Jun 22

The wizard as a crazy, younger, man

Just some quick Twitter stuff to fill your time today. We wrapped up the new Obi-Wan series tonight. The quick review: worth watching. I say that as a person who wants Disney to explore any other part of this universe beyond the Skywalker saga. But it is good and this is might be the one legacy deserving an exception. Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness always needed a fifth act and here we are.

One nice thing about this being on the app is that the whole catalog is right there. Watching the big dramatic confrontation in the last episode of the miniseries brought me here.

It was the walking Jabba version. And I think that, now, Greedo and Han fired simultaneously. I don’t care about that, not really, but purists do. I only have one strictly held Star Wars belief: the whole series is really only good when Han is on camera. (Much as it pains me to say.)

This could mean he’s forgotten, or he’s sand crazy or he’s lying. The latter doesn’t make a lot of sense based on the rest of Guinness’ arc. He doesn’t seem like he’s less lucid after all of those years in the desert. Similarly, forgetfulness doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I’ll blame the modern writing, here, for not being able to overcome the old Lucas writing.

You could make the same argument as I tried above about the way we’ve seen and thought about Guinness’ Kenobi. But we should also give Lucas’ writing a nod. It’s important to remember how cinematic storytelling can change over 40 years. We didn’t see the whole Kenobi-19-year-old-Skywalker dynamic. Maybe some off-camera things shaped Kenobi’s choices. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to Lucas, but as we know he’s doing a lot of homages here, so why couldn’t that be one?

Hayden caught a lot of grief for his Anakin Skywalker, but if you’re going to create the galaxy’s scariest monster there has to be some rage in there somewhere …

I suppose it is owing to the 1970s vision of the science fiction future in a time long, long ago. But doesn’t it seem odd that Kenobi spent all that time wandering about the Death Star without anyone seeing him? I hate myself for looking this up, but Wikipedia says that

According to Star Wars reference books, the population of the Death Star was 1.7 million military personnel, 400,000 maintenance droids, and 250,000 civilians/ associated contractors and catering staff. The Death Star was defended by thousands of turbolasers, ion cannons and laser cannons, plus a complement of seven to nine thousand TIE fighters, along with tens of thousands of support craft.

… and there’s not a bank of security cameras looking for old guys strolling around in robes?

Which leads us to the big confrontation, and where we stopped the movie, because … the outcome of the Vader-Kenobi confrontation on the Death Star.

Look, it has been 45 years. No one has been working on the Kenobi miniseries that long, but when they wrote the six-episode plot for the series they refreshed their memories of what happened here, and in that last prequel. Between all of that, and this new series, there is room for them to continue working.

So, again, worth watching.

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.)

Jun 22

Luzern, Mt. Pilatus

For this Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. We’re catching up, you see, so sit back, enjoy the many photos (and the two charming videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

We took what they call the Golden Round Trip, in this part of the world. This part being central Switzerland. We caught a bus tour out of Zurich to Luzern. It’s the most populous city in this part of the country, there are 82,000 people in the city, and 220,000 in the metro. We had a great lunch sandwich there, but it was just a quick stop in the round trip. The first feature being the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, which is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the Reuss River. The bridge is named for the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

The tower is a few decades older than the bridge, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later a municipal archive as well as a local treasury. Today, it’s a gift shop. The bridge was a city fortification. But, hey, you say, what’s that white building in the background?

That’s the Château Gütsch, built in 1879 and turned into a hotel, before being destroyed by fire in 1888. Rebuilt in 1901, the current version is inspired by a Bavarian castle. Today, it is owned by a Russian oligarch.

Back to the bridge, which contains a number of paintings that reach back to the 17th century. It felt odd that they were just … there … semi-exposed to the elements. The paintings depicted the local history. Many of the surviving 147 existed were lost in a fire in the 1990s, but 30 were restored and displayed once again for foot traffic. The Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

Like I said, we just stopped here briefly. We got a sandwich at a deli, where I had the world’s best panini, and where we saw these incredible treats.

It’s called erdbeertörtli here.

We took the first of two lifts. This first one was a 20-minute ride in a private car up and away from Luzern.

We met this guy at the stop waiting for the second lift.

The second lift took everyone in our little tour group, a thoroughly crowded affair, but everyone had an opportunity for a great view.

Then we moved through the lower level of clouds. That’s how high we were going. We were looking down on clouds.

And as we climbed higher the views got more impressive.

