my name is brad, i'll be your sommelier this evening

Sometimes a Swiss Army Knife can make you the most popular guy in your hotel corridor!  Some of the students have discovered that when you are in italy, and close to France, wine is much cheaper than beer.  What do you do if you are not a wine drinker?  Choose an inexpensive wine at random from a store and bring it back to the hotel.  Step 2, after realizing that wine bottles have these things called corks, and corks require a special tool to remove them from your bottle, you wander around the corridor wondering how you are going to find a cork screw.  This is where I came in.

“Do you know where we can find a corkscrew?”  I was asked.  Being a leader makes me the font of all knowledge of course, so I must know.  ”Well…” I said, “I have a corkscrew on my swiss army knife.”  ”Great!  can you open this for me?”  Why not, I thought… Somehow the idea of me opening a bottle of wine for a student wasn’t anywhere on my list of duties as a faculty member, and I’m not sure its one that the administration would want to cultivate, but here we are in Italy, I might as well be helpful.  So, I cut the foil and pop one cork.  Its as if the sound of that cork sliding out of the bottle was like some kind of whistle.  The next thing I know I’m surrounded by students holding bottles of wine.  One or two of them decided it would be a great idea to take a picture of me opening wine bottles.  I think the picture below really captures the moment.  You can see Craig laughing in the background as if to say,  ”ha ha, there goes Brad’s career.”


Thus began our first night in Torino.  It was another long train trip from Lausanne to Torino, made a bit more exciting by the fact that just after we crossed the border into Italy the train got behind schedule.  What had been a 40 minute layover in Milano Centrale turned into a 10 minute dash from one train to the next.

Once we got to Torino, we had lunch, our first at McDonalds since the trip began, because we knew we were too early to check into our hotel.  I had a McBacon and fries.  It tasted quite good.  The Hotel Artua Solferino is a nice old European hotel.  Each room is very different.  My room is up the stairs at the end of the hall, and has the smallest bathroom in Italy.  Right over my shower is a skylight that leaks cold air like crazy.  This morning as I tried to take a shower, I could not get hot water and so the combination of the cool breeze and the luke warm shower water (with approximately zero pressure) was pretty pathetic.

After orienting the students to the area, we turned them loose to see what they could find for dinner.  Craig and I waited a while and then took off for the city centro.  We walked around and investigated a lot of restaurants.  We looked for some that might be able to accommodate our entire group, and some that looked like they might be nice for us.  We ended up finding a great little neighborhood restaurante.  Not a tourist place at all, and not pretentious.  They had a three course chefs menu that looked great.  I had awesome risotto, a green salad, and delicious veal arrosto.  The meal came with 3 dl of wine which was perfecto.

With dinner done, we made our way back to the hotel.  Its amazing how tired I get each day, worrying about the 24 welfare of 24 students traveling in a foreign country where none of us really speak the language well is very tiring.  This seems to be especially true here in Torino.  Although we have heard that the city has made great strides in welcoming tourists, we find that there are not all that many people that really speak English.  Despite that , it is a good beginning to Torino.


craig's death march to the invisible tower

Its that depressing, cloudy, cool kind of weather here in Lausanne.  Low clouds and mist that block any hope you have of seeing across the lake, much less Mont Blanc.  The result is that the city does not seem warm or friendly.  When we walked by the lake area on our way to the tourist museum it was deserted and quiet.  Of course this is their off season but it was still strange, and it makes me wish I was home where even when things are cloudy and bleak you have the warmth of loved one’s around you.

The visit to the Olympic museum was good.  They have some cool interactive exhibits where you can test your reflexes, train at altitude, and have a look at all of the new technologies that athletes and their coaches are using.  My favorite was the basketball tracker.  A camera on each corner of the court records the movements of players, a computer is then able to use that information to triangulate the exact position of each player on the court at all times.  Coaches are now using this to do a statistical analysis of how players are likely to respond to different offensive or defensive strategies.  Very cool.

