Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weekend Warrior

I just went back through my pictures from the last couple of months. I think I'm getting dangerously close to taking the beautiful scenery for granted, which will make going back to the plains all the more painful. It was fun to look back, but it makes me want to stay even more (also dangerous).

I've made a point of traveling or doing something every weekend since I don't get out much otherwise. I said yesterday that this would be a travel post, so I'll share some stories and a few pictures.

Wine Culture
I'll start with my favorite(s). I've been meaning to go to a wine tasting at home for some time, i.e., since I turned 21. The problem is that these are usually smallish affairs with mostly local vintners. I don't know if the Europeans know just how good they have it, but I am well aware that we don't have anything approaching the selection they have, and in the grocery store no less. When I heard that Coop was holding an event in Zurich, I decided that I had to go. Last weekend, there was another, larger event (called Expovina--much, much larger) on boats on Zurichsee. The two events had very different atmospheres, but my impression after both was "Wow. That was awesome." Highbrow, I know.

I really don't know where to begin. The selection for both events was far larger than I could really grok, but I had fun trying to find the highlights. (4000 vintages is . . . mind-boggling). Most of the vendors spoke English and I enjoy learning about wine, so it was fun and educational. I had different company for both trips, so I got to sample others' preferences too. I'm partial to Spanish wine, myself, but I tried some excellent reds from Bordeaux and was impressed by the variety and quality of the offerings from Valais. I kept notes, and I plan on doing some internet shopping when I get home.

A wine tasting is definitely a multi-sensory activity, and I enjoyed people-watching almost as much as the wine. There are no pictures.

Jungfrau and Ballenberg
A while back, I spent a whole weekend exploring the area around Interlaken. In hindsight, I should have stayed there for a night, but on the bright side, I've been there by every available route! I had heard so much about Jungfrau and the train and the ice palace that I felt obliged to see it. If only I had realized how many other people have heard the same thing, and made the same decision, on the same day. . . Well, it was impressive. The ride takes ~2.5 hours from Interlaken, a large part of which takes place on a cogwheel train inside the mountain. That tunnel has been there since the turn of the 20th century. It ends at the highest rail station in Europe. In fact, just about everything at the joch is the "highest ---", including the highest confectioner, whose chocolate I obviously tried. It was brisk outside, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better view with so little effort. I hiked a little on the glacier, took in the ice palace, and had a leisurely lunch with a view of the longest ice river in the Alps. If you don't mind tourists, it's a great place to be. I would like to go back and try hiking part of the way. Some day.

The next day, I met Charlotte and a friend of hers to see the Swiss Open-Air Museum in Ballenberg. We went primarily to see some of the Bernese mountain dogs, whose owners were having a pow-wow or rally or what have you. The museum was more interesting than I expected, having based my expectations on similar museums I visited in elementary school. I felt a little guilty taking pictures there because they felt . . . posed. But they sure are pretty.

After the museum, we had time to run down to Meiringen to see the Aareschlucht. It was almost an afterthought, but I am so glad we made it. I've been to the tops of several mountains here, but the Aare gorge is the most dramatic thing I've seen. It's hard to visualize from a written description, and the light was bad so we had a heck of a time taking pictures. So, here's the website, and I recommend checking it out on Google Earth. I wish I could give you more, but all I have are these pictures.

Basel Again
I spent one Saturday in Basel, again at an art museum. Basel's Kunstmuseum is in a lovely old mansion near the river. The collection is quite large--I took three hours to see everything--and spans several hundred years of art history. Afterwards, I met a fried for dinner at the Uelibier brewery. If anyone has an afternoon to kill in Basel, I highly recommend one or both of these. (if you like process engineering, you can see part of the brewery from the restaurant)

Pilatus and Luzern

Finally, last weekend I finally got to the top of Pilatus. If you're adventurous, you can hike, but I/we opted for a trip on the steepest cogwheel railway in the world (nearly 45 degrees in some places!). It was a little cloudy, so we couldn't see the Alps, but we had a great view of the Luzern valley. One of the PhD students I work with was acting as tour guide that day. He told us about the Swiss military installation inside part of the mountain, and you can see the camouflaged ports for anti-aircraft cannons. We ate lunch on the Tomlishorn with the eager company of mountain choughs, intelligent and fearless black birds. We started feeding them bread, but soon they were eating cheese and trail mix, and one made off with the last of our salami. They must be used to hikers because they can catch morsels you toss to them. The other person in our party had one hopping from her shoulder to her wrist to get at bread she was holding.We shook them off and hiked back to the train. We headed back down and into Luzern.

Luzern is an easy city to see on foot. The main attractions in the old city are pretty close together and the walk from sight to sight is pleasant, with plenty of old buildings to look at. We passed an Indian music video filming on our way to the Lion Memorial. From there we went to the glacier museum (expensive ticket--note to self: carry student ID more often), where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Everyone had somewhere to be that evening, so we headed back when the museum closed. All in all, it was another lovely day in Switzerland.

This is probably enough material for several posts, but I needed to get this out of the way. I have plans for my last few weekends that should merit an additional post or two. We'll see.

Until then,


JEby said...

I looked at this again today. Waaaaay too long. Sorry.

Nick said...

It's never too long for your avid readers like me.