Archive for category Vacation

Colorado Joins the Pac-10

In sports news, we learn that the University of Colorado at Boulder has joined the Pacific-10 Conference. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and a Master of Science degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Colorado. This means that my two alma maters will now be playing each other on a regular basis. Yay! This is cool!

This is a good move for Colorado. The Pac-10 is a great conference! In college football, the Pac-10 has a lot of great west coast teams, with exciting offenses and tough defensive squads. UC-Berkeley was always a great game, UCLA is tough to get by, Washington usually has lots of talent, and the Arizona fans in Sun Devil Stadium made for a deafening contest whenever Stanford played there. USC was always tough (sometime too tough), but Stanford football has earned some wins and ties against Southern California. The other athletic programs provide worthy competition, too – baseball, basketball, water polo, tennis, and so on. It will also be good for CU to join the stellar academics of the Pac-10 schools (Stanford, Berkeley, University of Washington, UCLA, etc.).

For Colorado sports fans, the Pac-10 schools are wonderful places to visit. Oregon is the most beautiful state in the country when the sun’s out. Seattle is a kick! Southern California is a fun place to spend a few extra days visiting Disneyland or going surfing. When in the Bay Area during fall, head to San Francisco and on to the wine country! San Francisco is the first big city I ever enjoyed.

During my senior year at Stanford, before I had ever visited Boulder, I remember a guy from the Stanford radio station telling me what an amazing place Boulder is when he traveled here for a rare Stanford-CU football game. So I came. I’m still here.

I don’t even know who I should root for! Undergraduate ties to the school’s athletic program are usually stronger, but I have been steeped in local football enthusiasm for decades now. I’ll go to the first Boulder game and just let the competitive juices flow where they will.

To all those Pac-10 students, fans, and alumni I have this to say: Come out and see us! Boulder is a great place to visit in the fall. Spend a few extra days in the mountains, hang out on the Pearl Street Mall, drive over the Trail Ridge Road before the snow flies, go skiing after the snow flies, have a meal at the Dushanbe Tea House and ask some local to tell you the real history of the place, or bag a Fourteener!

We’ll give you a good football game and send you on home, tired but happy.

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Middle School Field Trip – by Airplane?

Even Dads have to grow up.

My daughter in Middle School is taking a field trip to Washington, DC over Spring Break. They will tour our nation’s capital with American Christian Tours, a tour company that emphasizes our Christian heritage throughout history. She earned part of the money for the tour, and I am making her study up on the places she will visit. When she gets to Gettysburg Battlefield she will know who Pickett was, why and who he was charging, and what happened on that fateful day. When she tours the World War II memorial she will know who were the major powers and leaders on each side of the conflict. When she enters the American History Museum she will tell her friends to look for the half-naked statue of George Washington.

All this is normal.

The strange part for me is that she and the rest of the kids are boarding an airplane to fly to Washington, DC. An airplane! We live in Colorado, so Washington DC is too far to drive over the one-week break. It makes sense to fly. But an airplane??!!! For a Middle School field trip? Sheesh, next thing you know these kids will be taking a field trip to the International Space Station!

I grew up in New Jersey, and my class took field trips by bus to Philadelphia and New York City to see the sights. The historical sites were within easy reach. On the Circle Line ferry around Manhattan Island some elementary school kids from the city challenged us to fight: “Get your gang together. We’ll meet you in the boys’ room!” Remarkably, we were mature enough to laugh, politely decline, and ask them where they were from? They were fun kids once we got past the macho thing.

An airplane!

Perhaps Sean call tell us if airline travel has dropped in cost relative to the Consumer Price Index since the 1970s? In any case, this Dad has to let go and realize that times have changed and let my precious daughter fly to Washington DC for a wonderful and educational adventure with friends I know and teachers I trust to take good care of her. It should be a good trip! She’ll bring her cell phone with her. Oh yeah, you bet she will!

Assolutamente! And I Don’t Even Drink Coffee

Someday, I’ll finish the tale of the Murphy Family’s European adventure and include pictures of Venice, my favorite of all cities. Until then, you’ll have to make due with this story:

Immediately upon arriving in Venice, Italy, a friend asked a hotel concierge where he and his wife could go to enjoy the city’s best. Without hesitation, they were directed to the Cafe Florian in St. Mark’s Square. The two of them were soon at the cafe in the crisp morning air, sipping cups of steaming coffee, fully immersed in the sights and sounds of the most remarkable of Old World cities. More than an hour later, our friend received the bill and discovered the experience had cost more than $15 a cup. Was the coffee worth it, we asked? “Assolutamente!” he replied.

Venice is that good. Heck, I’d take up drinking coffee just for that experience.

The post I took it from is also quite good, and explores the difference between cost and price and why music, even in the digital age, won’t be free. The value (and thus the price a consumer is willing to pay) of an experience to a consumer is not the sum of the costs that go into that experience.

And who says posts about economics have to be dismal and boring?

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Interlaken Day 4 – Our Trip To Lucerne

We got up in the morning and took the advice of the Tourist Information guy and looked out our window first thing in the morning. We weren’t encouraged, as it was another low overcast day with light drizzle. In fact, we were kind of sick and tired of it because it made going into the mountains kind of pointless. When we ate breakfast, the TV channel with all the cameras at mountaintops showed thick fog with light snow. So we made the decision to forgo our last chance at the mountains and instead visit Lucerne. So we took a two hour train ride over the Brunig pass to Lucerne where the weather was nicer – scattered clouds, no rain or snow. The scenery along the way is spectacular: the green mountain sides towering over deep blue lakes with high waterfalls and idyllic villages nestled into the country side. The train station at Lucerne is right in the heart of the city, and it’s just a short walk to the famous Kapellbrücke — the covered bridge across the Reuss river.

