Saturday, June 30, 2007

June 29 ~ Vals

So one of the last big trips we took was to Vals, Switzerland. Our destination was the "Therm Vals". It's a bath house of sorts, built into the side of a mountain, using a hot spring for its source of water. One of the guys out here rented a car, and after 5 hours of driving we arrived. The town has about 1500 people, and is very un-commercialized. This bath house and hotel are the biggest buildings for miles around.

These baths were by far the most bizarre swimming experience I've ever had. They baths were designed by a famous German architect, Peter Zumthor. The place felt like an art museum, only filled with water. The architect really wanted you to explore the baths and find everything on your own, so he didn't put any signs or maps anywhere. You'd think you were at the end of a hallway, then look thru a little doorway to find a really cool bath. It felt like a labyrinth.

There was this little bath that looked pretty normal, then when you swam around one of the corners, there was a narrow passage way in the corner. You'd go thru that to find a room 30 feet high with really cool lighting. It was called the Harmony room, and if you found the right note to hum, the place would reverberate til your ears hurt.

Every room was really unique like that. There was one where the water was full of flower pedals, and little jets would make the pedals dance around. Another room had 3 huge shower heads, each with a unique concept. One was 20 feet tall and put out a really thick stream of water. You could control the pressure and temp, and it'd fall the 20 feet, which was great for massages.
They actually looked more like art pieces.

We only had 2 hours to enjoy them, since we had to drive back and get to Leysin by 9. So, even though time was limited, it was definitely worth the driving. If I come back to Switzerland, that will be the 1st place I visit. If I honeymoon in Europe, that will be the place.

Go here, and look at the photo gallery. Simply amazing.

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 23 ~ Athens to Mycenae

So on Saturday, it was time for the leg of the trip by car. Our car was dropped off at our hotel at 9 a.m. and our travel agent drove with us for a couple minutes to show us how to get out of the city. It was actually a pretty easy route, thanks to our hotel's location. We dropped him off, and were on our way.

We headed West, where our first stop was Corinth. It may sound familiar, since it was a city in which 2 books of the bible are dedicated to (the apostle Paul spent some time here).

Aside from its biblical fame, the most noticeable feature is the Corinth Canal. The city is located at a narrow neck of land between two gulfs, the Corinth and the Saronic. It reminded me of the situation in Panama, where trade was slowed due to the mariners having to travel around a large land mass, just to reach the other side of the city. So, like in Panama, to remedy the situation, the people began to dig a canal, only they started a few thousand years ago. They gave up after believing that joining the two seas would cause a tidal wave from the difference in sea levels, destroying the town. Different rulers started to dig again throughout history, but nobody had the means to finish it. Finally, in the 1800s, things came together and it was finished, opening the two seas to ship traffic.

So, as we walked across this massive bridge with a spectacular view, we got talking about how fun it would be to jump off of it, as we always do when we walk over something really high. We weren't being serious, as the 240 foot drop would do some damage. At that moment, we noticed a banner off to the side offering bungee jumping from the bridge. We got curious and checked it out. The storefront was a really chill atmosphere: Hammocks, bamboo, and a bunch of employees that spoke very good English (the owner was Swiss, of all nationalities). We talked with him for awhile, got a feel for the company and, after some thought, we (me, Spence, Nate, and his wife) decided that if we ever DID go jumping, this would be the place to do it. So, we signed up, got our ankles prepped for the cord, and walked to a platform just under the highway bridge. We waited for the ship traffic to stop between the two gates at each end of the canal, then began hooking up.

I had the same feeling that I do before jumping a really big cliff in Lake Powell, kindof a weird feeling in the stomach. However, this was no cliff. When the safety railing stops and you look down with nothing between you and that small blue strip of water, things get pretty intense. The jump master then tells you to hold your hands straight out to your sides, then counts down from 5. After 1 he yells go, and then you jump (they tell you to jump just like you would swan dive off of a diving platform). So, after jumping I had about 3 seconds of total uninhibited freefall, followed by a couple seconds of slowing down (from the bungee), which then launches you right back up again. You bounce up and down for awhile then hang for a bit, while they send a cable to hook to your harness, which brings you back up.

Check the video here (the lighting was bad under the bridge, but you get the idea). Give it a bit to load, as it's about 7 megs. Here's a self portrait photo of me just before the jump.

So after jumping we continued west toward our next destination, Mycenae. There, we had reservations at a very nice traditional Greek restaurant. It was 4 courses. The appetizer was this eggplant lasagna which was very good. The lamb was amazing as it was every time I had it in Greece.

After lunch, we went to the ruins of the Mycenae. This civilization was in full swing 3500 years ago, making it one of the oldest sites I'll see on this trip. It's been pretty well preserved for being so old. We visited its acropolis, found a really cool old tunnel they dug to collect drinking water (photo here), then went to its museum. There, we found this really cool gold mask (a replica) called the Mask of Agamemnon. It was discovered at Mycenae and has been on the covers of a couple of my art history text books. I did my best impersonation of it here.

