Visit from friend Laura

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.


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.

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:

In the Mountains yet again

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

Time to Experiment

Last week we had our first experimental run with the crystal I talked about a couple of months back. The crystal we used was installed in the SPS, the “Super Proton Synchrotron”, which with 6 km circumference was the largest machine at CERN before the LHC (then LEP) was built. It’s claim to fame is finding the “W and Z Bosons”, unstable particles that mediate the so-called weak interaction. Finding these particles provided the underpinning of the “Standard Model,” our present theory of particle interactions, and netted CERN a Nobel Prize. In accelerator physics and engineering, it demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to build high-energy proton-antiproton colliders with sufficient rate of particle collisions to do real physics with (not everybody thought this was going to work). Nowadays, besides providing beams for the LHC it has its own experimental program, our crystal experiment being one of them. In the experiment we managed to bring the crystal close enough to the beam that clearly the deflected particles were observed, and our equipment worked well. I had one detector from SLAC (we used it in PEP-II) installed for a test, and it performed well also. Our next goal will be to show that the crystal can have a useful application in removing beam particles that will get lost anyway in a controlled fashion, thus reducing beam loss around the ring. Beam loss distributed around the ring is bad because it creates radioactivity and makes maintenance difficult.

A section of the CERN SPS with some of our equipment in the foreground. The blue and red devices further back are accelerator magnets. Note the gentle curvature of the ring in the distance. The beam comes through the round pipe visible in the foreground.

Visit from Robin

So in July we get a visit from our younger son Robin. We (Sylvia and Robin) met in Cologne at the house of the Schiller Family and spend three days there. Robin cooked for us and we were happy that Tata, released from the hospital, could join us for the evening meals in the garden. It was super hot, though. I took Ana and Robin to the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and we all really enjoyed the pop art. Afterwards we went shopping for music and had a delicious lunch in front of the cathedral. Another highlight for us: Ele had gotten us tickets to hear Al Jarreau, what a stage presence and voice that man has! An unforgettable evening.

Ele, Ana, me and Robin before the Al Jarreau concert.

Sunday and Monday, by then back in Ferney Voltaire and the weather sunny and steaming hot, we decided to go to the Alps with Robin. This time we went up to Montenvers and visited the ice cave in the glacier. It was lit up in Disneyland fashion but quite fun and nice and cool. The scenery was just as spectacular as last time as was the food our host at Les Rhodos cooked!

View of a section of the Mer de Glace glacier.

On Tuesday we met Uli for lunch at CERN and enjoyed the outside “statues”, decommissioned accelerator and experiment apparatus that could be inspiration for modern sculptures.

Robin & Uli underneath the bubble chamber used for many experiments at CERN until 1983. No, it is not a starship!

Uli had to leave for Chicago for a meeting so Robin and I had a few days alone. It was very hot but we did go to Geneva, looked at the excavations under the St. Pierre Church (cooler!) and tried to find air-conditioned cafes. In the evening we had a treat: It being Bastille Day there was a huge fire work display at the Voltaire Castle. Baroque music, instrumental and vocal, was played to a magnificent fire work with lots of gold and red white and blue displays.

Thursday we took the train to Lyon and this time opted for a boat tour on the Rhone and Saone. It was pleasant to have a breeze. Before we had lunch at a fabulous restaurant. I ordered what I thought was “meat”, but I ended up with a kidney dish. So much for my French! The restaurant was very accomodating and let me change my order even after I tried the kidney. We ended the day at the Halles de Bocuse, shopping for some spices.

Friday we went to Montreux to the Jazz Festival. We had a nice dinner at the lake and then went to see Quincy Jones’ line up for music, about 3 hours. Herbie Hancock would have been the next 2…3 hours, however, after standing almost 3 hours for the first set we had to catch a late train to get to our hotel, so we only saw Herbie Hancock play one piece but missed his set (Imagine Project). Too bad!

At dinner in Montreux

On the weekend Uli was back and we spend Saturday on the balcony chatting and eating Robin’s cooked meal and drinking a wine from 1998 he chose (and paid!) Sunday we went to the History of Technology Museum, which was in one of the many 19th-century villas around here. Monday Robin left to visit the Wünsche family in Mainz before he flew back on Wednesday.

Like with Joshua and Kim it was sad to see him go but we are grateful for the good time we had together.

Music in the Mountains

We needed an excuse to disappear into the mountains, given that the temperatures here in Geneva were about to hit the 30s (and that is centigrade) and humidity here is higher than we are used to from the Bay area. The excuse was found when I heard in the radio France Musique about the “Festival du Baroque au Mont Blanc“, which apparently is already in its 13th year. Sylvia found us a nice hotel and we got tickets to a concert in the “Eglise Baroque de Cordon” and off we went on Saturday, the 3rd of July.  Cordon as it turns out provides splendid views of Mont Blanc and its surroundings, besides its apparently quiet well know eglise. We hiked in the afternoon for only a short time  because of the impending daily rainstorm. After dinner we attended the concert: “Il Pastor Fido” by an unknown guy named Chedeville, who attributed it to Vivaldi in order to get it published. It was performed in the splendid baroque surroundings of the eglise, with people in costumes attending to the visitors as they lined up. The next day we took the tramway up to Nid d’Aigle, a popular spot to begin the Mont Blanc ascent (no, we did not!). Grand views of the nearby Bionnassay glacier, and beautifully cool temps.

