It starts with a gentle nudge. The people standing on the platform begin to slowly slide backwards across your window. The rhythmic bumps quicken and the graffiti blossoms on the walls in the outskirts of the station. The tracks converge. The train bends around a sweeping right corner and moves past the the edge of the village. You sink deeply into your over-sized seat as the train smoothly accelerates across open countryside.
Soon the soft hiss of the track and the flashing power poles hypnotize you. You are flying toward a distant horizon and unknown adventures. You have time to talk, to read, to dream-maybe a little wine and some music. The long track defines your movement but not your thoughts. They certainly don’t have to be linear.
Through the Window, Colorful Scenes, Distant Goals
Of course you left on time. You have learned that you better be on the train on time. No particular fanfare. It just leaves. And you have double-checked the destination. At times you still wonder if you are on the right train…. In Morocco the station announcements are in Arabic and French. They are not always loud enough or clear enough over the speakers. You crane to see the first sign in each station and then check your map.
The Beautiful New Station, Fes, Morocco
Long distance train travel is a singularly interesting experience. It is not comfortable nor punctual everywhere. Even a single trip can vary in punctuality as you pass from one country to another. But in some places it is both very comfortable and very punctual. Certainly, at its best, it is like clockwork.
Speaking of Switzerland, one of my favorite routes is from Geneva to Lausanne along the north shore of Lake Geneva. Below the train, vineyards and beautiful homes descend to the lake shore. In the distance the snowy Alps form the horizon.
The long ride from Geneva to Budapest traverses many kinds of terrain. The towering Austrian peaks give way to the flat Carpathian Basin. The signs, the stations, the towns, the people change as your progress. They keep moving.
Your world is inside the train. It is your reference. The rest of the world is on the move.
Sometimes you have an entire train car to yourself. Other times people are standing in the hall and luggage is in a teetering stack above you.
Swiss, Upper Deck, 1st Class, Empty, Win!
You get to see the in-between places. You also see the rough parts of towns. And lots of graffiti. You are passing along an industrial transportation route. It is not always pretty.
Then another world bursts past your window. The pressure and sound hit you like a shock wave. Faces blur through your view. Another train passes in the other direction and just as abruptly disappears.
Train travel can be savored. Well, I savor all travel, but…. You spend a few moments in distant villages and roll through interesting towns. You see the station sign and have a few glimpses down the streets. Then you are in-between again. Moving on.
I enjoy almost everything about train travel. The stations, despite their minor dangers, present a mixture of people that you may not have time to see anywhere else.
Keleti Palyaudvar International Station, Budapest, Hungary
For a travel photographer trains give a tremendous introduction to new countries. If you travel light, it is easy to carry everything that you need on trains. There is usually more room for luggage than on a plane.
Going Light, Going Far, Working to Make Art
You keep moving, rumbling toward your goals. Trains provide a rich setting for anticipation and imagination. Long rides may eventually get a little tiring, but the further you go the more memories you carry. You are more a part of the countryside you are moving through than when you look down from 35,000 feet.
Friends, Castles, Adventures, Une Bonne Vie Dans Le Train, Najac, France
Here comes the train. Find your seat. Store your luggage. Sit back, put up your feet, and savor. Adventure awaits!
Street photography provides many opportunities to see things that you might normally walk by without noticing.
The longer you walk the more you begin to look around for interesting perspectives. The luxury of time lets you view features and people from several different vantage points. And as your eyes roam, details emerge from the busy scenes in front of you.
Viewing features from below or from above, or isolating intriguing small elements for close-ups, changes the perspective and the character of the image. The composition, lighting, and viewing angle reveal the artistic intent and indicate the effort and thought that go into a photograph.
(Unfortunately, people seem to be conditioned to think that artistic photography requires a black and white image, or a poorly lit or blurry abstract image. When some people see a sharply-focused, color image they dismiss it as a mere ‘snapshot’ without considering the composition or isolation of the subject, or the distinctive perspective, or the time and work that it takes to show an interesting feature without other distracting elements. They don’t take the time to look at it and think about what the photographer was trying to do. Street photography is commonly realism. End of pet peeve #1.)
Pet peeve aside, the main subject of this posting is looking and seeing things that may be normally missed and seeing features from a different perspective.
Looking up at features makes them seem more imposing and exaggerated.
Ornamentation, Budapest, Hungary
Cathedral Rain Spout, Geneva, Switzerland
Did you see both dogs?
An overhead perspective diminishes subjects. Looking down is my favorite perspective for street scenes.
Overhead Perspective, Geneva, Switzerland
Time is an important ally of street photographers. It takes time for opportunities to develop. It takes time to see things from a unique perspective. It is enjoyable and creative time.
