Friday, November 25, 2011

Up an Alp in Appenzell

I'm going to use our day trip to Appenzell canton to make some generalisations about Switzerland, but please take them with a grain of salt - my conclusions are based on 3 full days and 2 half days, plus conversation with Andy's sister-in-law, who has lived there for nearly 2 years now. I'm using Appenzell as my example because it epitomises so much of what is Swiss about Switzerland, so even though the cities are not so much like this anymore, there are undercurrents of the traditionalism and conservatism demonstrated by Appenzell throughout the Swiss culture.  But also bear in mind that most Swiss make fun of Appenzell for being so backward (hello, giving women the right to vote in 1991).

First of all, Switzerland is an active country.  We took the adorable, red Appenzellerbahn, a small train with a whistle that sounded just like a toy train, to the base of Ebenalp.

This is a supposedly small mountain, at a mere 1640m tall.  There were two ways up - cable car, and walking.

And three ways down - cable car, walking, and paragliding.

We - three young, reasonably fit people - took the cable car up, and then walked partway down to have a look at the caves, with evidence of prehistoric human inhabitants.

The wildkirchli, or Wild Church, where hermits used to worship.

And the mountain restaurant. When we got here, it was full of people - who had walked up. People in their 60s & 70s. We were easily the youngest people on the mountain, and we were surrounded by people who had hiked all the way up.  Impressive.

Especially when, on the walk back up to where we had started, which was uphill but not steep, and maybe about 50m walk, we were so puffed we had to stop and take a break. As 60 year olds passed us without even working up a sweat.  As we sat on the bench, appreciating the scenery, a cloud rolled in.

We decided to wait it out in a truly Swiss way - in the cafe on top of the mountain.  Yes - there were two cafes on this mountain. Andy's sister-in-law translated the menu for us, pointing out in particular the "light choice", which was a salad served with a huge, greasy schnitzel on top.  This allows me to make another generalisation about Switzerland - they eat crappy food. Their meals are rich, full of sausage, cheese, and cream. As a result, it is not a terribly vegan-friendly country*.  The Swiss have the highest per capita consumption of both cheese and chocolate, but because of how active everyone is, climbing up mountains and that, they have generally low levels of heart disease, and they age really gracefully.

The cloud didn't let up, so we took the cable car back down, and returned to the town of Appenzell.

This place seemed to thrive on tourism, mainly from other parts of Switzerland, so it was full of stereotypes - cowbells, Swiss army knives, and cheese. 

Oh, the cheese was just horrible.  Appenzeller cheese is renowned for its strong, tangy smell, which pervaded the whole town of Appenzell. We went into a shop selling cheese, and were browsing in a different section, looking at all the flavours of schnapps, and it was such a strong smell that you just never get used to it.

We were just deciding whether we should stick around Appenzell or head back to St Gallen when we were surprised with an Appenzell tradition. Every autumn, when the farmers gather their cows from the surrounding mountainside, they celebrate with a cow parade through town. The cows were preceded by a deafening roar, the source of which we were unsure. Then we saw these poor cows with giant bells around their necks, and flowers on their heads.

Which leads me to another generalisation - the Swiss love cows.  Although, as a vegan, I am opposed to the concept of using animals for human gain, from a welfarist point of view, cows are generally well treated in Switzerland (except when they have to wear bells bigger than their heads and parade through town...).

We finished our day with a trip through a Swiss supermarket, Migros, where we picked up some epic Swiss junk food - Paprika flavoured potato chips, and - get this - peanut butter flips.  As in, like, cheese puffs, but peanut butter flavoured.  Best Ever Junk Food. And all vegan.

So in a nutshell - Switzerland is conservative, in a traditional sort of way. They love cows, cheese, and chocolate, but they're constantly moving so we saw loads of healthy-looking people everywhere we went. And, mainly, it is a country full of adorable, beautiful, quaint scenery.  So be prepared to go "Awww!" a lot if you ever visit.

*Though, I will admit that the following day in Zurich we ate a beautiful meal at the pay-by-weight buffet Hiltl, Europe's oldest veg restaurant, which was good but So Expensive. And in St Gallen's market, we picked up some vegan croissants, made with sunflower oil.


Kari said...

Yep, I still want to go to Switzerland :) Gorgeous, gorgeous scenery - and I could deal with lots of chocolate...

Millie said...

great pictures Theresa, thanks for sharing!

Hannah said...

Oh how I love the intriguing flavours of chips to be found throughout the world! Peanut butter... you better have dipped those in chocolate.

Susan said...

What, women got the vote in 1991? What the heck??

I was in Tasmania last year and did some bush walking. I was huffing and puffing along, and was frequently overtaken by spritely 70 year olds skipping up and down the mountains!