Tag Archives: Switzerland

The Importance of Play

Theo and I recently watched a TEDtalk on the vital importance of play, not only in brain development, but in daily thinking and problem solving. The speaker, in part, was encouraging adults to continue to play, and at first I felt a little frustrated, because I don’t play much here. I recreate, but that isn’t the same as play. And then I realized where I do most of my playing: art. It is where I experiment and take chances; try new things, and put substance to my imagination. So in that spirit, here is where I have been playing lately.

I posted the geraniums I had painted for a neighbor already, which you can see here. I think they began to catch a sense of play in my painting. My next was a painting for myself, also of geraniums. I had a photo of geraniums on a window with French blue shutters, a very common sight here. I am trying NOT to paint all the details of real life, and yet capture the feeling the image originally gave me. I also confess to doing very little architectural painting because line and precision seems rather important to making buildings look “right.” However, I wanted this window for myself, because it felt very French to me, a memento of sorts. The results initially had a sort of mind-bending quality, a sense of M.C. Escher really. The top of the window seemed quite shallow and close, while the bottom was obviously deep enough for potted flowers. I just couldn’t keep that, but I didn’t want to repaint the whole thing. So I played with it.

These begonias have been played with, but still look "off."

These geraniums have been played with, but still look “off.”

These have had more depth and shading added. It's better, but I am still pondering.

These have had more depth and shading added. It’s better, but I am still pondering.

So, I am still thinking about altering it, but it is only for me, which means I am much more willing to forgo the work when it stops feeling like playing and just live with the imperfection. Someday it may feel like playing again, though, who knows. Regardless, I am satisfied to know that my mind is no longer twisting over the truly impossible dimensions!

The other subject that has captured my imagination is the mountain-ringed Lake Brienz. Stoney and I have so many photos, and yet my mind still swirls with how I might better capture the magical qualities of that atmosphere and area. I already showed my little watercolor pencil sketches, where I just felt I had to try to catch, with whatever pale means I had, some of what lay before me. I need a teacher in plein air painting, seriously! Well, watercolor is not one of my better mediums, but I certainly use it better than I do the watercolor pencil, and something about the mountains really suggested an effort in watercolor. The mountains were fun to play with, and not too hard to give a sense of them. I played with the sky until I felt like it was sort of what I was imagining. But the water had me stumped.

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about visiting Switzerland, the water in the lakes is really remarkable. They are a dense turquoise I had previously only seen in pit mines. There must be some sort of constant breeze over the water that keeps it rippling and moving like it is almost at simmer. And the skies are often at least partially overcast, with a mist or at least haze over the valley. The result is a brightly colored water that usually has very little reflection. I could paint this in acrylics, but how to capitalize on the translucent quality of watercolor and still show this amazing water? I could find no online tutorial or anything with water like my memories and photos were showing me. So I got out my paints and scrap papers and played. What I ended up with is very similar to what I would do in acrylic regarding line, but with a delicate application of wet on dry, and even some lifting to keep the contrast from being too strong. I think it works fairly well.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

I’m still toying with the possibility of bringing the rose a little more left. And the lower shadows on the fading mountains are really bugging me, so I may do something a tad drastic there, but we’ll see. That’s the fun, isn’t it?

My next attempt to exorcise the swirling images of Lake Brienz from my head will be acrylic, and probably a tad abstract. I don’t play in the abstract often, but it can be a lot of fun. After all, it truly IS play!

Do you do anything, as an adult, for playtime?

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Passing Through Geneva

Geneva was our port of entry for Switzerland, and also our exit. Upon arriving, we had to stop and purchase a decal for the car window that permitted us to drive on Swiss roads. This is their alternative to tollroads, which are a huge expense in France. Winding through Geneva to get to Bern had shown us a lovely city on a lake, with sidewalks overflowing with wildly dressed mostly-young people. There must have been a festival of some sorts, it was that wildly dressed; like pirate-wear and almost no-wear. We struggled to navigate through the crowds and did not stop.

Leaving Brienz, we enjoyed the nicest rest stop we have found in Europe thus far:

Texas plates? Really?!

Texas plates? In Switzerland? Really?!

