Updated: Nov 6
Friday May 26 I decided to take a slightly later train out of Luzern to my first stop, that of Einsiedeln, which meant train changes. The rides took me along ridge lines, slightly above the cloud level, with stunning views down into valleys. Once in Einsiedeln, I put the luggage into lockers at the station and proceeded to head toward its cathedral. Little in the way of signage, I was aimed at two towers rising on a hill. Passing the Tourist Office, I confirmed that I was heading to the abbey cathedral.
The abbey complex is a large, expansive series of attached buildings, with the double-towered Abtei- und Kathedralkirche Maria Himmelfahrt und St. Mauritius / Benedictine Abbey Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Maurice set in the central spot on the rise. Climbing the stairs, I learned that photography was not permitted inside, and that Mass would begin in minutes. Having the time and being curious, I stayed, with the abbot sitting in the cathedra, a young priest leading a team of 9 concelebrants. Eight friars in black were the choir, much of it being Gregorian chant. It was a beautiful service, and I felt blessed to have been there.
The guide/guard allowed me to take a few photographs, showing the old reds, pink-orange and gold of the elaborate ornamentation. The ceiling was a riot of color, and the tiling of the floor was brilliant. The rood screen locking off the altar from visitors is truly a work of art. It has three openings, reminding me of an orthodox iconostasis.
Leaving the church, I spent a bit of time on the porch outside, taking pictures where I was able of the exterior, the vast curved staircase, the views across to city buildings. Walking back down the slope through the quaint town, I noted it was mainly restaurants that filled storefronts. Back in the station, I caught a quick ride to Biberbrugg, where I transferred to the train to St Gallen.
Once in St Gallen, the route Maps took me on was filled with dots, so it required constant checking to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Twenty-five minutes, a mild incline, I arrived to find stair steps to enter the hotel. Reception at the hotel was closed until 4 pm (it was about 2:30) and they had lockers which required 2CHF coins to operate. Of course, I didn’t have change, but across the street, an antique shop owner had apparently been aiding travelers, and smiling, changed a note. [After church photos, I returned to the station to determine if I wanted to use lockers and not make the roundtrip the next day on my day trip. It took 10 minutes.]
Leaving the bags and the bomber jacket in the lockers, taking the sports jacket and camera, I walked out and around the corner, down a slight decline to find construction underway. For once, it wasn’t restoration of the cathedral building, but rather setting up an amphitheater and stage. Lots of exploration, trying for shots with both the Nikon and the mobile (while the parallax is increased, the phone’s camera can grab a wider frame.) The west facade was closed, with entry only from the side doors. (For some strange reason, the Nikon’s first shots were all blurs!) A baroque structure, the columns are square and white, supporting a darkly painted vault with Romanesque arches. Lots of gilt on the stones, plaster and statuary of Kathedrale St. Gallus und Otmar / Cathedral of Sts. Gall and Otmar, this is a very rich church.
A tall iron and brass fence runs the width of the apse, barring access to the high altar and quire. The colors of the frescoes are darker that those I’d just viewed at the abbey, feeling more like a darkening sky.
Leaving Sts Gall and Otmar, around the corner was an Evangelican Lutheran church, very historic, dedicated to St Lawrence. While there is more ornamentation than I’ve seen previously in a Lutheran church, I was stunned by the beauty of the stenciling on the column walls of the central nave aisle. A flat vault has navy blue coffering with gold points, like the night sky. There are four organs, with the major organ’s pipes visible at both narrow ends of the nave.
Wandering around old town, I poked into a few shops, but found the sentiment that everything is more expensive in Switzerland to again be proved. Lockers at the station proved to be 15CHF for 6 hours, discouraging me from that storage option in the morning.