When we finished our tour, the mist had lifted a bit so we could actually see the mountains peeking up over the low clouds.  I think that is Mont Blanc on the right of the picture below.  It may be a little hard to tell, but there is actually a layer of low clouds right at the top of the flag poles in the picture.



After the museum tour, everyone was on their own for lunch.  Craig and I checked out the Manora, which is a nice, reasonably priced buffet near St. Francis.    After lunch I walked around a bit, and bought a new converter to replace the one I left in the outlet in Interlaken.  We had a hike planned to a tower on the highest point in town for 3:00 in the afternoon.

Unfortunately it was raining a bit at 3, and the clouds had returned but we decided to give it a try anyway.  After a very long walk up hill we found this spot.


which wasn’t a tower, but there was a flag pole we could climb.  As you can see there is not much scenery behind the students as we were up into the clouds. and it was hard to see the lake much less any of the mountains from where we were.  Nonetheless Craig was determined to find the tower that we set off for, and so while the rest of us were fooling around and looking at the small plastic bag with the odd botanical stencil on it he was trying to find the tower.  And, after another half mile of walking up hill here it was:


You could not even see the top of the tower when you were standing right in front of it.  However, we had come this far and were determined to reach the peak.  So we climbed the 151 stairs to the top of the tower.  And we were barely treated to a view of each other.



You can see we were definitely in the clouds!

The walk back to the hostel was all downhill and definitely an easier walk.  We found a nice french bistro to stop for a happy hour drink, and enjoyed the rest.  After we got back to the Hostel and caught up with the rest of the students, Craig and I found a very nice Asian restaurant (Asian Garden) for our supper.  Back to the room and to bed.

Its a great group of students and its fun to see them come together as they get to know each other better.  They rely less on us and more on each other with each passing day of the trip, and thats a good thing.


how lindsey vonn spoiled my day in interlaken

The morning started out like any other morning, up at 7:00, a light breakfast, then hop on the bus to the ski slopes.  OK, maybe not like every other morning, but a pretty desirable thing to aspire to anyway.

To get to the ski slopes from Interlaken requires a bus ride, to Winderwil, followed by a train ride to Lauterbrunn, followed by a different train ride to Wengen, followed by a trip up the Mannlichen Gondola.  Unfortunately after all that trouble the quality of the snow was pretty bad.  The weather here in Interlaken the past couple of days has been unseasonably warm, so the snow is really icy in the morning, turning to slush by mid-day.  Most of the students that followed me out the door of our Hostel (Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof) were beginners.  By the end of the day they were calling themselves the Blue Crew because they were only taking the blue runs.  Note to U.S. skiiers, in the Alps blue is easy, red is intermediate, while black is for experts.  Somehow I got separated from the group right away and ended up doing the first run by myself.  It turned out that they had all skiied a ways ahead of mebut had stopped to contemplate their options in terms of which run to take.  Even after that contemplation they ended up taking a red run, which was not what they wanted to do.  It was during this first run that Aaron took a spill, and tore the ACL, and MCL ligaments in his knee.

Even though I waited at the bottom and top of the lift hoping to find the group again I was unsuccessful for several runs.  Maybe an hours worth of skiing.  Finally I did see the group coming off the blue run and the first thing I heard was “have you seen Aaron?”

No I said, why?

He fell and hurt himself on the run.  He told us to go on to the bottom but now we’re too scared to ski back down to him.

So, I took my board down the run and found him sitting all by himself by the side of a snow making machine.  Only one person had stopped to see if he needed help, and due to the language barrier apparently determined he was fine.  Meanwhile, I had talked to a couple of ski instructors and managed to locate a ski patrol on a snowmobile.  He joined us on the slope and made the assessment that Aaron was going to need to go to Wengen for some X-Rays.  As we were waiting we decided that we needed a better cover story than falling during the first run of the day.  Hence the Lindsey Vonn reference.  Our story is that she was on the slopes practicing for the world cup race next week and decided to flirt with Aaron, this distracted him momentarily and caused him to crash.  Sadly she did not stop to help or he would probably feel just fine.

