Saturday, September 27, 2008

Down on the Farm

Readers, you wouldn't believe where I am right now even if you were here drinking a beer with me. Which I wish you were, since I'm doing that alone at the moment.

I'm currently sitting about 15 feet from a bunch of muching cows, with the scent of hay hanging sweetly in the cold autumn air. I'm about a 5 minutes drive from Hemishofen, Switzerland. And I'm spending the night on an organic farm - the Bolderhof farm.

How I got here...we'll have to go backwards to get there. Basically - because I was bored.

All of my friends (five) are out of town this weekend, and they were also out of town last weekend. I can only watch so much TV at home - plus up until this week, RB was rusted solid to his post (more on how that happened later). It has been unseasonably cold and crappy so wakeboarding, etc is out of the question. My eye is still not healed so a lot of other activities are out. And since I have officially (as of today) 79 days left in Switzerland, I kind of decided this weekend I needed to get off my ass and go explore my country.

But where? I've been to most of the hot spots - Lausanne, Basel, Zurich, Lugano. Pretty much to a lot of random towns in west Switzerland - Montreux, Chateau D'Oex, Gruyeres, Leysin, Neuchatel, Yverdon Les Bains. Zermatt and Lucerne twice. Interlaken region 5 times. I'm hoping to go to Liechstenstein for a work trip (because then it would be free). So I pulled out my lonely planet and rick steves to see where was left to go.

I decided at least for this weekend on the northern area of eastern Switzerland, which includes Appenzell - a town with a very tasty cheese. Also I figured I could check out the Rhine Falls - Europe's biggest waterfall - on my way back to Geneva. So this morning I got on a train at 1045 heading to Appenzell, which gave me almost 5 hours to look at the Swiss countryside and figure out what to do next.

I really had no clue about lodging, until I saw this advice in one of my books that during the summer and early fall, many Swiss farmers rent out the straw area, which is normally for the cows, to tourists. The cost is about the same as a shared bedroom in a hostel. That sounded fun to me. I started looking for one that was kind of between Appenzell and Schaffhausen (town close to the falls) and that spoke english. What amazed me was that there was about 200 farms all over Switzerland that participated in this thing, and that a lot of the farms had their own fax machines and websites!!

I called one and spoke to a nice man named Heinz, who apologized for his screaming kids. He gave me directions (take the bus to the only stop in the village, turn left at the woodcutting shop, 1km later you will find the seriously, that's what they were) and told me to come any time.

With that settled, I checked about 50 different combinations of train timetables (as some of you know, I am slightly obsessed with these things) until I arrived in Appenzell. I was a bit disappointed, which maybe is my own fault because I only stayed there for 30 minutes. But as far as I could tell, it was just one huge smelly souvenir shop (smelly like the cheese, so in a good way). I decided pretty much immediately to blow that popsicle stand and head to Ebenalp.

Switzerland has, in addition to a bad ass public transport system, about 100 million cable cars. Anywhere there's a mountain, there's a cable car. This middle of nowhere place was no exception. I took another short train ride to Wassueren (I'll check that spelling later) and then a cable car up to the top of Ebenalp. There were tons of people going paragliding off the side of the mountain, which was pretty crazy to watch. I don't really get why they wear helmets. If something bad happens, I don't think a helmet is going to really save you if you are like 5000 feet in the air. Anyway, I decided that I couldn't stay long if I was heading to the farm, because I didn't want to have to find my way in the dark. I did a short hike down into these cool caves, snapped some photos, then hiked back up which was DIFFICULT...I almost passed out. Then cable car down again.

THEN I got on the train again, after about a 10 minute confusing discussion with the man in the ticket office. He spoke only German, which I don't speak at all, and someone was even helping me translate, but he could not for the life of him figure out why or how I was going to get to Stein am Rheim. I made the train with about 10 seconds to spare. I took this to Gossau, to Winterthur, to Stein am Rheim. Overall I spent probably close to 7 hours on trains today. I LOVE the Swiss train system though. It's amazingly quiet, always on time, normally not super crowded and normally quiet (unless you are coming down from the Jungfraujoch with every tourist in the world). And the view is incredible - picturesque houses, rolling hills and mountains, azure alpine lakes and cows cows cows sheep goats chickens and more cows!!

By now it was about 745p and it was dark. I suddenly freaked out realizing I would definitely not be able to find my way to the farm. I was pretty much resigned to staying in a boring hotel in town after convincing myself that even though I had an ipod AND a cell phone, that would not be enough light to help me find my way to a random ass farm on a pitch black night.

But as fate would have it, I called back to the farm to ask how dark it would be and Heinz offered to pick me up at the bus stop. Which, incidentally, when the bus left me there, I was shocked at how in the middle of nowhere I was. Really, I could be completely screwed if he didn't get me. But thirty seconds later a minivan pulled up and it was him.

So we arrived at the farm, where I was immediately greeted by Funny the dog, and Heinz explained I would either be sleeping by myself in the straw or I could have a room in the small dorm. The straw part was a big loft above where all the cows were eating which to my complete surprise, had a shower, sink and flush toilet (for the people, not the cows). Just across the way was the dorm which looked brand new, with 4 cozy rooms, a kitchen and bathroom.

Now I kind of had my heart set on the straw. But I had lent Bhav my sleeping bag for the weekend, and so it would be me, alone, in a dark dark barn, in a rented cotton sleeping bag. Deciding I had been brave enough for the day, I opted for the dorm which Heinz agreed was the better choice.

I came down to the big kitchen with my laptop, feeling inspired to blog to you readers, after I heard they had free internet. I opened a bio beer (surprisingly good) and had just sat down when Heinz came back to check on me and spent some time telling me about his family (wife and 4 kids all under the age of 8 - yikes) and what they do on the farm. It has been an organic farm since 1996. Switzerland is pretty huge on organic products - they have a bio option for almost everything and it's normally not too much more, so I try to buy this when I can. However he explained that supermarkets are starting to push them out because it is more expensive for them to buy the organic Swiss products than things from Germany, Poland, etc. So now in addition to working with grocery stores, they have an online delivery store and they also promote tourism by bringing groups here, tourists or schools, to learn about life on the farm for a week or a few days.

Anyway readers, its 940 and time for me to go meet my random roommates. I think they only speak German so it should be pretty easy to ignore them. Tomorrow morning I am going to try to wake up early and spy on the cows who are just below and opposite my bedroom - they will be getting milked at 7am, then around 830 we have breakfast, and then after that, my random weekend continues.

I will post pictures and definitely, a link so you can see Heinz and Doris!!

1 comment:

Chef AK said...

Hey. As a matter of fact I will be in Switzerland bery soon. I am here in Italy till about the 13th or 14th of October then plans are to be in Interlaken for five or six days. I dont know how far you are from there but lets keep in touch for sure. Go Cubbies!