A full day’s ride in Switzerland

August 13, 2016

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After my last two weekends were consumed by nothing but Autobahn miles on the motorcycle, I decided to reward myself with a full day on the bike – but on pleasurable roads. Throughout the week I pondered where to go. North, into the Black Forest? East, into the Appenzell region? South, into the Alps? West, into France and possibly the Vosges? Ah yes, spoiled for choice!

It has been a long time since I’ve been in the Alps, so I decided to look into a southern route. And then I thought about a recent hike near Schwyz, and how the view was supposed to be so good. Perhaps I should go see what it looks like on a clear day? And then, while mapping out a likely route I noticed Kloster Einsiedeln. This building had caught my attention when our train took us through Einsiedeln so I looked it up online. Much to my surprise, they were going to host their first ever flea market! My mind went crazy with the thoughts of the treasures a Closter that had existed since the year 934 could have to offer. My initial stop was chosen.

The ride to Einsiedeln was uneventful. It was still a little early in the day and the haze hadn’t yet burned off. Traffic was light and it was a quick 1.5 hours before I pulled into the mountain village of Einsiedeln.

View after turning south from Zurich

I parked at the foot of an imposing church and prepared to be amazed at the Best Flea Market Ever! But first I had to find it. There were no signs for the market so I wandered around the cloister, enjoying the many hidden delights of the old building.

Inside the inner cloister yard

I finally found the Flea Market! It was at the far end of the inner cloister yard and not signed at all. The only real reason I found it was by following the high number of people headed to/from that direction. The Kloster’s website suggested such treasures as “beautiful chests, decorated jugs, old wagon wheels, windows, books and a thousand other extravagant things” so I was eager to see what I might find. I tempered my enthusiasm with the thought that the market started yesterday, so some of the good stuff might already be gone. I underestimated: ALL of the good stuff was gone.

People crowded the space, checking out the remnants of hundreds of years laid out on the tables. There were a lot of bad paintings of Jesus and Mary and other religious scenes, German-language books of religious subjects and many little religious idols. None of it was “treasure”. I was disappointed more than I should have been.

Flea market full of treasures!

The coolest stuff in the whole room

Ok, this was cool too

It looks like they misplaced their Jesus child

It didn’t take long to look at the junk at the flea market and I left to explore more of the cloister. Much to my surprise, it was an active horse-riding place, with many horses in the fields, in the arenas and a few saddled up for an upcoming ride.

Now that’s dedication in getting to the hay loft!

Unfriendly but cute barn cat

I circled back to the front of the church. I had poked my head in earlier but there appeared to be a service taking place and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. Plus the bold “no photos” signs all over the place meant that I wouldn’t be able to share it with you – boooo!. This time when I poked my head in the front door I saw a lot of people milling around, looking at the paintings and statues. I went inside and enjoyed the beauty of the artwork on the ceilings. I sat down and listened to the murmur of people and the amplified voice of the priest (?) as he continued the small service at the back. My camera finger “slipped” a few times and I managed to get a few photos.

Tile work at the entrance

Photo of the nave

Second photo. An attendant was kind enough to move the “no photos” sign 🙂

Detail of the ceiling

In reading up on the Wiki entry (you should go back and click on it – it is interesting!) I see that this location is very special for pilgrimages, even to the point of rivaling Rome. Who knew? And for a good reason, too: “The church was miraculously consecrated, so the legend runs, in 948, by Christ himself assisted by the Four Evangelists, St. Peter, and St. Gregory the Great. This event was investigated and confirmed by Pope Leo VIII and subsequently ratified by many of his successors, the last ratification being by Pope Pius VI in 1793, who confirmed the acts of all his predecessors.” Color me impressed!

As you might have guessed, I am not a religious person. I have nothing against those who find solace in such things but it is not for me. That being said, I am thankful for the people who have built and maintained such fantastic churches, cathedrals, monasteries and other religious buildings over the past centuries. They feature prominently in my photos because I find them beautiful and interesting.

View of the town from the front of the church

Base of the fountain in front of the cloister

I did a quick wander through the town before heading back to my bike. It was a bustling place and people filled the outdoor eating areas. Which reminded me: it was noon and I hadn’t eaten yet today. I should find a bratwurst or something quick to eat while I was here. When I had parked the bike I heard a man’s voice on a loudspeaker and the back of my mind wondered what it was. I circled back to the bike via the direction of this sound so I could see what the fuss was all about and I’m glad I did. I had stumbled upon a Schwingenfest!

Schwingen is a traditional sport in Switzerland, rather like wrestling. Dan and I had talked about checking out one of these events some day, but it was pretty far down on the list of priorities. And now here I was: standing among a crowd of enthusiasts and watching obviously local participants duke it out in the sawdust.

Four separate rings meant that something was always happening

Showing off the traditional “pants”

I knew some of the rules before finding this fest so I wasn’t completely lost as to what was going on. But seeing them “in action” gave the sport a whole new level of understanding. The wrestlers were young and took their sport seriously. The conduct was professional, with the expected “wiping the sawdust off the back” and shaking of hands visible with every attempt. The crowds were subdued but interested, and provided polite applause at every win.

I love the red face – and yes, he lost

I found something to eat here and munched on my cervala (think “overgrown hot dog”) while I watched people circle the parking lot looking for a space. I love riding a motorcycle 🙂

It was time to be on my way. I saw that a small road would take me into Schwyz via the back way and hopefully give me a chance to see the view that Dan and I missed when we were hiking in this area a month ago. The weather wouldn’t be a problem this time, but I wasn’t sure what sort of views I’d find from the road. Only one way to find out!