Passing out of Switzerland through Geneva, we had planned to stop and visit. Theo had selected a lunch site at the top of a major multi-level department store, Manora, which took several passes around to locate nearby parking. It’s one of those cities where you can see where you want to be, but street directions may not get you there easily. The restaurant is sort of like a cafeteria, but divided into stations. For instance, a fresh pizza station, a pasta station, a sushi station, a grill. The food was good, and fresh, but you had to watch out for a la carte pricing. For Switzerland, though, it wasn’t too terribly costly.

Then we attempted to strike out on foot and see some of the city.

A park across from the lake.

A park across from the lake.

Some pavilion-like structure in the park.

Some pavilion-like structure in the park.

Up close, it is quite detailed.

Up close, it is quite detailed.

I guess this is how they keep the park so clean?

I guess this is how they keep the park so clean?

The famous water cannon on Lake Geneva.

The famous water cannon on Lake Geneva.

An Anglican church. There are so, so many more Protestant churches in Switzerland! This one was a cutie!

An Anglican church. There are so, so many more Protestant churches in Switzerland! This one was a cutie! It kind of reminded me of Charleston churches.

We only visited a few hours before moving on to our destination for the night: Lyon. Geneva just didn’t call to us; after so much vacationing, we were looking forward to returning to France. You can find all of our Swiss visit by clicking the tag Switzerland on the sidebar to your right, or searching the tag Switzerland, once it moves out of the tag cloud.

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Scenes of Brienz

This post is just to give a feel for the lovely city of Brienz, including the much-preserved art of woodcarving. It’s a big deal in this area, and in Brienz was featured not only in two major studios, but in a museum dedicated to the craft. But you couldn’t turn a corner without encountering examples.

A column near the outdoor dining area of our hotel. And if you go back to first shots of the hotel, you can see the carved lintel on the building across the back garden.

A column near the outdoor dining area of our hotel. And if you go back to first shots of the hotel, you can see the carved lintel on the building across the back garden.

An ode to tourists? I am trying to remember where I captured this fellow; I think either outside the museum or the office of tourism.

An ode to tourists? I am trying to remember where I captured this fellow; I think either outside the museum or the office of tourism.

It's not Swiss without a cow, right?

It’s not Swiss without a cow, right?

He we are, heading down to the lake. It's not a long walk, really; but it is a steep descent.

Here we are, heading down to the lake. It’s not a long walk, really; but it is a steep descent. Follow us lakeside!

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Yes, there really is a Swiss Knife Valley.

And we took the very winding, often narrow, looooooong-tunnelled route between Brienz and Brunnen, the home of the Victorinox museum and the heart of Swiss Knife Valley. The lure of assembling one’s very own, monogrammed original Swiss Army Knife was too great to stay away. We did need an appointment, which was easily made in English by phone the day before.

Brunnen, home of the Victorinox museum.

Brunnen, home of the Victorinox museum.

The instructor there in the middle, explaining to Stoney and Theo the parts they are putting together.

The instructor there in the middle, explaining to Stoney and Theo the parts they are putting together.

The truly handy end results, accompanied by all kinds of new trivia.

The truly handy end results, accompanied by all kinds of new trivia.

But Brunnen was more than just a knife museum. It also had a stunning view…

I think Switzerland must have as many lakes as they have mountains.

I think Switzerland must have as many lakes as they have mountains.

Th everpresent haze over the mountains and lake. I am going to have fun playing with these effects in paint!

Th everpresent haze over the mountains and lake. I am going to have fun playing with these effects in paint!

And, although not the most picturesque Swiss town we visited, it had an irresistible miniature golf course. We succumbed.

Theo, displaying his laissez-faire form. He actually really golfs, so you can see he considers this total play.

Theo, displaying his laissez-faire form. He actually really golfs, so you can see he considers this total play.

The statuary throughout this little course was amazing. Half of why I chose to play was just to get closer to the forms. It certainly wasn’t my high likelihood of dominating at this game. Ahem.

See the peacock in the distance behind the lion?

See the peacock in the distance behind the lion?

An eagle.

An eagle.

A giant mantid.

A giant mantid.

A wof.

A wolf.

I think Brunnen is a great place to take kids. It was very engaging and kid-accessible. And we have wonderful souvenirs!  I even have a pair of Victorinox steak knives now, just not with my name engraved.

