandering through the weekly market, I find myself a
at the museum cafe for the Kornhaus. That worked nicely, and the rain had stopped when I came out.

I would be tempted to classify the day’s march as a “gratuitous hill”, except that the walk was so pretty, I think I will let the hiking association off the hook. But it was a steep and steady climb up. The forested ridge had seen some logging, but not enough to chew up the roadbed. And I came down through pretty suburban gardens into Ravensburg. A nice two hour walk.

Dining. The Kornhaus museum cafe is mostly for drinks, but has a small lunch menu as well as a small dinner menu. I had the Gorgonzola-filled pasta with a side salad, which was very nice. The peppermint tea came in a double-walled Lexan cup (I want one of these!). When I asked for more hot water, I was told with a frown that what I wanted was another tea. At 2€70 for a cup, I think that is a bit steep.

Dinner at my hotel was light: a Wurst-salat (julienned cold curs with thinly sliced red onion, pickles, and peppers, dressed with oil and vinegar) with a side of Bratkartoffeln (chunky home fries). Good stuff!

Lodging. I am at the Hotel Storchen in Ravensburg, which is directly on the Jakobsweg route and very near the old part of town. The room is not large, but very comfortable. Wifi is free.

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28 May: Weingarten

Distance: 13.5 km (incl deviation from Bergatreute)
Elev: 90m up, 205m down, -115m net

Well, that was an interesting morning. “Interesting” in the way my Mother used the word. An hour’s march from Bergatreute along a country byway brought me back to the Jakobsweg route. These are some tiny farm hamlets, not particularly well-heeled. But in almost every town, regardless of size, for the entire trip this year, there has been evidence of construction: either obviously new construction, or major renovation of an older building, or replastering the church, or something. Then we went into the woods, which proceeded idyllically for an hour.

I had been seeing signs of timbering activity much of the morning, and finally I caught up with the loggers. It’s not that I mind the logging so much; in Germany they work in small sections, and harvest individual trees rather than mowing down great swathes as we do in the US. Rather the problem is those infernal tractors, and the unholy mess they make of the trails, churning them to a squishy bog.

There’s brush down, and mud a foot (or boot) deep. And it is a royal pain to pick one’s way through all this mess.

Finally I work my way through that section, and cross the highway … To find … Beehives! With occupants! So lunch had to wait awhile.

More boggy forest path, and finally we emerged from the woods to find a beautiful valley view.

Weingarten has a very large Baroque basilica – the largest Baroque church in Germany. Half the length and half the width of St Peter’s in Rome, it is most impressive.

Dining. After the small dinner last night, I am ready for a solid meal from the hotel dining room, and the solidity does not disappoint. First a hearty soup, ground meat in a rich broth. Next a mixed salad plate with a familiar assortment. The main course was a pork steak (double-wide chop) pan-fried, topped with something involving mustard, and a “Bearnaise” sauce that was originally the pan gravy, I do believe. Accompanying were some potatoes au gratin, sturdy enough for building material. I wasn’t going to leave that table hungry!

Lodging. I am at the Hotel-Gasthof Bären, a family-run place a block further along the route from the Basilica. Friendly staff, rooms modern and comfortable. Wifi is free but uses some sort of SMS authentication that I cannot get to work. (So I’m afraid my readers must wait a day ; I generally get a wifi connection at least every other day.)

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27 May: Bergatreute

Distance: 14.5 km (12 to Gwigg plus 2.5 deviation to Bergatreute)
Elev: 15m up, 15m down, 0 net

So many times I have mentioned breakfast, but I haven’t actually shown you. Here is this morning’s breakfast, which is fairly typical. There is always an assortment of bread, an assortment of cold sliced meats, an assortment of cold cheeses. There may be yogurt, muesli or other cereal, fresh fruit (whole or compote). Butter and jam (apricot and sour cherry are my favorites). About half the time there is a soft boiled egg available.

I was a little slow out of the starting blocks today, waiting for the last of the cold front to pass on through. This is a significant improvement! The sun is shining, the breeze is gentle but cooling, there is no rain, and the afternoon should see the high 50’s F.

Bad Waldsee is only an hour’s walk through forest, along a golf course, and by pretty suburban gardens (lots of rhodies, Japanese maples, and hedges made from a small-leafed photinia that almost looks like a red-leafed boxwood). People are taking advantage of the lovely morning to run errands, walk the dog, and ask me where I’m going. One lady had been to Santiago. A retired nurse enjoys hiking the nearby area, but the dog and the cats keep her from walking the Jakobsweg.

This is a lovely town; sometime I’ll return and spend several days here. The waymarking avoids the city center in favor of quiet backstreets, as usual, but this is not helpful today. Since my evening’s lodgings are room-only (the dreaded rest day/Ruhetage
for the restaurant) I wanted a nice hot lunch. This turned out to be pizza, just before leaving town, which hit the spot.

The afternoon was a mellow route through meadows and a few woods, with a road march on asphalt for the final hour, as I deviated off the Jakobsweg for lodging at an appropriate distance. Some of the dairy cows are getting to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. And I got my first look at the Alps.

Dining. Pizza at an Italian place just around the corner from the Esso station, right on the Jakobsweg headed out of Bad Waldsee. Tasty food, speedy service, friendly family-run atmosphere.

Lodging. Gasthaus Adler in Bergatreute is a big barn of a place, a long block south of the center of town. The room is spacious and has everything I need, including functioning heat. Since they opened up just to make a room available, I really can’t complain. Free wifi.
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26 May: Matthausen

Distance: 18.5 km
Elev: 100m up, 75m down, +25m net (585m actual at end)

The convivial crew from dinner made an equally convivial crew at breakfast, although folks were a bit down that Bayern won the world cup, while their local club Dortmund lost (both German teams – a first!).

Today is a moderately long haul; yesterday was a short day because the next town, the preferred destination, was full (and I’m very glad how that worked out). The preferred destination today would be Bad Waldsee, but with the extra distance from yesterday’s stage that would make it 23.5 km today, which would be too much even in good weather.

The route came through Steinhausen, with the German Baroque church of the day.

Then crossing several forested hillsides and passing graves of French soldiers who fell here during the Napoleonic wars, as the sky darkened and the wind rose. Gregor overtook me mid-morning and we walked along together until after lunch, when he needed to pick up his pace to make Bad Waldsee by evening.

The wind had become annoying; I was “rigged for rain” over the fleece, just because temps in the low 40’s F and winds in the mid-20’s mph make for an uncomfortable day otherwise. But, the majority of the time, the forest was a windbreak.

