Rolling into Switzerland

Trip Start Mar 29, 2006
Trip End Feb 28, 2007

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Monday, September 18, 2006

MONDAY, 18th September
The girls arose so early this morning it was still dark. To me that is still night time. I do not get up at night anymore than I go to bed while it is daylight (although it came pretty close to that at times in this European summer). I, therefore, refused to roll out of bed until I could at least see my toes. I still made it by 8 o'clock...our planned time of departure for Switzerland.
We were off to see the glaciers. Whilst in Stein am Rhein the other day we had purchased rail tickets for a journey from Chur in central Schweis to Poschiavo, a town on the cusp of the downward run to Italy beyond St. Moritz. We would have taken the train from Radolfzell...all the way...but it meant getting up even earlier for a 5 o'clock train and not returning till late at night. So we compromised and with L's agreement we decided to drive to Chur the one day, catch the train the next and return that night.
Navigator in chief was L who took her job very seriously and immediately pulled me up for taking the wrong exit from Moos...quite rightly too. Having shown who was in control she guided me over the Rhine at Stein am and along the southern shore of the river, past Konstance and along a not very interesting Route 13  via Arbon and Rorschach until we reached the small town of Staad.
In Staad was the  famed Markthalle building designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the architect, painter and designer extra-ordinaire who used coloured tiles to express his love of colour and non-conformist shapes on his very unique buildings. Gaudio's work is the closest.  More of a work of art than a building the Markthalle was a testament to his strange architectural style in a most remote part of Europe. A wonderful building with not a straight line anywhere other than the floor we walked on. Curved walls and columns holding up a rippled ceiling atop which, on the roof, was his signature jungle of earth, grass and bushes. It was very untidy. Somebody might have taken a mower to it occasionally although a goat would not have been out of place. The whole was a rainbow of colours with onion shaped domes on each corner and brightly coloured tiles encompassing the columns. He was not a man who believed in colour coordination...more of a discordination. He should have designed clothes. What a different fashion world that might have been. As it turned out he had turned his hand to other outlets. Painting was his first love and the shop had many examples of his art and other objet d'art with his designs appliqued. Whilst I do love his style of sculpture I don't think I could live in an apartment designed by him of which there are a few scattered around Austria his home country. [ The reason we made this pilgrimage to Staad was that we had been introduced to Hundertwasser's work by Anne's sister D some years ago when he used to live next door to her in the Bay of Islands and he had left his mark on the district by designing and constructing Kerri Kerri's public loo. ]
I bought a book on his works and was amazed at how busy he had been with all his projects...mostly in Europe. We bought postcards, a cup of coffee and a cake each.
St Gallen was our next destination where we were determined to find the Benedictine Abbey and its world famous library. But we could not find it. We drove up and around that town trying to track it down. How hard could it be we thought. Not a signpost anywhere. In the end we asked a flower seller by the side of the road and would you believe we were within 100 metres of the place.
We parked in an underground P and walked up to the imposing Abbey. It had  disguised its entrance very well. There appeared to be only the one side door. [I wondered how they overcame the health and safety regulations re: exits in case of emergency!] We cautiously opened the small door and entered the enormous chamber/nave of this monument to God. It was magnificent. Enormously high and built exclusively from white marble upon which were mounted or painted works of art and carvings of the saints etc. in every nook and cranny. There was colour everywhere in a baroque style with stucco designs and a fresco covering most of the ceiling. A larger version of Birnau. The wow factor went up several notches. The choir stalls were ornately carved out of timber and highly polished whilst the altar surrounds were of an intricate wrought iron design. The Abbey  was completed in the 18th century and the whole looks hardly changed since then including the floor to ceiling pipe organ.
The library was in another building...part of the boys college. Another hard to find doorway, Up some stairs and, after paying a small fee and donning slippers over our shoes, we entered through a small wooden door into the most magnificent library I have ever seen. The floor was of polished inlaid wood (which explained the protective slippers), the ceiling was covered with the most intricate frescos and gilt overlay. The bookshelves were works of art in themselves as they curved around elaborate columns. There was a balcony giving access to who knows what age books and a cleverly disguised elevator at one end which looked for all purposes like the entrance to a throne room or some was so artistically carved. The room itself was only about 20m long by 10m wide but it was as high as it was wide. Words cannot describe that room. The wow factor has just blown off the planet. Never have I seen anything like this place. It was full very old books going back a 1000 years all locked away in the wooden bookcases from ceiling to floor. Some were open and on display in glass cases showing some of the fine old German text.  
