Every now and then a travel moment just "clicks" and everything seems right. They aren’t all that common but when it happens there is a moment of clarity, a bit of release where you realize that all the other crazy bits were worthwhile. Things make sense. As I stepped off the commuter train in St. Saphorin, Switzerland a few weeks ago I had one of those moments.
It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon and I, along with 20-30 other tourists, had just walked in to a wee bit of living history. We were about to walk along the trails cutting through the Lavaux Vineyards. They are a designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are incredibly easy to visit, keeping pace with their natural beauty.
There are many miles of trails passing through these vineyards built into the cliffs which rise up from Lake Geneva. Documented history dating back to the 13th Century indicates that monks terraced the slopes to more efficiently cultivate grapes in the area. Prior to that it is believed that the ancient Romans were growing grapes in the area back when it was part of their empire.
The current operations are no longer part of the Church; locals bought out those estates over the years. And other bits have changed in the style and technology of the harvest. The plots are generally a single type of grape now rather than many varietals, mostly to improve yields and avoid some disease issues seen in the relatively recent past. Other parts of the operation are quite similar to how they ran hundreds of years ago.
Because of the steep incline the vineyards are built on and the relatively small chunks of contiguous land much of the work is still done by hand. I watched as a crew walked the rows, picking some of the last grapes of the season. There are some mechanical aspects – many vineyards had motorized "roller coaster" carts with tracks running up and down the hill so the picked grapes could be carried up or down more easily. But still nearly all the work is manual.
The trail stretches a dozen or so miles along the shores of Lake Geneva. There are markers all along the trail, guiding visitors to the next stop. And, depending on just how much you want to walk, a visit can range from brief to a full day or, if extending beyond Lavaux, many days worth of walking along the lake. Each small town along the trail has a train stop making it easy to end the trip, riding back in to Lausanne (the closest real city) and wrapping up the day. The towns also offer up some awesome "old world" architecture, with narrow streets and steep hills matching the surrounding landscape.
The villages also offer the infrastructure for the winemakers to produce and distribute their wares. Every half hour or so along the way was another village, chock full of cellars, bottlers and tasting rooms. Alas, thanks to being so late in the season the tasting rooms (and supposed restaurants) were all closed so I didn’t have much in the way of opportunity to partake of the goods.
I didn’t strike out completely, however. There was a woman running a tasting from a small hut among the vines at an intersection of the trail at one point. Somewhere around 11am I found myself with this view. Hard to beat, really.
I spent about four hours out in the vineyards on this magical day, covering roughly eight miles. Not the fastest walk I’ve ever done, to be certain. But when you have views like this at pretty much every turn it is easy to understand how there are stops reasonably often to take pictures and soak in the experience.
Next time I’ll pack a picnic lunch to hedge against all the shops in the towns being closed for the season. Plus there are places all along the path with tables and views like the one from the wine tasting photo above; incredible scenery for a lunch. Other than that, however, I’m not sure it could have been any better of a day. And I managed to raid my emergency snack stash of Biscoff and Milano cookies from airport lounges to make it through the day.
Putting the experience in to words is challenging. There was something about the natural beauty combined with the lack of crowds – I was often alone enough that I figured I was lost – which made for just an incredible couple hours. Considering that I had no idea this even existed just 26 hours earlier when I landed at the Geneva airport I’m calling it a HUGE win.
I made the trip as a quick hop from Lausanne. It is reasonably easy to do as a day trip from Bern or Geneva, too. Just budget an extra hour each way for the train ride on the ridiculously efficient Swiss rail network. You’ll need to transfer in Lausanne anyways but the local trains along the waterfront which get you to the trails run a couple times each hour so not hard to build a connection.
More photos here.
The latest episode of our podcast is out once again and I figured it was probably worth sharing that and some of the other stories which made headlines over there recently.
