European Travels, August 1996
By: William R. Cotton

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8/8/96 - 8/21/96
This is my journal of adventures in Europe while attending the cloud Modeling Workshop in Clermont-Ferrand, France and the International Conference on Clouds and Precipitation in Zurich, Switzerland.

Aside from not having seat reservations on our Denver-Dulles leg and no evidence of my reservation on Lufthansa at check in, the flight to Frankfort was uneventful. Arriving about 0700 on 9 August, we conveniently found the train station at the airport and by 10:30 headed toward Zermatt, Switzerland. We had to make connections in Mainz-Basel-Brig-Zematt. The trains in Germany and Switzerland are clean, smooth, quiet, and amazingly on time. At Brig we caught the cog-railway train which wound up a mountain valley up to Zermatt.

Somewhat tired and bleary-eyed we reached Zermatt at 1630 called the hotel only to find out they had never heard of us. But, they had room and so we headed there. First we thought of walking there but fortunately decided to take another cog railway up-up some 2500 ft to a small train stop. There we found a sign that said Berghotle Riffelalp 10 minute walk. Fortunately our suitcases converted into backpacks, so we had a pleasant 5 minute walk.

After showering and unpacking we had an excellent French style supper along with a couple beers. The menu was set but they had fish for one course and offered me a second helping of fish in place of the meat main course. I was happy.

The small three-story hotel is operated by a husband and wife, with the wife doing the paper work and the husband the cooking and yard maintenance supervision. It is located on a small bench that overlooks that valley with Zematt 2500ft below. To the southwest is an open view of the Matterhorn, which we watched change colors during sunset.

Before breakfast, I took a small walk in the cool mountain air. Along the trail I met a small bull that appeared to be friendly. As I stood there watching him, he ambled my way. I scratched his ears and he licked the salt on my arms with his raspy tongue. When I returned to go back to the hotel he followed. The owners had electrical wire around the hotel, probably to keep the bull which I have dubbed "Ferdinand" out. A rope extended across the walkway. After I crossed the rope, I thought I had seen the last of Ferdinand--nope! He calmly stepped over the rope and followed me right to the steps of the hotel. Moral of this story: don't scratch the ears of a bull or he will follow you everywhere!

After a filling, continental-style breakfast, Vollie and I began a hike that ended about 9 hours later. We climbed along a switch-backed trail that started at about 7300 ft elevation and worked our way up the side of the mountain that faced the Matterhorn. At about the 9000 ft level the trail turned eastward where we had impressive views of glaciers flowing from the mountain peaks to the south. Alpine flowers were in bloom everywhere. Shortly we neared a cog railway station and the trails became packed with European and Japanese tourists.

We crossed the tracks and had a lunch of bread, cheese, and fruit that I pocketed from the hotel breakfast, against Vollie's wishes. We then debated on the return route. I wanted to go north along a trail that the map said was steep, while Vollie worried that it would be too steep for her. After encouraging her to check it out and she asked in German how the trail was and was comforted, we headed down. The trail was not much steeper than the upper (not the rock), part of the Horsetooth Mountain trail. We ended up at Grunelack (greenlake) where we found a little restaurant and had ice cream sitting on a deck in the sunshine. Then returned along a ridge trail through the forest to our hotel. I estimate we hiked about 16 miles that day and were pretty tired, especially Vollie since she had a bruised tow from kayaking a week ago.

Our supper was another French-style dinner in which the chef prepared a vegetable soup and a vege-mushroom pastry-thing that was out of this world. Along with a bottle of wine, it was a great supper! I really recommend the hotel Riffelalp.

After supper Vollie and took a walk in the setting sun and introduced her to Ferdinand. When he ambled over to me so did another young cow. The took of them began sparring with their horns for my affections, with me nearly in between. I decided with Vollie's urging to get the h@$# out of there! Sun set over the Matterhorn with growing cumulonimbi approaching.

After a night of heavy thunder showers, we awakened in fog. Following breakfast we caught the cog railway to Zermatt, then to Brig-Lausanne-Dijon-and finally arriving in Clermont-Ferrand by about 2030. We were in clouds and rain through much of Switzerland, but broke into scattered cumuli as we snaked our way through the French countryside. The views of the farm lands and small villages in France were nice but the trains were hot, rocky, and noisy.

Upon arriving in Clermont-Ferrand, Vollie asked directions and was told it was a short walk to the hotel. True enough, only 20 minutes if you walked the right way, but we got side-tracked and walked seemly around our hotel in the hot humid air, while being quite tired. We had a room reserved! So, unpacked and at about 2200 we headed out and got a pizza for supper.

