Another Reason To Love Switzerland, The Future Orientation Index

World map showing countries by nominal GDP per...

World map showing countries by nominal GDP per capita in 2008, IMF estimates as of April 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, a study (Future Orientation Index) ranking the most forward thinking nations came out. Switzerland ranked #2, up from #7 the previous year. Scientists correlated data from Google searches, the CIA World Factbook and national economic performance. In other words, researchers looked at how many times people in 2012 used Google to search for “2013” than for “2011.” They discovered strong links between changes in the information users seek online and events in the real world.

Why is this important? Aside from the obvious reasons, there’s a big one, GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  Professor Tobias Preis of Warwick Business School said: “In general, we find a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a larger per capita GDP… There seems to be a relationship with the economic success of a country and the information seeking behavior of its citizens online.”

Okay, so there’s a relationship between looking for information about the future and wealth. Why is there one? What can people say about this relationship?  Co-author Dr Suzy Moat stated “[w]e see two leading explanations for this relationship between search activity and GDP… [T]hese findings may reflect international differences in attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports economic success.” She continued “these findings may reflect international differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic influences on available Internet infrastructure.”

By the way. Germany took the top spot, while Pakistan ranked at the bottom of their list as #45. The US came in at #11.

 

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Snowmaking, Skiers Response To Mother Nature

When Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, man takes things into his own hands.  Usually, it involves some sort of big, noisy machine.  Snowmakers are no exception.  Those are snow cannons in the photo above.

Snowmaking creates snow by dispersing water and air-under-pressure into freezing ambient air. They can even choose whether to make it into light powder or a wet base snow (which lasts better at higher temperatures) by regulating the water content of man made snow.  Still, the lower the temperature, the better for snowmaking.  It usually needs to be below 25 degrees fahrenheit (-3.89 Celsius) for it to work, which is part of the reason it is done at night.  The lower the humidity, the higher the temperature can be.   Aaah… the miracles of modern science….

Epiphany/Three Kings Day

We Three Kings

We Three Kings (Photo credit: pixieclipx)

Once again, I’m ashamed to say that I was in my late twenties before I ever even know this holiday existed (commemorating the day when the three kings presented their gifts to the baby Jesus).  Here’s how they celebrate it here.

P1060042

P1060042 (Photo credit: keepps)

You knew it. You knew there had to be one. You were right; they have a special pastry.   Every holiday here seems to have its own special pastry and this is not exception.  It is a ring of buns, one of which contains small plastic kings.  If you get that roll, you win a crown and the right to tell everyone what to do for the rest of the day.  Carolers dressed as three kings also roam the streets singing (known as Star Singing).

The bread ...

The bread … (Photo credit: pedro_cerqueira)

Who doesn’t love a great loaf of bread?  Before we moved, we would sometimes go to our neighborhood’s French bakery and buy a nice loaf of fresh bread.

Swiss bread and chocolate

Swiss bread and chocolate (Photo credit: ellengwallace)

Since we moved, we have been buying great bread at local patisseries.  It is made fresh each morning and we buy a loaf to eat over the next 2-3 days while  while it is still fresh.  Ymmmm.  This is dangerous because you have to go there several times a week (only a block away).  When it’s no longer really fresh, we feed it to the ducks on Lake Geneva (except for when our niece visited when we bought loaves to feed to them).

Not Just A Ghost In The Machine – European Vending Machines

This post comes with a warning for Americans (and any other country that doesn’t display items many Americans would feel are more mature or private in public spaces).  Warning – While I took these pictures in the middle of a train station in Switzerland, but in the US (and probably other places) people consider these items to be more of an adult or private nature.

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We’ve noticed that vending machines in Europe contain some things that are um, well, a bit different than what you would see in American vending machines (or at least the ones not found in truck stops).  Take a look below and see for yourself.

Yes, that is C-ICE, “Swiss Cannabis Ice Tea,” located above.  It is made from black tea hemp bloom syrup (5%), and hemp bloom extract (0.0015%) that will allegedly give you a “fantastic natural feeling.”  It allegedly has low levels of THC, but appears to be marketed more as a health drink.  We didn’t try it, but the Top Gear guys did when they visited Romania.

Please note that the pack of lighters (above) is located adjacent to a kid’s candy bar. Also for kids is Buffalo Jr., a children’s energy drink.  It doesn’t contain either Taurine or caffeine and is marketed as providing “an additional supply of energy producing L-Carnitine needed for an active life.”

Car-Free Towns

Many “old towns” are (almost completely) car free.  Many towns, use a system of passes and barriers to ensure that the streets remain traffic free while allowing residents parking, taxis access and permitting deliveries.

Many streets in city centers are reserved for local business people, residents, city buses, or pedestrians. To enforce this the entry to the street is always marked as such, in the local language and with standard signs, and is often blocked by a couple of 8″ diameter steel posts rising up from the road. Those with permits have a swipe card which lowers the posts momentarily so they can drive through. If you try to sneak through right after someone goes in you might hear a sort of crunching sound as the posts come up under your car. This will be embarrassing and expensive.

