Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cheese, Please

Sunday the weather was looking a bit threatening, but after the heat of Venice we were indulging ourselves in the change, certainly. Just a few km up the road from Antonella's is the Canton of Appenzell, and she had mentioned a museum there worth visiting.

So we borrowed her bikes and pedaled off, but before leaving she said she hadn't mentioned the cheese factory / restaurant that was next door that we should look up too.

A Cheese Factory / Restaurant?! Well - what we we waiting for?!

OMG - this bridge is a mere 100 yards from her door! We had no idea she lived on the brink of this dramatic gorge.

The cows, now, we knew were there because we could hear their bells clanging from her back patio.

She did mention that the drawback to the bicycle plan is that it is uphill all the way to the village of Stein. "Eh" we shrugged. We bike in Colorado, we know hills. Yeah, well, we haven't biked with any regularity in a long time, and "hills" are damn friggin steep in Switzerland!

Oh, did I mention that it started to pour down rain, and actually hail on the way too? Oh, fun times, walking the bike up a steep hill in the rain.

But we made it, and decided that making sure we didn't miss the serving-hours at the restaurant was a priority. Conveniently they serve all afternoon, so we hung up the jackets to dry and took the self guided tour of the cheese factory first.

Which was way cool. I told Dave I was so happy we'd come here - and he totally did a double take. He said he thought I would be pissed because of the bike ride in the rain. Apparently my love of cheese overcomes great obstacles. :-)

That's a lotta cheese. Our rough calculations came up with 13,000 rounds aging in this room.

On another aisle there was this robot working to flip the rounds over. It would go up and extract a shelf of 3 rounds, pull that down to the flipper - which flipped three while the getter part was returning one shelf and retrieving another.

Cool stuff.

Back around the corner things were happening - the curds and whey from the Cheese Vat (yes, that was Cheese Vat) was being pumped into the forms.

But we were astonished when they didn't stop pumping until the vat was empty. That this severely exceeded the capacity of the forms is apparently of no concern, as whey (the liquid part of the milk + rennet mixture) just poured over the edges of the forms and flooded the floor. It still amazes me that they didn't have a drip tray system. But no - hosing down the entire floor appears to be their preferred method of cleanup.

Each of those forms was about a foot deep, and a foot in diameter. I guess it takes less than an hour for the whey to drain away and for them to press the curds into rounds -- and they start the process again. However, we didn't stand there to watch the whole cycle because by then the restaurant was calling to us.

Appenzeller cheese comes in three main labels - Silver, Gold and Black - in order of 'spiciness'. And then several dozen other varieties. We both preferred the Gold and Black, and were sad to find that only the Silver is imported to our local cheese importers. I suppose I might ask if they could order for us.

Fondu - YUM!

Onwards to the museum next door. It was a thorough representation of the cheese making traditions of that area. They still keep up the biannual ritual of taking the herd up into the Alpine grazing grounds in the spring, and bringing them home in the fall. Dressing up in the traditional garb the cow herder, who will stay with them all summer, and several family members parade the animals through town -- the three strongest cows carrying the three HUGE ceremonial bells. (Which, by the way, are removed from the cows part way up the mountain and are carried the rest of the way by men. As you can see of the men with the yellow pants on below.)

Cheese dealers visit the herders up on the mountain (weekly? Rather frequently as I recall) to buy their cheese and other products and pack them out by horse.

The three bells are symbolic, and are hung over the herdman's bed for the summer, until it is time to come down.

Cheesmakers tools. Butter churns, buckets to separate whey from curds, etc.

The region is also known for its textiles, and they had several huge and very intricate looms in the museum.

The upside of riding uphill all the way to a destination? Is that the return trip is all downhill! AND - the weather was a whole lot more pleasant too. Seemed like we were home before we knew it.

What a gorgeous few days we had in Switzerland. *Sigh* Next trip needs to be Black Forest - Austria - Switzerland. Well, one of the next trips.

Monday morning Antonella escorted us to the train station to grab the train to the airport.

We can't say enough how much it enriched our trip to have such great people like Roby and Stefano, and Antonella to show us such hospitality. Hugs to all you guys!