After the museum, we hit a huge dome shaped tomb, the Treasury of Atreus (
it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years)
. The rocks are still holding, and the accoustics were incredibly entertaining (you could stomp your foot, and the thud would sound twice; once when you did it, then twice as loud a millisecond later... it sounded just like a delay guitar pedal). We were the only ones in there and had a freestyle beatbox session for a good half hour. (photo) And who says history has to be boring?

After Mycenae, we started to loop back to the East, driving along the coast back towards Athens. We had our snorkel gear with us and hit another beach (here's a self portrait a few kilometers before the beach).

The drive along the coast was beautiful. It got a bit adventurous, as the signs were, at times, only in Greek. Their alphabet was a bit tricky to figure out as well, but it started to make more sense as the trip went along. Traffic wasn't too out of control on the highways. However, driving in downtown Athens was a different story. It was more like a video game than anything else. Cars cutting you off every couple of seconds, motorcycles using the room between cars as their own private lane, and pedestrians jumping out at any given point of the road. I do like driving, so in the end, it was a lot of fun and I would do it again (as long as insurance comes with the rental car, at least).

So we crashed back at the hotel that night at about 11, woke up and spent yesterday, the 24th, traveling back to Switzerland. Nothing out of the ordinary there, which is a good thing (Milan was a little bit nicer to us this time around, however from my experience the people just don't compare to the Swiss or Greeks). If I have the time and means in the future, I'm definitely game for another Athens adventure. The food, the people, the sights and culture offered entirely positive experiences for all of us on the trip.

Today, the 25th, we're just recuperating. Tomorrow, I think I might try to get a tee-time at the golf course up the valley. We'll see. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Photos from Yesterday, the 22nd

Got em uploaded, here you go.

The first is me at the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis area of Athens. It's within walking distance of our hotel, and is very central here to most of the city. Unfortunately, right now, it has some reconstruction going on, hence the scaffolding.

The second is of the Parthenon, self portrait.

The 3rd is merely a fraction of the sprawl that you see from atop the Acropolis. The city goes every way as far as your eye can see. The only place is stops is where you can see the Mediterranean to the west.

The 4th is dinner last night. I had food in my moustache and was getting it out. Leftovers. Gotta love em.

More to come on today's happenings. Enjoi.

June 22 ~ Athens to Aegina

This morning we met our transfer driver in front of the hotel at 7. Boat ride went fine. We arrived in Aegina at about 9. We walked around, found the restaurant where our lunch reservation was, then decided to rent some scooters. They were only 15 euro for the whole day. We decided to get a couple, so it'd be 2 to a scooter. Nate shared with his wife, obviously, so me and Spence shared as well. Check this out. Self portrait while we were cruising.

Cruising along the coast, we made it around the whole island in about 45 minutes. We bought some snorkel gear, and wanted to swim a bunch. Here's our group snorkel photo. Nate's wife has been awesome to hang with, and is handling the whole 3-on-1 guy vs. girl challenge like a champ. Here's my customary self-portrait scuba shot. The water was very warm, no shivers whatsoever. We had fun going out from the shore, looking around at the fish, occassionally diving for shells. Sometimes it got pretty deep and really eerie feeling. The ocean just turned into this big gray-blue wall at one point, which made it time to turn around. I love how easy it is to float around with your head in the water in this salt water. The scuba idea was brilliant (suggested by our travel agent friend we found here).

So, after the island, we took a speedboat back to mainland, where we had reservations for our dinner again. Our table was on the rooftop of a restaurant just downhill from the Acropolis. This was literally a shot from the table as we sat and ate. There have been so many times during this trip that I've said, this is the perfect place to be with a girlfriend/wife. The streets, the music, the restaurants, the views, all have a very romantic feeling to them. I guess that's another reason to get going on that whole wife thing, eh?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 20 and 21st ~ Athens

So our next leg of the trip came up yesterday. It required us to take a train from our Swiss homebase, to Milan, Italy. Then from there we were to take a flight to Athens. We planned the train trip accordingly: 5 a.m. leave Switzerland to Milan (arriving in Milan 3 hours ahead of our flight just, for a cushion). As the train got going, we noticed it was getting delayed more and more at each stop. This got us a bit on edge, as we knew it would be a major headache to miss our flight. (In the end, our train arrived about an hour later than usual.) Then, as we entered Italy, the train ticket-checker came in and asked for our tickets. We showed them our Swiss pass, as usual, but she told us those didn't work anywhere on Italian soil, contrary to what we'd been told in Switzerland. However, after a little schmoozing we convinced her to let us thru without trouble. She was kindof cute, and I think I caught myself flirting at one point.

