Appenzell - The Real Switzerland, The Rural Switzerland!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


From freezing Gornergrat to frying pan Rome;

From travelling on EuroStar First Class to foot board of a EuroCity train; 

From waking up before daybreak to capture the Venetian sunrise, to entering the Zermatt Mountaineer's Cemetery at midnight to bow down to those who lost lives while climbing the Matterhorn; 

From classy hotels to mountain chalets to youth hostels to sleeping on straws in a farm - Done it All! 

And all I can say it takes more courage than money... A hell lot MORE! 
It all started with one of my very good friend getting an onsite assignment at Zurich. The name is Pritha - for the records. And it was she who insisted I come and visit her in Zurich. It sounded like a great idea, but yet it was a big decision to take. It meant spending almost my entire savings and more than that it demanded immense courage, to step out of my comfort zone and to travel solo - to explore an unknown country that had unknown people and spoke unknown languages. I spent weeks juggling my options. I consulted several friends, most of whom said it was too risky, some said it doesn't make sense spending so much for just 10 days and some even reminded me that I was a girl. Only one friend gave me the thumbs up and asked me to read this blog - http://infinitesatori.org/2013/06/25/do-yourself-a-favor-and-buy-that-damn-plane-ticket-already/ by Stephanie Dandan. I booked the damn plane tickets within 24 hours of reading her blog. And then I got rid of the foremost excuse "Travel is too Expensive". I stopped all impulsive shopping, I stopped eating out, I stopped throwing house parties. In three months I saved a good amount of money. And then I got the VISA within three days of applying. 

Over the next few weeks, I researched day and night about Switzerland, its train system and places I would like to explore (I hate travel agencies) and in the end I found something unique that piqued my interest. 

In 1995, to promote Agrotourism, Swiss Farmers Association signed a quality charter with Swiss Tourism Federation and started an 'experience' called 'Schlaf im Stroh!'. It literally translates into 'Sleep in Straw'. And as apart of that, 150 Swiss farming families warmly welcome travelers who are willing to experience rural Switzerland - the real Switzerland, by living life their way. And Appenzell's Brülisauer is one such family whom I tried to contact through email and soon enough got a reply from Regula Brülisauer. Regula even agreed to provide us with sleeping bags, breakfast and station pick-up and drop. 

The registered trademark of Schlaf im Stroh .
Soon it was my day to fly... in all senses :)

Day 1, 27th October 2013, Sunday: I flew by Swiss Air from Mumbai and after the longest flight of my life, landed in Zurich at 06:15 a.m. (CET). Zurich airport is huge. The arrival terminal is connected to the passport control and baggage claim area by a train. It was raining when I stepped out and it was cold. Brrr... Soon I met Pritha and we made our way to the airport station - Flughafen. From there we took a train to Zurich HB (Haupt Bahnhof, meaning the Main Station) and from there another train to Altstetten. From Altstetten, we got onto Bus No. 78 that dropped us till Meintalstrasse and that's where Pritha lived! And trust me, this journey that sounded like 3 hours, was actually completed in less than an hour's time - such is the public transport system in Zurich.

We chit chatted over a cup of coffee and freshly baked croissants. It was weird. Two friends who hardly had time to meet in India, were meeting a long way from home - all thanks to our wonderful whim. I rested for 2 hours and then it was time to start for Appenzell (Me and 'acclimatization' never get along!). 

We reached Zurich HB by 12:30 p.m. where two of Pritha's colleagues joined us. We took the Intercity train to Gossau and from there boarded a narrow gauge train to Appenzell. This narrow gauge train connecting Gossau to Appenzell is known as Appenzeller Bahnen and looked almost like a toy train. It moved at its own pace through picture-perfect landscape of rolling hills and meadows. It dropped us at Appenzell station at 2:27 p.m. 



Regula was picking us up at 4 p.m., so we had one and half hours to explore the small town.

We strolled through the streets and reached the parish church of St. Mauritius. The cathedral, with its stained glass windows and murals painted on its ceiling, was huge and surprisingly - empty.

Our next hunt was for a good place for lunch. We had read good reviews of a restaurant called Hof and it took us only few minutes to find it. Before ordering for food, we asked our hostess to get a plate of the so famous Appenzeller Cheese for tasting. The taste of this cheese is something I'll never forget in my life. I saw stars in daylight and so did Pritha and one of her colleague. The last one saw our expressions and said 'NO' to cheese tasting. I do not mean any offence to the lovely people of Appenzell, but the strong smell and taste of the Appenzeller cheese just didn't suit our Indian taste buds. 

