Tuesday, December 30, 2008

George W. Bust: Add Up the Damage by Bob Herbert

Here's a great quote about George Bush from Bob Herbert's column Add Up the Damage in today's New York Times,
This is the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantánamo and torture and rendition; who turned the Clinton economy and the budget surplus into fool’s gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let Dick Cheney run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job.
The column delves into more detail, as if we didn't know...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The End of Wall Street's Boom

Here's a great article from Portfolio magazine on the end of the Wall Street boom by Michael Lewis. He wrote the book Liar's Poker in 1989 about his experiences on Wall Street (later made into a movie). The new article is a great explanation of what has been going on.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Creativ Brauerei - Trumer Pils

In September my wife treated me to a Saturday course in brewing beer offered by Trumer Pils in Obertrum am See (Austria), it's about 30-minutes by bus from Salzburg.

Trumer Pils is my favorite beer, so this was a real treat. Here are photos of our day at Trumer's Creativ Brauerei.

The Creativ Braueri is located in the cellar of the Gasthaus Restaurant in Obertrum am See. The idea is a small group of people spend the day brewing about one keg worth of beer. The day is held in German (probably a group could arrange a tour in English, but I am not sure). They brew beer about 100 days a year, mostly tour groups and company events; we had to book well in advance for our day.

We started with a recipe prepared by our Braumeister and measured the ingredients carefully, placing them in the warm water and cooking the mixture for a couple hours.

While the mixture cooked our Braumeister talked to us about the process of brewing beer and the importance of small local breweries. We walked around in the Gasthaus - a huge building with restaurant, banquet rooms, beer garden (naturally!) and huge kitchen. We visited the beer library and sampled a few of the unique beers (e.g. one made with coffee). During this time we monitored the cooking beer and stirred the mixture every now and then.

At about noon lunch was served. A hearty portion of Schweinsbraten (roast pork) with knodel and kraut. Yum. Washed down with plenty of Trum beer: Pils, Marzen or Weissbier ... who knew that Trum made so many varieties (only the Pils is 'exported' outside of the region to the rest of Austria). It was an open bar all day, you served yourself.

Next we added the hops pellets, stirred, and waited a while before filtering the mixture. See the photos, lifting the settled mash out of the pot was really hard. Next the 'brew' was transferred to the aging tank where the yeast was added. The beer would then age for a couple of weeks before being consumed at a Gasthaus in Obertrum that serves the Creativ Brauerei beer.

At this point we had our graduation ceremony where we each received a diploma and souvenir glass. Next we had a tour of the Brewery and had a chance to ask questions about Trumer Pils' unique brewing process.

It was great fun!

School of Life - Heathrow Holiday

I participated in an interesting "holiday" last weekend. I went to Heathrow Airport to attend a class given by the School of Life on Heathrow Airport. The class was led by one of my favorite authors, Alain de Botton (How Proust can change your life, Status envy, The art of travel, ... ). In the class, we looked at airports from several different perspectives, most of them new to me.

Heathrow Airport class photos on my flickr site. Sorry, my camera wasn't working so well and many of the photos are blurred.

We took a walk around the new Terminal 5 (T5 to Heathrow cognoscenti) with Stephen Barratt, one of the architects involved in the terminal's design from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. He explained how complex airports are to design, particularly on very congested sites like T5. The firm also helped design Madrid's new terminal, which was built on a totally unconstrained site ... the differences are quite extraordinary.

We talked about airline food while eating sandwiches from Gate Gourmet served to first class passengers ... unfortunately they did not provide any Dom Perignon to wash them down. We talked about eating on planes, why? our best experiences? our worst experiences? websites dedicated to food on planes (why not?) ...

Next we had a presentation on airport baggage handling by Edward Quinton, one of the system managers. It was interesting to learn what happens after our bags disappear on that conveyor belt never to be seen again until they arrive on a similar conveyor belt at our destination (hopefully). Quinton also gave us practical advice on how not to lose our bags (e.g. always put your name inside the bag too!).

We went out to visit some of the people who watch planes land and take off. We talked with Craig, a veteran plane-spotter, to learn what is involved and why they do it. They keep track of actual plane numbers, underlining the ones they have seen in books that list all the planes owned by all the airlines. It was a peek inside a unique society.

We learned about the history of Heathrow from Allan Gallup, author of ‘Time Flies: Heathrow at 60’. Then we heard from a representative of Plane Stupid, a group opposed to expansion of Heathrow. The airport owners (BAA) want to build a third runway at Heathrow. Plane Stupid opposes the runway on the grounds that our society needs to fly less. Following the presentation we separated into four groups and role-played different positions regarding construction of the new runway (airport owner, member of Parliament, local citizen, and anti airport activist).

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant frequented by airport workers, although it didn't really feel connected to the airport. The taxi ride back to our hotel was interesting, we were able to see the new T5 lit up in the night ... cool and impressive. We stayed overnight in the Sofitel luxury hotel at T5. The place was a bit spooky, so quiet and calm, yet a two-minute walk from the airport. Our 'class' met in one of the deserted hotel bars.

On Sunday we discussed how travel can change one's perspective and give you a chance to think about your life. Alain led the discussion that expanded on some aspects of his Art of Travel book. We talked about Edward Hopper's travel paintings and the feelings they generate.

Then we did a couple of exercises, first, observing people and creating short plays around them. After that we completed an 'emotional audit' of T5. That consisted of walking around looking at people and trying to assess their emotions. We marked them on a map and discussed what we saw.

In between these exercises visual artist Dryden Goodwin showed several films he made around the idea of airports. My favorite showed quick images of planes passing directly overhead (at low altitude) ... one was of a Concorde ... so different from all the others.

On Sunday afternoon we discussed airport security with Lee James, a retired security officer and had a presentation from Rev Pascale Ryan, the airport Chaplin. Both quite interesting in the sense that these are people who you never really get to talk with in your normal trip to the airport.

Our holiday ended with a presentation by writer and performer Julian Fox on the connecting bridge between the Sofitel and the T5 parking garage. We sat on the floor and laughed at his stream of consciousness descriptions of trips to airports, different cities, and songs. Fox ended with a song he wrote about the architect of a new airport terminal ... it's always been my dream to build such a building ... please don't change it too much in the next 50-years ...

