SWITZERLAND AFTER THE BIKE MISSION
The butterfly story of this post is dedicated to our butterfly aficionado friend Mick (Armidale) and the birds, to birdo (Australian term for a bird watcher) friend David, the bird man of the Pilliga Forests.
The previous post dealt with our cycling/camping mission from Zurich to the Rhine River wetlands. This post relates to our activities with our Rebstein and Bern friends.
Before venturing into the stories I have an interesting tale to tell. The morning we left Rebstein to go to Bern we stopped at a shopping centre to return a dud camera battery we bought a week before. Bev left me with the bikes outside the shopping complex whilst she went to the shop to negotiate a refund. The negotiations took longer than expected and because there were no seats I sat on the ground next to the bikes.
While waiting, an elderly couple stopped and spoke to me in German and not understanding what they said I simply smiled and said good morning. A few minutes later a security guard came and in broken English wanted to know if I wanted an ambulance! I told him I was waiting for my wife. A few minutes later the shopping complex manager came. He spoke good English and he explained to me that only beggars or people who are ill sit on the ground. He said that everybody who passed me thought I must have had a heart attack. After relating this story to a friend she told me about a friend of hers who was a scrutineer for an orienteering event. While she was sitting and waiting her hat happened to be in front of her on the ground and passers-by started throwing coins into her hat! Next time I sit on the ground in Switzerland I will put my hat in front of me and see what happens.
Whilst waiting for Bev a remarkable e-bike+wheelchair came past. I spoke with the carer who told me he takes his disabled charge out twice a day for a tour around the region. The Swiss are very much into e-bikes and battery charging stations are beginning to appear at supermarkets, cafes and bars so you can charge your bike battery whilst shopping or socialising.
And now, out and about. Our first ride after arriving in Bern was to ride to Papiliorama, a butterfly house in the direction of Biel. I thought it would simply be a glasshouse with temperature and humidity regulated to maintain butterfly life but, no, it was a huge complex housing not only butterflies but also nocturnal animals and some amazing tropical birds. Once inside the glasshouse you could have been walking around an Amazonian jungle. Butterflies flitted here and there and if you stood still for long enough some species would land on you and be quite happy to stay attached whilst you moved through the jungle.
Lantana is the bane of many farmers along the northern coastal regions of NSW Australia as it is an invasive species and if left unchecked takes over valuable farming lands. Biological control has been attempted without success. To date about thirty insects have been introduced into Australia in an attempt to stop its spread, however none have proved successful. Lantana is a native of South America and that is why the South American butterflies at Papiliorama flock to it.
The toucan is also a native of tropical American forests. Its oversized colourful bill makes it one of the most popular birds. Its long bill is a desirable mating trait. Both sexes catch tasty morsels and pitch them to each other during a mating session. As a weapon, the bill is not at all that useful as it is honeycombed and not solid.
The roseate spoonbill looks similar in some way to a flamingo but it is easy to tell the difference. Flamingos have a banana shaped beak whereas the Roseate has a spoon-shaped bill. The pink primaries of the Roseate were highly prized by hat and fan makers in the 1800s, so much so that plume hunters brought the species to almost extinction. In the 1930s they gained legal status as a protected species and since then their numbers have rebounded. The colour of the feathers is a result of the crustaceans it eats which contain pink/red pigments. Following are three pictures of tropical rainforest birds and if David could put his binoculars down for a few minutes he may be able to identify them for me. Thanks David.
The curators of Papiliorama, advocate that everybody should establish insect houses like this one on their properties. The four holes in the bottom right block of wood have been daubed. Mud dauber wasps have laid their eggs in the holes then sealed them with mud. The pieces of bamboo, in the middle level, have also been visited by insects.
Before leaving our property for any length of time in Australia I cover all my workshop machinery as the mud dauber wasps move in and fill every crevice and hole in the drill presses, milling machines and lathe. They will even lay their eggs in a keyhole and seal it with mud. Maybe if I built a wall like the one above they might leave my workshop equipment alone and, you never know, I might get a flower like the one below to emerge as well.
It was late by the time we exited the butterfly farm so we took the train back to Bern and standing on a platform opposite was a train decorated with bikes and butterfly motifs. No graffiti vandal would dare tag this train. Would they?
You have to look into this image to appreciate the detail. The images in the windows are not reflections but the inside of the carriage.
Before moving on from Switzerland to the Czech Republic we accompanied friend Thomas in Rebstein on several trips to different areas of the Swiss Alps. One trip included the tax-free town of Livigno, just over the border in Italy and located high in the Italian Alps.
Our first trip was to Lacmanier Pass. The day was a classic spring day and the scenery was extremely picturesque.
The past winter in Switzerland was mild. Some areas that are usually blanketed in snow had none at all. High in the alpine areas snow fell as normal and now it is beginning to thaw. The following photographs show what the Alps are looking like now that the thaw has started. The thaw heralds all sorts of changes in Switzerland: cows are let out of the barns, their winter abode, and onto the pastures, farmers plant crops and the people emerge to soak up the warming sun.
The bunker is even hard to see close up but it’s there. Removing the crumpled screen a slot is revealed from which a machine gun would survey its target. There are bunkers and military facilities hidden all over Switzerland. They may not be a war-mongering nation but they are ready for action if the need arises. At the top of the Fluela Pass on the way to Livigno we stopped at the hotel and on the wall were a couple of old photographs that took my fancy.
Imagine how hair-raising it would have been riding in a coach like this over and through Swiss alpine passes. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!
The photograph is a setup of course. Note the bottle in the sleeping drunk’s pocket, the time on the clock at ten minutes past twelve (closing time was probably midnight) and the stern look on the constable’s face.
On the way to Livigno we passed through a number of tunnels but the 3.4 kilometres long Munt La Schera tunnel is worth a mention as cyclists are specially catered for. Cyclists who do not want to ride over the mountains can have themselves and their bike transported by bus through the tunnel. It is not recommended that cyclists ride through long tunnels as the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning is high.
The town of Livigno is a tax free zone and as a result many people visit there to shop. They also come to hike in the summer and ski in the winter. However there are restrictions as to the quantity of alcohol, cigarettes and perfumes that can be brought back into Switzerland. The Swiss authorities are very protective of their home industries as we have found out on a number of occasions. From Greece we sent to Switzerland a quantity of used clothing not wanted on our trip and we had to pay $10 import duties and on a camera sent from Australia we paid $90 import duties. If you send a present to someone in Switzerland from outside the country import duties apply.
Garderobe is a French word meaning private chamber and a medieval term for toilet. In the case above, contributions fell to ground level where they were removed and probably mixed with ash to form a very potent fertilizer. A trapdoor, which permitted access, can be seen at ground level. In Livigno we came across a Beetle, the same model in which Bev and I travelled through Europe in1972/3.
From Livigno we returned to Rebstein by a different route and it took us through some pretty amazing country. Following are a few images to ponder.
Most of the landscapes in the previous images were created by glaciers. Today, glaciers are disappearing due to global warming.
Glaciers are formed when snow in the higher regions of a valley build and freeze. Over thousands of years the ice begins to move down the valley carving away the valley floor. The existence of a glacier relies on a constant supply of snow in the upper regions. Due to global warming glaciers are disappearing with dire effects. Mountains supported by glaciers are collapsing and it would not be totally satisfactory if you happen to live in a village near a retreating glacier.
Scientists say glaciers are a direct signal of climate change and they have warned that a summer temperature increase of four degrees from today’s levels will leave Europe’s biggest mountain range almost iceless by 2100.
Before closing this post there is a matter of nature I would like to share with you. There is a national park just to the north of Livigno in which the European Brown bears roam. They have roamed across the border into Switzerland from Italy where they have been reintroduced. From what I understand, providing they stay in the National Park they are tolerated but if they step outside the park they may meet an untimely end when they kill livestock. In parking areas there are specially designed bear-proof garbage bins.
To release the lock a thumb and forefinger are placed in the recess (middle front edge of lid). There is no doubt the Swiss leave nothing to chance. You can’t have bears going around interfering with the order of things!
That’s all for this post. In fact, it is the end of our Swiss experience until July when we return and meet with Thomas and head off on a camping trip to France. It is our intention to pass through the Cevennes again and then across to the Atlantic coast. Our previous visit was in December 2012 on our Encountering the Past Odyssey Part 1. Read about it in Archives January 2013. Between now and late July we intend riding our bicycles along the Elbe River through the Czech Republic and Germany. The next posting will relate the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague.