Sunday, September 23, 2018

Biking by Glacial Lakes

On August 17th, Darrell and I took a train to Spiez, and then biked along both the Thunersee and the Brienzersee, large glacial lakes fed by water from the Alps.

We biked along the south shore of both lakes, mostly on bike trails with a few busy roads and some great back country hills away from the lakes as well. The total route to Meiringen was 48 km (29 miles) and it was a great day!

Map showing the area (but not the route) from Spiez to Meiringen
After getting out of the train station in Spiez, we immediately found our signpost (see photo above) and then rolled down the hill to Faulensee, about the cutest town you can imagine. I loved the little boats you could take out for a slippery slide into the lake!

Are you ready for a quick entrance into cold water?
From their the route went along the lake to Interlaken, a crazy tourist town with access to popular hiking trails in the Alps. Then along the Brienzersee until we started up and down a rolling series through farmland and forest.

Darrell ready to enjoy the downhill after a steep climb up
After all the hills it was nice to ride with a tailwind on the flat valley to Meiringen. It was beginning to rain so we took refuge in the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Here is some edited information from their website: The museum was opened in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of the "death" of Sherlock Holmes with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of the author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, in the English church in Meiringen. The museum contains carefully collected authentic exhibition pieces of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and the Victorian era. It has the unique feature of a faithful reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's living room at 221B Baker Street according to clues found in the stories.

The reconstructed 221B Baker Street Apartment
The museum is in this location because Meiringen is home to Reichenbach falls where Holmes met his demise at the hands of his nemesis, James Moriarty. Cheers to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for creating a character that continues to live on in Meiringen and well beyond!

My private consultation with Dr. Holmes

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Life in Bern

Living in Bern is pretty darn sweet. Since I'm not working I get to play a lot more than Darrell, but he does manage to get out in the afternoon for a run and then a swim (or more accurately a float) down the Aare River near our apartment.

There are trails on both sides of the river, and also a steep trail that takes you 1,000 feet up to the top of the Gurten, our local hill. The funicular is quicker than the runners and definitely faster than the cows.

Funicular in background and cows grazing on steep hills by the Gurten trail
The river is the main summer joy in Bern and hundreds of people enjoy floating down the river! I've attached a 58 second movie and two photos to give you a sense of the playland of the Aare River.

Floating down the Aare River

Fixed "surfing" on the River with a line attached to a tree on shore!

For young children, since the Aare is definitely not safe water, parents can take their children to public pools or to splash in the fountains on the plaza in front of the Parliament building.

Cooling off in the fountains
Tourism is alive and well in Bern in the summer so you can listen to street musicians while you ogle 14th century buildings and refill your water bottle at the 15th century fountains!

Filling water at one of the many fountains
Playing the alpen horn near the "new" city gate

 And, common to European life everywhere, you can always find a café for a great cup of coffee!
Finding love at the bottom of a cappuccino

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Bern Buskers Festival

The Bern Buskers Festival has upped the beat of the medieval heart of Bern each August since 2004. Roughly 150 world artists perform in Bern's old town — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Music, dance, theater, street performances, and acrobatics take place on a rotating schedule on 25 stages set around the town. The streets, alleys, and plazas throng with 70,000 folks of all ages trying to catch as many performances as possible over the three-day event. It is incredible.

Darrell ready to enter Buskers Bern
I was hungry, par usual, and there were 63 gastronomically delightful stands from all over the world ready for me to try - including Brazilian Coxinhas, Chilean Empanadas, Brienz Cheese Roasters, Crepes and loads more. We chose our food and drink based on the shortest lines, as we rightly assumed everything would be terrific.

Cooking my Chilean Lomito - que rico!
Music venues included folk music from Cyprus, Norway, British Isles and Ireland, there was Oriental Brass and Big Beats, Senagalese Afropop, Polish Jazz Fusion, and lots more! One of our favorites was an Australian Blues and Roots single man show, Claude Hays.

Claude Hays, Australian Music Man extraordinaire!
It was so fun to weave between people of all ages and find the stages next to the 15th century arcades (covered shopping areas) and the 16th century fountains - more on both of those later!

There were also activities for children and adults from street theater and acrobatics to participatory writing.

Typing thoughts to share or keep to yourself
The girls below got their awe-inspiring hair done at another booth, and were now at a giant blowing bubble table.

I may not have understood a word, but the Botox Box theater below was still incredibly funny!

I've always enjoyed the juxtaposition of old and new. I love the Panda Buns food booth below the Bern Minster, a Swiss Reformed cathedral, built in the Gothic style beginning in 1421!

