Monday, October 3, 2011

Vineyard Views

Late September and early October have been living up my idea of a perfect autumn with warm days and crisp nights.  The sun is bright, the leaves are changing color, and it is just glorious out.  Darrell and I loaded up his bike basket for a trip to Biel/Bienne, the officially bilingual city to the west of Bern.  It is only 16 miles as the crow flies, but our route on regional bike path #64 was a longer meander.   We biked past a horse show, some industrial areas, small villages and farmland.  These sunflowers are still in full bloom!

The sunflowers still think it is summer
The Swiss bike routes try to keep you off the main roads and so you end up seeing many things you wouldn’t if you were just cruising by on the highway or on the train.  For instance, would you want to miss this?
Some Swiss chickens can go 60 mph

We entered a thick fog about halfway to Biel and came across six teams playing the interesting game of Hornussen.  We had to look it up when we returned home so we could learn more about it.  You will get a better sense of this game if you watch the short video (Hornussen video) but I will describe the basic idea below.

How can you see the hornuss in this fog?
Teams of up to eighteen players are spread out in a line on a very long field.  At one end is the launcher, which is a curved metal ramp.  The hornuss (hornet) is a small rubber projectile, a bit like a puck, that is placed on the end of the launcher.  It gets its name from the sound it makes as it zings through the air.  The hitter swings a long, flexible stick that connects with the hornuss and sends it flying at speeds of up to 200 mph and distances of 300 meters!  The fielders (from the opposing team) try to knock the hornuss down with large square placards.  It is hard to spot the hornuss because of its small size and speed, so it leads to some comical running and flinging of placards.  Points are scored if the hornuss hits the ground without having being stopped by a placard or someone's face.

According to Wikipedia, the earliest reference to Hornuss is found in 1625 in the Bern canton when there was a complaint about breaking the Sabbath.  Two men were fined the then princely sum of 20 francs for playing Hornussen on Sunday!

The fog lifted as we approached Biel.  Our route took us a long a diversion canal that outflowed from Lake Biel (one of three large glacial lakes in the area) into the River Aare.  We had a picnic at the lake shore and then continued up into the hills toward our destination.  Martin, one of Darrell’s colleagues in Bern, had invited us to his family vineyard on the far side of Lake Biel.  We first climbed up, up, up into the foothills of the Jura Mountains just outside of Biel to this pavilion viewpoint overlooking the town.

Darrell at the viewpoint pavilion
The bike ride continued on a crushed limestone path high above the lake.  We exited the woods onto a sunny slope covered in grape vines.  There are numerous small vineyards in the area and it was a popular walking place for both locals and tourists.

Vineyards, Lake Biel, and the town in the background
Martin’s family has two sections of the hill covered in three varieties of grapes.  They had just harvested ten days before and sent the grapes to be processed by a vintner in a town not far away.  The family doesn’t have a home here, but they have built a solid shed to store food and camping gear in for when they come to work on and enjoy the land.

Martin cooked us an amazing dinner over the campfire
We sat at the picnic table with a spectacular view of the hillsides, the lake, and even the moutains of the Jungfrau region.  It was a little foggy, but we could see the snow-covered peaks, and on a clear day you would have an incredible view of the entire range!

Martin's family wine
It is a pretty good life when you are with congenial people eating delicious food and drinking wine from last year's harvest, with an amazing view.  A special toast to my dad today.  I love you dad.

After dinner, we walked our bikes down to the train station at the bottom of the hill and took the train back to Bern.   It was a lovely day.

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