31 Mai 2023

First off:

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag meiner kleinen Schwester Trisha Doyle!

Last weekend Julie and I went back to one of our favorite places. We spent the weekend up at the top of Mt Pilatus just outside Luzern. We have been to the mountain a couple of different times, because it is one of the places that almost every visitor wants to see. We even stayed up at the top the second fall we were here, and woke up to about 8 inches of snow on the ground. No snow this time, but it was still just as magical. Now a little history:

The mountain takes its name from Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who, according to tradition, sentenced Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion. According to a local legend, Pontius Pilate’s body was thrown into a deep and remote alpine lake near the mountain, and his ghost was believed to haunt the mountain.

Long before it was named after Pilate, the mountain was steeped in ancient myth and superstition. The early inhabitants believed that the mountain was inhabited by dragons, and stories of sightings and encounters are numerous, feeding the mystique of this majestic peak. The notion of dragons living in the mountain caves was so strong that in the early 19th century, the government of Lucerne even banned ascents to prevent disturbing these legendary creatures.

The first successful recorded ascent of Pilatus was in 1585 by Jost Burgi, a Swiss clockmaker, mathematician, and astronomer. However, the mountain remained relatively inaccessible to the general public until the 19th century. That changed in 1889, with the construction of the Pilatus Railway, the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. This monumental feat of engineering transformed the mountain, making it a popular tourist destination. The railway was initially steam-powered but was converted to electric operation in 1937, making the trip up the mountain more accessible and less environmentally impactful.

Despite its relatively modest height of 2,128 meters (6,982 feet), Mount Pilatus continues to captivate visitors with its stunning views, unique history, and legendary folklore. Its craggy peaks and deep valleys remain a symbol of the natural beauty and cultural richness of Switzerland. I think the view from the eastern side of the top plateau is one of the most beautiful views in Switzerland. This part of the grounds was closed off this visit, but this is a picture from October of 2020.

There is a type of mountain goat that lives on the mountain called the Alpine Ibex. We have looked for these goats every time we have visited and never saw any until this visit. After breakfast we went for a last walk and I happened to catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, and there was a family (Mom and three kids) just hanging out on the side of the mountain having breakfast. It was a fantastic ending to a great weekend!

I also learned last weekend, that I am approaching the “GET OFF MY LAWN” phase of life. I was very irritated about part of our stay. The hotel dining room has a dress code posted. Even though we were only going for a weekend, I packed a sport coat, dress shoes, etc… Julie did the same. On Friday night, the dress code was enforced. Every man had either a sport coat or sweater, every woman was dressed equally as nice. Saturday, however, was a different story. There were only two of us in the whole restaurant with a coat. The majority of people were in jeans, t-shirts, hiking apparel, or in one case pajama bottoms and an overly large sweatshirt.

You can see by the picture I wasn’t going to the Oscars, but I did dress a little better than normal for dinner. I was very irritated that people would ignore the dress code, and even more irritated that the restaurant went ahead and sat everyone. Don’t get me wrong. If there was not a published dress code, I would not have cared one iota. Of course I also would not have brought dress shirts and a sport jacket either. 🙂

One of the things we had not had a chance to visit was the play area about 1/2 way up the mountain. When you go to the top of Pilatus you have three means of transportation. You can take the train up one side of the mountain. (It was not running last weekend.). You can hike. (If you know my son ask him about this. He did it last summer!). You can take a gondola. This was our method of travel last weekend. Anyway, at the last gondola area before the top they have a wonderful play area. There is a rope course, a great playground, a zipline style ride, and a toboggan run. I have always wanted to go on one of the toboggan runs so last weekend was my chance.

The Dragon Glider and Toboggan Run

One final video. Another thing I had not been able to finish at Pilatus was the Dragon Way. This is a short trail around, over, and through the mountain. Please ignore the heavy breathing. I am an old, overweight man! I still had fun on the train, though!

Well that was our weekend. We are getting ready to visit Austria and Hungary this next week. We are driving through Germany and Austria to Vienna. We will be spending 4 days there, and then we drive further east to Budapest where we will spend another 4 days before driving back to Switzerland.

Enjoy the pictures.

