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22
Jun 22

Pick up some books

And how was your summer solstice? The day was 14 hours, 55 minutes and 28 seconds here. And there’s always that guy who just can’t wait to point out that the days are doing nothing but getting shorter until December.

Around here? We hate that guy.

But we love the long days. If you stepped outside last night at 10:19 and looked west, moments before nautical twilight, it looked like this.

No camera tricks, no Photoshop treatments. That’s just the view after 10 p.m. in June.

If I ever say anything here is better than that, I am, in fact, making a secret, coded cry for help.

Since we talked about books last, I have recently finished you might be interested in. First was The Last of the Doughboys by Wall Street Journal reporter Richard Rubin.

In the earliest days of the 21st century Rubin started interviewing the surviving military veterans from World War I, all of them centenarians. He wraps his interviews around rich context about the Tin Pan Alley music of the era, and his own tours of France and a general historical overview.

Those stories are as uniques as the men and women’s experiences. Some of them colorful and sharp as they were in 1918. Some of the details had become foggy over the course of their long lives, as you might expect.

Some parts of the book are about some of the other parts of their lives. None of the people Rubin interviewed were a part of this experience, but that was up to chance and good fortune as much as anything.

I knew this particular story, but it is always surprising to think about it in the full context.

The crux of the book are those interviews, though, and memorializing those last veterans’ experiences. Rubin, in fact, had the chance to meet the last American survivor of the Great War. All of that is in the book. It’s a worthwhile read.

Now this one, Longitude by Dava Sobel. This book was a surprise hit, even for the author. She saw it go through 29 hardcover printings, translated into more than 20 languages and become a national and international bestseller. The 10th anniversary edition includes a pretty special foreword by Neil Armstrong.

Granted, the idea of a book about longitude seems like an important one. But it also seems like a daunting tome. How do you write an interesting book about invisible lines on a map? Sobel is about to show you. First, just enough of the technical to explain what she’s talking about, and why this is all so important.

And so now you know why this had been a problem for generations, and why the search for a solution was so important. As the book gets into that it quickly becomes obvious, even to land-lubbers, how most of the success of those pre-longitudinal sailors was about luck with skill. How anyone got to where they wanted to go before their supplies ran out is a mystery.

Then, we meet the people.

For whatever reason, when I opened the book I expected this to be a dense read, but, to Sobel’s great credit, it’s just about the most approachable text you can imagine. Give this a read, you’ll be pleased and surprised.


21
Jun 22

Extra travel photos

You thought we were done with that amazing vacation, didn’t you? The first rule around here is my site, my rules. And the second rule is use all the photos you can.

The third rule is rub it in if you can (because you’re back at the house and in the office anyway).

So a few more pictures to get through today, all of these from the return portion of the vacation. And then, after that, it’ll get normal here again far too quickly. (Because the fourth rule is indulge in normalcy, and pad your content with routine matters.)

There are, it turns out, a lot of rules.

We saw this at the bakery just outside of our hotel, where we had a nice little quiche breakfast before heading to the trolley to get to the train station to ride to the airport to take a tram to get on a plane to fly to the U.S.

You need a quiche to fortify you for such logistics. Anyway, we saw this, and I have no comment.

I just read that the EU (Switzerland isn’t a part of the EU, but does participate in the Union’s single market) produces about a million metric tonnes of strawberries a year. About half of them are from Spain, Poland, Germany and Italy.

I imagine they all look as gorgeous as these.

At the airport, we saw perhaps the most useful, tasty chocolate that’s ever tempted you.

Useful, that is, until you eat some key part of the map.

Nearby, this stack of fudge. I wonder how long that’s been there, if it’s still edible or if it was made in some special way just for longevity in a display box.

This guy was flying the planes.

You better not be my pilot, Herr Lego.

He was not. Just your regular human people sitting in chairs up front while the plane flew itself. Zurich to New York and, after a reasonable layover, on to Indy. We saw our first sunset in the U.S. in two weeks. Call it Pennsylvania.

Looks like Pennsylvania, right? And that looks like the end of that trip to Paris, Normandy and all over Switzerland. Now, back in Indiana, we wonder where we’ll go next.

(This week’s early idea is the Caribbean.)


20
Jun 22

Happy anniversary to us

Take your time.

