Tunnels

I had been all set to post about Switzerland’s tunnels this winter.  A day or two before I was going to publish the post, Switzerland experienced its second worst road accident.  On March 13, 2012, a bus carrying Belgian schoolchildren and teachers on the way home from a ski trip crashed into a tunnel wall in Sierre.  According to Wikipedia, “(o)f the 52 people on board, 28 were killed in the crash, including both drivers, all four teachers, and 22 of the 46 children. The other 24 pupils, all aged between 10 and 12, were injured, including three who were hospitalised with severe brain and chest injuries.”  Belgium declared a day of morning and there were many memorial celebrations here in Switzerland.

I collect ideas for my post and look for opportunities to take accompanying photograph (and vice versa).  When we drove to Wilder to see the Tschäggättä, I photographed tunnels to use in the post.  One of the tunnels, was the one in Sierre where the accident occurred.

While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, a local paper put forth a theory that the driver believed that he was heading into the right lane instead of an emergency pull-off space.  While it does explain why the bus crashed into the wall at full speed, at this point, it is just a theory.

We are constantly amazed by Switzerland’s engineering feats.  The Swiss didn’t start building their highway system until 1955 and progressed very slowly.  As a result, they were able to see what worked (and didn’t work) elsewhere.  The Swiss approached building their system in their typically reasoned, intent, deliberative, considerate way.

There are highway tunnels throughout Switzerland.  Notable tunnels include:

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Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps

Him and Mt. Blanc/Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco

Mt. Blanc, Mont Blanc and Monte Bianco all refer to the same mountain.  It has so many names because of its strategic location.  It in France, viewable from Switzerland and forms part of the border with Italy.  The French and Italian names mean “white mountain.”  Other names for it include La Dame Blance and Il Bianco.

Aosta Valley – From behind the protective tape and snow fence on the slopes

It lies in the Alps between Italy’s Aosta Valley and the Haute-Savoie region of France .  The 11.6 km (7.1 mile) Mt. Blanc Tunnel has connected the two since it was built in 1965.

courtesy of EnlightenedTraveler.co.uk

The trip around the alps is long and so the tunnel was an instant success, becoming one of the major trans-alp transport routes.  It costs about $60 roundtrip for a car to use the tunnel.  That does not include the fine you will pay if you speed over 70 km/hr or do not leave sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you.  They are militant about this safe driving because in 1999 there was a fire in the tunnel that killed 39 people.  We felt a bit more at ease traveling through the tunnel knowing that when the tunnel reopened in 2002, it contained additional safety features.

courtesy of railsystem.net

Mt. Blanc’s height is 4,810 m (15, 782 feet) tall.  It has year-round snow.  Its Bossons glacier comprises the largest ice fall in Europe.  It made the news in 2007, when it grew 6 meters!

It is a center for alpine outdoor activities including: skiing, snowboarding, heliskiing, paragliding, snowshoeing, mountain climbing, trekking, hiking, mountain biking and everyone’s favorite pastime of warming themselves in cute cafes.  All of this activity is not without danger and Mt. Blanc averages 100 fatalities a year and many more severe injuries.  Recently, a Russian couple froze to death while attempting to climb Mt. Blanc, a body was found on a black run (he must have snuck in some night skiing), and an avalanche killed a man.  Looking at a video of a Mt. Blanc avalanche on YouTube, helped me to understand their power and danger.

Courmayeur Piste Map courtesy of winter-sports.com

The Aosta Valley, where we spent the weekend, is a paradise for off piste skiing.  Some of our group went off piste.  Having skied a whopping three times in the last fifteen years, I was happy to stick to the reds.

Please note that these pictures are from the Italian side.  Mt. Blanc’s peak is not visible as it is obscured by a lower part of the mountain when viewed from this angle.