Kapellbrücke in Lucerne SwitzerlandCHAPEL BRIDGE PLUS OLD TOWN EQUALS TOURIST NIRVANA

THE WATER TOWER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BRIDGE NOW HAS A GIFT SHOP.

We crossed the bridge over to the oldest part of town and admired the paintings on the bridge along the way. Taking a break from gawking at the scenery, the women did some shopping while the men hung out, got bored, and went in search of the women who were in some extremely trendy store. Then it was time for more shopping! Eventually, even the women tired of shopping, or the male whining that accompanied it, and we moved back to admiring the town again. The funWife and I had spent a couple of nights in Lucerne back when we took our pre-kid trip to Europe, and it’s kind of neat to look back and see we took a lot of pictures at the same spots then and now. Not neat enough for me to scan the pictures in and show you the contrast, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

fountain in Lucerne
I ESPECIALLY ADMIRE THE FREE WATER AND NOT JUST ALL THE FANCY PIPES AND STUFF

I enjoy just strolling around the old cities and towns of Europe. I can go hiking in the Rockies and get almost as good scenery as the Alps, but there is nothing in America to compare to the old cities of Europe. So of course the female half of The Murphy Family wanted to celebrate the architectural glories of old Europe by shopping. The male half decided to sit that out, and did so alongside the river running through Lucerne with one studying the ornamentation of the nearby buildings in detail while taking too many pictures and the other just sitting there. Eventually the two genders rejoined and we crossed the river Reuss again, this time over the Spreuerbrücke. Where the chapel bridge has (mostly happy) paintings depicting the history of Lucerne, the mill bridge has a series of paintings titled Dance of Death so you can imagine the contrast. Thankfully, while the paintings depict death meeting people of all walks of life, not one of them has death meeting a tourist.

Sometimes you just get lucky, and this was one of them. I wanted to go to the history museum, and the Fruit of the Murphy Loins wound up enjoying it. It is the original mathom house, a hoard of objects collected over the centuries and mostly displayed in no particular order. There were the suits of armor and the collection of medieval weapons I was looking for, but cheek by jowl with them were old suitcases and sewing machines. There was a collection of Milanese shields captured from the Burgundians 800 years ago; there was a collection of Roman artifacts dating back 2 millenium (mainly trash to be quite honest, but what trash!); there were artifacts much older dating back to the earliest inhabitants; there was a toy collection from the 40s and a special display area dealing, as near as I could tell, with Swiss rock bands from the sixties. There was a coin collection I must have spent a good 15 minutes absorbed in before I realized I could spend the rest of the day investigating without seeing it all.

Most of the objects are poorly exhibited, a jumble of stuff behind steel mesh bars. But what made it fun for the Fruit were the interactive guides. When we entered, the funWife immediately asked the docent if the displays included English because she wasn’t going to plunk down her hard earned cash, even if it was vacation money, to try to puzzle out oddities labeled in French and German. No problem came the reply, we just program these hand held guides to display English, you scan the bar code on every display with them, and you can read the English text displayed about the object. So we had fun with them from the start, and when we got all the way to the top of the Arsenal (the museum is located in the old city arsenal), the Fruit discovered the guides also were programed for treasure hunts and similar games. This allowed the fearless leaders to caucus comfortably in comfy chairs and plan without interruption.

Since my choice of the History Museum had gone over so well, there were no grumbles when we set out to walk along the old city walls. So it was back over the bridge and a walk along the river to the wall. The tower closest to the river was closed, so it was up the big hill to the next tower. The scene was now bucolic; on the outside of the wall, we left the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and instead stood on a verdant hillside, with cows placidly grazing inside the electric fence. I discovered it was electrified with I put my hand on it as I climbed the hill and got a thrilling tingle. Good thing I didn’t touch two wires. And that’s a couple of things I like about Europe – no warning signs, you’re just expected to watch out for yourself, and you can stand in a field in the middle of a great city and admire a herd that has grazed in that field for, what, going on a millennium! We were there in summer and the climb was hot and tiring; the field itself looked a bit tuckered out and waiting for cooler days, but you should see the spot in glorious springwhen everything is fresh and new.

tower in Lucerne city wall
“COME ON, OLD MAN” IS NOT PARTICULARLY INSPIRING

Eventually, and with much panting, we made it to the top of the hill and the base of the tower which is open to the public. The Fearless Leaders briefly conferred and handed over the cameras to the Fruit so that they could take them to the top and make a record of the trip. We had climbed every tower in every castle we visited; we had climbed up and down the hillside Lausanne was built on; at this point of the vacation, we simply decided this far and no farther. Plus there was a park bench at the base of the tower and we didn’t want it to go to waste. So with admonishments to “Take Your Time!” still ringing in their ears, the Fruit made the climb to the top and took some outstanding photos.

Panoramic view of Lucerne, Switzerland
VIEW FROM LUCERNE CITY WALL

Panoramic view of Lucerne, Switzerland
ANOTHER VIEW FROM LUCERNE CITY WALL

Eventually the Fruit returned and we continued along the wall. Past the next tower we came to tennis courts blocking the way, so we had to enter the third tower along, but we didn’t come out the other side. No, we climbed up to the top of the wall and continued our walk there. This was about the maximum excitement I could take (have I mentioned I have heightaphobia?) but the choice was to give up or continue on. I admit I wondered how many watchman were lost in adverse conditions from the top of the wall, which had the original parapet on the outside and a modern handrail on the inside. Just when I was comfortable way up there, the wall started down hill and took my confidence with it. Passing people coming the other way was torture as I had to get all the way over against the insignificant handrail, and when the rest of the Murphy Family went up in another tower I had to duck in and wait it out in the enclosed space. Still, the view was great and eventually we came to end of the wall and the stairs down. I was glad I got to walk on top of the wall and I was glad to get down.