On the way down intermediate stop at Col de Voze. Sylvia took in a lot of pictures of the alpine flora. The train has been there for a long time, and I guess it shows: When it approached from higher up, Sylvia could see flames shooting out of the roof of the train we were about to board for the trip back to the valley. Hmm…!? Well, two employees of the train company did scale the roof and eventually it was decided that our train wasn’t track-worthy and we were unceremoniously moved onto the other train that, about to go up one more station, got rerouted to go down instead. Those who wanted to go up I guess were offered their money back….??

The hotel Les Rhodos turned out to be really nice. The host is also the chef and has worked in Paris, we got to enjoy his art twice at dinner. In fact, the hosts were very nice people indeed, and we got to practise our French quite a bit talking to them and the other guests. All of it in full view of the Massif Mont Blanc and the Aravis mountains.  We definitely want to come back here!

Every Thursday there is an offer to join a two hour walk in our surroundings with the walking club of the CERN women. There are three levels but due to my knee injury I am happy to stay with the more level walks! Thea, our leader, always choses some nice hikes. The first one had a lot of variety  starting out at one of those picturesque French villages, passing by some vineyards and pastures with golden grain. Later we had a chance to cool off in the forest. There we also discovered a pond with wild water lilies and poppies a la Monet at the end of the walk gave color to the countryside.

Another  hike I went on went along a small river and through a forest. It was less level then last time so we got some exercise. Since the temperatures here have been rising (up to 38°C) an “all forest walk” was a good choice. Half way through we stopped for a snacktime and opportunity to all be together. Our group membership is about 40 but on average at  each hike  8-12 people join. The nice thing is you met all sorts of people on those walks and I got to also talk some French.

I was back from Germany  (having been there for Tata’s birthday) just in time for Uli’s birthday. Mani joined us in the Saturday celebration, in fact his birthday was a few days before so he got to celebrate also. The day was sunny and the view great so we decided to go to the Salève mountain near Geneva. A gondola took us up the steep cliffs, and we had a self-serve lunch overlooking the city and the Jura on the other side. The meadows were abundant with flowers and after a small hike we could also admire the Alps. The most interesting thing, however, was to watch paragliders get ready to take off and float in the sky. The yellow, bright red or orange sails were a beautiful color spot set against the background of  the bluish-grey city and deep blue Geneva lake. Some people took off in pairs (usually one student and teacher), some were alone and did dizzying acrobatic spins. We spend a long time admiring these brave people!

Paragliders taking off from the Salève Mountain

Coming down we decided to go to Annecy for dinner. It was a mild evening and in the narrow picturesque streets of the old town were lots of street restaurants. We finally found a nice one with rustic decor and had a wonderful meal. It included champagne with sour cherries to celebrate the occasion. We arrived back at midnight and the “boys” were happy with their day. After all, they also celebrated having known each other almost 50 years…

The next day on Sunday we drove to Chezery-Forens in the Jura mountains. It was nice and cool to walk in the forest, and we ended up at a waterfall. It was more like a series of pretty cascades in the forest but we enjoyed the serene setting nevertheless. A coffee in the afternoon under an umbrella to shield off the afternoon rain was relaxing. In the evening we  gathered in the garden of our apartment complex. Their annual grill party happened and we enjoyed talking French and English as well as getting to know people of all nationalities that live in our  immediate surroundings.

On Monday Mani and I worked on a photo project, and after having lunch with Uli at CERN we all three drove around in the countryside and took some photos of the surroundings. Mainly this day, though, we spend enjoying each other’s company and chatting. Mani flew off in the evening and we still reflected on the nice three days we had together.

Being in Europe affords us a chance to catch up with friends we have not seen for a while. In this case, our friend Michael (who is also godfather of our older son) and his wife Kirsten worked hard to get us and Peter and Roswitha together for his birthday… we were students together in Mainz a long time ago (and the males were already classmates and friends in the Domgymnasium (high school)). This promised to be an interesting experience: we haven’t seen Peter & Roswitha for about 18 years. Would we still have anything in common to relate to given that we have been leading somewhat different lives? Would the time changed them? (has it changed us??) On the surface the question can be answered: I believe we all exhibited similar mannerisms and traits as we did when we were students (more maturity and life experience notwithstanding). Or were we just falling back into the old roles and habits (as one does so often, say, when visiting family)?? Of course, after such a long time the relationship needs to be somewhat built anew, which takes a while, longer than one afternoon/evening and morning. In any case we did have a great time, some reminiscing for sure yet we also did have lots of good discussions about contemporary themes (hmm, did that in Mainz too). The dinner they had arranged for was in a nice Gasthaus with typical food for the area and a great beer selection, just what we needed after a not-too-long walk through the woods. We were joined by Michael and Kirsten’s “kids” Paul and Ruth (who had visited us iin California a few years back). We were joined for dinner by Gerd Kossow, also of Domgymnasium fame. This weekend was a real treat. Hopefully it won’t be as long before we meet again (says he who will disappear to California again later this year…).


Three students, on the trail. (Wait! I am not that small! And that grey??) (Photo: Sylvia (we need to talk!))