Driving in Switzerland

We now have our permanent car (isn’t she a beauty) here.  When I am driving in Switzerland, I’m not worried about getting in an accident or even parking in a teeny tiny space.  I’m worried about following all of the rules. Here are some:
  • Seat belts are compulsory for all occupants (expected).
Wearing his seatbelt
  • Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat without an appropriate child restraint (also expected).
  • No right turn on red.  I can deal with this.
  • Pedestrians always have the right-of-way in pedestrian crosswalks.  I can deal with this.  Unfortunately, the drivers with French plates who consistently try to run me over have difficulty doing so.
  • Hazard lights may only be used to warn of danger.   This is a bit different from driving in the US, where I use them when stopped in front of someone’s house.
  • No honking is allowed after dark.  How else am I supposed to show my road rage? This merits a definitely different.
  • Noise from car or occupants that could disturb people is prohibited.   Does this mean I can’t blast my bass?
  • The minimum driving age is 18.  FYI, the drinking age for wine and beer is 16.
  • Mobile phones may only be used with a hands-free system (similar to the US).
  • Headlights must be used in tunnels.   Logical, but this is not really an issue in Michigan.  On Sunday, I think we went through at least 8 tunnels on our way to Geneva.  By the way, not only do you have to use your headlights in tunnels, the speed limit drops and they use radar to fine you if you are following too closely.  You’ll get a nice little note from the Swiss government in the mail about a week later.
  • Headlights should be on and dipped during daylight hours, especially on major routes.  We can do this.
  • Each car must carry a red warning triangle (reflective vests are not obligatory).  Thank goodness our rental came with it, because I’m not sure where to buy a red warning triangle.  Hmmm… I’d better check to make sure our new car has one.
  • Snow chains are required in some winter conditions.    Who doesn’t love this? Okay, he doesn’t love this. To quote him, “what happened to all season tires?” Mom said, “maybe they don’t have them over here.”  He said, “Michelin? Pirelli?”  We have ours and have paid to store our normal tires for the winter.  You can breathe easy, we are in compliance.
  • It is illegal to drive if the windshield is partly or completely obscured by frost; it is illegal to let the car idle to aid clearing the windshield.   Curses, that was my go to move. I am ashamed to say that I would sit in the front seat drinking coffee and let my car warming up do the work for me. I try to be pretty green, but that was one instance where I didn’t worry about my greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Helmets are compulsory for driver and passenger on all scooters, motorbikes, quad bikes and trikes.  The motorcycles and scooters are so aggressive here and we have already seen several accidents. I can see why they have this rule.
  • Speed limits are enforced with cameras.  If you do not obey this one, you will receive an appropriately Swiss (expensive) speeding ticket in the mail.  The amount is determined by taking a percentage of your income?!?  Expect more on this in future posts.
  • Radar detectors are illegal. Okay.  The dreaded ticket in the mail becomes much more likely without one of these.  Oh yeah,the speed limit is only really posted when it is an exception to the above rules (posted at the border).
  • When driving in a city, town or village, the right of way at an intersection is automatically given to the vehicle on the right – priorité à droite – unless otherwise indicated by stop or yield/give way signs. This applies even in the case of a small side road entering a major main road. The vehicle traveling on the main road must give way to the vehicle entering on the right.   I have just been waiving everyone on ahead and hope that when I am not doing this properly, people appreciate my being nice.  We are working on it.
  • At a traffic circle, the vehicle already on the circle has the right of way over vehicles joining from the right. No problems so far here, but as a nation, the US has great difficulty with the traffic circle.
  • On hill roads, the car travelling uphill has priority over the one coming down.  You should see the narrowness of some of these roads. This makes perfect sense.
  • If a car is not registered in the driver’s name, the driver should carry a letter from the registered owner authorising the use. Very, very different.

 

Dinner in Malmö

 
Our last night in Copenhagen, we went to dinner in Malmö, Sweden.   To get there, we took Øresund Bridge. It is not just any bridge. At 7,845 meters (25,738 feet), it is Europe’s longest road and rail bridge (the rail is on a second level below the road) and a pretty impressive engineering feat. To keep shipping lanes unobstructed and avoid interference with planes from the nearby airport, the first portion of the bridge is a tunnel!
 
The tunnel

You emerge from the tunnel on an artificial island (created from the earth dug out for the tunnel).  From there, the suspension bridge starts.

Artificial island created from the earth excavated for the tunnel
The bridge from the island
View of the Øresund Strait from the backseat

The bridge made getting from Malmö to Copenhagen quick and easy (you can still take a ferry). It created a renaissance in Malmö and some people who live there commute to Copenhagen. Prior to that evening, my knowledge of Malmö was almost entirely derived from The Millennium Trilogy, sorry Sweden.


Beautiful landscape on the way to Malmö, it is traditionally an agricultural area. 
We had dinner in the Old Town. It was great to walk around the old streets and window shop. There were lots of very trendy looking people grabbing dinner and drinks outside.
We drove from Denmark to Sweden, ordered in English, ate Spanish Tapas and followed it with Italian espresso. Next time, we will try to be more international, but it’s definitely not a bridge to nowhere.