At the top we had a few choices. There are three peaks here, and two of them were open. We opted for the slightly more challenging, slightly higher one. Which meant that, despite taking two lifts, we still had to do a bit of walking.

The stairs wrapped all the way around the back of that little outcropping and beyond the photo’s margin. But at least they were sturdy and sensibly safe.

Up there, on Esel, we were rewarded for the effort. And, for a few brief moments, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Because people decided they’d seen enough and went elsewhere. I do not understand that decision. Anyway, here’s a bit of video giving you a quick tour.

These are the Swiss Alps.

It’s a splendid, glorious place.

This is another day trip that The Yankee found. Give her all the credit for bringing us to places like that.

If dragons live up here, like one of the legends says, I think they’re right down there.

Maybe the switchbacks on that path over there were carved into place by the dragon’s wings!

Anyway, get to the top of a mountain when you can, however you can. The time you have at the top is worth the planning and the burning leg muscles.

And here’s a time lapse video showing the clouds moving across the top of Mt. Pilatus.

Finally, this is the Golden Round Trip. There are two more parts of that experience, but I’m breaking this into two posts. The mountaintop experience deserved it’s own treatment, but so does what comes next!

Jun 22

Riding the Glacier Express

We took the Glacier Express, the world’s slowest express train, and enjoyed an afternoon in the Swiss Alps. Trains have been running here since 1889, the Glacier Express started in 1930, but the first panoramic trains, like the ones we enjoyed, have only been on these rails since 1993. The modern cars came in between 2006 and 2009, and they have all recently received a facelift. These are comfortable rides, and they offer three- and four-course meals. (The food was quite tasty …)

Otherwise, you sit back and enjoy the scenery. There are headphones with music and, from time to time, a narration with local points of interest and historical notes. We started in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest town. We traveled through the landscapes brought on by the last Ice Age landslides, and the “Swiss Grand Canyon,” past the oldest Benedictine abbey in the country, through valleys with towns that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, near UNSECO World Heritage sites and, finally, to Zermatt and the cloud-shrouded Matterhorn, which, on this day, was still able to hide despite topping out at well over 14,000 feet.

But why read about all that, when you can see a bit of video from the train window.

Here’s our train …

And a few photos for you to enjoy. There are a few words down below, so scroll slowly, or you might miss a pun.

Here was dessert. Locally grown berries. Fresh and tasty!

We paralleled this rive a great deal of the trip. The closer you get to it’s source, the richer and whiter the water becomes. It’s full of nutrients and minerals and, eventually, it is very drinkable. But too close to the source, and it’ll give you an upset tummy. No matter where you are in Switzerland, though, the water looks beautiful. And chilly.

Panoramic train windows.

And speaking of panoramas, here’s one now. As with every panorama, click to see the larger version in a new tab.

This is Oberalppass and, at 6,669 feet, the highest point of the train’s trip.

I get one good joke a day. And this is where I used it.

There was a place near Oberalppass where they let us off the train for a few moments. Some of the scenic shots in this part of the post are from there. The Yankee got back on the train before I did, and so I took pictures of the train, too.

Here’s our river again. Notice how the water is getting white? We’re getting closer to the runoff source.

And here we are in Zermatt, a car-free village you can walk through in a few minutes. It’s a charming place. And at the other end of the valley, behind these clouds, you would find the Matterhorn.

We didn’t get to see it. Oh no! We’ll have to come back! Shoot!

Shutter error. Looked cool. I’ve added it here.

We had dinner at a little Italian joint, Casa Mia, next to the train station while waiting for our return train. We ordered pizza. This is the Pugliese, featuring tomatoes, mozzarella, coppa ham, burrata, dried tomatoes. So very tasty. That burrata was amazing …

And here are a few photos from our train out of Zermatt. Just a regular-old train, no panoramic windows, but amazing views. And here I’m able to share a bit more of the gorge-style landscapes.

Also, we had our own train car, which was a great way to travel.

We had to make a connection, but our second train was late in arriving, which shifted our schedule back by about an hour. It was the only train problem we had in Switzerland, an event I noted with this extra photo from our stop between here and there.

And we have two more days of Switzerland adventures to get through. As great as this one was, the one I’ll show you tomorrow might have been even better. So make sure you come back for that. Until then, “Hopp Schwiiz.”

