A weekend above the Arctic Circle in an effort to photograph the Northern Lights.
I recall a warm summer evening, about forty years ago, when I reclined on the rocky shore of Lake Champlain to watch a distant aurora borealis dance across the stars of the far northern sky. Ever since then I’ve held a quiet fascination with this phenomenon, determined to see the northern lights “for real” some day. I’ve longed to visit the Arctic, in part so I might see the northern lights. This weekend – capping a week of academic travel in Finland and Sweden – was my first opportunity to travel above the Arctic Circle. I flew to a tiny village in the far northern tip of Sweden – so close it was practically in Norway – and spent two nights standing in the snow, watching the sky above Abisko National Park. Did I see the aurora? yes! Was I satisfied? no; if anything, I want to return to see more! From the other people I met there, it is clear that Abisko has that affect on many people. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.
A day of skiing and grouse hunting, outside Oulu Finland.
Yesterday I visited the University of Oulu to give a talk about my research and to engage in some collaborative discussions with faculty in computer science.(Impressive and fascinating work underway there!) Timo, the professor hosting my visit, grew up in the fields and forests of northern Finland; he offered to take me out today for a day of skiing in a nature reserve an hour east of Oulu. As he noted, this week was a special opportunity – the first time since 1981 that the wildlife-management folks were opening a winter season for hunting European Grouse… and for just 10 days. Timo is an accomplished hunter and fisherman, as was clear from the many stuffed grouse and the fishing awards in his den at home. This mid-week opportunity was too good for him to pass up, and I was delighted to join. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.
Skiing at Flumserberg on a sunny day after an overnight snowfall.
The forecast promised the snow flurries would end around noon, and the clouds would clear to partly-sunny skies for the afternoon. That was good enough for Andy and me! We hopped on a late-morning train along the shores of beautiful lakes Zurichsee and Wallensee, and jumped off in Unterterzen.We walked across the street and climbed on the gondola, which whisked us steeply uphill past verdant green pastures and snug little cottages until the trees were dusted with last night’s snowfall.We arrived at the tiny village of Tannenboden, at the base of the Flumerserberg ski area, right at noon. After renting ski gear in a local shop, we were ready to go… just as the clouds parted and the sun broke through, illuminating the jagged mountain peaks across the valley. Spectacular! and it would only get better. Read on, and check out the gallery.
A daytrip to see the Rheinfall and wander the old town of Schaffhausen.
For our final day of free Swiss rail travel, we decided to stay close to home.We headed northeast, to a curious finger of Switzerland on the north side of the Rhine River – which otherwise forms the border with Germany. The train stops directly at the Rheinfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, where there are some impressive viewing platforms and an historic castle now converted into a restaurant. The waterfall was beautiful, though the flow was at an annual low – it being winter, and there being no rain for the past week. The low-angle sun (1:30pm, a few weeks after winter solstice) painted a pretty rainbow on the mist of the falls (a “mistbow”?). Read on, and check out the Rheinfall gallery and Schaffhausen gallery.
A daytrip to Fribourg, on the boundary between Francophone and Germanophone regions of Switzerland.
Day #3 of our efforts to maximize the Swiss GA card, and we pick a city known for being smack on the boundary between Francophone Switzerland and Germanophone Switzerland. Fribourg straddles the small Sarine river where it passes through a deep gorge. Traditionally, the villagers on the west side of the river speak French, and the villagers on the right side speak German.The modern city uses both languages interchangeably, though French is dominant; each street sign shows the street name in each language. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.
A daytrip to Locarno, in the Italian section of Switzerland.
For our second day in the effort to ‘use up’ our Swiss rail pass, we chose Locarno. Not to be confused with Lugano, which we’d visited two weeks earlier, it is nonetheless in Ticino, the Italian section of Switzerland. It was Sunday, so things were pretty quiet, but there were many other families out for a stroll along the lakefront or for a coffee in the cafe. We had lunch in a lakefront restaurant, with a mix of tourists and locals. They have fresh truffle/pasta dishes to die for.The sun was strong, and the lake blue, and the surrounding mountains white capped. What’s not to like? Read on, and check out the photo gallery.
A daytrip to Bern to stroll the old town, climb the cathedral tower, and visit the Einstein museum.
Pam, Andy, and I bought ‘GA’ cards for the past holiday month, giving us free rides anytime, anywhere the Swiss rail system (and local bus/tram systems) go. What a treat! With only four days left on our cards, Pam and I decided to make the most of them. Each day we asked, “where would you like to have lunch today? Anywhere in Switzerland. Anywhere.”Today we picked Bern, the capital city, only an hour from Zürich by express train. Read on, and check out the gallery.
Six days after my visit to Franz Kotz’s hometown in Germany, I visited his hand-built home in West Virginia.
Just six days after our visit to Sulzau, Germany – the original home of my great-great-great grandfather Franz Kotz – I was chatting with another direct descendant inside the home Franz built in West Virginia, holding his Wander-Buch and following his youthful travels in my imagination. Read on!
A beautiful day to visit Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland.
The weather is often very different on the opposite side of Switzerland, because the country’s Alpine backbone breaks up the clouds and airflow patterns.On this cloudy day in Zürich we hopped a Eurocity train to Lugano, through the Gottard Base Tunnel (the longest railway tunnel in the world), and popped out into the sunshine on the Italian side of Switzerland.Once in the pretty lakeside city of Lugano, we walked the streets of old town, dined on pasta and pizza, and strolled along the lakeshore.I climbed up to Parco Panoramico, to catch some panoramic views across the lake and the city to the Alps beyond. Read on, and check out the gallery of photos.