Some of the car-free towns we have visited include:

To encourage walking, biking and the use of public transport, many European cities make it hard (and/or costly) to park.

  • limit the amount of parking spaces
  • implement or increase parking fees
  • Fees paid for parking are sometimes used to encourage non-car transportation.

Eliminating parking spaces in Copenhagen has made room for high-quality pedestrian districts and bike paths, while street space once used by cars has likewise been repurposed in Paris for bike sharing and tramways.

How Bazzar! Dubai’s Souks

 

A surprising amount of Dubai‘s traditional commercial activity is still conducted in traditional markets known as souks.  Dubai’s souks are chaotic labyrinths filled with energy, movement, sights and smells.  I can’t tell a lie.  In almost 50-degree heat (122 Fahrenheit), there is a little less energy and movement and a little more to smell.   As a result, the best times to see these old-style markets are during the morning and evening’s cooler hours.

Dubai has many of these atmospheric, vibrant, old-fashioned souks, each with their own specialization.  I checked quite a few of them out but didn’t buy anything.  If you do, plan on haggling.  It looked like part of the fun.

The Grand Souk Deira, a bustling textile souk, is Dubai’s oldest and busiest bazaar. Dating from the 1830’s, it contains hundreds of businesses that sell everything from cheap, good quality pashminas to exquisite fabrics to junk.  I giggled when the salesmen remembered me walking down the street earlier and many of them will try to strike up a conversation to sell to you.

On the other side of the river, the 300 stores of the Gold Souk, are filled with a dazzling array of cheap gold.  The souks are regulated by the government which ensures the quality and that items are of the purported the quality.  Silver, platinum, diamonds and other precious stones are also for sale.  By the way, if you are in the market for gold, you can also get a good deal at Dubai’s Gold & Diamond Park.

The nearby restored Spice souk sells exotic herbs, colorful spices and aromatic frankincense.  The barrels and jute sacks contribute to the atmosphere.  Not just a tourist attraction, it also sell groceries, and household goods to locals and workers on nearby dhows.

Dubai also has perfume fish and probably countless other souks that I don’t even know about.

For me as an American, it was really interesting to see so many similar business located in such proximity. Americans tend to think about things differently and prize convenience.  Therefore, in the US, you don’t usually see many districts with a singular-type business or industry that sells goods to consumers.  Businesses in the US tend to try to take advantage of proximity to the consumer.  That’s not to say that you don’t see a Home Depot near a Lowe’s.  I just mean that you don’t see 10 independent small business of the same type all in a row, let alone 50 or 100.

Enjoy the atmosphere and the unique merchandise.  Just don’t expect the souks to be untouched by globalization.  I was amazed by the large array of goods made in China that I could by at a dollar store or Asian market in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Les Incompetents Vol. 12 – Don’t Forget Your Train Pass

He left for work and forgot his wallet (with his public transport pass inside).  Wouldn’t you know it, that was the day the TPG (Geneva Public Transport) decided to check passengers for their passes.  In Geneva, you don’t have to show a ticket to get on a tram or bus.  Periodically, TPG officers will board busses and trams to check tickets.  They issue steep fines to riders without tickets.  Riders without any form of identification (to properly issue the fine) are taken into custody!

He had enough identification on him to allow them to check and see he had a TPG pass.  He received a fine that he will not have to pay if he brings his pass to the TPG office.  Of course, this being Switzerland, you still have to pay a small fee.

On a side note, I heard a hilarious story about one of the TPG checks.  It seems to be some sort of urban legend here.  Who knows whether or not it is true?  A woman took the only available seat on the tram next to an immigrant.  She began complaining loudly about immigrants, how they should go back home, and how generally horrible they were.   TPG officials boarded that tram and began checking tickets.  Immediately before the officials came to check their tickets, the man about whom she had been complaining grabbed her small paper ticket out of her hand, popped it in his mouth, quickly chewed and swallowed it.  When the officials came, she was without a ticket.  Proclaiming her innocence and claiming the man next to her ate her ticket was not enough to prevent her from being issued a fine.  Everyone who witnessed the incident remained silent, having been so offended by her behavior and remarks.

Aare Gorge, One Reason To Love The End Of The Ice Age

We saw the mighty Rhine in Germany.  Several rivers feed into it, including the Aare (also known as the Aar).  The Aare is the longest river that both begins and ends entirely within Switzerland.  It flows from the  Aar Glaciers of the Bernese Alps and joins with the Rhine in Koblenz.  When they merge, it actually surpasses the Rhine in volume.  Seeing the size of the Aare close to its source, I’m not surprised.  It flows quickly and is ice-cold.  It’s snowmelt after all.

The Evil Genius wanted to stop by and see the Aare Gorge (also known as the Aareschlucht) while we were in nearby Meiringen.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but ended up being overwhelmed by it.  It is truly an amazing sight.