26 Mai 2023

Lake Geneva near the Lausanne Harbor

Julie and I visited Lausanne last weekend. Lausanne is the 4th largest city in Switzerland, and is best known as the Headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. The city is on the banks of Lake Geneva or Lac LĂ©man. This caused a bit of a headache for Julie and I. She kept insisting it was Lake Geneva. I kept insisting it was Lac LĂ©man. It turns out we were both right, but Julie was more right than I was. She had never heard the French name, and I thought the two names designated different lakes! The lake is referred to by two names due to historical and linguistic reasons.

The name “Lake Geneva” is derived from the English language and is widely used in English-speaking countries. It stems from the city of Geneva, which is located on the western end of the lake. The English name helps to differentiate the lake from other lakes that might bear the name “Geneva.”

On the other hand, the name “Lac LĂ©man” is the French designation for the lake. The word “LĂ©man” originates from the Latin term “Lemancus,” which was the name used for the lake during the Roman era. Over time, the name evolved into “Lacus Lemanus” in Latin and later into “Lac LĂ©man” in French.

As for why Geneva isn’t called “LĂ©man,” it is because “LĂ©man” specifically refers to the lake itself, not the city. The city of Geneva has its own historical significance and identity, and it has been known by the name “Geneva” for many centuries. While the French name for the lake is “Lac LĂ©man,” the city continues to be called Geneva in both French and English.

Therefore, the two names, Lake Geneva and Lac LĂ©man, are used interchangeably depending on the language and context, reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region.

Lausanne was a great place to spend a long weekend. We did some hiking around town but there are also some really good museums. We toured the Olympic Museum and we

also visited the Palais De Rumine. The second actually houses multiple museums, but we concentrated on the archaeology exhibits. We were fascinated to learn about the discoveries on Mormont Hill.

One of the most significant discoveries at Mormont Hill is the presence of a Gallo-Roman sanctuary, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Excavations have uncovered numerous votive objects, including pottery fragments, bronze statuettes, and coins, suggesting that the site held religious and ceremonial importance for the local population. The highlight of this discovery is an exceptionally well-preserved stone altar, adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions, offering a glimpse into the spiritual practices of the time.

Beyond the Gallo-Roman period, Mormont Hill bears evidence of earlier human occupation. Archaeologists have unearthed remnants of Iron Age settlements and fortifications, dating back to the 5th century BCE. These findings suggest that the hill served as a strategic stronghold, providing a vantage point for observing and defending the surrounding landscape. Excavations have revealed traces of dwelling structures, storage pits, and defensive earthworks, offering valuable insights into the daily lives and societal dynamics of ancient communities in the region.

The archaeological exploration of Mormont Hill has also shed light on the hill’s natural landscape and environmental changes over time. Sediment samples, pollen analysis, and geological surveys have provided valuable data on past vegetation, climate patterns, and land use practices. These interdisciplinary investigations contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human populations and their surrounding environment throughout history.

Mormont Hill’s archaeological significance extends beyond its immediate vicinity. The discoveries made at this site have implications for our understanding of broader regional interactions during antiquity. The artifacts unearthed provide valuable evidence of trade networks, cultural exchanges, and religious practices, offering glimpses into the social, economic, and religious fabric of ancient Switzerland.

One of the most fun things we did was visit the Cathedral for the 10 PM call of the Nightwatchman. The Nightwatchman has been calling out “ALL CLEAR” from the top of the cathedral for over 600 years.

Assuming the mantle of the nightwatchman involves a deep-seated respect for tradition, an intricate understanding of Lausanne’s rich history, and an unwavering dedication to the city and its people. Regardless of the season’s temperaments, be it the chill of winter or the warmth of summer, the nightwatchman dutifully fulfills his responsibilities, highlighting the resilience inherent to this age-old tradition. There is only ONE primary Watchman. However, there are seven apprentices. Julie and I both remembered reading how the “glass ceiling in Lausanne” was finally getting some cracks because they nominated a woman for the very first time about two years ago to be an apprentice.

The nightwatchman serves not just as the city’s guardian of time, but also as a physical connection to the city’s past, embodying its historical essence. In a world increasingly driven by technology and modernization, the watchman stands as a poignant symbol of Lausanne’s commitment to its heritage, a reminder that even in the face of progress, tradition holds a timeless value and an irreplaceable place in the collective identity of a community.