Jun 22

Visiting the top of Europe, Jungfrau

For this Tuesday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. We’re doing this to catch up, but also to make up for the brief break I took from the site. So, sit back, enjoy the many photos (and the charming little video!) that tells the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

We set out on a tour for The Jungfrau, one of the main summits of the Bernese Alps. It’s part of a massive wall of mountains, and a distinctive sight in the Alps. First summited in 1811, it was not until 1865 that a direct route up the northern side of the mountain was opened.

We’re going up there.

The construction of the Jungfrau Railway, in the early 20th century, made the area one of the most-visited places in the Alps. It is now part of an area designated a World Heritage Site in 2001.

Here’s a better look from the town below.

We took the hardest route of all: the bus route, which led us to a ski lift, and also that train mentioned above.

Oh, and they call this …

The proper summit is 13,642 feet. We stopped just short of that, which is probably for the best. I fell just before taking this photo, which was in a gift shop.

And here’s my lovely bride, realizing she’s stuck with a faller.

But can we go outside for a moment? Remember those lovely exterior shots at the beginning of the post? The ones with the beautiful mountain behind us? If you turned around the other direction, you saw this. Think about those views.

So we’re on the move here, let’s look at some other mountains, or hills, or Alpine speed bumps.

It wasn’t just me, struck by the novelty of the locale features, which is reassuring.

Here we are on the ski lift going up on the next step of the journey.

We’re just flying over these houses, and so you don’t know anything, but that doesn’t seem like a bad lifestyle from above, does it?

Putting aside the pastoral living, we’re really here for the mountains.

You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t see mountains every day, so I really played up the tourist bit.

And, yes, we’re going well above the tree line, and into the snow.

Here we are, on foot, approaching the tourism summit of Jungfrau. For a few moments while we were standing there we were experiencing a white out. (Somehow those are more fun on the last day of May? Again, the novelty of tourism …)

I’m not sure if she was prepared for snow.

But pretty much the entire time we were on the mountain, we enjoyed the snow. Farther down, on that ski lift, it was just rain. In the valley where we started this post, it was sunny and a mild spring day, all day.

This other prominent point of the mountain in the background isn’t far away, but in the clouds and fog and snow, it seems only barely there. Doesn’t help that there are actual snowflakes in our eyes.

This is one of the two observation points that were available to us near the top. Lots of people. Lots of photographs. A lot of people doing video chats with people back home. No one, but us, doing this.

(They were all impressed by us.)

At the other observation point, we claim this mountain for Switzerland! (Our presence, like the flag, was a big plus.)

Let’s go inside the mountain.

They call this part the Alpine Experience, and this giant snow globe is going to grow on you.

Had it not been for other people interested in seeing the thing I would have stood there until I shot every moving part. But sometimes tourists get in the way of a full, proper, tourist experience.

We walked down an ice tunnel.

Everything here is ice, except the lights and the handrail. Very James Bond.

I don’t know about you, but I seldom get to walk around in ice tunnels, so this was fun. Also, the acoustics were great. You’ll have to take my word for it.

There are several ice carvings through the area. Here’s just one.

The romantic story is that it was the nuns of the Interlaken convent (the town we started in at the beginning) who gave the mountain its name. They owned a lot of the pasture land at the foot of the glacier and the mountains. The rock faces seemed inaccessible and the nuns thought it jungfraulich, untouched and virginal. The signs say that’s not actually the case. The real story just sounds like a more natural evolution of language.

Welcome to the highest-altitude karst cave in Europe, at 11,423 feet.

The unsorted sediments seem to have arrived here by glacial displacement, or water. Dating has been a problem for scientists, but the research suggests we’re looking at mid-Pleistocene age accumulation. So we’re talking after the earliest documented human clothes, but earlier than human mastery of fire. This cave is inactive today, because the permafrost restricts cave-forming processes.

But if you’re not here for geology, you must be here for the chocolate!

That wasn’t the point of the day, but a nice benefit. We didn’t buy this bag; we just ate it right there in front of the cash register.

we actually enjoyed a perfectly healthy cucumber sandwich in the self-serve cafeteria, looking out to the mountain.

Also, if you go up this high, you will feel it. Drink a lot of water, our guide said. You’ll thank me, he said. Altitude headaches are real, he said.

He was right about that last one, at the very least. We’re at 2.25 miles above sea level there. In Zurich our hotel is at 1,330 feet. Our house is just over half that high. We were up there. It was great!

And Jungfrau is just one part of our amazing Switzerland adventures. Come back tomorrow. There’s going to be something that’s, perhaps, even more impressive!