Feeding the Bears Insults My Intelligence

If you visit Bern, Switzerland, you’re likely to find a pit at the end of town that contains a few friendly-looking bears:

Switzerland is a zoo.

If I were one of these bears, I’d miss the little things like grass and trees.

However, Switzerland is a zoo… especially during tourist season.  And do you know what happens in a zoo?

Inappropriate feeding:

Here's a closer look at the same image.

Here’s a closer look at the same image.  Notice the parent and child in the upper right.

As the sign often says, “Do not feed the bears.”  But if you must feed them, please remember that your kid is not appropriate for a bear’s dinner.  The bear may enjoy him, but you’re inviting a lot of trouble on yourself.

The quiet ain’t worth it.

Reading Insults My Intelligence

When you’re traveling, you’ll inevitably encounter writing that you can’t understand.  You will piss people off if you continually ask “What does that mean?”  Especially here, at the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) in Lucerne.  A couple dozen of these images remain after some unruly flames decided to have some fun:

Imagine trying to read this as crowds of people rush past you.  Repeat 30 times.

Imagine trying to read this as crowds of people rush past you. Repeat 30 times.

It doesn’t matter what the words say, so don’t bother reading them.  The orange does its artistic duty and lends a halloweenish aura to the Latin and the skeleton… and even to the skeletons in the bridge’s second picture.

And that’s exactly what a “Chapel” is supposed to involve.  Skeletons and Halloween.


The Beaten Path Insults My Intelligence

I’ve often written about my travels in Switzerland, usually about the standard attractions: mountains, snow, architecture, and (of course) naked people.

Okay, maybe the naked people aren’t an attraction.  That’s not a complaint about their looks, but about the mindset of folks who would go so far to see a few body parts.

That said, you should keep an open mind when traveling.  The greatest attractions often become apparent after you arrive and they may not be the ones you’re expecting to go batty over.  A small (or not so small) object such as a rock can be as spectacular as a mountain:


To judge the rocks’ size, compare them to the staircase in the upper right corner.

Get moonstruck by geology today.  Snow is overrated.  FYI: I live in the South.  These days, we all think snow is overrated.

Fear of Pontius Pilate Insults My Intelligence

Some religions claim that the beginnings of an important rise flowed from Pontius Pilate.  In my travels, he gave birth to a different rise.


In this cable car station, you begin your ascent to the top of Mount Pilatus near Lucerne, Switzerland.  Legend holds that Pontius Pilate was buried here and there’s some neat dragon folklore too.  And of course the views are excellent as long as you don’t fear the mountain’s name.

However, I wonder what Pontius Pilate would think about his name appearing on a logo with a dragon…

Coed Naked Immaturity Insults My Intelligence

Cultures have layers that can be peeled off like clothes.

My regular readers may remember that I’ve written several posts about my time in Switzerland.  (Here’s the first, second, third, and fourth.)  Today, I will strip the culture even more bare by showing the naked landscape without its coat of snow.  So here’s the pic:

Relaxing for tourists, up to a point...

Relaxing for tourists, up to a point…

This photo comes to you from the resort village of Interlaken.  The mountains form the culture’s outermost layer, the one that gave the world Heidi and all those sports and scenic views people flock to the country for.  Then, if you look closely at the building’s perimeter, you’ll find the diving boards for a public pool as well as some tourists who the pool’s intended for.  But then on the inside, behind those large windows in the center of the building, you’ll find a cultural layer where few dare to tread.

I’ll give you a hint: there’s a reason I didn’t get closer to the windows to take this photograph.

Those windows shield the “wellness” facility.  It has saunas, a hot tub, a cold bucket of water (read: shower) and a torture device called a kneipp; you put your aching feet under the kneipp’s faucet and it alternates between boiling and frigid water.

You’ll be gravely disappointed if you clicked on this post hoping for adult content.  Men and women use these facilities together and there’s not much clothing to be seen.  You may wear a towel in the saunas (not a swimsuit) although some people lie naked on their towels.  The changing area is shielded from the windows but not from everyone’s view… although there is a restroom.  The facility prohibits underwear because that carries sexual connotations.