With the sound of Fox's accordion and slightly off-key voice in my head, I headed downstairs to the inter-terminal train on my way to Terminal 2 and back to Vienna.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

One of my favorite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, has written a new book called Outliers. It's reviewed in the NY Times Sunday Book Review this week. The review by David Leonhardt is excellent, here's the short version:
Malcolm Gladwell says success depends not only on brains and drive, but on where we come from — and what we do about it.
I especially like that last political bit, how we as a society have neglected to give young people the infrastructure to become successful. The book sounds great. I can't wait to read it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

High Speed Rail Music Video

I have finally found time to upload my music video to YouTube and am waiting for all my fans to download it. It's about high speed rail and why it's better than flying. Sorry about my singing ability, but it is supposed to be funny. Here it is:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buffalo NY Architecture

There was a very nice article on historic architecture in Buffalo in last Sunday's NY Times. Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty by Nicolai Ouroussoff described some of the architecture I grew up around and which had a real influence on my life. Omstead's parkways in particular helped show me how to integrate beauty and livability into transport projects.

Another great Buffalo website is: Welcome to Forgotten Buffalo ... they have tours and information on architecture and life in the Queen City of the Great Lakes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More on saving GM, Ford and Chrysler

The New York Times has several articles on its Opinion page today about saving the auto companies. One was by Robert Goodman (Have you driven a Bus or Train Lately?). His point is that the auto companies should be forced to start building the type of transport we need for the future. It was interesting to read that Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall, talked about the need for such a program in 1972.

Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gorden suggest that raising gas prices using taxes would be a good way to fund the auto company bailout and also save the industry. They also suggest that auto companies be forced to develop more fuel efficient cars and be restricted from fighting environmental legislation. I think that if this type of legislation - suggested by environmentalists but strongly opposed by the auto companies and unions - had been approved in the last 20 years, it would have helped avoid today's problems.

By the way, Daniel Sperling is a professor at the University of California Davis, his research on alternative fuels and transport policy is innovative and extremely well done.

Anyway, for me the bottom line should be: no taxpayer support without a clear commitment from the auto companies not to fight improvements in auto fuel efficiency, anti pollution laws, etc. and that they begin the process of producing effective and efficient mass transport (trains and buses).

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Best Cities and Quality of Life

Tyler Brûlé writes one of my favorite columns in the Financial Times Weekend Edition. The column, Fast Lane, is often devoted to transport and travel issues or city liveablity. Brûlé focuses like a laser beam on quality and often presents ideas for improving quality whether it be on an airline, railway or city planning. He is also editor-in-chief for Monocle Magazine and writes for the International Herald Tribune (also weekends).

Brûlé wrote a column for the IHT in June 2007 describing how he and his Monocle colleagues rated cities with the title Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great. I think the method they used is quite good and furthermore it provides ideas that could help planners improve their own cities. I also recommend the city summaries developed for the top twenty cities.

Just say no to GM, Ford and Chrysler!

Mark Morford, one of the San Francisco Chronicle's columnists is always interesting. I especially like the transportation ideas he discusses from time to time. Today's column asks the question I have been wondering for some time, why not let the big US automakers die? That would give us the opportunity to rebuild the transportation and auto industry into something more fitting for today's world. As always Morford puts it more colorfully:
We have a chance to let this fat, lazy, top-heavy, SUV-glutted industry implode like it so very much deserves, and we might not take it? I think: What an opportunity. We could begin to reinvent the American automobile starting next week, and we might instead keep the old ways alive simply because the Big Three were too stupid and greedy to see past their gross SUV sales figures for the past 25 years? Come on.

He also suggests that rather than shoveling money into companies making products no one wants, just because the workers would suffer, we should be spending the money helping train workers for the future and on reducing the social impacts of letting these dinosaur automakers die. It's an interesting idea, quite Republican in many ways (aside from the retraining and addressing social impacts part of course).

The other side of the question, somewhat lukewarmly argued I felt, is by Daniel Gross from Slate. He believes the bankruptcy process would not be an efficient way to reorganize the auto companies and fears for the economic consequences on workers and the rest of economy. But then again, as he says:
The failure of the American automotive industry—and let's be honest, it has basically failed—is a matter of public policy. If the Big Three can be saved, they can be saved only by government.

What a mess. It's clear that a little bit of regulation twenty years ago would have really helped the auto industry. I can't blame them for fighting it, but I can blame the Republican party.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A little history of the world by E.H. Gombrich

I just finished reading "A little history of the world" by E.H. Gombrich. Gombrich, then an unemployed Viennese art history graduate, wrote the book in six weeks during 1935. The book was spellbinding, I finished it in a day.

"A little history of the world" was written for young people but it's a book anyone can enjoy. One nice aspect is how it links events through history, eg it explains Bismark's role in German history in the context of Maria Theresa's social reforms in Austria and Karl Marx. While written for young people, it doesn't talk down to them and raises important social questions for us all. The book is short so it's not detailed and it mostly describes European history, but that's its objective. Finally, Gombrich's belief in human Enlightenment and faith in humanity is refreshing.

At the end, Gombrich describes history as a river, we are viewing the river from an airplane, we come closer to the water and see millions of shimmering white bubbles come to the surface and then vanish in time ...

We are like that. Each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a sparkling droplet on the waves of time which flow past beneath us into an unknown, misty future. We leap up, look around us and, before we know it, we vanish again. ... And what we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort.

Long Night of Research - Lange Nacht der Forschung

As a researcher I find myself spending too many long nights, but Saturday's Lange Nacht der Forschung in Austria was actually fun. The idea is that researchers open their laboratories and explain what they are working on to the general public. In Vienna there were 28 different locations connected by free shuttle buses. Each location offered demonstrations, the ability to talk with the researchers about their projects and something oriented towards children.

Over 310,000 people attended the events (they were also held in the cities of Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Wiener Neustadt), almost 4-times more than the first time several years ago. All the exhibits I went to were crowded and people had to be turned away from the lectures at the University.

It reminded me of the ETH Zurich's 150 year anniversary celebration in 2005. The ETH set-up exhibits on current research in several Zurich parks and organized 150 professors to give 150 lectures on their research. I was surprised at how many people attended these lectures (many standing room only!) and how interested people were in what was going on "up on the hill" ... (the ETH, aka Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is located on a hill overlooking the city). The ETH also has held its own Lange Nacht der Forschung.

Both Switzerland and Austria also have "Long Night of Museums" where the museums are all open late. They are also very well attended.

On Saturday I focused on transport and planning research. At Tech Gate, I learned about a new system developed by ftw combining GIS with cellular technology to send information you want to your telephone and research by Austria Tech on making freight transport more environmentally friendly. At Arsenal Research in Tech Base, I learned about some really interesting pedestrian modeling including research on how to control pedestrian flows at major public transport stations. The research was used successfully in June 2008 to help control fans leaving the European Football Championship games on Vienna's Metro line U2. Arsenal Research's Forschungsnews Magazine (pdf download) describes some of these projects. In the Fachhochschule Technikum Wien I visited an exhibit from the FH Joanneum on innovative new railway technology (German) including improved safety devices, improved rail vehicle design and use of IT in railway systems (one of my main research interests).

Then I hurried to the University to hear a lecture from Dr. Thomas Müller on the importance of self worth and recognition. Müller is a criminal psychologist and profiler who has written several books. He spoke about the three main areas of life: work, relationships and self ... and said that you need to balance the amount of 'recognition' you get from each sector ... too much or too little of any leads to problems. Of course my short summary doesn't do justice to his lecture, but it was late and I was sitting on the floor of the Vienna University Grosser Festsaal ... with great paintings on the ceiling (two by Klimt that were destroyed in World War II were repainted in black and white).

One of the nice things about the evening was having the opportunity to visit many different parts of the city. Tech Gate is a skyscraper located adjacent to the United Nations facility on the Donau in Vienna; the exhibits were on the 19th floor with a view of the whole city. Both Arsenal Research and the Technikum are modern new facilities located in different areas of the city. The University is located right on the Vienna Ringstrasse in a beautiful building. It has a huge central courtyard with a wonderful covered arcade - with statues of professors along the sides. It would be a nice place to visit on a trip to Vienna - a green oasis.

In summary, a fun evening. It's the kind of event that all cities should hold!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The GOD Delusion

I just finished reading Richard Dawkins' book The GOD Delusion. Not only was the book excellent from an intellectual viewpoint, but it was extremely well written and organized - a pleasure to read. I often found myself thinking of a question ... just before Dawkins addressed the point. I also learned a great deal of science - especially evolution - from the book. Finally, Dawkins doesn't sugarcoat things, to him teaching the bible story about God creating humans isn't a question of teaching both sides of the argument (as our former VP candidate says), it's simply wrong. He, of course, puts it much better than I could. Here's a great quote from the cover:
We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
Great book.

Friday, November 7, 2008

BMVIT: Forschungsforum Mobilität für Alle 2008 - Part 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology's Mobility for All conference. I just received a link from BMVIT that contains a short summary of the conference and links to the presentations: Forschungsforum Mobilität für Alle 2008 ... it's in German!

A community organizer as president

I just read a very interesting post from The School of Life's Ideas to Live By column. It was by their politics course instructor Maurice Glasman on the secret of Obama's success. The article described how Obama used the basic rules of Saul Alinsky in his campaign and then says:
The result is that the new Commander in Chief is schooled and versed in the tactics of urban guerrilla politics, of how to turn a disaggregated rabble into an organised community, of how to organise the defeated and win, how to increase your power through your action, how to generate new relationships through political victory.

Glasman ends his article by describing two massive failures of the Bush Administration: the idea that greed is always good and the idea that military strength alone is enough to wield power. The Bush administration's total pursuit of these ideas has almost destroyed our country, let's hope Obama can organize us to turn things around as successfully as he organized us to make history voting for him!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Finally good news in the papers!

Good news! I can return to the cafes of Vienna and walk by newstands with pride again! Here's proof, three newspapers from Cafe Prückel's collection.

Note it's also nice that the French and German's agree.

Best Global Cities - Part 2

After writing about the Best Global Cities a couple days ago I found an excellent site called Best City Reviews that keeps up with different "best cities" surveys and news about the subject. The site would have really helped me several years ago when I was trying to use results of the Mercer Company survey in a research project on Zürich. Now I know where to turn for this type of information in a clear and useful format.

Best City Reviews even has a feature that lets you compare weather between two cities. I wish this feature were available for my hometown, Buffalo, which actually has much better weather than people think. Although on second thought, given how bad most people think the weather in Buffalo is, that may not be saying much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I cried today

Today I cried. I cried at the sight of a black man, surrounded by his family, elected to lead our country and the world through very difficult times.

I cried because I remember the black friends I grew up with in my progressive school. I cried because I remember when my mother told me why Mamie, always more a surrogate mother than cleaning lady, couldn't read. I cried because I remember my friend David talking about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just before he was assassinated. I cried because I remember Robert Kennedy's funeral and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I cried because I thought how happy my father would have been to see this day. I cried because I realize that, while the path is back in view, the process of change is only just beginning.

Built for comfort, not for speed!

I have argued in several papers that railways should focus on the needs of today's customers, but not eliminate the qualities that make rail travel comfortable and enjoyable. For example, the ability to have a good meal or enough space to work or relax without leaning on the person sitting next to you (today's air travel model).

Alex Marshall wrote an article called The Comfort Zone for Governing Magazine that covers similar ground. The article suggests that transport is more than just moving people, he says,

For state and local officials, it means resisting the urge to think about transportation as something that can be reduced to wheels and wings. We humans, being soft and fleshy creatures with a handful of senses, have considerations that go beyond how fast and how far and at what price.

While I think there is a lot railways can learn from airlines, low cost airlines in particular, the learning includes both positives and negatives! Imitate some of the operational strategies, but imitate first class food service and amenities!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Best Cities Lists

I am always fascinated by best cities lists. Especially interesting are the criteria they use to develop these lists. Today I read an article in Business Week on a new study by A.T. Kearney, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Foreign Policy magazine that ranked the "Most Global Cities". The article is quite good and I pretty much agree with the list. I especially liked the fact that the study recognizes that great cities are not only about economic strength, but also about livability and culture.

To see the best cities you need to view the slide show included with the article. There is a slide on each of the top 12, then a slide listing cities ranked 13 to 50. I was happy to see that San Francisco was rated number 15, Vienna number 18 and Zurich number 26. I can only say that I feel privileged to have lived in all three cities.

Another popular city ranking survey, by Mercer Consulting, usually rates Vancouver, Zurich and Vienna all in the top three.

Also, here's an interesting link to a Q&A session with Bert Sperling from the NY Times Freakonomics Blog. Sperling is co-author of the book Cities Ranked and Rated on best places to live in the USA. His thinking is quite interesting.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Antwerp Main Railway Station

One of my photos of the Antwerp main railway station was selected for the Schmap guide to Antwerp. I love the photo because it's one of those railway wheels with wings sprouting from the axle. In this case it's all golden.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Groundswell Awards 2008

I am working on a project to develop a Web 2.0 application for improving public transport efficiency. The idea is to combine a WIKI, social network and database in a structured system. It's described in a bit more detail on my website page on public transport efficiency (towards the bottom), but that's not what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about the Groundswell Awards. Groundswell is a book about how companies can better use social networking. I will review the book later, but they also have a blog and recently sponsored a contest of the best uses of social networking. Here's a link to the Groundswell Awards 2008 blog posting. There's lots of neat ideas on this page!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The train in Spain is better than the plane.

