Posts Tagged ‘Russ’

Epic Road Trip – Swiss Alps


For this half of the Two Tramps, cars have played a big part of the entire experience while living in Germany.  Before arriving, I went through a dream list of cars I would love to drive while we were here.  The criteria were relatively simple:

  • German (I have a penchant for German cars, having been raised surrounded by Volkswagens and BMW’s)
  • Something not available in the US (let’s face it: Europeans have many, many more choices than we do in the States, and often many better cars from which to choose)
  • Diesel.  Diesel is cheap(er), efficient, and the engines have torque.

Top on my list, then, was the BMW 1-series hatchback.  And lo and behold, with the help of a colleague and fellow 1-series diesel driver, I ended up with a 2007 120d.

BMW 120d.

Now, I surely did not get this car for the color.  Nor did I choose it because I like paying a premium for a car I used only a few times per month.  No, this was the right choice because BMW’s are driver’s cars.

And what better way to experience and enjoy the drive than through the Swiss Alps?

For my side of the family, the Road Trip is a way of life.  1400 miles (2200 km) in a weekend is no big deal.

My better half, though, has not quite come around to this way of thinking.  So, rather than subject her to strenuous speeds and curves, my Dad came for a visit just as Lauren left – and we headed for the alps.

Auf wiedersehen, Lauren!

You must have clearly defined roles on a Road Trip.  Otherwise confusion can set in.  Luckily, with only two participants, the roles are simple:

The Driver:

Russ and the 120d.

The Photographer:

Behind the scenes of the best pictures.

Of course since we’re both Drivers and Photographers, these roles are not set in stone.

The Driver photographing the Photographer. Driving.

And with that, we set out on a semi-soggy day in southern Germany, through cloudy Austria, along Liechtenstein, into Switzerland, and scraping Italy.  All in one day (even after more than a year here, this still impresses me).

Our base of operations was Chur, Switzerland, the country’s oldest city, and the seat of the Romansh-speaking region, though German dominates.  From Chur, we headed for the San Bernardino Pass, and other points.  Time to let the pictures do the talking.

The Pass looks like an intestine, which is directly related to the effect driving this road has on the stomach.

Complete with bells, which could be heard from quite a distance away.

Sittin' on top of the Pass (it was cold!).

Entering the Italian-culture region of Switzerland. Besides road signs, the GPS started calling number-named roads 'tredici' and 'due.'

We did not actually see this happen.

Beautiful, sunny, and warm: Locarno, on Lago Maggiore, where I pushed the German out of my head and tried my best to remember Italian.

Heading for the next pass.


Temperature dropped to 3 degrees C on top of Oberalppass (back to German-speaking).

I realized, suddenly, that I could no longer read the road signs. I know scuola in Italian, and schule in German. And now I know scola in Romansh.

And so our day ended back in Chur, as Dad kept track, 7.5 hours, 338 km, and 4.87 GB worth of pictures and videos later.

And I promise, Lauren, to take you back, and to stick to the straighter roads. 🙂


Pisa Revisited

Because how could I possibly resist…

Russ in Pisa '95

Winter oder Frühjahr?

Well it isn’t quite spring yet here in Southern Germany, but for a while it felt like it.

Before we went to the US for Christmas, Heidenheim looked like this:


It felt like winter, which felt right.  When we came back from the US, it looked about the same, but it warmed slightly, which led to rain, then an overnight freeze turned the sidewalks into a giant ice rink! 

Lauren attempts to walk downtown without falling.

Still plenty of snow and ice on the ground.

Luckily this was over a holiday, so while it stifled our travel plans, at least Russ didn’t have to try walking or driving to work.  It took us an hour to walk downtown, turn around, and come back.  But we made it without falling!

Then, a week later, temperatures were near 10°C (50°F) and we barely needed a sweatshirt outside.  Nice day to walk up to the castle!


Supposed to start cooling down again soon, so it’s back to winter.  But it was a nice preview of spring while it lasted!

Bienvenidos a Espana!

On Saturday, we left this…

Rainy Stuttgart

…and walked into this!!

Beautiful, sunny Barcelona!

Welcome to Barcelona, city of famous architectural-artist Gaudí, and much more!  The city is so unique; part of it was built/designed by Cerdá in the 19th century with the city blocks shaped orthogonally.

Orthogonal Blocks

Along with being a city of architectural genius, Barcelona held the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, holds a great history of Roman culture, and borders The Mediterranean Sea.  Where to start?! (Can you tell that I love this city??)

Before leaving for Barcelona, I was eager to brush up on my Spanish and see how far it got me on our trip.  However, I soon learned that the people of Barcelona do not speak Spanish as I know it.  The official language of Barcelona is Catalan, an offshoot of Latin.  Though the language was completely different, Spanish can be understood in Barcelona pretty well, and of course, most people at tourist destinations speak a little English.

After taking a cab from the airport, we arrived at our beautiful hotel, Havana.  We had 2 separate rooms, but they were connected in the same little private corridor.  It was like we had our own private suite.  🙂

Hotel Havana

Lauren in front of Hotel Havana

Hotel Havana at Night

For the rest of the post, I’m not going to write a detailed hour-by-hour account, but post by topic instead.  There is SO much to see that you’ll have to look at the rest of the pictures on Russ’s site.

Gaudí’s Architecture

Barcelona is not titled “The City of Gaudí” without purpose.  The city reveals at least 10 Gaudí works, the main attractions of Barcelona.  After reading more about Gaudí, I’d like to go back just to see more of his work and to go inside all of the buildings.  His muse was nature, and he mimicked it in his buildings with a little imagination, of course.  His pieces stand out as colorful, Modernist, and illuminating.

Casa Batllo--the colors on this place were amazing

The facade produces a duality between organic and artificial. The appearance of bones and plants vs. masks and mythical forms.