So, who is to blame when a deal dies? That debate is all the rage these days and it seems that the discussions quickly lead to rage, at least amongst some participants. There’s money to be made – LOTS of money – from credit card sign-ups and many bloggers are big in that space these days. But are they to blame for deals ending abruptly? After all, if they kill a deal then they stop making money because the deal they’re “selling” is dead. It is an interesting situation and one that we take a rather calmer approach to discussing.
Also of interest (I think):
Sitting on the roof-top deck of my hotel, listening to the church bells ring as the sun set over Bern, I decided that perhaps my trip to Switzerland was a rousing success. Sure, I’d only been in country less than 12 hours and a few of the things I wanted to see were closed, but the weather was beautiful, I’d managed to enjoy a couple local beers through the afternoon and I had 360 degree views of the area as evening set in on the Swiss capital. What was not to enjoy?
It actually got even better as another hotel guest discovered the patio. His English was far, far better than my Japanese and we chatted for a few minutes about his travels and mine and our impressions of the city. I love meeting other travelers like that, even if the conversations are less than fully coherent.
The sun finally set on my day but that wasn’t the end of the exploring. I still needed dinner and the city had in incredible glow about it at night. The Capitol was particularly well lit:
The other buildings in the old city were also lit up reasonably well.
Also, in a display which was incredibly kitsch but also reasonably entertaining there was a group of men playing Alphorns at the end of the block outside my hotel. I only caught the end of the performance but it was fun enough. And the guys were quite friendly after the show. I was also impressed by how the instruments separated into smaller sections to be packed away for transit.
My meal that night was rather unmemorable and probably overpriced for what it was. I don’t have many dining recommendations at all from the trip really. But walking the old city at night definitely evoked some of the historical aspects of the area, making me think it might be a bit more worthy as a UNESCO world heritage site than my initial impressions gave me.
The bmi Diamond Club program is basically dead. The airline doesn’t really exist any more and the only way to actually use the points is to move them to Avios and redeem from there. It is, in many ways, just like this:
And yet the company appears to still be trying. Opening my mail late last week I found a rather unexpected delivery inside:
Yup…my 2012 Diamond Club credentials arrived. Just in time for the program to be completely dismantled.
In addition to the card there are the details about how to earn elite status, mileage earning and redemption partners and details on The Great British Lounge in London‘s Heathrow airport. Umm….yeah.
I will admit that I was rather confused when I received an email this morning from JetBlue regarding flight change policies and Sandy. After all, the storm was a few weeks back and most affected customers had made the necessary changes already. When I read that the policy applied to flights in February I was even more confused. It isn’t often that a change fee waiver comes out 2+ months in advance of the affected dates. But that’s exactly what JetBlue is doing. Change fees (but not fare differences) are being waived for travel to or from the NYC area, including White Plains and Newburgh, between February 14-25, 2013. Those dates are when the schools in the area normally have a holiday break but, because of the extra days they were closed in November, many are cancelling that holiday this year. Passengers can also cancel their flights and convert the value of the ticket to a credit without penalties.
Very generous and very classy.
A couple months back there was some discussion stemming from a presentation at the Black Hat conference whereby someone detailed how it was possibly to unlock doors secured by a mag stripe key card without needing any key and without having the access logged in the system. At the time it was a theoretical issue, one where the details of the exploit were sufficiently documented that fixing it should have been reasonably easy. And, in defense of the manufacturer, they do have a fix available today for the flaw. But the company, Onity, only developed the fix well after someone allegedly burgled several Houston hotel rooms by taking advantage of the exploit. But there is a fix available. Problem solved, right??
Not so fast. The fix requires replacing a circuit board in the lock assembly and that is a pricey proposition. Onity currently is expecting that their customers will cover the costs of the new circuit board, as well as shipping and labor for the installation. Oh, and there are more than 4 million of these locks in service around the world. Not such a comforting thought, really.
