Jakobsweg: Walking through Switzerland

Oct 6th, 2015, 11:57 PM
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Jakobsweg: Walking through Switzerland

The Camino....France... Spain...it's a far-off goal of mine to walk those stretch but living in Switzerland, I decided the best way to start is in my own country.

Last week, on a spur of the moment, I decided to start walking the Jakobsweg, Switzerland's part of the Camino. The weather forecast had predicted two rain-free days, and since I already had my backpack, hiking boots and a light-weight towel from other trips, I decided to get a one-way ticket to Rorschach to start two days of hiking.

I packed my things, walked to the train station and missed the train by one minute. Feeling oddly unruffled, I walked to the nearest cafe, had a gipfeli with my Schale, and enjoyed reading the local newspaper. Then I sauntered off to the local store, bought some provisions and caught the next train. It's amazing how a mindset can alter when one has no set time to be somewhere and no sense of urgency to be completely organized. After all, this was only a two-day hike (my first one) and I won't be tackling mountains.

The train journey to St. Gallen was uneventful but I noticed what I assumed to be Syrian refugees getting on the train from St. Gallen to Rorschach. They were a young family with bags and older luggage and were a bit lost. I wished them the best in my heart and started thinking about the trip.

The path in Rorschach starts down at the harbor. Centuries ago, people crossed the lake by boat to start their journey here. There is also a starting point in Constance but this seemed to be more "official." The tourist office was closed and I had no maps, just my Iphone and the knowledge that I wanted to end up in St. Gallen that evening. Hanging around the closed office, a woman suddenly hurridly came out. I quickly asked her if there were any brochures for the Jakobsweg. She gave me two and wished me a good hike. I thanked her kindly and wished her a good lunch. And this set the tone of my two days of wandering: asking, sharing information and being grateful.
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 7th, 2015, 02:21 PM
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mokka4 is online now  
Oct 7th, 2015, 03:20 PM
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Thanks for posting. I always look for accounts of encounters with the more far-flung bits of Jakobsweg. I have touched it near Innsbruck, Bolzano, and Salzburg, also at Mont St Michel and Amboise. I had hoped to walk a bit near Interlaken, but plans did not work out.

Looking forward to your tale.
pixiedeb is offline  
Oct 7th, 2015, 09:40 PM
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Following too! Thanks so much for taking all of us along!

swandav2000 is online now  
Oct 7th, 2015, 11:31 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement.

So with a rather crude map in my hand, I decided to follow the yellow signs marked with a hiker and the Jakobsmuscheln (Jacob's clam). I went through the old town, took a few turns, found some yellow signs without the clam and, after 20 minutes of hiking out of the town, realized I was no longer on the Jakobsweg. Speaking the language makes it easier, so I asked three people for directions until I found an elderly person who told me where I had gone wrong and gave me some advice on how to find the way again. 20 minutes of walking down a busy road, I found the marked trail again.

Lessons learned after 30 minutes of walking the Jakobsweg:

1. The blue shell signs are easy to miss.
2. Taking a detailed map or a GPS would help me to stay on the trail
3. Some strangers are incredibly nice to talk to.
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 8th, 2015, 12:11 AM
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The official Jakobsweg trail GPS coordinates and map:

The marked signs took me through a residential area, through fields, past an old "castle", and into rather remote farmland. I was the only hiker in sight and fully dependent on finding the signs. It was like a scavenger hunt with the prize being the destination.

The morning was cold so I luckily had brought gloves and a neck warmer with me. As the day continued and the trail became more remote, I soon was walking in short sleeves. I had a small bottle of water with me and reassured myself I'd find plenty of troughs with running water. I walked past farms, through hamlets, through woods in remote hills with a narrow path a very few signs and there was no sign of towns anywhere. This is how I'd imagined the Jakobsweg to be like except there were no other pilgrims making the journey. I was very much alone on my path.

I was becoming very thirsty, my iphone was low on power and google was not downloading readable maps for me, no one really knew where I was, there was no running water to be found and I was on a part of a trail that was poorly marked. I even had to guess which way to go. Staying calm and still following a grassy path, I looked down and found myself in a patch of four-leaf clovers. I picked a few and enjoyed the moment.

