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Phespirit goes to Switzerland
Werdenberg & Appenzell     July 2004

Once more into Switzerland.

This particular visit - Phespirit's third [1] [2] - was a one day road trip from St Anton am Arlberg in Austria, via Vaduz in Liechtenstein, crossing the River Rhine frontier near Buchs. The city of Buchs is probably as graceless and grey as Alpine cities can be. By contrast, the contiguous city of Werdenburg, the smallest city in Switzerland, is surely the prettiest.

Picture a crystal-clear lake brimming with rainbow trout and waterfowl. On the far side stands a terrace of age-worn wooden buildings. Behind the buildings is a small hill with trees and vineyards on its slopes and a 15th century white-walled castle at its crown. This is Werdenberg. Phespirit took a slow, leisurely stroll around the lake and up past the vineyards, their vines bearing bunches of grapes the size of orange pips, all the way to the castle ..... which was closed. And its toilets were locked. But never mind. There's merit enough in taking a moment to appreciate the quiet serenity of deserted castles.

Whereas Werdenberg is a unique little oasis of mediæval Central European architecture, quite untouched by half a millennium of history, Appenzell is altogether more in keeping with the popular idea of a colourful Alpine town. Much is made of the Appenzeller traditions: the distinctively flavoured local cheese; the town square 'hands up who likes me' system of voting in annual elections; the regional dishes prepared in their special local style; it goes on. But the cost of preserving these traditions is slavery to the tourist industry. Every other shop is a souvenir shop, albeit thankfully not too tacky.

Traditional religious values are preserved in Pfarrkirche St Mauritius, the strapping cathedral of Appenzell. The interior is made bright by exceptionally fine stained glass windows showing the 'stations of the cross' and various other biblical scenes. Vivid ceiling frescoes, a huge baroque altar and a small but exquisitely carved wooden choir are all very nice. Plus - a thing Phespirit couldn't recall ever having seen in a church before - there is a clock above the altar. Perhaps to allow the congregation to measure their boredom?

The landscape around Werdenberg and Appenzell in the north-east corner of Switzerland is characterised by green rolling hills and soft meadows. Both the natural and built environments in this part of the country are quite unlike those in the more mountainous southern region. Perhaps that's the chocolate box appeal of this land of chocolate. There are many different flavours to enjoy. Phespirit finds it moreish.

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