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Wahoo, we have crossed our first border as hitchhikers! It’s been an eventful journey to St. Gallen that started early in our beloved Innsbruck. We love Innsbruck so much, we wrote not one but two posts about it!
We splurged on a room there last night. When I say splurged, I mean a room without a window and a shared bathroom in what is essentially an old flat. Add some bunk beds to each room and you have a hostel! It was right in the center though and came with a perk we’re still dreaming about: Nepomuk’s Hostel is part of the famous Munding bakery which means you get to have breakfast in a 60ies-style room in the cafe, and munch all their delicious cakes for free. They even had a pineapple for breakfast!
After we stuffed our faces as much as possible, we walked to our hitchpoint. We waited for about three hours until two German girls finally took pity on us and offered to take us to Bregenz. They were surgery nurses on their way back to Freiburg after a week-long holiday. Apparently they didn’t get along great and the tension was palpable.
It didn’t stop the driver from talking without a break for 3 hours. Except for when she stopped to stock up on detergent. Oh, and after that she asked us to contribute petrol money because we made the car heavier. If we hadn’t had such a long distance to cover we probably would have said goodbye at this point. Since were were pressed for time, we grudgingly paid her 10 euros. Oh well, at least we made it to Bregenz and it was still a lot cheaper than public transport!
Again we wait for a while, smiling at cars passing by before a young dude approaches us. Where do we want to go? To St. Gallen man, like it says on the sign! He’s followed by a slightly older man and there is a bit of confusion rising; they don’t know where St. Gallen is but they want to take us. OK, no questions asked, they’re really nice so we hop in the car. During our drive it turns out that that Obay and Mahdi are Syrian refugees. They came to Austria a while ago and an Austrian man helped them upon their arrival. Now Mahdi has a car and wants to give back. At this point we’re both moved and worried. What a lovely gesture this is, but also are they okay to cross the border?
Soon we face a more pressing problem. Our driver’s sense of direction doesn’t seem to be the best. We keep on missing a turn and having to go back an insanely long stretch of motorway. No chance of turning around. After the third failed try we feel too awkward and ask them to pull over at a petrol station. We’re almost at the airport now and Mahdi has a headache from all the stress. So we say thank you and send them off back to Austria with an aspirin. We’ll definitely never forget this ride!
After only ten minutes a cute couple stops and tells us to get in their tiny old car. They look like 16 year old greb girls, and low and behold the girl who’s driving has only had her driving license for about ten days! Oh well, it’s only a short way to St. Gallen – Surely it will be fine…
Of course it wasn’t fine. The girls arrange to pick up a friend at the train station where they drop us off. As soon as girl number 3 climbs into the car, they break out in scream, hug each other and giggle uncontrollably. Driver girl starts the car, ready to zoom off again but forgets the car is still in reverse. In what feels like an eternity but really takes about half a second, she reverses STRAIGHT INTO THE MASSIVE AUDI PARKED RIGHT BEHIND HER. Everything is silent. The girls turn to us, gesturing if the car is alright? No idea. We just shake our head, completely stunned.
We have our share of hitchhiking stories through Austria to tell by now. From Vienna to Schladming, Wolfgangsee, Salzburg, Kaprun. Over mountain passes and through Tyrol. A crash is new for us. Well, does it even count if we weren’t in the car? Technically it’s not our fault?
Where I come from, this would have resulted in a heated argument and quite possibly some broken limbs but the Audi driver and our girls just exchange their contact details – Swiss insurance takes care of everything. Meanwhile, we sneak off, looking for an area with WiFi. We need to find our Couchsurfing host Chris, who has generously agreed to host us for the night and is on his way to pick us up from the station.
Chris is American and has lived with his wife all over the world. While we’re walking to his place, he tells us that they were treated so well and received so much help all over the place that now that they’re pretty much loaded, they want to give back to the traveler community. And so he opens the door to his massive brand new penthouse, and shows us not just our own private bedroom but also our own PRIVATE BATHROOM. WTF. The place is so massive that Caroline starts to slide on her socks across the floor from one place to another because walking is just too much effort!
Our host takes us on a quick sightseeing tour across the center where he gives us the most important facts, an overview of the history and a recommendation for sorta affordable pizza. St. Gallen is super cute! We didn’t really know much about it; the only reason we are here is the library that I’ve wanted to go to for ages. As it turns out, the city center looks like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast.
After the tour, Chris is busy and needs to leave, not before inviting us to join him and his friend for a drink later which we respectfully decline – I don’t even want to know how much whiskey would cost in a bar in Switzerland!
We feel like we’ve landed in a posh Airbnb with a professional tour guide. You can see that Chris has done this a million times: hosted, showed around, made small talk. Not that we’re not grateful for everything provided (it’s fab), it’s just different and not what we were expecting from Couchsurfing! We enjoy having our room very much though and Chris generously agrees to host us for another night. We spend the evening alone in the massive apartment and then catch an early night. Tomorrow will be a big day for me!