Another highlight, reminding me greatly of my favorite paleontologist, Dave Gillette of the Museum of Northern Arizona, are the walking whatever-they-are!

The exuberance of the crowd and the grand celebration of this musical and artistic cultural mix was incredibly heartening. Viva the Buskers Festival and all the amazing artists and other people that created this amazing annual event.

Note: You can see many more great images here from the official website.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Return to Switzerland

Darrell has happily earned a sabbatical, and we have returned to Bern, Switzerland seven years after we lived here on our previous sabbatical adventure. We will be here (with some traveling) until early January, 2019.

Our Flagstaff home is rented to a lovely family from near Lyon, France pictured below. Diane (left) and her brother Marceau (next to her) will be attending a Montessori school in Flagstaff. Caroline, a speech pathologist in France, is in the center. Robin will attend some day care, and Guillaume will be working at the USGS's Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center studying sediment transport. We hope they enjoy Flagstaff and our home!

Diane, Marceau, Caroline, Robin, and Guillaume

Darrell arrived in Switzerland in mid-July, and I stayed home to wrap up my work with STEM City and to sort, throw, donate, pack, store, etc. our copious belongings. Oh, and clean the house. Thanks to daughter Lindsey for giving me some serious scrubbing help!

Darrell met me at the train station and we caught the tram towards our new apartment in a sweet neighborhood south of the town center. We are only a couple of blocks from the Aare River which is wonderful! We had appetizers and Prosecco on our patio for my "Welcome to Bern".

Our apartment is in the complex with the red dot - the University is in the upper left. Old Town (a World Heritage Site) is in the bend of the river at the top labeled Bern. The Gurten hill is just below our apt off the photo. It is a great town!

The next morning I climbed up the Gurten, the hill just south of our apartment. We gain about 1,000 ft in elevation and there is a tower at the top of the hill that adds a little more, plus gives you a good 360 degree view. The sky has been hazy though so this isn't the clearest view. I'll add a photo of the Alps when the sky is more clear!

View north to old town. Our apt is just above the left side of the tallest tree in the foreground.
A whimsical sculpture at a cafe at the base of the Gurten

One of my favorite things to do is bike or walk along (and take swims in) the Aare River. You can see hundreds of people floating down the river in rafts, or just with life jackets or inflated dry bags. People of all ages walk upstream and then float down the river over and over again. The river is moving at a good clip, and is refreshingly cold as it comes down from the Alps. The temperature is actually at a record high of 23 C (73 F) with the heat waves across Europe and much of the rest of the globe...

Boaters go under the pedestrian bridge south of Bern
I tried using the bike left by the folks we are leasing our apt from - but after dropping the chain, having the fender rub against the front tire, and generally feeling unstable on it, I decided to buy a second-hand bike. I now have a hybrid Trek 7500 that includes some new parts. It is also under warranty so I will be able to get free repairs for at least a few months while we are here.

My new used bike!
My first ride was along the Aare. It doesn't take long to reach some country life at the edge of town, and it is hard to get lost with all the sign posts along the way! More adventures to come!

Farm on the bike path just south of Bern

Typical path sign to ensure you can get both home and away!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Condor Conservation Day with Diablo Trust

One might suppose that the largest flying land bird in North America, that once inhabited almost the entire continent, and that survived the Pleistocene extinction, would have perfected its mating ritual as part of its arsenal of survival skills. You would be right! And the 42 engaged participants in the Diablo Trust’s Condor Conservation Day on March 25th were privileged to witness that amazing event.

Led by the Trust’s Program Manager Jeremy Krones, and the Peregrine Fund’s Condor Program Director Chris Parish, we observed these magnificent birds from the Navajo Bridge at Lee’s Ferry. Chris shared details about Condor biology, the rescue and reintroduction efforts, and the continuing danger from lead bullets, as two condors slowly warmed in the morning sun, spread long-feathered wings to gather the rising air, and lifted off the bridge struts, flying to the sandstone cliffs above the Colorado River.

Jeremy Krones of The Diablo Trust
Chris Parish of The Peregrine Fund

We pondered the scant probability and the remarkable story of how California Condors went from a population of only 22 individuals in the wild in 1982, to a captive breeding program begun with a few survivors in captivity and none in the wild by 1987, to the hard earned successes that followed. It wasn’t until 2003 that the first young was born again in the wild, in a cave above the Colorado River used by ancestral condors 28,000 years ago.  Now, 28 young have hatched in the natural world, and over two hundred condors range over parts of Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja, Mexico, where they have been reintroduced or begun dispersing on their own.

