Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Mountain Ride, Switzerland

Case demonstrates....
riding around the cows...
thus increasing Jolene's courage to ride the gauntlet.

Along with the cows comes a lot of you-know-what -- enough that we just dodged the freshest piles. Rope fences keep the cows within a general pasturage, and these are usually fashioned to allow easily passage to hikers and bicyclers. However, in an unexpected moment, Jolene discovered that some of them are electrified!.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hiking the Aletsch Galcier, Switzerland

The Aletsch Glacier, Europe's largest, lies just over the ridge from our chalet. We took this photo on July 19, when we came to see the glacier and check out the area before committing to a chalet rental.
As that was a quick day trip, we rode the gondola up to Bettmerhorn, one of the ridge's peaks, then hiked back down. Below is the view over Bettmeralp from a resting spot on the return hike.
This hike was a downhill and in good weather, but another day, August 2, we decided to hike up to the ridge from our chalet in Riederalp. We didn't take the camera, as it was not a picture-taking kind of day. In fact, just as we reached the ridge top overlooking the Aletsch, it started raining. Not easily deterred from our rising ambitions (we'd only planned to crest the ridge), we continued up the ridgeline. Below us, the glacier faded in and out of view as the mist blew by. Around us, clouds poured past the surrounding peaks, bringing more rain. We hiked quickly and continuously, maintaining our body heat in the icy blasts sweeping up to us from the glacier. Our shorts and light jackets were pretty moist when we reached the Bettmerhorn an hour later. Feeling refreshed and maybe even a little fortunate -- after all, it's probably not the smartest idea to hike the Alps in poor weather without rain clothes -- we elected to take the warm, enclosed gondola back down to Bettmeralp, and thence home.
In addition to their wonderful hiking & mountain biking trails, the Alps serve as the summer pastures of Switzerland's dairy herds. Herds of cows dot the mountainsides, and each cow carries a bell around its neck. Sitting on the porch or returning from a hike on a still day, one hears the murmur of the breeze, the distant thunder of a mountain cataract, and the gentle ding-ding of the cowbells.

In the evening, the cows head for home. They don't seem in a big hurry, but the first time I saw 30 cows coming up the road straight at me, WITH HORNS, I was a bit concerned! Was there another way home? A cow-free trail, perhaps? (Case says: She was feeling cowed!) Case, highly amused, assured me these were friendly cows whose sole thought (if they had a thought at all) was to get their udders emptied, and whose greatest interest in me (if they had any interest at all) was that I would volunteer for the job. I stood nervous but motionless on the roadside as the cows plodded by......uneventfully.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Riederalp, Swizterland

We only spent a couple more days in Geneva after we returned from the trip to Stuttgart & the Black Forest. On Sunday, we took the train from Geneva to Valais canton, where we transfered to a gondola that carried us high up into the Alps! Riederalp, to be specific -- elevation 6,250 feet. (See webcam page.)

Riederalp is a car free zone, so people walk, ride bikes, or take one of the few electric vehicles to help transfer luggage to chalets and hotels. Chair lifts and gondolas from Riederalp carry summer visitors (the lazy, non-hiking type) to the ridgetop, where they can overlook the Aletsch -- largest glacier in the Alps and central feature of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
Our chalet is second from the left.
The view from our deck looks southwest....
... where the Matterhorn stands as the lone peak, center in the picture.
Our cabin is half way between Reideralp and Bettmeralp. A few minutes walk either way take s us to the small grocery store, several restaurants, and ski resort type shopping.
June and July are the height of the wild flower season. The lupines come in purple, pink and white, while smaller wildflowers carpet the ground.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Story of the Keys

After one of our bus trips into Geneva (the one where we forgot to bring money), we arrived home to discover that the keys were no longer in my (Case's) pocket. Keys on the ring included the house key, two bicycle keys, and post office key, plus some others -- no doubt important to our hosts -- that we couldn't identify.

I'd searched my pockets for money while sitting on the bus into town, after discovering that I hadn't brought the bills I'd removed from my wallet while still at home. (Lesson One: Take the stuff you don't need out of your wallet and take your wallet to town, not the other way around.) We thought the keys may have been dislodged from my pocket then, but we couldn't be sure.

Now, it's bad enough to lose your keys -- but someone else's...!

Fortunately, we'd left a French door open downstairs, so we were able to get back into the house. Also, the owners had left us extra car and house keys, so we could function. However, we sure didn't want to lose their bicycle, post box, and other keys for them!

So we headed back into town by car and, in the process, learned a bit about Swiss efficiency!

We searched all the places we'd stopped, sat, stood, jumped, and/or run to no avail. A few of the stores were already closed, so we returned the next day. Again, no luck.

Best bet was the bus. It turns out that Geneva has, like all Swiss cantons, a lost-and-found office for the entire canton! Anything lost in the public transport or public buildings makes its way there. As I understand it, other businesses and private parties can deliver found items to this office as well.

So, we stopped by the office to look through their big box of keys. No luck. "No worries", they said, "Come back in a week. Sometimes it takes a while for found items to make their way here."
During our whole Black Forest trip, the keys were sitting at the back of my mind. Would we find them?

Upon our return, we went back to the Geneva canton "Office of Found Items". Once again, I asked to search through the box of keys. (It would have been nice to be able to find the items some of those keys went to. It seems that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes drivers are pretty absent-minded about keys to their expensive automobiles!) And there, right toward the bottom of the box, were our keys! Proof of match with the spare key I'd brought, some pen work on a form (what gov't office doesn't require you to fill out a form for every transaction?), and 15 Swiss francs later, I headed out of the office with this answer to our prayers clutched tightly in my hand!