So, that got us to Milan. This is where the trip got a little hairy. We needed to buy a bus pass to get to the Milan airport from the Milan train station. We knew the trip was about an hour. This gave us just enough time to get to check-in before it closed. All we needed to do was find an ATM to get Euros (because Switzerland is on there own Franc system, we didn't have any Euros yet) and jump on the bus. The location of the single ATM in the gigantic Milan train station should be a crime, along with the freaking locals, police, and employees advice in finding it. (Our experience in Milan did not have one positive aspect to it, aside from the flight out of its stinky, run down and dirty airport.) In the end, we were out of time, and Nate (one of my travel partners) finally found a Western Union and took one for the team in converting some US dollars to Euros at a horrendous rate. We got on the bus, assuming by the time we arrived at the airport, check-in would be closed. Then the bus decided to wait for another 15 minutes to fill up before leaving for the airport. The hour bus-ride was hot, dirty, smelly, and forced me to sit next to an arabian father and his son. The father preached THE ENTIRE hour to his son about something I couldn't understand. For a minute, I thought the father was going to jump out of his seat and beat the living crap out of his kid. It was interesting to watch for about 5 minutes, and a little too much for another 55 minutes. Arrival at the airport was a breath of fresh air.

So we ("we" being me, Spencer, and Nate... Nate's wife was meeting us at the Athens Airport to hang with us for the 4 days also) sprinted to the check-in when we arrived, and by some stroke of luck, the flight had been delayed. From then on, it was smooth sailing. We jumped on the flight and flew to Greece. The Athens airport was clean, newly remodeled (thanks to the recent Olympics, I'm assuming) and provided English translations everywhere. The metro took us within a half mile or so of our hotel. We wandered around trying to find the hotel for about an hour, which was interesting as there are bursts of "rough" parts of town. (I've seen about 10 people in 24 hours who were currently in the middle of their heroin experience... yeah, don't want to interrupt that). The hotel, however, is great. Worth more than the 89 euro per night we paid for it. It's very clean, smells great, and has everything you'd expect in a nice US hotel. There's an internet cafe across the street, which is where I am as I type this, and is relatively close to the major sights.

Today, Spencer and I were wandering around town, and had been for a couple hours, which is actually really fun. The shops and sights provide everything from 5-star hotels, to the Greek ruins, to homeless people, prostitutes and junkies. As we walked around, we hit a book store to try to find a little bit of info on the ruins themselves. We ended up talking to a travel agent who worked at an agency across the street. We went over, and by the time we walked out we set up a 2-day adventure/excursion. He got us dinner for tonight, which was incredible. After dinner, we hit the Acropolis area, which was within walking distance. The Parthanon is there, along with a few other temples and sites. But the Parthanon was by far the most surreal thing I've seen on this trip so far. It was built 500 years before Christ, and is the oldest thing we've seen on this trip (so far). Supposedly there's some stuff built at Aegina 100 years earlier, but cool nonetheless.

Tomorrow, the agency has arranged for us to be picked up at the hotel, taken to a fairy, which will take us to Aegina. It's an island that has some ruins, and isn't quite as commercialized (so we're told). We'll be able to swim there, and lunch has been reserved for us at a local taverna. We'll return at about 7 pm via a speed boat, then hit the hotel for some sleep. The following day, Saturday, we're having a car dropped off at the hotel, to allow us to drive to the Mycenae area. I've studied this place in art history, and remember that the art was very distinct. I'm also looking forward to the adventure of driving in this insanely bustling city. The drive back on our Saturday day trip will take us along the coast for a couple hours, with plenty of swimming opportunities, and a lunch is reserved for us there as well.

All in all, we've got the rest of the trip planned out, and we're stoked to have everything finally laid out and ready to go. We'll hit the fairy trip tomorrow and get back later, I'm hoping to get everything transfered from my camera to my server, so I can share this beauty with all of you. Wish us luck.

Monday, June 18, 2007

June 19 ~ Hike above Leysin

Today we "slept in" and had breakfast at 9, instead of 7 or 8 as usual. We left on foot from the hotel towards the mountains behind here. The hike was beautiful and took a few hours to get up to a glacial lake (reminded me of some of the copper basin lakes, check out the video of me shoe-skiing on the glacier).

glacial shoe-skiing

From the lake, 5 of us decided to head up to the peak. Our guide didn't feel comfy taking all 25 participants up it, as it got a bit technical, but gave us the green light. It was definitely worth the extra hiking and provided some great photos. We could see Lake Geneva, mountains in Italy, and mountains in France. Not a bad view eh?

Leysin is at about 1250 meters, while the peak we ended up on is about 2500. So the 1000 meter increase wasn't easy, but thankfully I was in decent shape and was able to make it without any heart attacks or aneurysms.

So, today was a nice change in scenery, and provided a new and very breathtaking view of the Leysin area.

On the Peak of Mayen
(more info on Mayen here)
Midhike Group Shot
Mayen Self Portrait
Snail along the Trail

Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 16 ~ Mountains above Sion

Today, we were in the Alps above Sion. We took a train, then a bus, then ended up in a little ski village surrounded by acres of grass for grazing cows.

