Now you see, I really shouldn't have been blogging when I was so jet-lagged as when I made the last entry. My first day was not Zurich to Milan, but rather Zurich to Einsiedeln. Einsiedeln, while a small town, is a famous pilgrim site, and everyone I encountered had heard of it. Maybe I just haven't been a great follower of religious pilgrimage sites, but I'd certainly never heard of it until I started to follow the black madonnas. It's not like Medjagorje, which just about everyone has heard of, or Lourdes, or even Loreto. But in Switzerland, at least, it was a hugely well-known pilgrimage site. So after my day in Zurich, Einsiedeln was my destination. I had been assured (either by the ticket master or the tourist information clerk -- Zurich's was the best tourist information office I used) that I would find lodging easily in Einsiedeln, so I set off. My second experience of train travel on this trip (the first was from the airport to downtown Zurich) was interesting, to say the least.
First of all, it was not impossible to find people who were fluent in English, but it wasn't completely easy, either; and even when the English was good, the German accent was often quite strong. Somehow I missed the fact that I had to change trains to get to Einsiedeln. I had even asked a railroad worker (but not a conductor), and had been emphatically told to "STAY ON THE TRAIN." So I took a nice, hour-long detour into the Alps before a kind conductor helped me reverse my trip, to get back from Sargans, definitely not my destination point (but beautiful, nevertheless) to Wadenswil, where my change of train was to occur.
Of course I made the mistake of getting the nonstop clear back to Zurich, and had to turn around and head out again. This got me to Einsiedeln after dark -- and of course I was in a town where most shops were closed, and I had no idea how to get from the train station to any lodging for the night.
A sweet group of teenagers, hanging out near the station and with some English, helped me find the street and a not-too-long uphill trek to the monastery and the lodging that they assured me I would find nearby.
But this wasn't at all a bad view for my mistaken "side trip," was it? Even the clerk in the tourist office, when I questioned her about my ticket, said that I was fortunate to get that tour!
At random, and with very little difficulty, I located a room. I shared a bath, choosing that compromise for the 40 francs I saved! Now we Americans aren't really used to sharing baths when we stay in a hotel, and it wasn't really comfortable for me; but unless you travel 3 or 4 stars all the way, it's common in Europe to share a bath with a few other rooms. This was my initiation. And this was my first, comfortable little room:
You can see that it was plenty for me -- a desk with a lamp and chair are luxuries, as well as a small reading lamp by the bed. Out the window (my attempt at those shots didn't come out well at all) I had a full view of the monastery and its bells, which rang quite loudly. At night, the monastery is brightly lit; during the day it carries its own radiance in the bright cleanliness of the stone. I was enchanted. Breakfast the next morning was the charming European breakfast I remembered: an assortment of rolls, juices, cereals, and yogurt. It was all served on tables with real cloths and napkins, and some things were brought by a waiter, on plates with little doilies on them. I remembered the great care that was given to a simple breakfast, and vowed to return to that when I came back home!
The monastery and grounds were beautiful, as was the church in which the sanctuary of the black madonna was contained. She was actually in a small shrine or chapel that was fully contained within the larger church. Her legend is that she was brought up here, to a place that was a simple hermitage, by St. Meinrad. Many miracles, including protection of the area from the plague in the middle ages, are attributed to her. Over time the monastery grew, then fell upon hard times during the Protestant Reformation, and then revived. Here is a fountain outside the monastery:
Despite the sunlight, you can see the impressive nature of the site. I was overwhelmed at my first sight of the madonna herself, and could only shoot blurry photos. I was lucky to find the small sanctuary open -- it seems there was a funeral there on that morning, so all the gates were open, and I could even sit for a few moments inside the small sanctuary. I was in tears and could hardly get my breath. I'm sure that the cause of my blurry photos was a combination of relief and being thrilled to finally see my first madonna, after so much anticipation. When I returned a time later, after the funeral, the gates of the small sanctuary were locked, even though the larger church remained open, and the madonna could only be seen through the grating of the gates. Here's the best of the photos I could get of her. I have cards and books, but my own photos were shaky, at best:
This is as people gathered before the funeral or memorial mass that was being held that morning. You can see the black chapel or sanctuary that is fully contained within the lighter, white church. You can also see the radiance with which she was displayed. I did go into that small sanctuary for a time.
Following this is the best photo I was able to get myself, through the grating, after the service was over and the gates were closed. I'm not sure why I was so shy (especially after the service) about setting up my tripod and getting a steadier shot -- I still wasn't sure about the "rules" for photography in these churches -- I've since learned that for the most part, they simply discourage flash photography during actual church services. Here's the best shot of the madonna that I was able to get. It seems that the more I used my telephoto, the more the image was magnified, but so was my movement as I held the camera.
I'm sure that a Google search will get you far better images than I've got here -- but the blurriness might just convey some of my complete excitement and exhilaration at actually being there and taking the photographs with my own hands. My heart was pounding! But as I said, until I figured out my camera settings a little better, the settings themselves may have had an effect on the clarity (or lack thereof) of the photos, too.
After I spent some time with the dark lady, I really did not take time to view the other sights in Einsiedeln. There is a panorama of Bethlehem (but I've been there, anyway), and a hike one can take further up the mountain to follow the stations of the cross. I did, during the funeral service, purchase a few souvenirs and clear photos and books. I also visited a stationery store to buy some envelopes and glue for putting things in my journal. Here, finally, is a shot of the village, looking out from the peak of the hill on which the monastery sits. This is as it looked just before I set off back down to the train station. I had just enough time to purchase a corkscrew at a nearby grocery store. I knew that if I was heading into Italy, I'd need a corkscrew!
So off I went, stopping for a sandwich and water (with gas, as I prefer it), and then the corkscrew. Then on to the station and down through the beautiful Alps to Milan. I had survived my first experience of landing in a town where English was limited, and finding my way to lodging and the sight I came to see. I had a grand time, and developing that skill for seeking out lodging in a new and foreign place served me well for the rest of the trip. It not only boosted my confidence, making me feel like the intrepid world traveler, but I truly needed that ability to negotiate in completely strange surroundings for the rest of my journey.
It's too late tonight to show you my pictures of the Alps, and I don't think I took a single shot of Milan, though I do have a thing or two to say about my sojourn there. But that will be for another entry. For now, I will bid you goodnight.