I hope that the next time you see an artistic color photograph you have the time to enjoy it and consider what the photographer was trying to create. Why did they take the photo from that perspective, at that time of day etc?
Whenever I need to get some perspective I request an upper floor room with a balcony.
Actually, whenever I travel I add that request to my online booking. During the day I walk or drive to the settings I want to photograph, whether they are beautiful mountain vistas or ancient urban settings. But having a balcony overlooking an interesting street scene adds an extra dimension to the photographs that I can make.
Composition, lighting, and perspective are controlling variables in photography. When I photograph in my home area I sometimes take a ladder or step stool to gain a different perspective. But it is hard to get a ladder on a plane.
When I can get a hotel room with a balcony I also have more opportunities for photography. This is especially true on travel days when I just have a little time before departing and on arrival days when I can photograph night street scenes.
But it is mainly the perspective that interests me. Usually the photographs are candid and anonymous. People in the images are compressed into interesting and artistic forms and colors. And we all find the human form interesting. In my opinion the anonymity protects privacy and avoids voyeurism.
Overhead street photography has been popular at times. And I can see why. It is becoming a fascination for me. I am working on a proposal for an exhibition of these overhead photographs. They will be selected from balcony views from Paris, Geneva, Budapest, Spain, rural France, and other places along the way.
This photograph is from Geneva, Switzerland. Traffic backed up at a busy intersection near the train station and provided a steady flow of interesting images. This is a good perspective from which to view that striking polka dot helmet.
Which did you like the best, walking from village-to-village in rural France or strolling the streets of Budapest?
A contrarian answer to an unnecessary choice. They were both wonderful, interesting, and educational. And very different!
This trip is the reason I haven’t posted to this blog recently.
We have returned from a good long walk along the Lot and Aveyron Rivers in southern France. We stayed in small rural villages along the way and met unbelievably kind and unique characters. My main photographic goals were rural French countryside and small village lifestyle.
I also spent a week roaming the streets of Budapest. Each morning I would make a loose plan of where I wanted to be when the sun was at certain locations, adjusted for afternoon thunderstorms, and then I would listen to music and just walk all day. Budapest is a very photogenic place and very stimulating creatively.
In between those two locations I spent travel days in Geneva and Bern, Switzerland.
I have many photos to upload to my online galleries and many stories to tell. We were lucky that the weather in France was spectacular and that each of our lodgings turned out great, in its own way. We stayed on a farm, in a chateau, in a hikers’ gite, and in nice village hotels.
In Budapest I stayed in the Hotel Bristol, which is a short walk from the train station. I always stay near the train station. The Hotel Bristol is a comfortable and modern boutique hotel. The staff is very helpful and speak English, among other languages. You can find them at: http://www.boutiquehotelbristol.com/ or you can book them through booking.com.
I had some great train rides. I got to ride along Lake Geneva a couple times. There is a great view from the upper level of the train and the Swiss trains are so comfortable. The longest ride was from Bern, Switzerland to Budapest. It was over 13 hours but the scenery was spectacular.
The photo above is of the Matthias Church on Castle Hill in the “Buda” part of Budapest. The morning sun was still low enough to light it well and it was a crystal clear day. Castle Hill is a long walk from the train station, but the city is filled with interesting scenes and people. In future postings I will tell some stories and show photos from southern France, Geneva, and Budapest.
The bottom line is that all the travel went well and I am once again addicted to travel. I am ready to go again!
Great travel writers like Graham Greene and Agatha Christie wrote of long train journeys.
Greene’s Stamboul Train (1932) told the intersecting stories of carefully crafted characters traveling from France to Constantinople. (This book was also published with the title Orient Express.)
The mystery of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express(1934) unfolded and was solved (by Hercule Poirot) as the train made the journey in the opposite direction. Actually it was stuck in a snowdrift during the most suspenseful part, but it was headed toward France.
Train travel is ready-made for interesting stories. A group of people who would not know each other under other circumstances spend time together enclosed in small rooms traveling across vast distances. Proximity provides opportunity for introductions and there is time for interaction. It is natural to get to know your neighbors even when language is a barrier. So if you are creating fiction it is a great way to mix people together to produce any kind of drama, intrigue, or romance.
For most people though, train travel is routine and uneventful. Modern train travel in Europe is comfortable and clean. There is much more room for you and your luggage than on a plane. Trains are usually on time and they are more affordable. It is relaxing to sit back and watch the countryside roll by. The scenery is interesting although you do also see the back sides of buildings and lots of graffiti that you would not normally see if you were walking around a town. On high speed trains you are only able to see flashed glimpses down streets of the villages that you pass through. But there is no worry about rental car damage or driving stress. And you can get up and walk around whenever you want to-no fasten seat belt sign!