We were standing in the heat, in Savannah, where we’d taken our first trip, across the street from our tree and the place where we’d gotten engaged. Everyone was sitting outdoors on the hottest weekend of the summer — you shouldn’t reserve a space in August, I figured, because people would melt — so they melted for us in June, instead.

The story’s setting is really about the place and being our place, but the story is always told and remembered for the heat.

My uncle is standing beside me. He and I are waiting until The Yankee comes down the aisle on her father’s arm. She’s smiling to light up the world. I can see that smile even now.

We’re in front of everyone and, ever since, I’ve thought, it would have been nice to say something profound and special to her parents. How do you say in a whisper, in a moment, that you’re going to spend all of your time watching out for their daughter and trying to make her laugh? Not that she needs that, because she’s amazing. They know that, of course, because they raised her and watched her, and they were beaming with pride. That they were beaming with pride seems exactly why you should have that thing to say. I still kick myself for not being smart enough to figure that out, and not being cool enough to deliver in that moment.

My uncle delivers. He’s got this lovely little service, and it is just about perfect. I’ve heard him preach a little, but he’s a church singer. I can pick out his voice in a church full of singing people if I’m standing in the back of the room. He’s a good and kind and patient man, and, there, on such an important day, he was putting words to thoughts about what I’m supposed to do with all of my days to come. Almost all of our two small families are there to hear it, and the fullness of that remains as important as anything.

She says a part and tears up a little and I whisper something about taking her time. Like she needs this advice. This is one of the strongest, smartest people I know and this platitude is silly even as I say it, but there’s no rush here. Not really. It’s hot, sure, but there’s no rush. There is rushing aplenty in our lives, a lot of rushing that day even, but this is a moment to be empowered and encouraged and emboldened. Do it your way. The fans aren’t moving any air, anyway.

You may kiss your bride, and I did something funny and people giggled and then the ceremony was complete. We had a lovely dinner sitting at a long, long table. We took more photos, including this one, and the festivities continued long into the night.

And they continue still! The festivities continue on with adventures, at home and abroad, and with the people who care for us. They carry on in all the big moments. And they absolutely continue on in the even more important, little, pleasant and predictable parts of life, which was the sort of day we planned today.

Thirteen years of laughter. Take your time.


17
Jun 22

Thun, Interlaken

For this Friday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. Enjoy the photos that tell the tale of this amazing adventure, which brought our wonderful vacation, sadly, to a close …

Don’t tell anyone, it is a secret, but we found our next house.

To be honest, we weren’t on the market, not really, but they say when you know, you know. You know? So come get to know Schadau Castle. It sits on the south side of the Aare, a tributary of the High Rhine, and just off Lake Thun. It is on the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance as it was built between 1846 and 1854 according to the plans of Pierre-Charles Dusillon in the Gothic Revival style, for the banker Abraham Denis Alfred de Rougemont.

Inside there’s a restaurant and the Swiss Gastronomy Museum, but those might be moved under the new ownership. And sure, this might seem a little rash to you, but we saw this sign, and we were inspired by Mach.

We’ve completely glossed over the word “was.”

Anyway, outside the Schadau Castle the views are terrific. This is Lake Thun.

And, in the background, you can see Stockhorn, which is in the Bernese Alps. From The Stockhorn’s summit at 7,190 feet you can dine, hike, and see many of the surrounding Alps and the valley of the Aare River and, of course, this lake.

This one is either Niesen or Morgenberghorn. (You’ll have to forgive me I’m doing this from maps and as a lifelong resident of foothills, coastal plains and … it is apparently called lowland hills where we live now … I am not an expert at mountain ID or distance estimation of Very Large Things.)

Let’s assume it is Morgenberghorn for a moment. The Swiss tourism site tells us the summit is at 4,068 feet, it’s a 6.2 mile route “for ambitious hikers.” And it’ll take you about six hours to get to the top, but you get great views when you’re there. I found an accomplished adventure hiker’s review of Morgenberghorn. He said “This route is a little tricky and there are a number of parts where you need to use your hands to climb. Chains are installed in most sections of the trail where you need to use your hands. I never felt unsafe or exposed … I’d only go for this hike if you are up for a bit of a challenge. In addition to the chains and rocky path, it is also 1300m of incline over 7km so you are doing some considerable incline to reach the summit … Solid day on the legs.” I think that’s probably Morgenberghorn.