After 200 meters, I finally saw another blue clam sign at St. Martin's Brucke. I wasn't lost but, according to the sign, St. Gallen was still 1.5 hours away. I'd survive despite the thirst. I broke open a bag of almonds to keep me happy.

After 30 minutes of walking through more woods and remote farmland, I was becoming VERY thirsty. Funny how the mind works. Finally, I saw another hiker without a backpack or any provisions. He must have been someone just on a walk so I knew civilization wasn't too far away. Another sign was coming up and I was looking forward to seeing how much closer I was to St. Gallen. The sign read St. Gallen 1.5 hours away. I hate it when that happens.

Finally a very old restaurant came up that was open and even stated it welcomed Jakobsweg Pilgern. Hooray! I went in.

It was one of the restaurants of the past. A small Gaststube, one waitress (owner?), and three people at a table talking about politics. All I wanted was water and asked for some "Hanna Wasser." The woman gave me soe in a half liter glass. I asked her how much the water was and with a smile, she replied it was Gratis. This NEVER happens in Switzerland anymore so I gave her four francs for her generosity and asked her to refill my bottle if possible. She gave me a surprised but grateful smile and kindly refilled my bottle.

These old restaurants are a dying way of life. They used to be very important for the locals as they were often the only way to find out the news and gossip. Men would gather in the evenings and drink their beer and talk about life. They were the official meeting place. Nowadays, men go directly home to work and the necessity of these types of restaurants has diminished.

After another 30 minutes of walking, I was now in the suburbs of St. Gallen. Now all I had to do was find a place to spend the night. Luckily, I had the address of the official Pilgerstätte with me and that was where I was heading.

Lessons learned on the way:

1. Always bring enough water with you.
2. Running water isn't always to find in Switzerland
3. Crowds on the Jakobsweg? I hadn't met one real hiker yet on it.
4. I enjoy my own company and had a great conversation running in my head.
5. Sometimes official times on the signs can be a bit misleading (even for Switzerland)
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 8th, 2015, 12:42 AM
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Thanks for your interesting report, I like walking, but hate feeling lost.
Adelaidean is offline  
Oct 8th, 2015, 12:52 AM
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Sounds great. I will be following this.

I was planning on doing the one in Germany next year but then fate intervened.
sparkchaser is offline  
Oct 8th, 2015, 02:13 AM
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Like your Gasthaus description....like my Heiri Huette of last year!
mokka4 is online now  
Oct 11th, 2015, 07:42 AM
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And suddenly, I'm no longer walking through fields but past blocks of apartments and down the Linsenbuhlstrasse to find the Pilgerherberge (accommodation for pilgrims). Linsenbuhlstrasse is a rough looking area with tattoo parlours and many run down buildings. I looked for no. but walked past it twice. The third time I finally noticed an iron shell cast in the bars of the door. Under one of the doorbells was the name "Pilgerherberge" so I rang the doorbell. No one answered. After ringing three times, I gave up and decided to go the tourist information for some advice.

Pilgerherberge: http://www.pilgerherberge-sg.ch/

St. Gallen has a lovely old town and I wandered through the streets following the signs. The tourist information told me about the youth hostel located up the hill. I decided to try that but first I went to Migros to have a nice dinner at a reasonable price.

The hostel is about a good 20 minute uphill walk from the old town. It's a standard hostel and I was assigned a 6-bed room that was only occupied by two other women. Bedding was supplied but one had to have their own towel.

http://www.youthhostel.ch/de/hostels/st-gallen. Cost: SFr. 42 with breakfast

It was here that I met a molecular scientist and a man fresh out of jail. We had the most incredible conversations although neither were hikers. In fact, there were no pilgrms to be seen.

