OUR objective point being Baden near Zurich, we ask at the depot for tickets to that place. The agent has never heard of it ; the only Baden is Baden-Baden, in Germany. After a long conversation, in which we do not succeed in convincing him that Baden near Zurich exists, we are obliged to content ourselves with tickets to Basle, which is about two hours’ ride from our destination. It seems extraordinary that in going from Bingen-on-the-Rhine to a point in Switzerland celebrated for hundreds of years as a watering-place, the trip being made by railroad in twelve hours, it is impossible to procure through tickets, or even to learn of the existence of such a place. We inquire of at least a dozen railroad officials all along the route, and not one of them had ever heard of Baden near Zurich, and not until we reach Basle can we get the least satisfaction. This state of things may be according to the rules regulating the railroads in this country, but we apprehend that foreigners travelling here, and especially those unacquainted with the language spoken, will come to the conclusion that they are travelling under difficulties.
At Basle we procure tickets for our destination and arrive in due time, weary with the long journey and exhausted by our efforts to furnish brains to these stereotyped railroad officials. We cannot help thinking how quickly a ticket agent in America, under similar circumstances, would furnish the required information. If the point to be reached was outside of the limits of the road he represented, and he was not fully posted, he would refer to the railroad guide, and soon answer the query satisfactorily.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Baden was the favorite resort of the crowned heads and the nobility. It does not, however, enjoy that marked distinction at present. The discovery of new springs, and the caprices of fashion, have turned the current in this respect in other directions. This is now one of the most quaint and interesting watering-places in Europe, and appears to be frequented mainly by the people of Switzerland and Germany, though a few French and English, and now and then a stray American, find their way here. A doctor who still keeps the peace of old times in his soul, and knows how to value a country life, sent us to this place.
This Baden is, according to history, the oldest trans-Alpine bathing resort. Its praises were sung by the historian Tacitus in the year 69, and Roman antiquities have been discovered.
here from time to time and preserved in the museums. The Romans, and after them the lords of the middle ages, built their fortresses on the crests of the hills which confine the rapid river. Houses sprang up under the protection of these strongholds, and, like the castles themselves, were often burned down and rebuilt during many centuries of turbulence and upheaval. A bridge was stretched across the rushing stream, and a massive building erected on the other side as a fortification, with narrow slits in the walls for windows.
The warm springs shoot up not far below this bridge, in the lap of the narrow valley, at an abrupt bend in the river. In olden times the princes came here for their baths, and they tell of one who had made himself especially popular, and to whom the citizens brought presents of wine, sheep, and oxen, and a drink of honor in a great can. The prince was just in his bath, where the robust natures of that period often spent half a day. He called the deputation into his presence, stretched forth his sinewy arm for the great wine-can, which held nearly as much as his bath tub, and drank a mighty draught.
Centuries have passed since, and many times war and devastation has swept through the narrow valley, but the sulphur waters bubble forth again and again from out the ruins, and now a hotel stands over each one of these springs, and almost every drop of their healing waters passes down the throat or over the limbs of some poor, suffering mortal; for, in our progressive age, the burghers and farmers nurse and conserve their bodies as well as the princes.
Deep in the narrow valley, at the river’s bend, cluster a dozen more or less stately hotels. As a spring seems to be a necessary adjunct to each hostelry, and as no new springs are discovered, the number of these public houses does not in-crease. The entire basement of each is devoted exclusively to the baths.
The bathing begins as early as five in the morning. One hears the clattering of the slippers on the bare staircase, and sees the strange procession wandering down to the basement, clothed in variegated garb, some in white like shivering ghosts returning to their sepulchres at dawn.
On each side of the long, dark passage the tombs open. In each is a six-foot excavation in the solid stone filled with water. We descend into this damp crypt to come up again renewed and strengthened. A crust of sulphur swims upon the surface, which mingles with the water as we splash and move about ; thinking of the nymphs whose bodies, according to the German legend, ended in fish-tails, we find to our astonishment that our own extremities look quite uncertain and fish-tail-like in the bluish water. We stand up to see if our legs are all right, when, as if to disenchant us, a stream of water breaks over us sufficiently strong to bring us to our senses. The sun pours through a little window at the side, uniting with the mist of the douche; the fire and the water perform a mysterious marriage around us, and we feel the delight of it. Suddenly the door opens ; a vast expanse of white comes in, and when we recover from the terror of this apparition we climb out and turn our backs confidingly to it, whereupon the arms of the bath-master envelop us and rub us down vigorously.
Being dried and warmed, we don such apparel as we have thought necessary to make a worthy appearance in the slippered procession, wend our way up-stairs, tuck ourselves up warmly in bed, and rest for an hour, having perchance previously refreshed our inner man with a drink of the sulphur water warm from the bowels of the earth. These baths bring us into contact with the original strength of nature, and we feel something like the giant in the Grecian myth, who, being a son of mother earth, was unconquerable so long as be remained in contact with her, and whom Hercules could only overcome by lifting him from off the earth and crushing him in the air. But we are more highly gifted than this poor son of earth, for we also gain strength from the bracing air of the Alps, and rest our weary souls in the peaceful stillness of this quaint old town.
When the body has resumed its normal temperature we dress and find ourselves ready for breakfast, which consists of a lonely roll and coffee, and, perchance, we sometimes think it would be nice to sit down to a good, ” square” American breakfast. But this is the universal morning meal here, either because it is the most appropriate and healthful or because it is the fashion. No matter which, we eat it and soon learn to be quite satisfied.
