"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."
Welcome to part two of my Switzerland blog. In the first installment there were a lot of mountains and waterfalls, this time I am going to show you some of the other things that Switzerland has to offer... but before that, its time for a short visit to Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in Europe, having a land area of only 160 square kilometres, bordered on the east by Austria and otherwise surrounded by Switzerland.
On the third morning of my trip we made a short detour (from Switzerland to Liechtenstein) in order to photograph a bridge which crosses the Rhine near to the village of Ruggell.
Its always nice to visit a new country. The border between the two countries is defined as being the middle of the river, so I was at least 50 metres inside the country for at least 10 minutes... of course it counts!
I was not the only visitor to Liectenstein on that day, I noticed that a Common Stonechat had also come for a look - a nice looking bird that I have seen in Scotland before but never in Finland.
From Ruggell we returned to Switzerland and made our way to Walensee, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The light there was not much use for landscape photography but it was a very pleasant place to spend some time and looked like it could be a good destination for some sunrise or sunset photography another time.
From Walensee we continued to the town of Rapperswil where you may find an old castle and a marina as well as a lake area which is popular with wildlife.
From the marina area you can follow a path which takes you under the main road and into the lake area where you can find many water birds tending to their families, including coots, great crested grebes, grey herons and mallards.
Here again the coots were initially the most eye catching bird species. There were many coot families with young chicks and while the adults are dark and plain the youngsters are a riot of colour and rather ugly-beautiful, they don't look like they could belong to the same species.
For those of you who need a break from too many bird pictures, here is a picture of a bike resting against a hedge.
There is a raised walkway which allows you to walk across the lake for many hundreds of metres and offers a good view of any birds that might be in the area.
As we were returning towards the car I spotted something a bit more unusual, a little grebe ("little grebe" is the name of the species... it wasn't just a normal grebe that didn't look very big). I have not seen this species before so it was a bonus to add an image of it to my collection... even though the photograph is no masterpeice.
Rapperswil was a very nice place to visit, and especially good for bird photography.
We made our way back towards the Juvet family home in Waldstatt, stopping on the way for a "coffee break" which turned out to be an ice cream break. As far as I am concerned it is always time for ice cream, no matter how recently you had ice cream, what time of day it might be or how cold the weather might be. On a hot summer afternoon such as this, even the most unenlightened person might start to see the wisdom of my thinking.
As we enjoyed the ice cream the storm clouds started to gather over the mountains and the threat of bad weather grew - there would be no glorious sunset photography... but maybe there was a chance for some more bird photography as I saw a white stork (another new species for me) searching for reptiles or rodents in the nearby field.
Although I have never photographed a white stork before that is not because of a lack of opportunity. Last year in Germany I saw two unrealistic looking plastic storks about 30m away in a field and wondered why anyone would put such things in the middle of their crops... perhaps they are acting like scarecrows I theorised. If I had spent those moments getting my camera out of my bag instead of coming up with plastic stork theories I might have been in a better position to capture the moment when the "unrealistic plastic storks" flew away. I had to wait over a year for a chance to put this right.
The next day we were up bright and early and heading for the truly amazing Autobau car museum in the town of Romanshorn. I have been to a few different car museums before but this one was just outstanding, the collection was absolutely remarkable and all the cars were in first class condition. Each car was displayed in appropriate surroundings and spaced out in such a way that you could really appreciate each vehicle individually.
So... what cars could you see there? Well... for a start there were the Ferraris... many Ferraris... including a beautiful yellow Ferrari F12 TDF (click to view the pictures in a larger size).
The red "La Ferrari" is a rather funny looking vehicle to my eyes, but it seems that it must get the job done with a capability of accelerating from 0-300kmh in less than 15 seconds.
These new Ferraris were joined by some of their ancestors with a classic Ferrari 330 GTO from 1964 and a Ferrari F40 supercar from the late 1980s or early 1990s... and also a Ferrari 488 GTB 70 year anniversary edition, a 2017 model commemorating the 70th anniversary of the company. I slightly regret not recording all the models that were on show, but if I remember correctly there were at least 7 or 8 different pristine Ferraris in the "Supersport" hall which is the first part of the museum that you are directed to from the reception.
The collection was not only about Ferraris... it contained many of the other things you might have been hoping to get in your hand when playing Sports Car Top Trumps - a Lamborghini Diablo, a Detomaso Pantera, an E-Type Jaguar, a Porsche 918 Spyder and a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing... and some exotic additions such as the Saleen S7, Bugatti EB 110 and the Vector W8.