The cows here have bells around their necks, acting as an old-fashioned GPS. Cows get loose, you stop and listen, supposedly, to find them. So, I'd seen a cow or two on all of our past day-trips (they ALL have these bells), yet it didn't quite make sense, since I could barely hear the cowbell. I figured, the cow goes over a hill, he's toast, because you're not hearing him after that. But, after today, I realized that when you get 200 of these cows together, the clanking bells become a deafening windchime-esque wall of sound (you can hear it in the video I've uploaded below). No way you're losing those cows if they stick together.

So, today we end up in these cow fields for what is known as "The Cow Fights". Bizarre sounding in itself, but even more bizarre to watch. I guess they have these cows that they've bred that have kept their territorial nature. Note, there are no bulls, these are all females. They are, however, the size of bulls, and have their horns too. So the farmers round up their own cows, about 150 in all,
write a number on their hind legs, and let 'em loose on each other. They snort, growl, scrape the ground with their front hooves, then charge each other and lock horns. (It was a lot like a demolition derby. But instead of cars, there were cows, and instead of white trash in the stands, it was us, some locals and some Swiss farmers.) The cows push each other up and down the hill and a winner is declared at the end of the few days. We may have been the only English speakers there, as they all looked very much like locals. So I decided to get a video of the cow fight for y'all. Not much to look at, but very bizarre for female cows to act this way. Watch it here.

So after the cow fights, we had some Swiss BarBQue and took a hike up to an old dam. Got some sweet photos. The hike reminded me very much of the rockies, kindof the Targhee/Yellowstone areas. Photos below.

Self Portrait from the dam
Hike 2

June 15 ~ Basel

The 15th found us in Basel. Basel was one of the paper capitals of the world, and consequently a printing mecca for the early protestants and their bible printing revolution.

So we went to a paper mill, one that had its origins in the 1500s. Didn't have my camera and it was really rainy, so I wouldn't have taken many pics anyway. So, the paper museum was nice and all, but I don't have too much to show you. Sorry. Next time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

June 14 ~ Solothurn

June 14th found us in Solothurn, Switzerland, a German speaking area. (Not sure if I explained this off the bat, but each canton in Switzerland decides what language it's going to speak, so Switzerland doesn't really have a "national" language. Naturally, the cantons close to the neighboring countries, such as Germany and France, adopt those respective languages.) Solothurn was also interesting in the fact that it has an affinity with the number 11. It was the 11th canton added to Switzerland so you see items throughout the town relating to 11. Stones in arches, pillars in front of buildings, stairs leading up to buildings, windows across building fronts... you see 11 everywhere.

The day's focus was Baroque architecture and art. Baroque is medieval, kindof gothic, and definitely over the top. Fun to look at, but a little too much for my tastes. (photos below)

We hit an art museum there too. Really modern and a little too abstract. They had an original painting of William Tell, not sure if that means anything to you all, but it's mighty important to the Swiss.

That was about it for Solothurn. I also treated myself to a watch finally. I found a Certina. It's Swiss (as it would be stupid to buy a watch in in this country and not have it be Swiss) and I'm really liking it so far.

Oh yeah, as a bonus I'm adding this sweet photo of the backside of a statue in downtown Solothurn. I'm calling it "medieval wedgie".

Baroque Ceiling
Baroque Organ
Medieval Wedgie

June 13 ~ Gruyeres

Next stop was Gruyeres, like the cheese (pronounce Gwee-air). This is where the famous cheese originated and is still made to this day. (Mom, is this the kind that we put in our fondue? It tastes like it.) We hit a cheese factory and got taste tests afterwards. It was really good cheese.

We were also able to hit the Caillers Chocolate factory. It was the third chocolate factory in the world, and the first in Switzerland. I believe they're owned by Nestle. So we checked out the factory, and were able to taste almost all of the flavors they make. There were just rows and rows of at least 30 types of chocolate out on the counter for us to try, as much as we wanted. I literally saw chicks throwing the stuff into their purses. It was crazy (photo below). Unfortunately, I'm not a chocolate lover, so I had 3 pieces. Milk chocolate of course. Oh yeah, this reminds me...

***all of those who want me to bring chocolate back for them, email me and let me know how much you want and what kind (they have everything here). This is your reward for reading this blog. If you want more than a handful, let me know. I have lots of room in my luggage and you can reimburse me if it's a substantial amount. Again, my email is layne dot turner at gmail dot com. moving on***

After the cheese and chocolate factories (the old stomach wasn't feelin too hot, so I kinda skipped lunch), we hiked up the hill in town to the Gruyeres Castle. In the medieval village there was a museum for HR Giger. He won an Academy Award for his art direction in the "Alien" movie. He created the aliens and the "look" for the movie. He lives here in Switzerland and has work all over the country. He does a lot of fine art of all kinds, and the museum is full of it. Nate, this place was right up your alley (photos below).