Our longest train trip so far was a full day journey from southern France deep into the Alps. The distance was not great, but because of the route we followed it involved five different trains and transected many different kinds of terrain. We were traveling with our daughters which made it an enjoyable and memorable adventure. We started early in the morning on a local train from Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean to Nice. The next train stopped in Marseille for an engine change to convert to a high speed configuration. We stayed on the train during this work and learned about the engine change from the French couple across the aisle from us. The longest segment was to Lyon but as we flew through the countryside we enjoyed snacks from the food service in the next car. There weren’t any mysteries or secret agents on our train (that we knew of) but it was a great time together. From Lyon we traveled to Annecy at the edge of the Alps. As we stood on the platform waiting for the next train I could feel the anticipation building. I love traveling by train in the Alps. Our next train took us through beautiful mountain villages and provided huge and beautiful vistas on our way to St. Gervais les Bains. Now we were really in the mountains. And finally the last train took us to my favorite alpine village – Chamonix.
Chamonix was the home of the first winter Olympics and is at the base of Mont Blanc. It is surrounded by intimidating extreme rock and ice and exquisite mountain scenery. The village is beautifully maintained and is filled with classic stone buildings, colorful shutters, and hanging flower baskets. It is a climbing and skiing center, but you can also take the cable cars to the summits for sight-seeing and hiking. I have written about Chamonix in other postings in this blog so if you are interested you can enter Chamonix in the search box above and see other photos and read more about it.
Now even though we didn’t have any mysteries on our long train ride we did have a little intrigue when we tried to leave Chamonix. On our departure morning we rolled our luggage up through the village to the train station. All four of us had packed into one small backpack and one rolling carry-on each, so we were pretty mobile. When we reached the station it was deserted. We had our passes so we didn’t have to worry about buying tickets, which was a good thing since there was nobody working at the station. Eventually we found a sign on an office door which included the words “Grève Nationale”. We figured that that meant a national strike, but we weren’t sure if it meant all trains were cancelled or how long the strike would be.
We waited for our train to Geneva but the appointed departure time passed and there was no train in sight. We talked to a few other passengers who were trying to figure out how to get to Geneva also. We finally decided that we would have to take a bus later in the afternoon if no trains arrived, IF the buses were running.
We stayed close to the station just to make sure we didn’t miss an opportunity. We were getting a little frustrated as the time approached for the next scheduled train to Geneva. But a few minutes before the departure time a train rolled into the station, the train number was correct and it was on time. So we got on, found seats, stored our luggage overhead and left the station on time. It was as if nothing had happened and we were never given an explanation. There was a national strike, except for when there wasn’t. In our experience this was the only train that was significantly late or cancelled.
When we got to Geneva the train stopped at the French-Swiss border. Everyone was asked to disembark and were told this was the end of the line. We had made a reservation at a hotel by the main train station, but this train didn’t go there. So we had to buy a local tram ticket to get across town. Our hotel was a block from the station as advertised, but we didn’t know the other train stopped at the border on the outskirts of town miles from the main station. But that is the adventure of travel. If we had known more French we would have probably been more aware of what was going on.
We thoroughly enjoy train travel despite these two little episodes. Most of our experiences have been trouble-free and very relaxing. The European transportation system integrates airports, national trains, local trains, city trams, subways, buses, and ferries across lakes. Most of the time they are connected or are only separated by short walks and if you pack light it is easy to change from one mode to another.
You don’t need to have mysteries or espionage to make train travel memorable. But they sure make for good reading. Happy trails!
Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background
Does your image of electric transportation look like a tiny light weight car that can only drive around town?
Do you imagine it powering over mountain passes and up precipitous cliffs? In the Swiss Alps transportation is provided by a network of electric trains and cablecars. They serve mountain commuters, tourists gaping at the alpine scenery, and carry supplies to small car-free mountain villages.
When you get to Lauterbrunnen and want to go higher into to the Bernese Oberland it is time to find the car park and get on an electric train or a cablecar. The village of Wengen is served by the Wengernalpbahn which continues on through Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald. The train climbs the canyon wall via switchbacks to reach Wengen. Safety requires the electrified railcar to be at the bottom of the train. So when it reaches the pass at Kleine Scheidegg you have switch trains to one that is configured with the powered car at the other end (now the downhill end) for the descent into Grindelwald beside the wall of the towering Eiger. They do have the capability to turn the train around at Kleine Scheidegg also.
The Wengernalpbahn is the longest continuous cogwheel railway on Earth. As you can see in the upper photo the trains are equipped with photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate electricity while traveling.
If you want to ascend the other side of the valley you get on the cablecar up to Grütschalp then transfer to an electric train to reach Winteregg, Mürren, and Gimmelwald.