Here's an article I wrote in support of California's high speed rail initiative which is on the ballot on November 4, 2008.

The train in Spain is better than the plane.

High speed trains are transforming Spain and countries throughout the world. High speed rail’s benefits are clear, it’s time for California to get on board.

California’s transport system is a brake on innovation and growth, airport lines, flight delays, and traffic congestion, it’s an endless series of hassles stealing our money and wasting our time – it’s different in Spain.

Spain’s first high speed train started operating in 1992 between Madrid and Seville. At the time many ridiculed it as a prestige project with little economic value. Well, they’re not laughing now. Instead, based on the initial line’s economic and environmental success, they are too busy building a high speed network connecting Spain’s major cities and neighbors in France and Portugal.

One of the first benefits Spain noticed was that the share of people flying the Madrid – Seville route dropped from 75% to 25% overnight and the total number of travelers doubled. In addition to spurring economic development, reducing flights helped reduce greenhouse gases and airport congestion. The shift from plane to train has been repeated in many markets including Brussels - Paris, Paris - London and Paris - Lyon. In several cases airlines no longer even offer service.

Ah, but the airlines won’t give up without a fight. Well, not really; European airlines have taken an “if you can’t beat them – join them” approach. Lufthansa uses high speed rail on feeder routes to Frankfurt airport providing through ticketing and baggage handling. KLM-Air France is a partner in the new Netherlands high speed rail company. Can’t we do the same in California? High speed rail makes good economic and environmental sense for both airlines and society.

But, it’s not only people, high speed’s newest market is freight. Several railways now offer express delivery and will soon move more substantial goods. Again, railways are working with private sector partners like FedEx and UPS to create efficient networks, and again they are economically and environmentally sustainable. Imagine the number of trucks we could remove from California highways with a similar system.

Spain is also overlaying regional rail trains on its high speed network just as California is planning. These trains are a supercharged version of Caltrain”s highly successful Baby Bullet trains, imagine San Jose to San Francisco in 20-minutes! This is being successfully operated now, so ignore the doomsayers who say it won’t work.

Finally, high speed rail is revitalizing economies. A fine example is England’s high speed line from the Channel Tunnel to London – a case study of top quality planning, engineering and environmental sensitivity. The line was specifically routed through southeast London to encourage economic development in a depressed area. So far the EURO 10-billion project has generated EURO 40-billion in investments, and played a major role in securing the Olympics for London. Can’t we use high speed rail to revitalize California too?

So, repeat after me, the train in Spain is better than the plane: faster, more economic and better for our environment. What’s California waiting for?
Andrew Nash,, is Managing Director of Vienna Transport Strategies, he formerly served as Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transport Authority. This article is based on his experience at the UIC 2008 World High Speed Rail Conference.

Fear and Loathing in Châtelet - Les Halles

I made a business trip to Paris on Thursday to attend an all day meeting on Friday. I have been to Paris many times and have always relied on the excellent public transport system, unfortunately it really disappointed me this time and I think I saw some things from the other (non public transport expert) side.

The RER B train from Charles de Gaulle Airport left on-time (according to the brochure there are about 8 trains per hour to/from Paris during most of the day - an excellent level of service!). After about 20 minutes, on what should have been an approximately 35-minute trip, we slowed down and pretty much crawled along all the way to the Châtelet - Les Halles station, trip time: about one hour and ten minutes.

Feeling a bit frustrated, but glad to be off the train, we walked upstairs and were engulfed in the ocean of humanity that seems to be going in all directions. It reminded me of Kafka: halls, stairways, signs, queues of people, in sum: extremely disorienting. Here I thought - my god, how could someone with mobility difficulty or cognitive difficulty deal with this situation? As it was I had a bit of angst - all I wanted to do is to get to the surface, and it seemed like there was no way we could find the right exit without stairs, hallways, blocked passageways, etc. Eventually we found our way out, but it was an experience. It taught me to think more about keeping transport station design simple and providing very clear signage systems.

Returning to the airport on Friday evening was worse. There had been an accident in the tunnel between Châtelet - Les Halles and Gard du Nord, when we arrived on the platforms they were already packed, really packed (and they are big platforms!). I can read French so I could read from the monitors that there were big delays, so I went upstairs to try to find some information.

(Note to Paris: you are an international city, you should provide important information like major delays traveling to international airports in foreign languages! Not, of course, like any US city does that, but that's why we live in Europe.)

Most people at the information booth did not speak English (different from many other European countries I have visited!) but one did. He was quite helpful, when I asked if we should take the Metro line 4 to Gard du Nord, he said yes, it would be a good idea.

So, we (and quite a few other people who had the same good idea) navigated through the station to the platforms for M4. It was one of those occasions that drive public transport operators crazy. No place to stand on the platforms, absolutely no room in the train, lots of people wanting to get out and into the train. The train probably stayed in the station for 3 minutes, I was the last one on - it took the doors two or three times to close, ripping my shirt in the process, but at least we were moving.

Repeat the process six times (once for each station between Châtelet - Les Halles and Gard du Nord). Arriving at Gard du Nord, I asked for information, again French was the preferred language, but the person seemed to understand what I wanted. However, she had no idea that there was any problem with the RER trains to CDG (odd, since even I could read the television monitors) and no good ideas for getting there other than to wait on platform 43. She was helpful, she gave me a schedule!

So we went to platform 43. Soon a train pulled in and the metro process was repeated - it was on the edge of frightening, even more people than in the metro station. We were not able to get on the first train, but did manage to squeeze (and I mean squeeze) onto the second train about 5-minutes later. I remarked that probably even the pick-pockets could not work since even I could not get my hands in my pockets.

The train seemed to be a local and took about 45 minutes to get to the airport, we had 25-minutes to get to our flight. Luckily the train station was in the same terminal as our flight, but CDG Terminal 2 is not really easy to navigate, especially for people stressed out about missing their flights. Security, badly arranged (see my article on Copenhagen Airport), was quite slow and inefficient. We did make our plane, but were still feeling the stress as we waited for the commuter rail train into Vienna.

As a public transport professional I always try to think about ways in which the problems I have traveling could be addressed. For example, why couldn't the RER run a couple of empty trains into Gard du Nord from the North, and then back out again? How could the signs and station design be made more efficient and effective? Why can't we provide more capacity and ease of movement boarding/alighting on trains (e.g. reduce seating)?

I am sure Paris planners are thinking about these questions, the system is one of the best in the world, but we all need to do more than think, we need leaders willing to provide the money and initiative to get our ideas implemented. Ironically, Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoë is one of the most innovative and energetic mayors when it comes to implementing innovative planning and transport issues. Let's hope he is able to solve some of these metro and rail planning issues!

