Italian Unification

 

Although Italy has a long and storied history, think the Etruscans, the Romans, etc., it is easy to forget that it has been an independent nation for less time than the United States.  We learned some about Italian unification at the Risorgimento Museum in Milan. Since it was all in Italian, we could do some research after returning home.  Being history buffs, we found it interesting and liked the museum anyway.

Napoleon Bonaparte kicked out the Austrians and the Spanish out of Italy in 1796.  Until then, Italy had not existed a under a central power since the Romans.  It was a collection of city states that had been, for the most part, ruled by foreign powers (Austria, Spain, France).

Initially, Milan welcomed Napolean and built the triumphal arch, the Arco della Pace, for him.  They hoped that he would bring the ideals of the French Revolution (liberty, equality and brotherhood) to them.  In their eyes, he turned out to be just another narcissistic megalomaniac.  To express their dissatisfaction and disappointment, they turned the horses around.  Nevertheless, under Napoleon, Italy experienced it’s first taste of unification and it proved impossible to unring that bell.  It awakened hopes for Italy to become an independent nation.

The movement toward unification grew in the 50 years following Napoleon.  It started out as a revolutionionary movement on the fringes of society.  Since membership in this group (the Carbonari) was punishable by death, it was a secret society.  Understandable.

Giuseppe Mazzini led this professional revolutionary group.  Mazzini traveled extensively, spreading revolutionary propaganda, influencing Italian radicals and revolutionaries throughout Europe.  He was involved in the failed revolution 1848–49.

Giuseppe Garibaldi had a long military career before Victor Emmanuel convinced him to conquer Sicily.  In 1860 with 1,000 volunteers known as the Red Shirts, Garibaldi landed in Sicily, (which had rebelled against Francis II the king of the Two Sicilies), and conquered the island in a spectacular, daring campaign.  He then took Naples, and won a decisive battle on the Volturno River.  This led Victor Emmanuel’s proclamation as king of a united Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Sardinia and the first king of united Italy.  He was the rallying point around which the movement coalesced.  These men were so fundamental to the formation of Italy that in virtually every Italian town, you find streets, squares, piazzas and buildings named after Victor Emanuel, Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour.

Camillo Cavour (statesman, premier of the Kingdom of Sardinia), pulled a fast one on France.  In a brilliant sleight of hand, he convinced them to drive Austria out of Italy (Franco-Austrian War).  One occupier down, one to go.   He convinced France to take part of Savoy and Nice in exchange for getting out of the rest of Italy.   Clever.

After Garibaldi’s victories and Victor Emmanuel’s coronation, when Tuscany, Parma, Modena, and the Romagna voted for annexation to Sardinia, Cavour sent Sardinian troops into the Papal States, which, with the exception of Latium and Rome, were soon annexed.  And presto, you have Italy.

 

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Fresh Seaside Air Inland Thanks To Saline Towers

While in Bad Kreuznach, Germany we saw giant structures on the side of the road.  They were 9 meters (27 feet) high and looked almost like walls.  We wondered whether they were for flooding, remnants of ramparts or used for something else.  It turns out that they are Saline graduation towers, structures used to produce salt by removing water from Saline solution via evaporation.

The towers are made from a wooden wall-like frame stuffed with bundles of brushwood (typically blackthorn).   The Nahe valley has many salt springs. Salt water from them runs down the tower and partly evaporates, leaving minerals behind on the twigs.  The water in the bottom has a higher salt content (as a result of the evaporation).

We’d never seen these before, but apparently they are in spa towns in  Germany, Poland and Austria. Our friends told us that the air around them is beneficial and people with lung problems flock to them like they do to the seaside.  The salt water (for both inhalation and bathing) remains a remedy  for rheumatic diseases, asthma and skin conditions.

Of course, we had to check them out.  We hiked through the Salinental valley from Bad Kreuznach to Bad Münster to see them.  They were pretty sweet.  You almost got a high from breathing in the air.  It had a salty, tangy, fresh smell, kind of like the ocean without any fishy odors.  The area around the towers felt cool and it was very refreshing.

The Kurpark gardens are billed as Europe’s largest open-air inhalatorium, they offer private salt rooms and spas on site. saline nebulizer, the thermal baths and a number of rehabilitation clinics.  Saline nebulizers  spray a fine salt mist into the surrounding area.  The saltwater droplets are then breathed deep into the bronchial tubes.

You have been able to get radon therapy for rheumatism and inflammations for over 100 years. Bad Kreuznach pioneered radon therapy in an underground quicksilver chamber. Patients sit in an underground room, inhaling radon gas. I was surprised to see it because we had to do a radon test in our basement when I was a kid.