The video below has the recording of the nightwatchman if you are interested.

As we were heading back home we decided to make a detour to Montreux. We had visited Montreux for a day two years ago, but we learned there was a Freddie Mercury statue in town. This is kind of fitting since another musical icon that adopted Switzerland died this week.

The relationship between Queen, Mercury, and Montreux began in 1978 when the band bought Mountain Studios. The studio was already famous, having hosted artists like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. For Queen, it was more than just a recording space; it was a creative sanctuary. Between 1978 and 1995, Queen recorded a significant portion of their music there, including parts of their iconic albums “Jazz,” “Hot Space,” and Mercury’s final vocal performances on “Made in Heaven.”

Mercury at first hated Montreux. The small quiet town was the exact opposite of what the flamboyant front man wanted. However, Mercury eventually fell in love with Montreux’s peaceful setting, eventually making it his home in 1987. Montreux gave Mercury the tranquility and privacy he craved, away from the intense media scrutiny that came with his fame. He often described Montreux as his “own little paradise,” where he could find solitude and engage in his passions, such as painting and collecting art.

Even as his health deteriorated due to AIDS, Mercury continued to record in Mountain Studios, showing his dedication and love for music. He was discreet about his illness, and the people of Montreux respected his privacy, further deepening his affection for the city.

Mercury’s death in 1991 left a profound impact on Montreux. In 1996, a larger-than-life statue of Mercury was unveiled on the city’s lakeside, serving as a constant reminder of his connection to Montreux. Each year, fans from around the world gather at the “Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day” to celebrate his life and music. The city, much like Queen’s music, is forever intertwined with the legacy of Freddie Mercury, the extraordinary musician who found peace and inspiration in its idyllic surroundings.

As I am writing this, Julie is packing for the weekend. We are heading over to Luzern. We have already stayed in the hotel on the top. of Mt Pilatus, but we had such a magical time, we decided to go do it again. This time, though, Julie has said we can go down the mountain on Saturday so I can do a summer bobsled run! This has been one of the things on my Swiss bucket list the first time I saw someone going down a mountain.

Enjoy the pictures, I will have more to say next week!

23 April 2023

This has been the longest time I have gone without posting since I started this blog almost four years ago. The last two months have by far been the hardest two months we have experienced since moving to Switzerland.

We started seeing the problems with living away from family in late February. Julie’s Mother was admitted into hospital with breathing problems, and it was very serious. Thankfully, Julie was able to make a fast visit back to the US and see her Mother, because unfortunately she did not recover. Julie’s Mother passed away on 11 March. Karen’s passing meant we made another trip back to the US to be with Julie’s family. For those of you that know Julie, or knew her mother here is a link to the obituary: Karen Marie O’Connor

The time period from when Karen got sick until coming back from the US in mid April demonstrated pretty much everything that is bad about moving away from your home country. If you remember back in February, I had a post about having to get my passport renewed. That was the beginning. Things we used to take for granted like being able to call a family member is suddenly much harder. If we make a call at 11 AM it is either 3 or 4 AM for our family. If they forget and call after work, Julie and I have been asleep for two or three hours. In most cases, time wise there really is not that much different in how long it would take us to get back to where our family is, but the COST is something completely different. It cost us roughly $500 to get each kid to Florida for the funeral. Our cost for the cheapest ticket we could find was closer to $1500.

We also got a surprise letter from one of the insurance companies last week. Remember back in February I talked about Julie’s knee surgery? Well the accident insurance decided they were not going to cover the “accident.” We have drafted an appeal letter, and in the letter showed where a torn meniscus meets the definition of an accident. The insurance company basically said, it cannot be an accident, because there was no outside event that caused the injury. Well, the Swiss Government decided about five years ago, that there are some accidental injuries that do not require an outside event. The law specifically says that a torn meniscus meets the definition of an accident. Keep your fingers crossed for us. If the appeal fails it won’t mean bankruptcy, but it will certainly be a big bill. Probably not to US medical standards, but still big!