Wengernalpbahn Electric Cogwheel Train, Switzerland
The trains and cablecars are also used to take supplies to the high mountain villages. Freight wagons are added to the trains when needed. The Grütschalp cablecar system has the capability to carry freight which is then transferred to the freight wagon.
For a roaming photographer these trains are a valuable asset. They not only provide transportation to striking scenery, but also they are absolutely punctual. Several times while walking near the railway I stopped and composed photographs knowing the train was about to arrive into the scene. I carried the schedule and estimated arrival times between stations and got into position in time for the train to make its reliable appearance around a bend or through a forest opening.
The entire area surrounding Lauterbrunnen is amazing and unique. There are more photos in Switzerland gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.
Dreaming about travel. Savoring travel. Remembering travel.
Decent and kind people who you don’t share a common language with. Unexpected challenges. A smile. Patience. A comfortable seat at the window on a long train ride deep into the Alps. Curiosity with rewards. Quiet narrow country roads. Wind rustling the leaves of trees along a river whose name you can’t pronounce. Sheep bells in the Pyrénées. A muddy river in spring flood flowing out of a Mexican jungle. Birds with impossible colors.
Menus, mysterious and stressful. The enjoyment of getting what you thought were ordering and discovering that it is so much better than you dared imagine. How do they make it taste so good? Not sure exactly what was in that, but wow. A walk along the beach after sunset in the safety of rural Brittany.
Villages with two names. Road signs. Changing trains, reading the departure board, making the next train with only seven minutes between arrival and departure, trains that are on time, deciphering conductor announcements. Returning the rental car without damage, whew. Base jumpers landing in wildflowers at the base of the canyon wall. Hundreds of football and volleyball games mixed in with the Sunday crowds stretching for miles on Copacabana Beach. Soft white sand, gentle waves, warm humid air. The music of Portuguese or French or … conversations.
Glaciers, waterfalls, stone houses, slate roofs, startling soaring cathedrals, ancient art, life-like sculptures, bigger than life, lines for tickets, listening to animated but unknown languages on the Eiffel Tower observation deck. Watching out for pick pockets and keeping a hand on your luggage in the train station. Trying to tell the taxi driver the location of your hotel. Favelas and community refuse burning piles. Riding the bus to the beach. Riding the tram to the Mediterranean. Riding the bus from the airport, bleary-eyed, tired, disoriented, not understanding the conversations around you.
The Metro stations. Long walks across Paris. TGV. Beach vendors trying to sell horrible looking fish on a stick. Authentic fajitas in a beach restaurant. Traveling by cable car and electric train in the Bernese Oberland. Walking up the hill from the train station through the village to your hotel. Learning about Austria and The Netherlands from the hotel staff. Trying to figure out the street map in Nantes. Failing. Trying the hard cider of Brittany, but not the ‘moules et frits’. Sorry.
Looking down through three floors from a balcony watching samba dancers on a crowded floor. Watching (in person) the televised sheep-shearing contest during the celebration of the return of the sheep from the high mountain pastures in Luz-Saint-Saveur. Seeing the streets lined with piles of plastic wine cups the next morning. The marching group with giant bells on their backs. The brass band marching through town and into a living room and playing inside a tiny stone house. Running for cover from a downpour in Rennes and finding shelter in a brasserie with other storm refugees. Seeing the evil but intact German blockhouses built on the rocky shoreline of Brittany.
Arriving at the Swiss border at Geneva on the train from Chamonix and finding out we had to get off and find our way to another station across town. The end of the line. Looking in vain for art in Geneva, but stumbling onto a choir performance inside the cathedral. Discovering that those white kitchen garbage bags that we packed fit perfectly over our rolling luggage while waiting in the rain for the ferry across Lac Léman. The banners and flags in Bern during the Euro 2008 football competition. The fiddle player and guitarist standing in the bank doorway below our hotel window waiting for customers to emerge with refreshed funding. Their three songs never got tiresome. The organ grinder and his cat who played there in the mornings. Far Breton breakfast treat and espresso. And all that new music and those weird movies.
Trying for a record-breaking long café lunch in Paris but only making it to 52 minutes. Must learn to savor more. An awkward semi-French/semi-English conversation with the family who owned the Gite that we rented at the beach in Brittany. We and they understood each other enough to know that we liked each other and had a lot in common. They had a loving family with two daughters and had a sense of humor. They were kind to us and tried to help us feel at home. We did.
History, geography, literature, art, and humanity are all enriched with travel. They are given context and life. Days are filled with planning and anticipation, then adventure and new experience, then memories and a new outlook and broader view of the world where you are-because of the world that you saw, the people, and the culture that made sense to the families you met. Their culture may be different but they built it because of their history and resources. It works for them.