At 5:30pm I stopped in Neubad for a glass of local wine. It was pleasant, like a semillon/sauvignon blanc blend with a slight sweetness on the finish. As it was a Friday evening, I made dinner reservations for 7 inside. When I returned, my caution proved unnecessary - there were plenty of empty tables. Examining the menu, I learned that items could be ordered in two presentations: Genuss as appetizer or tapas sized; with full size being the main. Selecting two of the genuss treatment, I asked for homemade brawn (rucola with an onion vinaigrette) and the special (homemade meatloaf with spring vegetables, cognac sauce.) The salad had head cheese-like presentation (without the aspic, which I dislike) - triangles of meat in a Star of David layout and the arugula at the center; sliced radish, adequate vinaigrette, it was accompanied by a rough seeded farm bread. It was delicious! I had a Cosmos beer from Winterthur to drink with the first. Switching to a tasty Oakwood red ale, the two small rounds of beef had been grilled on both sides. Tagliatelle pasta and several small pieces of steamed veggies floated on a delicious sauce. My observation on using the mobile phone was that internet access was particularly slow on the US phone.
The dessert offering intrigued me: lime sherbet with Tasmanian mountain pepper, with Monkey 47 gin. I didn’t taste any pepper, but the gin worked nicely with the lime. I had a conversation across the room with a French woman, now living in Switzerland, who was hosting her niece from Peru and her beau. Multilingual conversation.
Saturday morning, packed, I checked out and put my bags into the hotel’s 2CHF lockers, and caught the 9:15 train to Konstanz (Germany). Once there, Maps presented a squirrelly option for getting to the cathedral, but I was able to figure it out with street signage.
My approach was from the rear, allowing me to view new stone work in the tower. The Münster Unserer Lieben Frau Geburt, Ss. Pelagius und Konrad / Minster of Our Lady’s Nativity, Sts. Pelagius and Conrad was formerly a cathedral and my thirteenth German Dom for this trip. Situated in rather tight quarters, I was up on stoops and fence walls trying for that shot. The interior was rather dark baroque with gated chapels lining the side aisle. The sanctuary was roped off, accessed by stairs and had a nice altar and organ pipes. I found the stained-glass to be uninteresting.
The most notable aspect of my visit was a Jewish family kneeling at the altar rail, males with kippas, bowing and praying with their shoes off. A priest came out and spoke with them, leaving them with his blessing. Churches are, after all, the house of God, and both beliefs are based on the same Book.
Instead of walking along the rail path, I returned to the station by walking through the center of town, where the streets had been converted to an extended pedestrian space. Busy locals were out, socializing and shopping, a cacophony of conversations. Arriving at the station early (misreading the schedule,) I spoke with a woman heading to the stif/bibliotek at St Gallen, which I’d learned the day prior had an 80CHF entrance fee!
Once back at the hotel, I used the facilities before retrieving my gear and then rolled down the slight hill to the station and, after a bit of confusion, boarded the train to Sargans.
Three carriages, the journey was broken into two 45-minute segments, with a split at Uznach. Once in Sargans, which turned out to just be a waiting point, I found and filled two lockers with my bags and purchased a 12CHF round trip ticket for the bus to Vaduz. Boarding the bus, the route rolled through level terrain on a bright and sunny afternoon, following the Rhine feeder. A hairpin twist in the road as we rode past Mt Gutenberg allowed for views from almost 3 sides of the castle on the peak.
There are 7 towns in Liechtenstein, with the bus from Sargans passing through 3 to reach the capital Vaduz. Off at the Post stop, I walked backtracking its path to reach the modest Kathedrale Pfarrkirche St. Florin / St. Florin’s Cathedral set above a road-level shrine, achieving the cathedral doorway by sets of stairs.
I had company walking, a couple from southern California; he teaches at Pepperdine, and was in Lausanne leading a course for the spring term. Strolling around the building, up into the garden, around towards the back, I spent minutes searching for the better angle. Once satisfied, I entered the nave. In the apse, a nice throne for the bishop and a royal box for the Graf. The stained-glass window behind the altar seemed to be moving - it took me a bit to understand the dynamics that the light reflecting off the wind-blown leaves of the tree in the sun behind the church was causing the effect - brilliant!
Leaving the cathedral, I walked back towards the bus stop, checking its schedule. Running less frequently than I’d anticipated, I had about an hour wait. Walking across the road and into the commercial heart of Vaduz, I found locals in the square selling items they no longer needed or wanted. One tall, thin guy tried pushing an Indian disc in leather as an antique, but it didn’t appeal; besides, I wasn’t about to try and get it back to the States.
