Friday, August 31, 2012

Switzerland & Liechtenstein

At the end of July, I attended the 30th Annual International System Dynamics Conference in Saint Gallen, Switzerland.  It was a great experience, but I do wish Kathy could have gone with me.  She was in the U.S. for my mother-in-law's retirement party (a remarkable career of enriching young minds as a teacher), which I would have gladly attended, too, if I had not already had the conference scheduled.  After landing at Zurich airport, I boarded a train for the hour-long ride to my destination.  Along the way, I admired the Swiss countryside (with apologies for the window reflection):

I also enjoyed the feeling of being on a train again, as well as how smoothly and quickly the train traveled, and how sleekly modern the interior and exterior of the trains were:

Upon arriving in Saint Gallen, where I quickly discovered that knowing no German was not going to be a tremendous disadvantage, as almost everyone spoke at least some English, I took a cab to my accommodation, the Hotel Jagerhof.  My room was small but stylish and comfortable:

Out one window was this neat old building:

Out the other, I could gaze down at the hotel's courtyard seating area and garden:

The dining area, where I had my breakfast every morning, was quite elegant:

I arrived on a Sunday morning, and since the conference was not scheduled to begin until that afternoon, I decided to explore.  I went in search of breakfast and coffee.  Wandering about Saint Gallen, I discovered its wonderful architecture - both traditional (this is a residence):

And modern (a theater):

When I reached the heart of town, I found the narrow streets and detailed architectural design that I had hoped to find.  I also found the streets completed deserted, except for a few tourists like me (who I suspect were also there for the conference):

This did not bode well for food or caffeine.  It seems that Saint Gallen shuts down on Sunday morning.  So I walked the empty streets, beautiful but barren, accompanied only by the echoing sound of the cathedral bells:

A central feature of Saint Gallen, the Abbey of Saint Gall was magnificent just on its exterior (I returned another day to take a closer look):

The shops in the market area just looked, at least to me, perfectly Swiss:

However, they were all closed, and I had as yet found no form of sustenance.  Having flown all night, this was problematic.  So I headed back to my hotel.  Along the way, I passed this museum, with a cool sculpture fountain and lovely garden:

Upon arriving at my hotel, I consulted with our hostess, who suggested I try the area just north of the center of town, though she was truly uncertain as to whether anything would be open.

So I trekked back across town, noting that at least the public transportation was operating:

After no little searching, I found myself back at the train station (banhof) where I had arrived, sitting at - of all things - a Starbuck's!

My blood stream properly thinned with caffeine, I explored Saint Gallen a bit more, taking in some more of its aesthetic, both old:

And new:

I must say that I would not mind living in a neighborhood that looks like this:

Time came for the conference, so I walked up the hill to the venue.  Here, in the lower left corner of the image, you can see a sign pointing the way to "ISDC 2012":

The conference was held at the University of Saint Gallen, which is at the top of a hill and features quite a remarkable view of the valley in which Saint Gallen rests:

The first day's sessions were all discussions among members of various interest groups - mine being health policy.  (This session was worth the trip on its own.)  Afterwards, I wandered back down the hill, discovering fabulous winding roads lined with eye-catching houses and beautiful flowers (though winter in Lesotho, it was summer in Switzerland, and when the breeze blew I could smell the blossoms in Saint Gallen almost everywhere I went):

Occasionally, as I walked the hillside streets of Saint Gallen, a gap between buildings would reveal a view like this:

Next day, on my way to the conference, I just had to photograph this house, which was directly across from the university campus and a most excellent example of the style in which I would like to grow accustomed to living:

The conference itself was fantastic.  Since being introduced to system dynamics almost twenty years ago, I had only been to the ISDC twice.  Each time, I am reminded why this is my favorite conference.  The opening plenary was a great example of how those of us who develop projections of supply and demand for whatever quantity we study need to be careful that we do not become too enamored of our equations.  It nicely deconstructed a milk production model developed by an economist who failed to include cows...

Later that day, at lunch, I discovered what downtown Saint Gallen looks like when the shops are open:

I also toured the abbey.  This is the front door.  That smaller piece, bottom center, is the actual door. The rest is the frame:

Inside, the artwork was extraordinary and overwhelming in its complexity and grandeur:

Here, our guide, Claudia (CLOW-dee-uh), is telling us a bit about the history of Saint Gall:

There was just so much to take in! Even the ironwork separating the visitor section from the working chapel (they still hold services there) was incredibly ornate:

Here, a close up of some of the sculptural detail that was quite abundantly placed about the ceiling:

And here, this detail from one of the ceiling paintings, Saint Gall praying, actually extends into three dimensions at his feet, which protrude from the painting:

Back at the conference (the tour was only an hour when I could have spent days admiring the Abbey and its library with manuscripts over a thousand years old), I dove back into dynamic thinking:

And during a break managed to capture a photo of the sign declaring the venue:

One of the things I like about this particular conference is that it is largely attended by geeks like me, as evidenced by this slide from one of the plenary sessions:

The evening of the awards banquet, I chose a circuitous route to the dining facility, discovering this peaceful spot along the way:

And this painting of Saint Gall on the side of a building:

The banquet hall was full and bright:

Some traditional local music was featured:

I strolled the quiet nighttime streets of Saint Gallen on my way back to the hotel (it was nice to be out at night):

Here, representing the University in its role as host organization, Markus (MAHR-koos), tells us all a tale in his gravelly German accent:

The city of Saint Gallen remained enchanting, even as the temperature rose and the haze of humidity settled in:

Our friend Susi's family is from Saint Gallen, and so I had someone working at a local retail shop take this picture of me in front of the bank Susi's grandparents once owned.  Pretty cool!

Another amazing Swiss house:

I just loved this pink taxi, with "For Ladies" on the side:

Here, my hotel again:

It was tucked into a little corner of Saint Gallen, very much just part of the neighborhood.  Sadly, the conference ended and I had to leave lovely little Saint Gallen.  I took one last look at the hotel courtyard as I waited with my bags for the taxi to the bahnhof:

This train, too, was sleek and comfortable:

I noted that the Swiss seem fond of bicycles.  Almost every parking area, including this one along the train route, featured a substantial portion of space for bicycles to be parked:

Of course, this train ride, like the last, afforded me an opportunity to admire the Swiss landscape:

The main Zurich bahnhof is immense:

From the train station, I headed to my hotel in Zurich, the Steigenberger Bellerive au Lac.  My room was comfortable and spacious:

But really, I was mostly interested in the view:

That is Lake Zurich, which extends about 40 kilometers south from the heart of the city:

Once again arriving hungry, I had much better luck in Zurich.  The incredibly helpfully and very knowledgeable staff at the hotel pointed me to Tibits:

At Tibits, the food is served buffet style, and dishes suitable for a vegan are labeled as such!  My first meal in Zurich (Curried tofu, quinoa salad, spiced beans, tabouli and fruit salad - yum!):

After dining, I began to explore Zurich.  Near my hotel, I found the opera house:

A boardwalk ran all along the lake near where I was staying, and it was always filled with people just soaking in the beauty of the place:

Which was considerable:

After taking in the first few sites in the immediate vicinity of my hotel, I headed toward the center of town:

Where I began to see some really striking buildings:

Especially as I entered the older section of town:

The design detail was magnificent.  The statue below can be seen half way up the tower in the image above:

At the north end of the lake, a channel begins, running through the heart of the historical section of Zurich:

It is lined with grand churches and other elegant buildings:

And it is a perfect spot to stop for a photo:

I thought this place, which faced out on the channel on one side and then into an old market square on another, was cool in its own right just because of all the detail:

Then I saw this in the stones leading up to it and knew it was even cooler than I had originally supposed:

It seemed everywhere I went in Zurich, there was an interesting corner to turn, an alley filled with the finest architectural detail. Like this one, where a piece of wrought iron arches away from the corner of the building on the right and into the space between it and the structure on the left:

Taking a closer look, I discovered this at the end of that iron arch:

Eventually finding my way back to the lake, I paused to watch these fowl - and admire how clear the water was (I was told it is clean enough to drink):

Gazing over to the eastern shore, I admired the line of buildings that included my hotel:

Then I looked off to the misty heights at the far end of the lake:

Everywhere I went in Zurich, folks were dining outdoors (and, of course, riding bikes):

The flowers were in bloom, too:

Here is the front of my hotel (I kept making excursions that first day in Zurich, then returning to my room for a quick break before heading out again):


Along with neat little alleys around almost every corner, there were occasionally courtyards:

With really cool fountains:

Again, folks dining out (and dressed well, too):

When not bicycling, people were walking or taking the tram:

I really loved Bahnhofstrasse, which was lined with high fashion shops like Louis Vuitton:

And where it seemed every cross street looked something like this:

Of course, I was not shopping at Jimmy Choo or Ralph Lauren.  I did my shopping at Inter Discount (looking for a chord to allow me to charge my laptop, as I had somehow not packed mine):

The people watching along Bahnhofstrasse was superb, and I swear they were the most fashionable people I have ever seen.  Stacey and Clinton would have approved!