Few know about this layer of Switzerland and, among those who do, even fewer want to see it.  I had been in Europe long enough to not be uncomfortable with seeing the nudity, though I wasn’t quite willing to go inside.  After long and active days, I couldn’t let my squeamishness keep me from the accompanying relaxation.  The Swiss are used to it and it isn’t sexual for them, so I’m presumably not going to Hell for seeing all those body parts.

And the strangest thing happens if you visit often enough.  You learn to get annoyed when immature loudmouths come through or get uncomfortable with the tourist couple that cuddles suggestively in the hot tub.  The nudity becomes invisible and the interruptions become notable.

I eventually left this innermost layer of Switzerland and returned to the United States.  Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself having to learn how to respect my home culture’s norms.  It’s the “oh, wait… I ought to be looking away” reflex that evaporated during my foreign travels.  And of course, a lot of the old humor wasn’t still funny.  I went shopping with an old friend and she tried to get me riled up by showing me topless photos a store was selling.  I yawned and she hasn’t introduced me to any single women since then.

Life is funny sometimes.

Misusing Liquids Insults My Intelligence

When I saw that the topic for the current Weekly Photo Challenge is “Carefree,” I considered presenting some photos of alcohol.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t represent carefree too well.  Latrines across Europe can tell of tourists whose drinking did not leave them in a carefree state.  I, for one, remember a fellow traveler who was too hung over to tour the city she had most looked forward to seeing.

And so I moved on to other liquids.  Water can provide a less problematic feeling of carefree:

faroutThis comes from the main square in Bern, Switzerland, home of the Zytglogge and other wonders.  Here’s a closer look from a different angle:

closeinIn the summer months, you can relieve your sunburn in this public fountain.  You can also relax as you watch people running across attempting not to get wet… or you can run yourself.  (The water sprays from the numbered holes at irregular intervals.)  And then there’s the occasional boy who visibly enjoys letting the water spray into his swimsuit towards certain bodily regions.

And then there are the creepy teenagers who take too much pleasure in watching the child…

And then there’s the not-so-carefree mother who rightly decides it’s time to escort her son away.  I guess that means the fountains are a mostly carefree place.

So much for “less problematic.”  I’ll do better next time, I promise.

Bad City Planning Insults My Intelligence

You may already be familiar with Big Ben, but that’s not the most amazing clock around.  Among those I’ve seen, the best would have to be the 13th century Zytglogge in Bern, Switzerland:


That was the astronomical clock; a larger clock face towers above; however, tourist souvenirs only reproduce this colorful part, so it’s really the only one that counts to most people.  Since I’m (fortunately) not most people, you get to see the entire Glogge:

Although Prague also has a great astronomical clock on display, the Zytglogge stands as a unique artistic masterpiece.  Moreover, it is centrally located in Bern’s old town, the whole of which appears on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.  So I know exactly what you’re thinking…

“That’s the perfect place to put a youth hostel.”

That’s right, you’ll find a hostel right next to the Zytglogge.  What a masterpiece of bad city planning!  They took an important site and put a bunch of 20-somethings (who often don’t know how to cook well) and a kitchen in it.  20-somethings can also be somewhat less than observant of smoking prohibitions when the urge strikes.

I stayed in the hostel and found it convenient and comfortable as hostels go.  But I was afraid to cook anything because giant ants swarmed all over the duvet covers and made me lose my appetite.

Um… no.  The duvet ants were rather cute as ants go.  Instead, the problem rested in the hostel’s fully justified caution at the first sign of fire.  If the smoke alarm goes off, they immediately send a truck and you have to pay for it.  The cost ain’t cheap, so I ate a lot of boiled sausage while I was there.

Common Sense Insults My Intelligence

pathThe first time I went to Switzerland, I wanted to hike high up in the mountains.  I was staying in Interlaken, an easy jumping off point for the Jungfrau-Aletsch area, and I had a map of its trails.  I soon discovered that I could join the skiers on a bus and then catch a ski lift into the clouds; then, I could presumably have a nice leisurely walk downhill.