Maybe its a small detail, but almost every car had a rather striking colour and that really helped them to make an impression... this yellow Honda S800 might not have looked so impressive in medium grey.
This museum has given me so much I feel I should mention... and I am still only in the first section of it... so I should hurry up.... but first I need to at least include a picture of the very beautiful Mercedes 300SL gullwing.
The next section of the museum turned to the serious business of car racing, in all its different forms. There was a dragster (drive 400 metres as fast as possible), an Indy car (drive 500 miles as fast as possible) and some cars that had competed in races such as the Daytona 24 hour (drive about 2500 miles over 24 hours... as fast as possible).
The museum owes it's existence to racing... to the racing of one man in fact, Fredy Lienhard has been a successful Swiss racing driver over many decades and the museum was founded with his personal car collection, many of the racing cars in the museum bear the name of his Lista racing team.
What about Formula 1 I hear you ask? Good question. There were almost enough Formula 1 cars to have a Formula 1 race... although they were all from different years so ensuring a fair race might be a challenge. Alain Prost's 1983 Renault was one of the earlier ones.
The distinctive red of the Ferrari F1 team always makes an instant impression.
If the race between all the Autobau Formula 1 cars was a team event then I think that Sauber might end up as the dominant constructor, one of the halls at Autobau housed one of each Sauber F1 carfrom 1994 to 2005 inclusive. An amazing collection.
We eventually dragged ourselves away from Autobau and continued our tour, after a walk around the old town of St Gallen we visited the botanical gardens. Botanical gardens are often very interesting places to shoot, the rich colours and interesting shapes of any flowers that might be on display are one attraction and any insects or other wildlife that they attract is another.
I did not have a macro lens with me on this trip so my all purpose 24-105mm f4 lens was taken into action. One of the things that I often try in this kind of situation is to make images where a pattern or a colour or a texture can fill the entire frame.
Inevitably, the bees buzzing around the flowers in the external gardens became the most interesting subject and many frames were spent trying to capture their important activities.
When I look back on this trip, I find that I am not all that excited about my pictures - the light was never quite right, sometimes that's just how it goes - but I can say that this was anyway one of my favourite trips since I started writing the blog.
The great hospitality and friendship shown to me by my hosts, the Juvet family, was something that I will not forget and they also did a great job of showing me the attractions in their area.
Thanks once again to Robert, Krisztina and Isi for all their kindness!
Normally my photography travelling is done solo, but a couple of weeks ago I spent 5 days in the Appenzell Canton of Switzerland as a guest of Robert Juvet and his family.
Robert and I have competed against each other in some photography competitions on GuruShots and we have become friends through some photography related facebook groups - meeting in person for the first time earlier this year in Budapest. When he invited me to come and shoot with him in his home country of Switzerland for a few days I was very happy to accept.
The Finnair link from Helsinki to Zurich is another perfectly planned route, you can leave early in the morning and return late in the evening, allowing you to make the best of both travel days as well as enjoing the days inbetween, and I met up with Rob and his family by lunchtime.
Our first location was the Thur waterfall, a 10 minute walk from the village of Unterwasser.
The waterfall is at the end of a winding path which follows the downstream progress of the water, ending up in a cave like area in front of the waterfall itself. You can also follow a path up above the waterfall and view the spectacle from different angles. This was an excellent place, kind of hidden away near to a small village in the middle of nowhere, perfect.
One feature of this trip was the prominence of interesting bird life. On the relatively short drive from Zurich I had seen red kites circling over the motorway on at least a dozen occasions and here at the waterfall I watched a pair of common buzzards wheeling around overhead.
From Thur we continued the waterfall tour, following a steep, overgrown and vaguely unsafe path from a roadside car park down to Ober Glessenfall.
Our third waterfall of the day was Glessenfall II, but that scene did not really get my attention and I found myself a lot more interested in identifying the small birds that were flitting around the area, one of which was a grey wagtail - a species I had not photographed before. It is always nice to photograph a new species, even if - like this time - it is too far away and in too dark a place to get a good shot.
It always seems a bit unfair that the Grey Wagtail, a striking bird which is about 40% yellow, is called the Grey Wagtail... but it is a victim of the existence of the even brighter Yellow Wagtail and the stunningly yellow Citrine Wagtail.
The following morning it was time to head for the mountains. We took the cable car up to Ebenalp. I have been on a number of cable cars... and I guess I will be on a number more in future... but it never feels like a particularly safe way to travel.
