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….

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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).

Pont Du Gard

Pont du Gard is an imposing viaduct built by the Romans.  Frankly, at over 2000 years old it’s amazing that it is still standing.  The engineering behind it is even more astonishing.  We’d heard that it was pretty cool from Hokie over at The Swiss Watch Blog.  When Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete visited, we made a trip to check it out.

In 19 B.C., Roman emperor, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Augustus’ son-in-law) built it.  The Pont du Gard carried water across the Gard river valley, 25 km (15.5 miles) west of Avignon.

It wasn’t an isolated piece of infrastructure.  It was part of a larger nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct.  The system brought water from springs near Uzès to Nîmes (known in Roman times as Nemausus) with a slight grade.  Its 34 cm/km (1/3000) grade its entire 50 km.  Walking around, you can see other parts of this system.

It took between 800 and 1000 men about three years to build.  When it was completed, it transported 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily.  Constructed without the use of mortar (bearing masonry), its stones are held together by iron clamps.  Some of the stones weigh 6 tons.  They were moved into place using a complex system winch system.  You can still see the remains of the supports for the complex scaffolding.

Not a Peugeot or a Citroen but a Mazda

As the Roman Empire declined, they began to worry more about the barbarians at the gates than maintenance of their infrastructure. Deposits filled up a majority of the channel space. It was unusable by the 9th century.  Once it wasn’t useful for delivering water, people took what they could from it, taking stones for other purposes.  It was also used as a footbridge across the river.

In the 18th century, the aqueduct was restored.  Even by this time, it was tourist attraction. Additional restorations were done under the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century.  The workers carved their names in the stonework.  These aren’t the only graffiti.  The original Roman workers also carved their names.  French masons over the years have also left their markings.   It looks like way more work than a can of spray paint, but clearly lasts much longer.  I am not suggesting tagging monuments, only noting that graffiti has been around since before the birth of Christ and impressed that we can still see it.

The Pont du Gard is an amazing piece of engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is so impressive that it is easy to overlook its beautiful surroundings.  Enjoy the three-tiered series of stone arches, just don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the view.  It is a great place to take a dip, picnic or fly a kite.

You were warned

 

Thank You Rome, We Love Switzerland’s Fountains

The Ides of March, (no, not the film) the fifteenth of March, is today.  It is the day on which, in 44 B.C., a group of conspirators led by Brutus (et tu Brutue?) and Cassius stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the Roman Senate.  It got me thinking about Rome’s legacy here in Switzerland.  While evidence of Switzerland’s time under Roman rule is everywhere,  I have a favorite part of their legacy, fountains.

Rome came.  Rome built fountains.  Rome fell.  The fountains remained.  Who doesn’t like a fountain?  When people could figure out how to do it again, they tried making fountains like those cool old Roman ones.  They did it in Switzerland, but all over Europe.  Right on.

When we hike in the summer, we can pretty much be sure that we will be able to get water from a fountain.  The cows have to drink way up there, so you know they are going to have water.  The caveat to this, and don’t mess this up or you will end up like us paying $12 a bottle, is that there are no fountains when you are up high enough.  If cows can’t graze up there, they are going to build it.  Period.

The water of this fountain once stood in the sea before it evaporated. It traveled in the clouds, and fell as rain before running again towards the sea. This is the water cycle has fragile balance. Respect it.

At almost every fountain, the water  is drinkable.  In Switzerland, if the water isn’t safe to drink, it will be marked with a sign that reads “Eau Non-Potable” or and “X” over a cup.

You can stick your head under the fountain, like you would at a water fountain, or collect it in a bottle.  I love not having to plan my water stops or carry water with me on long runs; the fountains are everywhere.

Eau Potable means the water is safe to drink

Sometimes, flowers decorate the fountains.  This always make a great photo opportunity.

Other times, the fountains themselves are decorative and/or commerative.

Zermatt's Beaver Fountain

A fountain in memory of alpine guide Ulrich Inderbinen who summited the Matterhorn over 370 times, with his last ascent at the age of 90!

An Underground Lake!

When we went to the Matterhorn, we saw the geology of Switzerland firsthand.  On the way back, our quads were sore and we weren’t up to another big hike.  As a result, we decided to see the underground lake at St. Leonard in Valais.  It was touristy, a bit cheesy, another geology lesson and cooler than I am making it sound.  

The lake was discovered in 1943, during a the search for water in a drought.* In 1946 an earthquake opened some more fissures that lowered the water-level.  This made it accessible.   We entered down the stairs and climbed into these large rowboats.  Sorry if the pictures are blurry.  The low light and the movement of the boat (and the other 41 people on it), made them challenging to take.   They definitely do not do its beauty justice.
The water in Switzerland’s lakes is lovely and crystal clear.  The water in this cave is even more so.  It is a constant at 11 °C (52 °F) and it is always 15 °C (59 °F).
 

How can there be fish in this lake you ask?  So did we.  They are Rainbow Trout.  They have no natural food source and no predators so they were HUGE.  The guide feeds them from the rowboat.  They were pretty cool to see up close.  I’m not sure who was more into them, the kids in the boat or their parents.

The lake was closed from 2000 to 2003, to improve the cave’s stability.  Clearly, they put in tons of ceiling support.  If I remember correctly, each side of the cave is a different type of stone and the ceiling is a third.   Unfortunately, that one is softer (I don’t want to give you the wrong type so I won’t name it).

*St. Leonard lies in an area of Valais that is the sunniest part of Switzerland.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself in Evian

 

We live on a lake, surrounded by France.  There is a dividing line down the center of the lake separating the French and Swiss parts.* One of the French towns on the lake is Evian. Yep,that’s right, like the water. I went there with Hokie (and some other fine folks who haven’t yet declared their names for this blog).

Nice views from the boat to Evian
It’s cute
Proof we really are in France
The mean streets of Evian

Evian is small, cute, but small.  People had told us that there wasn’t much there, but we wanted to try to go to France by boat and thought what the heck. It has a small shopping district where souvenirs are cheaper than in Switzerland. The Evian “experience”** is located there. It was a bit “bare bones” and could use some marketing help with the exhibits. I suggest an Evian fountain. If you are there, stop in anyway. It’s free.

The Evian “experience”

We walked along the street, stopped for crêpes and checked our watches. The next boat didn’t leave for over another hour. What to do? I had 5 Euros on me, so we went to the Casino.

The Casino
When you play penny slots, it is amazing how long 5 Euro can last. We took turns picking machines and enjoyed ourselves. It was entertaining to see the smokers confined in little plexiglass cages to do their smoking. Sorry, I couldn’t take any pictures inside.
The Casino up close

I had a bottle of wine in my purse (don’t judge) because people picnicked on the boat ride over. You can see it below. Unfortunately, I was also carrying a bottle of Evian, in Evian. This was a big no-no. I couldn’t enter the casino with my bottle of Evian and had to check it!
 
My purse as I took it in 
The bottle of Evian I checked with the receipt for checking it.

The funniest part is that they serve free Evian everywhere in the casino!

Chillaxin in the park

*This line in the lake between France and Switzerland is figural not literal. Please do not go looking to take a picture of it.  You will look like an idiot.

**Evian also has a spa.