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Travels with Georgia and zig
Overseas Trips

Episode 2: Thursday 5/13/2010: Zurich, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria 2010

The tram dropped us off in an industrial area about a block or two from the building. Sure didn’t look like a tourist mecca. More like a re-conditioned warehouse. Inside the metal door we found a tiny souvenir/gift shop with a bored young man sitting behind the counter chatting with an equally bored friend. There was a gallery across the hallway. The art seemed more intended to shock than anything. A trip up the metal staircase to the next floor was no more promising. After looking around for 30 minutes or so and taking a photo of a heavily starched white lab-coat splattered with paint and hanging from a coat hanger I deduced that we were not in the right museum. Hadn’t seen anything even remotely resembling VanGogh, Cezanne, or Monet—I catch on quick!

labcoat.JPG

We asked a young woman in one of the galleries displaying “sofas” made out of painted plywood where the Monet paintings were. I’ve now discovered that when a beautiful young woman gives you the fish eye it hurts more: “That eez the Kunst HAUS, not the Kunst HALLE. She clicked her tongue. “Who was Mr Kunst?” I asked. “Kunst—painter,” she said, and added rolling of the eyes to tongue clicking. OK, I got it. “This “Kunst” fellow must have been some sort of local painter?” That left her speechless. She motioned to see our tickets. I showed her the three-day tram pass. She sighed. Apparently afraid that I might say something even more embarrassing she showed us the KunstHAUS on the map. Her KunstHALLE specialized in contemporary art. The sculptor Henry Moore seemed to be the most ancient artist here. And most of the work seemed right on the bleeding edge of today. The KunstHAUS was right next to the Grossmunster Kirche where we saw the agate window. Sigh. As we headed back to the center of town it began to drizzle again.

Did I mention that the trams are enormous? The roads are really very narrow and shared with bicycles, cars, delivery vans, and the odd pedestrian. “Odd,” because any pedestrian who tries to cross Zurich’s streets has to be ODD. The doors of the trams are only on the right-hand side so you often find tram stops in the center of the road rather than the edges, and the tracks are actually set to go into the oncoming left lane so that they can drop people off at these center stops. Cars don’t argue the point. And bicycle lanes are part of the sidewalk. They have center stripes too. It is very important that you remember you are sharing the sidewalk with bicycles whizzing in both directions on both sides of the street. I lost count of the number of times we forgot that truth only to be reminded with the little “ping” of a bicycle bells and the WHOOSH of a speeding bicycle at our elbow. When you cross a Zurich street you have to cross two lanes of car traffic, four lanes of bicycle traffic, and two sets of tram tracks. And all of this on a road no bigger than you would find in a typical American city. And then there is the occasional bus, delivery van and helicopter flying overhead!

But everyone prefers the trams. As I said, they are enormous—enormously long that is—and narrow. On the old trams each car is separate. It’s like riding a skinny boxcar through a bustling town. But the newer trams are completely open front to back so you can see from the last car all the way to the first. That makes them 50 or 100 yards long and segmented so they can go around corners. On the new trams it’s like riding inside a hinged soda straw. Or a hollow centipede. You can watch the people up ahead snaking around each corner. Very cool. Each car-junction has a circular turntable that permits the cars to turn independently, and little kids love to stand on these turntables when the trams go around the corners.

centipede.JPG

Our particular hollow centipede dropped us right in front of the Kunst Haus. Our heart sank as we saw a long line waiting to enter. But rule one in foreign countries. If you see a long line, get in it. It’s like the lines used to be in the Soviet Union. Get in any line you see—there’s going to be something at the other end you want. This time it was a special exhibit of paintings by Cezanne, Monet, and VanGogh. While waiting in line we took turns going to examine Rodin’s statue “The Gates of Hell.” A very disturbing work. It must be more than 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide and solid black. The photographs we took don’t capture how eerie it was to stand in front of it. I was dwarfed by the size, and as I looked up through the naked writhing figures frozen in hideous poses I could see Rodin’s famous “Thinker” sitting above the partially open doors on the lintel. I always thought the Thinker was looking down at the floor lost in thought. Oh no. He was sitting up there looking down at me—weighing my soul. I don’t think he was much impressed. Georgia said she was most disturbed by the many infants. They weren’t tormented—but they were certainly part of the tableaux. Rodin was trying to capture the spirit of Dante’s Gates of Hell in the Divine Comedy. I think these infants were the unbaptized infants in “limbo.”

