8. Bürglen – Andermatt – Across the St. Gotthard; or not….?

After a good night’s sleep in quiet Bürglen I prepare for the crossing to the Italian side of Switzerland via the Gotthard pass. I feel fine and I’m looking forward to it. A German couple asks me what my goal is for today and I explain to them that I must go to Milan. Well, must…. After showing Hermann’s travel report, the man tells them that they come from Potsdam. I spent a day there myself in 2021 during a tour via Rügen and Berlin and I recognize the city from his words as a city with great allure that is being restored to its former glory. What I didn’t know is that Potsdam is nowadays the home of the German jet set because it is close to the capital Berlin. We say goodbye and wish each other a nice holiday.

After the descent to Altdorf I turn left around the bend and consider myself lucky to be able to start the estimated 6.5 hour climb over the top. The weather is visually favorable to me; a clear sky and a shady start because I cycle on the east side of the valley. The only climatic disadvantage is that from the south through the valley a tight, dirty, warm wind blows in my face, so my mouth and throat quickly drie out. During the earlier days I was told by several people that the warm south wind is favorable because there are no rain showers and the climb over the Alps is a lot more pleasant. Despite these nice words, the headwind wears me out and I realize that from the start of the trip in Mainz I have already had headwinds.

Just before the “Gotthard-Strasse” really starts, I get another golden tip from local residents that I certainly take to heart: “Bitte langsam fahren!!” (Please drive slowly).

This part of the “Gotthard-Strasse” is quite busy. Many cars and motorcycles pass me. There is no separate lane for cyclists, so I have to be on the lookout for traffic coming from behind. Nice new asphalt has been laid so that my bike zooms up without extra resistance and I am in a good rhythm. The road winds like a snake along the rock face without hairpin bends and that is a sign that the gradient is not that bad. I had already noticed the latter from the low pressure on my muscles and the resistance of the gears that is still on the front center blade. I want that all the way up! In the village of Gurtnellen I take the first rest and I stock up on water at the well in the village. From here the road surface deteriorates and shortly after the first hairpin bends come. It is very busy with motorized traffic, so the continuous noise of these vehicles makes the climb restless.

Shortly afterwards, the cyclists are led off the road to a special path for cyclists and walkers. The disadvantage of this is that the path suddenly becomes very steep and gradients of around 10% occur. After a few hundred meters the route becomes too difficult and, much to my disappointment, I have to get off the bike and walk for a while with the bike in my hand. I’m not the only one who has to make this decision. A few cyclists, sometimes with only a backpack, also dismount. During my stumble over the steepest part, a hiker suddenly comes from behind me and wonders if I am also on my way to the yodel festival in Andermatt. Panting I tell him that I didn’t have that knowledge but that I find it very interesting. The man replies: “Vielleicht sehen wir uns dort” (Maybe we’ll see each other there).

When the road flattens out, I jump back on my bike and arrive at the crucial point of the route via the Gotthard Pass: the “Teufelsbrücke” (Devils Bridge)! It is so named because for centuries it formed an impassable barrier and according to legend could only be made by the devil himself. Around 1230 the first wooden bridge was built, which was later replaced by several stone ones. The current second bridge dates from 1830 after previous wooden and stone ones had all collapsed. Due to the heavy use of the Gotthard route, a third bridge was built in 1958 for motorized traffic. In addition, a railway was built across the ravine in 1917, so that several bridges are now close together. The river “Reuss” plunges down here from a height and creates a constant murmur of water and upward air pressure. Hermann mentions the existence of the “Hutschelm” and I feel that it really exists because the water drops are blown up by the wind and descend on me like a nice shower.

Old and new Teufelsbrücke (Devils Bridge)

The next surprise is already on its way: “das Urner Loch”. This is a large hole in the rock wall through which you end up on a plateau from the steep rock walls. The first village that appears is Andermatt and I immediately think of the words of the hiker.

I decide to drive into the village and am immediately immersed in a world of Swiss history and folklore. Men and women walk around me in traditional costume, there is playing on Alpine horns and extensive singing, both individually and in groups. After I sit down on a bench to watch this spectacle at my leisure, a man tells me that the “Jodlerfest”, which has been held for the past few days as a pre-selection for the national championships later this year, is actually already over and that today from 14 hours, only a parade of participants through the main street will take place. I decide to stay and book an overnight stay in the village via the internet. My overnight stay is nearby and I have to go through the main street, where the parade will soon take place, to my accommodation.

Suddenly a woman with a beer in her hand comes up to me and says in the local dialect after which she points to my panniers: “Dos sind die Foarben von Kaanton Oeri” (These are the colors of the canton of Uri). And because Andermatt is in Uri, I am taken to the local beer table where the joy at the coincidental resemblance between my bicycle bags and Uri’s coat of arms is great. We celebrate the alliance between Uri and me with a glass of delicious Feldschlösschen beer, after which I continue on my way.

To be able to follow the parade in time, I put my things in the apartment. It turns out to be an 18th century house that has been completely renovated with original elements such as doors that are no higher than 1.60 meters, so wearing a helmet in the house is recommended…..

Apartment “Mind your head”

When the parade starts shortly afterwards, I am standing between Swiss people who come from various cantons. Because of the various dialects I understand little or nothing of what they say to each other. A woman from Baselland explains to me who are which groups that pass by in the parade, singing and waving. I tell about my Scheveningen family branch in which traditional costumes were also worn and show her some photos with the costumes of my grandmother and great-grandmother.

Traditional family costumes in Scheveningen

It is a great folkloric festival and each region is distinguished by its traditional costumes and folkloric expressions. Singing groups, venders with spinning flags, alpine horn players and even a group with giant cow bells around their waists, which can be heard from afar with their monotonous tinkling and make a menacing thump. I undergo it and feel honored to be able to taste a piece of the Swiss soul.

When the parade is over, Andermatt empties and singers and musicians continue to play quiet music until late at night, after which the night muffles all sounds.