About the last hour, the occasional drizzle became a driving rain. I stayed on the highway at the last junction, not wanting to be on a ridge top in that wind. Fortunately a bike path was soon paralleling the busy road; it did nothing to improve the weather, but it certainly improved my safety. And my lodgings for the night were on that road, a grim half hour later. Ah, to be so grateful for warm and dry! (Also this gave a good test of the Trekker raincoat in the wind; I continue to be very happy with it.)

Dining. The hotel restaurant serves spaetzle with every single entree. At least with the Roulade/i>, it was on the side. And the soup, a rich and buttery cream of (some) vegetable, was tasty and warming.

Lodging. Hotel-Landgasthof Kreuz is directly on the Jakobsweg and directly on a main road, so it is very accessible. Restaurant is open throughout the afternoon as well as the evening. Wifi costs 3€ for 6 hours of connection time.

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25 May: Muttensweiler

Distance: 10.5 km
Elev: 65m up, 25m down, +40m net

Biberach is a busy place of a Saturday morning. The church has a wonderfully colorful Baroque interior.

And today is market day here. In addition to the fat white asparagus, the fresh strawberries and rhubarb are in. Also I see potted plants and spring vegetable seedlings.

The route leads along quiet back streets and then we are quickly in the countryside. Everyone was enjoying the stream.

Others are enjoying the fresh air on a Saturday morning with me: several different walking couples, some cyclists, even one group of children with a pony.

Reute has a nice Gasthof for lunch, and after a wooded hill and some small-town gardens I am in Muttensweiler mid-afternoon.

Dining. In Reute, Gasthof Hirsch is directly on the route and offers hospitable shelter from the weather. I enjoyed their Gemüse Rösti (Rösti is a Swiss dish, like hash browns), which included other vegetables along with the potatoes, very tasty!

At dinner, where I was expecting another meal alone in a tiny town, I am surprised to see other walkers! My friend Gregor from the other night, and Barbara from Stuttgart, and another fellow. Then four bicyclists rolled in -Germans working in North America – and a local couple came in later. We had a lively and very convivial evening.

Lodging. Gasthof Löwen in Muttensweiler is a small, family-run place. The accommodations are clean, modern and spacious. Free wifi in the restaurant. Highly recommended.

24 May: Biberach

Distance: 17 km on foot (+ transit Schemmergen to Biberach, which would be 18km on the Jakobsweg although the rail routes differ)
Elev: 55m up, 5m down, +55m net

After some ambiguously marked zigs and zags coming out of Oberdischingen I crossed the Danube …

… and continued through the river valley (Donautal) with its flat farmland regularly punctuated by farm villages. We’re still close enough to Ulm to have bus service into the central bus plaza, so I suspect most of these people commute to work. This is fairly flat and eminently bike-able; the bikeway (Radweg) folks think so too.

This is the land of everyday German Baroque; one finds the most remarkable altarpieces hiding in the most innocuous looking parish churches.

Also there are little wayside chapels, not every day but often. Usually these are at really welcome spots and I’m grateful for the chance to get out of the cold wind.

Apart from its being cold enough all morning to see my breath cloud, the worst of the day was that gratuitous hill (oh! Let’s go up just so we can go down!) at the end. I took the train from Schemmerberg (17.5 km) because I found that continuing to Äpfingen (22.5 km) was just too much, especially considering the whole day was asphalt walking, which is harder on the legs. To get to Äpfingen, one changes in Biberach, which would be the next day’s destination anyhow. So here I am in Biberach.

Dining. The Hotel-Restaurant Grünen Baum was only two blocks; good Swabian cooking and I managed to dodge the spaetzle. A pilsner, some bullion, and Maltauschen served with potatoes. Good, and almost more importantly, warming!

Lodging. The Hotel Drei Königs is directly on the Jakobsweg route and also centrally located on the market square. Very friendly and hospitable lady innkeeper, who speaks enough English. Rooms clean, modern, comfortable (the heat is on!) and spacious. Free wifi. Highly recommended.

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23 May: Oberdischingen

Distance: 21 km (11 km by bus, from Ulm to Einsingen)
Elev: (Einsingen to Oberdischingen ) 35m up, 40m down, net -5m

Around the big cities (Nürnberg, Ulm, etc) there is a ring of quite unscenic and sketchy industrial works and abandoned buildings. I don’t feel compelled to walk through these sections myself; there is no virtue to be gained, and the pavement is hard on these knees. Because these areas are so close to the cities, there are good transit options for hopping over them. (The Deutsche Bahn iPhone app is invaluable for planning this.) As with all my other route choices – if you are a walker reading this to plan your own journey – your decisions and results may vary.

As long as we are talking travel logistics, let me say a word about language. I do speak a little German; the Germans seem to think it is good enough that they can respond at their normal rapid rate. So, while I am grateful for the compliment, I don’t catch much of what is said. Often I get more information from facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures than I do from the words themselves. I find the women’s accents easier to understand; the men all seem to be graduates of some local operatic bass-baritone training.

At any rate, it has unexpectedly turned into a lovely spring morning, if a tad cool. The purple Dutch iris are up and going strong, along with the giant alliums and wisteria and more lilacs and – oh my goodness – peonies! Anyone who invests in peonies gets a gold star in my book; they will keep going 40 years. I always think of Grandma when I see them. No rhododendron in these parts; the tulips and flowering ground covers are still doing nicely though. Knowing dinner would be modest at best, my plan was to have a nice lunch in Erbach before going on. In a cogent demonstration of “gang aft agley”, the first place was not yet open, the second only sold liquor, the third would offer a room but no meals until after 1 June, and so I settled for a Doner Kebap (aka Gyros). Ah well. On my way out of Erbach, as I was admiring more peonies, the gentleman next door comes over to chat. I didn’t catch much of it, but American foreign policy these last 12 years is not to his liking. Fortunately, his wife came out to call him to lunch, and I was able to make my escape.

The afternoon’s walk turned into a race against another squall line. This is an exurban area, with small pockets of towns coming every 3 km amid the sprouting corn. And although I was walking along a ridge between towns, with nice views, I could hear highway noise. So this was not a matter of being way out in the country.

Once I arrived in Oberdischigen (rhymes with Over Michigan) I still had a long wait. While I was waiting for the lodgings host to return from her errands, another pilgrim walks up! A German, Gregor, walking from Fulda to Santiago. So we chat. This time it’s 65 years of American foreign policy. Ah well.

Dining. I probably should have taken up Gregor’s offer to join him for dinner at the Gasthaus. Instead I took the meal that was offered by the lodgings. This was a perfectly adequate home-style meal: tossed salad, chicken cacciatore, bread, and fresh fruit for dessert. What I had not bargained on was the absolute silence that was kept – apart from an instrumental playing on the CD. Someone had to explain in English, as my German certainly isn’t up to this one.

Lodging. I’m at the Cursillo House here, and they keep separate lodgings for Jakobsweg pilgrims. Cursillo is a Catholic-originated program of lay education and renewal; it has since widely expanded among mainline Protestant bodies in the US. At any rate, I had at least heard of them and knew a little bit about them beforehand. The quarters are very basic, but then so is the price. One night is enough.

22 May: Ulm (Rest Day)

Distance: nil
Elev: nil

At last, a rest day! I’m always tempted on these (rest days on previous trips were in Conques and Moissac) to try to cover a lot of ground on foot, seeing the sights. Which is, of course, not the purpose of a rest day! So I was not too disappointed when the weather turned ten degrees colder, with wind and some showers. However I was cold. I had not packed for a low of 35 and a high of 45, which is planned to continue into next week. And I see it is snowing in Switzerland. So, since the local equivalent of REI is right across the street, I went shopping. My trophy from Ulm is: a black micro fleece cardigan. Yes, I already have at least one of those-but not with me. And it was much less expensive than the long sleeved merino pullover. With the micro fleece and my rain shell and the silk long johns (and usual shirt and trousers), I was moderately comfortable. Now, this is the end of the third week of May, mind you – unseasonably cool but it is what it is.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I decided that I really needed heat in the hotel room. Front desk said “two hours”. Five minutes later A-gang (navy-speak, not German) knocks on my door. After some twiddling and fiddling, he comes to the same conclusion I had: an air lock in the radiator pipe (everyone uses hot water radiators here). Fix in place, I head off to the Munster for the noon organ concert. On the way -ta dah!! – I see my first Doberman in Germany. As some of you know, my household is owned by a Doberman. Anyhow, this old girl with gray on her muzzle and some stiffness in her hips was walking with Grandma very nicely. I wished we had time to get acquainted. (The Germans always look at me funny, that I’m greeting the dog before I greet the human.) Also on my way, I passed a hat store. Honestly, a hat store! When was the last time you saw one of those?

Also a study in the contrasts that abound in this city: the Rathaus and the new library.

The Munster has a new organ, and the daily noon concerts are helping to pay the bill.

This is some church. The altar and choir end date from the 1300’s but they didn’t finish the nave until the 1870’s. The neo-gothic stonework in the nave is breathtakingly delicate.

Although the glass in the north windows is plain, there is stained glass in the south windows in modern designs with interesting colors.

Dad was stationed here in the early 1950’s, and last visited in the late 1960’s. I went hunting for a restaurant he remembered, in the remaining Medieval section of town, called the Fishers Quarter. The hunt was successful, and the lunch of seafood stew on saffron rice was an absolute delight.

Other than that -a rest day, like I said!

(PS: Thanks to all you commenters; I am grateful for the correspondence even if I don’t post the personal notes onto the blog.)
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21 May: Ulm

Distance: 11 km (+ train from Thalfingen to Ulm)
Elev: 45m up, 95m down, -50m net

It never fails: those lodgings that disappoint in the evening manage to redeem themselves in the morning. Maybe it’s the different crew; but I’ve seen it happen several times now. At any rate, breakfast always improves my disposition.

Since the Gasthof was already on the edge of town, getting launched in the morning was easy. The only complicating factor was the traffic circle and the morning commute. Patience, pilgrim! (gee, that would make a good blog title …)

Often when the route is crossing farmland, there are no hard structures to hand the way marks on. Usually I am left to fend for myself at these spots; but today, Frau Waymarker has an assistant! I had seen some of these once or twice before, but never in combination.

Yesterday I had seen something unusual in the fields, where I think it was corn just starting to come up. Some electric fencing, of the sort used for horses and cows – not any of those in sight of course – and running about knee-high. Finally I decided the farmer was trying to keep something out rather than in. Rabbits, perhaps? Sure enough, this morning I spotted more of the clever rascals. These guys are big – would serve six at dinner – and fast – I think a coyote or deer could not keep up.

As the rainclouds were closing in, and the route descended to the Danube, I decided to take the suburban train the last 6km into Ulm. This was a smart move, as Ulm differs from Nürnberg in some important ways for the walker: the Tourist Office is quite a distance from the train station (it’s by the Ulmer Munster), and there are few lodgings priced for walkers nearby – so I had to go a bit further. In short, there was quite a bit of walking left to be done once I left the train!

Dining. After a surfeit of schnitzel and spaetzle, I was ready for a change. Besitos, near the Munster, had a wonderful assortment of tapas, and a menu in English was available. Highly recommended.
Lodging. The Tourist Office booked me into the Donau Hotel, across the Danube in New Ulm but only a ten-minute walk from the Munster. Nearer places in my price range were already booked up. This is a family operated place, on a “real people live here, not tourists” street. Free wifi, and breakfast is included. The room is functional, modestly comfortable, and clean.
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20 May: Albeck

Distance: 19.5 km
Elev: 55m up. 45m down. +10m net

I hated to leave Stetten – could have stayed there a week. But the day dawns crisp and clear, so I must go on. Even though breakfast was on a holiday schedule (Pfingsten Montag/Whitmonday) I managed to get underway by 8:30. The day’s march was across a plateau of farmland and forest, with a light breeze that increasingly stiffened into an obnoxious headwind, that eventually brought scattered late afternoon thundershowers. With the holiday there are many walkers, jiggers, and cyclists about; even a riding club with 20 horses trotted by. The Germans love their leisure time outdoors. We crossed under the Autobahn at a rest area called Parkplaz St Jakob, for a chapel once located here.

Today is a long haul, the longest so far, and I managed to make it on schedule. The cool weather helped, and almost nothing in the way of hills. Until, of course, the end of the day, when I must go down a big hill and up the other side to reach the only lodging in this small, forgettable, partially industrialized Dorf. Robert Bosch was born here, and nothing interesting has happened since.

So I arrive at 4pm to find a sign saying “closed until 5:30”. Having been educated by earlier towns, I walked around the building until I found the back entrance, and Frau finally responded. If I hadn’t emailed for a reservation, I might have been out of luck.

Dining. The food at this Gasthof was ok. There was a Swabian wedding soup, with spaetzle bits and some tiny dumplings.

There was the German Mixed Salad, which is a standard item around here, with grated carrot salad, grated cabbage salad (two ways), and potato salad, all hiding under that lettuce.

The Jaegerschnitzel was tough, though.

Lodging. Gasthof Krone is directly on the Jskobsweg, and you really have to follow the waymarking and the guidebook notes to find it. Rooms clean and modern. My room had a nice view to the east and a balcony. I would have been happier if the heat were working (it has been in all the other hotels) and if the windows offered lightproof curtains (northern latitude makes for very late evening and early mornings). Off street parking and free wifi.

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19 May: Stetten

Distance: 12 km
Elev: 70m up, 40m down, +30m net

There was a large party in the hotel in Giengen yesterday – they were going when I arrived mid afternoon and still going strong when I finished dinner. I took this to be a wedding. So at 4:45 this morning there was a big male chorus going down in the street below, that was finally answered (took several verses!) by a single female voice. Then we could all go back to sleep.

It was a steep climb ip the the ridge overlooking Giengen: lots of concrete steps and steel hand railings. This would be tricky going in the rain. At the top, we break out onto a plateau, with suburbs spread out behind and small farms ahead. It’s Sunday morning, and I have passed lots of walkers, and cyclists, and families with dogs, and one inline skater with Nordic poles. All this companionship on the route is quite unusual for me; two cyclists passed me at lunch a couple days ago, but that’s it. As the two-week Pfingsten holiday starts today, perhaps I will see more.

This is Baden-Wurtemburg, so we are back to “Guten Morgen” rather than the Bavarian “Gruß Gott”. As I stop on a bench for my canonical hourly break, an older couple and their beagle come by. Turns out, their dog and my dog share the same name. So we chatted a bit, trading stories of Jakobsweg walks. They told me about a “miniature Jakobsweg” that I would find soon. And sure enough, outside Hürben, there it was: a 4km Rundweg (circuit trail) that simulated the walk from Giengen to Santiago. These photos show the sections from Giegen to Konstanz, and then into Switzerland, that I plan for this trip. You can enlarge by clicking on them.

The start of the Rundweg is a tourist attraction: think of Gatlinburg doing the pilgrimage route. Full parking lot (this is a popular Sunday family outing), children’s play area, fast food window (chicken nuggets and fries). But – they had restrooms!

After I escaped the madding crowd, the route crossed the valley and went wandering up a forested hillside. Finally I came out at Stetten, with some trepidation. The next town with lodging, Nerenstetten, would have made a 22.5 km walk. But of the two lodgings listed, one was not showing on Google and I didn’t have email connectivity to see whether the other had responded to my reservation request. The weather forecast was for a squall line moving through, and with black clouds moving in I didn’t want to be caught in it. So I forged ahead. First, I see the Adler, closed up tighter than a drum, chain across the parking lit – no wonder it wasn’t showing up on Google. The church was right next door though, so I went in. There is a beautiful Baroque altarpiece – to St Michael I think.

And behind, in a relic vault, a black Madonna!

These are very rare; but Wiki tells a good tale about them.

I check the street address for the other lodging, find the right street, and start hoofing uphill, watching street numbers as I go. I get to the end of the street, and all I see is an old schoolhouse, decrepit and closed up. I’m beginning to think I will have to go sleep in the church. Then I spot a few cars, and some more cars, and the gasthaus is open and found! Rarely have I been more grateful.

Dining. Stylish and modern, very popular dining room. I had a big lunch of Maultaschen, the German ravioli, and the salad bar. For dinner, not that long after, some soup followed by ice cream. Very nice menu of Schwabian dishes.

Lodging. This Gasthaus-Hotel Zum Mohren is just super! Modern, upscale, very friendly and helpful staff. The first single room to offer me a wide mattress (the others have been narrower than a standard American Twin). Free wifi. Very highly recommended; worth making a detour for. One block off the Jakobsweg route.
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18 May: Giengen

Distance: 21 km (9.5 km to Fleinheim, then bus to Heidenheim and train to Giengen)
Elev: up 100m, down 125m, net -25m (Kloster Neresheim to Fleinheim)

It is a sunny morning – hopefully a good day for a long walk. Turned out to be cooler than the forecast, so it was very pleasant. Coming down from the Kloster and across the valley up to the next ridge, there were some lovely views all the way into Auernheim. After that things went a bit sideways.

Perhaps some background explanation would help. The waymarkings on the Jakobsweg, ever since Schwabach, have been considerably less than reassuring and often downright absent. Daily, I find myself having a conversation with the lady who does the waymarking. There actually is one – the Gasthof host in Heidenheim had her picture, her email, her schedule (she passed through a few weeks ahead of me).
Me: I think I should turn here.
Her: Why? Did I tell you to turn?
Me: Well, no.
Her: So why do you think you should turn?

Sometimes I end up turning anyhow and then having to backtrack. Other times I make the turn and it proves to be the right move. (I should note that I also have the GPS track and the published guide; but the guide is 4 years old, the GPS track is two years old, and the lady waymarker passed through before the shrubbery leafed out.)

It’s said the Eskimos have thirteen words for snow, and I’m positive the Germans have at least that many for hiking trails. There’s the grass way (grassweg), field way (feldweg), forest way (Waldweg), sand way, gravel trail, blacktop trail, and concrete trail not to mention sidewalks as well as others.

This morning, coming out of Auernheim, there were no marks. I ended up bushwhacking through woods and down a shallow gully; there was definitely an old track visible in spots, and also some really old carved marker stones. Then along a trodden track through an apple orchard until I linked up with a regional trail headed for the next town. Only at the edge of Fleinheim did I meet up with the Jakobsweg marks again. Looking at the map, there is another long stretch of woods coming up, and I have lost confidence in the markings for this sector. So I’m going with Plan B, which had been carefully researched by the helpful front desk lady at the Kloster. From Fleinheim I took the 2:30 bus (last one – it’s Saturday afternoon) to the train station in Heidenheim (a different town with the same name), then the local train to Giengen. Giengen, the town the bear built: this is the home of the Steif teddy bears.

I’m out of Bavaria now, and into Baden-Wurtemburg. These two states are like Texas and Massachusetts. The young people on the bus and train were sporting much more … exotic? … haircuts and fashions. Red hair in its several different tints is very popular with the women, along with the black hose+ hot pants combination and black skimmer shoes. The guys were favoring mullets and colored chukka boots. I’ve also seen tattoo shops and massage joints.

Dining. There was a limited dinner menu due to a large wedding party, but it met my needs. Tasty cream of vegetable soup. Typical German salad bar. Excellent pommes frites and a well-executed pork schnitzel. Ice cream to finish.

Lodging. I’m at Hotel-Restaurant Lamm, which has a good location on the market square and on the Jakobsweg route. It also has a current telephone number in the Jakobsweg guide. Desk staff speaks English. Room has all the modcons, but the carpet could use a steam cleaning. Has wifi, which is in German WLAN (“vee-lahn”).

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17 May: Neresheim

Distance: (11 km taxi) + 13 km
Elev: 200m up, 15m down, +185m net

So, having decided that 24 km was too great an ambition, and consulted with the Tourism Office on the possibility of a bus (multiple connections, one of which was a call-us-when-you-need-us) I asked the hotel to call me a taxi. We crossed the Nördlinger Ries on the way; this is a meteor crater some 25 km across and was the largest in Europe until the more recent strikes in Russia.

The route has returned to some hills and forests, which I much prefer to flat farmland. The weather is cool and gray, promising rain soon -typical Seattle stuff. Starting on foot from Hürnheim, I climbed up to the Niederhaus castle ruin dating to the 12th century. This was an important spot; Hermann passed here on his way to Italy in 1265 (says the monument).

It was also a superb defensive position; although I do believe if they could spend the money to build a lovely level bridge in the entrance, they could also find funds to reengineer a safer exit. I had to climb down this 8 foot drop hand-over-hand.

(Looking at the map in retrospect, it is possible to skip this – just follow the road to the right, towards the lumber works, where you pick up the Jakobsweg again. You’ll still have an imposing view of the castle ruin without risking your neck.)

After a long climb up a forested ridge, I finally broke out into farmland with views only a Northwesterner could love.

The gasthaus in Christgarten did look like a going concern, and had they answered the call from the TO yesterday I would have dispensed with the taxi and stayed there tonight. But such was not the case, so I continued to Kloster Neresheim, just before the town of Neresheim.

Dining. The guesthouse restaurant is open for lunch, and serves coffee and cake during the afternoon; dinner service wraps up at 7:30pm. The food alone would be worth the stay here. I had the Klosterbierbrotsuppe, which enriched the basic recipe with butter and crisp crackling, in addition to other things I couldn’t quite identify.

Then there was the Three-way: Malthausen, cheese spaetzle, and something I didn’t catch the name of. But I should! It is essentially a savory strudel made of roast onions. Malthausen are German raviolis; this one had a meat filling that included a bit of liver. The cheese spaetzle had the taste and consistency of a leaden Mac and cheese. (I’m beginning to miss dumplings.)

I don’t think the dessert needs explanation.

Lodging. This cloister (Kloster) is still in diocesan hands and operating as a religious house. So I’m in the guesthouse, which has been nicely renovated but still has an ecclesial feel. The front desk staff were most friendly and vigorous in researching my options for travel tomorrow. Very highly recommended. In fact, I would really like to spend a couple nights here, attending the Daily Office, exploring the historic chapel, making a retreat – some year when I’m no longer doing the long walks.

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16 May: Nördlingen

Distance: 13 km
Elev: up 5m, down 10m

This morning’s march took me through a few pleasant small towns, with an increasingly suburban quality, and I arrived in Nördlingen just ahead of lunch and a bit of rain. Since this is a city, with all the associated services, I took the opportunity to restock picnic supplies. The holiday weekend is coming up, with all the logistics uncertainty that goes along with it. I always enjoy other people’s grocery stores! Also on the premises was a Vietnamese eatery, so I had lunch there for a change.

Later in the afternoon I visited the Tourism Office to sort out the plan for the next few days. They had a map of the city – in Braille! You can clearly see the city wall, which is intact around its complete circle.

Of course the church steeple is the tallest point; many days I have been navigating from steeple to steeple.

Dining. The Altreuter has a Konditorei – Cafe, which was open for lunch and all afternoon but not for dinner. So I missed it!! The place next door was decidedly more basic, but at least I was able to get dinner.

Lodging. I’m at the Hotel Garni Altreuter, which has a terrific location directly on the route and across from the church. Rooms modern and moderately priced. Free wifi.

15 May: Maihingen

Distance: 12 km
Elev: +15m

Instead of making the long haul of 26km from Oettingen to Nördlingen all in one day, I divided that over two days, in exchange for no rest day in Nördlingen. With the temperature in the mid-70’s and the humidity near triple digits, I was awfully glad for the shorter day. Since I wasn’t pressed for time, I visited the St Jakob’s church. It dates from the 1300’s and has some remarkable Baroque decoration.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a font quite like this one.

Shortly after leaving town, I encountered a pensioner, out for a bike ride with his husky, who was having a hard time in the heat. So we all stopped on a bench for a while. The farmers had cut hay in some fields yesterday, and were frantically trying to get it collected before rain comes again tomorrow. Turns out, the word for hay is heu (“hoy”). Also those small sprouts I was seeing were sugar beets (there’s a processing plant nearby) or corn (maiz). Later on, I was astonished to see ten storks along the edge of a field. Never had I seen them on the ground like that, only in those traditional rooftop nests.

I had lunch in Heuberg, the berg part of the name being entirely wishful thinking. It was home to an enormous horse operation – I mean capacity for dozens if not a hundred.

This is flat, flat country, which made it very easy for the Romans to build their straight-as-an-arrow road, stretching for over100 km between the Danube and Heidenheim. I walked a section of it after lunch (flat + straight + hot = boring!). Boring, that is, until I came to an intersection with history. There was a monument, made from materials found on the site, to the military airfield that operated here from 1937 to the end of the war, and to the refugee camp it became. This was a big base, with a 1-km runway and 10 aircraft hangers, as well as the necessary maintenance shops, defenses, and lodgings. So it was well equipped to handle 30,000 refugees through 1960 when it was closed. Most of these were the Sudetenland Germans who were displaced by the ethnic cleansing of Czechislovakia. Others were refugees from eastern Germany. The jump in time from the Romans to modern day made my head spin.

Finally I made it into Maihingen. This is a small farming town, but it has two churches. One is an enormous cloister dating to 1700.

In the garden was a labyrinth, a more modern edition. Looks to be in the traditional Chartres pattern.

My lodgings are in the former cloister brew house.

Dining. This is a small operation, but Frau and Herr were most helpful and solicitous. Dinner was a roast pork (can never get enough of the stuff) with mushroom sauce, and spaetzle that was light as air. For dessert, I had some cheese cake (Kasekuchen). Frau makes her own cakes every week – that is one enormous kitchen she has. Herr’s job is to slice up the veggies for the kraut, pickles, salads, etc.

Lodging: Gasthaus zur Klosterschenke which has only a few rooms, but they are well equipped and nicely laid out. Recommended!

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14 May: Oettingen

Distance: 18.5 km
Elev: 180m up. 290m Down. -110m Net

An avian chorus accompanied me on the long climb up out of Heidenheim. The birds don’t sing when it’s raining, and so since the morning dawned clear and bright, everyone was singing forth. It was cool overnight (6C/ mid-40s) but will warm up this afternoon to 19C (mid-60s). It’s a gorgeous spring day.