The challenges of travel encourage growth and reflection. I know that is not an original thought. But it sums up how I am feeling today. I have reduced my travel and use a bicycle for local transportation. But when I do travel I intend to learn as much as I can. I look forward to the next trip with excitement. Although, I probably wouldn’t have the nerve to wear the propeller beany cap.
On warm summer evenings you watch the alpenglow on the glaciers and listen to waterfalls, bird songs, and wind in the trees. Perhaps you sip tea and relax with a world class view of the Bernese Oberland.
Your beautiful home faces the craggy summits of the Swiss Alps. You live in the picturesque ski village of Wengen high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Tourists flock to your narrow streets during winter and summer. Every home is on display for people walking through the village. Your small front yard is made up of paving stone. Everything is carefully tended. The handmade lace curtains and the bright flowers accent your home.
In the early morning or evening or long quiet spring afternoons you have a chance to sit and enjoy the spectacular view. Perhaps a friend will walk by returning from a long walk in the mountains above the village. For a little while your yard is yours to enjoy. There are no tourists trying to take photos of your house. You have some privacy again.
But then the train arrives from Lauterbrunnen and soon a few people will make the walk up the hill through the village. And once again your home is on display. Thank you.
The background image on my business card is a self-portrait in old town Bern, Switzerland. It is a vague reflection in the window of a door in an old stone building. There is a scooter and a bicycle parked in front.
When someone asks where the photo was taken, I tell them that it is Bern which is the capital of Switzerland. A frequent response is, “Isn’t Zurich the capital?”
Switzerland is made up of 23 cantons. Bern City is the capital of the canton of Bern (Berne). It is also the national capital.
The western portion of Switzerland is dominated by French language, the middle is mixed French and German, and the east is German with some Italian and other languages in the south. Many towns in the central part of Switzerland have two official names, one German and one French. That is why it is common to see the names listed like: Bern (Berne) or Biel/Bienne where my cousin and her husband live. Overall German is the most frequently spoken language.
The abbreviation for Switzerland is CH which stands for Confoederatio Helvetica. It is a confederation of the cantons. Helvetica is derived from the Latin word for the people who lived in the area that later became Switzerland.
That is the Swiss history and geography lesson for today, for those who need it!
There are more Swiss photos in my galleries. Please follow the Photography link above.
The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. Three peaks at the top of the Bernese Oberland in the Swiss Alps.
The fable is that the Mönch (Monk) which is in the middle protects the Jungfrau (young woman) from the Eiger (Ogre). Mountain lore.
Jungfraujoch is a train station, observatory, and restaurant on the shoulder of the Mönch. The entire area is served by a network of electric trains and various cable cars and tramways. But Jungfraujoch is at the top. To get there the train leaves the high plateau station at Kleine Scheidegg and climbs up to a tunnel of more than four miles through the Eiger and the Mönch. The station at the top is inside the mountain in a great hall. The buildings outside the station provide views and access to the ice fields for tourists from around the world.
These mountain trains and cable cars are mind-boggling engineering accomplishments. The remote and extreme terrain at high altitude would challenge any engineering/construction enterprise today. But the electric train through the four mile tunnel (blasted through the mountains) to Jungfraujoch began operation in 1912! The rail line began extending up the mountains from Kleine Scheidegg in 1898.
Moving the concrete and steel to those locations and constructing the intricate electrical systems and rail bed was a great achievement during the early years of the 1900’s.
The train ride is expensive. When the winds howl and the rain and snow pelt the buildings there is no visibility at the top. That was the case when we were there in the spring. So we did not get to photograph at the top. Each morning during our visit I would get up before dawn and go to the train station in Wengen to check the weather. The video displays from the cameras at the top told the disappointing story each morning.
The photo above shows the train to Jungfraujoch in the station at Kleine Scheidegg. There are more photos of Switzerland in galleries. Please follow the Photography link above.
Yvoire, France is a beautiful medieval stone village.
It is easy to imagine the setting of village life in the mostly intact old town section. It is harder to realize the difficulties of providing food, water, and defense for this lakeside village.
Yvoire is on the south shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) on a prominent point between Geneva and Évian-les-Bains.
There is arable land surrounding the village. And the substantial ancient châteaux nearby suggest there was a time of plenty for the noblemen. But the village peasants led a difficult life.
The village square was a place to gather. The cathedral and its cemetery were located adjacent to the square. It was the location for market day commerce. The water fountain was also located in the square.
I don’t know how much time villagers had to sit in the shade, but this must have been their main gathering place. Religious and civic festivals took place here.
It is still a place to gather. But now it is a place to imagine the past rather than take care of life’s necessities. Looking at this shady water tank I think about all the generations that talked about village news or celebrated holidays at this spot.