Clockwise from top left : Appenzell town, St. Mauritius Cathedral, A tree full of fall leaves, view from our cottage
Regula picked us up from the station at 4:00 p.m. She had come with her three children Jan, Livia and Laurin. Her farm is 3 Km from Appenzell town and to reach there, we drove through verdant hills and farms like the ones we had seen from the train. We soon reached Strohgade - our sleep in straw cottages, which was very next to Regula's house and the barn. There was a wooden table and benches right in front of our cottage, which overlooked miles of rolling hills and the Sitter river meandering through the meadows. Standing there, I understood what 'Bliss' actually means.



Inside the cottage, there were two floors. The ground floor was kind of a lounge with wooden tables and stools, a refrigerator, kitchen utensils, sink, showers and toilet. The upper floor was like a hayloft spread out with straws and our sleeping bags. 


We soon threw our bags on the straws and went exploring. There were miles to explore - beautiful miles! Thanks to our host, we were aware of the almost invisible electric fence that are used to prohibit trespassing. So we hardly stepped onto the meadows and rather kept to the narrow winding road.

The meadows surrounding our 'Sleep in Straw' cottage.
Guess whom we met while wandering - Swiss Cows!!! (Trust me! I have never been so excited seeing cows in India :P) Some were so furry that we mistook them as sheep from a distance. They were either friendly or extremely curious about us, because they soon started posing for pictures one after another. The cow bells sounded as melodious as wind chimes and there was something  very 'Swiss' about it. 

video


We walked down to the wooden bridge on the Sitter river and spent some time there till the sun set over the countryside and it started to grow dark and cold. When we reached back there was bread, cheese, cold cut meat and wine on the table. I was impressed by Swiss hospitality.

The whole setting was reminding us of Enid Blyton's Famous Five where the five would set of on adventures of their own, backpacking or cycling around the country, investigating and chasing crooks over the rolling meadows and staying the nights at the barns of farming families. 

We felt like the 'famous' five protagonists. Umm... we were actually four, but were sooner joined by our host's cat who loved us so much that he decided to have a sleep over and share our dinner. The landscape was not the Moors, but so what? It was the pre-Alpine scenery of rolling green hills and meadows dotted with farming houses and a stream meandering through it. We did not have any cycles to ride through the winding roads; instead we trusted our restless feet. The only thing missing were the crooks. It is almost impossible to find crime lurking around in any corner of the Swiss country. We thus lost an amazing chance to show our detective skills. Duh!!!

The 5th member
The Swiss wine that Regula had given, was stronger than what I mostly have in India - that I did not realize while sipping it, I realized it next morning when jet lag woke me up at 4:30 a.m.. I was nicely tucked inside a sleeping bag on the straws. I don't remember when I got high on the wine and passed out. I had vague memories of going on a night stroll towards the Sitter river, dancing on the wooden bridge and then almost plunging into the river (willingly), before I was stopped by my friends. 

Day 2, 28th October 2013, Monday: Regula served us with an amazing farm made breakfast in the morning. It was a simple, yet perfect breakfast - bread, butter, marmalade and coffee and an amazing view of Alpstein. That was one of the best breakfast I had ever had, sitting at the porch of our rustic barn overlooking the overdose of green and listening to the melodious ring of the cow bell.


Regula drove us back to Appenzell station after her kids had left for school. We soon boarded a train back to Zurich.

Thus the trip to Appenzell - one of the best experiences of my life came to an end. But till date, the memory of Appenzell stays unforgetable - still fresh, like that freshly baked bread; still vivid, like the green meadow, still lighting up my face with a brilliant smile - like it did when I had first set sight on it.


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There is a big difference between sleeping on straws and sleeping in cozy comfortable hotel beds. But if you want to experience this real feel of Switzerland, taste their rustic life and are ready to let go of your comfy bed for a night or two and replace the sound of the alarm clock with the sound of a rooster, Sleep in Straw is a must experience for you.  Happiness does come in small and simple packages :)

If you want to experience "Schlaf im Stroh!" and not able to plan it yourself, do get in touch with me.

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