More high fashion:

And dining out - this time with art:

Then coming round to the lake again:

And eventually returning to my room for the final time that day to watch the sun set:

And the moon rise:

Next morning, I rose early myself to enjoy the view from my room:

And play a little guitar in the Swiss morning air:

Before I went out to wander about a bit, starting with a stroll down the lake:

Where I saw boats resting quietly:

And bikes that had seen better days:

The morning light was perfect:

My hotel provided a tranquil spot overlooking the lake for breakfast:

Then I wandered about some more, exploring the lake shore north of my lodging:

Where someone had apparently been enjoying the view the night before:

Looking back down the lake toward the heart of Zurich:

Admiring the energy of those out for a morning swim:

And pausing to smell the roses:

On my way back, I found a father and daughter, or so I presumed them to be, enjoying the morning ducks:

And I spotted some ducklings:

I made my way through downtown to the bahnhof to meet the bus that was to take me on my day-long tour of the Swiss countryside, with stops in Liechtenstein and Heidiland.  Once the other tourists and I had boarded, we headed out through town, up to the university district where we could catch glimpses of the city below:

Then we went back down through the city in a district with French names associated, as Napoleon had, if I recall correctly, lived there a while.  That day, there was little sign of Napoleonic heritage but a great deal of construction and traffic:

There were also some really cool buildings:

We then drove down along the western shore of the lake, at one point admiring its waters over the roof top of the Lindt factory:

We then crossed the lake, looking northward into the misty mountains:

As we made our way into Rapperswil:

Rapperswil is an enchanting town, part way down the lake from Zurich, that is mostly surrounded by water and, in turn, surrounds a castle:

It features fantastic artwork on its buildings:

And the castle grounds are particularly well know for their rose garden:

The view from the castle wall is not bad, either:

Here you can see one of the boats that comprise the aquatic portion of the local public transit system:

And here is the castle's deer garden:

A closer look at the aforementioned deer:

And looking out from the castle across the roof tops of Rapperswil:

And down into town, with a more distant look at the building where the earlier artwork was to be found:

The castle tower:

Inside the main keep, the space had been transformed into a restaurant:

Wandering the castle itself, I found several paintings that appeared to have been painted directly on the walls many centuries ago:

Here I am in the castle garden:

Here, the main castle entryway:

A closer look at the sign posted above it:

Looking out again over Rapperswil from a different part of the castle grounds:

Upon the grounds themselves, this church resides:

As does this lovely little patch of lawn:

Looking down into town as I was leaving the castle:

Looking back up at the castle tower from a new angle:

The stairs down into town from the end of the castle grounds where I descended split around this little arch, inside of which was a small fountain:

One of the reasons the tour stopped in Rapperswil was so that we could all find lunch there.  Most of the restaurants I found featured meats and cheeses heavily.  However, I did happen upon this Tibetan restaurant, where I had an amazing meal and a nice chat with a woman who worked there about the joys of being, and the journey to becoming, a vegan:

The deck where I ate my meal had a great view:

After lunch, I headed back down to the town square, where these children were finding relief from what was becoming a rather hot and humid day:

I returned to the bus, which looked a bit out of place:

Took one more picture of Rapperswil:

(I have no idea if it was meant as I read it, but once I did read all the letters out loud without pause, I wondered if they wanted me to stop or start...)

This, I believe, is the official emblem of Rapperswil-Jona, and I found it painted on the side of a building near our bus:

The tour continued.  In Lesotho, mountain roads go up and over.  In Switzerland, they often go through:

The Swiss countryside in summer was a series of quaint towns...

Majestic mountains...

And picturesque farmlands:

Occasionally, we crossed a river.  Like in Lesotho, in Switzerland one of the primary exports is water.

It seemed that every hamlet had its own beautiful old church (and perhaps each did):

As the tour progressed, the mountains became a more prominent feature in the landscape:

Also like in Lesotho, there were small farms dotting the mountain sides;

We began to approach the valley of the Rhine:

And then I got my first view of the lush Rhine River valley:

This was, of course, on our way to the Principality of Liechtenstein, which - it turns out - is simply another exit off the highway (Vaduz is the capital):

Here is a plaza in downtown Vaduz:

And here I am in a marketplace not far from that plaza, with the Principle's castle residence perched on the mountainside behind me:

Liechtenstein seemed to feature the arts rather prominently. Here, in the forms of sculpture and architectural design::

And here by way of a film festival:

Here I am being the total tourist dork, getting my picture taken on a bench that has "Vaduz" painted upon it:

Here is a better look at the Principle's residence:

According to our guide, the Principle is the Head of State in Liechtenstein.  Here are our guide, Kurt, and our driver, Armando:

After Liechtenstein we headed into the heart of Swiss alpine country:

And...  to Heidiland (home of the famous book and even more famous Shirley Temple movie):

Where the picturesque landscape continued:

This is the house where the woman who wrote the original book, Heidi, was living when she wrote it (I would be willing to try living there while I write):

The sylvan entrance to Heididorf, where we were to find Heidi House (a museum dedicated to Heidi):