Why bother? by Michael Pollan

I was at a meeting on Thursday night and found myself talking about Michael Pollan's article Why bother? in the New York Times Magazine's Environment Issue from this past April. The article talked about how simply growing a garden could make a difference practically and more importantly, I think, philosophically. We live in an apartment, but we (Christa!) planted a garden this year and we enjoyed the last of the tomatoes last week; the herbs are frozen and the seeds have been dried and saved for next year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Warsaw: Pierogarnai na Bednarskiej Restaurant

In my quick trip to Poland I really wanted to have a pirogi meal. I opted for a very traditional restaurant (a "milk bar") located just off the Krakowskie Przedmiescie on ulica Bednarska 28/30. The street runs downhill and on the right side you will first pass a bar (they were very friendly, and even though they are a restaurant they told me where their competition was ... I just kept asking for pirogi!). Next you will pass, I am not kidding, a sushi bar. Then up the stairs to a simple but nice restaurant. You order at the counter and it was a bit of work to get an English menu (it has the old prices so they do not want to confuse people I guess). I ordered the menu for 15 Zlotny which included a good vegetable soup, a cole slaw salad (see photo on the right) and six pirogi. They let me have three of two kinds, so I chose the 'brother-in-law' which are filled with a sauerkraut-vegetable mixture and 'diavolo' which are filled with a spicy (not really) meat mixture. (You can guess which were which in the top photo.) The pirogi were covered with a light dose of bacon bits and meat (quite tasty).

I love eating things like pirogi because so many cultures have this same food, but with different fillings. It's fun to contrast and compare!

Warsaw Trip

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Warsaw on Monday to speak at a rail infrastructure conference. I took the night train there and back, so I only had about 12-hours in Warsaw, with 9 spent in the conference. I had been to Warsaw before so I knew my way around a little and the conference was held right downtown which helped.

When the conference was finished I walked to the E. Wedel chocolate shop/cafe, which was beautiful. I bought some chocolate to take home and headed towards the 'Royal Mile' making a note to stop here next time to enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee.

By this time it was dark, but the Nowy Swiat was brightly lit and full of people. The street runs south to Warsaw's reconstructed old town. Along the way are numerous churches, government ministry buildings in the great classical palace style, monuments and businesses. The name changes to Krakowsie Prezedmiescie and the sidewalks become wider (it seems to be a transit mall). The University is also located here so there are lots of students and businesses serving students (also a brew pub called Brou Armia (also a place I need to go next time!).

The old town is surrounded by a brick wall with ramparts on one side, it's interesting to walk here and see how the light and shadows play on the walls. The old town itself is lively, with many of the typical tourist shops, restaurants and street performers. The old town was almost completely destroyed in World War II and it's interesting to compare the photo of the destroyed city in the main square to the current version.

The old town remains a living part of the city. I was not able to walk down one of the streets because the church was having a mass and the street in front was full with people. But it was fun to go around the crowd by walking through one of the small alleys - providing a glimpse on how people really live.

I retraced my steps back to the central train station and caught my train back to Vienna. Here are some photos of Warsaw's most, well I am not sure exactly how to describe it, building. I took the photos throughout the day by stepping out of the hotel where the conference was being held.

Madrid: Cerveceria Cruz Blanca - Prado Restaurant

We enjoyed a very nice tapas supper at a restaurant called Cerveceria Cruz Blanca - Prado in Madrid. The restaurant has a bar/tapas area on the ground floor and a full restaurant in the cellar. The bar level is much more interesting! The restaurant seems to be a chain organized by a brewery called Cruz Blanca. The decor featured historic brewery photos and advertising placards.

We ordered beer and received two tapas each, both were mayonnaise-based and since I do not eat mayonnaise they brought us four more! The beer was very interesting, it tasted vaguely creamy ... a nice feeling in the mouth. We ordered several tapas from the menu - including the pork loin sandwich - and they were all good. We spent 14 Euros for several beers and a light supper. The brewery mascot seems to be a penguin, here's Christa standing next to the door.

The restaurant is located at Calle Prado 25, on the corner of Calle Santa Catalina between the Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza Las Cordes.

Madrid: Casa Lucas Restaurant - Tapas

We had two excellent tapas meals at Casa Lucas Restaurant at 30 Cava Baja street in Madrid. The menu is short, but everything we tried was fine. The pork loin tapas were exceptional. The meal starts with a couple pieces of sausage on bread that arrives on your table (or on the bar) as you sit down. Next order beer or wine as you peruse the menu and choose several tapas to share. As I said everything was great and they had a pretty good English language menu. We spent 34 Euros for two including beer.

We also visited a couple nearby tapas restaurants/bars for a drink. Especially good was La Chata at 24 Cava Baja. If you ask they give you a free tapas consisting of a small dish of chorizo sausage with potatoes and peppers, quite tasty. The sit down part of the restaurant also looked good.

We arrived early one night (Casa Lucas does not open before 8 pm) and had a drink at one of the bars on the corner, here's a photo.

In summary, Cava Baja is a great place to eat in Madrid.

Madrid: La Vaca Veronica Restaurante

While in Madrid we ate lunch at La Vaca Veronica Restaurante. It was recommended in several guidebooks and we really enjoyed it. We both had the steak ... it's listed as "beef" on the lunch menus. The menu including wine, beer or water, the main course and dessert cost 15 Euros. The restaurant is clean and comfortable.

As regular readers know I collect photos of unique restroom signs. The restrooms at La Vaca Veronica were worth visiting (for more than the normal reasons) ... here's a photo (that's a glass floor: the men's room had a man's hat and shoes, the women's had, well you can figure it out).

Spanish Wedding and Trains

We traveled to Spain recently for a friend's wedding. We flew to Madrid, then took the train to a small city called Tudela in Navarra. They are very proud of their high speed rail system in Spain and rightly so. I was able to book our tickets over the internet (using Google's translate function since the website provided information in English but you could only book on a Spanish site). The trip was fast and efficient.

The wedding was great, it reinforces my belief that one should always attend weddings especially in different countries. We were welcomed into the family and became part of a wonderful celebration. We took over 200 photos, maybe I will post a few in the coming days. In the meantime here's how they wash the front of the trains in Spain.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BMVIT Austria - 2008 Transport Research Conference

Last Monday I attended the Austrian Ministry of Transportation and Innovation (BMVIT) 2008 conference on transport research: Mobility for All - Sustainable Regional Transport (Nachhaltige nahmobilitaet). The conference was very good, five very interesting presentations and lots of time for discussion with the attendees.

The first speaker was the BMVIT State Secretary Christa Kranzl. She is an elected official who is responsible for managing the ministry (along with the actual minister). She spoke very intelligently about the importance of regional transport and sustainability; it was impressive that she understood the important issues and also that she stayed for the first lecture and asked intelligent questions about key points.

The first lecture was by Prof. Dr. Heiner Monheim from the University of Trier's department of regional development. His lecture focused on many of the small things that we can do to make local/regional transport more sustainable - in contrast to spending lots of money on huge infrastructure projects designed to move people over long distances. Two key recommendations: bicycle streets and "shared space" roadways where different modes of transport share the same space.

Another lecture was given by Werner Broeg from the institute of Transport and Infrastructure Research at Socialdata (Munich). They specialize in detailed surveys to help improve planning. His results were fascinating, showing transport similarities between Europe, America and Australia ... the three continents share more than we sometimes think. One of his main points was that planners need to focus on getting people who really have options to bike/walk and/or use public transport (the low hanging fruit), we waste too much time and effort trying to get people without realistic options (e.g. three times longer travel time, three transfers, etc.) to use public transport. Some of his data was fascinating, more in a later post.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Knoflacher from the Vienna Technical University's department of transport planning and technology spoke on the need for leveling the playing field if we want people to use public transport. One of his main ideas is to put parking equidistant away from people as public transport stops - when people have to walk as far to their car as they do to public transport, they will use public transport more often.

All in all it was one of the best conferences I have been to in a long time. More later when I have time to

CEE Railway Infrastructure Conference - 2008

I will be speaking at the CEE Railway Infrastructure Conference 2008 on Monday, October 20. I will be commenting on the Rail Baltica project, one of the Trans-European Network Transport (TEN-T) priority corridors. It is an interesting project that runs north from Poland through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The project has many similarities with railway planning projects in the USA. For example, the existing route needs significant rehabilitation, so the question is do you build an entirely new line or focus on rehabilitating the old route? I am looking forward to the conference and discussing improvement ideas for this important corridor.

Here are my comments on the Rail Baltica project.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Information and Public Transport

There is a good post on the difficulty of taking public transport, especially trains, in California, on Joel Ellinwood's CD&R blog on Transit Tales. I attended a conference organized by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport and Innovation (BMVIT) on Monday where one of the speakers discussed the lack of information available on public transport, when one of the audience disagreed with him saying that in fact plenty of information is available, the speaker replied, it's available somewhere, but not inside peoples' heads. I think Ellinwood's piece highlights this fact, a transit geek could probably answer all his questions, but for the rest of us (and for all of us when we travel!) public transport information is still too hard to find and understand.

Friday, October 10, 2008

London School of Economics - Innovation Web Site

One interesting e-mail I receive each Friday is from the Scout Report. The Scout Report summarizes several websites, two new applications and a news story each week. Here's a description and link I found particularly intersting:

LSE Information Systems and Innovation Group Video Archive

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has hundreds of different research units, and the Information Systems and Innovations Group recently joined with other departments to form the new Department of Management. Both academic units have sponsored a wide range of guest speakers and scholars over the years, and this website lets interested parties watch these talks at their leisure. All told, there are over twenty five talks currently available, and they include Ricky Burdett's talk on "Social Aspects of Urban Form", Leopoldina Fortunati's "Discussing the Meaning of the Mobile Phone", and Danny Quah's "Digital Goods and New Economy". Visitors can also chime in with their two cents via the weblog discussion thread that resides under each video.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nancy Pelosi for Congress

I just spent a couple days in San Francisco visiting friends. San Francisco is a place where politics is in the air, at least among my friends.

One of the political controversies in San Francisco now is a women running for Congress, Cindy Sheehan, against the incumbent Democrat Nancy Pelosi (who is Speaker of the House of Representatives). Ms. Sheehan is a great women. She stood up to President George W. Bush against the Iraq war. She is running against Nancy Pelosi because she believes that the Democrats have not done enough to stop the Iraq war.

Unfortunately, this is another case of the Democratic infighting that has cost our country dearly. Nancy Pelosi needs our help. The Republicans have made it impossible for her to do what she wants on everything from the war to the economy. I think that Cindy Sheehan is a fine women, but the Republicans are the enemy not the Democrats.

Ironically Sheehan personifies the Ralph Nader approach; Nader's actions in the 2000 election made Bush's election possible which led to the war, the economic meltdown and who knows what next. Unfortunately we are a two party system and the Democrats are miles ahead of the Republicans. That's why I am supporting Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heimat - Buffalo NY

Heimat is a great German word that can be translated as hometown, but it means more than that ... German speakers use it to indicate more of a connection with your hometown. Maybe it's a function of the fact that Europeans move around less than Americans.

Anyway, I am visiting my hometown of Buffalo NY this week. Buffalo has been really hard hit over the last decades. The population has gone from over half a million to a quarter of a million. It's a classic rustbelt city, now the auto plants and steel factories (I used to work in one) are closed - they even cut-up the steel buildings in my old steel plant and melted them down as scrap.

The nice thing about the city's shrinkage is how quickly nature comes back. Things are growing and quiet ... although there is still lots of pollution that needs to be cleaned up before it's healthy, but the greenery is nice.

Buffalo also is a veritable architectural treasure house; there are buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham - all very famous turn of the century (1900) architects. But there are also industrial buildings: most important are the reinforced concrete grain elevators - many of which are now surrounded by the returning nature in a sort of surreal landscape. These grain elevators were very impressive to modern architects in the 1920s and were highlights for European architects visiting the USA at that time.

Buffalo, it seems to me, has made mistake after mistake in trying to address its economic problems. These problems probably started in the 1940s as the city failed to invest and embrace innovative new ideas. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, the city was really struggling and was grasping at any solution. I always think of Michael Moore's movie "Roger and Me", when he interviews the director of the Flint economic development agency, the guy says we need a festival marketplace - then the urban planning solution - and it's exactly what Buffalo was saying. How many downtown festival market places were created in those years? (Lots!)

Buffalo also made huge mistakes with its urban planning. Locating the State University of NY at Buffalo's new campus at a sprawling greenfield site in the suburbs (12 miles from downtown) is a great example. Another is spending half a billion dollars (1970s dollars!) on an underground (5 miles) streetcar line with a one-mile surface mall downtown. The underground portion was expensive and unnecessary while the surface mall pretty much killed off all the remaining downtown businesses. Compare to Zurich which spent about 100 million rebuilding its surface streetcar and bus lines to make them more attractive. I know the problem with federal money only being available for specific types of projects and the 'get in line' for funds mentality, but this was a monumental waste of money. (By the way, Buffalo is not unique, these problems took and are taking place in cities all over the USA.)

So, what's my solution? I think that conditions are serious (and given the economic situation now: extremely serious). Solving problems will require very hard decisions and very drastic actions. I would start with focusing on the city's strengths: its beautiful location on the shore of Lake Erie, its architectural heritage, the reemergence of nature in the city, and the strong feelings local people have for their city.

Clearly the city and suburbs will need to merge into a regional government; state funding is going to be severely reduced and local communities will need to work together to solve growing problems.

The city needs to do triage - what neighborhoods will be saved, which neighborhoods will be allowed to die (remove infrastructure, don't maintain old infrastructure). Focus on adding multi-family housing with amenities and local services in the locations that remain in order to create new active walkable neighborhoods.

This triage could be done by creating a new open space master plan - similar to Omstead's plan for Buffalo from the 1800s. The master plan should Create a real historic park linking the grain elevators, open-up the waterfront for people, bring back natural creeks (e.g. remove the Scajaweda Expressway that runs through Delaware Park to the Niagara River - replace it with a greenway and sunlight the creek; sunlight the creek all the way to Cheektowaga).

As Daniel Burnham said, don't make small plans!

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts as I sit at the airport waiting to leave Buffalo.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Schmap - Vienna

I just learned that Schmap - a company that prepares annotated map books from flickr photos used one of my photos for their Vienna map. Here's the link to my photo on the Schmap Vienna site:

Graben restroom sign, by Andrew Nash

Future of Railway Service - in German!

Yesterday I had an interesting experience: I was interviewed in German on the Swiss national radio station DRS. They asked me questions about the future of rail service - a topic close to my heart. I offered to do the interview in English, but the interviewer said my German was fine - I felt great!

I think they hoped that I would present really different ideas like magnetic levitation trains (maglev) or other 'visions' for the future. But I didn't. My opinion is that by applying "social innovation" to railway systems we can really improve our transport systems. We don't need significantly faster rail technology, we need to make existing rail travel easier, more comfortable and slightly faster (i.e. apply high speed rail technology). High speed rail should be the transport mode of choice for trips less than 600 km, flying for trips greater than 800 km, and, for trips in between, people should choose based on the specific circumstances.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Election Day

We received two interesting pieces of mail today: my absentee ballot from San Francisco and Christa's information on voting in the Austrian national election that happens on September 28. So, we have lots to discuss tonight!

Friday, September 12, 2008


One of my favorite German words, perhaps because it's also used in English is Angst. To me it's even one of those words that sounds like what it is (onomatopoeia).

I mention it because, like some of my friends, I am starting to have sleepless nights worrying about the US Presidential election. (I have angst!) It just makes me so mad to hear the lies coming from the Republican party ... and even madder to think that there are so many people who believe them.

Paul Krugman talked today about the lies. We all know that politicians are not alter boys (and girls) but the level of lying today is wild.

Roger Cohen talked yesterday about how the Bush Administration has divided America, making it possible for the Republican lies to work.

To me the huge difficulty is that problems today are not simple, but voters want simple solutions. It's easier to simply lie (reducing taxes will improve the economy) than to explain how taxes are needed to build the infrastructure and society we need to successfully face the future.

Returning to the subject of angst, and in an effort to inject some humor into the otherwise grim discussion, the photo is of a sausage stand in Zurich. The name of the sausage company is Angst ... would you buy a sausage from a company called Angst? Let's hope the voters don't buy the McCain-Palin lies!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Altavilla, Bianzone, Italy

If you are visiting Poschiavo or the Valtellina Valley of Italy, the Altavilla restaurant is a wonderful place serving lunch and dinner in the small town of Bianzone. If you are taking the Raetische Bahn (RhB) Bernina Express, your trip ends in Tirano (Italy). From there Bianzone is about a 12 Euro taxi ride.

The Altavilla is run by Senora Anna, a wonderful women in all senses of the word. She is welcoming and extremely knowledgeable about the region's food and wine. She is a leader in the Slow Food movement and her cooking is divine.

The restaurant is located up in the hills with windows overlooking the valley. It's idyllic, especially if you decide to stay overnight in one of the rooms. The food is superb. Senora Anna offers a couple of menus that enable you to try some of the regional specialties (one menu offers: schat, pizzoccheri, dried meats and dessert). But, it might be better to order a few appetizers from the menu (schat, risotto, the buckwheat crepes) and then a main course of meat or fish (all of which are excellent).

The schat needs to be described. It's local cheese coated in a buckwheat dough (similar to a crepe mixture) that's very quickly deep fried and served on a bed of thinly sliced bitter salad (you dress the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar yourself from the many varieties Senora Anna places on your table, before the hot schat arrive).

The service can be slow and somewhat chaotic, but the food is well worth waiting for, especially with a glass of one of the fine local wines.

Pizzoccheri - Alpine Buckwheat Noodles?

Pizzoccheri are the buckwheat noodles found in the Italy's Valtellina Valley and Canton of Graubunden Switzerland. I blogged about my recipe for Pizzoccheri previously. As I mentioned everyone has their own recipe, and they are all good! For more information check out the Accademia del Pizzocchero di Teglio.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Kurhaus Bergün, Switzerland

On our way back to Zurich from Poschiavo we stopped in the village of Bergün (German). It's located on the Abula line of the RhB - Rhätische Bahn. A friend had recommended that we visit the Kurhaus Bergün (German). The hotel is about a five-minute walk from the train station.

A Kurhaus is a hotel where you go for a "cure" or rest. Most of them are associated with mineral baths, medical treatments or simply relaxing for a couple of weeks in a natural environment. It's a pretty nice idea.

The Kurhaus Bergün is a beautiful Jugendstil building built between 1905-06 by the Zurich architects Jost-Franz Huwyler-Boller (who also built several other famous hotels). The hotel seems to have fallen on hard times and a group of regular customers decided to try and save it. They are restoring the hotel slowly and the work so far is really excellent.

We decided to have lunch on the sunny balcony (overlooking mountains). The restaurant has a relatively limited selection, but the food is "bio" and comes from suppliers in the region. I had a wonderful "toast". In most places a toast is like a grilled cheese wonder bread sandwich, but not here ... tangy mountain cheese served between two thick slices of homemade whole grain bread ... shows how good simple food can taste when you use quality ingredients. I washed it down with a Monstein Hausbeer (the Monstein Brewery is located in the adjacent valley near Davos). It was a great lunch.

Bergün is the start/end of the Abula railway history trail up to Preda. The Abula line was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2008. The trail has panels describing how the Abula rail line was built. It is a fun, although fairly strenuous, hike. The best idea is to start in Preda - then it's downhill to Bergün. They are also building a railway museum at the Bergün (German, very nice website with information about the Abula line) station but I am not sure when it will open.

