Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 4 to 6 - St. Bernard Hospice

June 4

We had to leave Leysin by 5:30 to take all the trains and buses to get over to the St. Bernard Pass.  We were participating in a pilgrimage through the mountain pass to Italy that has been used for over 1,000 years.  We walked uphill for more than three miles through streams, across snow, up cliffs and through the clouds.  I wasnt sure I could do it, but I didn't want to hold anyone up.  I think the hardest part was carrying a backpack with overnight stuff for 2 days.  Two-thirds up the hill we stopped at a " chimney" (a large chimney hole in the mountain that gives air to a road that actually passed through the mountain)  The last one third we went on the road and walked continually through clouds.  Other than tired legs and barb wire cuts on my hand I felt pretty good.  At least I wasn't the last one up.  There were a contingent that went the "death route" which is straight up for the last mile.  I opted to stay alive.

When we came to the monastery we had to go in the dungeon and take our shoes off and put on slippers. (you could bring your own - which I did thankfully or wear slippers that pilgrims have been wearing for 100 years, no thanks)  The single students were put in 8 bunk rooms, girls on one floor and boys on the other.  The monastery was built in 1049 and it has old stone floors.  It was super cool.  Konrad and I got put on the boy's floor in another wing with a nice room with two beds.  Way nicer than the students rooms.  We had a sink in our room.  All the bathrooms were communal at the end of the halls.  I felt weird about using the boy's bathroom so I always had to go up to the girls floor.  It is a giant stone staircase with statues and giant bells.  Exactly what you would think about a monastery.  We were then went to the kitchen and they served us mushroom soup and bread and cheese at long tables.  This was only about one and a half hours after our lunch.  We then attended the mass in the crypt which was in the basement.  It of course was in french but interesting and most of the workers from the kitchen were there, singing the songs along with the priest.  I noticed Konrad singing the songs and I kept thinking "why does he know these songs?"

We then had dinner and out comes the mushroom soup again.  We went and looked at a room with gold treasures from the church.  Some pieces dated to 300 A.D.  We had a meditation exercise which was hard to take seriously for me, but I tried.  You could hear the wind howling outside.  Konrad was tired and I was just walking out to use the girl's bathroom and some of the kids were coming to get us.  I had told them on the walk earlier that Italy is only 1/3 miles down the road and there is a restaurant we could go get gelato. (a student from a previous year had told me)  They wanted us to come because they thought we knew all about it.  So I got Konrad out of bed and we went down to the dungeon, put on shoes and I borrowed gloves and a warm hat and we set out.  Everyone thought it was so funny I borrowed a hat and gloves.  The hospice is open all night long, no locks on any doors, is free to all pilgrims.  I just figured sharing a hat and gloves was fine.  There were only 7 of us (the group is 44) and we walked past the frozen lake into Italy.  It was kind of exciting to do something NOT on the schedule as we are told all day where and when to be.  I saw an Italian family eating delicious looking Italian food but we only had gelato and hot chocolate, The funniest thing about this adventure was that the priest and the kitchen workers were at the restaurant getting tanked.  We laughed and waved at them.   It was SUPER freezing and windy, think top of mountain cold.  We came back and went to bed.  Now I was kind of freaked out because it is an ancient monastery, stone floors and I don't have a bathroom in my room, and not even on my floor.  I didn't sleep very well, imagining what if it isnt a monastery, they just get you there, come in your room at night while you are sleeping, etc. etc .  Konrad just snores through all these thoughts.  I did get up about 4:30 and just layed there listening to the wind, then Konrad got up and I followed him in the dark to the boy's bathroom, hoping no one else was up.  THe good thing about Swiss bathrooms is cubicles come to the floor and they facilitate both sexes, but I was still nervous.