At the end of the Ice age, torrential runoff water from melting glaciers eroded a deep, narrow chasm.  Over thousands of years, the Aare’s tumbling waters continued to erode the limestone rock, further carving out the gorge replete with niches, caves and hollows.  In fact, the water gets its greenish tint from tiny particles of eroded limestone.  They don’t need to die it green for St. Patty’s Day (unlike the Chicago River).

We entered a tunnel carved from the rock and exited onto a metal walkway suspended over the rushing water.  At first, walking over the torrent was a bit unsettling.  It didn’t take long for amazement to take over.  Isolated in the valley, we only heard the rushing waters echoing off the walls.

The dramatic setting immediately impressed us.  Wandering along, we became even more awestruck.  Not knowing much about the gorge, we had no idea of its size and scale.  It is 1400 meters long (0.87 miles) and 200 meters (656 feet) deep.

At points, it is only 1 meter (3 feet) wide!

Before the walkway was built, the only way to see it was from a boat.  The gorge was unfamiliar and frightening. Legend’s about what was in the gorge abounded.  For example, in 1814 there was a report of a monster.  It’s body resembled that a snake, but with a round head and legs.  It allegedly had a  big mouth, sharp teeth, evil eyes, and made terrifying whistling sound.   Locals called it a “Tatzelwurm.”  We didn’t see any sign of this beast.  Apparently we are very poor mythical beast spotters.  We didn’t see any sign of the Loch Ness Monster when we were there either.

Eventually, the fissure widens a bit allowing you to see some of the cool things erosion has created.  There were several waterfalls.  The river widened enough to allow us to see rocks and rapids.  We even saw a cave that had been converted to military use in the buildup to the second world war.

We saw more evidence of Switzerland’s military preparedness.  I’m guessing  that wall and door inside the cave isn’t the work of the glacier and this use to contain something other than sand.  Just a hunch.

 Not surprisingly, the lack of direct sunlight and the icy waters combine to make it a good deal cooler than the surrounding countryside.  Who cares, the view is worth it.

Oh, and when you emerge.  This is your view.  What’s not to love?

Take It Eze-y, The Cote D’Azur Town Of Eze

Eze is a dramatic village perched 427 Meters (1,400 feet) above the Mediterranean sea.  Like many ancient hill towns, it is car-free.  We love car-free towns because they are more pedestrian and very peaceful.

Eze’s star attraction is the Jardin Exotique, a cactus and succulent filled garden planted around the ruins of a 14th century castle and filled with sculptures.   They had nice plaques explaining the sights and history of the area.  Very educational.  I loved the idea of filling castle ruins in with plants to make a unique garden.  It was really cool, but the real start of the show were the views.  Amazing.

Eze is so beautiful that it has become a tourist town…literally.  There are almost no full-time residents.  Virtually all the buildings are shops, art galleries, hotels or restaurants.  It has become a popular honeymoon destination.

The private terrace of one of the hotels

The Romans inhabited Eze.  Around 900, the Moors conquered the village, attacking from the door below.  They held it William of Provence took it from them in 973.  Like nearby Villefranche, its strategic position and proximity to nearby Nice meant that rulers built heavy fortifications.  Eze functions as sort of “eagle’s nest” overlooking the sea and surrounding mountains.   The Phoenicians, Turks and the Principality of Monaco also occupied the city at different points in time.

They weren’t the only ones who came to Eze.  The philosopher Nietzsche spent time here.  The trail you can hike down to the water (in the town of Eze-Sur-Mer) is called the Nietzsche Path in his honor.  We had on hiking clothes, but it was raining so hard that a hike down a steep (and possibly muddy) path didn’t sound like a ton of fun.  Walt Disney also spent time here.  He doesn’t have a path.

Les Incompetents Vol. 9 – Whimps In An Alpine Snowstorm

Last weekend, we went to bed in Gimmelwald, Switzerland (accessible mainly by cable car) with this view of the Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps.  It could have been clearer, but it’s still a pretty sweet view.  We woke up to this.

And it kept falling.

And falling.

We’re from Michigan, so we’re pretty hardy and decided that even though we were fighting off colds, we could do a few hours of hiking… in a snowstorm… on a mountain.  Yeah.  I know.  We’re geniuses.  Neither of us wanted to be the bigger baby and complain so we kept going.

And going.

Finally, the wind convinced us to turn back.  We decided that it was getting so windy that if it got much worse they might shut down the cable cars and be stuck up there that night.

Note the pitch of the flag and the temperature of -2. Balmy. Especially when I forgot to pack a hat and gloves.

Thankfully, we were able to get down to our car.   We even gave a couple of Aussies (whose paragliding trip had inexplicably been cancelled) a ride to the train station before setting off to see more of Switzerland.

Clearly the weather was ideal at lower altitudes. We ended up having a great time though. I swear, I will tell you all about it.