The official accomodation for pilgrims would have been much cheaper and perhaps even a bit cleaner but I enjoyed my conversations and was glad to have met some people after my lonely hike.
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 11th, 2015, 07:46 AM
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Lessons learned along the way:

1. Looks can be deceiving.
2. English can be heard everywhere.
3. The older generation are the most willing to help St. Jakobsweg hikers
4. The St. Gallen old city is delightful, especially the area around the cathedral.
5. Walking alone for hours and then listening to other people's stories is where the magic happens.
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 11th, 2015, 07:50 AM
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what a terrific idea, Kleeblatt; I've really enjoyed your first instalment.

would you mind translating "Schale"?

gipfeli I get. [looked it up - it's a croissant].
annhig is offline  
Oct 11th, 2015, 09:09 AM
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Schale: a milk coffee (Cafe Latte)
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 11th, 2015, 09:25 AM
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annhig is offline  
Oct 12th, 2015, 01:11 PM
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Interesting report. I'm going to Switzerland next June, and St. Gallen is one place that we are going that I don't see discussed a lot on internet (relative to other parts of the trip). I really know next to nothing about the Route of St. James, but did check out your link and notice that it runs through a lot places we intend to visit. I will follow further updates with interest.
twk is offline  
Oct 12th, 2015, 11:50 PM
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The continuing saga of doing the Jakobsweg by just following the shells: St. Gallen - Herisau

This was the first time I slept in a room with strangers. I slept with my wallet in my sleeping bag and was worried about bed bugs. I slept poorly, got up in the middle of the night but couldn’t find my key due to the darkness so I put a shoe in the door as I quickly slipped out to use the bathroom. If the door to our room had shut, I would have to wake the others to let me back in and I was not being the most quiet person as it was. I managed to eventually doze off and the morning light brought back the positivity of the experience again.

Breakfast at the St. Gallen youth hostel was basic but filling.
It was time to walk down the hill, through the bustling old town and find my way out of St. Gallen. It started well and then, in the suburbs, I got lost. I couldn't find anymore signs. Luckily I speak the language but found out many people don't speak German or don't know the famous path. Finally, a gas store manager pointed me in the right direction and I was off. I was even more careful that day of finding those marked shells.

I had a preconceived notion that walking the Jakobsweg would take me down beautiful trails dotted with cute chapels and other relics of a bygone past. Well, today's first two hours entailed walking on the sidewalk along a busy road that was anything but pretty but anytime it went off the road, there were indeed delightful sites to be seen.

The last half of the trail takes you through a delightful countryside that is busy with bikes. I saw lots of flyers (bikes with electric motors) buzzing by me that day and I thought that would also be an interesting way to see Switzerland.

Despite the bikes, today's stretch felt lonelier than the previous day. The skies were gray, the woods were gray, even the small lake I walked along was gray. One pilgrim walked past me today. A young gentleman with long legs and a quick pace. He barely even saw me. Yes, I was on my own.

Getting closer to Herisau, the houses became prettier and more traditional. The sun had come out and I was looking forward to finding a cafe for a nice hot cup of milk coffee to celebrate my arrival.

Herisau is a delightful town with lots to offer. The old houses in the old town are well-maintained and gives you a feeling of being taken back in time. What I really enjoyed, however, is walking through the "scruffy" part of Herisau, which was off the trail. It felt like walking through an old western town where the last of the locals were just about to leave. Tattoo parlours in old wooden traditional houses that needed painting and upkeep dotted the road. Faded wooden buildings decorated with the typical Appenzell art that once housed the dying of linen or hides were abandoned and on the brink of being torn down. There was so much feel of how Herisau once functioned that I hated to leave it but I needed to find the train station to go home.

So that was the end of my first experience of walking the Jakobsweg. My next stretch will be Herisau - Wattwil, which will continue to take me through the delightful Appenzell area.

Lessons learned:

1. Buy a book with a map or print out maps before leaving

2 The Jacobsweg can be quite lonely

3. Some training is needed before doing the trail. My legs were made of jelly and my feet were burning as I arrived in Herisau. The weight of the backpack and the long walks on asphalt are not to be underestimated.

4. Get a shell for my backpack. Maybe the young man would have stopped to talk to me if he had seen it.

5. This isn't a trail for tourists although St. Gallen and Herisau are worth seeing. However, the adventure of following the shells through towns and countryside makes it very special and I look forward to continuing the journey as soon as possible.
kleeblatt is offline  
Oct 13th, 2015, 09:35 AM
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4. Get a shell for my backpack. Maybe the young man would have stopped to talk to me if he had seen it.>>

kleeblatt - we were surprised to see a lot of people with scallop shells in the Entre deux mers area of France where we spent a week in May, when we stayed in the village of Cadillac, through which I suppose a pilgrim path must go.

having the shell certainly seemed to lead to a sense of camaraderie amongst the pilgrims.
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