Travel notes from the Alps, Davos and elsewhere

I recently went to the DLD conference in Germany, briefly to Davos during the World Economic Forum and then drove around the Alps for a few days, including a visit to an old friend in Grenoble. I have some panoramic galleries of the Alps in Winter up already.

Each trip brings some new observations and notes.

  • For the first time, I got a rental car which had a USB port in it, as I’ve been wanting for years. The USB port was really part of the radio, and if you plugged a USB stick in, it would play the music on it, but for me its main use was a handy charging port without the need for a 12v adapter. As I’ve said before, let’s see this all the time, and let’s put them in a few places — up on the dashboard ledge to power a GPS, and for front and rear seats, and even the trunk. And have a plug so the computer can access the devices, or even data about the car.
  • The huge network of tunnels in the alpine countries continues to amaze me, considering the staggering cost. Sadly, some seem to simply bypass towns that are pretty.
  • I’ve had good luck on winter travel, but this trip reminded me why there are no crowds. The weather can curse you, and especially curse your photography, though the snow-covered landscapes are wonderful when you do get sun. Three trips to Lake Constance/Bodenzee now, and never any good weather!
  • Davos was a trip. While there was a lot of security, it was far easier than say, flying in the USA. I was surprised how many people I knew at Davos. I was able to get a hotel in a village about 20 minutes away.

On to Part Two

  • It was amusing to see all the billboards at Davos advertising countries, and why you should do business there.
  • Speaking of travel in the USA, it made me sick to see how wonderfully easy the borders in Europe remain compared even to the Canada-US border. The Swiss-EU borders are largely wave-through, not even looking at your passport. The inter-EU borders are gone. Even flying into the EU is trivial, not even a conversation. They just stamp your passport and send you on your way. Even with the supposedly high-security event going on at Davos, entry into Switzerland was “just drive in.”
  • Chamonix, in France, site of the first winter Olympics, is breathtaking, and the nice weather resulted in some of the better pictures on the page. However, the quite expensive cable car ride is in a cable car with windows so scratched by skiers that you can barely see out. For 40 euros a person, they could replace the windows, or protect them somehow.
  • I continue to hate the German bedding style of two sheet/blanket combos, one for each person, not tucked into the bed and not possible to tuck into the bed. OK, I’m picky, but I like sheets that stay put, and cover both of us.
  • Switzerland’s 3 language zones (I did not visit the 4th) are also cultural and architectural and design zones. German-Switzerland has German style bedding, toilets and driving. Italian-Switzerland follows Italy and French-Switzerland seems to follow France. There does not appear to be one Swiss style, though there is a “mountain cuisine” shared around the Alps.
  • It was good to practice my French and dine in a restaurant where they spoke no English at all. They are really quite nice to you in France if you speak to them in French — the stereotypical rudeness is not to be found.
  • While I like Rick Steves’ guidebooks because he dares to have opinions and ranks places, telling you not to bother with some areas and to go to others, you really need other guidebooks with you when you don’t want to do what he says. And his books are too popular, which bumps up crowds of Americans in what he does recommend.
  • I can’t live without wireless data any more. Decent pan-European data roaming had better happen soon!
  • Without planning it, we stayed in an interesting place, the edge of the town Campione d’Italia which is an Italian enclaved buried in Switzerland. Our hotel was in Switzerland but part of the pool was in Italy. The enclave is really in economic union with Switzerland and even uses Francs, but due to tax law games it has the biggest Casino in Europe.
  • The “Green Davos” initiative which was supposed to give better parking and road access only to green cars seemed to have a pretty low bar, as everybody fancy was in a big black Mercedes or Audi. I presume it mainly banned big limousines or Hummers. There was a lot more skiing going on in Davos than I expected, I had presumed that WEF took over the town. It wasn’t nearly as hard to get into the town or the parties as expected. Not that I hobnobbed with any Prime Ministers and Presidents that I could tell, but plenty of CEOs.
  • As I noted before, I need to find a road trip travel agent to do road trips like this without the hotel booking hassle.
  • I splurged on using miles to upgrade to Business Class this trip, because in January, United Airlines changed their international upgrades from being 30,000 miles each way to 20,000 miles plus $300 to $500 co-pay! I figured I would use the miles. Now a return trip will require $600 to $1000 in co-pay, if you can get it.
  • For the SFO-ORD legs, we flew on one of the new 767s which feature “lie flat bed” business class seats. While they have many nice things about them, and a nice in-flight-video system, there were a few things that made me like them less than the classic “lie back about 70 degrees” business class seats:
    • There is almost nowhere to put your stuff, and nothing is allowed to be out for take-off and landing. No pouch, no under-seat, no use of the area behind the seat.
    • While you can lie flat, they put a cowl of sorts around the top of your seat where your head goes. This gives you nowhere to put your arms, even with the armrests down. Sleeping on your side, which I don’t do, was the only option. Better than coach, sure, but a disappointment. I kept waking up with something numb. In the end I used it as a 60% recline seat to have a place for my arms. A flat footrest is still nice though.
    • The power jack is 110v, which is better than the emPower 15v jack (though my power supply also works with that.) However, it is recessed a bit, and my wall-wart power plugs would not go into it and get power.
    • The motorized controls are nifty but don’t seem to be able to raise somebody as big as me from flat. You must struggle a bit to sit up, then start your seat going up.
    • Curiously, facing backwards is not as popular even though it is safer and nicer for landing. However, it does mean you are facing people a little bit on the other side of the aisle. If you don’t know your seat-mate, a little pull-down or pull-up vertical blind would be a nice touch.
    • In conclusion, while there are many nice touches, they may be trying to put too much into the space. And I would still rather have more seat and elbow room than all the fancy things in the console in between.

Later I will be making some comments on the in-flight entertainment system in another blog post.

The huge network of tunnels

The huge network of tunnels in the alpine countries continues to amaze me, considering the staggering cost. Sadly, some seem to simply bypass towns that are pretty.

Why do you think the towns are still pretty?

Some are, some are not

But in many cases there was nowhere to put the Autobahn except in a tunnel, even though the drive was scenic.

I did note a number of places where they had surrounded the highway with plexiglass plates, to let the drivers see the view — or perhaps to not block the view of the homeowners in some cases.

tunnels, costs

"The huge network of tunnels in the alpine countries continues to amaze me, considering the staggering cost. Sadly, some seem to simply bypass towns that are pretty."

The whole idea of a tunnel is to avoid cars driving through the middle of town! The town isn't there as a tourist attraction! (Reminds me of the old joke about an American in Europe: "Nice castle, but why did you build it so close to the airport?")

As to money, well, it's no secret where Switzerland gets a lot of its money from.

To avoid the town

I understand the traffic is being kept out of the town. I just noticed many cases where the road would be in a tunnel where in other places it would be put along the side of a mountain, or done elevated. The tunnel obviously puts less blight than the visible road, but is hugely more expensive. The tunnel does not have to be plowed, which is a win, though I have to imagine a covered road is cheaper than a tunnel when it comes to that. There are also a lot of semi-tunnels which are open on one side which clearly exist to avoid having to close the roads for avalanches and snowdrifts. A must in some sections of the alps, but again quite costly. (This from living in a city that for decades has been unable to get a tunnel approved over a small stretch of highway 1 that is often closed due to mudslides and rockfalls, and which is quite slow in any event.

well i would agree that

well i would agree that driving instructor training is needed

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