Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Irish monk and Switzerland

This year I have been able to take advantage of a great offer several times: day cards for the entire train system in Switzerland.  Most villages in the Canton of Geneva (and probably in other cantons as well) offer a day card valid in second class for all of Switzerland at a most affordable price to their residents. One can buy up to 5 such cards for any one day, but it is strictly on a come-first basis so holidays and weekends are quickly taken.  For those of us with the luxury of being able to travel mid-week it is windfall.  So far this year I have been to Einsiedeln and Basel with one friend, then back to Basel with another and this trip with yet another to St.Gallen.

Most trips are a great combination of good company, interesting visits, glorious scenery and at least one museum, church or otherwise enlightening discovery and this excursion was no different.

We had originally thought of going to Budapest, but the price and the lack of time had us deciding to stay in Switzerland and go see a city that neither of us knew well: we had both been before but so long ago that a repeat was welcome.

An early morning start enabled us to arrive, dump our luggage such as it was in the Weissenstein City Hotel (very well located close to everything in the main part of Old Town yet on a quiet back street and near the train station) and head straight down the street for lunch. 

Weissenstein City Hotel, St. Gallen

Got to even keep the rubber duckie!

Great Swiss-German fare, quickly served at a reasonable price the daily menu featured pumpkin soup followed by a meat fricassee in sauce and the local “noodle” Spätzli – these were flavoured with “green” or “spring” garlic.

deco at the restaurant where we ate lunch

sugar - just for my sister

We then headed into the Old Town and the Abbey.  First surprise – and I really should have known given the name – it was an Irish monk by the name of Gallus who erected a hermitage on the site in 612 (he was wandering Europe and found this quite patch of forest and decided that was the place for him). 

just one of the many windows throughout town

another window

and yet another: the carvings were so precise

And another

One of the older buildings: many had the wood inlays

Detail on one of the columns

Approx. 100 years later the Aleman Otmar extended the original hermit’s cell into an abbey. By the 9th century this monastic community was known throughout the Western World and enjoyed great influence not only in religious and scholarly matters but also economically (the St. Gallen school of business and law is still well known and appreciated in Europe). Another period of renown was enjoyed during the 17th and 18th centuries.  However the Abbey was dissolved in 1805 and the already existing library returned to the care of the Catholic Administration of the newly founded canton. Built in the mid-1700s the hall of the library is of Late Baroque style and is considered today to be one of the finest library buildings in the world.  Being in this hall surrounded by books, 400 of which are from before 1’000 AD, and another additional 500 from in between 1’000 and 1’500 AD will remain one of the more memorable events of my life.  We won’t however go into the merits of some of these, written as they were by the dominant persons to maintain power over the lessor population: some of the punishments were dire. And the ways of attributing punishments beyond comprehension, for example the monk could pray to God that if you were guilty this would be shown when you couldn’t swallow whatever they decided to give you to eat. Most people of course were guilty as they were so panic stricken as to not be able to swallow.

postcard of the Library

We duly took in the history of the entire complex – labelled an Unesco Heritage site in 1983  - downstairs before coming back down to earth and heading for the cathedral.  Where we promptly stood in awe and wonder at the decorations. To the Late Baroque have been added various more modern touches including a baptismal fount conceived in such a manner that the still water reflects the ceiling above.
Part of the complex of the St.Gallen Abbey

From the side
Inside the cathedral

baptismal font

reflection in the baptismal font

Upon returning to the outside and sunlight we were in need of more mundane sustenance, i.e. afternoon coffee and a treat. Vivendi was greatly enjoyed not only for its’ chocolate offerings, but also for the spring-like colors and decorations.

Out in the square the local flower shop had done themselves proud with decorations. Then wandering around we happened upon a cog-train and said “why not”. Up the hill where we had the great good luck, upon asking when it returned, one of the locals told us that we needed to go up another set of stairs from which we would be able to see the whole of the town below us, but also in the distance enjoy seeing Germany and the Lake of Constance.

with Easter just around the corner the flower shops were doing it right

Muhleggbahn - funicular up the mountain

View from the path up from the funicular

Once back down the hill we had had a surfeit and returned to the hotel to get off our feet, absorb what we had seen and in general take a break.

Beer and a sandwich in a local pub were enough for dinner.

The second day it was a spot of shopping then a visit to the Textile Museum as this area of Switzerland is famous for its cloth and lace.  I particularly appreciated the fact that our entry “tickets” were pieces of cloth.

Weaving loom that still operates

"Library" of cloth. Samplers through the ages

Example of a sampler

Even the entry ticket was made in cloth!

Just as fascinating in another way, we felt that we had truly enjoyed the best of trips.

The only remaining city gate

part of the old wall - a corner tower

The map of the Abbey complex

But we weren’t quite ready to quit so on the way home, we stopped in Zurich and S introduced me to one of her favourite restaurants (she had lived in Zurich for several years before landing in Geneva). Another great Swiss speciality: Rösti with cheese and bacon (sop to my conscience – a green salad). 
We managed to waddle back to the train station – dinner tonight was redundant!