I am especially enjoying the small towns with their gardens: lilacs at full bore, the last of the late tulips, flowering ground covers (candytuft, thrift, lobelia, sedums). In one town I saw one clump of dwarf flag iris, but no iris otherwise. I saw rhododendron at the start, but not for the past few days. Maybe the winters are too cold?

The lunch stop at Hüssingen was (literally) the high point of the day. Like every town this time of year, there is a Maypole up. One year I will have to be in Germany early enough to see them getting these lifted up! This town also marks the edge of the Franconian Nature Preserve – which means much more farm and much less forest from now on.

The warming afternoon made for a real grind on this longer day. I was a bit sorry I had pushed along so cheerfully in the morning; I was really dragging by the end of the day. Note to self: don’t go getting ambitious on the distance – this is not a race!

Oettingen is a real town: markets, shops, even a tourist office. This part of Germany suffered minimal war damage, so the old half-timbered buildings survive.

Dining. The hotel dining room was quite adequate, with an extensive bar menu and English-speaking waitstaff. I’m not sure of the name of dish I was served, but it involved Rosti potatoes, spaetzle with bacon and kraut, some pork cutlets with mushroom sauce, and mixed vegetables. Oh, and something like a hush puppy.

Lodging. I’m in the Hotel Krone (Krone = crown) – one of many as this is a common name for inns around here. This one is a huge old half-timbered building, sitting right next to the equally half-timbered Rathaus. It’s right on the Jakobsweg, on the main shopping street in the old part of town. Room is modern and spacious. Wifi is free.

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13 May: Heidenheim

Distance: 17.5 km
Net elev: +115m

It was a Gasthof-Metzgerei that stayed at last night, not just a Gasthof. A Metzgerei is a sausage-maker; actually all sorts of cured meats, including hams. Typically if they make it they also sell it; so there is a deli counter for cold cuts. And the cold cut platter at breakfast is especially diverse and robust. This morning’s assortment included smoked ham sliced paper-thin, as well as something reminiscent of pimento loaf but with pistachios.

Rain was predicted all day, so it was already raining lightly when I got underway at 8. On the weekends breakfast is not served until 8, so I couldn’t get away until 9. Today being Monday, I can get an earlier start. Myself, my raincoat, my gaiters – we merry band – set off.

A bridge over the Altmühl River led past a boggy meadow signed as “stork habitat – keep dogs on leash”. Then it was through a crazy quilt of farm roads, along fields and through woods, for several hours. Finding the way on this section of the Jakobsweg (Nürnberg to Konstanz) is not exactly straightforward; many times I was grateful to have the GPS track. I would be even more grateful if I consulted it more often.

This is an exceptionally well-marked turning point. In this stretch the marking philosophy is to mark only the turning points. They are usually not marked with an arrow (as you see here). Instead, past the turn, there is a mark a short distance in the proper direction. Most often this mark, rather than positioned to face you, is positioned on the side, leaving you only half a mark visible as you scan around looking for marks. Additionally, there are regional (the Main-Donau Weg for example) and local tracks – all with their unique marks – that occasionally overlap and occasionally diverge from the Jakobsweg. So, it’s not simple, and I’ve had to backtrack a bit twice so far this morning.

The damp, breezy and chilly (50 deg F/11 deg C) weather continued and was becoming stronger mid-day, so I took my noon halt in the shelter of Saint Michael in Spielburg, which is 60m higher than Heidenheim.

This is a small town, but the money for that Baroque altarpiece came from somewhere. I arrived Heidenheim after 5.5 hours walking, which was very good time.

Dining: A lovely liver dumpling soup. Maybe I need to explain dumplings. There are two types in the US: one resembling soggy piecrust, and the other resembling a ball of stuffing that has been poached. It is the latter category that is beloved here in Bavaria. These tonight were small, fine-grained, fluffy and delicately seasoned; poached in a clear broth. And I polished off the bowl before I even thought to take a picture! The main course was a roast pork shoulder, served with potato dumplings and kraut. Since I missed the roast pork in Nürnberg, this was a special treat.

Lodging: Herr Erich Habermeyer has had this Gasthof in his family since his father bought the old post office in 1906 and renovated it. This is a big place , with two floors of rooms and good sized restaurant. Very nicely fitted room, with nice view of town and the twin church spires from the skylight. Highly recommended.

12 May: Gunzenhausen

Distance: 15 km
Net elev: -75m

Of course, to go downhill one must first go uphill, 65m to Giesenberg. It was a pleasant morning, walking over the first ridge, down into Igelsbach (bach = brook) and then uphill again, through blooming apple orchards and woods. Every town has a dairy barn, complete with resident moo-ers, but I guess it’s not yet time to turn the girls out to pasture. Horses I have seen outside, and goats and chickens, but no cows. Backyard Chickens seem to be suddenly popular, as I don’t recall seeing quite so many last year.

Immediately following the midday halt, the lowering clouds of a squall line caught me. Even though I am very happy with the new raincoat, I sheltered in a wood for a half hour until the wind died down. The rain continued to let up as I slogged through the afternoon.

The Jakobsweg track has been re-routed a bit from the recent past, forgoing the bike path for a wooded path along the crest of a ridge. Turns out, this is not just any ridge.

The Romans were here. Yes, those Romans. This ridge marked the northernmost Roman intrusion into Germania. It was appropriately fortified, not unlike Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. However, instead of a 15 ft wall to keep the Scots out, this had a 3 ft wall to serve as a border demarcation, and a series of watchtowers and blockhouses to monitor the cross-border trade. Fascinating stuff!

As it turns out, today is the same major holiday as in the US: Happy Mutterstag!

Dining. Since my lodgings did not offer dinner tonight (I’m always cautious about Sunday meals), I was directed across the street to the Gasthof Krone, which had regional specialties. There was a lovely pork bullion, followed by sauerbraten with pretzel dumplings. Very personal service and highly recommended.

Lodging. Gasthof Arnold allowed me to reserve by email. The room is on the small side but very clean and quite acceptable. Free wifi. The only problem is, with the rerouting of the Jakobsweg, they are no longer directly on the track. One must turn north about 300m once you come past the cemetery. (Yes, it was an unexpected pain to have to go hunting for them.)

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11 May: Kalbensteinberg

Distance: 15.5 km
Net elev: +75 m

Nürnberg sits in the middle of a large shallow depression; I was in it for the week coming into town last year, and for the first week this year. At an average of 15 km/day, that makes about 100 mi across. So this is flat, farming country, sprinkled with small hamlets every few miles. I’m not sure what the German land-use regulations are, but the farm-forest split seems to be 50-50. People live in the towns, not scattered over the countryside.

