Tag: “Trains”

On A Far Track

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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!

Moroccan Railway

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Leaving Marrakech, Morocco

It is a long ride from Tanger, Morocco to Marrakech. It’s not an express experience. That song is wrong.

Morocco is about the same size as California in the U.S.A. Instead of being on the Pacific its long shoreline is on the Atlantic Ocean. The capital, Rabat, is on the coast and the fabled Casablanca is south of Rabat. Both of these coastal cities are large and filled with business and industry. To the east of Morocco is Algeria which is extensively arid much like California’s eastern neighbor Nevada.

Unlike California, Morocco has a train system that reaches many parts of the country. Morocco used to be a French protectorate, so the Moroccan train system is influenced by the strong French railway. All communications are in Moroccan Arabic and French, this includes signs and spoken announcements.

Departure Board, Fes, Morocco

The Moroccan train system seems to work. The French and Swiss systems are more punctual and fancier, but you can get around Morocco reliably by train, unlike California. And the Moroccan rail system is affiliated with bus lines which extend public transportation further throughout the country. You can not buy train tickets until you are in Morocco, but it is an easy thing to do at the stations and the attendants speak many languages.

I didn’t take the train from Tanger to Marrakech. I first went to Fes. It is still a long ways from Tanger. The Tanger and Fes train stations are beautiful and new. The ride is interesting in the same way that most train routes pass through the edges of towns and the back sides of commercial districts, so you don’t see the best parts of towns. The countryside is mostly gently rolling to hilly. The soils seem like to they could be very productive but in late September there weren’t many crops growing.

Fes was an amazing experience. I had a room in a beautifully restored old house in the ancient walled city. These old Arabic walled cities are called medinas and this one dated from the 9th century. Wandering the narrow alleys with the crushing crowds was intimidating at first, especially carrying camera equipment. I hired a local guide through the hotel. He was born in the medina and has lived his entire life navigating the alleys and market stalls. He taught me a lot about the culture and traditions and took me to many out-of-the-way places. As with every guide apparently, he also took me to places where I could support the local craftsmen, ensuring that he would also get a commission. He was kind enough to tell me that the artist cooperatives are funded by UNESCO as a recognized World Heritage Site. So when the hard sales pitch was presented I didn’t have to feel bad for causing starvation and the end of the rug industry in Morocco. Fes is an ancient religious and academic center and is intense.

I did finally ride the train to Marrakech, and from Fes it is still an eight hour ride. And it is a long eight hours. You pass through Rabat and keep going and going. One recommendation, don’t drink the luke-warm coffee on the cart in the train. I regretted that, but I won’t go into details. Let’s just say the water wasn’t boiled.

I only went to Marrakech in order to meet up with a guide service to walk in the High Atlas Mountains to the south. Marrakech has exploded with new unimaginative hotels and apartments and is still growing. I didn’t spend much time there.

Since this posting is about the rail system I won’t go into the walking experiences at this time. My last ride was on the train from Marrakech to Casablanca where I flew to Milano, Italy to photograph in the Dolomite Mountains.

The Moroccan trains can seem crowded, even in first class. Six people are in a compartment. But the seats are comfortable and the mixture of languages and the exotic north African scenes out the window make a captivating experience. I enjoy traveling by train and the Moroccan railway is a pleasant way to experience the country.

Tangerian Dreams

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Tanger, Morocco

Tangerian dreams. No, this is not about the German electronic band Tangerine Dreams. This is about Tanger, Morocco.

The Moroccan French spelling is Tanger, but it is also often spelled Tangier or Tangiers. For many people Tanger is the gateway to north Africa.

An entire continent lies beyond the ancient streets. But within those old, worn alleys and boulevards you enter a powerful swirling mixture of exotic smells (from street vendor stalls and other less welcome aromas), the intriguing sounds of Arabic music, donkey carts, motorcycle pedicabs, and strong unease from real and imagined dangers. Unease that is constantly reinforced by hustlers and aggressive “guides for hire” lining the streets.

Tanger is a gritty industrial port. It is a place where the rule is ‘do what you can get away with’. It is a transit point and meeting place of cultures. It has long been the main entry for travelers from Spain. Travelers from Europe face an intense change in culture when they get off the ferry from Algeciras, Spain.

The new ferry terminal in Tanger is far to the east of the city. After a long bus ride you are dumped out in a square directly in front of the old ferry terminal. The bus is immediately surrounded by street entrepreneurs. The luggage bays are opened and it seems to take forever to get out of the bus to fight your way through the crowd to protect your luggage, which you hope is still under the bus. This is not xenophobia or paranoia. I had to physically take my luggage away from people. You have to make it clear that you do not need help getting your luggage and that you don’t need help finding a better/cheaper hotel. It is best to know where your hotel is and to head there with dispatch.

One very persistent hustler wouldn’t take “No, merci” for an answer. I tried to walk away only to be confronted by a colleague of his who reassured me, “He is just trying to help you. He works for the tourist office. Where are you from?” Of course they offered no identification.

Somehow I was not reassured by one street hustler vouching for another one. And that was the first of many times that I heard that phrase, “where are you from?” It was a device to start conversations and to begin the hustle, tailored to your country.

The reason I tell this story about Tanger is that most of the rest of my time in Morocco was interesting and memorable in very positive ways. Tanger is not the place to form an opinion about Morocco or north Africa. Tanger is a place where opportunity is made by aggression.

I later hired guides through hotels and travel services as I traveled south. I learned a great deal and met many kind and generous people walking through Fes and tiny villages in the High Atlas Mountains.

Tanger is still a place that stirs the imagination when you think about it from afar. It is a place of international intrigue and fable. It is easy to dream about what it is like and be entirely wrong.