When Passbook was announced as part of the new iOS 6 platform I was pretty bullish on the technology. I think that it presents a great opportunity to make travel easier and better for their passengers. I also predicted that adoption would be relatively quick, mostly because it is really, really easy to do. Turns out that wasn’t so much the case. With Qantas announcing support this month the total number of airlines working with Passbook is now just 10. Oh, and the Qantas support, at least for now, doesn’t include the auto-updating features of the Passbook application; the Qantas boarding passes will be static at least through January 2013. Oh, and Delta, a carrier which announced support back when it launched still hasn’t implemented support.
So, why hasn’t Passbook been a bigger hit? Customers who use it love it. Hotels have gotten in on the game, too. And it really is quite easy to implement.
Obviously there is the need to support mobile boarding passes. Not every airline does yet. But even those airlines which do support mobile BPs aren’t rushing to embrace Passbook. I honestly cannot figure it out. Something cheap and easy which betters the passenger experience. Why aren’t the other carriers making that investments?
Any of y’all have any ideas??
The afternoon came quickly on my day in Bern. Part of that is because I didn’t get into town until after noon and part of that is because I spent my first few hours wandering the streets of the old city, taking in the architecture and watching the bears frolic. The long shadows settling in on the town, combined with jetlag starting to catch up with me, had my body convinced that it was time to wind down the afternoon. Fortunately I came across this set of stairs, leading up from the riverfront back towards the heart of the city.
Yeah, a lot of steps (there is a small elevator adjacent available for 1CHF/person) but the gardens on the sides were pretty. And the park at the top was awesome.
It turns out that I had found the Münsterplattform, a recreational area high above the river and adjacent to the Cathedral of Berne. The terrace dates back to the 14th century and served over the years as a churchyard, dumping ground during the reformation and a cemetery. In the 20th century it was converted to a public park; the paths were laid out and the trees planted leaving it in the condition I found it. There was a small kiosk in one corner selling refreshments. I purchased a beer (soda, wine and snacks were also available) and then walked around the small park for a bit, watching all the locals relaxing in their own way on a beautiful Friday afternoon.
The people watching really was wonderful; much better than in the other areas of the town I saw. Another kiosk had games available. These guys were playing bocce and there was a pretty active table tennis game going on as well.
Others chose to take in the views …
…or just take a nap.
Oh, and after finishing my beer I spent a few minutes touring the Cathedral (Münster), a building dating to the 1400s. It is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland though, while I was in town the bell tower was closed for repairs. Still, both the interior and exterior are quite impressive.
Some of the stained glass windows date back to the 1400s and as a whole they are considered the most valuable in Switzerland.
The cathedral itself is worth stopping by for a few minutes. It isn’t the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen but I’m also not particularly a connoisseur. And as a way to wrap up my happy hour it was definitely a worthwhile stop in a quick tour of town, even with the tower climb closed. That actually gave me a good excuse to save the ~350 steps to the top without feeling too guilty.
And then the afternoon was over. Time to retreat to the hotel and get ready for an early evening, catching up on some sleep and getting ready for the rest of the trip.
Apparently this has been around for a few months now but I hadn’t seen it previously. Now that I know it exists, however, I’m a huge fan. For customers with flexibility in their travel plan JetBlue has the ability to search for flights over a month-long period rather than the default display of only one week (which is still better than what most other airlines offer on a default search result page). Pick a city pair and month and you get something which looks like this:
Adding in the holidays is just an added bonus over the quick view of fares across the schedule. Oh, and it works for TrueBlue award redemptions, too:
Not revolutionary by any means, but a great option in the flight search interface. A very nice update to the JetBlue site. Check the tool out here: http://jetblue.com/bestfarefinder/.
Having trouble getting your fix of chicken from KFC? Time to book an intercontinental flight on JAL. The carrier and the restaurant have announced that the next three months customers will receive a two piece KFC meal as the second service in economy and premium economy:
During this period, customers traveling in Premium Economy and Economy Class on JAL from Narita to New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego*, London, Paris and Frankfurt, will be served KFC’s Original Recipe two-piece chicken meal during the second meal service.
I’m actually tempted to go book a flight…