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Lake Brienz: Trekking to a Waterfall

Switzerland has lots of waterfalls. It stands to reason, right? I wanted to visit one, and the nearest was accessible by either car or boat. Well, technically you could hike or bike there as well, but that would be all day and more athletic than I have EVER been, so really, no. And Stoney is not a fan of water transport, tolerant as he was in Venice. So car it was. However, let me just say that driving around the bottom tip of this lake and up to the parking for this waterfall was considerably more “adventurous” than any boat ride. The road was steep, hairpin riddled, and in places truly not wide enough for oncoming cars to pass. Shuttle buses came up this road! Seriously?

Anyway, we arrived to this scenery.

This is what I came for! The large chair is an unnecessary photo prop, though, as you will see.

This is what I came for! The large chair is an unnecessary photo prop, though, as you will see.

Come join me on our tour! And fair warning…this is a bit of a photo-bombing. I am not sharing half what I have, but it is so gorgeous I can’t help myself.

Follow Stoney!

Follow Stoney!

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Arriving in Brienz, Switzlerland

Lake Thun, where the castle is, connects to Lake Brienz roughly looking like an opening pocket knife. The road from one city to the other is narrow with long tunnels. We had interesting company…

Honey, rent me a camping car like this? C'mon, be a hippy with me!

Honey, rent me a camping car like this? C’mon, be a hippy with me!

Our hotel was down both lakes and just up the tip to the other side. Hotel Lindenhof is set up the pastoral mountain, beside the path of an old cog rail train that takes passengers up to the tip of the mountain, while they sit at something like 120 degree angle in seats that are at right angles to the floor. I wanted to do this, yet never did.

Walking up to the hotel from village below, this is what you see. So lovely.

Walking up to the hotel from village below, this is what you see. So lovely.

The hotel has rooms decorated to themes, a few with spa tubs in the room. They are lovely. They also have a building behind that is designed for families. These are really small apartments, with a sort of non-cooking kitchen. Click to see more of our hotel.

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A Swiss Castle

Thun, Switzerland, lies south of the capitol, Bern, on the northernmost tip of Lake Thun. The day we drove through was lovely and warm (although Theo’s jacket makes it seem otherwise). My destination was the castle, so different from the one in Carcassone. We found public parking and began the hike through town.

Yes, more bears.

Yes, more bears.

Well,  I say hike. Really, more of a climb. The castle, as I should have realized if I had given it a moment of thought, is on the high ground. Steps abounded.

Plenty more where these came from.

Plenty more where these came from.

Stoney takes a break from the climb at the base of the castle wall.

Stoney takes a break from the climb at the base of the castle wall.

It's a good spot to pause, because we get to look back on this view.

It’s a good spot to pause, because we get to look back on this view.

I don’t know if you can get a good sense of the hill here, but there is more to come.

Moving on. Isn't it lovely, all white and gleaming?

Moving on. Isn’t it lovely, all white and gleaming?

There was a lot under reconstruction. Everywhere we went thus far in Switzerland had been under reconstruction. For that matter, so had Italy. I guess when your monuments are as old as these, they take a fair amount of constant upkeep. More of Thun’s castle follows…

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Bern: Where the Bears Are

Apparently, bears are a BIG thing here.  In all forms: wood, bronze, stone….

Don't feed the bears, Yogi.

Don’t feed the bears, Yogi.

Including chocolate. Especially chocolate and other confectionaries. How I got away without a photo of bears in some edible form I cannot imagine. But YOU can….

Other woodland creatures made of chocolate

Other woodland creatures made of chocolate, so imagine a bear.

But the biggest thing in Bern, bear-wise, is living and breathing, and chilling out in the Bear Pit.

See the bear couple? Wait, I'll get closer...

See the bear couple? Wait, I’ll get closer…

Gotta love a zoom lens.

Gotta love a zoom lens.

The best thing about the Bear Park, though, is the VIEW!

This is the view of Bern from the Park, bears at your feet. Note all the people cooling their feet in the river.

This is the view of Bern from the Park, bears at your feet. Note all the people cooling their toes in the river.

Random people floated by, coolers attached. Once even a little boat came by. Stoney recorded a small pasture of goats next to the Bear Pit, and it is filled with the tinkle of goat bells. Very interesting. This is where all the tourists were, because traffic was pretty light everywhere else.

Other scenes:

Just one of many giant chess boards.

Just one of many giant chess boards.

The cathedral here looks, oh, pointy-er somehow.

The cathedral here looks, oh, pointy-er somehow.

Ice cream, anyone?

Ice cream, anyone?

This, to me, is the iconic Bern street scene, especially the window planters filled with red geraniums.

