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Archive for August, 2010

In Germany

We have been in Germany again. For me, this combined a business trip to DESY in Hamburg with the chance to see family and friends, in Mainz, Hamburg and Cologne. Deviating from (my) habit we took the train, which really was a good thing as we put the time spent in the train to good use, first for ourselves and when I continued on, to get some work done.

So we stayed for a night with Sylvia’s family in Mainz/Nieder-Olm and had dinner  in an inn in the countryside, celebrating Sylvia’s stepmother’s birthday. This brought back good memories (I used to study in Mainz in the 70s), but I hardly remembered what little I saw of Mainz.

On to Hamburg where I stayed with Manni (by now familiar to readers of this diary) and worked with my colleague Desmond at DESY. We got four intense days in and made good progress. While Des & I communicate often via email and phone, working together really helped us to get through some technical issues and also increased our understanding in a much more focused way. With Manni I had a very enjoyable outing to the North Sea, a beach near St. Peter Ording. I haven’t been in that area for umpteen years. We walked quite a bit on the beach and over dykes and marshes and also visited the lighthouse of Westerhever (which sits in quite a peculiar arrangement flanked by two houses).

Peace, near Westerhever lighthouse (My friend Manni)

On the way back I had a brief stop-over in my home town and visited the cemetery where most of my family (motherly branch) lies; sadly, there are more and more names of those I used to know. I passed by Cologne and stayed a night with the other half of Sylvia’s family. My father in-law (Ulrich Schiller) actually had published recently a book, about which I will write a little in a separate post, suffice it to say here that I am very impressed. Sylvia is staying with them while her sister Ele is on vacation (in France, ironically).

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After our trip in the mountains our neighbor and friend from San Carlos in California came for a visit. I showed her Ferney and Geneva and from Nyon we took the cogwheel train up into the Jura. In pouring rain we had lunch in a Swiss-French restaurant—the border went right through it so you can eat in one country and go to the bathroom in another.

On the weekend we were lucky to have clear weather and went up the Salève mountain where this time we walked farther than last time, to a view point and could see the Alps.

The rest of the time Laura was here we took a trip to Zürich. On Sunday (1. August) the weather was perfect and we took the Golden Pass Panoramic train to our destination. We had fantastic views on the lake leaving to go up the mountains from Montreux. The ride went through lush green meadows and passes (without the announced cows!)….the villages were picturesque and the more rugged peaks started an hour before Interlaken. There we had  a glimpse of the Jungfraujoch from afar-not as close as some advertisements of the train ride let us believe. So we went on to Bern. There we could admire the gilded portal (outside) of the cathedral and the many fountains of the city.

Cathedral in Bern (detail)

Eating Rösti and Flammekuchen was also fun. A big part part of the day was spend in the Paul Klee museum which this time had an exhibit of Klee and Picasso; it was interesting to contrast the two. We arrived in Zürich at our hotel, a Bauhaus building, at about 10 p.m. and were happy to get the corner room. Each room is dedicated to a Swiss personality or some one who is associated with it. We had  Othmar Ammann so I slept under a tunnel design and Laura under a bridge! (see photo)

On Monday we went on a short tour of the city (can be better explored by foot, which we did later) and then along the lake to Rapperswil. The guide pointed out the buildings and sites but later we were left alone in Rapperswil to take the boat back while the rest of the group took the tour to “Heidiland.”  Rapperswil was a cute town and we were happy the rain just started when we had lunch on the boat. The Alps were unfortunately hidden and we did not have the postcard view. In Zürich we went to see the Chagall windows at the Fraumünster and the Sigmund Polk windows in the Großmünster. The Chagall was impressive in its brilliant colors but the Polk ones were very unusual in its modern interpretations. A woman who worked there  gave us a private tour because we showed such interest! Then we were at Sprüngli’s for coffee time.

On Tuesday we took the train to St.Gallen since it rained and admired the famous baroque abbey and library. Both give such a harmonious feeling even though the decorations were “a bit much”! The town had some beautiful old houses and modern sculptures surprisingly popped up in various streets. The evening was spend back in Zürich at a Brauhaus with typical Swiss food.

St. Gallen Abbey

Wednesday we had the best weather and we had the five people needed for the “Into the Alps” tour. It was a 300 km tour with stunning scenery and a fantastic, knowledgeable guide. On the way he told us a lot about Swiss life and the love of tunnel building. Our first pass was the Brünig pass (1007m) with a nice view where we stopped for photos. Our first longer stop was for a self serve lunch at the Aare gorge. He gave us time to walk through it and picked us up at the other end. It is a very narrow  and impressive gorge where we walked on wooden balconies and through tunnels with the water dripping.

