NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

NEWS: And, Lo, there was Chocolate! [Full link to blog for email clients.]

OK, I'm back, and it will take some time to get specific content prepared for the blog, but in the meantime, here's a sampling of my trip occasioned by a friend who insisted that certain details went appropriately with The 12 Days of Christmas:

12 (times ten) Speed limit
11 million gallons per minute (Rhine falls)
10 kilometer-long country
9 pounds of chocolate
8 hour plane flights
7 days a-travelling
6 countries visited
5 castles photo'ed
4 currencies in my wallet
3 Alpine lakes
2 mountain ranges [Belchen - Black Forest, Churfirsten - Switzerland]
and a great long, twisting river - the Rhine!
In explanation:

Speed limits on the autobahn ranged from 100 to 130 km/hr with the most common limit being 120.  That's 75 mph for us benighted Americans who don't use metric.

The Falls of the Rhine river near Neuhaiusen am Rheinfall is the biggest plains waterfall in Europe.  It's about half the height of Niagara Falls (Rheinfall = 25 m, Niagara = approx 50 m), and at only 150 meters width, is about 1/8th the combined width of the American and Horseshoe Falls of Niagara.  Yet at nearly 11 million gallons per minute, the Rheinfall has approximately 1/2 the flow rate of the 8 times larger Niagara, making it a spectacular waterfall indeed.

Liechtenstein and Switzerland from Schloss Gutenberg
The Principality of Liechtenstein is 10 km x 4 km.  It is sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria along the eastern bank of the upper Rhine river.   The country is so narrow because of the limited space between the Rhine and the alpine mountains bordering each side of the High Rhine valley.  There are two castles of note - Schloss Gutenberg - Gutenberg's castle; and Schloss Verduz - The Prince's residence in the national capital of Vaduz. 

Switzerland is famous for their chocolate, and any trip to the chocolate store will entice the buyer with truffles, milk, dark and white chocolates, chocolate-dipped gingerbread and oh, so much more.

Chicago to London plane flights are 8 hrs long.  Connections from London to Frankfurt or from Basel were only 90 min, but learning to sleep on the plane was an essential skill, especially since the eastbound leg was overnight (and advanced the clock by 6 hours!).

Petit Venise
Part of my trip was for the International Cannabinoid Research Society meeting in Freiburg Germany.  The meeting was 4 days, I squeezed the touring into the remaining three days (although the society as a whole visited Belchen in the Black Forest one afternoon).

Interior: Rathaus, Basel
The conference was held in Freiburg, Germany.  Travel plans included stops in London, UK, then on to Frankfurt by plane, then down to Freiburg by train.  After the meeting, I took a bus to the Basel (Switzerland) airport (which is technically in France, although the infrastructure was built by the Swiss - both France and Switzerland administer the airport, so there are two nationalities depending on your air and surface travel needs.)  The bus arrived 45 min. later at the French side, we walked through the terminal to Switzerland side and picked up a rental car.  The drive back to Freiburg took us into Basel and across the Swiss-German border.  After picking up the remaining family members and luggage in Freiburg, we visited Breisach am Rhine and its medieval cathedral overlooking the Rhine, then crossed over into the Alsace region of France to visit the town of Colmar.  Alsace has a thriving industry and farming, and is noted for seceding from France after WW I (Alsace-Lorraine).  Colmar is also known as Petit Venise (Little Venice) for its canals, and is noted as the birthplace of Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Frederic-Auguste Bertholdi, Sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  We spent a day exploring Basel, with it's spectacular Rathaus (Town Hall) and Renaissance Old Town (and buying gingerbread and chocolate). On another day, we traveled west-to-east across Switzerland to Liechtenstein, to Feldkirch, Austria, to the Rhinefall and back to Basel.  Including London, that was 6 countries in all (UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria).
Schloss Vaduz

On the way to Liechtenstein we noted Schloss Habsburg and stopped for a photo opportunity.  Two castles in Liechtenstein (Gutenburg and Vaduz), one in Feldkirch, Austria (Schattenburg), and finally Schloss Laufen atop the Rhinefalls completed our single-day tour.