Today is Saturday, and I have passed two farm tractors already. Winter was late here, and that must have impacted the spring planting. I have seen many asparagus fields, a few hops, as well as young unidentifiable grain and quite a bit of “just planted/ain’t come up yet”.

Stuccoed masonry is the predominate building style, with red tile roofs. But in every town there are a few older buildings – many of them barns or other large farm buildings – made from huge blocks of red sandstone. The owner of this home seems to have been a pilgrim.

The exceptions to the flat countryside are the hilltowns. Fair warning: any town with a name like xxx-berg sits on a hill. (Berg = mountain) so it was a 300ft climb (too steep for cars) up to Theilenberg, and another 400ft climb up (more gently) to Kalbensteinberg.

Dining. Gasthauses in Germany stay afloat year-round on their restaurant and bar business with the locals, and this one is no exception. I don’t know if it’s the fact of a Saturday night, but this is the busiest one I’ve seen yet (and this is a small town). Having passed so many asparagus fields today, when the white stuff (the Germans go to great pains to keep their asparagus white) showed up on the menu I ordered it (probably too much, for those of you who know of my sensitivity to asparagus). Tasty and well-prepared; I just wish it liked me better. There was a delicious asparagus soup, followed by fried pike served on top of a lightly creamed ragout of potatoes and asparagus. I’m slowly deciphering German culinary terms. Gebackene, related to the English cognate bake, can mean either baked or fried. Similarly, Gekochte can mean either cooked or boiled.

Lodging. Gasthof zur Post in Kalbensteinberg is another family-run operation. I really like these; there is a personal touch and I get to meet people. Since I’m the only walker, this is important. The room is nice, but not special, and I can hear the other guests in the hallway. Recommended.

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10 May – Abenberg

Distance: 15 km (from Schwabach S-Bahn station)
Net elev: +90 m

Before catching the light rail to skip over the industrial flatlands and rejoin the Jakobsweg where I left off last year, I picked up two sandwiches at the train station in Nürnberg – my PT says I have to plan anti-bonk nutrition.

It had rained overnight, which was not much of a surprise, as the sprinkles had begun as I was walking back from dinner. But there must have been some periods of real rain (not that drizzly Seattle stuff) because the streams were full, the puddles showed ambitions to become ponds, the ponds aspired to municipal reservoirs – you get the picture. The light rain when I left Nürnberg had become blowing, real rain by the time I came out of the light rail station in Schwabach. So I broke out the new raincoat, made friends with my gaiters (they usually fight me), and set off.

After two hours I came upon a wayside shelter (purpose-built for pilgrims, complete with an explanatory Jakobsweg placard) for a sandwich break. I had already passed several benches in strategic locations, so I knew the regional pilgrim association was active.

The terrain today was gently rolling, so I had several forested low ridges to cross. On the second ridge, near Kammerstein, I came across a brand new chapel, out in the woods.

This place is massively built; each one of those wooden slats is actually a natural solid wood beam (not a glue-lam!) measuring 16 inches across and 8 inches thick. Timber like that these days just boggles the mind – I had no idea it was still obtainable. This chapel is so new, the grass is just starting to fill in and there is no weathering on the wood. I am astounded; this is a major effort by the local pilgrim association.

There is an air gap of about 2 inches between each of the wood slabs, and a nice breeze was blowing through. There is a stone pillar carved with the cross of St James on the front, and a scallop shell basin carved on top. It could be used as a font if someone hadn’t installed a thick piece of glass on top of it. Behind the pillar (I guess it really is an altar but by far the skinniest one I’ve ever seen) the wall curves to form an apse, and there is beautiful stained glass installed. You can see the long benches down either side giving choir seating for over 20 pilgrims.

Over the entry is a beautiful stained glass (fused glass actually) scallop shell, the emblem of the Santiago pilgrim.

This place was so well designed. It was a pleasure to take my noon halt there.

After several more kilometers and another forested ridge, I arrived at Abenberg.

Dining. I confess to researching regional specialty dishes before I go on any trip. (what? You thought all those cookbooks on my shelves were just for cooking?) So when trout (Forelle) popped up on tonight’s menu, I went for it. Germany is famous for its freshwater fish. And what a treat! An entire trout! Perfectly seasoned and cooked to the exact second. Amazing. An for dessert, what I would call an apple fritter (sliced fresh apple ring, battered and fried) and the locals call Apfelkuchen. A terrific meal!

Lodging. The Landhaus Kaiser is on the Jakobsweg, and fortunately around the side of the hill rather than the top (there’s a castle with lodging up there if you really feel compelled). I was able to book ahead by email, and Frau was a younger woman, very friendly and welcoming, with fluent English. Very nice, recent construction room; highly recommended!

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09 May: Nürmberg

Everything “ran according to Hoyle” with the Lufthansa flight out of Seattle thru Frankfort to Nürnberg. My baggage plan was: check the disassembled Pacerpoles, carry on the pack (Osprey Exos 46) and use the collapsible daypack from SeatoSummit as my “purse” for water bottles, snack sack, reading material, Kindle, noise cancelling earphones. The Pacerpoles fit ok in a flat 24-inch FedEx box. But the flight was completely full, and I was concerned there would be an issue with my not-quite regulation pack (wouldn’t quite fit the try-it frame and was a pound over the weight limit of 18lbs. So I gate-checked the pack. Maybe it was the gambling hangover from the Kentucky Derby party last week! Anyway baggage claim is often the most anxious part of my trips – so I was greatly relieved when both the pack and the pole-box popped out onto the conveyor.

From the airport it is easy to get into downtown on the U-Bahn. Having passed through the Hauptbahnhof both going and coming last year, I knew my way around. Today is Ascension (Himmelfahrt) observed as a major holiday here in very Catholic Bavaria. As it happens, it is also Fathers Day. So Happy Vaterstag, Dad!
I had not planned to hit Germany over the Pentecost (Pfingsten) major holiday; these were just the dates that popped up as flyer-mile opportunities, and I forgot to check the calendar. People must be enjoying the holiday, because the airports, trains, and city streets are all very quiet.

As I mentioned, today is Ascension (Himmelfahrt). As I was walking to dinner, I heard church bells and followed the call. It’s a wonderful way to begin a pilgrimage, actually. Even though I stop into (almost) every open church along the way, I think there is a special grace that comes from properly grounding one’s journey at the outset.

I didn’t catch a lot of the homily, but one bit was quite clear. Himmel ist kein wo. Heaven is not a place. Especially Heaven is not some other place.

Dining. Fortunately the wonderful sandwich shops in the main train station were open despite the holiday, so lunch was a small but sturdy sandwich, and I resisted the cookies’ siren song. I have to walk some kilometers (other than across air terminals) to earn those. Alas, my favored Bohm’s was closed for the holiday, so no Franconian pork roast for me tonight. Heaven is indeed some other place! So I made do with an excellent burger, topped with red bell pepper purée and local cheese, with a side salad and Weißbier to drink.