Next to our hotel is a substantial building used as a bathing-house for the very poor, and periodically the band, which plays from time to time in the different squares and parks, comes and gives an entertainment to these poor bathers. Every Sunday, as the guests of the hotel sit at dinner, a contribution-box is passed around, and all are asked to give something for the support of this most worthy charity, which they willingly do.
We never tire, in this most extraordinary old town, in picking up the links that connect the present with the far-distant past. Here the past speaks to us. If we have the patience to listen, we catch the tones which come to our ears ringing with the reverberations of full twenty centuries. And yet, we find here all the comforts of the present. Everything at our abiding -place moves with the regularity of clock-work, and most smoothly, too, as the wheels are of the most delicate materialSwiss girls, who know how to combine attentive service with a free re-publican spirit.
Hotel keeping is followed as an art in Switzerland. The rich people of the countrywith the exception of the manufacturers in the larger cities, like Basle, Zurich, Berne, and Genevaare hotel-keepers, who gather their harvest from the summer travellers. They are known for their good management, and oftentimes the daughters of respectable and well-to-do families are entrusted to them to learn the art of serving and conducting a household. We recently saw a pretty, healthy girl, in stiff white sleeves and silver ornaments, waiting upon the table at one of the Swiss hotels, who was worth $40,000-a large fortune in Switzerland.
It is wonderful how, in this well-regulated household, no service is too small to be considered, and no little extra trouble for one’s comfort or pleasure avoided. A rose that we chanced to leave on the dinner table is smiling at us later in a glass of fresh water. Are you unwell, and does your appetite crave some dainty extra dish, it is provided most willingly, with no extra charge, and when it is served the landlord stands by regretting that you are not well. The same order and consideration for one’s comfort are found also outside of the house. Half an hour after a rain the foot-paths are dry and one can venture forth without fear of soiling his feet. The little pebbles are all carefully raked together. The lawns are kept short and smooth ; no weeds are tolerated anywhere.
The fountains in the parks are alive with ducks and swans, who play hide-and-seek among the rocks and artificial grottoes. In the middle of the park, on a somewhat elevated foundation, is a stately building called the Casino, with a large hall for dancing and general amusements, a reading-room, and a restaurant. In good weather a band of twenty pieces plays in front of this resort, and in rainy weather they play in its big hall.
Some of the visitors amuse themselves in an adjoining room either as spectators or participants in a comparatively harmless game of chance called “the little horses.” These little horses, eight in number, are ridden by daring jockeys in variegated waistcoats, each bearing a number corresponding with one of the tickets sold to the bystanders. They do not get tired or dizzy, for they are made of wood like the Trojan horse. The little horses run around the table in grooves, being propelled by machinery under the table. They are watched with eager interest, and it is not always the swiftest that wins in this race, but the one who can curb him-self and stop at the goal, which is a line drawn from the centre to the circumference on one side. The spectators vie with each other in calculating the time it will take for the force propelling each horse to become spent, and recognizing in advance the winner. Sometimes two horses run very close together, and one gets his head just over the line, while the other stops just short of it and wins ; which reminds us of the race between the hare and the crab. The hare had been running for dear life, and looked around triumphantly just at the goal to see what the crab was doing, when he heard the cry of ” victory.” The crab, who had fastened himself to the tail of the hare, had been swept around to the goal by the too early triumph of the enemy. Thus cleverness wins in the race with speed.
The cleverest person connected with the game of little horses seems to be the proprietor, who is sure to win every time, as he takes for himself one of the eight francs paid for the tickets, while one of the eight holders of the tickets gets the other seven, and each of the others, of course, loses the franc paid for his ticket.
Many of the players’ faces grow longer, and their hands grope more slowly and anxiously in their pockets. ” Constant dropping wears away the stone,” and many gropings empty the fullest pocket. Now, all pockets are not full to begin with, and through the unkindness of fate those who have the least are most often the losers. The one whose misfortunes touched us most nearly was the thin, forlorn young man with bushy hair and monstrous eye-glasses, in whom we recognized the flutist of the band. He hesitated a long time before putting his handwith simulated indifferenceinto his great pocket to venture forth with one of the few francs his lungs had labored so bard to earn. He seldom won, which so distressed us that we imagined we could hear his flute plaintively be-wailing his loss amidst the whole orchestra.
Near him played carelessly a rich young man, who very often won. He, too, noticed the misfortune of the pale flute-player, and one day suggested that they should combine their chances and divide the result, and we rejoiced in the delicacy of the rich young man, who offered to share with the poor one not his fortune but his good luck. That night the flute sounded as cheerily as the clinking of francs in a full pocket. The income from the game is used to keep the Casino and garden in order, and for this purpose also each guest of the hotel is taxed one franc a day, which is added to his bill.
There are two theatres here, which, if they do not exactly furnish high art, at least bring satisfaction to simple souls who are happy and easily satisfied. We saw a lady bathed in tears last night in the first act of William Tell in anticipation of the tragic scenes which were to come. She seemed determined that the comfort of weeping, for which she had paid, should not escape her.
Though comparatively little known, Baden near Zurich is a lovely and picturesque spot. With its abrupt and more or less lofty hills on all sides, several of which are crowned with old ruins ; with its interesting valleys thickly dotted with highly cultivated fields and vineyards, which extend way up the mountain-sides ; with the rapid river rushing down through the very centre, it has a setting not easily matched, and possesses a charm peculiarly its own.