The Yvoire village square is well preserved. Adjacent to the square is an épicerie (small market/delicatessen). Fortunately the shopkeeper spoke no English so that is where I learned to order cheese. I struggle with French and it is intimidating. But ordering cheese is an important activity, especially at village outdoor markets.
Yvoire is easy to get to. It is a popular tourist destination and has a large municipal parking lot for the busy holiday season. We were there in May so it wasn’t too bad. Since we didn’t have a car we took the train from Geneva along the north shore of the lake to Nyon, Switzerland and walked downhill to the harbor. Then we took the ferry over to Yvoire. The trains are frequent as they are the main connection between Geneva and Lausanne. The national boundary separating Switzerland and France passes through the middle of the lake.
In the early days of mountain recreation most of the Alps were referred to by some people generically as ‘Switzerland’, even if they were actually in France or Italy or Austria etc. It was a descriptive term to describe the stunning high peaks.
The big mountains had been feared for millenia as places of danger and homes to beasts and dragons. Nobody had been to the tops and imaginations ran wild. People feared that there would be no oxygen. Myths and fables were vivid and terrifying.
As people gained wealth and leisure time in the 18th and 19th centuries walking in the mountains became popular. People wrote poetically about the alpine splendors.
The big peaks were magnets for alpine adventurers. The Alpine Club of England actively pursued reaching the summits. Local guides were highly valued for their mountain knowledge. Huge egos and intense competition surrounded first ascents.
Mont Blanc near Chamonix, France being the tallest peak in western Europe (~4808 m or 15,771 ft.) was the biggest draw. The early climbers used large crews of guides and porters to carry the crude equipment and scientific instruments. Many of them carried out experiments to test the myths and collect basic data. They slept in the mountains rolled up in heavy carpets. A typical attempt on Mont Blanc also required dozens of bottles of wine and large piles of meat, cheese, and other food.
After Mont Blanc was conquered the elite climbers moved their sights to the other iconic peaks such as the Matterhorn, the Eiger, and Jungfrau, all of which are in Switzerland.
There are great but terrifying stories of the obsessions for these peaks. The stories are told very well by Fergus Fleming in Killing Dragons The Conquest of the Alps where most of this information came from. One group of climbers lost three men down the sheer upper rock face of the Matterhorn. They hadn’t been able to obtain the type of rope they wanted and were desperate to reach the summit during a break in the weather, so a portion of the team was using a rope the size of a common clothes line. It didn’t hold.
The mountain villages at the base of the big peaks became destinations for hikers and climbers. The Eiger and Jungfrau are both in one chain near one another. Grindlewald, Switzerland served as a base for attempts on The Eiger. Wengen, Switzerland is nearer to Jungfrau.
Today you can take an electric train up the canyon wall of the Lauterbrunnen Valley to reach Wengen. Cars are not allowed. It is a famous ski village and home of the Alpine Skiing World Cup race called the Lauberhorn downhill. Between the winter and summer holiday seasons it is a quiet and beautiful place. You can hear the many waterfalls in the distance, wind in the trees, and bird songs, but not traffic noise.
The mountain lodge in this photo is in Wengen. It is a storybook beautiful village. From the balconies of this lodge you can see Jungfrau and other incredible peaks. Residents take pride in their homes and lodges. Even firewood is stacked in artistic displays. The mountain trains, cable cars, and hiking trails provide access to amazing country. I guess we are those kind of people who enjoy looking at the mountains and are not brave enough or driven enough to need to climb them. But the stories about those who are, are spellbinding, especially after seeing the mountains ourselves.
Electric Mountain Train, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Today is International Women’s Day.
It is a day to recognize and honor the importance of the work of women; their work at home and away from home. It is also a day to recognize the limitations on women’s involvement, safety, education, advancement and equal pay.
One of my heroes is Wangari Maathai of Kenya. She won the Nobel Peace prize for leading the Green Belt Movement in Africa. This primarily village women’s movement has planted tens of millions of trees across Africa to slow soil erosion and provide shade and organic matter for agricultural soils. She argued that there would be fewer wars if the men would stay home and help manage resources and grow food rather than fight over resources that are degraded. Of course this is complicated by multi-national corporations and foreign governments.
Here are a couple useful links about international women’s programs, where you can learn about some of the issues and programs, or make a contribution:
What does that have to do with this photograph in Switzerland? Well, this woman’s simple act of kindness salvaged a long day of photography that had produced very little, up to that point. And it may be a stretch, but I think that it also shows a woman’s natural inclination to do something nice, to make things better, to help, or to contribute, rather than ignore situations. She didn’t know anything about me or my day, but she could have ignored me or turned away.