The view once we arrived:

The view from alongside Heidi House:

Inside, they had reconstructed what life would have been like living there during the time period the character Heidi lived:

I have to say that, as contrived as it may have been, I thought it was well worth the visit.  Indeed, the view through the windows of the house was worth the trip:

As was the back yard:

Here, Heidi House itself:

And more of the view from Heidi House:

And me:

And the hazy sun on the mountains:

And then me and the mountains, just to put it all together:

The countryside was lush, green and magical:

Eventually, we did have to return to our tour bus:

The mountain views on the way back were stunning:

As was the sky, which was portending a storm later that night and the next day:

We drove alongside Lake Walen, lined on one side by villages and the other by the mountains:

I wish we had had more time there, as the location felt truly dreamlike:

Our guide told us that there were three villages on the mountain side of the lake which could only be reached by boat:

Of course, the rest of the Swiss countryside seemed a bit surreal, as well:

As did the moment I read the back of this bikers' jacket:

We returned to Zurich in the later afternoon, providing me with an opportunity to explore a bit more:

Before retiring to my room for another marvelous sunset:

Next morning, I took a moment to more fully appreciate the detail on the opera house:

I also happened upon this market, where I got a pretty antique necklace for my beautiful wife:

The storm the prior day's sky had warned of threatened all morning:

Causing these ducks to take refuge under a pier:

Though these fishing folk were undaunted:

As was I.  I wanted to try one of the boats that carried passengers up and down the lake as part of the local transit system.  So, ignoring the possibility of getting soaked, I boarded a vessel scheduled for a trip down and back up the lake - a journey of about two hours.  Here is my view as we set out:

The lake shore was dotted with pretty little parks:

And the lake was dotted with sailors who thought as little of the threat of rain as I:

From time to time, the sun tried to push through the clouds:

Passengers boarded at regular stops along the lake's shore:

The shore itself was mostly residential, and high-density at that:

But there were industrial sections, as well:

Complete with wildly colorful graffiti:

I just really like this shot, looking back down the lake toward Zurich:

Like sailors and fishers, rowers were not intimidated by the weather:

This is the Lindt factory seen from the lake side:

What was particularly remarkable about that portion of the trip was that I could smell chocolate before I saw the factory.  Really.  Imagine, if you will, boating along a lake in Switzerland when a chocolate breeze blows over the bow...

Maybe this water skier was hoping to get the attention of someone at the factory?

If I do some day reside in a nursing home, one with a location like this would be acceptable:

Ruschlikon decorated their mooring area with flowers (I had to remind myself that this was public transportation):

And I just loved this lakeside take on the garage concept:

As the weather shifted, it created dreamlike mists in the distance:

I think this is a vineyard:

Certainly, it seems a lovely place to live...

Another one of the boats keeping to its schedule:

I had never seen this water sport before that day.  I suppose it is what one does with surf boards when there is no surf?

Eventually, we steered back toward Zurich, which even on a cloudy day looked properly impressive:

As did this building and its fountain:

As we pulled in, it became obvious I had chosen the right time to go.  The queue to board the next scheduled run was a tad longer than the six or so folks with whom I  had boarded:

Wandering Zurich some more, there was, naturally, more sidewalk dining (there is nothing like this in Lesotho - hence my fascination):

I decided to explore Niederdorfstrasse, which our guide on the Heidiland tour had recommended.  It was a great narrow stretch of shops, restaurants and funky architecture:

With alleys off each side that occasionally drew me in new directions:

And punctuated by this church:

Where I found myself engrossed in the detailed iron work on this door:

Just look at the handles:

And the detail on this one panel:

These columns were just cool:

The streets were lively:

And featured wonderful little surprises tucked away here and there, like this beautiful urban garden...

This grand rounded building...

This door...

These stripes...

And this unexpectedly placed contemporary furniture:

Eventually, I found myself back at the bahnhof, which I admired anew from the outside:

Then, quite naturally, I took another stroll along the Bahnhofstrasse:

On my way back to the hotel, the rain returned.  Rain cannot stop a tango, though, which is what htis gentleman was playing:

I wish I had had someone to dance with!  Imagine dancing a tango along the boardwalk in Zurich in the rain...

My last look out from the hotel:

Before I headed to the flughof to board this flight home:


I really had such a grand time.  Everything was exhilarating, from the conference to the Swiss-style small town beauty of Saint Gallen to the majesty of the mountains and the fashionable streets of Zurich...  but I do wish my wonderful wife could have been with me.  She was in the U.S., though.  On her way back, she had a twelve-hour layover in Cairo.  So she booked herself an eight-hour tour.  Here she is with her guide in a Cairo market:

And at the Giza pyramid:

Amazing, isn't she?