Switzerland and UK are not "Eurozone" countries, and have their own currencies.  British pounds were worth approx $1.60, and Euros were $1.33, which is actually lower than the last 3 times I have been to U.K. and Europe.  The Swiss maintain their own currency due to the prevalence of banking, and the Swiss Franc was nearly equal to dollars in value.  Europeans like big colorful currency, but by far the most colorful of the lot were the Swiss francs, making them easy to find among the three other currencies in my wallet.  Hardest to tell apart were the Pounds and Euros - both in paper currency and coins. I have to admit, I really like the idea of coinage in 1 and 2 pound/euro denominations, but it was surprising to find that Franc paper currency does not come in denominations less than 10 pounds - there are coins ranging from .005 to 5 Francs!

Lake Zurich is actually two lakes - Zurichsee at the northern end near the city of Zurich, and Obersee upstream of the dams at Rapperswil. The lake is comprised of alpine glacial melt into the river Linth.  Upstream and a few kilometers east of Obersee is the Walensee, a strictly alpine-locked glacial lake fed by the Linth, Murgbach and Seez rivers.  Depending on whether one counts Lake Zurich as one or two lakes, our third lake was Lake Constance, the largest lake in the region, which separates the Alpine headwaters of the Rhine river (in Switzerland and forming borders with Liechtenstein and Austria) from "Hochrhein" or "High Rhine" which flows west-to-east near the Switzerland-Germany border.  The Lake itself forms the triple border of Switzerland-Austria-Germany.

Belchen, Black Forest, looking NW toward Germany & France
The Wallensee is nestled at the foot of the Churfirsten mountain range in Switzerland and is the northernmost extent of the Swiss Alps.  Looking up from the lake you see craggy mountain tops and high alpine meadows which seem impossible to farm, or build, yet there are pastures, farms and houses perched at angles that are enough to make a ground-dweller dizzy.  The "second" range includes Belchen - while not the highest peak in Germany - it's position nestled in the heart of the Black Forest, at the SW corner of Germany, provides s views of France and Switzerland that are unparalleled.  There is a cable-car/gondola lift to the top of the 1414 m peak, with an inn at both ends of the lift.

Breisach am Rhein, looking toward France from the Muenster
"Leu" ferry, Basel
In all, we crossed the Rhine river 7 times.   Spelled "Rhein" in German, the dominant language of it's course, the Rhine and Danube rivers formed the northern inland borders of the old Roman Empire, and were essential to commerce, and the Rhine is navigable for most of it's length, notably from Basel to the outlet.  Canals run parallel to the principal watercourse along the French border and for much of the lower (northern and delta), middle and upper course.  The lower Rhine and delta discharge into the North Sea in the Netherlands.  Lower and middle sections are entirely within Germany, while the Oberrhein" or Upper Rhine, forms the border with France from Basel to Manheim.  At Basel, the Rhine turns from the south-to-north flowing Oberrhein to the east-to-west "Hochrhein" (High Rhine) within the borders of Switzerland.  Above the Falls and Lake Constance, the river once again returns to a south-to-north orientation and forms the borders with Liechtenstein and Austria before winding back up to it's sources in the Swiss Alps.  It should be noted that the city of Basel sits astride the Rhine, and that the waterflow is strong enough that there are ferry boats that cross between the Grossebasle (Greater Basel - the South) to the Kleinbasle (Lesser Basel - the North) using only the force of the river.  These boats angle their keels and rudders toward one bank or the other, and are tethered to an overhead cable running from bank-to-bank.  The water flow past the keel is sufficient to force the boat across the river in about 10 minutes.  There is one just just below the Basel Muenster (Cathedral).

It was a fantastic trip, and I really did gain some valuable scientific knowledge which I will share in a later post.

Until then, enjoy the photos!


  1. Minor quibble. The Rhine's mouth is in the Netherlands.

    Also since you went to Breisach, did you go across the river there to Neuf Brisach? It's one of the better preserved 17th/18th century fortresses/fortified towns...

  2. Right you are, it's the Elbe that's at Hamburg. We did go through Neuf Breisach and saw some of it from the car, but time was limited, so we only got out and toured Breisach and Colmar.


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