Leaving St Gallen we headed east again towards Austria and the town of Feldkirch which we approached from Allstadt, way up on top of a mountain pass with wonderful views down to that town and the upper Rhine valley. We parked in Feldkirch beside a very fast flowing river and walked into the old part of town. We were not very impressed probably because we had seen so much already in similar towns. The only feature that set it apart were the colonnades and arches along the main street protecting the shops. The river was more interesting. We were now in Austria and one of the first things that struck me was that there were rubbish bins everywhere...something Germany lacked. We ate our lunch as we strolled having bought sandwiches and rolls at a servo before we came here.
We then realised that we had had breakfast in Germany, morning tea in Switzerland and lunch in Austria. No doubt we would be having dinner in Switzerland that night. We failed to stop in Liechenstein to complete the dining experience although I was informed later that L took a sip of water from her bottle as we motored through. It was very difficult to know when you were in and when out of that small country. It was an ongoing with us that we missed Vaduz completely although on the map it showed that the road we were on had passed through that town.
Down to Chur next where we had great difficulty finding a hotel...any hotel. There were not dozens of brown signs to help us in this town and although we drove around and around the central area damned if we could see any hotels but the one next to the railway which looked to be a Five star. In the end we drove into that railway hotel and they were kind enough to direct us to the Three Kings or Drei Koenig Hotel a couple of blocks away.
I had to leave the car in a private car park whilst we booked in and moved our cases.
The hotel was not the best but it was all we could find. Lyn's single room was a hoot. The toilet was at the end of the bed and the shower in a cupboard but it was half our room price. Our room was above a well again and we could hear the kitchens this time otherwise the room was OK for a 2 star. I moved the car into an underground P  where I was told I could park all day and night for very little. I returned to the hotel and out we went to find dinner.
That also was not easy. Most of the eating places were closing up for the night although it was not late. We were in the business part of town and they were mostly lunch eateries. The ones that were open were too expensive except for McDonalds and the Italian pizzeria down near the station. Well why I mean. We were hungry, but then when are we not? First, however, we checked out the station and the platform from which we had to catch the train the next day. No problem.
[Wherever and whenever possible we reconnoitre the point of departure for the next or following days. When you have cases to carry and/or are in a strange town it is always an advantage to know what to expect from your travel arrangements. I cannot understand the mentality of travellers who wake up in their hotel room enjoy a mighty breakfast (as if they had not eaten for a week) and upon checking their flight time discover from the desk clerk that the airport is two hours away, there is no shuttle bus and their flight leaves in an hour and a half!]
We ate, therefore, at the Media restaurant, as it was called, and I ordered a pizza with pepperoni which I understood to be a meat like salami but no, it was...according to the waiter, cook, owner, cashier and washer upper the word for capsicum. I ended up with a vegetarian pizza. However, because of my obvious distress at having to go vegetarian he presented me with a free beer. I would have preferred some meat...any meat...but he only added to my alcohol intake which I did not need. The girls had a lump of fried meat and salad and they were not too happy with that meagre dish either. All of this cost us about 50 Swiss Francs or 30 Euros or $AUD55...a rip off. But then Switzerland, we were to discover, was very expensive except for petrol and chocolates.
We had dessert at McDonalds. Sundaes for L and I and a cup of tea for Anne.
We returned to the hotel but as we entered the lobby we heard strange noises, ie braying sounds, coming from behind a closed double door. Anne peeked inside, withdrew and informed us that there were some men in a hall with horns. My curiosity aroused I replaced her at the door and was immediately seen by these horny men and invited to step inside. At least I assumed that was what the gestures meant.
It was a small auditorium and lined up in front of the stage were four guys playing/practising on their 'alpine horns', those very long tubular instruments that make a deep drawn out sound which was used if my memory is correct to communicate with one another across the hill tops. The three of us entered and listened as they played some rather dismal tunes to which we generously applauded. It was interesting but hardly what you could call uplifting music. If nothing else it lacked any rhythm. It had a rich full sound but after 5 minutes the rich full sound falls a bit flat. One of them insisted that I have a go. That was a mistake. Nothing much more than a raspberry came from my mouthpiece. L, our trained musician, did much better at producing a recognisable sound. I mentioned to them the similarity to our native didgeridoos [now, they have rhythm] and it turned out that they were very familiar with that instrument having hosted a couple of Aussies only recently with their instruments in Chur.
We hung around them for about half an hour enjoying the fact that they enjoyed us watching them...duh! The leader of the pack, a bearded, lederhosened horn player, unveiled to us his pride and joy which was a hi-tech carbon fibre version of the alpine horn which he proceeded to play and it seemed a little sweeter. It was telescopic too and folded up into nothing bigger that a shopping bag.
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