Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sankt Gallen



I am on a countdown. Only twelve or so more weeks to go till I leave Switzerland. So in between work and the preparations for the upcoming move, I try and see as much of Switzerland as I can.

Luckily my good friend L. very obligingly consents to accompanying me to Sankt Gallen. I don't know why, but ever since I first looked at a map of Switzerland, I have wanted to go see it. And thank God, when I google it, just minutes before we set of, it looks very charming.
The built in Volvo satnav, which has a mind of its own, decides for some reason that I am not to drive on a single motorway to get to my destination today. Which is really rather nice, since we get to see a part of Switzerland that is as far removed from wealthy suburban Zurich where both L. and I live, as is, let us say, Northumberland from the London commuter belt. Time really has stood still in the villages we pass on our way to Sankt Gallen. Tuesday morning distinctly feels like Sunday here. And allthough they would be far more useful out here, than in smooth surfaced Zurich, nobody owns a four by four.
It is almost dissapointing when we get to Sankt Gallen to see the place filled with luxury shops and Ferrari dealers. I kind of liked the time warp we found ourselves in earlier. But as soon as we park the car and locate the historic centre, all is well again. Much to my - and L's - surprise Sankt Gallen boasts a Unesco World Heritage site. A beautifully laid out convent, built in the eightteenth century on the site of an old monastery dating as far back as the eighth century.
The cathedral with its gleaming polished gilden candle holders and intricate woodcarvings strikes me as very Swiss. I do not think I have ever set foot in a church before with so little dust, of so little need for repairs. In fact the whole place looks like it was build just last month. Despite the fact that we are not the only visitors enjoying the splendour, the place is eerily quiet. Noone even dares to whisper inside.
After we soaked it all up L. and I continue our amble around the church. It is a good thing that we do so, because otherwise we probably would have missed the best bit. The convent turns out to be the home of one of the oldest libraries in the world. It is a baroque delicacy, completely decked out in intricate woodcarvings, beautiful plasterwork and stunning painted ceilings.
We can only enter the library if we wear a pair of felt big foots over our shoes, so we shuffle along the various glass cabinets filled with sixth and seventh century biblical texts, beautifully handwritten and decorated with delicate handpainted scenes. I am in awe. It all feels so very exotic and  far removed from 21st century Switzerland that I could easily make myself believe I crossed a border at some stage today.
Tragically, the magic quickly disappears when we walk around the centre of Sankt Gallen a little later in search of a nice place for lunch. Allthough the town seems to have a number of lovely looking restaurants, they are all completely empty, except for a place called Bierfalken. This restaurant is possitively heaving. With great difficulty the waitress manages to find us an unused corner of a big table and two chairs.
One look at the menu and we instantly understand Bierfalken's popularity. 'Gerstensuppe', 'Schweinschnitzel mit pommes', 'Apenmacaroni' and 'Bratwurst mit Brot'. The Swiss do like to stick to what they know. I have no choice but to fill myself up with the umpteenth alpenmacaroni since I moved to Switzerland. But then I imagine Swiss monks, eating alpenmacaroni, whilst scribing those beautiful books. What's not to love?