June 5

The priests ring a giant bell in the staircase at meal times and I made the mistake of being in the stairwell the day before and having it ring.  Just about blew my eardrums out and I turned into Quasimodo.  I told Konrad I wanted to ring the bell sometime.  We then were given assignments to help in the monastery.  Konrad and I got put in the chapel cleaning group.  We cleaned everything from statues to mopping and scraping wax off marble floors.  It was pretty cool. We had lunch, long tables, family style, always mystery meat and reconstituted vegetables.  I guess the monks live up there all year long, and it is snowed in for at least 5 months.  They eat out of the cellar, hence old mushy apples and tons of mushroom soup.  The monastery is famous for the St. Bernard dogs which were used to help pilgrims lost in the snow.  You know, cliche Swiss pictures of dogs with kegs of alcohol finding people in the snow.  We were asked to build the kennels because the dogs were coming up within the week.  The dogs don't rescue anymore, they just are up there for tourists.  The kennels have to be taken apart because the 20 feet of snow ruins them.  There were heavy steel barred cages.  Think more small building construction.  Super hard work and dangerous because we are carrying these over uneven snow.  Some of the boys had been shoveling the whole time we were cleaning the chapel.  There was a serious language barrier.  There was a funny moment though when a french man in charge of the kennels was trying to tell us what to do.  I knew what he was saying, he said use only one bolt.  So I interpreted.  The funny thing is lots of words are coming to me from my compulsory french in Canada.  Oh funny language story.  When I was coming down the stone stairs in the morning the head priest was standing there.  I smiled at him and said "Buon Giorno"  Brian would have been proud but then he replied with a bunch of Italian words I just smiled and said "Fantastique"  HAHAHHA. We had a chocolate break in the afternoon.  Best part of the day. They keep giving you herbal tea with every meal and break.  Not working for me.  We had some free time so Konrad and I walked outside up the hill on the pilgrimage trail.  You are completely surrounded by mountains and it is so beautiful  Then we hung out and looked at French books in the library. The dinner bell rang and then about 10 minutes later the dinner bell rang again.  I come to find out Konrad rang it and ran down the stairs.  So funny.  Ding dong ditching in a monastery.  We had dinner, mystery meat, fruit cocktail and noodles.  We had a film about the monastery. Everyone was getting eager to go back to our hotel in Leysin.

June 6
We had breakfast, did our homework writings and meditation and went over to the hospice museum.  It actually was a really cool museum and the curator spoke very good English.  It was pouring rain, not good news for the walk down.  One of the kids was having severe leg problems and I guess was going to ride the bus down, he took we aside and asked if he could take my backpack on the bus for me.  YES.  We ate more food storage food for lunch, then the St. Bernard's came.  They are huge and cute.  We walked down the mountain and honestly down is harder than up for me.  We saw fighting marmots and we were literally the last ones down.  Not a problem because we waited for the bus in rain for over a hour, STANDING.  We finally got on the bus, got to the train station and were met there by the man we helped on the kennels.  He brought fresh cherries from his orchard and we all ate tones waiting for our train.  When we got home our hotel host at the traditional Swiss dinner of Raclette for us.  It is a giant block of cheese where the exterior is melted and scraped onto whatever, we had potatoes.  It took forever to get your little pile of melted cheese.  He said we could have as much as we wanted but I only stayed for 2 rounds.
We are staying in a very nice house next to the student's hotel.  There is a dryer, or so I thought.  I had washed all my clothes in the sink took them down to the "dryer" and put them in.  Turned it on and NO it's a washer, so I washed me clothes again and then hung them to dry.  Next time I used the "washer" I put the clothes in, and all night long I kept waking up to put clothes out to dry.  It kept going, in fact after 5 1/2 hours it was still going.  So I just thought I would forget it.  I got up in the morning to pull them out and hang them. THEY WERE DRY!  So some cycles are wash/dry.  Of course they were wrinkled permanently now and I had to find an iron.  I found the iron it is a cool one with a giant steam stand.  Europeans have some cool appliances.  It was good to be back in our village.
I apologize for the lousy pictures, together with the internet connection that goes in and out, it takes about 2 hours to post this blog.  I will try to catch up, but they don't give us much free time.


  1. love it. keep posting.

  2. Love this blog. You do a great job describing the details. Hope I get to see you soon after you get back so I can hear more about it in person.

  3. I wish we were there with you, I loved that Konrad rang the bell and didn't get caught. Sounds like you are having a great time. Keep the posts coming - as often as possible. :)

  4. I read the blog to Mom.....after I finished she said..."I should have had Dad get on the phone and here this....they sure are having some wonderful experiences!"