June 19

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The columns on the left are longer to try and straighten the lean.

The columns on the left are longer to try and straighten the lean.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Monumento a Vittorio Emmanele II

Monumento a Vittorio Emmanele II

We left Florence early at 7:30, dragging our luggage behind us.  The reason…we had advanced tickets for the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  No advanced tickets means waiting in long lines.  We took a train from the Flornce  S.M.N. station to the Pisa Centrale station, then had to go through the whole routine of figuring out which bus to catch, where to catch it, how to purchase the tickets, and where to get off.

The public transportation in Europe is great, with train service to nearly every city, and bus connections to even the most remote places.  Several observations, though:

  • Catching trains is easy.  Go to the station, look at the departure board for the train you want and go to correct platform at the correct time.  Show a Eurail pass and it’s even easier.  Train schedules are online, and there’s also an offline app for the iPad or iPhone.
  • The local transportation (buses and subways/trams) is a bit trickier.  Sometimes the Eurail pass is valid, other times it’s not and you have to buy tickets.  In one instance, we boarded the Jungfrau Railway and showed our pass to the fare inspector.  “Not valid here,” he bellowed.  Apparently he could have fined us €75  for boarding without a valid ticket.  We played dumb and bought the tickets on board.  Another time, we spent 15 minutes with an automated bus ticket machine at the Zurich airport trying to figure out how to buy 2 tickets, one way to Embrach.  In frustration, we gave up, played dumb, and bought them on board from the driver with no fuss.  Later we found out that our Eurail pass was good on the bus line.  The next morning we flashed our pass and the driver said, “OK!”  Some places you have to buy on board, other places they can fine you if you board without a ticket.
  • The Paris Metro is expansive, has dozens of lines, and is very crowded, dirty, hot, and smelly.
  • The Rome Metro has only two lines.  Also very crowded, not as dirty or smelly.  They could stand to get a few more lines.
  • The London tube is my favorite so far.  Not very crowded, easy to navigate, and generally clean.  Everything is English helps, too.

After we got on the right bus, we eventually found ourselves at the Leaning Tower.  Everyone has to check their bags because the tower’s staircase is so cramped.  We had two big backpacks, a suitcase, a toiletry bag, and camera bag!  Having advanced tickets let us go right in.  After a 5 minute introduction, we climbed the 294 steps to the top.

The tower leans because it is built on soil that can’t sustain it’s full weight.  The builders realized the problem after construction had started, and they tried various ways of correcting…or more like cheating, the problem.  One trick was to use longer columns on one side and shorter columns on the other.  That put a curve in the tower and made it less drastic, but never fixed the problem.  There’s more details on various online sites you can check out if you are curious.  Rumor has it that Galileo dropped cannon balls over the edge to determine the acceleration of gravity, and also proved that neglecting air resistance, all object accelerate uniformly due to gravity.

We parked ourselves at the bus stop at 10:55 am.  The schedule said the next one was due at 11:03.  None came.  The next one was 11:18.  None came.  I asked a local if this is where the bus to the Estazione (train station) is.  Si, she replied.  “When?” I asked.  She shrugged her shoulders.  We had to catch the 11:49 train in order to make our connection in Florence with reserved seats to Rome.  After 45 minutes and no bus, we tried to hail a taxi.  They were all reserved, or off duty, of course.  Finally we got one, and 8 Euros and 10 minutes later we were on the train to Florence and ultimately Rome.

Taking the wrong exit out of the Rome train station led us on a 15-block tour of the area surrounding the train station…on foot…with luggage in tow.   We checked in to our hostel/hotel, which is pretty nice and has really good free Wi-Fi, which is why I’ve been able to post much lately.  After relaxing for a while, we went out to explore, finding the Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, and the Roman Forum.  Some pizza and gelato, and it was time to call it a night.  Friday…the Vatican!

June 18

Rialto Bridge in Venice

Rialto Bridge in Venice

El Duomo in Florence

El Duomo in Florence

Projectile motion demonstrator

Projectile motion demonstrator

Some of Galileo's telescopes.

Some of Galileo’s telescopes.

Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge were our first stops of the morning in Venice.  Our time here was short, as our train left for Florence around noon.

Upon arriving in Florence and checking in to our hotel, we set out on the streets.  We had to get to the Galileo Museum by 5pm since it closed at 6:00.  Since we had a bit of time, we decided to see if the lines at the Academia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David might have subsided.  Since I didn’t know exactly what item we would arrive in Florence, I didn’t buy advanced tickets.  As a result, we waited in the queue with everyone else.  After an hour in the hot sun, we had moved about 50 feet in a 200-foot plus line.  We threw in the towel and headed down the street toward the Duomo and eventually the Galileo Museum.

Many of Galileo’s scientific instruments are on display here, along with those of other important Italian scientists.  Of special note are Galileo’s telescopes and microscopes.  I found the projectile motion and pendulum demonstrators particularly interesting.

We finished off the evening by strolling along the Fuime Arno (river) and indulged in our first taste of genuine Italian gelato.  It seems creamier than our ice cream, and flavor is much more intense.

Thursday it is off to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, and then we head on to Rome.

 

June 17

Tempio Volta

Tempio Volta

Plaque commemorating Volt's invention of the pile.

Plaque commemorating Volt’s invention of the pile.

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci

DaVinci's creations

DaVinci’s creations

We had to get up bright and early, as our train leaves Zurich at 7:32 am.  That means catching the 6:22 bus to the Zurich airport, then a short train ride to the Zurch HB station, where we board a high-speed train bound for Milan.  We got off about an hour before Milan, in the beautiful city of Como, which was the hometown of Alessandro Volta.  Volts discovered the electrochemical series, which allowed him to invent the first electric battery, known as pile.  Volta’s first pile was made of zinc and sulfuric acid.

The town of Como was proud of Volta, they built a memorial and museum in his honor, which is known as the Tempio Volta, or Volta Temple.  It is on the banks of beautiful Lake Como, and is full of Volta’s equipment, including his first electric piles, which were literally a “pile” of metal wafers, separated with a membrane, just as modern batteries are now.

After a few hours in Como, it was back on the train to Milan, home of the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci.  This museum houses a collection of DaVinci’s mechanical inventions, as well as those of other Italian scientists.  It’s rare to find a scientist who is also an artist.  The museum also had lots of  other displays, including the first electric arc furnace used to refine steel.

Of course, what’s a trip to northern Italy without a night in Venice, so it was back on board another train to the island city.  We arrived at nearly 9pm and we were exhausted, so as soon as we checked in to our hotel, it was off to bed.  Wednesday we will explore Venice a bit before going to Florence.

June 16

Home of Conrad Grebel

Home of Conrad Grebel

Site of first Anabaptist martyrdom

Site of first Anabaptist martyrdom

Shipfge along the Limmat River

Shipfge along the Limmat River

The next few days don’t have any science history visits in them, as we are finishing up family some family/church history visits and some “touristy” sightseeing.  If you are interested in Anabaptist/Mennonite church history, you will find this post of interest.  Otherwise, our next science visits will be Tuesday the 17th with a stop in Como, Italy on the way to Venice.

Monday we took the train from Bern to Switzerland.  After stashing our bags in a storage locker, we went to the old part of Zurich.  The Anabaptist/Mennonite movement began here is 1525, and marked the beginning of many years of persecution.

We went up to the Linderhof, which offers views out over the Limmat River and old town Zurich.  A stroll down the Shipfge lead us to the Fraumunster and Grossmunster churches, which were important in the times of  Zwingli and the Reformation.

A little further, and we came to the site where Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel baptized each other, officially marking the beginning if the Anabaptist movement.  A few blocks down the street and around the corner, the street opens up into a square where a sign on building notes that it was the home of Conrad Grebel.  The last stop was to look at the Rathaus (city hall), where laws against the Anabaptists were first read, and the death sentences of many Anabaptists were read.  A sobering day to remember our Anabaptist/Mennonite ancestors who gave their lives for their religious beliefs.

A short train ride to the Zurich and a 20-minute bus ride to Embrach brought us to our next home stay with the charming Baenninger family, who live on a chicken farm out in  the cou country.  They have four children in their 20s, and they speak English very we’ll.  we had a wonderful time getting to know them.  The father, Ernst, is an Alpine-horn player, and he gave us CDs and DVDs of their music.

Tuesday we leave for Italy and more adventures!

June 14-15

Looking up at the Jungfrau

Looking up at the Jungfrau

Above the clouds on a cog railway.

Above the clouds on a cog railway.

Inside the Ice Palace

Inside the Ice Palace

We left Bern and took the train to Interlaken,  where we transferred to another train to Lauterbrunnen.  Once there, we transferred to a cog railway train to go to Wengen. Wengen is a resort town, where there are no cars…foot traffic only.  During ski season, it is a hopping place.  In June, it’s a bit more laid back.  There were large tour groups there from Japan, Korea, and India, so we felt even more out of place, at this place in Switzerland, despite being from Swiss-German descent.  It was fairly cloudy with passing rain showers and even a rumble of thunder, but we set out an explored the town.  The views are particularly stunning, even with some cloud cover.  The Hesston College European Chorale likes to make a layover here during their tours every two years…we just missed them by about two weeks.  As alums, it would have been neat to cross paths with them.

Sunday morning started foggy, but we set out for Junfraujovich (“The top of Europe”).  Two more cog rail lines, an hour of spectacular scenery in and out of the clouds, and 240 fewer Swiss Francs (about $260) in our pocket, we were there.  The summit was fogged in and it was below freezing and snowing.  Down below the observation platform is the Ice Palace, which was carved out of a permanent glacier.  There are ice carvings in the Ice Palace, and of course, it’s cold!

After a few hours, it was time to return to Bern, so back on the trains and off to a new host family in Ostermundigen, just east of Bern.  Tomorrow, off to Zuerich!

