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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 2 of 30: Saturday May 15 - to Einsiedeln

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Zig with his favorite food

Woke up in the middle of the night. It must have been about 3am local time. That would make it 9pm Lexington time. Next trip I’m going to remember to bring one of those tiny little battery powered book lights! It would have been perfect for reading or making notes in the notebook. As it was I could only lie there and know that if I woke Georgia up to ask if she was asleep she would hand me my head.

Managed to fall back asleep eventually and woke up at 9am local time. We went exploring and found a great “Reform Produkt Backerei” at the Goldbrunnerplatz. That’s a bakery where they use only organic products. Bought some wonderfully strong coffee, gorgeous little ruddy apples with a sweet-tartness I love, Apfel struddle as well, and more Linzertorte just in case we should happen to need a little smackerel of something before lunch. Mmmm. Cost 13 Swiss francs, about $10. Delicious, but a little pricey. We may be eating out of the supermarkets a lot, but we won’t starve.

Looked like another day of drizzle. Even so, the train ride to Einsiedeln was magical. As we climbed further and further up in the mountains we passed dark green stands of fir and open meadows of grass and wildflowers. For the most part we shared a narrow mountain valley with a two-lane road and swift-flowing mountain stream. There was a lot of road construction that left the cars at a standstill. I was glad to be on the train. I’ve not had the nerve to rent a car in Europe yet. And except for the time we couldn’t get the 50 miles from Vezelay to the Cathedral at Bourges without taking a train 250 miles up and back to Paris, I’ve never regretted relying solely on European trains and buses.

As we climbed higher the steady drizzle was turning into a cold rain.

The little town of Einsiedeln grew up around the monastery. The monastery grew up around the hermitage of a holy monk in the ninth century. Robbers believed that St Meinrad had amassed a treasure from the many pilgrims who came to see him at his remote cabin 20 miles or so south of Zurich. On January 21, 861, they murdered him and would have gotten away but for two ravens, evidently friends of St. Meinrad, who followed them squawking and scolding to such an extent that the local peasants had to investigate.

In 940 other monks converted Meinrad’s hermitage into a small chapel and installed the beautiful statue of the Madonna and child that the saint had venerated. The Black Madonna is now coal black—perhaps from 12 or 13 centuries of candle smoke. A replica is also found at the daughter monastery of St Meinrad in southern Indiana. That’s also Benedictine and a seminary where most of the teachers who lead our diaconal formation came from. Both monasteries are lovely peaceful places.

The drizzle had turned into a cold rain. I sure wished that we’d had an umbrella but our cellophane ponchos were doing an adequate job, and it was really too cold to be outside for long. Inside the basilica we saw a little gate off to the left “for worshipers only” and went through just in time for Mass. We sat halfway down on the left-hand side behind a group of 15 or 20 Italian nuns, who, like us were never quite sure when to stand, kneel, or sit. There is obviously a good bit of variation between dioceses and sees. Einsiedeln has more than 200,000 pilgrims a year.

There was a 30-something priest presiding with a deacon and acolyte who were about the same age. We picked up one of the missals and the page numbers were projected on the wall behind them. Contra Rodin, the church itself was sort of a “Gates of Heaven” with a riot of cherubs and exuberant saints praising God. And all of it covered with gold! The choir stalls were filled with monks and the plainchant brought tears to my eyes for its beauty and simplicity. We sang along. What a joy to have a part in that heavenly song in that heavenly space.

After mass we visited the gift shop where there was lovely glass fused using frit. Holes had been drilled for the hangers before the fusing so that they were nice and smooth. One especially lovely cross had a tree superimposed on it. It could have had red apples symbolizing the wounds of Christ. I think I’ll try to design one.

We really wanted to walk through the mountain meadows whistling “The Hills are Alive . . .” toward the wooded peaks but it was just too cold and rainy. While Georgia waited in the abbey church I made a quick circuit around the grounds. Since the middle ages Einsiedeln has bred its own horses. There were 25 or 30 “stabled” in a paved courtyard behind the monastery. Some were lovely draft animals and others were for riding, I’m sure. Through the arched gateway I could see a lumber mill. There were enormous quantities of rough-cut lumber and a wide gravel path leading up the mountain. I followed it for 100 yards or so and saw a life-sized stations-of-the-cross. I was so sad that the weather was bad; but that gives us an excuse to come back again. On my left and behind the sawmill I could see a mountain meadow rising up at a 45 degree angle disappearing into the clouds. The grass was a glorious spring green—lush with all the moisture. I bet the horses love to be released into that pasture.

I sat with Georgia for a while in front of the Black Madonna. Mary and the infant king were dressed in amazingly decorated vestments based on the liturgical colors. They were all in white when we saw them with real pearls sewed into the fabric and the cloth finished with gold thread. There were school field-trips touring the abbey and we fell in line with one of them. The brother leading the group carried the class “behind the scenes” to the monk’s confessional. Beautifully carved rich wooden stalls. We pretended we knew what we were doing. I’ve found that it’s sometimes easier to get forgiveness than permission. The brother asked (in German) what we were doing back there. I told him honestly that I didn’t speak German and I’m happy to say that he didn’t speak English. I don’t think I wanted to hear what he wanted to say! As it was, he just looked exasperated and muttered something that probably reflected on the apparent intelligence of tourists.

It was now 1:30 and our stomachs gave us to understand that we’d not yet had anything to eat. There seemed to be a lot of restaurants but one in particular caught our eye because it seemed to be removed from the others — right at the base of one of those mountain horse pastures. We went in and the waitress greeted us with a statement. I had no idea what she said and assumed that she was just welcoming us so I asked where we should sit. She said the same phrase again, motioning toward the kitchen, which we could see behind the counter. The chef was watching us with interest. I couldn’t believe they wanted us to sit in the kitchen, so I motioned toward one of the tables and shrugged. The waitress had that same look the brother had. She had a hurried conversation with the chef and now he had that same look as well. Our German may be deficient but we were getting quite fluent in “exasperating the locals.” That’s something, I suppose. In desperation she appealed to another party in the dining room. She asked if anyone spoke English. One nice man stood up and in a British accent said to me “She’s trying to tell you that the kitchen is closed.”

Oh, I thought. I can see why that could be a problem. Then the man asked the waitress a question in German. I understood the word “suppe,” “soup.” The waitress nodded. “They could fix you some soup and bread, if you like.” Definitely, we like! “Oh yes,” I told him, “We’d like that.” She smiled broadly and motioned for us to sit down under a lovely woodcut telling us “Gegen alle krank und pest is der rote wein das best.” Agreeing completely that “the best way to deal with all illness and pestilence is with a glass of red wine,” we ordered a carafe.

And just to be on the safe side we also ordered a carafe of white wine. A plate of crusty German peasant bread also arrived. We sat and looked through the lace curtains at the rain and waited for our “suppe.” It was a chicken broth with rice, and with the bread it made a delicious light lunch. With coffee for dessert we waited out the rain in comfort. Pricey, but comfortable. The bill came to 38 Swiss francs — about 35 dollars. That seemed like a lot to me, but the meal we were going to have tomorrow would end up costing almost ten times that amount.

We stopped at a gelateria on our way back to the train station. Yum.

Back in Zurich we had to just stop and look at the mass of humanity hurrying to and fro through the central train station. It is really amazing. Must be what Grand Central Station used to be like at the height of American train-travel. We even saw some live cartoon characters. Manga, or Anime characters. Four Swiss teenagers dressed like Japanese cartoon characters. Amazing. I asked if I could take their picture 'cause I knew no one back home would believe it otherwise.' They were thrilled to pose for us. I learned later that hanging out like that in a very public space is called “Cosplay,” for “Costume Play.” The whole point is to attract attention. Of course they’d love to be photographed. Oh, to be young again.

Outside the station we caught a tram to the Kunsthaus to try to see all the things we’d been too tired to see yesterday. The Chagall drawings and paintings were glorious, but it was the medieval art that took my breath away. The odd Rembrant, Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh were pretty good too. Fully awake, I had to agree that the Kunsthaus deserved the wonderful reputation it had. And it was still free with our three-day tram pass!

I had a great time also window-shopping at the art galleries along the road back to the tram stop. There is some wonderful art being made in Switzerland. Bought a pretzel. There are some wonderful pretzels being made in Switzerland too!

Our Swiss Friends

About tomorrow’s dinner you need a little background:

In 2005 we flew from Milan to Athens Greece and caught a puddle-jumper out to the island of Patmos off the Turkish coast. (See Slowtrav.com, trip-report 1204) We wanted to see the monastery founded on the site of St John’s cave of the apocalypse — where he wrote the Bible’s book of Revelation. As we were coming back down the mountain we saw a nice-looking couple trying to wheel a baby buggy down the rocky path. The path was hard enough to walk on, but rolling a sleeping a baby down in a buggy? Insane. I handed the camera to Georgia and told her that I was going to try to help. I stopped them and motioned that I should lift up the front end of the buggy while the father lifted up with the handle. It worked. The two of us could carry the sleeping baby pretty easily. It was, however, a long mountain path and we had plenty of time to visit along the way. The family was from Switzerland: Dejan, Yvonne, and little Melina, who never awakened. They were from one of the German-speaking cantons but Yvonne spoke English fluently. So did Dejan, though his English was a bit more rusty.

We hit it off well and had the best time swapping international jokes. I persuaded them of my thesis that you can tell a lot about a people by their jokes. What makes people laugh, and what makes them angry — those are two important cultural markers. I told them the joke I’d heard from a man from China: “A grandfather punished his grandson for some infraction and that made the boy’s father so angry he decided to punish the grandfather’s son to get even. So he went outside and stood in the hot sun without a hat.” In China, where family relations are so important that one must be a real knee-slapper. I told them the Swedish couple we’d met in Italy. They thought and thought for 15 or 20 minutes and couldn’t come up with a single joke. I thought that pretty illuminating too.

Dejan said he had one: There were these three men in a sauna. They were all high-tech businessmen. Suddenly they heard a phone ring, but none of them were wearing any clothes. One man smiled and peeled back a flap of skin on his chest and pulled out a little cell phone. “I needed open-heart surgery and figured I’d just have them put a phone jack in there too.” The other two nodded. Then another phone rang and the second man flipped up his towel and opened a flap on his hip: “I needed a hip-replacement and did the same thing.” The third man excused himself saying he had to go to the toilet. When he came back there was paper dangling from between the cheeks of his butt. “You’ve gotten toilet paper stuck,” one friend said. “No, that’s just a fax coming in.” The joke was funny but the real humor came from listening to Dejan searching for the right words. All of us tried to help him. This one was a real group effort. By the time he finished we were sitting in a bar beside the bay watching the little fishing boats bobbing up and down. And we laughed and laughed. That’s the real joy of international traveling. Meeting the people. That’s why Georgia and I avoid traveling in groups. That makes it virtually impossible that you will meet anyone else.

We exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. And we did, sending seasonal emails. It gave us the chance to watch little Melina grow and then we got to welcome her little sister Lorena. We saw their house in Switzerland on Google Earth near the German border. When we started planning for this trip we contacted them to say that we’d love to see them again, and made arrangements to visit on our trip from Zurich to the Black Forest just over the Swiss border. They said they’d love to see us too and would show us around their village, Beringen, near Stauffhousen where the Falls of the Rhine were located.

Unfortunately we hadn’t reckoned with the difficulty of using foreign telephones and not having a dependable Internet connection. We were supposed to see them sometime tomorrow but we’d never finalized the plans. Back at the Bed and Breakfast we were sitting at our little table sipping a nice Einseidln wine and wondering how to contact them when “Bam, bam, bam!” I thought I’d been shot! Someone was knocking on the window above my head.

Bam; Bam; Bam! “Sind sie Herr Zeigler?” Bam! Bam! Bam! “Sind sie Herr Zeigler?!?” Oh great! I’m busted. I tried to tell Georgia that it was just wrong to to smuggle apfel strudel across canton lines for immoral purposes but she wouldn’t listen. “No one will notice,” she said. “People do it all the time!” she said. I told her eating the Swiss chocolate was going to lead to the hard stuff — Oh my gosh! What if the authorities call our kids and they have to come bail us out of some strudel tank? Oh the shame! Oh durn, we are so busted. She looked in the window — nowhere to hide. Oh those Swiss undercover police look just like sweet little old gray-haired hausfraus, but I’m not fooled. Maybe we can deny that we are “Zeiglers.” That’s it. “Zeiglers?” “Zeiglers?” “I knew a Zimmerman once.” “Really great poet.” “Knew a Zickenfoose too.” “I went to ‘Apfel Hills High School’ with her in - I mean "Oak Hills High School" in Cinnamoncinati –I mean Cincinnati.” “Apfel’s?” “I don’t smell Apfels. Do you smell Apfels?” “I’m sure any Apfels you might smell would be local apfels. . .”

We needed to get our story straight but Georgia had already bolted up the stairs to open the front door. I couldn’t believe it! And now I could hear them talking. I decided to go up and face the music. What? She was the next-door neighbor? What? She’d gotten a call from someone named “Yvonne” who wanted us to call her back about tomorrow. What? No, we didn’t know how to use the phone. What? Come over next door and you’ll dial the phone for us? What? What kind of place are we visiting?

Did I ever tell you my definition of “civilization?” It’s a communal way of life where complete strangers are not only not a threat to you, but actually go out of their way to help you. And by my definition, Zurich is a very civilized city. So far, I would rather be a stranger in Zurich than in any other city I’ve ever visited. I struggled to tell the neighbor how very grateful we were. She acted as if she couldn’t understand why I was making such a big deal out of such a little thing. There wasn’t anything unusual about getting a phone call from someone she didn’t know asking her to go next door through the drizzle to deliver a message to someone else she doesn’t know. What’s strange about that?

Yvonne, it seems, had been frantic — even going so far as making an overseas call to my studio in Lexington Kentucky to try to get a message to us! She couldn’t reach our landlady either (who was out of town for a couple of days) so she’d started looking through the Zurich telephone book for another house on the same street! Our good Samaritan lived right next door. Amazing. No, not amazing, civilized.

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