The Swiss Family Carlson goes to Appenzell!

This is part one of a two-part post about our trip to Appenzell, St. Gallen, and Liechtenstein. Welcome to Part 1: Appenzell and the Hiking Trail of Doom.

Actually, we almost canceled this trip.  We were trying to take advantage of the kids’ Ascension of Jesus 4-day holiday weekend, however, the weather was promising a very rainy day on Friday and threatening rain on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Rain is almost always a deal-breaker for me, but in the end we decided to go.  Mostly because I had procrastinated too long and we could not cancel our hotel rooms without a financial penalty.   Yet another example of how procrastination can work for you.

So, it was with dragging feet and a slight self-loathing that I led the troupe onto our train.

I cannot say enough how much I love train travel in Switzerland.  Clean, efficient, scenic, and they go absolutely everywhere.  The ground became progressively more hilly as we went west and then suddenly we could see mountains.  And that was in less than an hour.

By the time we dropped our bags at our hotel in Appenzell and hopped onto a smaller Thomas the Tank Engine sort of train I was in a considerably better mood.  I have always loved the Thomas stories so I was upbeat about the similarities.

H taking in the picturesque brook at the start of the trail.
H taking in the bubbling brook at the start of the trail.

We were going to go hiking in the mountains.  And not just any mountains, the ALPS!  Our goal was the lake known as Seealpsee. It’s a small resort kind of place with some chalets for skiers in the winter and campers in the summer.  A picturesque lake is nestled in a bowl-shaped valley and surrounded by mountains.  We could still see snow at the very tops and some of the hikers coming down while we were going up had snowboards and skis strapped to their packs.

Mark pulled out the maps of the trail as well as a description of the route that was noted very clearly as “easy.”  It certainly looked easy on the map.  We just had to take that small train to Wasserauen and it would let us off right at the trail head.  And we found the trail was paved!  No tripping over rocks or scaling up cliffs.  However we found it was a different story as we climbed.

Wow! How bad can this be?  Piece of cake.
Wow! How bad can this be? Piece of cake.

Afterward, we figured out that the entire hike up to Seealpsee had an average slope of 3%.  That doesn’t seem like a lot, but that is a grind your car breaks to dust sort of nightmare of a grade.  I don’t know exactly who this trail was supposed to be easy for.  Career hikers?  People in 4-wheel drive Jeeps?  Native Swiss who are half mountain goat?  It certainly wasn’t us.

And it was a beautiful day for a hike.  Sunny and bright with a breeze.  It was most definitely not raining and was, in fact, warm enough to ensure that I became a sweaty mess by the time we reached the top.

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A boy and his mountain.

Mark was pretty stoic about the climb.  He just kept on going at a steady pace.  He’d stop and wait for us when he couldn’t see us or hear us gasping anymore; which was about every 15 minutes. They obviously knew people would need to stop because there were extremely well-maintained bright red benches at about 4 different places on the trail.

Not dead yet.  And I think that's a smile.
Not dead yet. And I think that’s a smile.

By the middle of the hike my mood was rapidly declining into “Dear God why did I ever agree to go on this awful hike and please don’t let my heart explode here” crankiness.  Having a woman my age with a 15 month old on her back and leading a 3 year old by the hand pass us as we sat resting almost made me want to weep.  But it was the couple as old as my parents trekking up with hiking poles in each hand who passed us as we were moving that made me want to lay down and die.  As you can see I didn’t die.  I had been promised an ice cream sundae when we got to the top and I was going to cash in.

IMG_1432
There is ice cream up there….. somewhere.

H and E were taking it well until we reached the last bench. It was in front of a gigantic sheer rock going 50 feet straight up.  The kids collapsed on the bench and declared that no amount of ice cream could induce them to move one foot further on that trail.  I sat down and bravely offered to stay with them if Mark wanted to continue on.  I was really taking one for the team here.

Just me and the kids and all this grandeur.
Just me and the kids and all this grandeur.

Mark went on ahead and was back in 5 minutes telling us that he had seen the promised land and it would only take 10 more minutes of hiking and the route was pretty flat once we got over this last little bump.  The kids’ eyes brightened and they jumped up to follow Mark.  I got to my feet more slowly, prayed to the Blessed Virgin, and followed behind them.

We were trudging along when the valley opened up.  We saw the lake and suddenly it was almost all worth it.

 Then we ordered our ice cream and drinks and it became totally worth it.

See? Worth it.  Would I lie?
See? Worth it. Would I lie?

As I drank in the incredible view of Seealpsee and the Alps I forgot about my sore feet and hamstrings.  The kids also regained their energy and started to wander through the trees and up some of the smaller boulders.

They were going to need it.  We had to hike back down the mountain.  At a 3% grade. It was like doing 1000 squats and 1000 leg lifts.  But again we survived to tell the tale.

It helped that our hotel room was extremely luxurious.  We were able to rest and then clean up in a bathroom bigger than our bedroom at the apartment and a shower larger than our entire bathroom.  I really, really liked that hotel.

We cleaned ourselves up and headed out to explore and find food.  Appenzell itself is a wonderful town.  Complete with a gnome village.

IMG_1425

The town center and many of the buildings look like they came right out of Richard Scarry’s Busy Town.  Parts of the town, including the awesomely named Castle Clanx, date back to 1071 when it was known as Abbacella.

IMG_1422 IMG_1421 IMG_1426 IMG_1427

We also found the most awesome outdoor fondue restaurant ever.  The kids had pork schnitzel and fries and Mark and I had an incredible Appenzeller cheese fondue with a couple of tasty beers.

It wasn’t until the kids were having their ice cream (again) that we realized the picture on the bottle looked extremely familiar.

So that was fun.  And I might even try that hike again.  Maybe.

The next day we traveled over to St. Gallen and explored the famous library there and then spent the day in Liechtenstein.  Just because.


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