Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alsace and Black Forest with the Obitts'

This past weekend I took off Friday to head north-east from Geneva by train to Basel, Switzerland where I met Tim, Krista, Samuel, and Amelia Obitts (my VA family/friends) who were with family in Germany. We journeyed to the vineyards of Alsace, France (still part of Germany depending on whom you ask). We toured many of the towns dotting the hills of the region, such as “les plus beaux villages viticoles de la route des vins” (i.e., the beautiful wine-producing villages on the wine road): Beblenheim, Bennwihr, Mittelwihr, Riquewihr (1st picture with Brian and Samuel at Riquewihr gate; 2nd picture Amelia sliding; 3rd picture, Samuel at park right outside town walls), Hunawihr, Zellenberg, Bergheim, Ribeauvill√©, Rodern, Rorschwihr and Saint-Hippolyte. We settled in a small pension at the vineyard of the Earl Kress-Bleger family in Rodern, France where Samuel found the forklift of the viticulturist (Guido from the "Cars" movie was a forklift who saved the day with an uber-quick Pit-Stop during the Piston Cup; Samuel made sure there were no Piston Cups hiding in the garage at the vineyard). We stumbled onto a festival in the next village (it was the holiday weekend for seemingly all of Europe (5 points if you can tell what's wrong with this picture of the cellar) The next morning we went to visit the Castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg; the castle was reclaimed by Kaiser Wilhelm II as part of the re-Germanization of Alsace (later re-re-claimed by the French after the war), and restored at the beginning of the 20th century. Heading over toward the Black Forest across the valley in Germany, we found another B&B (Samuel told me several times he was collecting rocks for me to give to Miss Diane [mom] when I go home) to rest at before we went hiking the next day finding fresh blackberries along the route on the way to a small town where Tim ran 5km back to the car while the rest of us enjoyed ice cream and a drink.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Col de Joux Plane

(At the "Place des Nations" promenade at the U.N.)

Now as settled in as I will likely get at my apartment, this weekend I headed out for a hard day of biking. A few weeks ago, I met and rode with Tom, a tri-athlete from L.A. through a co-worker. This past week, Tom introduced me to Jessica who just arrived in Geneva and was looking for some local riders, and mentioned she wanted to do Alp D’Huez, one of the more famous climbs in the Tour (where Armstrong solidified his Tour victory in 2004 when the individual time trial was held there). Since the famous 21 switchbacks of Alp D’Huez are a considerable distance from Geneva even by train, I suggested another hill with some tour folklore a bit closer to Geneva (i.e., within riding distance), the Col de Joux Plane; the (in)famous hill where Floyd Landis made his miraculous comeback to secure his win in the 2006 Tour. (I remember this incredible day quite well as I was home sick with exhaustion/dehydration from a tough ride in D.C. last year during a code orange ozone day – admittedly I should have stayed in, but as I lay on the couch recovering, I cheered Floyd on as he laid waste to the field that fateful day). The base of the Col de Joux Plane is 56km from Geneva (approx. 40 miles). The Col itself is pretty tough too. Nevertheless, we made our way out Saturday morning for Joux Plane. Needing water and a bite to eat, we stopped at Samoens, a small picturesque town near the base – where incidentally, it was strangely difficult to find water (we had not anticipated this as in Geneva, public fountains with drinkable water abound). Refueled, we headed to tackle the days hill. It tackled us. It was a tough climb, well worth it. There was an impressive, view of relatively nearby Mont Blanc from the top. Not too long, about 12km, but steep, and after riding for over two hours to get there, very tough. Descending was mildly crazy, the road is not the best paved one I’ve met. The ride back to Geneva was tough as well, but for the first time I tried Coke in my water bottle (sort of a desperation move), which proved most beneficial. We actually made a very good pace on the way back, quite surprising considering the day’s effort (about 135km /80+ miles total). Switzerland living has its pros and cons; riding famous tour climbs is a pro. Saturday night Rodolfo and I had dinner at Maria Alejandra (Alex)’s house where we met her boyfriend Tobias and discussed visiting him in Munich for Oktoberfest. I think I will have to accept. Sunday, got back on the bike somehow and climbed the back side of the Col de la Croisette (in the Saleve mountains on the south side of Geneva) having lunch at the top.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Locarno Film Festival

Ciao. With three weeks of work under my belt, a healthy caseload, and several other arbitration projects going on, having moved/unpacked, cleaned, and attempting to organize on Thursday and Friday, this weekend felt an apt time for an adventure. So, along with my new friend and co-worker, Rodolfo, I headed out of Geneva at 5:00 a.m. this Saturday for Locarno, a Swiss “post card town” for the 60th annual Locarno Film Festival (; somewhere near the Switzerland /Italy border. Among other films, we eagerly anticipated viewing the European premiere of the Bourne Ultimatum outside on the Grand Piazza just after the sun set. Arriving before noon, we watched several films including Bleak Moments (1971), a film about the unspoken, unrealized desires and uncomfortable silences that often seem to carry us from moment to moments in life. Admittedly I thought the film a bit odd, and painfully slow until the Q&A afterwards with director Mike Leigh at which point the poignancy of the film revealed itself. Next we watched La Comunidad, a Spanish film about the tenants of an apartment complex in Spain fighting over the hidden lottery winnings of a former tenant. It was sort of Quentin Tarantino / Four Rooms-esque. Strange, gruesome, a tad cheesy, light-hearted (as evidenced by the late-revealed star: a man in his 30s living at home with his mother gallivanting about in life-sized Darth Vader and Storm Trooper outfits, the laughing stock of the complex), but all-around entertaining. Following that was Contre Toute Esperance (in English, roughly: “without hope”) a French film in the International competition about the once idyllically happy wife of a stroke victim and the struggles they endure. This film was mildly dry (e.g., no soundtrack), but riveting (the wife snaps after being laid off, her husband recovering, then having a second stroke, and finally committing suicide). These viewings put us towards evening, so with the Bourne Ultimatum fast approaching (showing at 9:15; 6:30 then), we headed for a beer and then to find seats on the Piazza. We got there as the crowds were just beginning to gather, so found incredible seats; middle, center. As the sun set, the excitement building, the crowds gathered. And did they gather, there were people all over making it difficult to get around. The Bourne Ultimatum on the big screen, outdoors, in the Piazza in Locarno was worth the trip alone; once the film finished, we proceeded to try (fruitlessly) to find a place to rest until our train back to Geneva at 5:00 a.m., or so we thought – turns out the train left at 8:30 a.m., so we spent a very long night moving from place to place trying to find a table, grassy area, anything, anywhere to rest our heads (normally this might be out of the question, but we were two among many many people doing precisely the same thing, sleeping at the train stop, in phone booths, etc.). Once we boarded the train, we passed the hills and vineyards intil we approached the lake. What a sight for sore eyes anticipating a rest in one’s bed. The festival was a blast, work is shaping up, and I am adjusting (as much as one possibly can) to life, virtually non-existent business hours (e.g., everything is open 8:30 to 6, and closed Sunday with the exception of late night shopping to 9 on Thursdays), and apparent general disdain for customers that makes Geneva (and Europe from what I am told), that much more far from home. I look forward to seeing the Obitts’ next weekend. Arrivederci.