WOULD THAT ALL SUCH LOYALTY AND BRAVERY WERE HONORED

We set off for the Löwendenkmal or Lion Monument, dedicated to the Swiss guards who died in at Tuileries Palace rather than stand aside during the French Revolution. Swiss mercenaries were double good – they fought well and they stayed bought. We didn’t have a detailed map but we found our way there with our usual skill at dead reckoning and attention to concentrations of tourist buses. The monument itself is quite affecting and worth the trip.

Hofkirche doors
THAT’S NO MOVIE STAR, THAT’S MY DAUGHTER

Time was beginning to press since the trains leaving for Interlaken were two hours apart so we skipped the glacier village and the panorama that were nearby and instead made our way to The Hofkirche (Abbey Court Church). Our last time in Lucerne we only saw the outside, and I wanted to see the inside. By this time we were all tired and the rest of the family clearly decided that humoring me would be course of action that let us plunk our butts down on the train the fastest. I could spend hours just recounting the glories of the entrance, but instead I’m just providing a picture of the doors with another work of art. Believe me, the entire front of the church is exquisite, and I have a whole series of pictures of the entrance that I will look at and get all warm and glowy on the inside, but then the inside is also another stunning work of art. We had enough time to devote to seeing the church, but no more, so after we satiated ourselves on beauty, we hustled back to the train station so we could make a visit to the McClean (the cleanest public restroom, and the most expensive, I’ve ever peed in) and then board our train for the ride back to Interlaken.

We wanted to make our last night a good one, and so on the way back from the train station we would stop at each restaurant, read the menu, discuss if there was something there all four of us wanted to eat. We finally settled on one restaurant, Des Alpes, but after a long wait for any service, we left and started the process all over. One thing about European restaurants – dogs are welcomed, even encouraged. We were a bit quicker about deciding on the next place, and so we had a fabulous meal at the Petit Casino. I don’t know that Fruit of the Murphy Loins had eaten at such an elegant restaurant before, and all I can say is kids, hope you liked it because I doubt you’ll ever eat at such an elegant restaurant with me again.

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Interlaken Day 3 – Kevin’s Big Adventure

We woke up, had a nice breakfast (included) at the hotel while we watched snow fall at all the mountain attractions live via webcam, and then began the final preparations for the second half of the trip. We strolled across the Harderstrasse to the tourist information office and began to ask questions. We started with easy ones, like where is the Alamo office in town? Oops, we have to ask the person over there because the person I ask only has train type information. So I try again, only to be met with a blank stare and “Alamo? Alamo? I haven’t heard of any Alamo.” I want to say in the worst way “Don’t every say that to a Texan” but the meters running on our vacation time and while I would find it funny, I know by now I won’t find it funny after spending 10 minutes trying to explain the joke, and then another 10 trying to explain to my family why I wasted 10 minutes on a lame joke in the first place. Foreign travel can be so brutal. But at least it’s clear that there is no Alamo car rental in town. Then we go back to the train guy to ask about the details of booking a ride to the Jungfraujoch. And then I ask a question that has been weighing heavy on our minds since we’ve had so much low overcast and rain while in Interlaken (and today is no different): what is the weather forecast?

“For tomorrow?” is the reply.

“Yes, and the next few days after that, as long as you’re at it.”

“It’s several things”, he says. “Rain, sunshine, cloudy, warm, cold.”

“The forecast is for all that, tomorrow?” I ask.

“Oh yes, it could be all that tomorrow”, he replies.

“So is it supposed to be one thing the morning, and another in the afternoon?” I ask. Hey, I’m from the midwest, I know all about changeable weather.

“No, it could be anything at anytime tomorrow, you just have to see”, he says.

“So I should just look out my window in the morning, and then I’ll know what the weather is going to be like that morning?”

“Yes, that’s how you do it”, he replies.

I feel like Abbot in an Abbot and Costello routine. I’m tempted to say if you don’t know the forecast, just tell me so. Don’t tell me the forecast is to look out the window in morning.

There’s a big difference between where I’m from and Europe – the weather forecast. At home, we have several meteorologists for every newscast, we have constant weather reports on the radio, we even have a whole TV network devoted to weather. People are constantly discussing the weather like a favorite child — “can you believe what the weather did yesterday, that little dickens?” In Europe, the forecast was treated like some state secret. We could never find out even what the weather the next day was supposed to be like. The hotel in Interlaken was the only one that told you what the weather forecast was for that day – but that day only.

So then it was back to our hotel to call Alamo. I call the 800 number and ask the nice lady on the other end where they have offices in Switzerland. All over she says, and then rattles off a bunch of names. I ask for the number of the office in Lucerne. Great, we could make a trip out of it. I ask if there is any penalty or fee for returning the car to a different location from the one I picked it up at. None she tells me. So we decide we’re going to get new train tickets leaving from Interlaken to Venice, with stops to change trains in Spiez and Brig. We’ll turn the rental car back in today, and take a train back from Lucerne.

So I call the rental car office for directions. Turns out they are in Lausanne, not Lucerne. And this guy says they only have a few offices, with the closest one to me in Fribourg. Fribourg? I’m sure it’s a nice town and all that, but we drove through on the way here and we’re not going to make a day out of it there. So I call that number and they tell me there aren’t actually in Fribourg, they are in Dudingen. So that’s when the funWife tells me that while she and kids take care of the train tickets, I get to go return the car.