The castle itself was cool too. Lots of stained glass, great views, bell towers, etc. (photos below) You'll see a photo of the castle tower with 3 people hanging their feet off the edge of the walkway. These are some cool people I've gotten to know on the trip. We spend a lot of time together and get along really well.

So get to me soon on the choco-requests, otherwise you'll go without.

Chocolate Tasting
Giger Sculpture 1
Giger Sculpture 2
Gruyeres Stained Glass
Gruyeres Stained Glass 2
Gruyeres Castle Tower and Friends

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 11 ~ Lausanne

June 11th we were in Lausanne {pronounced like Law-Zan, where as the town we stay in is Leysin, pronounced Lay-Zan}. While there we saw the Lausanne Cathedral (one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Europe). The organ was quite the sight (photo below).

They have a town crier (sp?), who, starting at 10 every night, cries the local time. Yeah, just like on the Robin Hood cartoon! That's what I thought too! Ha ha. So we hiked like thousands of spiral stairs to get to the bell tower, and I took a photo of myself hanging a bit off the edge, just for effect (photo below).

After the cathedral, we snagged a bus and hoofed the rest of the way to the Olympic Museum. As I mentioned before, we had one week to get a torch designed in our 4-man group. We knew that we'd have a meeting with the people at the museum where we'd officially present the torch concepts. We assumed they'd probably say thanks, give us a tour and send us on our way as they stashed the pieces into the archive. Bob droppped the torches off right as we got to Switzerland so we wouldn't be traveling so much with them, etc. To our surprise, they decided to put them up as an exhibition in the front lobby, a very visible area. They told us how nice it was to have an independent group do such a good study on the torches, as something like that hasn't been done before. They're working on getting the creative briefs and introduction translated into the different languages, so it sounds like they'll be up there for quite some time. It was also fun to spy on the visitors of the museum and watch them walk up and point at and comment on the torches. (photos below) {As an added bonus they allowed us into their archives, something the public doesn't get to do. I got to hold a bunch of olympic torches, see stuff like Michael Johnson's famous golden Nikes, see some original olympic posters from the 20's, and a whole bunch of other really unique items}

So Lausanne is awesome, just like every other town on the Geneva shore. Would love to get back here during our free time.

Lausanne Cathedral Organ
Lausanne Cathedral Bell Tower Self-Portrait

The Exhibition
Me and the Exhibition
Our Groups Torch

June 12th we hit a kind of recreated park to showcase how the Swiss lived from the 15th to 19th centuries. It was alright, kinda cheesy in a Disney way, but the nature hikes and landscapes made up for it. That's it for now.

June 11 ~ Lausanne

June 11th we were in Lausanne {pronounced like Law-Zan, where as the town we stay in is Leysin, pronounced Lay-Zan}. While there we saw the Lausanne Cathedral (one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Europe). The organ was quite the sight (photo below).

They have a town crier (sp?), who, starting at 10 every night, cries the local time. Yeah, just like on the Robin Hood cartoon! That's what I thought too! Ha ha. So we hiked like thousands of spiral stairs to get to the bell tower, and I took a photo of myself hanging a bit off the edge, just for effect (photo below).

After the cathedral, we snagged a bus and hoofed the rest of the way to the Olympic Museum. As I mentioned before, we had one week to get a torch designed in our 4-man group. We knew that we'd have a meeting with the people at the museum where we'd officially present the torch concepts. We assumed they'd probably say thanks, give us a tour and send us on our way as they stashed the pieces into the archive. Bob droppped the torches off right as we got to Switzerland so we wouldn't be traveling so much with them, etc. To our surprise, they decided to put them up as an exhibition in the front lobby, a very visible area. They told us how nice it was to have an independent group do such a good study on the torches, as something like that hasn't been done before. They're working on getting the creative briefs and introduction translated into the different languages, so it sounds like they'll be up there for quite some time. It was also fun to spy on the visitors of the museum and watch them walk up and point at and comment on the torches. (photos below)

So Lausanne is awesome, just like every other town on the Geneva shore. Would love to get back here during our free time.

Lausanne Cathedral Organ
Lausanne Cathedral Bell Tower Self-Portrait

The Exhibition
Me and the Exhibition
Our Groups Torch

June 12th we hit a kind of recreated park to showcase how the Swiss lived from the 15th to 19th centuries. It was alright, kinda cheesy in a Disney way, but the nature hikes and landscapes made up for it. That's it for now.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 10 ~ Montreux

So today we hit a branch in Sion. One of our first days here we were in this city. It was where I saw my first castle, went to the street fest and saw that cool cover band in the streets.