There is also a ski lift in Bergün and swimming pool. The skiing looks like it would be good, but it's not a large area by Swiss standards. Another unique attraction in the winter is sledding from Preda to Bergün (German). They close the road, well, snow actually closes the road, and place hay bales on the worst curves, you rent a sled at the RHB railway station in Preda then sled down to Bergün. It's quite a trip. The Swiss National Railroad's Railaway program has special offers for people who want to make this trip.

All in all, Bergün has a lot to offer.

Here's a video of the sled ride!

Hiking and Eating in Poschiavo Switzerland

One of our favorite places to visit is Poschiavo Switzerland. Poschiavo is about four and a half hours from Zurich (on the train!) in the south east corner of the country. To get there you go to Chur on the standard gauge SBB (national railway) and then transfer to the narrow gauge Rhaetische Bahn (RhB) railway. You take the RhB through the Abula Pass to the Engardine Valley, then transfer to another RhB train that takes you over the Bernina Pass. It's a railway junkie's dream.

In 2008 UNESCO declared part of the Abula rail line a UNESCO World Culture Site. The RhB have done an excellent job developing creative new services and promoting rail travel. For example there is a history trail along a particularly complicated portion of the Abula line. Many railways could learn from their high quality and creative approach to the railway business (but that's for another post).

The train continues south from Poschiavo to Tirano Italy (the Valtellina Valley). People in Poschiavo speak Italian and the valley combines the best of Italy and Switzerland in much the same way as the more well known Canton of Ticino.

We stay in the Hotel Albrigi located on the main square of Poschiavo. On our first trip we met the owner (Claudio Zanolari) and he made such a great impression we have been back many times since then. The Hotel Albrigi is a historic hotel, it has only about 10 rooms and the bathrooms are on the hall. It's not for everyone (but the family also operates the Hotel Croce Bianca, which is more modern).

The food at the Hotel Albrigi is excellent, even if you don't stay in the hotel do eat there! They make wonderful pizzas (wood burning oven), great local specialties (more in another post), and excellent meat dishes. The local wine - mostly from the Valtline Valley of Italy - is great. We often start with a pizza to share and then move on to the main courses. There are tables on the square and that's a wonderful place to eat at midday and on warm nights.

Poschiavo is an excellent place to use as a base for hiking trips. This year we made three all day hikes and one short hike. Since this is Switzerland, you can take public transport (Post Bus or RhB) to most of the trail heads fairly easily from Poschiavo, but you need to reserve in advance for some of the Post Bus lines (people at your hotel or the friendly tourist office - in the train station - can help you with this).

The first day we took the RhB train to Bernina Diavolezza. This is a ski resort in the winter and there is a cable car that takes you up the mountain to an elevation of 2,977 m (or 9,768ft). Then you hike about one and a half hours to the summit where you have a panoramic view of the Engardine and Bernina valleys - plus more mountain peaks than you can count. There is a good restaurant at the top of the cable car and if you stay in the hotel you can even take a hot tub bath (German) there overlooking the mountains.

On our second hike, we walked up the mountain from the Cavaglia RhB station to the Alp Grün RHB station. It's a short but strenuous hike uphill but the Alp Grün Albergo Ristorante at the top is warm and welcoming (watch out for the automatic door to the balcony overlooking the valley!). Many visitors are railway fans and they have an assortment of postcards and information. You can also stay overnight there. We were able to take one of the RhB's open wagon sightseeing cars down from Alp Grüm to Tirano, here I am enjoying the trip!

On Thursday we took a long hike to the San Romerio Alp. It took about seven hours walking (some strenuous) and a couple hours relaxing over lunch on the Alp. There is a very nice mountain church on the Alp and a guesthouse on the San Romerio Alp (Italian, German also available). It's best to get to the guest house early since if they are busy they run out of the specials. The food is mostly cheese and cold meat with bread, but you can order some of the regional specialties (e.g pizzoccheri) if you call in advance. You can also stay there overnight.

The church was locked when we arrived, but there were two children, probably no more than four or five years old, playing nearby. When they saw that we wanted to visit the church they ran off and brought the key, opened the door, then ran through the church showing us all the nooks and crannies.

They spoke Italian, and so most of the communication was their running around pointing excitedly. They ran up to the bell tower and started ringing the bell, then down to the crypt and then out the door. I was worried for a minute that they might lock us in, but they were just outside having returned to playing.

Our last hike was to the really beautiful Val di Campo. Again, we took the bus from Poschiavo on the main road over the Bernina Pass to a guest house at the beginning of a small road leading into the valley. There we transferred to a smaller bus (this is the one that requires reservations) and took this bus to the end of the line (another guest house - see photo).

From here it's a relatively short walk up to a beautiful lake, then you can take a more strenuous hike further to the border of Italy and return to the lake through another valley. We had beautiful weather and enjoyed a relaxing (very) late lunch at the guest house before walking back out to the main road (about 1.5 hours, but downhill so no need for the bus).

And, then, our holiday for this year was over. But we hope to return soon!

Frugal Travel in Europe

I just read a great article summarizing the lessons learned by the NY Times' Frugal Traveler on his trip through Europe this summer. I have learned these lessons myself over the last few years, but he summarizes them very well! The European Grand Tour Frugal Traveler lessons.

CERN Superconductor Video Rap

I just saw this music video on what the new supercollider at CERN is supposed to do (it was on a Wired Blog posting) of the top 10 physics videos. Finally, science presented in a way I can understand. Here's Wired's explanation of what happens in the LHC and what theories they hope to understand better and, here is the video - I just hope that the dancers don't give up their day jobs:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Terrace Garden

We have also been busy working on our terrace garden. We started in May hauling dirt and planters up to the fourth floor. Then the planting began ... from seeds, gifts from friends and relatives, cuttings and some of the plants we brought from Zurich. As these photos show Christa has a real green thumb. It's totally changed the view from our living room.

Prague Metro Sign

Here's a very clever sign in the Prague Metro. It shows a list of stations for the metro line, look closely (detail below) and you will see a double arrow. That arrow is the station we are in, if you want to travel to a station on the left of the arrow, use the left platform; if you want to travel to a station on the right of the arrow, use the right platform. What could be simpler?

Copenhagen Airport

I visited Copenhagen airport on a business trip in June. It's a bit crowded, but it's being remodeled and they are doing a fantastic job. The security screening is really efficient and well designed (no photos allowed). The area is filled with people wearing polo shirts like the one pictured here ... nice touch ... a bit different from US airports.

Oh, and similar to many European airports they have a train station in the basement. Here's a photo, the airport buildings are in the background. There are frequent trains to the center city and over the Bridge to Malmo Sweden.