After wrapping Aaron up like a Papoose on the sled behind the snowmobile the patrol took off for the Gondola, and I was supposed to ski down and take the lift back up and meet them there.  By the time I arrived the Gondola had already taken Aaron down, so I had to wait for the next one.  Down in Wengen Aaron got a ride in a taxi to the doctor’s office and was awaiting an X-ray by the time I arrived.  It only took about an hour and a half at the doctors office to get the X-Ray with the preliminary diagnosis of a torn crucial ligament.  They scheduled a followup appointment the next day so the other doctor could read the X-ray and weigh in.  They outfitted Aaron with a pair of crutches that included flip down spikes for the bottom to aid in navigating through the snow, and we were off.  Aaron with one ski boot on and his crutches, me carrying the other ski boot, his poles, helmet, skiis, and my own board, it was kind of a sad sight to see us slowly trudging through the narrow streets of Wengen back to the Bahnhoff.  Remember all the train and bus stops it took to get to Wengen?  Well we had to do the whole process in reverse loading and offloading skis, boards, etc. at each change.

Aaron and I made it back to the Hostel, where we began the process of calling our travel insurance company, Luther Study Abroad folks, and Aaron’s parents.  As I write this we are in “insurance-limbo” waiting to hear from our company whether they will cover an MRI in Laussane.  The MRI is critical because it appears that in addition to the torn ligaments there is also a small bone chip.  If the chip is too large or in the wrong place then He’ll have to go home and get ready for surgery.


day 2, or is it 3?

I can’t believe that I actually slept until 8:00AM.  After waking up at 3 AM I was afraid I was done for, but I dropped back to sleep and slept hard until 8.  After a quick breakfast at the Hostel it was time for some Munich touring on our own.   A few of us were going to go to the Deutches Museum, but most of the group was headed to Dachau.  I really enjoyed the museum, I went straight to the Math, Computer Science, and Astronomy exhibit, where I discovered that they had an actual Enigma machine, in the cryptography area.

There were many other great exhibits, the aeronautical area had a cross section of an Airbus A320 and several other interesting aircraft, there was a really amazing mining exhibit as well.  The nautical area was equally amazing with replicas of ships both large and small.  You could easily spend a whole day at the museum, but my mind was pretty overloaded by 11:30.  The plan was to head back to the Viktalien Markt for a street lunch of sausage and bread, unfortunately everything was closed, it turns out that Epiphany is a national holiday in Germany, so we really had to work to find a street vendor that was open.  I had to try the Currywurst, which was a sausage in a sweet sauce with curry powder sprinkled over the top.  It was a delicious German meets Indian fusion street food kind of thing.

With lunch behind us we met up with the rest of the group to head back to the airport to meet with Sebastian, a marketing guy, from Lufthansa.  He gave us a great presentation on Lufthansa and their support of the Munich 2018 bid.  The Lufthansa folks had very generously provided us all with Munich 2018 stocking hats and scarves.  After the meeting we took a group photo with everyone wearing their new gifts.

Group 2.jpgAfter the Lufthansa meeting we returned to the Hostel for some group discussion and to get ready for our dinner at the Hofbrauhaus!  We were not in the main hall, but were upstairs in their groupdining area.  I had a fantastic dinner of veal ragout with Spaetzel, and a good size dark beer.

Dinner was pretty calm until a huge group of Canadiens came it.  It was a group of ninth grade hockey players and their parents.  Things really started to heat up when the parents started singing Canadian drinking songs and chugging their beers.  This brought on a resounding L-U, L-U, L-U-T-H, T-H, T-H, T-H-E-R from the Luther crowd and soon we were all friends.

Back at my room, sleep was hard to come by in this second night.  I mostly drifted in and out of sleep until my alarm went off at 6AM, we needed to be out of the hostel and headed for the train station by 6:45.  As I write this I am on the train to Mannheim and then Interlaken.