While there the first time, last week, I took an hour or so for myself and wandered around the streets. Those private times seem to be the most rewarding. One of the drawbacks to this being such a large group (usually about 40 of us) is that you stick out even more like a sore thumb than the average tourist. So, breaking off is fun, because it feels like a little more of an authentic European experience. Anyhoo, while off on my own in Sion, I saw the missionaries walking down the street. After serving a mission of my own, I'd promised myself that anytime I'm far away from SLC and see the missionaries, I'll stop to talk to them, just because I understand how nice it is for them to see a face that has some familiarity (in a roundabout way). So, I saw the Elders in Sion and talked for awhile. Today, in Sion, it ends up they were at our branch as well. They were both really cool and were Americans. One from South Carolina, and the other from California. Still waiting to meet some from I.F. so I can play the do-you-know game.

So after Sion, we went up the lake to a town called Montreaux. The town is gorgeous, with shops running for miles up and down the lake's edge. It stays true with the rest of Switzerland in its cleanliness, feeling of tranquility and beauty. There was a group of about 6 of us who went on our own, as this afternoon was a free day. It feels a lot better to wander on our own, without the group, taking our own trains and being much more independent.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we went to the dock at Freddy Mercury's statue. It was a hot day, but I still had reservations about jumping in the lake. After all, the towering alps are visibile and still have enough snow to ski on. So I was picturing a Jackson Hole Snake River rafting temperature, which isn't the most relaxing temp. But, after some self-convincing I took the plunge. The water was more like the Snake in I.F. in July, so it was bearable by all means and quite refreshing. After a few jumps, I filmed this: (give it a bit to load, it's about 16 megs)

Montreux Dock

Also, just before jumping the dock we hit up Mc'Donalds (photo below). We just wanted to make sure we cramped up nice and good while swimming. The prices here are about double what they are in the states. Not sure why. But, I figured I would regret not trying Mc'Ds in Europe. (Don't worry, that'll be the only time I'll eat there while in Switzerland; There's too much good food here to mess around with American fast food)

Tomorrow is Lausanne. We are stoked because our own exhibition of Olympic torches will be on display at the Olympic museum (link). For those who are out of the loop, I'll explain our torch assignment tomorrow or shortly thereafter. Later.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

June 9 ~ Geneva

So I learned plenty about Geneva today. The most substantial being that it was a vital town in the Reformation era. It was home to John Calvin, and became a hub for the Reformation movement. We were able to go to the Reformation Museum (link) and the Reformation Wall (photo below). In the museum we saw original portraits of the reformers, as well as original documents from Henry the IV, etc. As we were going thru the tours I began to realize how important this Reformation was. It has affected everything from my religion to my nationality. Without the reformation there'd be no Plymouth Rock, no colonies, no Declaration of Independence, no US Constitution and no religious freedoms. Switzerland also mirrored its own modern constitution after our own, so I found that ironic ; Something that started in Switzerland, found its way to North America, only to be copied by the Swiss again. Also, Calvin is credited with being one of the first to develop a modern university system, administrating tests, etc. Educational day indeed.

Geneva felt very large, and I have a feeling I only caught a sliver of what it has to offer (we also visited the Geneva Museum of Art and saw some cool stuff, like one of Rodin's famous "Thinker" statues {photo below}, some Picassos, and a lot of other stuff). So, if I ever make it back to Switzerland, Geneva will be more than a 1 day ordeal.

It has been getting hot. Most places don't have AC, and we're briskly walking across large areas, and that's helping us to get our sweat on. Being right by Lake Geneva ads a touch of humidity that helps to keep your skin a bit sticky.

Also, we're hitting church in a different town tomorrow. Sion, which is a town we visited previously. It's on the lake. Also, there's a crazy looking statue of Freddy Mercury from the rock group Queen there. Apparently he had a recording studio and lived in Sion for a brief time, so why not have a lifesized sculpture of him there? There's a dock leading from the statue off into the lake, and it's about 10 feet high. We're packing our suits and are going to take a cool-off session. I'll try to get some photos of me and Freddy and some gainers.

Reformation Wall
Rodan's Thinker

Friday, June 8, 2007

June 8 ~ Avenches

Today was Avenches, or Aventicum as the Romans called it. There was a castle and an amphitheater (pic below). The castle is 12th century, I believe, while the amphitheater is 1st century. So the town is more of a mix of time periods.

After the tour of the theater etc we were taken by the guide about a mile outside the city to a quiet area of the countryside. There were ruins there from a Roman parliament, dating to about the time of Christ. There was a mini-theater there, where you could stand on this rock where the acoustics were still prime. You could whisper and your voice would bounce off of the steps 30 feet away, and echo back into both of your ears. It reminded me of talking into a P.A. with monitors. It was that loud. Really cool.