Last, but not least, St. Gallen!

We left Venice for Switzerland, by way of Milan. Uneventful trip - but I have to comment that those trains are so convenient and comfortable! So smooth. We rather enjoyed our 8 hour trip or so.

Suddenly: We ain't in Italy anymore!

Antonella's a Brokie we met in Oxford. We were roomies then and we were very much looking forward for a return visit! She picked us up at the train station, and ferried us home. Here she stands on the walkway towards her home - a unit in such a beautiful rural neighborhood with a nice community feel to it.

She was so gracious as to fix many wonderful meals for us - which was such a nice change from the restaurant and deli meals we'd been living on.

Antonella's Italian, but has been living in Switzerland for some time now working as a translater. She told us her mother made handmade lace when she was a child - and in fact this is one of her pieces. Sooo cool!

Saturday we went into town for a walking tour. How charming is St. Gallen? VERY.

This is a fancy restaurant just down the block from her home.


I took this one charmed by the Mauve colored tudor timbers. Unfortunately due to the lighting the colors didn't come through in the picture.

Saint Gaul was a monk that came through in the early 600s and set up a hermitage here, and the Abbey was formed the next century. Legend has it that he convinced the bear to bring him firewood - thus the bear stands on the St. Gallen Abbey coat of arms.

We wandered all around town - it was Saturday with the market going and, just a few blocks over was a Green initiative festival going on.

Took in just a few of the decorated windowboxes they are known for.

And as a promotion for a big Equestrian competition near by a bunch of these decorated horses were around town. Couldn't resist capturing Pipi Longstocking!

We had lunch together, then Antonella excused herself to participate in some of the workshops that were part of the festival, while we went back over to the Abbey to do the tour.

Ohh - but not before browsing this pastry shop and a couple samples too!

The Abbey, as mentioned above, was formed in the 700's. As the abbey grew it was a center for the arts, letters and sciences. Today it has an impressive cathedral, and of course it's amazing library.

No photos are allowed, but once again Wikipedia and photos of the post cards we bought come to the rescue! The room itself, is absolutely stunning.

The abbots of St. Galls have done a remarkable job in protecting their library collection throughout the ages. It is today one of the foremost medieval libraries in the world, with over 400 manuscripts date pre-10th century... and by manuscripts we mean hand-written, hand-illuminated texts that are works of art beyond the information contained within.

It just so happened that this year's special exhibit - the books in the display cases on the floor - is of musical texts. As Dave has been singing with the SCA Choir, this was a special treat.

Next door is the cathedral. I especially love the sea-foam green filligrees all over. It was very pretty.

We spent a relaxing evening at Antonella's perusing many of her English copies of guides to the library and other local attractions. As she does translation work for the abbey she has quite the collection and it was all very interesting.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Shopping n Touring in Venice

Thursday morning we were up and at 'em, and decided to hop off the Vaporetto at the Rialto Bridge to check out the market and other shopping right there.

I especially love the 5-tipped stylus here for making a musical staff!

Just half a block from the bridge is the Marcato Rialto - it even has it's own Vaporetto stop. Quite the fish and veggie market!

We had quite the chuckle - this little girl was fascinated with the snails, and Dave thinks she took one as a souvenir. Whoo Boy -- would hate to be finding that in a pocket at the end of the day!

And then there were vendors of all sorts lining the streets surrounding the market. This was supposed to be a quick little stop - we could have stayed for hours!

There is a Tragetto stop here at the Marcato too. These are little gondola ferries across the grand canal - apparently a cheap and easy way to try out a gondola ride, LOL. Granted, it's only about 3 minutes long, but then it also costs less than 1 Euro. No, we didn't climb aboard.

Our actual destination this morning was the Train Station, to purchase our tickets to Switzerland for the next day. I was so thankful for our friend, Antonella's scheduling help because honestly the agent in the station wasn't trying very hard to get me a reasonable route that did NOT involve a 4 minute layover. That in itself would have been ok - except we had too much luggage to just run from platform to platform with, so we had to be a little more creative. But we managed.