It’s time for the first highlight of our Switzerland tour: the abbey library of St. Gallen! Unfortunately only for one of us. We can’t afford the rather steep entry of 18 Swiss Francs so in the end, only I march off to the abbey by myself in the morning and get in with a student discount. I’m determined to get the most of my experience though!
The abbey library of St. Gallen is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It was founded in 820 AD and basically hasn’t stopped growing its collections ever since which makes it one of the most important libraries in the world nowadays. The most striking feature is its beauty though. I have looked at pictures of it before and prepared myself to be disappointed because, no way it could look this stunning in real life. Oh my, was I wrong! After I put plastic bags over my shoes and shuffle into the main room in a stream of visitors, I almost can’t believe my eyes. I’m standing in the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen!
The room that’s open to visitors is rather small but you wouldn’t believe the artistry those monks have managed to fill it with! The wooden bookshelves look like they are supporting the ceiling which is painted with intrinsic detail, depicting scenes from the bible, framed by carved ornaments. The way the ceiling is lit up by the light falling through the windows hidden behind the many shelves, it feels like staring at actual heaven and I believe that’s what they wanted you to feel!
There are lots of precious old scripts on display behind glass, and the centerpiece of the room: a breathtakingly beautiful giant old globe, painted and carved so delicately it could only have been made by a true master of the arts. It’s strictly forbidden to take photos in here but I just can’t resist to snap a few to show Aydin later. I’m scared that words will just not be enough to describe this place.
After I return from this fantasy-like library, we still have the whole afternoon ahead of us and decide to go for a walk. We’re aiming for a good view over town, therefore the way is always up – to St. Georgen! It’s a posh area in St. Gallen – we assume because of the grand houses. Again, the massive houses look like something out of a fairy tale. I never thought that Austria’s and Switzerland’s architecture would differ so much!
After walking through the quiet streets and imagining how it would be to live in one of those buildings, we discover the entrance to a cute little park and three ponds. It looks like a scene from a Wes Anderson film and we immediately fall in love with the colours and the vintage vibe they’re giving off. The ponds are called Drei Weieren and it’s a popular leisure area for the locals, surrounded by protected forests and green hills.
The whole scenery is so nostalgic and amazing but the best thing is yet to come: the view over St. Gallen!
After we’ve soaked up the vibes and sunshine we turn back to slowly head toward town. This time we’re taking a different route though, through houses and past people’s backyards. Somewhere in the maze of buildings Aydin suddenly points to the end of the street. We can’t believe our eyes – It’s a giant bunny hopping across the road. Flabbergasted, we follow it only to discover its other bunny friend in a garden. Is this really happening?
Only then we realise that the giant bunnies are probably not supposed to be hopping around like this. I’m all for bunny freedom but predators are looming everywhere. Luckily a neighbour saw the two escapees too and is informing the owners. The wildlife entertainment doesn’t stop though as now an adorable cat decides to follow us, and is soon engaging in a meow-conversation with Aydin.
We have realised lately that we’re totally kitty magnets. Eventually this one turns around to find her way back home though, and so do we – one more night in an actual bed, heaven!
The next day starts early for us. Chris’s wife returns from a business trip today and he asks us to leave before she arrives as she will be tired and not in the mood to put up with us two messy grebs (we added the last part of the sentence ourselves). We walk through St. Gallen one last time to reach our hitchhiking spot, trying to find an announced fair on the way which sadly hasn’t opened yet. Instead we spot this cool vintage car and are dreaming about jumping in it and just driving off. Reality hits us though and soon we’re at the side of the road, waiting to catch a ride to our next destination – Filisur!
Your best bet would be by train. Trains to major cities in Switzerland depart frequently. There are also trains to Munich and Innsbruck. If you want to go from Innsbruck, Flixbus might be a cheaper option – I personally hate them and think their service is crap though, we still take them when we have to.
You will read this on all of our Switzerland posts: Go Couchsurfing! Accommodation, as everything else in this country, is suuuper pricey. If you do prefer not staying with strangers (who will become your friends!), I’d suggest booking.com – The more you book there, the more likely you’ll become a genius member and get at least some discounts.
The library is stunning. Don’t miss it. If you are a student, you’re eligible for a cheaper entrance fee at CHF 12,– instead of 18,–. It’s open every day from 10am to 5pm (last admission at 4.45pm!). This year it will be closed from 18th November to 10th December for renovations. No photos! Don’t be cheeky like me.
We walked up along the Mülenenschlucht to St. Georgen. If you don’t fancy the way up, there is also a funicular. From there it’s a short stroll to Drei Weieren and the panoramic view over St. Gallen.
The abbey has an open day every year. In 2019, it’ll be on 13th of April. Admission is free on open days!