Being from a warm-weather place, I failed to recognize a few important details:

1- Tourists are given the same map during summer and winter and this was the end of winter season.  Especially in the higher altitudes, the paths you can hike in summer aren’t clear of snow.  While in the mountains, I saw a few cross-country skiers but no other hikers.

2- Even if there’s a path, one does not simply hike down a mountain.  One hikes down and then the road winds upwards for a time before you can descend again.

3- When “hiking” down an incline on a snowy path, you run and hope to stay upright until you reach a place where you can slide to a stop.  Comfortably or not.

4- When hiking up an incline on a mountain path, you notice the altitude.  The air’s a lot thinner up there and you get winded faster.

5- “Hmmm… I see snow falling from the mountain peaks.  Avalanche?  If I’m buried, they’ll never find me.” Since then, I’ve learned that you’re supposed to carry search and rescue insurance if you go up there.  If you’re traveling alone, I suppose you should also inform someone of your whereabouts.  Since I’m not dead, you can probably tell that no snow crashed down on me.

6- Since it was the end of winter, the temperatures did not stay below freezing for long.  That means the snow softened as the day progressed.  Eventually, my legs would sink into the snow up to my knees whenever I took a step and I was crawling by the time I reached a train station.   So this is why snow shoes were invented…

I did make it through after having descended at least a half kilometer in altitude.   Although the experience was far from ideal, seeing my photos from that day always makes me nostalgic.  Unlike the slog of applying for job after job like I do now, the views were amazing and the scenery constantly changed.  It was also relaxing in an odd sort of way.

The Tourism Industry Insults My Intelligence

Welcome to Lucerne, Switzerland.  The city houses some of the most amazing tourist spots in the country, which for Switzerland is saying quite a lot.  This is the Church of St. Leodegar:

churchhotel12 1

Beautiful, isn’t it?  I, like most photographers, took the necessary step of cropping out the street and parking lot near the front stairway.  You can still tell it’s a busy area because of all the power lines and bus cables running across the picture.

I get it.  Public transportation is clean and sexy and incredibly convenient in a city like Lucerne.  But don’t the people who travel massive distances to see this (and the people who see it on a daily basis) deserve to appreciate it when they see it?  How about the intrinsic value of maintaining the surroundings of something like this?  I know, maybe it’s the ecologically friendly urban planners thinking they can get potential tourists to abstain from using all that jet fuel to get to Lucerne if they quietly sabotage the sights.  Only the Swiss are permitted to mess with Swiss landmarks!

Realistically, though, I know it’s not always feasible to divert traffic away from a particular location.  The church isn’t totally ruined, after all.  All you have to do is look upwards, kind of like I was doing when I cropped this photo, and you still have something amazing.


In the photo, take a look at the far left, about a third of the way up.  Here’s a close-up:

This image was created specifically for the Weekly Photo Challenge (The Sign Says) at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/weekly-photo-challenge-the-sign-says/

This image was created specifically for the Weekly Photo Challenge (The Sign Says) at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/weekly-photo-challenge-the-sign-says/

Beautiful, isn’t it?  And how convenient for the handful of tourists who stay there!  It’s like framing a Picasso with a toilet seat.

Never underestimate the tourism industry’s ability to muck up something wonderful and then claim they’re doing it for your benefit.

The hotel sign was smaller than a fingernail clipping on the original picture, and this was an old school photograph.  No digital camera.  With my old camera, I had to take the photo from across the street and, therefore, had a lot of cables and less-beautiful things end up in my picture.  Back then, it wasn’t possible to get really close to what you were photographing and then zoom out to make it fit.

So now we get pretty pictures of the church when we look online and we never learn how the vicinity is really being treated.  Chalk another one up to “keeping the people blissfully ignorant.”

Or, perhaps, keeping them ignorant until they spend the money to go visit.