At that point we were of course back at the train station, and so had planned to take Rick Steve's Grand Canal Tour all the way back to St. Marks. He publishes many of his guides as pod casts also, so we had downloaded a couple of them. We waited for a Vaporetto where we could secure outdoor seating - and listened to the description of the beautiful landmarks all the way down the grand canal. It was fantastic and well done. Each chapter is synced with a stop on the way, so you can pause and restart the audio to time it exactly with the boat trip. Very clever.

Ca d'Oro

San Stae

The Rialto Marcato again - from the canal.

Then... voila, we were back at St. Marks! Toured the Basilica - again taking advantage of one of Rick Steve's pod casts which walks you through the immense displays with interesting background information. However, I do have to say we were trying to be efficient with battery power and internet access by only downloading the podcast to one phone and listening to it with headphone splitters. On the boat? Worked great. In the Basilica which was wall to wall tour groups tripping over each other? BAD.

Interesting old ship out in the ... that's not the canal - not sure what you call that body of water out there. The Lagoon?

No real surprise here, we were enamored with the Bronze Horses that sit atop the Basilica. Hee.

The ones outside are replicas, but these are the restored originals inside. They are really beautifully done - A little more than life sized - hard to tell since we could never get up on ground level with them.

They have quite the tale. And because I'm not feeling all that inspired, I will again just quote Mr. Steve's description:

Art Historians don't know how old they are - [cast somewhere between 400 BC and 400 AD.] Megalomaniacs through the ages have coveted these horses not only for their artistic value, but because they symbolize Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of the sun... and of secular power. The doge spoke to his people standing between the horses when they graced the balcony atop the church's facade.

... Legend says they were made in the time of Alexander the Great, then taken by Nero to Rome. Constantine took them to his new capital in Constantinople to adorn the chariot racecourse. The Venetians then stole them from their fellow Christians during the looting of noble Constantinople (in 1204) and brought them to St. Mark's.

What goes around comes around, and Napoleon came around and took the horses when he conquered Venice in 1797. They stood atop a triumphal arch in Paris until Napoleon's empire was "blown-aparte" and they were returned to their "rightful" home."

(Rick Steves, Venice)

Another angle on the Bell Tower.

Wandering around back canals. This photo didn't turn out all that great, but we did happen to score lunch at a little outdoor cafe just on the other side of this canal. While we were eating, this gondolier arrive to make ready to set our for a day of ferrying people around.

Another random shot of a Gondolier.

That afternoon we thought we had time to catch two more museums and a short nap. Sadly, no, we ought to have opted for the nap, and then devoted an adequate amount of time to the second museum. Oh well.

Ca' Rezzonico was about 100 steps from our hotel, so we always assumed it should be on our list. It is listed as one of the best chances to tour one of the palaces lining the grand canal with 1700-era furnishing and decorations.

And it was interesting to imagine living there, overlooking the canal. Receiving guests upon the dock on the canal, and everyone ascending to the second floor where the entertainment rooms were. Canal level rooms were all storage and what not, and the very top level rooms were for servants. But the second and third floors (what American's call second and third floors) were the main living floor for the owning family.

Oh look - here come some guests now!

It was so sad to learn that most of the palaces lining the grand canal are vacant. Too worn out to actually live in, too expensive to fix up - particularly because of Historical Preservation regulations requiring owners to keep them up according to 'standards'. So they are deserted and sinking into the sea.

After a very short nap, we headed to the Academia museum, for an extremely abbreviated visit. Would like to do that one again at another time.

But the bonus was there was an outdoor cafe right next door. Had pizza and chianti to these views:

A 'flotilla?' of gondolas came by with a man singing to the group. *AH*

La Salute at Sunset

And finally, we spent our last evening out on St Marks square - sipping cappuccino and listening to the dueling quartets. I had no idea what the book meant by dueling quartets, but that is exactly what they are. There are 3 or 4 covered stages where quartets, quintets, sometimes sextets were set up serenading the diners and visitors to the square. (you can see the white canopy covered one behind me in the photo above) They typically let the others complete a short set before starting up themselves, but not always.

It was lovely, entertaining, and the best part of all -- all while seated!