Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Miss Swiss Miss

I just got into Switzerland and boy are my arms tired. My arms aren't tired from flying or anything ridiculous like that. People can't fly, that's crazy. No they were tired b/c I think I slept on them wrong on my plane ride into Zurich. And for those of you that are confused because my last blog entry was in Chile, don't be. A lot of stuff happened and then I got to Switzerland. End of story. Well not the end of the story at all, but I'll get back to it later I hope. But in the vain hope to stay current we are now in Swiss territory.

Zurich is one of the most tidiest, cleanest cities I have ever seen. It's streets are so clean you can eat off of them, and in fact one time I almost did since my bratwurst hit pavement. I hope they are paying their street-sweepers six figure salaries though, because it is also one of the most expensive places I have ever been. Single espresso? 4 dollars. One hour of internet? 7 dollars. Towel rental from a hostel? 5 dollars!?! I'll dry with toilet paper thank you.

I stayed about 3 days in the city and on the last day I ran across some Ivan Valin worthy research along the canals of the city center. Apparently the canals in Zurich are clean enough to swim in, as a young Swiss job-skirting population jumps into the fast moving canal and drift/swim down a ways. Then get out, walk and chat up to the put in point, and do it again. Nestled along the sides of the riverway (is that a real word?) are fences to lock bikes in, and plenty of hard deck surface to lay out in towels on. Volleyball courts, beer stands, diving boards, and one chain-smoking lifeguard all come together in the middle of the city to do the water equivalent of frolicking. Sadly it was my last day and my trunks were packed in a trunk in the hotel, so I left Zurich arid but sweating to go to the smaller town of Chur to the east.

Fact about Switzerland:
There is no standing army, men between the ages of 21 and 32 are given a gun and 24 rounds of ammunition to keep at their homes and undertake a few days to weeks of training a year. Then after discharge they go into National Guard service.

That is in no way relevant, but thought it was interesting. Chur. Its a pretty small city (pop. 32000) in a flat valley flanked by two tall mountains on either side. Located in the Swiss canton of Graubunden on the eastern side of the country, its being used as my home base as I try to seek out some zumthor work as well as the small small town of Vrin (pop. around 300) a train's throw away from Chur. Vrin is home to the work of Gion A. Caminada, where he has done many notable projects in the tiny town with local labor and materials.

To get a better feel for the town that is to be my home for the next week, I decided to take a hike up the mountain to get a better look. I didn't really consciously make the decision to go on a hike, but having just gone to the grocery store and buying peanut butter, jelly, bread, and tuna, I didn't really have any alternatives. Before I knew it I was crossing a road with rather fast moving and quick reacting car traffic in order to find a breach in the fenced in fortifications at the base of the mountain. Eventually I stumbled on what could be a trail, but since there were only markings with no words, I couldn't tell if it was telling me to stay out or go in? What would you think if you saw three horizontal bars stacked on top of each other with 2 white and one red in the middle? Feeling in an optimistic mood, I took it as an invitation and ducked around the nearby house to start scrambling. After a while the broad 6 foot wide trail became lazy, washed out and became a 6 inch wide overgrown footpath. I eventually made it to a place where they had been doing some recent logging and was interested in some of the improvements they had made in their infrastructure.

For preventing drainage in their gravel roads, they used sections of old railroad ties buried in the earth with concrete on either side to not allow for shifting. The trough in the middle was left open so that water could spill out harmlessly and the railroad metal meant that it would last a very long time. In other locations, where there were replanting efforts going on, the bottom of the fence pole was burned, presumably to keep termites from eroding the wood.

Back in the hostel now and ran across some interesting research conducted by "New Scientist" magazine. They were attempting to find where the "Most Remote Place in the World" was. Before Stephen Loicano has an aneurysm, I think Antarctica was discounted in the search, so it mostly deals with the other continents. But it discounts air travel and looks at how long it takes to travel somewhere by land or water from a city with the population of 50,000. From their research it looks like Tibet is the "most remote place on earth", with one location taking 20 days of hiking and one day of car travel to get there. To be really honest I think they should have included air travel, but then it wouldn't have been as interesting.

Also found two other interesting terms. A "pole of inaccessibility" marks a location that is most challenging to reach owing to its remoteness from geographic features that could provide access. "Point Nemo" is the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, or the place furtherest from any land mass at 48 52.6 S x 123 23.6 W. "Ultima Thule" in medieval geographies was meant to denote any distant place located beyond "the borders of the known world". Looks like I'm heading to Tibet...

Thoughts on Traveling #20 : It is impossible to win staring contests with young children. Yet they have no patience. It makes no logical sense.

1 comment:

Nick Sowers said...

it looks like Greenland is more remote than Tibet. Does that make Tibet more of an island? There are old military bases in Greenland too. Maybe I should cover that, and you take on Tibet. We'll meet in Antarctica.