Sunday, July 8, 2007

The view from cloud nine

My back-of-the-envelope figuring puts travel at about 20% planning, 70% going with the flow, and 10% luck. (And sometimes I wonder about how much value there is in planning.) Yesterdays events are a perfect example of this.

Meeting up with Nicole and Olivier was a long shot that amazingly worked out (and how!) and things continued lining up frm there. After enjoying their hospitality in our amazing home away from home in Fribourg, Nicole's sister Caroline invited us on a flight around the countryside. Caroline trained as a pilot in the Swiss army (compulsory service for men, optional for women) and now has to fly occasionally to maintain her certs. She was kind enough to take us up in her Cessna for a splendid aerial tour of the canton of Fribourg. We were delighted to come along for the ride, cameras most certainly at hand. (Nice thing about a photo flight is that you can have your tourist moments in the privacy of your own Cessna.)

Taking off from Ecuvilliens a small airfield just outside Fribourg, we got a full tour around of the Kanton of Fribourg. Our hosts explained to us that Switzerland is divided into Kantons, administrative districts very similar to states, but much stronger and more self-directed. (Incidentally, Switzerland is properly called the Confederation Helvetique, which explains the .ch extension in Swiss web addresses, like The city of Fribourg is the capitol of the Kanton in a "New York, New York" sort of way. The mountains are to the south of Fribourg, starting with the green "Pre-Alps" and proceding higher, colder, and snowier to the imposing Alps in the background.

The Swiss military is, like most things Swiss, amazingly clever. In addition to having many citizen pilots they also maintain a host of small air bases scattered about. Many Swiss highways also have sections that can be converted into runways at a moment's notice. Interestingly, because Switzerland is such a multilingual country (3 to 5, depending on how you count) all military air traffic radio in Switzerland must be in English.

In the above picture you can see the large lush summer pastures called, creatively, Alpage. It was these sorts of pastures that the cows in Patrick's photos were headed for. At left is the Lac Noir, the Black Lake that actually looks fairly greenish from the minerals that the water collects as it runs down through the sandstone like molasse rocks of the pre-Alps. The large Cathedral St. Nicholas in Fribourg is made mostly of this rock, except for the foundation, due to its tendancy to run down hill with the prevailing current.

I made sure to include the plane in part of these shots so that it was clear that we are actually taking them and not just raiding google. Here you can see a good progression of the pre-Alps into the Alps. To orient you, and myelf, this is a view due south toward the border with Italian countryside, good seafood, and bad public transit beyond.

Finally, a portrait of Fribourg from the northwest. The city was first constructed as literally a "frei burg", or a free city to ensure that area merchants could continue to trade regardless of political winds. The location was chosen with that goal in mind, in the photo you can clearly see that it's built on a river, as good medieval cities should be. Right there you've got your transportation and your defense. You can also see the Cathedral St. Nicholas, which Patrick and I climbed, with great relish, all 368 steps of.


warbler5 said...

Holy guys stumbled upon a gold mine of opportunity!

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! Very impressive...PSP

Anonymous said...

I do hope you two found a place to hunker down and get some R & R before you start to adventure around Lucerne. You sounded exhilarated but dog tired yesterday. Is that possible to be both?? Sounds like you had "French-fried" brains. :-) Much love, Mom