I'm learning with each town we visit that Switzerland was very central to the early European travelers. All European cultures have roots with, and most have had some ownership over parts of, the Switzerland countryside. Rome used this Aventicum area as a gathering place for its chiefs and leaders from the surrounding areas. So the ruins and artifacts are plentiful here. The farmers find really cool stuff, just from tilling their fields (just a few years ago they found an intact solid gold bust buried at an old site, one of only 3 in the world, or something like that). Our guide finds Roman coins and sells them to the students at a "discounted" rate. Whether or not that discount is legit I've yet to prove, but either way, I took advantage and bought a coin from him for about 15$ US. It's from the 300's and is a Roman coin giving tribute to the emperor Constantine (example photo below). Constantine was the "first" Roman emperor to be a Christian. He put a stop to the people letting the bears and lions tear Christians up in the coliseums. What a nice guy eh? So that was the coin that related the most to me.

Enough for tonight. For those that are emailing me, remember that I'm 8 hours ahead of you. When you get to work, I'm usually on a train ride home for the evening.

Tomorrow is Geneva, one of the most well known cities of Switzerland.

Castle and Coliseum
Last Standing Column

Thursday, June 7, 2007

June 7 ~ Yvoire

June 7th we hit Yvoire. It's in France and on the very tip of lake Geneva. It's a town build over some ruins, 12th century-ish. The city's streets are very narrow and wind around like a labyrinth. Restaurants and shops have opened up all along the streets. It's failry touristy, the most so far, but was really pretty. It's well known for its flowers. I remembered how well France is known for its crepes, so I just had to have one. It was good. I think Mom's sugar crepes are equally good tho, sorry France. (photo below). It was a pretty quiet day, not too many photos.


June 6 ~ Bern, Switzerland

So our next stop was in Bern (pronounced like Behrn). This is in the German part of Switzerland (we've been in French speaking areas 90% of the time). Bern means Bear in German. Appropriately, there's this big circular pit in the middle of town that has a few bears roaming around. It's open air, with a a little mini fake cave for them to get shelter. There's no charge or any organization as to who can go see the bears. It's in a spot where a statue or fountain would normally be in these other towns. So our teacher planned ahead and brought some carrots, as you can feed them whatever you want. It's so foreign as an American to see these bears in the middle of town and be encouraged to feed them. So when the bears saw that Bob had carrots, he got up on his hind legs, put his hands up by his ears, clapped, and sat down on his butt, like a human would. It was really unnatural looking and reminded me of old posters for circuses. We were all laughing pretty hard. This whole time Bob is throwing the carrots into this pit that's about 25 feet deep, and the bear is catching them in his mouth. Then the bear laid on its back with all 4 legs straight up in the air, clapping and rubbing its belly. He's obviously learned how to get the most food out of the crowd. (photos below)

The other cool thing in Bern was that we went and visited the Natural Museum of History. It was a bit above average as far as those museums go (we have very similar ones in the states that I've seen) but their lead designer is Claude Kuhn. He's a world famous poster designer, and the point of the visit was for us to go and pick his brain
(a google search will show you some of his posters). We bought some of his posters too and got him to sign them. He has a very defined style in all of his work, and that style bleeds thru to the museum, so it was a different, but effective, take on a Natural Museum design. (photos of his posters below)

I'm remembering to get more photos of me in them, so sorry Mom.

Also, I had a thought while walking thru the city; Does this city have anything to do with the Bernstein Bears?

Another thing, this is where Einstein was working as lowly patent clerk and developed his theory of relativity. Didn't have enough time to hit any of the Einstein museums, unfortunately.

Bern Bear
Bern Street
Claude Poster

Quick update

I've had a few requests from you guys to put a pic up that has me in it, just to prove that I really am in Europe (although you do realize that photoshopping something wouldn't be too hard). So, here you go. It's me in the tram on the way to the Matterhorn. My Euro-beard is coming in like a champ, my eurostink comes into effect everyday about 4 pm from the hiking, trains, etc, and my euro-mullet is about 6 months away. So don't count on seeing pics of that anytime soon.

Matterhorn Self Portrait

I've enjoyed reading your emails and comments in the blog. I'm hoping to keep this blog a 2-way conversation as opposed to me simply broadcasting. If you're reading this and don't have my email it's layne.turner {at} gmail {dot} com. Til next time.

Monday, June 4, 2007

June 4 ~ Zermatt, or The Matterhorn

I think the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland was the first time I remember being scared enough to lose bodily fluids. My oldest brother Aaron talked me, the unsuspecting 5-year old, into going on the ride with him. Needless to say, my brotherly trust ended there, and has been missing since (just kidding Aaron). So these were my thoughts leading up to this morning. We took the 3-hours worth of trains to get to the town of Zermatt. Check out this link of a video I shot of the train going up the mountain here. We were going thru a tunnel type of thing, with wooden boards as support, with occasional gaps, giving it that effect. Surprisingly Disney-esque, right?

So, Zermatt is a sort of base for Matterhorn hikers, and serves as a Jackson Hole type of shopping experience for the tourists, etc. (an average of 20 people die hiking the Matterhorn EACH YEAR). There's a cemetary dedicated to these people at the bottom. Interesting.

We forked out an extra 45 bucks and got a ticket to take the tram all the way to the top. We were fairly level with the Matterhorn in the end, and the view was well worth the extra cash.

I brought a couple cameras. One 35 mm, which I'm keeping loaded with black & white, and the other is a Sony Digital. So, to see how the 35 mm turned out, you'll have to wait a week or two after I get back and get it all processed. So, I got a lot of great photos with the 35 mm, and some decent ones with my Sony, which you can see below.

The food here has been good. No complaints yet. I'd heard great things about the brats in this area, and have been determined to test a few out here. Thankfully, there was a brat stand on the corner in Zermatt. They came in 2 flavors, veal and regular beef. The baby cow turned out excellent (see below).

One thing that has also struck me as unique, is the city fountains. Every city we've visited, as far as I can remember, has a city fountain. I'm assuming it's spring water. There's usually a little sign next to it informing you of its potabilty. Hikers and the townspeople use it to wash their hands, get a drink, etc. So the one in Zermatt had these bronze beavers standing on it (see below). The water really is excellent. Tastes amazing in every town.

That's it on the Matterhorn. One of the more memorable days so far.

Links to photos:
Brat in Zerm.
Matterhorn from the Tram
Beaver Fountain

June 3 ~ Martigny

My concept of time is completely whack. Losing a whole day to flight and changing time zones by 8 hours is something I've never had to deal with. So when Sunday came along it was a surprise to me. (I don't even ask what day it is... it just seems irrelevant to what we're doing here)

We hit up an LDS branch in a little town on the coast of Lake Geneva. Really cool coastal-feeling town. The lake was clean, like everything else in this country. Can't say enough about that. Anyway, hit the branch, got sunday school lessoning from an old Welsh dude. It's good to hear a stranger speak English voluntarily, without me having to beg them. (so far it feels like EVERYONE speaks English, but just doesn't jump at the chance to help a snotty, fat, egotistical American). After church, we hit a museum in Martigny (pronounced like the drink).

The story of the museum goes something like this: (pardon my inaccuracy or lack of info, but I'm flying thru these posts. If you wanna go to Wikipedia and look this stuff up, you know where to go)
Some guy, while excavating near his home came across some Roman ruins. At the same time, his brother died in a plane crash's aftermath, looking for survivors. The guy dedicated the area to his brother and made it a museum. The museum is big, and includes multiple buildings. The largest building's main floor is dedicated to Picasso and his circus-related art. It's called Picasso et el cirqueu. There are hundreds of his original paintings there, and I couldn't help but to feel honored to see so much of his work in such a small amount of space and time.
(museum below)

June 2 ~ Sion

June 2nd, we hit Sion. There, we found the Valere Basillica. In which, I was able to see and hear the world's oldest playing organ in the world. This may not sound like much to the non-musician, but as a person with a couple of family members who are good at tickling the ol' ivories, it made me think of them and how much they'd appreicate it. So, I guess that appreciation bled thru to me. We also hiked a castle's ruins (which was my first castle experience ever), checked out a rock where Druid sacrifices were offered (also a first) and hit the city's streets for a music and art festival, which was great. We found this band performing in the street, and listened for awhile. After a couple songs, I realized they were doing purely Hip-Hop covers in a ska/jazz/rock style. Really fun to listen to the French speaking singer struggle to try to get the English right. He did some Beastie Boys, Sublime, and what I think was a French version of some Cyprus Hill. Very unique indeed.
(old organ photo below)

Day 1, June 1

Before leaving for Switzerland, I worked until 3:30 am. That gave me enough time to run home, shower, finish packing, fill up with gas and pick up a fellow Switz Traveler. So my memory of the first day is blurry. I remember being zombie-esque for most of the major travling period. I don't sleep well on planes/buses, so my first full night of actual sleep wouldn't occur for quite some time. Fun stuff.
So, the first day went like this: SLC @ 9 am to Dallas. Dallas to Zurich. Zurich bus picked us up and drove us to our little ski town, Leysin. It's nestled in between a few snow-covered mountain ranges. It's very green, very high and provides quite the view, regardless of the time of day. Our teacher told me about the town today. It goes like this:

The town boomed pre-WWII. Tuberculosis was rampant. It was believed that the air and sunshine in Leysin provided a cure for the TB. Rich people paid to have their relatives shipped up to this town to be cured. A very efficient cog-wheeled train was built and the building craze started. WWII came along, antibiotics came with it, bucking the c
lean air & sunshine cure hooplah. The town has struggled since to regain its strong economy, although tourism is proving to help the recovery. (that's the short version, as I'm trying to get this done before I get too tired) {see photo of the Leysin train in winter, this is the train we take every morning and every night to get to the main valley, to allow us to hook up with the rest of the Swiss rail system, which is very impressive}

First Post

So this is 4 days late, but things have slowed to a point where I can sit, take a breath and collect some thoughts to share. Stay tuned.