Monday morning the workshop began with a lead off presentation by Hans Pruppacher. This was followed by overview presentations of each of the cases selected for model intercomparison. The Po Valley fog case was one that no one had selected to simulate. I think that it might be a good case to look at for his research as it has valley circulations and is well documented.

The organizers had set up luncheons every 12:00 to 2:00 for the five days on the workshop. I elected not to participate since I don't like big lunches. The feedback I got was the lunches were good but too heavy and with wine besides, made it difficult to function the rest of the afternoon. Lots of snoring in the afternoons!

I usually went jogging instead. Each time I went out I'd take a different compass heading to explore the city. With the exception of a small park across the street from the hotel, my runs were along sidewalks.

Monday evening we had an ice breaker with snacks and a local group provided chamber music. Since it was my fast day, I didn't participate in the snacks or drinks so can't report on their quality. You'll have to ask Tara Jensen how they were.

Every evening we formed a group and headed out to dinner. Sometimes with Zev Levin and Susie, sometimes with Graham, along with often six to eight others. Usually as one started out one collected more and more participants. The most interesting place was a catacombs-like restaurant with the area in which we sat, in the middle of old buildings open to the sky. Lots of trees and flowers in planters around and the food was good too!

Thursday was an off day since it was a national holiday. An organized bus tour of the surrounding Auvergne region was organized. This included viewing a castle, stopping at a village and touring and old church, visiting a park with a lake, and having lunch at a restaurant in a ski area. The lunch was intended to be a representation of classic local foods and included wine, a boiled, almost New England-type dinner of potatoes, cabbage, and a variety of pork sausages, wine, bread, wine, dessert, and wine. Fortunately, for those of us who couldn't handle the pork, they offered fish soaked in butter, or a vegetable plate. While touring the village church I visited a local fruit and vegetable stand and bought a basket of locally-grown strawberries. They had a unique flavor to me and were they sweet! They must have been picked ripe--a novel concept!

Our last stop on the tour was the Puy de Dome, one of a string of dormant volcanos in the area. There I watched 10 to 15 paragliders, in some case literally hovering within 30 feet of me while I sat on the grass. They had several two-seaters (if you want to call them seats) that they were selling rides on. I was tempted but if I was going to try one of those things I wanted a full-fledged lesson but could not find an English-speaking instructor to talk to me via trans-com. After watching them fly up close, I think I could do it without instruction. But I remember a few years ago in Switzerland watching several paragliders descending into a mountain valley in turbulence, swinging side-to-side in nearly 180 degree arcs. That didn't look like fun to me! The tour guide suggested that those of us who wished could walk down the mountain and meet the bus. Vollie and I, of course, volunteered and headed down the steep trail covered in loose gravel. Being a nice sunny day the views were just great.

Overall the workshop was well organized with adequate space for both the main presentations and breakout meetings in the different case study groups. The only negative comment I have is that there were too many presentations and not enough time allocated for discussion of the cases in the working groups.

On Friday noon the 16th (Aug.) Vollie and I walked to the train station where we began the long hot ride through the rolling French countryside. As we approached Geneva, Switzerland we meandered through the upper Rhone valley with cliffs on both sides and the river providing many scenic views. Upon arriving in Geneva we found out that we could get beyond Bern that evening and actually get to Interlaken. Originally we thought we would have to spend the night at Bern, but getting to Interlaken was great news since we could get to Grindelwald earlier in the day. We arrived at Interlaken about 10:30 PM, very tired. A taxi driver pointed out a hotel board and which ones were modestly priced. We found one on the first try that was within 5 minutes walk of the train station.

Awakening at 7:00 AM, we had breakfast and I walked around the neighborhood. I found a shop open in which I picked up some lunch items. Then we caught the 9:00 AM cog-railway train to Grindelwald. The train snaked its way along a mountain valley arriving in Grindelwald about 10:00 AM. After a bit of time locating our hotel, which was in a neighboring village, we unpacked a got ready to do some hiking. The weather again was just great! The hotel was small and modest in appearance; more of a motel than a hotel. It was situated along a busy highway with the railroad track about a 100 m behind the hotel. Our room faced east looking straight at the 4000 m Eiger mountain from our balcony. Beyond the railroad track running up the mountainside were numerous small farms and one camping platz.

Because it was now approaching 11:00 AM, I suggested we take the Gondola to a ridgetop and hike from there. Forty minutes later and some 4000 ft higher, we arrived at the ridge top. The gondola took us over farmland, then forests, and finally Alpine meadows. We then walked along a wide, heavily-used trail along the ridge line. There were lots of Japanese and European tourists meandering along the trail. The views, however, were spectacular from every direction. About 12:30 PM we headed off trail, away from the crowds and cows to have lunch. We opened a bottle of French Bordeaux, and had wine, cheese, and rolls. Vollie took it easy on the cheese and ate some sausage that I bought. It turned out the sausage was horsemeat! Little did I know. Vollie was a bit concerned about the poor horse, but found it tasty anyway. Sitting there in our shorts in the sunshine, drinking wine, looking and listening to the glaciers, and the paragliders soaring across the valley was just great.

After continuing along the ridge we began descending along a farmers access road instead of the more heavily-used trail. The road wound through pastures, then into forests. We stopped to pick blueberries for a while. The weather held out and was a bit on the muggy side, especially as we reached lower elevations. Very tired, we reached the hotel after a 4000 ft descent and about 14 miles of hiking.

As the sun set on the Eiger turning it pink to purple, we had supper of wine and cheese fondue. Paragliders one after the other descended into the valley even after it became quite dark in the valley. Some of them may have had 4 or 5 hour flights!

Awaking at 7:00 AM, we had breakfast and hiked along farm-access roads along the west side of the valley. Now these roads are nothing like one finds in Colorado. These are generally paved, but ascend with greater than 15% slopes. One really grunts while walking these hilly roads. At lower elevations there are many houses used for year-around and vacation use, but as we ascended we encountered mostly farm homes, and eventually just hay fields, barns, and pastures. It is amazing to see the amount of labor the farmers put in to collect hay on the steep slopes. Many still use scythes to cut the hay and then hand rake it down hill to be hand-loaded and unloaded from trailers or small trucks.

The green pastures are often surrounded by heavy-trunked trees that resemble some form of nut tree. All this with views of mountain peaks such as the Eiger across the valley, makes for one scenic landscape. After ascending about 1000 ft, we returned to our hotel, checked out, and walked to the train station. At about 11:00 AM we began the train ride toward Zurich.

Once in Interlaken, we took a standard Swiss rail which took us over mountain passes, through valleys, and into the beautiful lake region near Lucerne. Then we continued toward Zurich and the relief became less as we entered the valley in which Zurich and Lake Zurich is located.

Following Rolf Hertenstein's advice, I decided to not go directly to Zurich, but instead seek out a glider port just beyond the south end of Lake Zurich. After asking at a tourist information center in the valley, I got directions to the little village of Schanis (mit der umlaud over the a). The woman at the tourist desk called ahead to the train station to have a taxi waiting to take us to the airport. She said we wouldn't like it as there was nothing going on there.

We arrived at the gliderport only to find a restaurant, and a joint commercial/club glider operation with some 300 active members. The gliderport was situated in a valley with 2000 ft mountains extending above the valley floor on both sides of the valley. The closest mountain was facing west (it was about 4:30 PM when we arrived) and was a steep escarpment.

Tow planes included two rather sqautty-looking turboprops with about 350 HP. Boy, wouldn't we like to have that kind of power? The sailplanes were mainly Swiss-built single and two-place Janus fiberglass ships. They also had a nearly new Duo-Discuss.

Well, I helped a number of pilots move their ships into the hangar and after finding an English-speaking pilot mentioned where I was from and that I would be willing to pay the tow to get a flight in with someone. Nothing happened for a while, so I walked over to the restaurant where Vollie was hanging out. Just as I was about to order something, a pilot came up and said he would like to fly with me in the Duo-Discuss if I'd pay the tow (about 100 Francs). Would I, let's go!

So off we went towed by the 350 HP bumblebee. After takeoff, Horst, the Swiss pilot let me take it. Unfortunately, I couldn't see the tow plane at all from the rear seat except for a wingtip once in a while. I think you need to be Rolf's size to fly in tow from the rear of that plane. Naturally I felt I was pretty sloppy on tow.

Once we released I quickly got the feel of the ship and dug into a thermal along the escarpment face and climbed some 700 to 900 meters. Several single-seaters joined in on my thermal but couldn't keep up with the Discuss. That is one fine handling ship.

The mountain extended like a thumb out into the valley a ways, so with the altitude I gained we crossed a pass onto the far side of the mountain. Below there were hiking trails, and numerous picturesque Swiss farms on the hill sides. Below a small cumulus, we grabbed a weak thermal and I stuck to it for a while. Soon two single seaters joined us but quickly gave up. Views from there included not only the mountains but Lake Zurich to the north and another lake to the south.