La Pedrera--the masterpiece of this is on the roof, which unfortunately we didn't get to see this time around.

The last and biggest piece we were able to see is the most famous in Barcelona, and is yet to be finished! In fact, it wisn’t scheduled to be completed until 2025. This is Gaudí’s most massive undertaking, La Sagrada Familia. This church is cathedral-like in many ways, and yet is unquestionably in its own category. It is so large, it occupies an entire block of the city. This massive undertaking began in the 19th century with Gaudí himself devoting 40 years to the cathedral.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Directly below La Sagrada

Perspective--Joe and Kate walk up the ramp

Note the difference between the new and old parts.

The outside of La Sagrada is amazing; intricate details and scenes of religious stories adorn the walls.  The inside, however, is like nothing I’ve seen before.   It’s a huge space, but Gaudí has filled it with such light!  His detailed plans allow colors to fall throughout the entire cathedral, accenting the white space.  It’s amazing!  and still unfinished.  There’s no way the pictures can communicate what this was like, but they get pretty close with our 2 photographers!

Inside of La Sagrada Familia

The Ceiling

La Sagrada

Vivid Stained Glass

We waited in line to get to go to the top of the cathedral and look down over the city.  It was a long wait, but totally worth it (even though there wasn’t much room at top).  It was neat to see the spires still in construction and then to walk down the spiral staircase and stand out on some small balconies.  Joe even found us waiting for him at the bottom!

Looking Out Into Barcelona


At the Top!

Looking up The Spire from the Staircase

Aaaand looking down!

Where's Waldo Again?

Overall, La Sagrada was fascinating.  We even got to eat dinner the first night at a nice little Mediterranean restaurant near Sagrada, so it loomed over us as we ate.

Joe, Kate, and Lauren dining in front of La Sagrada Familia

Whew!  There’s so much more to say about Barcelona.  Look for more soon.  I’m tired!

Quick update!

Never fear, we are still here!  Russ recovered from his brief illness and Lauren continues to discover the countryside on two wheels. 

Last week we set out to do some geocaching on Saturday.  The route was put together by the HDH town hall, so not only were we seeking out coordinate clues, but everything was in a rough Google-translated English.  Our combined German knowledge and intuition on interpreting the ‘literal’ translation helped some, but we were finally stymied by an error in the clues themselves, such that we could not figure out the coordinate for clue #4!  We will still give it another shot and see if we can do better… 


Sunday we took a road trip with no specific destination – just to hit some of the back roads near by (guess whose idea this was…).  It was a beautiful day, and a nice way to see more of the countryside (on four wheels, though we saw some more nice two-wheeled trails!).  Since it was such a nice day, the engine powered two-wheelers were out in force too, especially on the curviest roads.  We also experienced some true back-woods trail roads, where we still got passed by cars wanting to go ridiculously fast!  

Happy driver, dirty car.

Lauren took advantage of another nice weather day mid-week to do some more bicycle exploration.  Russ jealously worked indoors. 


Then Thursday we enjoyed a sensational sunset view from our front porch. 


Some more travel coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Besuch von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel bei Voith Hydro

Last Friday at work we had an exciting event in the afternoon – a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  She has been on an energy tour throughout the country for most of the month, and her last stop was to Voith Hydro’s R&D facility – where I work!  The tour was to promote the country’s renewable and alternative energy sectors: generation, research, development, and manufacturing.  

In addition to being given a tour of Voith Hydro’s laboratory test facility, Frau Dr. Merkel requested the opportunity to meet and chat with some engineers from our facility.  Knowing this, several of us were asked to participate, and I was honored to be included and be able to show off some of Voith’s international reach.  

The event was well orchestrated, and we had about seven minutes of group time, where Frau Dr. Merkel (that’s a physics degree, mind you) asked about the tools we use in our engineering work, and what types of degrees we had and where from.   

While I didn’t get to talk to her directly (either via her fluent English or my broken German), the whole event was still neat and fun, and I got to be in the group picture!   The visit was good for the company, good for hydro, and good for alternative energy production in general – and good for the leader of a country to show her ability to openly embrace reliable and clean energy sources.  

Image copyright Voith AG.


 For more information visit the Voith AG media page (English or German):

Volkswagen Automobil Forum Berlin

As Lauren alluded in the Berlin post, one of the sites we thoroughly enjoyed (and this is true because there was art that Lauren liked beyond just the cars!) was the Volkswagen Group Automobil Forum.  

A brief education: the VW Gruppe consists of many divisions, including other companies which VW has purchased throughout the years: Seat (Spanish), Skoda (Czech), Bentley (British), Bugatti (French); there is also a truck division, and others.  Of course Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini are closely related, but this Forum covered just cars directly under the VW umbrella. 

Seat Ibiza Cupra

Bugatti Veyron - 1,001 HP, $1.7M, formerly world's fastest production car (now held by the SS version)

The showroom was on the main floor.  Downstairs, there were a variety of science/art exhibits. 

Nemo Observatorium: calm and safe inside the eye of the storm.

Absolut Quartet: the computer creates a musical piece based on a few notes of user input.

Tool's Life: the objects' shadows spring to life when touched.

I couldn’t leave without trying out the seat on the new Golf R (the newest version of my car).  Superb inside; doubtful they will sell it in the US (because of price, exclusivity, and changes to meet US DOT regulations.  Also why I probably won’t be bringing one back with me next year :-)). 

Amazing seat and steering wheel, seriously.

Russ und der Golf VI R. Möchten.

Not quite as extravagant as the BMW Welt, but definitely a fun stop – and I’m very glad to have sat in the rare Golf R! 

Of course there are many more pictures to be found (of the cars and the art exhibits) here: 

Berlin Automobil Forum pictures