Condor flying over Colorado River
X-ray of Condor with shot fragments
The Condor Conservation Day participants were fortunate to witness the remarkable and rare site of a male California Condor slowly circling a female, with an almost ten-foot wingspan stretched to display the white underside. Our breaths were held as he mounted her, all silently hopeful that new life was being created. May this magnificent mating dance, evolved over millennia yet not seen in the wild during those dedicated years of captive-breeding, continue to create more young condors and inspire future generations of conservationists.

The Diablo Trust mission: “Learning from the land and sharing our knowledge, so there will always be a West”, was clearly met on Condor Conservation Day. Special thanks to Jeremy Krones and Chris Parish, and deep gratitude to all those working to ensure there is a safe and wild place for condors in the West.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Korĉula and Hvar – 100th Post!

My internet search that showed a ferry leaving the next day to Hvar turned out to be false, so we hunted a bit and found a speed boat that carried folks between Mljet and Korĉula. We got up early and backpacked the 4 km over to Pomena. We met the boat and had a fun, fast, bouncy 45 minute ride to Korĉula Town.

Once again, we found a room near the harbor and rented bikes to explore this end of the island. Korĉula has a lot of vineyards. We biked to a couple different beaches and then took a trail along the coast where Darrell managed to get a flat tire! Our first flat in 12 days of cycling so that isn’t too bad. We found another bike rental place and traded out the bike so we could keep going.

Biking through the vineyards 
Korĉula is a smaller version of Dubrovnik – with a central church and then narrow stone alleys leading up inside the walls to the church on the hill in the middle. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as Dubrovnik, phew, so we could wind our way through the alleys without having to weave between the masses.

We had a 6 am ferry the next morning to Hvar. When we arrived we waited outside “Secret Hvar”, the company that Lonely Planet recommended for a tour of the island. Another couple our age, with two daughters near Lindsey’s age, were also waiting. Nick and Maggie are from Wellington, New Zealand so we had plenty of things we could talk about. Many tourists are either in the 20-something age group or the well-retired age group – so it was great to meet a couple around our age!

Hvar Harbor (Fort on Hill behind town)
We booked a tour together and shared a 4wd adventure that took us to the highest point on the island as well as to some abandoned villages. Our first stop was to the fort overlooking town where we got a great view of the Pakleni Islands (which we can also see from our apartment) and our guide gave us some historical background.

Hvar and the Pakleni Islands
One of the dominant features on the landscape are piles and piles, and rows and rows, of stones. Over hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, stones have been gathered into piles so the soil in between could be used to grow crops, lavender, olives, or grapes. In recent years devastating fires have exposed even more of the stones. Our guide called this area Machu picchu for the extent of the stones.
Stone rows and piles are all over the island
There used to be 10% of the world's lavender grown on this island -  but it is way down now because of all the recent fires. And the 5,700 hectares of grape vines are now down to only 300 hectares.

Lavender, stone piles, and a stone hut in the background

The stone hut you see in the background is one of many on the island. We went inside one that was 300 years old and still in great condition.

300 year old stone hut
Our last stop was to a quaint village, Vrboska, which is also called “Little Venice” because of its canal.

Vrboska (Little Venice)
We will spend a second night on Hvar, and then we are back to the mainland for our last day in Croatia.

Island Hopping

We have been island-hopping in the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia for the past three days. The first three photos show the views from the studio apartments we rented for around $50/night.

View from Polaĉe, Mljet Island
View from Korĉula Town, Korĉula Island
View from Hvar, Hvar Island
But back to the first island! Mljet Island is the closest large island to Dubrovnik so we caught the ferry over and found a room just 100 meters from the ferry terminal with a balcony overlooking the harbor. We packed a lunch, rented two bikes and headed up over a hill to Mljet National Park. It was great to be back on a bike after four days of only walking.

Biking at Mljet National Park
The Park surrounds two sea-filled “lakes” that are fed by a narrow inlet. In fact, they were freshwater lakes at one time. The lakes are protected and host a lot of invertebrates and fish. The lushly forested island is so seductive that Greek myths state that Odysseus came and stayed for seven years. After Odysseus, came a few others including the Benedictines, who established a monastery on an island in the larger lake in the 12th century.

12th Century Benedictine Monastery 

When we rented our bikes the guy told us we didn’t need locks. We were on an island and the bikes weren’t going to go anywhere. When we rented our apartment our hostess told us we could just pay her before we left. It was great to be in such a relaxed and trusting place! We were tempted to spend a second night, but other islands await us…