Topping the bend in the market square, I found a Coop where I picked up a box of juice and some chocolate bars, drinking the liquid as I sat in the shade waiting on the bus onward. Once it arrived, it took on a bigger crowd heading south, wending its way through those small towns.
Back in Sargans I retrieved the bags out of the lockers and had 15 minutes to wait before the train onward. Busy, I only had to travel to the next stop of Chur. There, I walked the bags up Bahnhofstrasse, made a left down a quiet street and found my lodgings. There were 24 steps from the street to reception, an unpleasant challenge.
Bookings must have been light, as I was upgraded from my shared bath to an en suite room on the third level reached via a lift. With a single bed, room 29 would be home for 2 nights. After requesting a second pillow, I headed to the cathedral to determine when Mass would be offered the next day. Wending my way through the cobblestoned labyrinth and climbing up a good-sized hill, Saturday evening Vigil Mass was underway, but I learned to prepare for 10 or 11:30 morning services.
My next goal was to view the river, and as I headed in that direction, I spoke with an Australian couple who were on a 5-week holiday - 2 Swiss and then on to Italy. Once I found the river, I began my dinner wander, alighting at Vino y Mas, a Spanish weinstub. Starting with a glass of Top Wein der Wocke, La Exultacion ‘21 from Jose Manuel Corrales. From Valdepenas, the grapes had grown on old vines. Ordering three tapas, I began journaling the day as I munched on Mix de Olivas (verschiedene Oliven aus Spanien wie cuerno cabra, zorzalena, cuquillo, verdial y gordas). To this first olive tapa, I added chorizo al vino and scharfe Paprikawurst in Wein gekocht. After finishing my first glass of wine, I tried a Yago from Ribera del Duro.
When I got back to the room, I found that I was hitting storage maximums on the Chromebook, so I finished a blog and moved some of the photos to a third backup device and deleted a few folders. My room window opened out to the street, and I was “treated” to bar noise until 1am, as I expect it was doing good business.
Pentecost Sunday started early for me, as I’d not closed the shutters or blackout drapes, and sunrise was about 5:30. I got up 3 hours later and headed back up the hill to the Kathedrale Mariä Himmelfahrt / Basilica of Mary of the Assumption where choir practice kept parishioners sitting in the square in front of the entrance.
Once the doors were opened, I began taking photos until I was told they aren’t permitted. I found a seat in the pews and waited on Mass.
The bishop arrived and disappeared into the sacristy. A Solemn High Mass with 2 concelebrants, a chamber orchestra and choir performed the Haydn Missa Brevis through the service. I was surprised to see that the bishop was quite active in the service (oftentimes, I’d seen the bishop remaining seated while his co-celebrants “did the work.” He preached a sermon, maybe half of which I understood, and I went up at Communion time to get his blessing. I was further surprised to see how short he is! I was able to get off some more photos after Mass (as several other attendees were waving their phones around, taking selfies.) Chased out as the next Mass was imminent, I left, descending to go search for the Bergerbahn, the tram which services the mountain.
The first segment has 2 cars per run, taking 10 dirt bikes and 20 people. Fussganger (foot traffic) had priority, but there was a significant queue of bike riders waiting to get their chance to get up the mountain. At the midpoint, we exited the bigger cars for 4-passenger ski gondolas, which allowed 2 bikes to be hung on the outside. Both rides were quite steep, and the tram was doing lots of business. Once I’d summited (or at least as high as I was going), I set off on foot down a relatively flat dirt road, veering off towards the Edelweiss shuttle when I reached a fork.
Off that path 200 meters was a house offering refreshments and facilities. Getting a non-alcoholic apple cider (can) and a candy bar, I took a bunch of photos and checked out the livestock. (The ingredients list on the candy bar included a significant number of vitamins!)
Following the path, with its switchbacks, it took me through another farm before I reached a small pond at 1815m altitude. I wandered around, climbing a bit to the ridge line, seeing awesome vistas, including towards Chur and Felsberg.