Then we drove on up the mountains to the Grimselpass (2165m) which looked like the top of the world . We could see a chain of mountains which often are obscured in the fog. Also it was an eery barren landscape with greenish rocks. Then we went down the valley and up again to the Rhone Glacier, another longer stop. We could walk into the glacier and admire its blue color inside. The Furkapass was another great view and coming down it was via a very narrow mountain road. This has been a great day in the Swiss Alps!

Thursday we went to the Kunsthaus in Zürich, a perfect day for it since it rained. Laura left the next day and memories about a great time together remain.

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Random Thoughts

As Sylvia was off to Zürich with our friend and near-neighbor Laura from San Carlos, I was left to my own devices. A chance for some intensive technical work (since you asked: designing so-called spin-rotators for the LHeC study).

A few weeks ago when Robin was here we saw a moving photo exhibit by Guillaume Briquet in Geneva along the Quai Wilson, showing what the area near the Chernobyl accident looks like today. Stark pictures of decay; of lost dreams, of a different world (it was still the Soviet Union after all). This came to my mind again one evening and I got onto the Chernobyl Wikipedia page. It will be 25 years next year when one of the reactor unit near Chernobyl blew up spewing a still somewhat unknown amount of highly radioactive material into the air, contaminating quite a significant area making it unfit for human habitation for the foreseeable future. Looking at some of the pictures in more detail I ended up on the website of a Elena Filatova, a website which apparently has existed for quite some time but which I wasn’t aware of. Living in Kiev she purportedly has traveled the contaminated areas with her motorbike and put lots of pictures onto the site. In some of them I recognised the same scenes as in the exhibit in Geneva. Together with her comments the impact is quite intense.

While there appears to be a certain controversy around the site and people claim the motorbike trip is not real, the sobering fact remains that things can and do go horribly wrong. With the emphasis on global warming comes a new look at nuclear energy, at least in the US. Maybe the decision makers would be well advised to not forget what happened 24 years ago. Imagine a place like San Francisco (or even San Carlos) having to be evacuated and becoming a ghost town… well, I cannot. The Chernobyl accident does not qualify as an unavoidable disaster, it is quite well known what went wrong and why and how to avoid such a situation. But there may always be a new scenario that one hasn’t looked at and that can play out… this is tough business. We all want our energy and comfort; are we prepared to accept the risks?

The Guillaume Briquet exhibit along a part of Quai Wilson.

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Sunflower Fields

Today just a small entry! On my Thursday walk on July 22nd with the CERN women it drizzled a bit so we were a smaller group than usual. Nevertheless we had a wonderful walk ( Only French was spoken this time so I could practise it!) and saw some of the sunflower fields that are blooming everywhere now. So here is a photo I want to share:

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With time running on and the end of our little adventure here in France/Switzerland no longer infinitely far away it hit us that we really should take more advantage of our closeness to the Alps. So on short notice we were able to get a room at our favorite hotel (Les Rhodos in Cordon; we wrote about it before) and spent a delightful four days there. We got a pass for the chairlifts and funiculaires near Megève and explored the mountains. I would hike them up and meet up with Sylvia (her knee wouldn’t let her hike all the way up) at the top station of the lift and we would then hike further from that post. Day one we explored the Rochebrune, walking all the way up to the top of Pré Rosset, cheering on some cows along the way and moving briskly since it was quite cool and threatened to rain.

On the way to Pré Rosset (Mt. Rochebrune)

Back down via the lift (who likes to walk on a downward slope??). Day two found us on Mont d’Arbois, up to Mont Joux. Spectacular views abound with a light lunch in a buvette in full view of Mt. Blanc.

The experience was dampened only a little by some kids racing a buggy across what was here a sort-of gravel road at break-neck speed with the roar to boot. We longingly looked towards Mont Joly, but it was too far and too late (that one was quite a bit higher than we were). On day three we were on Col du Jaillet, a lovely hike through the woods with occasional good views. This one felt different since the others were much more exposed (this is a well known skiing area, and skiing and trees don’t mix so the trees end up having to go…).

All in all I hiked up at least 2000 m, probably more, and all the running around left us satisfyingly tired at the end of the day and ready for a good dinner (which we got).

Evening view from our hotel

On the way back we visited Combloux, and the town of  Taninges; while we did not get the cheese we wanted (the factory was closed) it turned out to be quite a charming little place with a nice cafe to have a break. Jeoire has an interesting clock tower and it was our last stop before heading home. A most satisfying long weekend.

Town square, Jeoire

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