I am working on another post that talks about why no one likes air travel any more, because the flight back to the US was the absolute worst experience we have ever had in regards to connections, lost items, and poor customer service.

While we were in Florida, I did learn that even though driving is a stressful experience in Switzerland, it is nothing compared to the stress of trying to drive around Ft Myers, FL. I was so glad to be back to the land of strange signs, narrow roads, and parking conditions that make driving seem like playing a game of tetris (trying to fit moving blocks together so they fit nicely and do not crash!). The biggest headache about driving in Ft Myers revolves around traffic lights. I learned that yellow lights no longer mean what they used to mean. Now they mean that if you are 1/4 mile away from the intersection and the light turns yellow, you do not prepare to stop. You floor the accelerator, and get through that intersection at all costs. Based on the reactions I got when I prepared to stop, I was LITERALLY concerned about Florida’s gun laws, and that someone was going to start shooting at me, because I made them stop for the red light. The next thing I learned about the traffic lights is that green no longer means go. Green means stay exactly where you are for 30 – 60 seconds and look every direction, because at least three cars are going to ignore their red light and go through that intersection no matter what.

After we got back from the US, we had three days to get ready for summer of visitors. My parents visited this past week.

We had a very relaxing visit. I worked very hard in Florida, and the days before their visit to make sure I was ahead with all my school work. It meant that instead of spending four or five hours every day studying, I only took one day with the school books.

After they had a good nights sleep we started with a visit to the Stiftsbibliothek (Abby Library) in St Gallen. I think this was my fifth visit, but I knew my parents would really enjoy the site. Every other time I have visited the library the docents were around to make sure that no one even thought about taking a camera out and snapping a picture, but those rules must have been loosened. I had my phone in my pocket so I took some pictures this time. The library is in my top three places to visit in all of Switzerland.

Unfortunately my pictures of the room do not do it justice. It is one of the most amazing rooms I have seen!

I took my parents to visit Colmar, France. We visited the Lindt Museum and Factory which is right by our apartment. The weather was really nice day on Saturday, so we took a lunch time cruise along Lake Zurich. I also took them for a drive along one of my bike ride routes. They got to see some of the hills I train on, and they could not believe that I have not been run over, yet! I kept my Dad busy. I took him to Jumbo which is the Swiss version of Lowes. We bought some potting soil and plants for our balcony garden. Next weekend Julie has to go and pick out the flowers she wants for our balcony boxes!

After our first visit to Colmar I wrote about how disgusted I was with the brass plaques bearing the Statue of Liberty. Well before we drove back to RĂĽschlikon, my parents and I visited the Liberty replica in Colmar. Many people think the statue is there because that is where it was made. That is not the case. The statue is in Colmar because that was the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the artist that created the statue. It was put in place to commemorate Bartholdi’s 100th birthday.

Well, my parents left for the US this morning; so the grindstone continues for a couple of more weeks. I have three weeks left of my semester. I really hope my classmates wake up in one of the classes. I have been contacting them for two weeks about starting our final project. Almost no one in the group is responding and we really need to get going. Making the final project will not be hard, but we have present the project together. I don’t know about you, but the idea of making a Zoom video of our presentation is NOT appealing to me in the slightest.

In my other class, I am experiencing something never excperienced before. I am almost done with the class three weeks before the due date. I have a final program that I am working on due in two weeks. but I have already written the research paper due the last week of class, so all that is left is to make a powerpoint presentation of my paper. I figure that is about two hours of work. Even more surprising is that I can completely ignore the extra credit program also due the last week. I will probably do it, because it will be challenging and fun, but I am sitting at 102% of the points in the class with only three assignments outstanding. I think I can turn in what I have right now, and I will still get no worse than a B in the class. I will be exactly 1/2 way done with my Masters program this May. I am taking the summer off to because of all our visitors, and to hopefully to get a couple (four) trips in with Julie, as we work on our bucket list of places we want to visit. I am also going to keep training to try the Alpenbrevet again this September. Hopefully, I won’t get Covid again, because that will be devastating to my psyche!

Enjoy the pictures. I will have another post out this week, talking about the folly of our trip back to the US a few weeks ago. One word of advice. Don’t fly Eurowings!