We walked along the water to adjacent Bad Munster.  Although there isn’t a ton besides campers and more spas in Bad Munster, it was beautiful.  It was so beautiful that Turner even painted it.  In 1844 while exploring the smaller valleys of the Rhine, he painted the castle of Ebernburg from the Valley of the Alsenz (click here to see the painting or go see it at the Tate in London).

Danger!!!!! What We’ve Learned About Avalanches

No, I’m not talking about the Chevrolet Avalanche, or any other SUV.  It will come as no surprise that the last time I saw one of those was before we moved to Switzerland.  This post is about snow, lots of it…tumbling down mountains.

3 = Marked Danger of Avalanches

The Alps have around 250,000 avalanches every year!  To have an avalanche, all you need is a mass of snow and a slope for it to slide down.  Specific topographic, snow and weather conditions increase the likelihood of avalanches.  They include:

  • Steep slopes of 30-45 degrees are more likely to avalanche.
  • Convex slopes are more prone than concave slopes.
  • Just looking at bowls and gullies, should alert you to their avalanche danger.  What happens when you pour water into a funnel?
  • Slopes that gather drifting snow, accumulate more of it and do it more quickly.  The snow is also looser, less compacted.  You can see how these factors all increase the likelihood of an avalanche.
  • Smooth, grassy slopes are much more dangerous because there is nothing to anchor the snow to the mountain.
  • Moist, dense precipitations are typically less dangerous than loose, dry snows.
  • Wind. It moves snow about the slopes and exerts pressure.  Need I say more.
  • Changes in temperature.  Change is destabilizing.  High and rapidly rising temperatures create wet snow prone to slides.  That’s likely what happened in the pictures below.
  • Thawing and refreezing.  When old snow melts, it becomes smooth (or icy after a rain).  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out new snow on top might slide off.
  • Similarly, loose, underlying snow is unstable.  It doesn’t take Copernicus to predict what is likely to happen.
  • A foot or more of soft, new snow is dangerous. It puts pressure on the existing snowpack.  New snow has to go somewhere, right?  Some of it might rest where it lands.  Some of it might come tumbling down.
  • Even the shape of the snow crystals can make a difference!

Avalanches can be deadly, but people buried in avalanches have a good prognosis if they are found and dug out quickly (within 15 minutes to have a reasonable chances of survival).

  • Much of North America is so large that the chances of a professional rescue team arriving in that time frame can be slim.  Nevertheless, Canada‘s average time to dig someone out is 18 minutes (with a survival rate of 46%)!  In Europe, where everything is closer, things vary by country.
  • In France, the average time to dig someone out is 45 minutes.  As a result, France’s death rate from avalanches averages 25-30 per year (60% of extracted victims die).  France (where we do most of our skiing) had more avalanche fatalities than any other country.  The winter of 2005-2006 was a difficult avalanche season and over 50 people died from avalanches in France alone.
  • Switzerland takes 35 minutes (with a survival rate of 47%).

Just last month, Prince Frisco of the Netherlands was caught in an avalanche in Austria.  He was buried under the snow for over 25 minutes and it took nearly 50 minutes to resuscitate him.  He remains in a coma and may never recover.

Avalanche deaths have been on a rise.  Equipment has improved over the past couple of decades, making “off-piste,” backcountry skiing without the benefit of marked trails composed of compacted snow, possible for many more.  It looks like tons of fun, but many are ill-prepared and not sufficiently knowledgeable.

This was taken at Les Contamines, near Mt. Blanc. If you look closely, you can see the aftermath of the avalanche.

Several technologies are essential for anyone backcountry skiing as they help improve the chance of survival.

  • Transceivers, otherwise known as avalanche beacons, send and receive radio signals, helping rescuers to quickly pinpoint the location of a buried victim.  Nevertheless, not even half of those with beacons survive.  It cannot save you if you are severely injured or buried deeply.
  • Avalanche airbags are recommended and gaining in popularity.  We have even seen them advertised at bus stops.  Worn like parachutes, the ripcord causes an airbag to inflate, encircling the head.  It  protects their head and their neck and provides floatation, decreasing the likelihood of burial.
  • Other crucial safety tools include: collapsible probes and shovels.
  • The best defense is a good offense.  It is best to avoid an avalanche altogether.

You can see where the snow slid (and might again).

Here are some YouTube links to videos of Avalanches:

During our Swiss travels in Switzerland, we have seen evidence of the Swiss infrastructure to prevent and deal with avalanches.

An avalanche shelter in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley

Avalanche snow fences in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland

Don’t worry mom, ski resorts try to eliminate the possibility of an avalanche on the slopes by compacting the snow or using explosives.  We aren’t good enough (or brave enough) to really go off piste.