This is one of my favorite photographs. It was in a train station in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I had spent the day riding cable cars and mountain trains and walking trying to photograph the amazing peaks of the high Swiss Alps. The weather had not cooperated. I was on my way back to Wengen where our hotel was. I decided not to put my camera back in my pack, even though it didn’t seem like there would be any photo opportunities. As trains came into this little station, I started following them in and photographing them as they slowly came to a stop. This woman spotted me and decided to participate in the photograph.
The afternoon sun shown a short ways into the train car. It was just enough light to highlight her smile and her graceful peace sign. The other passengers remain in shadows.
This track was under a glass roof inside the station. The highlights are subdued. The Swiss railway worker adds color and precision as he walks the shadow line. Lines converge toward the woman; the railway worker’s shadow, the roof structure shadows, and even the upper arm that connects the electric train to the power line, lead the eye to her. There are interesting textures, such as the expandable rubber train passageway at the left edge, the solar panels on the parking structure behind the train, the train wheels, and the red cable at the bottom of the train.
May the women in your life lead a peaceful day today, and tomorrow. You can view other photographs of Switzerland in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com
How’s the commute? Will it be another day of gridlock and anxiety?
My main transportation is a bicycle. It is easy to get around small towns with a bike. It is even easier when towns plan for bicycles and pedestrians.
Even though the street in this photograph is cobblestone there were quite a few bicyclists in this old town section of Bern, Switzerland. There were also lots of scooters. This guy seemed to be pretty organized.
This was an interesting part of Bern near the river. I had spent an hour or so during the early morning in this small street. Before I moved to this corner I had set up my tripod in the middle of the block, composed a scene, and waited for people to pass this corner or ride into the scene. When you stand in one place and watch rather than just walk through an area, you see and hear very different things.
Perhaps this guy, and the other people who passed by, followed this routine every morning. From this one view his commute doesn’t seem too bad. This photo does have a very European feel. Photo: 1/500 s at f/3.2
A sunny stroll through wildflower pastures. The sound of clanking cowbells and the thunder of huge waterfalls. The pride of a well-maintained chalet. It is spring in the Swiss Alps.
The walls of the glacially-carved Lauterbrunnen Valley launch many snow-melt waterfalls in the spring. In fact the word Lauterbrunnen means many fountains (according to the Swiss Tourism website) although the literal translation might be louder well.
Even though the setting for the book Heidi by Johanna Spyri was probably inspired by her visits to the area near Maienfeld in Graubünden, I have imagined it to look somewhat like this photo.
This classic chalet had Staubbach Falls in its backyard. It faces up the valley with horizon-to-horizon views of the high Swiss Alps.
It would have been interesting to talk to the owners but we didn’t want to intrude. On the outside wall above the garage door there is a six foot tall photographic print of two men. I imagined that it was the grandfather and father up in the mountains in the old days. At any rate, each time this family pulls their Land Rover into the garage they see the huge print, which is facing the mountains. The chalet also had a beautiful small balcony to sit and enjoy the uninterrupted view.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a great place for long walks. The warm sunshine and alpine flowers of spring create a beautiful setting. Photo: 1/80 s at f/16
Before dawn I was planning a day at “The Top of Europe”. I went to the mountain train station to check the weather forecast and look at the video displays from the top stations.
Unfortunately it was going to be a very windy, stormy day on the summits. All the views were obscured by clouds. I would not be going to Jungfraujoch that morning.
It is hard to have a bad day in the Swiss Alps. So we rode the train down from Wengen to the valley below. We decided to explore the village of Lauterbrunnen and walk up the valley. Down in the valley it was a partly cloudy day and much warmer. It was May and the spring growth was progressing well.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a beautiful, glacially-carved valley. The sides of the valley are sheer cliffs and in the spring there are many waterfalls. You can hear the waterfalls from miles away. There are roads and trails that are perfect for long walks.
We could hear the sound of cow bells over the distant roar of the waterfalls. And as we were crossing the valley we saw these cows. When I started to walk over to photograph them we heard a snap and then flapping fabric. We looked up just in time to see two people, who had ‘base jumped’ off the cliff, float down the last few feet and land in a field nearby.
I quickly put on a telephoto lens and scanned the ledges of the cliffs trying to see if there were other people getting ready to jump. But I eventually got tired of looking and changed lenses back again and started walking closer to these cows. Then I heard the sound of a small parachute snapping open again. I missed the last jumper of the group.
These cows seemed very contented grazing on wildflowers. Perhaps that has an influence on the famous Swiss Milk Chocolate. Photo: 1/80 s at f/18
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How do you get groceries to a ‘car-free’ mountain village?
One way is by supply train. After the cable car.