This, to me, is the iconic Bern street scene, especially the window planters filled with red geraniums.

From here, we’ll be going to the city of Thun. See you there!

 

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Exploring Bern: Fountains and Other Figures

Switzerland definitely had a different ambiance than the other European regions we have visited. I don’t know why or the history of its construction, but, historically speaking, I suspect the influence of the Greeks and Romans lost a lot of its power this far north. One thing we saw a lot of in Bern, though, that I don’t remember seeing so much of in other places, are the painted, almost folk-tale-esqu statues that adorn the fountains and protrude from various buildings. It really does add a bit of Brothers Grimm to the atmosphere. I understand they are Renaissance era.

I believe this is the justice fountain. If you click on the photo, and then click on the enlargement, you can see some of the many details.

I believe this is the justice fountain. If you click on the photo, and then click on the enlargement, you can see some of the many details.

Stoney conducted a GPS-led hunt for this bad boy…

This is the ogre fountain. Stoney HAD to hunt it down.Note that he is stuffing his face with little children. An effective tool for Renaissance parents?

This is the ogre fountain. Note that he is stuffing his face with little children. An effective tool for Renaissance parents?

I also took a photo of Samson killing the lion on a fountain, but the lighting was too bad to print. All told, I understand there are 11 of these fountains. There are plenty of regular fountains, too, though. My favorite was a modern play fountain in one of the plazas.

So pretty, and cooling, too!

So pretty, and cooling, too!

The other interesting feature was cartoonish people just standing on walls. Such an interesting ensemble! Why these people, on these buildings? I didn’t get an answer to that question, just photos.

He looks like a musketeer, but I think not. Why is he there?

He looks like an awe-weilding musketeer, but I think not.

Is that an African flag of some sort? Perhaps that helps explain these guys?

Is that an African flag of some sort? Perhaps that helps explain these guys?

The city clock tower also had some intriguing figures. Some minutes before the clock chimed the hour, there was a bit of a show; and then a little after the hour (why?) it chimed and the figures moved. The ones in the top moved with the chiming of the bell, but did not seem to be actually striking the bell.

The city clock tower.

The city clock tower. The close-up, next photo, shows the details better.

To the right are little carved figures.

To the right are little carved figures.

A crowd definitely gathered at the hour in anticipation of the show. Frankly, I thought the little figures would do more. They are centuries old, though!

And that is our first introduction to Old Town Bern. If anyone knows more about the little people on the buildings down market street, I would love to hear the story. (UPDATE: Thank you, Anne Noelle, for identifying the building with the African as the Lithuanian embassy! So the questions remains: why?)

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Staying in Bern

Bern is the capital of Switzerland. It is part of German-speaking Switzerland, and toward the center, a city surrounded by hills and tidy farms of cows and goats. Our hotel was directly west of it, attached to a mall with a water park and cinema, and next to the train and tram station. I was pretty pleased with the Holiday Inn.

The rollout bed was a tad short for my fast-growing boy, but it worked.

The rollout bed was a tad short for my fast-growing boy, but it worked.

The now-traditional view from the hotel room: many commercial roofs are planted, and goats are pastured in the distant farm. We could hear their bells tinkling.

The now-traditional view from the hotel room: many commercial roofs are planted, and goats are pastured in the distant farm. We could hear their bells tinkling.

The cinema in the mall offered Despicable Me 2 in English, with German and French subtitles. We jumped at the opportunity to attend the sequel to one of our favorite shows, and the theater happened to be having a family day. They were giving away minions and other themed items. We bought a popcorn with a minion cup. Stoney found his twin…

My Ironman with his twin.

My Ironman with his twin.

The German title for Despicable Me 2. Yeah, the French title bears no resemblance to the American title either.

The German title for Despicable Me 2. Yeah, the French title bears no resemblance to the American title either.

The drawback to staying in Bern was the cost of eating out. Just a warning to folks going to Switzerland…even expensive Starbucks is more $$, as in 6-8 francs a drink, at least. Our hotel’s all you can eat evening grill was 50 francs a person, and the Japaneses noodle shop in the mall food court was about 16 francs for a good sized bowl, 19 francs with a few dumplings included. Stoney and I split a bowl, because, seriously?

We did get free passes to the waterpark, but I couldn’t get any takers on that one. And while Spain, Italy and France are all nightowls, the Swiss are morning birds, so things in the mall closed relatively early. I’ll show you around Bern next time.

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