“And just how am I supposed to get back?” I ask.

“They have wonderful public transportation in this country. I’m sure you’ll take the train or a bus.” she replied.

“A bus!?!” I sputter.

“It will be an adventure.” she tells me.

It’s at this point I realize the sooner the start the sooner I’ll get back, so I grab a CD, a jacket, and what little dignity and courage I can summon and head out for my big adventure.

The start was boring – a long drive in the rain. The CD got me through that part. The fun began when I pulled off the autobahn and started to follow the directions the mechanic (apparently he spoke the best English) gave me: In village on main road left side. It’s a Renault car dealer with with a Shell gas station and an Alamo sign. Amazingly enough, it was in the village on the main road left side and I found it without any problems. I even passed a train station on the way there. The highpoint of the trip was parking in front in the little yellow rectangle painted on the sidewalk. After a minimum of hassle, gratifiying after the big deal they had made in Geneva about not getting any extra insurance when we rented the car, I was on my way back to the train station. The nice gentleman at Alamo/Shell/Renault had assured me that I could catch a train back to Interlaken without difficulty.

At the train station, Marc and Markus seemed to be happy to be helping some crazy American who presented himself at the Dudingen train station without a clue. They had a great time getting the tickets, explaining where to go to catch the train, how to switch tracks in Bern, explaining the little printout that showed I would take a local train into Bern where I would switch to another train to Interlaken. Thanks you guys, I hope I broke up some of the monotony, you were a big help to me.

And now begins the record of my big adventure, written at the exact moment I lived it:

Dudingen is a charming little town, but Switzerland is filled with exquisite little towns.

Fillstorf was the next stop. It isn’t even a wide spot in the road — a few cars parked in the weeds alongside the road and they didn’t even bother opening the doors of the train.

They have a 1st and 2nd class on the trains and boats here. At least in the boats it makes a difference because you can get seats in the breeze, but on the train I think they are there just in case Hyacinth Bucket ever rides.

I am not smitten with Schmitten, our next stop. A couple of people got off who’d gotten on with me in Dudingen, so apparently they are.

Wunnewil – hard to tell as you went through a tunnel just before the station which was in a big ditch. I had no idea that there were so many ugly spots in Switzerland. From Wunnewil, the countryside looks a lot like Missouri, although the buildings quite clearly don’t.

Flamott — another tunnel which meant I only got glimpses of the impressive highway bridges through town. The station was nice in a modern industrial way. But even the traditional cute Swiss architecture couldn’t dress the town up much.

Thorishaus Dorf — The quaint factor is rising, but the tracks are banked in the station giving an odd sway to the train.

Thorishaus Station — the main business looks to be recycling scrap metal by the train cars on the sidings. But the view of the chalets on the hillsides as we pulled out restores my aesthetic appreciation of Switzerland.

Oberhagen — about 50 feet from Thorishaus Station, I have to credit it for a lot of charm. I especially like the rock wall built of metal mesh and pebbles.

Niederwagen — the most noticeable thing is that a lot of passengers get on here. That and the stations are now coming fast and furious.

Bumpliz Sud — I think we are clearly in the Bern suburbs by now, which means less charm and more graffiti. I hope we don’t go to Bumpliz Nord, too.

Bern Ausserholligen — the apartments along the way look nice, but I’m beginning to feel about graffiti the way I feel about spam – death to graffitiers! The station appears to be under a long highway bridge.

Bern – at last, and now to switch trains. The station is bustling in the middle of a weekday. I use a McClean WC: one franc to take a leak. Does the name play off McDonalds or some notion that celts are clean? On to platform 6. I can’t shake the notion I’m on the wrong train, about to hurtle to parts unknown, no matter how often I look at the electronic sign telling me that indeed this train will take me back to Interlaken. Now I’m on a real train, real coaches and I hope a locomotive, although they all look like little electric toys here. Oh well.

I’m hoping on the side with a view — the lake side and not the poured concrete abutment holding back the mountainside side. Time will tell, and I may have to knock over a few people getting to it. It all depends, do they back in or pull in forwards? Or if they have an engine (I’m still hoping for a locomotive) at both ends,maybe they go in which ever way they need to. I switch sides, thinking we’ll pull out and that way will be forward, and now I think I screwed up — I should be on the left side. Oh well. I can get up again later, the train isn’t full.

They announce the stops, and I’m crushed to find out Spiez is pronounced “spits”, not “spee-ez” as I’ve been calling it. Leave it to the German language to always sound worse that it needs to. Sadly, the train has filled up , and some young french speaking woman and her iPod has joined me. Ah well, c’est la guerre or something. I’m facing the wrong way – and I was right, they just pull out. But we have stops in Thun and Spiez, so maybe we will turn around again by the time we are zooming along the Thunerzee.

After we leave Bern, I’m struck by how much prettier the countryside is along this long distance rail line as opposed to the local line I took in. The absence of graffiti alone is breathtaking.

I think I’m the only one riding today with just a regular ticket.

In Thun (back to an excess of graffiti) I switch seats – I think we are going to keep going the same direction, so I’m hopeful I’ll be facing the right way for the view side of the train. Ha, I’m right! At last I get to look at the lake without interruption. And let me assure you, the view is fantastic. Makes me want to retire to one of the little towns that dot the shore. I’m always brought up short by the question, how bad are the winters?

There ends the tale of the adventure as recorded that day on the back of the National/Alamo map of Switzerland. I would make it all the way to Interlaken with difficulty, walk back to the hotel wondering how I was going to meet up with the family, and then wondering how I was going to get into the room without a key, only to find them lounging about reading and watching TV in the room. They were shocked I was back so fast. So much for my big adventure.

We spent the rest of the day just hanging out in the hotel room or lounging about in town. If you can’t do nothing on vacation, when can you do it?

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Interlaken Day 2 – One Extreme to Another

Our day got off to a bad start. We couldn’t find our train tickets for the ride from Geneva to Venice. We had to do laundry. This is not why we went half-way around the world to go on vacation.

So the funWife and I wheeled a suitcase down the road, over a couple of bridges, and into the laundromat about 10 minutes from our hotel. We tried to puzzle out the workings of the washers with the help of a handwritten sign. Apparently the Swiss are very concerned about the exact temperature of the wash and rinse water – no hot, warm or cold for them – so they have the exact temperatures thru the various cycles, and we had to convert from Celcius to Farenheit in our head, but we couldn’t translate the German into English for what the cycles were. Where to put the detergent was not obvious, so we picked a likely looking cavity. Not entirely satisfied we knew what we were doing, we put our money in and made our selections on the LCD touch screens (the town is old and quaint, but the washers are ulta-modern). Then we sat and read our books while our clothes got clean and dry followed by the trundle back to the hotel to put away our laundry. They didn’t stink afterward so we must have put the detergent in the right spot and gotten just the right temperatures after all. Still, not what you want to do on vacation.

Then it was on to the next problem. A nice stroll to the train station to see what we could do about the missing tickets was followed by the dashing of our hopes. No tickets, no ride, no refund. Just that simple. OK, now that we can kiss that money goodbye, what should we do? We’ve got to get to Venice on a certain day since we’ve paid for a hotel there already and we don’t want to keep spending money twice. By now it’s lunch time, so after a quick bit to eat — hamburgers at a kabob place — we decide to go back to vacation while we mull our options.

Since we were getting a late start having frittered half the day away on worry and cleanliness, we decided not to head up into the mountains and instead do some castle sightseeing around lake Thun. So we hopped into the car and headed off to Spiez which I remembered visiting the last time we were in Switzerland. Oddly enough, the schloss was right where we left it, and looked pretty much the same. I also remembered not to get off on the first Spiez exit, which made finding the schloss much easier and faster.

THE ENTRANCE TO SCHLOSS SPIEZ, AND WHAT A GRAND ONE IT IS


YOU NEED A CASTLE FOR THIS DOORWAY TO NOT BE TOO MUCH


HOW MANY MAN YEARS WERE SPENT ON THE DECORATION?

I found the schloss to be both beautiful and fascinating. I could visit castles every day of my life and not get bored. The keep, or large tower, dates to the 10th century, and is quite a rustic pile of stone filled with ladders that stretch seemingly to heaven. Yes, we climbed all the way to the top, and I have to admit that once we were up there it didn’t seem nearly as high as when we were climbing up.

The nicer parts of the castle are of a more recent 16th century or even earlier vintage, and for a little castle in the hinterlands simply amazing. The detailed decoration, from the massive wooden door frames to the elaborate ceilings and, heck, I don’t even know what you call most of it, is just beautiful. Once again it was clear that it was good to be the baron. To think what was originally designed only for refuge in times of war would become such an object of art. I would have had more interior pictures but my batteries died and my son had lost one of the spares when we were strolling around the grounds.


MY DAUGHTER WITH HER NEW MOVIE STAR SUNGLASSES AND A BEAUTIFUL BACKDROP

The grounds are quite nice and look to get some use from the locals — at least I think it was locals sitting on the park benches overlooking the lake and reading books, talking, or just relaxing. There is an old church on the grounds that appears to be older than dirt, and another building with an overgrown garden whose purpose I can’t even guess at. We weren’t even sure we weren’t trespassing on somebody else’s property when we were walking around the garden. There is also an art gallery in an unattached part of the castle that was showing some still living artist’s work who couldn’t hold a candle to any of the large number of nameless artisans who beautified the castle over the centuries. If you are ever in Spiez, make sure you drop in.


HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT THIS IS A TYPICAL VIEW IN SWITZERLAND

The setting of the schloss is also quite beautiful, on a piece of land that juts out into lake Thun, surrounded by mountains. In that part of Switzerland, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting awesome scenery. The blue lakes, the tall mountains, the vivid green grass – you just feel like you’re in a postcard.

Not content with one castle, we motored on down lake Thun to the city of Thun to see the castle there. A note on pronunciation – Thun is pronounced just like tune, and Spiez it pronounced just like, um, kind of like spits, only you have to get the phlegm into it, so more like shpeetz. Please don’t ask me why they are pronounced that way, I only know because that’s how the recorded voice on the train pronounced them. Now back to your regularly scheduled narrative. We wound up taking a lake front road into Thun, which meant we got a closer view of the lake, but also meant we made a lot more stops along the way. We followed the road signs directing us to the schloss, but it wasn’t the schloss we were looking for. It was schloss Hunegg. I would have like to have found schloss Oberhofen, since I have fond memories of it from our earlier trip, but no such luck. So then I hit on the plan of following the signs to go the the City Center, also known as Zentrum.

Everything was going fine except the traffic. Apparently there was only one road that went anywhere because everyone was on it with me. Traffic eased up though when I took the road that was marked as leading to the schloss. At last, almost there. Except it became clear that I was heading back to schloss Hunegg, not schloss Thun. Aaarggh, return to gridlock. And then, on a hill top in the distance, I could see it — schloss Thun. It rises up over the buildings like a giant white fairy castle. But how to get there?

When we couldn’t see the schloss anymore I figured that this time, we really were getting close. And I remembered from the last trip there was no dedicated parking for the schloss – we had parked in an underground garage for a medical building across the street then. So when I saw the sign Frei Parking, I figured we were close enough. Turns out that Frei parking shouldn’t be confused with Free Parking, but while not exactly close, we were close enough. We only had to cross a couple of bridges over the river Aare, wind our way through the old city, climb about 400 steps or so, go past the church and we were there. OK, in the castle courtyard we climbed up a long ramp to pay to get in, and then we climbed up another couple of flights of stairs to actually enter the schloss. The main thing I remember about Thun is climbing – stairs, spiral staircases, ramps, even a few ladders. And I have to say, after all that the museum was somewhat disappointing. The great hall and its turrets were pretty neat, but I could have skipped the part where we went down into the castle and not missed it.

After the schloss, we strolled around the old town for a while, including a split level street, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. For the record, we took the high road down one side, and the low road down the other. Then it was back to the car, and back to Interlaken, with a stop along the way in some small town in an attempt to eat dinner. I say attempt, because they eat dinners later in Europe than America, what with them being urban sophisticates and all, and the restaurant in the hotel we stopped at wasn’t open for another hour. Sometimes spur of the moment doesn’t work, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying it.

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Interlaken Day 1 – Swiss National Day

Our first full day in Interlaken was Swiss National Day, which celebrates William Tell shooting an arrow off of his son’s head and the attending discomfiture of the Hapsburgs way back in 1291. Hey, any excuse to throw a party. Seriously, you’re much smarter to mess with Texas than Switzerland.

EVERYBODY IS SWISS ON SWISS NATIONAL DAY, EVEN AMERICANS IN A JAPANESE GARDEN

We didn’t shoot any arrows, but what with an aperitif at the Casino in the morning, a parade down the Hohenweg in the afternoon, and fireworks at night, we truly had a full day. Tables and booths were set up all along the Hohenweg selling brats and beer from noon until long after I went to bed. The weather was cool with a low overcast and frequent periods of rain — which is pretty much how the weather was the whole time we were there — so we didn’t mind too much that the only thing open were the the shops in town and vendors along the Hohenweg.

The casino was thronged (free drinks has that effect). Since the speeches were in German, I have no idea what they were about – political messages from local politicians or historians extolling the virtues of Swissdom. But they soon gave way to the universal language of music. Just as the Swiss are famed engineers for good reason, there is a good reason that “swiss music” draws a blank. It was there, and that’s about all.

THE MILES DAVIS OF SWITZERLAND


WHAT’S MORE FUN THAN HARDERPOTSCHETE? NOTHING

The parade in the afternoon was a lot of fun, something that you would see anywhere in small town USA, if the town were in the middle of the Alps and swiss. The best part: no politicians. They had marching bands, and people dressed up in traditional clothing, although in this part of the world the clothing dates back centuries, not decades. They had Scouts, which is different outside of the US in that it is coed (please don’t tell me about Venture crews, I know all about them). But they also had mounted men-at-arms (women too) to advertise the outdoor production of William Tell, the play. They had two sets of alpine horns – first was the guy above who really sounded good and got the biggest hand of the day, and then a group of five or six with horns so big they had little stands built in but when each person just blew a single note I thought to myself all that just to hear a single chord? First they had a herd of cows with enormous cowbells, and then later they had a herd of people with enormous cowbells. The people did sound more in unison, but you have to like seriously loud noise to like either group, so let’s just say I’m not a fan of bone rattling bells. When the fire truck came through, they were squirting the crowd, and seemed to enjoy it when people in the upper stories of the buildings along the route responded by throwing buckets of water back. I’m just glad I wasn’t underneath the worst offenders. The most fun for the kids were the harderpostschete, who despite their scary appearance brought forth laughter when terrorizing them.

That evening we enjoyed an ice cream cone — which we did most days in Europe as the ice cream was delicious and cheap — while waiting for the fireworks. Everybody else in town seemingly brought their own supply of fireworks, because everybody around the central park was setting off enormous quantities of their own before the professionals did. Even a group of older American tourists who arrived that day by bus and were leaving the next day had some. There was such a throng around the park the children who were parading around the park with their lanterns required a drummer and a couple of stout men in the fore to clear a path. I have to say the fireworks display was quite good, up to Fourth of July standards, and the nice thing was we only had to walk a block back to our hotel. It made for an exciting finish to a relaxing day.

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Travel Day: Lausanne to Interlaken

All good things must come to an end, and so we left Lausanne and made our way to Interlaken.

On the way there we stopped at the Nestle/Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. I have to admit I had my doubts to start with because its a bit off the beaten path — off the autobahn at Bulle, then through Broc and quiet residential side streets, then back out of town and around a a low escarpment until at last you see the sterile facade of what appears to be a shipping department — I’m hoping that whatever it is they give tours so I’m not lost. It’s a little bit of a walk to the actual entrance from the visitor’s parking, past what looks like the charming original building to another modern facility, and it’s at this point I’m wondering just why we came here. But the receptionist is so jolly in explaining the route we are supposed to take and what we will meet along the way I don’t even mind the nominal entrance fee. She went into such detail I just had to ask if it is easy to get lost but she assured me that we would always know which way to go as long as we leave any room by a different door than we entered. Not just a tour, but a logic puzzle as well. I wanted to ask with every fiber in my being “So where do you keep the Oompah Loompahs?” but I couldn’t summon the requisite sang froid to pull it off, and I don’t want to spoil our blossoming relationship with a lead balloon witticism.

So instead its off to the European ideal of a chocolate factory tour, which has some neat stuff like how they make chocolate, what the ingredients are, in a phrase the nuts and bolts of the operation, a dash of history, and a whole bunch of pretentious prattle about the experience of chocolate and the glories of the Cailler brand. We didn’t actually get to see any making of chocolate – the only view of the factory floor gave the distinct impression this wing had been decomissioned when Nixon was president. But we did get to watch a film made no later than the Eisenhower administration about a girl who visited the Cailler factory in her jammies Christmas eve, possibly while sleepwalking. Since it was in French and about the only French I remember is je ne parle pas Francais — I told you I love logic puzzles — some of the details sailed over my head. In the movie everyone was so helpful and delighted to see her, even the night watchman who invited her in and and showed her around, she snagged a giant candy bar on Christmas morning — Cailler Frigor naturally.

And then it was on to the tasting room. The room was underwhelming to look at, but oh, what transports of joy and raptures of delight awaited within. The room was long and narrow, with the entire line of Cailler chocolate several times over on top of glass cases along the long axis of the room. I am not a chocoholic, and I normally prefer salt/grease snacks (i.e. potato and corn chips), but an all you can eat buffet of swiss chocolate is a sensual experience words can’t describe. There was an abundance of chocolate because it is set up for bus tours and they were between buses while we were there. All I can say is that there was no comparison between that chocolate and the run of the mill milk chocolate I usually eat. Apparently even the milk they use is special, from Gruyere (yes, where the cheese comes from).

THE TASTING ROOM AT CAILLER’S — OH HOW I MISS THIS ROOM

Then it was on to the store, with me kicking and screaming the whole way. The Fruit each picked out a big candy bar for themselves, and we bought some for gifts. I don’t know if it was because we were at a factory outlet or the restaurant prices had thrown us off, but the chocolate actually seemed cheap. As it turned out, we would leave the gift chocolate behind the in the refrigerator of our hotel in Interlaken upon departure. Good thing the Fruit didn’t even wait until we got to the hotel to scarf down their chocolate bars. We wound up buying a giant bar of Toblerone at the Brussels airport with the last of our Euros as a gift for the girls who watched Trooper while we were away.

Thus satiated and unaware of the loss of the chocolate that lay ahead, we drove back through Broc towards Bulle. We noticed a gorgeous castle on a hill top and after a quick consult with the guidebook (If you are going to spend thousands on a trip don’t false economize — get a guidebook) the funWife announced it was Gruyere, it was a town plus a castle and it was open to the public. After only one wrong turn we arrived at a parking lot at the foot of the hill. Since the guidebook also informed us that there were no cars allowed in town, we parked there. Then it was a huff and puff up the steep trail until we came to the outer wall of the town.

GRUYERE EXUDES CHARM THE WAY I EXUDE PERSPIRATION — IN BUCKETS

Gruyere is a town that defines picture postcard perfect. The view of the mountain, the cobblestones, the old buildings, the colorful flowers and banners, the hilltop setting — the whole assemblage was made for photos hundreds of years before the invention of photography. The quaint restaurants and shops beckoned, but our motto was excelsior!  So we didn’t linger in town, we made our way ever onward and upward towards the castle. I find old castles fascinating, but its clear it was good to be the baron, and not the horde of laborers and artisans who built the castle.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU CALL THIS, BUT IT LOOKS REALLY COOL


LOWER PARTS OF THE CASTLE FROM A HIGHER PART


A DRAMATIC VIEW OF CASTLE GRUYERE FROM THE FORMAL GARDEN

And then it was on to Berne. The funWife and I had been here before sixteen years ago on a cold day in October and had a wonderful time. We were there again on a warm day in August, and it was a lot more crowded. A lot. As in who are all these people, and what are they doing in my way? I admit I got off the Autobahn too soon (not that there are a lot of exits for any town) and that coupled with the abysmal driving might have made me ever so slightly cranky until we parked the car, but once we parked I was Mr. Sunshine. Perhaps my ancestral homeland was calling out to my blood (I believe it was saying “Don’t take sides!”) – -my Great-Grandfather Senti was from Berne. Apparently the swiss blood ran too dilute in the veins of the Fruit of the Murphy Loins, as rest of the family didn’t want to linger once there. It could be, I admit, that I just wanted to stay out of the car for longer, a lot longer, but I do like Berne and we really didn’t do anything beyond wander around for a while. We didn’t even go to one museum!

BEAUTIFUL BUSTLING BERNE

So it was back into the car and on to our hotel in Interlaken. We thought Berne was crowded, but Interlaken as absolutely thronged with tourists and far more crowded than Berne. Progress down the main drag, the Hohenweg, was very slow as long streams of pedestrians held up traffic at every crosswalk. I knew roughly where the hotel was since I remembered it from the time, sixteen years ago (notice a pattern here?), we stayed at the Royal St. Georges and there were no Fruit of the Murphy Loins, just a gleam in each of my eyes. If it weren’t for the geraniums overflowing the window boxes and obscuring the sign for the hotel I wouldn’t have passed it up. Still, it’s nice to a get a tour of the town before settling in, as I always say, at least I do when I pass the hotel up and have to go quite aways before finding a place to turn around. But eventually we made it and we were all glad to get out of the car this time.

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Lausanne Day 4 (Or We Discover France)

After three years of learning French in school, my daughter really wanted to go to France. Looking into it pre-trip, we considered driving to Lyon to see what was shaking in France, but decided instead to take the 35 minute boat ride across Lac Leman to Evian les Bains. Oddly enough, they spoke French there just like they did across the lake in Switzerland. I couldn’t tell the difference, to tell you the truth — the same architecture, language, lifestyle, even signage (road and pedestrian). The only difference was they used Euros instead of Swiss Francs. And being a little farther south, it did feel hotter. I only discovered after my return home of that it is the birthplace of Evian water and the site of the 2003 G8 summit.

DOWNTOWN EVIAN LES BAINS


GIANT POT WITH MUTANT PLANT PLUS A COUPLE OF CUTIES MAKES FOR A GREAT PHOTO

Surprisigly, Evian has a minature golf course, so we were able to continue the Murphy Family tradition of playing putt putt golf on vacation – the keeping track of the score, the feuding between the kids, the arguments over who is carrying enough of our stuff from hole to hole, and the ritual losing of a ball. It may not be a good tradition, but it is ours. This course provided a notable twist — a large group of what turned out to be British school kids started to play shortly after we started the course. The management broke them into small groups and had them start all over the course in what I believe is known as a shotgun start.  The boys ahead of us (one of whom was called Dobby) had a rule that if your ball left the green you had to start over. As their balls quite frequently left the course, we frequently had to wait while one boy kept playing the same hole over and over. Still, as my Grandfather once observed about peeing on the continental divide, not many people have played an American invention in France with British schoolboys. I’m hoping I never do again.

EVIAN FROM THE LAKE


MOUNTAINS TOWERING OVER EVIAN

We really enjoyed the boat ride across the lake, but it wasn’t without its faults. The biggest is that you can only leave when the boat leaves, and while once every two hours sounds pretty frequent, we did spend some time wilting in the heat hoping the boat would hurry up. And when we left, just as we got up to full speed, the engine slowed way down and we turned around and went back to the dock. I was leaning against the stern rail, and the distaff side of the family sitting a little ahead of me inquired as to what was happening. I informed them that the boat was broken and we were returning to port for repairs. As it turned out, we had left a little early, and the boat was returning to pick up several passengers we had left behind. The distaff side was unhappy with me when it was clear that my explanation was wrong, but at least they stopped complaining when I inquired how they thought I would know anything about the operation of the boat standing at the stern rail — telepathic communication with the captain perhaps?

WHO DOESN’T LIKE TO RIDE A BOAT?


THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF SCENERY IN SWITZERLAND

Our hotel in Lausanne charged big bucks for their breakfast – like $80 for the four of us – so we always found alternates. The first day we ate the pop tarts we had brought along. The next day we hiked halfway up the hillside to a restaurant and had croissants. While my wife had coffee, I ordered orange juice and got tangerine juice. The day after that we stopped in at a boulangerie, bought a variety of tasty food, and took it back and ate it on our balcony. The day after that we really went native: Kyle and I went to the Migros market and bought yogurt and croissants to eat. We weren’t fully native since the milk I thought was 2% turned out to be half and half cream. I also had to buy a pack of 100 plastic spoons to eat the yogurt with, which left us with 96 spoons for the rest of the trip. As the yogurt was kiwi and something (OBG) we’d never heard of before, there was some resistance to eating it. My wife was convinced when I told her it was on sale, but no amount of cajoling could convince my daughter to eat any beyond her first bite. Thankfully, the rest of the hotels had a nice breakfast included so I was not dispatched to buy food with labels I couldn’t read again. Another experience I’m glad I had but one will do me, thank you very much.

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Lausanne Day 3 (or It’s Good To Be The King)

Every evening a storm moved through town, so we took a peddle boat ride on Lac Leman this morning (the night before the wind was blowing so hard the lake was covered in whitecaps). I had a wonderful time on the lake, only in part because I didn’t do any peddling. The frame of the seat was just a tiny bit too small for the frame of my body, so when I got in gravity got me through it, but I was only going to get out once, which meant no changing seats to the front where the peddles were. Luckily a strapping young lad was at the dock to pull me back through on the dismount, which I was able to stick. No matter how hard we tried (my contribution was mainly moral support) we couldn’t run down the gulls floating on the lake.

COME SAIL AWAY

COME SAIL AWAY


COME SAIL AWAY WITH ME

After our morning’s exertions, we made the Fruit of the Murphy Loins happy and actually drove the car somewhere, namely down the lake just past Montreux to Chillon Castle. They use a lot of rock in building a castle, and we saw the castle from its raw rock roots to the fine stone work in its highest tower. We also saw a couple of original bathrooms — a board with two holes which hung high over the lake. No EPA to worry about in the twelfth century A.D. I wanted to say “bombs away” but worried that people might misinterpret me, so I’m sharing it with you instead. I think it was because the Fruit were so overjoyed at going for a car ride and not having to walk that they would later say that this was their favorite day on vacation – or at least their favorite castle.

CHILLON CASTLE IN FULL


BRINGS NEW MEANING TO HAVE FUN STORMING THE CASTLE BOYS


THIS HAS TO BE THE NICEST LOCATION FOR GIFT SHOP ON THE PLANET


LOOK HONEY, A WALK IN FIREPLACE. I WOULDN’T BE COLD WITH ONE OF THESE BABYS


SLICES, DICES, AND MAKES JULIENNE CARROTS OUT OF THE BURGUNDIANS


WE CALL THIS THE BRADY BUNCH ROOM BECAUSE IT WAS SO GROOVY


THAT’S A LOT FURTHER THAN IT LOOKS


BOMBS AWAY!

And as always we finished up the evening with a trip down to Ouchy, although we did manage to pick a different place to eat. This time, no Chateau between us and the water.

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