Farewell Switzerland

The last lovely evening of my world tour. I’m so grateful for time together with such special people. I can’t really imagine a better way to end three month’s travelling.

Here are some pictures from my last day in Switzerland today. By this evening I’ll arrive in probably a wet, dark and cold UK and I reckon I’m going to find it tricky believing that only this morning I was seeing this. What an incredible time of sharing memories, philosophising and enjoying fresh mountain air and incredible views. (And also learning some better techniques for negotiating slippy slidey snow!!)

From the train ride back to Zürich. Not great photos but you get the idea. I think my ears popped about 6 times on the way up and about 4 on the way down:

Snowshoeing

…in a white out! Well that was quite an experience!! Some of my photos would’ve been like this:

…if I’d bothered to take them. But then occasionally the mist and cloud lifted so we could see stuff. It’s really unnerving when you literally can’t tell that the land you’re stepping onto is significantly lower than where you were before, because everything is so completely white (even with sunglasses on)!

With the snowshoes it’s possible to walk on terrain you’d never manage otherwise. It was great to try a different method of getting from A to B than skiing or snowboarding (or slipping and sliding!). I can ski. Sort of. But I’m not confident, so was happy to give it a miss, as was Liz. But in today’s whiteout I don’t think skiing would’ve been much fun for anyone anyway.

The normally beautiful view from the flat was reduced to this this morning:

But undaunted, we headed out:

Thank goodness for the shuttle buses that pick you up and drop you off at stops all along the major ski and walking routes for free. I thought the snowshoes would be quite small, but of course the point is really to spread your body weight over a wider area. I felt like I was walking like a duck or something most of the time, but it really means you can enjoy walking with no worries about slipping and sliding everywhere or ending up stuck in the deep snow drifts. I’ve no idea how deep the snow was today. At no point did my feet or the walking poles hit the ground beneath it. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with this much snow before!

My last stop

Well. This whole trip has felt a bit like when I toured New Zealand with my Aunt and Uncle, and whenever I said “Wow!” at the view, Ken kept chuckling and saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. I have arrived in Arosa in the Swiss Alps for a few days with my good friend Liz and her husband Phil. You will not be surprised that I have pretty much spent the whole time here so far with my jaw on the floor. It even snowed especially for our arrival! Here are some pictures.

The bridge we went over on the train (one of several):

The view from the bridge:

And other views here:

Wiener Schnitzel:

And Capuns (a kind of Swiss version of stuffed vine leaves only they’re chard leaves, and stuffed with a kind of pastry mixed with bacon, cream and cheese, in a very Swiss cheesey creamy sauce 😋):

Farewell Riehen

To finish our time together Sr Delia and I prayed with and for one another in a beautiful little chapel in the convent. We prayed with an icon she had painted as well, which I thought was extraordinary, even though she was at pains to explain that it was just a copy.

Icons depict certain aspects of the character of God (or of a saint from church history) that the artist wants to meditate on. So they are not the object of anyone’s worship, but more like a window helping people to focus on some aspect of God, who is always bigger than any picture, of course.

The left hand side of Jesus’ face (ie the right as we look at it) here represents the suffering Christ on the cross, and the right hand side (on our left) the risen Christ. But what I noticed most was the luminous word of God. Perhaps because I’ve spent a while in this country with all the Reformation talk. The Reformation, at its best, was all about giving ordinary people access to the word of God (the Bible) in their own language, so they could read it for themselves and not have to rely on whatever the priests told them it said. Well, that’s my very “power to the people” simple summary, anyway.

One evening we’d watched In Pursuit of Silence (a documentary film I mentioned in an earlier blog post) together. In response, Sr Delia gave me this, which I am looking forward to watching:

It seemed a very fitting way to finish our time together to pray and commit each other to God, and also to pray for the communities we each belong to. It’s quite an extraordinary thing to pray for someone and to be prayed for by them. I thank God for that gift.

Mariastein

One of the things I have most loved about my time with Sr Delia have been our walks and talks together. It was such a gift to have a week to catch up, to muse about life and theology and all sorts of things.

On one day we took the bus to a little village on (or maybe just beyond) the outskirts of Basel, and then spent the day walking through beautiful countryside at a leisurely pace, towards this famous (at least in Switzerland) pilgrimage site.

I have no idea what these berries are called. 👆🏼 If anyone knows, please do comment!

We stopped halfway up a hill by St Anne’s little fountain and Delia shared this delicious anisbrötli with me (a kind of sweet aniseed biscuit/cake). Apparently it’s quite easy to make. Hmmm might have to try that!

And here’s the Church with the grotto underneath it that people come here on pilgrimage for. Much though I like the very simple unfussy Reformation style churches, it was kind of nice to see a bit more church bling here! I’m not quite sure how this church survived the Reformation without having all the bling stripped away. Presumably it was partly because it was in the middle of nowhere?

In the church there was an exhibition depicting the life of Mary by the Italian artist Stella Radicati. She made the angel Gabriel look pretty fit, I thought! And I liked that Joseph was taking responsibility for carrying the baby while the couple fled to Egypt, looking suitably worried:

Hundreds of plaques line the walls of the tunnel that leads to the grotto under the church containing a famous statue of Mary. People have sent the plaques to record their thanks for answered prayers.

I didn’t take any pictures in the grotto as the light was poor and I didn’t want to disturb the pilgrims there. But, as often happens to me in these traditional holy buildings, I found I felt more connected with God just outside, surrounded by beautiful views of the natural world than I did inside the building. I guess it takes all sorts to make a world, as my Grandma used to say.

We repaired to a local café where Delia persuaded me to try Vermicell. A slightly sweet dessert made with cooked chestnuts mushed up and then squeezed through something like an icing bag to make the worm like shape.

Visiting…another country

We decided to go to Colmar, which is in France, just because we could. It’s a famous little town in Alsace that’s very pretty and had begun it’s Christmas market already. We took the train from the French part of Basel station (having negotiated the completely different ticketing machine successfully, which took some time!). Then, when the ticket collector came round, we realised we’d failed to get the ticket stamped by the machine on the platform before we got on the train. Fortunately he was kind and realised we were not used to this system, so didn’t charge us double as a result (apparently the normal fine). Thank goodness not everyone is a “jobsworth”! The greater surprise to me was that at no point did we have to show any ID, even though we crossed a border. And no one inspected our bags. The ticket collector just looked slightly envious as he said, “I guess you’re going to the Christmas market are you?” (In French, of course.)

Colmar is very pretty. Here are some pics.

We had tarte flambée (Flammekueche) for lunch (a traditional Alsace meal, a bit like a light form of pizza, with bacon, onion, cream and cheese topping), and later on warmed up with du vin chaud in my case and a hot apple juice in Delia’s.

In the covered market, we saw this wonderful selection of breads and cakes…

…followed by the terrible disappointment of this “Big English” loaf. (Square, probably dry, uninteresting looking thing… but someone must buy it or they wouldn’t be selling it, right??):

We had a look around the natural history museum, which included some great information on the current threats to biodiversity, as well as some really extraordinary stuffed / preserved animals, fossils and other artefacts.

A mammoth molar:

Towards the end of the exhibitions we found some interlopers. We weren’t quite sure whether this was the result of a drunken night out by the staff, or some kind of test to see how many people paid attention until the end, or some mischievous prank by some origami experts…? 😆:

The last Christmassy view of Colmar:

…and the fabulous band that greeted us on arrival back at Basel station. I should’ve made a little video, but we were in a rush to get the next train home.