A Hike With Arcadian Beauty, Cows, And A Whole Lot Of Hay

We wanted to squeeze in a second hike after our big hike near Thun.  Thanks to our book, we found another great one that was on our way home.  We started from Rüeggisberg, in Switzerland’s Gantrisch foothills of the Bernese Alps.

Rüeggisberg is known for its mighty Cluniac priory ruin.  It is a significant stop for pilgrims along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  When we pulled up to start our hike, we heard music coming from the service that was being held among the ruins.

I don’t know if downtown Rüeggisberg ever sees a lot of traffic, but the typical Bernese farmhouses were dead silent on a Saturday morning.  Luckily, an old school farm town café with pictures of historic local gatherings and cows on the walls was open so we could feed our coffee addiction before setting off.

Just like we’d seen the day before in Thun, farmers took advantage of the sunny weather to cut hay.  In Europe, it is more common to use a tedder.  In fact, that’s all we’ve seen here in Switzerland.  For you non-farmers out there, a tedder spreads hay out to dry more quickly.  It speeds up the process of haymaking and allegedly allows the hay to dry better, resulting in improved aroma and color.  Can cows even see in color?

All the commotion in the fields stirs up any rodents living in them.  It cuts up any cover and small animals are in the open for the scavengers to eat.  We saw raptors circling the sky above fields and swooping down.  Cats were also out in the fields hunting the newly exposed prey.

We have only seen round bales here.

The trail led through woods.  We were excited to see the slate bottom on this creek bed.  He climbed down to take a look.  Since I still had my arm in a sling, I stayed on the trail.  Sorry there aren’t any close-ups.

We came out into more farmland.  We enjoyed checking out the well-tended farmyard.  Hopefully, you do too.

I think I have slept in places more disgusting than this pig pen.  Who am I kidding?  I know I have.

We continually caught glimpses of the snow-capped trio of the Alps above the fields.  If you look really hard, you can see them in the back of the photo below.  It is the view the cows had.  We now believe that happy cows don’t come from California (or even Wisconsin).  They come from Switzerland.

There were panoramic views and we could even see Lake Thun (the Thunersee), the Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau in the distance!

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Bellinzona’s Strategic Location

Bellinzona has been a fortress since Roman times due to its strategic location.  It is located on the valley floor at the base of the great alpine passes of the St. Gotthard, San Bernardino and Lucomagno (Lukmanier).

Romans built fortifications on the spot where Castelgrande now sits.   The nearby town of Bellinzona is named not for the Italian bella (“beautiful”), but for the Latin bellum (“war”), and this truly was a medieval war zone. Several castles in Bellinzona recall a pivotal Swiss victory in 1513. With this success, the Swiss gained a toehold in Ticino.

The Duke of Milan (the Visconti family) purchased Bellinzona in 1242.  They built a new castle atop the town.  Later, their allies, the Rusconi family of Como, built Montebello up the hill.

The Swiss, invigorated by their victory over the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Sempach and wanting to protect their newly won independence decided that possessing strategic Bellinzona on the other side of the Alps would reinforce their defenses.  They began their campaign in the 1420’s.  In response, Milan’s current rulers, the powerful Sforza family, reinforced the castles and built Sasso Corbaro even further up the hill.  They also built a massive chain of fortifications that extended across the valley.

It took the Swiss about 100 years, but they won.  In 1516, Bellinzona became part of the Swiss Federation.  The Swiss did their best to ensure that they kept it.   For the next 300 years, Swiss overlords oppressed and controlled the local population.

The three castles (Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro) and their accompanying fortifications are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Don’t Miss A Stroll Through Avignon

We brought visitors from the US on a whirlwind trip to France where we to see as much as possible in a weekend.  The first day, we saw Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Orange.  On the second day, we saw the Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes and the nearby Pont du Gard before returning home.  It was a full weekend, but worth it.  Francophiles, don’t worry, this is the first of more trips to the south of France.  We’re actually headed back tomorrow.  On our whirlwind tour of Provence, we managed a quick stroll through Avignon.  It is a charming town.  While it is best known for the Papal Palace, it’s backstreets are worth a stroll.

The Place de l’Horloge, one of Avignon’s main squares is exactly how you’d imagine a square in the south of France.  The only thing I didn’t see was the petanque (boules/bocce ball) court.  It had grand buildings, a ferris wheel and was lined with outdoor cafes.  Avignon has many squares, but part of its charm is that it is old enough to have narrow alleys leading off of them.

Signs of Avignon past as a religious center are everywhere.

The riverfront (of the Rhone River), parks and gardens of the Palais des Papes, provide welcome open and green space.

The gardens of the Palais des Papes even had a grotto…just like another mansion in California.

Oh yeah, the enormous city walls and ramparts are pretty cool too.  Just make sure to avoid falling stones.  The sign below translates to “Pedestrians do not walk along the ramparts risk of falling rocks.”

Lost In Translation – Fish Pedicure Treatment?

While we were in Prague, we saw people getting fish pedicures?!?  These doctor fish are supposed to eat dead skin.  We saw these “spa” treatments all over town, but didn’t succumb.
 

 

Sunday Funday

No work on Sunday, Funday
There are many things that are not permitted on Sundays here in Switzerland. They include:
  • vacuuming
  • Laundry
  • Running a Dishwasher
  • Mowing your lawn
  • Washing your car
  • Pulling weeds in your garden
  • Pretty much all work whatsoever

As a result, most stores and businesses are closed on Sunday.  What are you supposed to do on Sundays in Switzerland?  Here’s a list:

  • Hike (one of the most quintessentially Swiss activities)
  • Ski (the other one)
  • Boat
  • Bike
  • Have a drink at a cafe (the drink is often alcoholic), after church or otherwise
  • Going to church not required or encouraged, but permitted for individuals to choose
  • Spend time with your family
  • Watch a movie
  • Listen to music
  • Enjoy a nice meal
  • Enjoy the weather
  • Enjoy not working

As an American, this is a very foreign concept. The up side, it is remarkably easy to get used to.

 

Alpine Milk and High Altitude Cows – aka I Need More Cowbell

The commercial says that “happy cows come from California“.   Happier cows come from Switzerland.  We saw them when we hiked the “Sentier des Frommageries”, the cheesemaker‘s path, from a cute little town called Gruyeres.  Don’t they look happy wearing their bells?
They have the life.  They get to summer in the mountains, surrounded by amazing scenery and changing pastures a couple of times a day. They drink from tubs like these.  Note the one below is made from a hollowed out log.
The only down side is that you can’t make a run for it, not that you would want to anyway.
This says: “Please please close the gate thank you”
Note the not one, not two, but three strands of barbed wire below.  Keeping your cattle in is serious business.
 
Luckily, he knows his way around an electric fence.