But let’s assume, just for a moment, that the above is Niesen, because I just learned about something amazing there. Niesen tops out at 7,749 feet. This mountain boasts the longest stairway in the world, with 11,674 steps. It is only open to the public one day a year, for a stair run event. We missed this by a week!

The age group podium for the women was a 43-year-old who won in 1:15:20. Her chief rival, a 50-year-old was just 34 seconds back. We are presently enthralled by Doris Oester, the third place woman in the older age division (they seem to draw the line around the 42-year-old range). That more mature age group beat all of the younger women, so the third place woman third of all the women. And her time puts her at 30th in the overall.

Also, Doris Oester is 70 years-old.

She won this race in 2011. In 2016 she finished second. (She was two-and-a-half minutes faster this year than in 2016.) We are big Doris Oester fans.

For the men’s age group, a 42-year-old got up all 11,674 steps in 1:06:24. A 43-year-old was 1:33 back from the winner. And a 49-year-old man took third place with a time of 1:08:39.

But I digress.

Look who’s considering dipping her toes in Lake Thun.

… Still thinking about it …

… Considering running up all those stairs next year …

One foot in. She says it is cold. I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.

And wading out to her hemline.

Excellent use of the selfie stick there, as I stayed on the shore, warm and dry, to take these photos.

We discovered the surfers at Flusswelle Thun. There were six surfers out there on this Friday. When it was your turn you grabbed that ski rope and worked your way over to the spot where you see the guy surfing here. If you made it into that pocket it seemed that you could stay until you got bored, or made a silly mistake. This guy was actually standing on his board, gesturing and talking with people passing by on the bridge.

In the late afternoon we caught another train to visit Interlaken one more time. There were a few chocolate stores to visit. Here are a few of the sites from Interlaken, and the train ride back to Zurich.

This train ride took us back to Zurich. You probably don’t think of a train ride as an activity — I wouldn’t, ordinarily — but these views.

I came all the way to Switzerland for this photograph, I just didn’t know it until it flashed by.

Yes, that will be in the rotating banners on the top of the site soon.

Lake Brienz seems like a great place to go sailing, or to take a walk.

Mountains coming right down to a body of water will never not be impressive.

One more image for those sailors-at-heart.

And for those preferring a more pastoral foreground, with twin mountains in the background, here you go.

Switzerland is a beautiful place. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit. And I thank you for your indulgence in letting me stretch out vacation photos for two weeks here. Next week, we’ll start getting back into the normal routine on the site, much of it consisting of trying to answer the question “Where are we going next? And when should I start packing?”


16
Jun 22

The world’s steepest cogwheel

For this extra Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. Enjoy the photos (and the two videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

In the last post we went to the top of Mt. Pilatus, a journey which took a bus, and two separate ski lift cars to get to the long, winding stairs that wound around the top and, finally, showed us the summit at 6,949 feet.

When you’re that high up, how do you get down? Well, this is the Golden Round Trip, so you do something a little bit scary and superlative.

You ride in the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. The gradient is, at one point, 48 percent! The steepness was a cost-saving measure from when the railway was built in 1889. The system was a special design because engineers worried the steepness would make the gear teeth jump. Most of the railway, in fact, is that original hardware.

The cars were steam until the 1930s, and these went in over the course of the ’70s. The spare controls are a giveaway. This is all that keeps this descent under control.

New cars are going in right now, and the upgrades will be completed in 2023. As for this day, I like to think that the engineer was a bit nervous about all of this.

This is the track he was peering down. His car travels from 5-7 miles per hour.

The descent takes about half an hour, and I’ve got three minutes of highlights for you here.

And here are two shots of the rock faces from the cogwheel car’s descent.

I must say, I enjoyed that an awful lot more than I thought I would. It was a unique sort of experience, to be sure.

I wonder who’s been up and down the mountain on the cogwheel car the most.

Near the end of that video, you caught a glimpse of a boat coming ashore. That was our next stop, and how we wrapped up the Golden Round Trip — aerial cableways and gondola to summit Mount Pilatus, world’s steepest cogwheel railway and, finally — a beautiful ride on Lake Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s largest lakes.

And here are two views from on the lake.

It’s difficult to believe, and more than a little sad, that our vacation was coming quickly to it’s end. After the boat ride it was back on the bus, and back to Zurich. There was dinner (we had barbecue, hipster-almost-Texas barbecue) and got ready for one last day of fun.

But you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out what we did. (It’ll be worth seeing.)