We survived the cable car journey and were rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, including the summit of Säntis (the highest point in the Alpstein massif) and the beautiful alpine lake of Seealpsee.
The area at the top of the Ebenalp cable car ride is a starting point for a number of different hiking trails and the route was a very popular one, people were crammed into the cable car in scenes reminiscent of the Tokyo subway.
Hiking, and photography were not the only activities taking place on Ebenalp, the area near the cable car station is a very popular launching point for paragliding. The considerable updrafts made for superb conditions for that activity and it seemed that the skilful paragliders were able to gain a couple of hundred metres of additional altidute and spend many hours swooping around.
The paragliding was hugely impressive to watch, but the fascination was not universal... the cows that were summering on the high pastures seemed completely uninterested.
After purchasing ice cream to combat the considerable heat we followed a hiking trail which led down and round the mountain side with the first notable stop being at Wildkirchli, a series of three interconnected caves with a small chapel inside the lowest cave.
The trail continued to wind its way around the mountain face to the remarkable Gasthaus Aesher, a tavern situated under a huge overhanging cliff. There were too many people there for me to take a decent picture but the place was certainly an interesting one.
Although we had already descended a few hundred metres from the cable car station, the views were still fantastic to many directions. While my kind host continued to capture landscapes, I was distracted by the presence, once again, of a black redstart, the bird species that has been following me around Europe, presumably to make up for always eluding me in Finland.
After hiking back up to the cable car station, and descending once more to the car park, we found an impossibly cute (and very tiny) kitten nervously exploring it's surroundings.
After sensibly restricting ourselves to less than 1500 kitten pictures each, we were able to break away and head for the next location, the Leuenfall waterfall. As we made our way towards the trail which led down to the waterfall, I got interested in how the light was filtering through the trees in the area of a small steam, and I ended up preferring that picture to any that I took at the waterfall itself.
The following day we visited the same area once again, but instead of heading up the mountain by cable car, we set off on foot on the steep climb to the beautiful Seealpsee lake. The trek to Seealpsee takes about one hour and, although the road has a good surface (it acts as a service road to the guesthouses and restaurants at Seealpsee), it is significantly uphill all the way. When the temperature is in the 30's and you are carrying 10-15kg of camera stuff (as well as any extra kilos that you might keep inside your body) then it is a hard slog. The effort however, is certainly worth it - Seealpsee is very beautiful.
After the strenuous climb, the walk around the lake is a very pleasant one. There are beautiful views to all directions and there is always the possiblity to use the lake for reflections. The alpine cows are ever present, happily chewing their way through their day surrounded by the beautiful scenery.
The lake itself features a number of different territories that are patrolled and defended vigorously by Eurasian Coots. These birds are a lot of fun to watch, especially if it is anywhere near the breeding season when they are likely to feel territorial.
When a "rival" (i.e. any unsuspecting bird of any species that just happens to be within 40m) happens to catch their attention then they launch their attack from a very long way away, running quickly and comically across the surface of the water to chase them away or start a vicious fight. When the rival is also a coot then there is the prospect of them both running after each other which looks even funnier.
Anyway... on this occasion the coots were comparatively calm.
Before long we were making our way back down the steep service road and heading to our next destination, the cable car journey to the summit of Hoher Kasten.
This cable car journey was much like any other - looking forward to the view at the destination while slightly concerned about the possibility of falling to your death during the journey. This one had one unexpected difference, it stopped for a while, without explanation, a bit more than half way up... while you dangled about 100m above the ground. I guess it was intended to help you admire the amazing panoramic view... but without knowing that it was going to happen the first thought was that something had gone wrong.
When you arrive at the top of the mountain you are rewarded with views over 4 countries (Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and back into Switzerland).
At the right time of the right day this place would be an unbelievable photography destination, but on this day the light was very strong and direct and there was a considerable haze over the mountains, so no amount of post-processing could really rescue the pictures.
Another welcome feature at the summit is the large refreshment area with great viewing windows, perfect to get yourself together after the cable car journey.
The mountain section of this trip was now over and for the remaining days we would concentrate on other things, so I suppose this is a good place to call an end to this post... we certainly packed a lot into these couple of days.
As a final offering I will leave you with this picture of the moon at its First Quarter phase, halfway between a new moon and a full moon.
My report will continue with a new installment in a few days time. Huge thanks to Robert Juvet and his family for their amazing hospitality on this trip!
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