We then toured around the tip of the thumb of the mountain returning to the side of the mountain we started out on. There I found another nice thermal, and banked hard into it. Hurst said I was a pro because every time he flew the Discuss he lost altitude. Likewise, I had as many as 5 single seaters in the same thermal, none of which could keep up with me. As Rolf also found out, the Europeans tend to bank less than we are accustomed to. Here I was with a two-seater, turning in thermals with a smaller radius than the single seaters. Great fun!

That Duo-Discuss is a sweet handling plane. I tended to thermal slower that Horst and never felt a buffet like I do in the Pik or the Grob 109B. Smooth as silk and up we went!

After about an hour (it was 7:30 PM at this time!) I said I'd better get back as Vollie might want to find our hotel before midnight. As we descended I picked up speed to about 200km/hour and with that speed she was amazingly quiet.

After landing several pilots offered us rides to the train station, but Vollie found a lady who had supper with us at the gliderport restaurant and then took us on a tour all the way to our hotel in Zurich.

That sure was soaring in style! Try it sometime. I think we need to put a restaurant with sun umbrellas, full course meals, wine and beer, out at Owl Canyon. Oh yes, a couple of Duo Discuss's, 350 HP turboprops, and a 2500 ft escarpment next to the airport would be nice too!

Our hotel in Zurich was in the older section of town not far from the river coming out of Lake Zurich and only a half mile from the lake itself. The streets are very narrow and in a plaza below the hotel is a fountain and young people often play music in the evening. Now this is all nice, but it gets a little old about 2:00 AM in the morning when trying to get some sleep. About 6:00 AM sharp the garbage truck comes buy making its noise, so that doesn't leave many quiet hours at the hotel.

I then attended the International Conference on Clouds and Precipitation (ICCP) through Wednesday. I won't fill you in on the details of that, much can be gleaned from the two-volume pre-prints which are available in my office. Social highlights included an ice breaker on the roof of the main conference building, again in great weather and a banquet on Wednesday night. I jogged at noon or just after the meeting ended along the banks of Lake Zurich. It was scenic, though very crowded and hot and humid. Vollie and I took a walk one noon to a very nice botanical garden and on the way back we stopped at a school for vegetarian cooking. They served lunches on a roof garden terrace. So, after searching around we found our way up, and as it was 1:00 PM, the remaining customers left. Here we were on this roof terrace having a fantastic Indian-style lunch all by ourselves!

The banquet was scheduled for Wednesday evening at a large restaurant. Traditional Swiss music and yodeling were part of the planned activities. All I knew was the banquet started at 7:00 PM. but I didn't find when the bus was to pick us up until that day. Now Vollie and Dee Thompson decided to drive into Germany to visit a furniture factory near Basel. I told Vollie to be back by about 5:30 PM to leave time to change and catch the bus. Another complication was that Greg (Dee's husband) hadn't purchased tickets and decided to try to get them on Wednesday if they were still available. So, Dee didn't even know if she was going.

At 6:10 PM, no Vollie or Dee. I immediately got a call from Greg asking if I had seen them. Nope, but I will leave Vollie's ticket in the hotel which had a map including taking train number 13 to the end of the line. I also informed Dee that she was going to the banquet. I hiked up the hill to the university where we were crammed like sardines in a very hot (no AC) bus for a ride to the restaurant. Once inside Greg and I reserved seats for Vollie and Dee. After some music they served salads and we had Vollie and Dee's places served. About 8:00 PM they began picking up salad plates so we kept asking them not to pick theirs up. Shortly after 8:00 PM they arrived and I got everyone at our table to clap when they came in and Vollie ducked back into the cloak room. Well eventually they got served a Stroganoff-like main course and things went well from there.

It seems their trip to the factory and back to near Zurich went reasonably well. Entering Zurich during rush hour is something else! The autobahns are great but it seems the Zurichites have not agreed on pathways for autobahns through the city, so one is dumped on bumper-to-bumper traffic with lots of light, etc. About 6:30 PM they reached our hotel after dropping off the car, got my directions, changed, and headed for the train station. Just as they arrived train #13 started pulling out. What a bummer! But look, here comes another #13. They jump on and at the end found out they were not where they were supposed to be. It turns out this was a special train that only runs occasionally. So, they had to backtrack, and then get the proper #13, finally arriving very tired and frustrated.

Arriving at the "quiet" hotel about midnight, we packed and at 4:45 AM woke up, trooped to the train station and headed to Frankfort. I had to leave the meeting early because I couldn't get weekend reservations and I have a 8:00 AM Monday class. Arriving in Frankfort about 10:30 AM, we then waited for our 1:30 PM flight and arrived at home about 10:00 PM very tired after about 25 hours in route.