Covering to prevent snow from covering the road into the Lotschental Valley

 

Winkelwho? Winkelreid, The Legendary Swiss Hero

Winkelreid at Sempach by Konrad Grob

Once upon a time, Austria (the Hapsburg Empire) attempted to conquer the Swiss and marched into the mountains.  On July 9, 1386, they lined up to do battle with the Swiss at Sempach.  The Swiss mountain men were outmanned and had inferior weapons. For once, obsessions with having the longer spear paid off.  The Austrian’s pre-firearm spears were significantly longer than the Swiss’s short spears.  This made it impossible to effectively attack the Austrians and break their line.

The Winkelried Monument in Stans (near Luzern), courtesy of Wikipedia

Needless to say, the Swiss were not faring well and the outlook was bleak.  The soon to be legendary Arnold von Winkelried, knew that the Swiss would soon be defeated unless they made an opening in the Austrian’s line.  Bravely, he extended his arms as far as possible, rushed toward the Austrian line and gathered as many spears as he could grasp in his arms.    Legend says that he shouted, “take care of my wife and children” as he moved forward.   It was either that or “who the heck pushed me”?

His legend is an important part of Swiss history and it isn’t difficult to find memorials to his bravery.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia

reenactment in an ad for Navyboot from The Sweet Calling of Mountains

courtesy of Wanderland.ch

Five Francs ($6) is too small to be a bill here, it is now a coin.

courtesy of Theater Saint Gervais

Winkelwho? Winlkelreid The Legendary Swiss Hero

Winkelreid at Sempach by Konrad Grob

Once upon a time, Austria (the Hapsburg Empire) attempted to conquer the Swiss and marched into the mountains.  On July 9, 1386, they lined up to do battle with the Swiss at Sempach.  The Swiss mountain men were outmanned and had inferior weapons.

Winkelreid Monument in Stans near Rosenburg, courtesy of Wikipedia

For once, obsessions with having the longer spear paid off.  The Austrian’s pre-firearm spears were significantly longer than the Swiss’s short spears.  This made it impossible to effectively attack the Austrians and break their line.  Needless to say, the Swiss were not faring well and the outlook was bleak.

The soon to be legendary Arnold von Winkelried, knew that the Swiss would soon be defeated unless they made an opening in the Austrian’s line.  Bravely, he extended his arms as far as possible, rushed toward the Austrian line and gathered as many spears as he could grasp in his arms.    Legend says that he shouted, “take care of my wife and children” as he moved forward.   It was either that or “who the heck pushed me”?

His legend is in important part of Swiss history and it isn’t difficult to find memorials to Arnold Von Winkelreid’s bravery.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia 

reenactment in an ad for Navyboot from The Sweet Calling of Mountains

courtesy of Wanderland.ch

Five Francs ($6) is too small to be a bill here, it is now a coin.

courtesy of Theater Saint Gervais

 

Prague’s Jewish Quarter

Jews have lived in Prague since 965 In the 13th century, Prague’s Jews were banned from living outside a particular area of the city.  They had to leave their homes and settle in a prescribed area, the Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov.  During the mid 1500’s, Prague’s Jewish population almost doubled as Jews were expelled from Moravia, Germany, Austria and Spain.
In 1708, Jews were 1/4 of Prague’s population and by the early 18th century, more Jews lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world. In the 19th century, Prague’s Jews gained freedoms and began integrating into society.  All that changed when the Nazis came in 1939.
Initially, the vast majority of Czech Jews were imprisoned in Terezin, a ghetto north of Prague.  Others were sent directly to concentration camps.  More than a quarter of a million Czechoslovak Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.  Today, there are estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 Jews in the Czech Republic.
The synagogues no longer need to serve large populations.  Rather than let them fall into disrepair, have become different parts of the Jewish Museum in Prague and are best preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments in Europe.  Six synagogues remain and have been restored.  Together, they comprise the Jewish Museum.*  The sites include:

  • Jewish Town Hall (Židovská radnice) – This 18th century rococo town hall Jewish Town Hall has a clock tower whose hands run backwards as Hebrew reads from right to left.   Part of the building dates from 1586.

  • Klaus Synagogue (Klausova synagoga) – It is 16th century baroque synagogue that houses Hebrew prints, manuscripts and has a good exhibition explaining Jewish traditions and customs..
  • Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagog) – This 16th century synagogue was once destroyed by fire.  Now, it houses a collection of items brought to Prague by the Nazis with the intention of establishing a museum of vanished people.

  • Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagog) – This 16th century synagogue was rebuilt many times since it was founded in 1479.   After WWII it became a memorial to the 77,297 Jewish Czechoslovak victims of the Nazi Holocaust.  These numbers do not include Slovakian Jews, only Jews from current Czech territory.  Each of the victim’s names is written in alphabetical order on the walls with their date of birth and the date they were last seen alive.  The building is silent except for prayers and a reading the names of the dead, which alternate over the sound system.

  • Spanish Synagogue (Španělská synagog) – This 19th century synagogue is a stunning building named after its Moorish interior.  It contains an exhibition of the life of Jews in the Czech Republic.   Despite it’s appearance, it was never used by Sephardic Jews, but was an early Reform temple.

  • Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagog) – Dating from 1270, this Gothic synagogue is the oldest working in Prague.  It is legendary and reputed to be the home of the famous Golem of Prague.  It requires an additional ticket that can be purchased at the same time.

  • Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov) This 15th-18th century cemetery is  Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery and one of the most unusual sites. Founded in 1478, it is Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery.  As Jews were not permitted to bury their dead outside the Jewish Quarter and space was tight, there was a severe lack of space. 100,000 people are thought to be buried here.  To fit them all, people had to be buried on top of each other. There are about 12 layers and over 12,000 gravestones.   Since Jews do not believe in moving the dead, even when permitted to bury outside the quarter, they did not move the bodies to make more space.

It is customary for Jews to put small stones on a gravesite when visiting it.

Over the years, the bodies accumulated.  Now the cemetery is over a story above street level.

I found the concept of having a museum divided between several important buildings all within close walking distance to each other really interesting and easy to manage.  Each one has a different focus and so they compliment each other, rather than overlap. It was an incredibly interesting and moving morning.






Our Wider World Of Sports

All Blacks Haka Richie McCaw 2011 - Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
In the US, we are pretty narrow in terms of the sports that are “mainstream”.  ESPN only covers football (American Football), baseball and basketball in any real depth on a regular basis.  Okay, I guess you can add hockey, golf, maybe tennis and soccer too.  If you are older and remember life pre-cable, you may remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the one with the ski-jumper who crashed in the opening credits.  They went around the world, found interesting sporting events and made fantastic programs about them.  
 
Vinko_bogataj_medium
Image courtesy of ABC
In the US, I complain about the narrow range of sports covered by ESPN.*  He always reminds me “supply and demand”.  It has been a pleasant surprise here to see the large variety of sports covered well on TV.  This, ironically, does not include TV France’s coverage of cycling.  It’s horrible, very disappointing and perplexing.  How can the French be such fans of cycling when they have the worst announcers known to mankind.  Okay, maybe that was a bit extreme.  How can the French be such fans of cycling when they hear someone announce it in monotone, in the decibel level of a golf announcer at the green with NO interesting anecdotes?
 
The awesome Versus cycling announcers…worth emulating.
We’ve been watching a the Rugby World Cup.  The both the games and the coverage have been outstanding.  New Zealand’s All Blacks got past Australia in a fast and spirited game yesterday.  Next weekend, they will face France in the final.  

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Scrolling through our TV, here are some of the sporting events we will be able to see in the next week (coverage is somewhat limited this week due to the large coverage of the Rugby World Cup):

  • Pro surfing from Portugal
  • Ten million different soccer leagues and games, seriously, there are too many to list
  • Boxing (not pay per view)
  • ATP tennis from Russia (played indoors)
  • Vintage WWE?!?
  • Pro wrestling (hilarious when dubbed in French)
  • A marathon from Poland (Poznan Marathon?)
  • Motorcycle racing
  • Formula One
  • Polo from Spain
  • Equestrian competition from Norway
  • Several different golf events
  • A martial arts competition from Romania
  • Horse racing
  • Ski competition from Austria
  • Figure skating from the US
  • British Touring Car Championships
  • One football game (the American kind)
Even with all this, American football is still his favorite.
*Other family members complain about ESPN’s apparent pro-U of M bias.

 

 

Swiss Wine

The Romans were in Switzerland and they liked wine. A lot. As a result, it has a long and rich history of wine-making.Now, Switzerland produces a lot of wine. The Swiss are virtually obsessed with quality.  They make wine like they do most things, very well. Unfortunately for those not in Switzerland, nearly all of it is drunk within Switzerland; less than 2% of the wine is exported.

Switzerland is bordered by Germany, Austria, France and Italy. They each produce a few bottles. Switzerland has a widely varied climate. As a result, it has a wide repertoire of grape varieties and winemaking styles.

Switzerland isn’t exactly known for its temperate climate. How can they grow wine? The Föhn, a weather phenomenon that influences the climate in Switzerland, makes it possible to grow grape varieties in regions that are otherwise inhospitable. On hikes, we have seen firsthand how the Swiss will make the most of the cultivable land at lower altitudes to grow grapes.