Returning to the second farm, there was a rough path down that passed under a dormant ski lift, ending at the Info Center. Back along that first dirt path, I reached the Brambruesch tram point (1595m), and was the sole passenger in the ski gondola, as I descended to Kanzeli (1170m). There, they held the larger car until a dozen were aboard, and we dropped to the Talstation at 595m.
Needing some supplies, and having been scoping the town for food markets, I headed back to the bahnhof, where the only store with bananas seems to be. Armed with 2 plus a box of juice, I returned to the hotel and took a laydown, as my back hadn’t really liked the 4 hours of hiking I’d done since leaving the church.
After a half hour nap and then a half hour wander looking for dining options, I returned to the hotel which had Restaurant Drei Konige on the ground floor. Lamb’s lettuce salad with minced egg and bacon to start, Apollo pork cordon bleu with bacon, regional cheese, pepperoni and onion was my choice for the main. With water and a half liter of Montepulciano, the restaurant was doing okay business, causing me to speculate that folks had returned home after the weekend.
Over dinner I was able to join in the conversation with a group of 8 - 2 couples from the UK, 2 from the US (Birmingham, AL). Our conversation included my cathedral passion, and it turned out they were Episcopalians/Anglicans. Hearing English being spoken, a couple from near Charlotte joined us; he was over to lead a 6-week American football training camp in Luzern.
After returning to my room, I packed the big bag, prep’d the window and went to sleep.
Monday morning was free time for me, so I was up and checked out, leaving my gear and then climbing the hill to the cathedral. I ran into both American couples from the prior night’s dinner, their interest drawn to the church by my obsession. The quartet were leaving on the 11:30 train to Zermatt, so had less time than me. With 10am Mass beginning, I knew I would need to be out of the nave, so I wandered through the cemetery in back, crossed a road and entered the seminary church that rose above the cathedral. With upper and lower altars, I thoroughly enjoyed my wander, wondering after seeing a tombstone with a mitre and another at the entrance of the three-tier tassels for a bishop if this might have had cathedral status. (An email inquiry resulted in an answer that it hadn’t.)
After descending into the crypt, I exited the property, crossed to the cathedral grounds, and, waiting a few minutes until Mass ended, was able to enter the cathedral to get more photos.
I took a slow stroll back to the hotel. Collecting my bags, I headed to the Bernina Express train station. Checking in with the SBB agent, and chancing to mention my Eurail pass, she re-issued my ticket, refunding me about half the amount I’d paid! Hitting the market for a salad and water, the train was announced so I used the escalator up to the platform, found the carriage with my seat assignment, but the baggage space was filled to overflow, so mine joined others near the doorway. A single seat, I faced a German woman who was traveling with her sister and brother-in-law (from Huntsville, AL) in the next car. A great seatmate, she rarely moved. Across the aisle were two sets of 3 travelers: trios of Australians and Italians, with a split Russian ex-pat couple (now living in Cyprus) filling out our end of the car’s seating for four.
Trying to take photos through the windows, albeit clean, still resulted in reflections. I followed the Russians to the front of the car, where an open window afforded a vantage for better photos. Thus we began a dance, going back and forth from side-to-side, getting a few quick shots off before allowing the others to get theirs. A beautiful passage, I found I couldn’t identify a single peak. Nor would I guess as to whether one side was better than the other for photography, particularly for those pressing their mobiles up to the glass.
On multiple occasions the train pulled onto a siding to wait for another train to pass, in both directions. About midway, what I would consider to be a “smoker’s break” allowed everyone to step off the train to stretch their legs and get some great vista shots. A light sprinkle happened about the time we approached the frontier, and soon thereafter we were in the flats, rolling along the edge of Tirano in Italy. We were timely to the station and all were polite in helping one another off the train.
I've posted a separate blog page with some of the 200+ images I took on that ride aboard the Bernina Express.
You can purchase your own copy
(or have me send it as a gift) of
Cathedrals to the Glory of God
by clicking this link: