Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alpabfahrt Mels - Let's Party till the Cows come Home!

I know. I know. The German word "fahrt" still makes me laugh. You can take the girl out of America but you can't take America out of the girl:)! Anyway, the word "fahrt" means journey or trip. So Alpabfahrt (which we were pronouncing "Applefart"..... close - I'm sure:)) is a journey of the cows coming back down from the Alps.

If you are in Switzerland during the middle to later part of September you simply MUST go to an Alpabfahrt! I think there are several, but we went to the one in Mels - I found it on The reason we went to that one was b/c it was the closest (only 1 1/2 hours) from Zurich. My parents had arrived from the States at 8 am so I didn't want to go too far b/c I knew they would be tired.
So the Swiss Alp herders bring the cows back down from their summer home in the Alps to their rightful owners during the Alpabfahrt. The cows have beautiful headdresses on and the herders wear traditional garb.
The first animals that came by were sheep - how cute is this!

My mom was a little concerned with the "droppings" they left in the middle of the road b/c people didn't seem to care if they stepped in it. Little did she know that this sheep poop was nothing! You'll see what I mean in a second:).

About 10 minutes later we started to hear lots of cow bell and the parade began! How cool is this!

Now that looks like a heavy necklace!

Here is a video:

So after the parade of cows was over (at least we thought it was over) we saw most of the crowd turn around and run towards this water fountain in the center of town - so hey since we didn't know what was going on we all followed! Boy was this a good/bad thing:) The cows continued their parade through the little town of Mels and then once they get to the water fountain they all started drinking out of it. Hundreds of cows in this one little area! Then the massive chaos began!

The first couple of cows to reach the fountain!

Serious chaos! The herders couldn't keep the cows together! Nathan almost got trampled!

True love:) And yes that is what you think it is on the ground - eeewwwwww!


People were just walking through the cow poop - seriously disgusting!

My mom tried to tip toe over to the cows so as to not step in the poop! However, you saw the picture above - I don't think that was possible!
We didn't know why they were letting all the cows stop at the fountain causing all the chaos, but we found out later that the water fountain is where the cows get transfered from the Alp herders to their "rightful" owners.

A "rightful" owner!)

We met a nice Swiss gentleman waiting for the bus home and he gave us the history and run down of the Alpabfahrt - so here it is (of course he could have been making it up and we wouldn't know the difference:)):

During the spring the cow farmers bring some of their cows to Mels and then the Alp herders/farmers come take them up into the alps (this is not a big production with the headdresses and everything). During this time the Alp herders keep the cows to make Alp cheese and stuff (we aren't 100% sure about the business relationship here so if anyone knows please tell us - Nathan was VERY concerned about the money aspect:)). Then when it starts to get cold (mid September) the Alp herder's bring the cows back down the mountain and there are big festivals and the cows get "dressed up". The cows and herders walk for about 5 hours out of the alps to reach the town of Mels. We were told that 5 different sets of cows would parade through the town - (I think it is b/c they were from 5 different alp communities?). Then when the cows get into town they parade through and then stop at the water fountain where the cow farmers come get their cows. That explains why we saw several people with only two or three cows leaving the town center - duh! Such a cute Swiss tradition - we loved it!

While we were waiting for the bus a farmer came by us with his two cows and I asked to take a picture since we didn't get a good one in town (too much chaos!). After they left we all started laughing b/c this is what the cows in the field across from us looked like as the farmer and his cows were walking by! Too funny!

I'm pretty sure they were thinking "Wow - isn't she beautiful with that flower tiara. I wonder what her number is":)
Anyway, such a cool experience! One of the coolest things we have done in Switzerland (it doesn't take much to impress us:))! I'm so glad my parents were here for it!
Here are the rest of the pics!

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