Lodging. A&O Hostel, two blocks from the train station in a very convenient location. Nice private room, friendly young staff, a fair number of people coming and going. Recommended!

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Itinerary: Jakobsweg 2013

As I’m walking the sections of the Way of Saint James each year, I try to begin each new year at the point where I stopped previously. Last year I stopped in Nuremberg, so I will begin there this year.

From there, the Jakobsweg route runs southwesterly, through Oettingen, Ulm, and Ravensburg, skirting the plateau known as the Schwabian Alb. Then across Lake Constance, and again southwest to the ancient Benedictine abbey at Einsiedeln in Switzerland. This will be about 30 days walking with a rest stop in the major towns, about once a week.

Packed and Ready: Jakobsweg 2013

Packing is so very exciting. Even though this is my fourth year to walk a section of the Way of Saint James (Jakobsweg in German), and indeed the packing list is well-refined by this point, there are always lessons learned from past trips. So there are adjustments to the list. What is different this year?

  • First Aid Kit. In previous years, I really only had a “blister kit” plus a few bandaids. However, based on having some bloody scuffs and road rash on the last two times I’ve travelled, it’s time to actually bring appropriate supplies. So I have the Adventure Medical Kit 0.9, supplemented by antibiotics.
  • Raincoat. My SeatoSummit poncho, stalwart companion for the past walks, has been replaced by the Trekker from Ferrino. The poncho is incredibly difficult to don while walking alone, and provides no coverage below the elbow. The Trekker has a very full cut, almost like a poncho with sleeves, and covers over the pack.
  • Cup. I replaced my Guyot Designs cup-and-bowl combo with the lightweight versatile Titanium mug from Snow Peak. I’ve been using it as a teapot on my training hikes, and I really like it.
  • Local Cell Phone. Originally purchased for $40, but I found the number evaporated after 90 days, so I had to buy a whole new rig every year. Since I have the iPhone with me, I don’t save enough to warrant the weight. So I ditched both the phone and its charger.

So everything else is the same! Here’s the current packing list for reference. CSJ Pack List 2013

18 Mar: The Long Road Home

Not that I’m counting, but this may be the longest day of my life. After breakfast we set out under gray skies to an unforgettable history lecture by Huu Ngoc, a retired journalist in his nineties with a decidedly long view of Vietnam’s place in world history. It was an insightful and intense hour or so. His book Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture is a delightful collection of decades of his newspaper columns on different facets of local lore. Fascinating!

Lunch was at a local establishment that serves as a center for training and employment of disadvantaged youth. The restaurant is located in a classic Hanoi “tube house”: very skinny, narrow and deep, and several stories tall.

Then off to the ancient Buddhist temple and school, where the Confucian scholars took their exams and gained the license to serve in government.

Finally back to our hotel to change and pack and load up. Our flight out of Hanoi left at 11:30pm Hanoi time, and arrived in Seoul at 5:30 am Seoul time. We faced a 13-hour layover, and Asiana Airlines had just the (no-cost) thing. Two things, actually, so we had to choose. One could have a hotel room. Or one could get a tour of Seoul. Having not seen Seoul before, I chose that option – and two others did as well. It was a glorious sunny day. We had a nice breakfast and then mustered for our bus. The plan included four stops: a centrally located Buddhist temple, the presidential palace, lunch, and a shopping street. So it was nice that they didn’t try to cram everything into our time; the stops were well chosen and well paced. Lunch was bulgoki, a well known Korean dish. So it was altogether a very nice sampling of the city and the culture. We arrived back at the airport mid-afternoon, along with the hotel-choosers, and had time for a (free) shower, and a (free) nap in a Quiet Zone. Our outbound flight left at 6:30pm from Seoul and arrived on schedule in Seattle around noon. This was my first trip on Asiana Airlines, and I must say the service was excellent all around. I would certainly fly them again.

Friends met us at the airport, and even more were at Grace to welcome us home. It was a great trip! So many insights and wonderful experiences and new friends. I look forward to returning to Vietnam and contributing to PeaceTrees’ work there.

16 Mar: Hanoi History

Hanoi has a population more than 6 million, which makes it bigger than Seattle. We observed quite a lot of construction during our 30-minute ride into town from the airport.

Our hotel is in the Old Quarter, full of narrow streets, colonial French rowhouses, and hordes of motor scooters. After lunch we did a walkabout in this part of town, visiting some unique shops. Prices here run the entire range from pennies to hundreds of dollars; that makes for quite a mix!

The national founding legend of Vietnam has a king-Arthur-like plot line involving a hero, Le Loi, a holy turtle, and a special sword; the sword was used to end the thousand year Chinese occupation. We visited one of the turtles today at his temple. This is a small one. There’s an even bigger one still in the lake: 100 years old and 450 pounds when last seen in 2011.

Dinner for our last night in Vietnam was in an old French colonial residence, now a terrific restaurant.

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15 Mar: Hoi An Backroads

It’s time to get out of town! Remember that 80% of the population (80 million, almost as populous as Germany) lives outside the towns and cities. We had seen some rural life in the central highlands near Khe Sahn; but Hoi An is a coastal area.

We set off to explore, first by bike. The rice paddies are sectioned in units of 500 square meters, and a plot that size generates revenue of $300 per year. Many families have only this much. Most are subsistence farms, where there is a small surplus over the family’s needs that is sold for cash. Vegetables would also be raised on the family plot. In this area, with irrigation, they can get two crops of rice each year. It was the introduction of the water buffalo that allowed the heavy work of irrigation system construction and doubled the rice crop; so the water buffalo is revered as the foundation of civilization.

Since this area is so close to the restaurants of Hoi An, one village is specializing in organic herbs and vegetables. Two hundred families have 7 hectares (about 3acres) under this intense cultivation. We visited one woman, watched how she used seaweed as fertilizer, and helped her water her crops.

A bit later, after passing some shrimp ponds under their periodic muck-out, we had an opportunity to ride a water buffalo. I was surprised: these animals are smaller than our big dairy Holsteins, but more muscular. This cow was very sweet tempered, and she really took to that water!

Trading in our bikes, we boarded a boat to get out on the bay and see how the fishermen live. We had special training in the hand-cast net – and an opportunity to practice.

Also we operated the muscle-powered winch net. Our meager catch was added to the pot for lunch, along with some vegetables from earlier stop.

So in the space of less than seven hours, we truly had a hands-on experience of rural life with the farmers and fishers near Hoi An. What an exceptional, memorable, day!