Thursday, October 31, 2013

'Til the Cows Come Home!

I think we've all heard "til the cows come home" plenty of times. Living in Switzerland, I finally understand this reference. The cows go up to alpine pastures for the warm summer months. In the autumn, they "come home" to the lower elevations where it will be more temperate in the winter. All over the country, there are special events welcoming the cows home! Who knew? We missed seeing any of these last year and made it a priority for 2013. We were lucky enough to find events when we had visitors in town so we could share some of the local color. 

Before the date of the "alpabfahrt", I was sitting with my in-laws having lunch outside in the cute little town of Appenzell. We heard a noise getting closer to us. Since I'd spent many years in marching bands, I thought I heard drums. Then it dawned on me: cowbells! The cows were coming home right through the center of the little town! I jumped up and ran to get a few pictures. People were in traditional costumes, but the cows only had on their bells.

Heading home, we ended up in slow traffic. We realized it was because more cows were being led from one field to another down the street! This is the first time I ever took pictures from behind the steering wheel. Don't worry, I was completely stopped. 

rogue cow needs encouragement to follow the group

I am the first car behind the group at this point

Finally, the day of the alpabfahrt arrived. We opted for train travel because of expected crowds and lack of parking. We definitely made the right choice. 

We knew to expect the cows to be dressed up, but the spectators were also dressed for the occasion. The blue shirt with the edelweiss is the same one we saw worn by so many at the schwingen (wrestling) tournament.  This shirt can also be yours for about 90 CHF.

Tom will never have a beard this long!

While waiting for the first family with their cows to parade through town, we were entertained by various yodeling groups.

the men

the women

co-ed group

Very cute kids accompanied the yodeling clubs.

Alphorns came next. They had to stop to perform. Afterwards. the mouthpiece was put in a pocket and they carried their horns to the next stopping point. I haven't had a chance to try one yet, but I hope to before we leave Switzerland.

It was very wise to have the yodeling clubs and alphorns parade before the cows. Later, the street was very messy.

Finally, it was time for the cows. The families were announced by way of a placard with the family name. Does the shirt look familiar? They come in ALL sizes beginning with baby onesies!

I'm not sure how many families paraded before us, but each group had their cows dressed up differently.

Even some other animals were included in the festivities. 

cows start small

that's a huge headdress!

the end of the family or clan
 Time for lunch! Raclette from alp cheese, of course.

making raclette
street cleaner immediately following parade

cow bells for sale - expensive!

we were right about the crowd
We had so much fun participating in a real Swiss festival. Of course, we weren't the only "tourists" there.

A few weeks later, we were hosting my sister, Karen, and niece, Colleen. We found another special cow event during their stay. This one was called Kuhrennen or Running of the Cows! Sure sounded like something not to be missed and we were not disappointed.

first a  cable car ride up to Flumserberg

not all cows will be running

Cows are calmly waiting in the field. Later, they'll be wearing those bells.

Step right up and place your bet for your favorite. Really!

Cows and riders are introduced to the spectators. There seemed to be much more talking than necessary - what's to say? 
same edelweiss shirt in short sleeves

beautiful spot

All afternoon there was live music. There were two men playing accordion, but the individual here was amazing. He is playing banjo with both hands. He is also blowing into the tuba and using his feet to move the valves. The coordination required is incredible. I've never seen anything like it before and probably never will again.

spectators ready for the race
Cows don't normally run or race. In order for this to work, each cow and rider also have a person on foot to "encourage" the cow to go. This includes whacking the cow or twisting its tail. This person must also keep the cow from running into the spectators.

here they come!

We were lucky enough to hear another alphorn group. This one was accompanied by a few flag throwers. The throwers didn't seem very well choreographed, but it was fun to see anyway. 

Now that we're at the end of October, I think all the cows are home. Until next year.....