July 28, 2019

Kunsthaus Zürich

If the weather had cooperated, I would have headed back to the Alps—but alas, the forecast showed nothing but rain.

The common wisdom I've heard is that “Switzerland is closed on Sundays;” but evidently that's an exaggeration. Shops are closed, yes; restaurants (and museums!) are open.

I spent most of the day at the Kunsthaus Zürich, which seemed (to me) to be a nicely curated collection of works by well-known artists (Dali, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh).

This painting stopped me in my tracks, and I wanted to know more.

Otto Baumberger: Mass (1936)
The accompanying text was in German. I turned to Google Translate for help, and what I got was lyrical:
In his picture, Baumberger shows unemployed people during the Geneva unrest of 1932. In front of the cold row of windows of an anonymous façade, he places people who all look the viewer in the eye. They are mostly men, but in the foreground, in bright red, stands a woman, beside her a boy. Distress speaks from these faces, deprivation justified hopelessness. The title of the picture makes it clear that it is not about individuals, but about the mass, the wall of distress that they form together. Following a Käthe Kollwitz, Baumberger wants to make his ears heard here with his art. In the exhibition, the work stands for the socio-critical impetus that was important to many artists of the time.
A haunting image that, sadly, speaks to the world of today as well as it captures the world of its time.

There were many pieces throughout the museum by Giacometti which I didn't really like—with the exception of this painting, which was in a very different style than most of his work.

Augusto Giacometti: Contemplation (1907)

There were surprises in store, works by famous artists that were unfamiliar to me—and so different from familiar works that I would not have guessed at their creators. From a series of bronzes by Matisse,

Henri Matisse: The Back I-IV (1909-1930)

to a soft portrait by Picasso.

Pablo Picasso: Seated Woman with Hat (1921)

I never expected to see a piece painted by a girl (!) in the 17th century, but here was a self-portrait by an abundantly talented Anna Waser.

Anna Waser: Self-Portrait at the Age of Twelve As She Paints the Portrait of Her Teacher Johannes Sulzer (1691)

People-watching led to my favorite moment of the day. There were many families spending an afternoon in the galleries. I smiled as I watched these moms talking to their children about a particular painting; the young boy got so excited that he ran to get a closer look.

I have not found children to be a common sight in museums back home, unless they've been dragged there on an educational class trip.

And home is where I soon will be.

Auf Wiedersehen. Until we meet again.

July 27, 2019

Zürich, Take Two

One tip for traveling overseas with a bike is to buffer the trip with a day or two on both ends. From Burgdorf I headed back to Zürich, where the airport would be a short hop away.

A hunch and a little investigation paid off: When my train arrived, I headed straight for the “Left Luggage” office. For a small fee, I checked my bike bag. Not only did I not have to haul it back and forth to the hotel, they would transport it to the airport—where I would claim it a short walk from the airline's check-in counters. [I could get used to this ...]

After settling into my hotel on Saturday, I went for walk (uphill, of course).

This was fresh territory for me, having climbed above the city on the opposite side of the lake on a previous visit.

The higher I rose, the more it looked like the countryside.

 The afternoon light was dramatic, with a storm moving in.

I remembered to bring my umbrella. Steam rose from the pavement after some showers—something I haven't experienced for many years, as the rainy season in California is winter.

If you take a close look at how steeply the street drops off in my photo, you can see why I was happy not to be cycling here. I saw a sign marking a 22% grade on one hill, but I'd bet this street is steeper.

People do cycle here, however; and the infrastructure is done so well. In the photo above, we can see that the placement for bikes is separately allocated for cyclists turning left and for those traveling straight; and the “stop” line for vehicles is placed behind the bicycle markings. That way the cyclists are fully visible, and not expected to squeeze into the lane-width with a motor vehicle.

Back in town, I found a nice view of the Grossmünster towers as I strolled along the Linmat after dinner. One more full day before I head home ...

July 26, 2019


I spent some time last night studying the map. I had half a mind to go out on my own, after yesterday, and plotted a course to follow a nearby section of the Heart Route.

