Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our trip to London

We’re back from 4 full days in London. I cannot over emphasize how good it was to be in a country that spoke English! Foggy ol’ London did us right with good weather each day. We saw some sites before going to Wembley Stadium on Sunday to see the NFL’s International Series game – the Patriots vs. the Buccaneers.

Payton was thrilled with going to Hamleys toy store our first full day there. It’s one of the world’s largest toy shops and we went to the flagship store on Regents Street. They go all out with many people demonstrating the toys and games. There are many toys out for you to try out too. In all it is six levels of toys, games and fun for all.

Along the River Thames (pronounced temz) we took a ride on the London Eye, viewed Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, crossed the Tower Bridge and toured the Tower of London.

The London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel rising 443 ft. above the city. The wheel has 32 pods able to hold about 25 people each. A single rotation takes about 30 minutes. It offers a great view of the city.
Big Ben clock tower and the Palace of Westminster are just across the river from the Eye. We just looked at each from afar. I’m not complaining, but to really check things out with a 5-year old in tow is really hard. Parker didn’t come with us. We left him back in Neuchâtel for a vacation of his own with the Marciondo’s.To the west, down river from the Eye is Tower Bridge which we crossed to go see the Tower of London – a huge fortress. The Tower of London isn’t really a tower at all and is mistakenly identified with the White Tower. The tower is actually a complex of many buildings with the White Tower standing tall in the middle. The Crown Jewels are kept at the Tower of London, but they aren’t in any tower. They are kept in the Jewel House which is a long building just north of the White Tower.

We invested the time into seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. And wouldn’t you know it; the only bad weather we experienced was that morning. It was just a light drizzle and it stopped before the Change. We arrived at 9:30 - 2 hours early for the 45 minute ceremony. All told we stood for about 3 hours! You had to do this to get a decent view. We were part of the early bird crowd and got lucky picking a spot. We stood about 10-12 ft. left of the center gate. The ceremony was elaborate and precisely choreographed. An officer marched right up to us several times. When he first did it we thought we might have done something taboo. He surprised the crowd by once saying good morning. We all got a kick out of that. There were two bands and they played very well. And not just fuddy duddy stuff either; it was fairly current music. One song was from Saturday Night Fever. Disco; imagine that. Funny thing was that we were all so engrossed with the ceremony we actually missed the change of guards.By the time the ceremony was over, little Payton was wiped out. It was time for lunch so we carried him to a restaurant. By the time we got to one, he had rested enough and was ready to go for the rest of the day.After lunch we headed to Piccadilly Circus to see Ripley's Believe It or Not museum. Payton enjoyed it and Kathleen and I did too. It was filled with interesting tidbits and fun things for Payton. The world's smallest street legal cars were just his size. If you're a Top Gear fan you will recognize the PEEL 50 from one of their episodes. The last thing in the museum was a real hoot. It was a large diameter spinning tube you walked through. The walkway had railings so you didn't fall over. It was nearly impossible to walk through this tube without leaning on the rails. Any sense of balance went out the window. It was really cool and fun.Here are some general photos of the city on our way back to the hotel. London is very big with lots of people. Both the streets and the sidewalks were jammed with people. Almost everyone spoke English. Heaven.The next day was football Sunday - our last day in London. Before the game we walked around Hyde Park near our hotel. Around 2:30 we headed off to Wembley Stadium to see some American football. Well at least we saw it from one team. The Patriots beat up on the Buccaneers. It was a home game for the Bucs so there was Buccaneer stuff all over just like it would have been back in Tampa Bay. It was fun to see. The Londoners really seem to have taken to the game. This is the third year for this game. Eighty some thousand people attended the game and they all left nearly the same time. Seemingly all were headed to same tube as we were. As many people as there were, we walked right onto a jammed packed train and got home quicker than from any game I have been to in the U.S.Our London trip was pretty nice. I would like to go back. Maybe not London, but instead Blackpool. The place is sort of like an Atlantic City or the Coney Island boardwalk. It is a summer destination for the Brits. It would be a lot of fun especially for Payton and Parker. Next time we will take Parker along.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bilingual or Bust

The following is from the current issue of SwissNews. It is a good thing I won't be here much longer.

Thinking of applying for a Swiss passport? Better brush up on your German, French, Italian or Romansh first.

The Swiss Senate recently backed the House of Representatives by voting not to grant citizenship to anyone unable to communicate proficiently in one of the four nationally recognized languages, according to the Zurich daily newspaper, the TagesAnzeiger.

Good language skills are important for integration, said Roberto Schmidt, member of the Christian Democratic Party (CVP) from Valais. Therefore, he added, it is right to strengthen the citizenship law.

Not only will applicants need to demonstrate their lannguage skills by passing a verrbal language test, but also their "integration success". And according to a report on World Radio Switzerland (WRS), foreign nationals who don't integrate could even lose their residency permits.

WRS said the Senate backed a motion suggesting foreigners who "are clearly not going to meet those conditions" of integration and language proficiency could have their residency permits revoked, and be forced to leave Switzerland.

The Federal Cabinet is in the process of defining what exactly "integration" means.

I am about as integrated in Switzerland as an ice cube is in the oven.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cascades Du Herisson hike

(l'Eventail falls in all its glory - a glory we didn't see. I grabbed this picture off the internet.)

Today we hiked the Cascades du Herisson in France. Roughly translated, the waterfalls on the Herisson river. Lac de Bonlieu is the source for the river at 805 m (2641 ft.) and drops 280 m (920 ft.) in only 3 km (2 miles) by cutting through narrow gorges and forming four pretty cool waterfalls; Saut Girard (35 m / 115 ft.), Le Saut de la Forge, Le Grand Saut (60 m / 197 ft.) and finally l'Eventail (65 m / 213 ft.). In between these falls are numerous cascades.

It was best to start downstream and hike up. The first fall - l'Eventail - wasn't far and the path there was wide and smooth. The river's water flow wasn't real strong, but good enough to impress. Seeing these with winter snow melt would be really cool. From here the trail got steeper, but it was well maintained and wasn't difficult. Steps were either man-made, roots of trees or carved from rock. (Left: l'Eventail from below and from above.)

The next fall - Le Grand Saut - we could only view from on top. The trail leading to its base was closed. The trail actually led you behind the waterfall, but the trail had been eroded away. Too bad, it would have been neat to walk behind the falls. By the time we reached the top we needed a break and there was a nice place for us to rest and have lunch.

(The next three pictures: on the way to Le Grand Saut.)
(The next two pictures: atop Le Grand Saut - looking upstream and looking back downstream.)

Upstream from Le Grand Saut was a smaller fall called La Gour Bleu. It wasn't real tall; maybe three or four times my height.

After La Gour Bleu was Château Garnier. It was a weird looking fall, but its pool was deep.

We halted our hike at Le Saut de la Forge. We didn't go all the way to Saut Girard. Parker likes hiking too, but after 2 hours buckled in the car and another couple of hours in the kid carrier, he was getting a little cranky. Springtime will be a good time to see this place again. We'll catch that last fall then.