During recent years it appears that construction and redevelopment have improved some parts of Tanger. If you walk from the port to the train station, you walk down a broad modern boulevard along the shore. Restaurants line the beach and new buildings are on the other side of the street. The train station is a sparkling new efficient building. But you also see half-completed or half-demolished buildings which are signs of the building boom hitting economic recession.

The hotels in the port area are mostly old and run-down. The walk up the hill from the port is like walking a gauntlet. The rough cobblestones make it hard to wind your way through the hustlers lining the street on both sides. I was not surprised to find my “Tourist Office” helper halfway up the hill leaning against a wall with friends. He took the opportunity to taunt me again.

With old hotel windows open wide for ventilation the view over the port is striking. But the smells and noises are strong reminders of where you are.

This photograph was taken out the hotel window. The newer buildings along the shore show the recent revitalization. But this view does not convey the pressures of walking the streets. I only felt less secure later when I was photographing on the streets of Casablanca at night. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea anyway.

I am probably not being fair to Tanger basing my opinion on a very brief visit. But my favorite part of Tanger was the train station and the excitement of leaving for Fes. Fes and the High Atlas Mountains were tremendous experiences and I was happy to leave Tanger behind.

When I dream of Tanger now I have vivid memories to base it on. To me it is a place to get on the train. But then again, maybe Tangerians wouldn’t dream of living in my town either!


Across France by Train

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Train Station, Chamonix, France

Train Station, Chamonix, France

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 Transportation, Alps Style

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Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background

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

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.

Travel Thoughts

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Simple Travel Excitement

Simple Travel Excitement

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.

Train Through the Mountain

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Electric Train to Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Electric Train to Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Jungfraujoch. The Top of Europe.

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.

Traveling by Art

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The Great Hall, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The Great Hall, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The incomparable Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Many voyages started and ended in this former railway station on the banks of the Seine. The station was the hub for the rail system serving southwest France from 1900-1939. There were 16 underground tracks with the main station, great hall, and hotel above. Eventually the newer electric trains became too long for the platforms and the station evolved through several other uses including postal services and film set. It was opened as a museum in 1986  (http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html).

Now travel from this station is imaginary but still transformational. The art collection is from the period of 1848-1914. Many of the impressionist masterpieces are displayed in this museum. There are side halls and alcoves off of the great hall pictured here. The floorplan is intricate and it is easy to get ‘turned around’ in the rooms which are on several levels.

We first visited the Musée d’Orsay after spending a few days in Juan les Pins, France on the Mediterranean coast. While in Juan les Pins I had found a somewhat quiet route for running from the small town toward Cap d’Anitbes. South of town the seafront homes were large beautiful villas behind stone walls. On a sunny morning as I was running along I noticed a particularly impressive villa and stopped to look at it and enjoy the view across the water to the harbor. It was a beautiful and memorable spot.

Later when we visited the Musée d’Orsay as I was walking through one of the side halls I noticed an old painting that looked familiar. After a moment I realized that it was a painting of that same villa on Cap d’Antibes. The painting was made in the mid-1800’s so the road looked different, but the stone wall and the villa looked almost identical and were painted from the same location where I had stood. I went to find my wife to show her. I walked around for quite a while trying to find her. By the time I found her I had forgotten how to get back to the room where the painting was. And I never did find it again. But maybe next time….

The Musée d’Orsay is certainly a place that you can visit repeatedly. But there is also good news about the collection itself.

From May through September 2010 there will be two exhibitions of 220 pieces from the collection on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit is called ‘Birth of Impressionism’. We look forward to it but I am amazed that they would move that artwork.

Maybe I will find that painting of the villa when they are on display in the de Young. Photo: 1/60 s at f/2.8.

There are other Paris photos in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com

Peaceful Day in the Bernese Oberland

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Electric Mountain Train, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

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

Supply Train With A View

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Supplies and Passengers, Mürren, Switzerland

Supplies and Passengers, Mürren, Switzerland

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

Rail Holiday

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Train Station, Saint-Charles, Marseille, France

Train Station, Saint-Charles, Marseille, France

How many stories? And where are they going?

How many stories have woven through old train stations like this one in Marseille, France? How many short journeys to work or school? How many romantic rendezvous, family holidays, trips to the beach, mountains, or abroad? How many of these stories have unexpectedly overlapped?

As they wait for their trains the passengers feel excitement, anxiety, stress, devotion, boredom, escape, duty, dread, relaxation, and relief. They all hear the departure boards’ rapidly turning letters spelling out destinations. They hear the chimes and the train announcements, scraps of conversations as people pass by, the rolling luggage, and the heavy train machinery. They smell mixed fragrances, sometimes worn in excess, sometimes a little too natural.

In countries where train travel is prevalent, like France, every kind of story includes some time within beautiful old halls like this. Fortunately, these stations were constructed with artisitry. Each station has unique architecture beyond what is required for functionality. When I look at this photograph I see a painting. A painting of a beautiful building with interesting people. Each person brings their own story and travels on their own journey, but shares experiences.

Where are they going? I have made up my own stories about some of the people in this photograph. My favorite is the woman in the burgundy dress, standing alone, facing away from the camera. I imagine that she is going to visit her daughter to help with her grandchildren. Maybe they live in a village nearby. She has no luggage or coat. It is a warm September morning and she looks at ease. Her story is probably filled with frequent train travel. She may not have a car. She may not need one, since public transportation is pervasive, comfortable, and reliable (well, except for the strikes).

Photo:  1/250 s at f/4

Train Views, Wengen

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Train Views, Wengen, Switzerland

Train Views, Wengen, Switzerland

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

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.

Upper photo: 1/640 s at f/2.8  (2008)




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