June 13

 

The Tower of Cages

The Tower of Cages

Rathaus in Bern

Rathaus in Bern

Schwarzentruber farm near Trub

Schwarzentruber farm near Trub

View of old Bern from the Rosgarten

View of old Bern from the Rosgarten

Another non-science day today.  Bern, Switzerland is one of the historically significant cities in Europe in Anabaptist/Mennonite history.  In the 16th and 17th centuries, Anabaptists were imprisoned, tortured, deported, and executed for their religious beliefs.  Following an excellent Anabaptist history and tour guide by Jan Gleysteen, we visited significant sites such as the Tower of Cages where Anabaptists were imprisoned, the Rathaus (city hall) where debates occurred, decrees handed down, and death sentences were delivered.  We took a scenic side trip to the Rosegarten overlooking the city, then back into the old town to see the Platform, where many Anabaptists were drowned in the river.

Later that afternoon, we rented a car and drove out into the Emmental to find the old Schwarzentruber farm where my early ancestors came from.  This is deep into the steep hills beyond Trubschachen, Trub, and near Fankhaus.  We had a terrible time finding our local guide, and it took nearly an hour of calling her on the phone, and asking locals for directions to find her.  Not knowing German was a definite detriment.  We did accomplish our goal, and some pictures of the farm are posted here.

Saturdsy we will head off to the resort town of Wengen for some R&R.  It will be my birthday, anyways, so at least one night in a luxury hotel is well-deserved after two weeks of hostels and homestays.

June 12

Einstein's writings and slide rules

Einstein’s writings and slide rules

Inside EinsteinHaus

Inside EinsteinHaus

Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

In the morning, we were given a short tour of Neucahtel by our host.  We then hopped on th next train towards Bern and were there in an hour.  We will be staying two nights with a retired couple on the outskirts of Bern.  It’s about a 20 train ride back to the Bern BahnHof (train station).  We walked around the main shopping area of Bern, and then went to EinsteinHaus, the only science stop in Bern.  Einstein lived in this upstairs flat while he worked as a patent examiner for the Swiss Patent Office.  There were many non-science momentos here, but there were some books and slide rules on display.  A short video gave the story of his life.

Friday we will explore Bern some more, and visit locations with historic significance to the Anabaptist/Mennonite movement and the persecution that occurred back in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Then it will be a visit to the old Schwarzentruber farm in the Emmental region of Switzerland.

 

June 11

Display at CERN

Display at CERN

Jet D'Eau in Geneva

Jet D’Eau in Geneva

View from our home stay in Neuchatel.

View from our home stay in Neuchatel.

On Wednesday we left Chateau-Chinon at 6:30 in the morning on the only bus out of town for the day.  Turns out it also serves as the local school bus, so there were Karen and I, obviously foreigners, sitting on a bus of most middle-school aged students.  At the next transfer stop, they all got off and smoked a cigarette while waiting for the next bus!

We arrived in Geneva after a ride on the French TGV train (200 mph!).  After buying a cheap European cell phone (the rest of the world uses GSM…unless your U.S. phone is more expensive and muti-band it won’t work) we went to CERN.

CERN is the European Center for Nuclear Research.  Years ago, it was where the World Wide Web was invented.  The world’s most powerful particle accelerator is located here, the Large Hadron Collider.  The summer research program at Notre Dame (QuarkNet) that I participate in built components of one of the detectors (Compact Muon Solenoid), and many of the people from our Notre Dame group have visited or worked there.  So it felt a bit like a pilgrimage.  The hard reality being that none of the Notre Dame people were there to host me, and none were able to authorize a VIP visit, and tours book up months in advance, so I was just a plain old tourist looking at the exhibits.  Still some cool stuff there, and it was good to see where the place is.

We continued on to Neuchatel, where we stayed with the niece of a friend of ours from church back home.  Neuchatel is In French-speaking Switzerland, and is a charming town overlooking Lake Neuchatel.  On Thursday we will head of f to Bern, find our host family, and visit EinsteinHaus.

June 9-10

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French Academy of Science in the background

On Monday we spent some more time exploring Paris.  There were some thunderstorms throughout the day, so we spent much of the time indoors.  I did find the French Acadmy of Sciences (in the background of this picture), where Antoine Lavosier did his ground-breaking work at quantifying chemistry, and attacking the phlogiston theory.  This site is an international chemical landmark.  More details are at http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/lavoisier.html

Tuesday morning we left Paris for Chateau-Chinon, a small town in central France where’s Karen’s LeFevre family lived for 133 years in the 18th and 19th century.  The family was persecuted for their religious beliefs, and they were all martyred except for the 16 year old son who escaped with the family Bible baked into a loaf of bread.  We didn’t find anything in the town referring to LeFevre, but it was interesting to visit the town, nonetheless.

Finding reliable internet access has been a problem…there may be several days when I don’t post, but then I’ll put several up in short succession.  Make sure to read all of the posts by clicking on the  previous posts list on the right.  If some of you could leave some comments as well, that would be great so I can tell how many people are reading these.  The comments are moderated, so I have to approve them before they show up…there has been a lot of spam comments coming in by an automated “bot” because they are all the same.