But I resolved to get over it (yesterday, that is) and be social, instead. This would be our last ride of the trip, and the finale for our host after some 20 years of leading tours like this. Some folks in our group had been on his earliest rides, some had been on more than they could count. My first trip was eight years ago, and I reflected on how these friends had met and aged together. Twelve years from now, will I still be touring?

I made sure I was planted in front of the hotel well before our announced departure time.

Our host mentioned that there might be some steep sections. [Indeed.] We all did some walking when the grade hit 13% (and topped out over 19%).

I turned to Google Translate to decipher this caution sign. “Wood envelope” was the answer. [Um, I don't think so.] Try “lumber yard” (right around the bend). We were in logging territory.

The ride was going smoothly until we arrived at the place where we expected to eat, the Hotel Moosegg, where they were apparently not serving (or perhaps not serving anyone other than their guests, as the tables were set with baskets of croissants). We backtracked to the patio garden of the Gastof Waldhäusern, which was well-placed and welcoming to cyclists.

The butterflies and bees in their garden were busy with the blue globe-thistle.

We found another steep section, this one with just two tracks of pavement; we walked up (and down).

When we reached a freshly paved downhill, I took off. There was a nice big tree at the bottom where we found some shade as we waited for the slower descenders to arrive. It had seemed obvious to head straight down to the main road, but apparently our host had wanted to take a right turn before that. I was surprised, because I didn't see anything that looked like an intersection along the way (or I would have stopped).

And that, perhaps, was the genesis of the confusion that sent us astray. We turned right on the main road, and kept riding. South. Through Signau, which was one of the towns along the route I'd drafted for myself the night before. What was the plan, today? Were we heading for a return-by-train?

When we stopped for a photo-op at this traditional farm building, our host clambered right up to the second level. Unthinkable, this would be, in the U.S. [Trespassing!]

I do prefer the countryside, but it was evident that we continued to travel away from, not toward, Burgdorf. It was another hot day; we stopped at a fountain to douse ourselves with water and refill our bottles.

Approaching mile 24, our host said something about ice cream in the next town. And then the group splintered. One of my Garmin-equipped friends turned north, and three of us followed. Six miles later, on the main road again, we passed that tree where I'd waited at the bottom of the hill. [The other two continued their misadventure with the leader.]

We were eager to get back to Burgdorf, but took a brief break to admire a (busy) covered bridge.

On the outskirts of town, Burgdorf Castle was a welcome sight! We covered 41 miles and about 2000 feet of climbing; the others ... had a longer ride.

We had ample time to disassemble and pack our bikes, get cleaned up, and share our stories over one last dinner together.

These trips have made good friendships and good memories, despite the mishaps; I will miss all of that.

July 25, 2019


Gone in 30 seconds.

I was left behind.

At 7:55 a.m I left my helmet and water bottles on a table in the lobby, near the front door, like every other cycling day. People were milling about. Then I walked down to the garage to get my bike, like every other cycling day.

Just as I crossed the lobby with my bike, I saw last rider roll away from the front of the hotel.

Nine people didn't notice I wasn't there, which made me sad. I considered my options. Without a route plan, I had no hope that I would find them if I chased after them.

A few who weren't cycling sprang into action; one ran shouting after the group, but they didn't notice. Two phoned our host, who (luckily) answered and circled back.

When we caught up to the group, no one even said “I'm sorry.” Which made me more sad.

I kept to myself and right behind the leader, determined not to get lost. When there was uncertainty about the route and a rider asked my advice, I just shrugged. [You figure it out.]

After nearly two hours I broke my silence only when we rolled into Bern and a guy sitting on a bench playfully called out Tour de France, Tour de France! I replied Merci! with a smile.

We checked our bikes in the underground bike parking at the train station and walked toward—but short of—the Aare River. There had been much talk of the river, but there was only a quick view from a bridge as we entered town.

The city is a mix of the old and the new, clock towers and fountains and modern signs on buildings that have seen many shops come and go.

Imagine how many naughty children have been frightened by the Child Eater Fountain since it was created in the 16th century. As gruesome as any of the old fairy tales!