I've since thought back to the process of searching for lost items "back home" in USA:

Have you ever had to seek out the lost-and-found offices of the 5 businesses you visited on the day you lost your keys, only to find that one doesn't have such an office, the second sends you to ask the tattooed, cigarrette-smoking janitor sitting behind the furnace on basement level 3 (who grunts a "uh-uh" and ignores you), and the third tells you that they send all found items to Tuscaloosa, Alabama by turtle-back caravan. Then, if you rode the bus, you check with the bus company office, and they ask you which bus it was -- not the route, mind you, but which exact bus? You don't know? Well, what did the driver look like? You'll have to find him and ask him...

And then finally ... FINALLY ... at the seventh place you try, you find an genuine lost-and-found office with someone helpful behind the desk: "Was that the key ring marked 'Smith' with an Ferrari key on it? Yes? Oh, and what year is your Ferrari? Uh-huh. Yeah, I know that one. It's a great model. You drive it everywhere, I bet? Yep, thought so. Well, anyway, I think we may have your keys. Hang tight. I have to go in the back to check, and it sometimes takes a while." Wow, what a relief! You stand waiting in a restrained hopefulness.

And you wait.... And wait... And then, at 20 minutes before closing time, a secretary comes to the desk and starts pulling down the iron grill. "My keys...", you say. "Oh", she says, "You must be... Tom has gone home for the day. He said to tell you that we don't have your keys. Sorry. Bye-bye." And the grill slams shut.

And do you think you're going to find your Ferrari still waiting for you in the parking lot outside when you head home?

....... So, anyway, I thought the Swiss system for lost-and-found was exemplary. If you must lose your keys, I would suggest coming to Switzerland to do it!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Freiburg, Black Forest, Germany

While in the Black Forest we visited the city of Freiburg.
Here, we came across a book store with a wide selection of English titles. No matter how many books we bring (a whole day-pack-full to Europe), we tend to run out of reading material in about a quarter of the time we expected -- so we were due for more. We also found a store that had needlepoint, something that I (Jolene) have picked up to keep my hands occupied.
While Jolene was shopping for her needlepoint, Case came across this book store. All their books were in German, of course, but he noticed a preponderance of Jewish authors.
After scoping out the books, he was idling outside and noticed this in the store's display window, sitting quietly among their display books:
Here lived
Irma Neumann
born Ullmann
Deported 1940
Murdered in
There's a story here, no doubt, and a sad one.
The outdoor market was in full swing outside the cathedral in the town square. We found raspberries for Jolene and blueberries for Case!
We also visited the Gothic Freiburg Munster, built beginning in 1120. Here we rested our feet and admired the windows while listening to an organist apparently receiving his lesson for the week on the cathedral organ. (We can record sound using our camera and have often wished for the skill to attach sound files to this blog. This was one of those times. There's nothing quite like hearing a massive old pipe organ in a Gothic cathedral.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany, then to the Black Forest

The day after the Mercedes museum -- elegantly done, highly educational, and somewhat geared toward marketing -- we visited the Porsche museum. Porsche is in the midst of building its answer to the Mercedes museum down the street. Their current museum, hard to find and located in an office building behind the factory, is simple and lets the cars and motors do the talking, making the Mercedes museum look like a shrine to itself. I liked the contrast -- it sort of typifies the two companies: Mercedes is about elegance, refinement, style, and marketing, and Porsche about small, fast, race-winning, driving excitement. However, but from the looks of the new Porsche building being built they are chasing the Mercedes marketing-museum scheme.
I choose my race car...
and Case chooses his. This car brought back memories of learning to drive on Dad's 1969 VW bug.
An old favorite...the bathtub Porsche. (Another one that Case wanted to take home.)
Ever dissected a car?
They took a perfectly beautiful Cayman S and cut it a part...??? How could someone do that???
Moving on to the new car showroom. 100,000+ euro....
and it comes with a fire extinguisher in case it catches fire!
Fresh off the assembly line to a showroom near you!
From Stuttgart we headed to the north end of the Black Forest (Schwartzwald). Along the way we happened by a restaurant advertising vegetarian food. What a lucky find!
Winding our way through the Black Forest (oh, we needed that Porsche for this!)...
...we eventually arrived at our lodgings in Furtwangen. Despite the unusual name, we were pleasantly surprised with our inexpensive, comfortable accommodations in a classic German Gasthaus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart,

We visited Stuttgart, Tubingen and the Black Forest for a few days. Stuttgart is a fairly industrial city, it's main attraction to us being the presence here of the Mercedes Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum (stay tuned).
In 1886, Daimler's "Grandfather Clock" was the worlds first small high-speed internal combustion engine to run on gasoline. It was light yet, at 1.1 horsepower, powerful enough to drive a vehicle. The engine was given its epithet because it resembled a grandfather clock. A patent was filed for it in 1885. The unit shown above is a more powerful version from 1886.
The first car...
old classics...
the elegant gull wing (Case wanted to take this one home!)...
Princes Diana's 500 SL that she drove for 9 months, but then returned it under pressure from British industry. British Royals must drive British cars!
The Popemobile or as the Europeans say...Papamobile!
Many race cars...
and a prototype.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Relaxing at 'home'

Recovering from traveling by laying around, reading and loving on the kitty...don't tell Jack!
Enjoying down time at 'home'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Our" Neighborhood, Confignon and Bernex, Switzerland

The sunrise view from our home exchange house...
and the house itself...
I took an early morning walk around the neighborhood.

The sun rises over Geneva...
a very short walk to the town of Bernex...
the local French country shop...
local watering hole...

sunrise over town...

returning home through the grape vineyards..
past the athletic club...

the view from the kitchen.