Leaving behind Einsiedeln


Others out enjoying the day

I had to come back and get a shot of this beauty

Now THAT’S a big flag!

Googlemaps gave me the impression that my route would be some little-used goat trail through the mountains. I had grown used to empty roads, having stuck to my local Jura mountains. This is part of the reason I haven’t been to the Alps in some time: I just didn’t want to deal with all of the other people on the roads with me. And while this road was by no means “crowded”, there were a lot more vehicles than I expected. Even so, it was a great road and I enjoyed being out in the mountains.

Many cattle guards along the way

Much nicer than the last time I was here

And then I saw the view that I had been denied before:

This would have been nice to see during our hike, but I was fortunate to see it many more times as the road descended down towards the town of Schwyz.

Schwyz was new to me. I had never been here before, or if I had, it was a drive-by that missed my notice. But it is actually a cute little town in a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains and just a hop, skip and a jump from Lauerzee. It looked like a charming town and perfect as a jumping-off point to many outdoor adventures.

Beautiful murals

The Economy mural

An Estonian rider, two up, out for a ride

My goal was to reach Wassen and then take Sustenpass and head home. It wouldn’t be a long day riding, but I had already spent quite a bit of time wandering around Einsiedeln. But this time I wouldn’t be on the motorway, but on the small rural roads that I often looked at longingly as I sped by on the way to Gotthard Pass.

It was difficult to keep to the route initially, but soon I found myself on a narrow road that crossed above and below the modern highway a number of times.

Leaving behind Schwyz

Before reaching the wide valley, the two roads – and the railroad – have to share the space. Swiss engineers have managed this in often very creative ways.

Surprisingly, there was a bicycle lane along much of this route and it often had the envious position of following the original road, before tunnels were dug to straighten the road.

One of those modern tunnels

Leaving the lake behind and climbing the valley walls

Many times today I came across construction lights, backing up traffic until the oncoming cars had cleared. It usually wasn’t convenient to slip to the front, so I just waited my turn with everyone else. And sometimes I had entertainment while waiting. In this case, there was a group of people harvesting hay from the steep hillside. The hay had already been cut and dried, and now they were raking it down to the street level to gather. They even used a leaf blower to get the smaller bits. It was an industrious group!

Shortly after the above light, I pulled over to take some photos of bridges that crisscrossed the deep glacier river. A car pulled in behind me and a German woman got out, exclaiming how beautiful it was and how she was going to take some pictures. She was very friendly and we had a brief conversation as we watched the water flow far below us. She was on a road trip from Germany, through Romania, Austria, Switzerland and was heading towards France, Spain and Portugal, camping the entire time. None of her friends wanted to camp for so long, so she headed off by herself to enjoy the trip. Eventually we said farewell and she pulled back onto the road well before I did, and I watched as a line of cars swept by, the product of the haymakers’ construction traffic light.


Proud Canton Uri roof design

I had just taken the turn for Wassen when I saw the German lady’s car pull off into a parking lot along the road. Based on the line of cars behind her, I assumed that she had just moved over to allow people to pass. I toodled my horn as I also passed – and then saw the steam coming from under the hood of her car. I quickly turned around and pulled up just as she was getting out of her car.

She popped the hood and we could see the radiator steaming. Clearly it would be an easy fix of just adding water, but first we had to wait for things to cool down. I eventually opened the cap (hey, I had my Super Power Motorcycle Gloves on!) and the container was dry. She had a load of water in the back (she was ready for camping, after all) and we filled the radiator back up. She said that she was going to wait a while longer before heading off, so I geared back up to go. She got in the car to (presumably move to the shade) but instead took off down the road. I hope that she just went into Wassen in order to wait somewhere more comfortable. And I also hope that the rest of her trip goes well.

The German Traveler’s car – and me!

I was somewhat dreading the trip over Sustenpass. Yes, it is my favorite pass in terms of both views and pavement, but I just didn’t want to deal with racing motorcycles and slow campers. I like it when I can have the road to myself and judging by the fantastic weather, I assumed that everyone would be out today. Fortunately, I was wrong: I had the road mostly to myself. Please allow me to share my photos, since words will never do it justice.

More haymaking

At the top of Sustenpass (the tunnel is where I just came from)

I love this pass. The corners are just right, the scenery is to die for (not literally), and the duration seems a bit longer than the curvier Grimsel/Furka passes. And then the other side is ever longer and better, with amazing tunnels and waterfalls.

Heading down the other side

One of many tunnels

In the spring, the pass is opened in stages. The Hotel below is the last stage before full season opening. We saw the closed gate on an earlier trip.

The drivers on the passes are usually pretty aware of the vehicles around them and will move over to assist motorcyclists in passing, when possible. I try to be aware too, since there is always someone who wants to corner faster than me. And I make it pretty obvious for them that I know that they are there and I want them to go by. They always take me up on my invitation. This one van, however, was not only oblivious but dangerous. His British plates were a red flag – he was obviously used to driving on the other side of the road and his lane position was dangerously close to the center line – sometimes even over it. This drove me nuts as we rounded corners and he was cutting over the line. I cringed with the anticipation of an oncoming motorcyclist running a wide line and being taken out by the side of this guy’s van. I wish I could have pulled him over and explained how his poor driving habits were endangering others. But eventually I was able to pass him and he became “someone else´s problem” (I hope not!).

The Bad British Driver, showing good form for the camera

The roads were clear for the rest of the ride home. It had been a good day, full of interesting things and fun roads. It was just what the doctor ordered!

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