Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Guten Tag on the Rhine

While in Switzerland, we were hoping to do a bit of travelling around - it's a small country, and you can basically get across it by train in a few hours.  But, as I mentioned earlier, Switzerland is very expensive, and although the distances are short, they are costly. And, as we were in a restful phase of our trip, we didn't really want to spend half the day on the train (since we certainly couldn't afford staying overnight at whatever far-flung destination we wanted to visit!).  So we looked through the guidebooks at Andy's brother's house, and talked to his sister-in-law, and decided we would head towards Rheinfell and then make our way back to St Gallen along the Rhine and the Bodensee (Lake Konstanz).

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We packed a bag with some leftover capsicum-loaded spaghetti, some apples, and a bottle of water, layered on as many clothes as we could comfortably move around in, and headed for the Bahnhoffstrasse - the train station.

We caught the comfy commuter train to Winterthur, and then changed to a smaller local train where we got off at our first stop, Rheinfell.  We had read about this in the Lonely Planet, which declared it not as impressive as Niagara by any standards, but Europe's biggest waterfall no less.  So we didn't have high hopes, though did think the castle on each side of the waterfall sounded like a nice touch.  We were pleasantly surprised with the waterfal, which was beautiful and impressive.

The castle on the far side of the river, Schloss Worth, looked more like a large house to us, so we didn't pay for the several Swiss Franc ferry ride over to see it.

Schloss Worth, though, was free to get into and was more imposing.

And it offered good views of the falls.

After admiring from several angles, we decided to continue on our journey.  Nachster Halt: Schaffhausen.  This was a very likeable town with an old, cobblestone centre which felt very German (having never, at that point, been to Germany). Apparently this was the only Swiss town to be bombed in WWII, because the Allies mistook it for Germany.  We had lunch in the square, eating leftover pasta and a fresh bretzel alongside locals eating sausage and bread (held in separate hands, one bite of sausage followed by one bit of bread).

We checked out a church built in ~1100, which was imposing inside, and clearly built in the 'frighten the bejeesus out of people to encourage religiousity' school of church architecture.

Even the entrance was, quite frankly, intimidating.

But it had a cool herb garden outside, tended since the Middle Ages.

And we walked up the hill to the Munot, a weird fortress/castle/round building from the 16th century.

It was all but empty inside, which makes me reluctant to use the term 'castle'. This made Andy speculate that, when under threat, this was the place everyone ran to, and hid.  I suspect there were strict selection criteria for entry, but maybe there's a chance it was egalitarian...

But it would be a good vantage point, with views like this.

We continued on our train trip, travelling along the Rhine through fields of veggies and apples.  We left the train once again in Stein am Rhein, the town declared by Lonely Planet to be the Best in All Switzerland.  (Their terminology may have been different, but that was the gist.) Andy's sister-in-law told us it wasn't that great, so we weren't sure what to expect. On our way from the train station, we got a close up view of something that we saw from a lot of trains - rent-a-gardens.  It seems that, in the bits of land near train stations that are too small for living but too big to waste, the rail company has hired out plots of land to people who want to grow stuff.

We also saw walnuts growing.  Tell me they don't look like what I think they look like.
The town is loomed over by this castle on the hill.

When we found the town (our ability to get lost and walk the wrong way didn't get left behind in Hong Kong, that's for sure), what we found was quaint and medieval.

And very clearly tourist-oriented.

But with a sense of whimsy, or perhaps just a sincere love of dogs.

We visited a chocolate shop and got a dairy-free block of dark chocolate with almonds.  We (okay, I) ate half the block sitting near that dog statue.

Andy touched the Rhine, or rather, the place where the Rhine meets Lake Constance/ Lake Konstanz/ the Bodensee (with so many languages, things tend to have several names in Switzerland).

We hopped back on the train, got off in Kreutzlingen, and then took a quick, minute long train ride across the border into the German city of Konstanz.  Konstanz's strategy, during WWII, was to ignore black outs and leave the lights on, in the hopes that the Allies would think they were Switzerland.  It worked, and they were never bombed.

It felt like a nice city, but the places we had been earlier in the day were so Bavarian in nature that it didn't feel like a different country. Until we saw a busker playing accordion.  Then it felt pretty German.
Compared to the highly reserved nature of the Swiss, something about an accordion just strikes me as bawdy and fun-loving.

We looked at the lake.

Looked at this rotating statue, living at the end of a pier, with loads of cleavage and a bit of va-jim-jam hanging out.

And then, after only about 6 hours of doing stuff, we went home, tired and happy (and with happy feet), glad to have embraced a slower pace of travel.


Kari said...

That waterfall (and associated castles) looks very impressive - I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't heard of it. I'm not sure how my educational experiences left me without knowledge of Europe's largest waterfall, but there you are. They did!

Gorgeous pictures more generally, too. Love the gardens and chocolate particularly :)

Hannah said...

Half the block? Come back to me when you've done the entire thing in one sitting :) Love seeing more of Gernman than I myself got to! Thanks love :)

dreaminitvegan said...

Beautiful! You were able to see so many historical places and structures on your trip. Those churches are pretty amazing, that one is so old too.