We stopped for a snack at a “pop-up” café. Run by a single person, we overwhelmed it. The group had split by then, but some non-cycling folks from our group joined us. Her four options quickly were reduced to three, only one of which I might have considered eating. Not the cheesecake. Not the horsemeat tartare. It was beet hummus or nothing. I had a ginger-something iced tea and regretted not carrying my own snack today.

I was hot and sweaty and hungry and thirsty and disappointed. In a word, cranky. I was not well-disposed to enjoying Switzerland's capitol city. We saw the parliament building, where some folks in black and white seemed to be staging an Abbey-Road-like photo shoot in front of the building.

We saw the Berner Münster (Bern Cathedral) and its ornate entrance.

But mostly we saw shop windows ... and nicer sidewalk cafés.

We walked back toward the train station, and our group of six was content to catch a train back to Burgdorf. I tried not to intervene, but finally gave up and pointed out which train and track we needed (lest we miss it). [Bravo, SBB app.] Our host tried to make it easier by purchasing all our tickets, but after waiting in (and leaving) the ticket office and struggling with two separate ticket vending machines, I didn't want to miss the next possible train.

When you travel with a bicycle on Swiss trains, you need a ticket for you and a ticket for your bike; the machines were apparently not cooperating and our leader bought only passenger tickets. Given that our group had been scolded (twice) on trains during this trip, I used the app to buy myself a bike pass. Just in case. [No one checked our tickets. This time.]

I'm guessing the other four riders had a better outing, as they were not yet back when we returned.

We biked only 19 miles, with 1,220 feet of climbing. I do prefer the countryside.

July 24, 2019


Two of us had a plan to escape the heat wave.

Three trains later, we were at the foot of the Bernese Alps, in Grindelwald.

It was all so simple with the SBB app. Plug in your destination, browse through your options, tap and get your ticket as a QR-style code. You'll see the platform for your arrival and connection, and you'll see where you are as the train is en route.

My friend had been here on a prior cycling trip and knew what we should do. We hopped on a bus that took us up the mountain to Grosse Scheidegg; given the time we had, we chose an easy hike above the valley to First, where we could catch a gondola back down to the road. Basically, it was this route (but in the opposite direction).

We made slow progress, stopping frequently to admire the vistas.

And the wildflowers!

It was an easy hike, but we picked up the pace as we approached First to ensure we'd get back down to Grindelwald in time to catch the train we wanted.

That said, mountains never to be trifled with. We passed a plaque in memory of an experienced local guide and two other men who lost their lives along this route in August, 2000.

The trail snakes along the slopes of the Schwarzhorn; in one section, there were still patches of snow.

Melting and flowing down the mountain.

We made it back to Burgdorf in time for dinner.

Not your average day hike, eh? [Well, unless you're Swiss.]

July 23, 2019

Affoltern im Emmental

Say “cheese!”

This wheel was set up for picture-taking, but if you look closely you'll see that it's (oddly) printed with images of two men in hand-to-hand combat. Significance lost in translation, perhaps.

Cheese-making is a messy business, as we witnessed at the Emmentaler (demonstration) factory.

The weather was heating up, and the haze and morning light spoiled our view of the Bernese Alps.

There were a few clouds above the famous peaks (Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau), but we could just barely see them.

Given our short ride (21 miles, 1,240 feet of climbing), there was ample time to explore a bit of Burgdorf afterward.

Despite being a modern building, our hotel lacked airconditioning (and fans). We cooled ourselves at the Museum Franz Gertsch, created to display his photo-realistic art. I was drawn to this painting, Gräser IV; but unless you are familiar with his work, you would not guess that it measures more than 9 x 14 feet in size.

Walking back to the hotel, we found a discount electronics store. “Do you sell fans?” my friend asked. Yes!!! Relief! Sleep! I have rarely been so excited about such a humble purchase. I assembled it, plugged it in, and bliss ensued. Two speeds! And it even oscillated!

After dinner, a few of us strolled through town and caught a magnificent sunset. Two of us hatched a plan to play hooky tomorrow. “You haven't seen the mountains,” my friend said. “Besides, it will be cooler there.”