Small villages above the sheer cliffs of the Lauterbrunnen Valley are serviced by cable cars and electric mountain trains. These tourist villages are ‘car free’. So if you arrive in Lauterbrunnen by car you have to leave it in a large parking garage, if you want to continue up to Wengen, Mürren, or Gimmelwald.
To get to Mürren you first take a cable car to Grutschalp. Then you board a small electric train for the short ride to Mürren. For this photograph, I got off the train at Winteregg. Winteregg is a train stop with a large restaurant and terrace. It is isolated on the side of a mountain. When I was there it was filled with people singing during a lunchtime meeting of some kind. I didn’t understand the words, but they sang with gusto. I sat for a long time at a table outside on the terrace and enjoyed the view of the Bernese Oberland.
I walked toward Mürren and uphill from Winteregg. When you want to take photos of trains in Switzerland if you carry the local schedule you can set up your photo and know that they will pass through the scene at the correct time.
In the distance are the famous three peaks of this area. From left to right they are: the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. One story of the names for these mountains is that the monk (Mönch) is in the middle protecting the virgin (Jungfrau) from the ogre (Eiger).
I sat on this hillside as several trains passed back and forth. In between trains I got to enjoy the clouds swirling around the peaks. I could hear sheep bells in the mountains nearby and the spirited Swiss German choruses booming from the restaurant in Winteregg. Photo: 1/640 s at f/4
Bicyclist on the Cobblestones of Bern, Switzerland
“Let’s spend the morning on Nydeggbrüke.”
We were only in Bern, Switzerland for a couple days. The Nydeggbrüke is a bridge over the River Aare.
It was a partly cloudy day. My goal was to have high contrast shadows on the cobblestones of the street below (Mattenenge). So it had to be a time when the clouds had passed. They were moving swiftly, so the openings were brief. But I also wanted a bicyclist riding in the sun with no cars driving on the street. Three uncontrollable elements.
At this time of day the shadow outlined a broad arrow shaped patch of sunlight pointing away from us. What I was hoping for was for a bicyclist to ride on the right side of the street and toward the apex of the sunlight arrow. I was also trying to include a wide angle view of the old town, the River Aare, and the hills nearby. This would provide a more complete setting for the bicyclist. I composed the photograph and waited for these things to come together.
Sometimes a bicyclist would ride under the bridge, but a passing cloud blocked sunlight and there was no shadow, or there was a car driving on the street obscuring the shadow. Or when the street was deserted and the sun was forming a sharp shadow, no bicyclist would ride through the scene. Although there are lots of bicyclists in Bern.
There is an obsessive aspect to street photography. The world narrows to the scene you are imagining, as seen through the view finder. But with the other eye you scan for other things moving toward the frame. You hope and wait, but sometimes miss opportunities. Other ideas emerge as you think about the scene. This is a time when creativity is active. But you have control over only a small part of what you have imagined. And so you wait.
In this case I was lucky that my wife was patient. We organize our travel around photographic themes. But sometimes she is with me when I am working, and other times I go alone and she finds other activities. It is easy to completely escape into the obsessive side of photography when working alone.
Finally the elements of this photograph came together. The street was deserted. The clouds parted. A bicyclist rode down the cobblestones directly at the point of the arrow of sunlight. And I was ready.
Some may ask, “What’s the big deal about that?” (Especially on this small version of the photo.) Well it’s just that, this is what I had imagined and waited for. It’s the obsession part.
At last, time for lunch!
The bird’s eye effect is from the uncorrected wide angle view. This was a 16-35mm lens at 20mm. Photo: 1/200 s at f/13
This is the week for the Lauberhorn Downhill in Wengen, Switzerland. Training runs have started.
That World Cup alpine ski race includes a passage through a tunnel under the Wengernalpbahn railroad line. The ski racers go much faster than this train ever does.
This photograph was taken on the train connecting Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. The couple are looking out at one of the most beautiful alpine glacial landscapes on earth. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is deeply carved, symmetrical, and dramatic.
Leaning out a window with a wide angle lens provided a view outside the train as it emerged from a tunnel as well as a view inside the train through the window. The quiet hillside pasture and its wildflowers contrast with the human stories inside the train as it passes by. (The upper photo is about 2 miles from the downhill race course.)
Tunnel on Lauberhorn Downhill Course
The lower photo shows the tunnel on the downhill course. The racers make this corner coming in from the left and pass over this hillside just beyond the patch of snow in the foreground of the photo (only a remnant of snow left in May). They try to line up on the opening as they are traveling at more than 70 miles an hour at this point. Needless to say the tunnel has lots of padding on both sides on race day.
Wengen is on a high bench on a canyon wall. Cars are not allowed and the train and cable cars are the only access to villages on both sides of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The views of the Bernese Oberland section of the Swiss Alps are stunning.