zurichthethinker

Rodin’s Gates of Hell—the Thinker

The line was moving fast and soon we were inside where our 3-day pass got us free admission to the permanent exhibition. We opted for that. There was still a long line of people trying to get into the special exhibit. We’ve done the heel-to-toe shuffle-shuffle before. It’s not really very much fun or very enlightening. And we saw wonderful exhibits of Cezanne, Monet, and VanGogh in Paris in 2008. I suspected that many of these paintings were borrowed from there.

The museum itself was made of a warm-colored limestone. Very inviting and neutral. I like museums that don’t compete with the works they display. Unfortunately I’d no sooner climbed the stairs than it seemed I was walking around in a dream. Georgia must have gotten more sleep than I did because she was the Energizer Museum Bunny. I was bumping into things. She sprinted up the stairs to find the Marc Chagall paintings. I stumbled down the same staircase looking for someplace to sit down and wait for her. Of course there were several thousand of our closest friends also waiting downstairs for their spouse, so I decided to hang out on the Mezzanine figuring she’d be bound to see me as she breezed past. There was an interesting little dark gallery right near by. It had busts and scissors and lamps and stuffed animals and books and clocks and birdcages and just all kinds of things mounted on turntables and on a little electric train going round and round. Spotlights threw shadows up on the wall and the shadow-figures would grow or shrink as the objects themselves moved toward or away from the light. Socrates would have loved it. Very much like his “Allegory of the Cave” where people have to judge what something is by looking at its shadow. Unfortunately such an exhibit is also hypnotic. “I think I’ll just rest my eyes for a minute. . .” Someone walked by. I shook myself awake and went out to stand guard on the Mezzanine again. I was alone with this really odd figure. It must have been about 8 feet tall and thin beyond belief. I couldn’t imagine how they’d even managed to cast a bronze figure like that with pencil-thin arms and legs and oversized hands and feet. It was frozen forever in a purposeful stride. I slumped nearly comatose. Jet lag had landed. I shook my heavy head again and went to see who had made the stick-man. Son of a gun. It was Giacometti again. Not just stained glass, but also these gigantic bronze sculptures. What an mind.

Don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m a borderline narcoleptic. When I start to fall asleep there is virtually nothing I can do about it. It drives poor Georgia crazy. When we go to bed she likes to chat. I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow. I was soon going to be a bundle of rags for the stickman to step over.

Luckily she came back down the stairs as I slowly subsided. She hustled me down to the café in the lobby where we drank some coffee and shared a wonderful Linzertorte (German raspberry pie). She forced me. I couldn’t resist her. And the caffeine and sugar gave me new life. Even so, I told her we were going to have to head for the room unless I could curl up somewhere. She decided that someone would think I was an exhibit and put a guard-rope around me.

Back at the room I turned on the TV while she was getting ready for bed. The last thing I remember was trying to make sense of The Simpsons speaking German in voices that were all wrong.

May 15, 2010: Woke up in the middle of the night. It must have been about 3am local time. That would make it 9pm Lexington time. Next trip I’m going to remember to bring one of those tiny little battery powered book lights! It would have been perfect for reading or making notes in the notebook. As it was I could only lie there and know that if I woke Georgia up to ask if she was asleep she would hand me my head.

Managed to fall back asleep eventually and woke up at 9am local time. We went exploring and found a great “Reform Produkt Backerei” at the Goldbrunnerplatz. That’s a bakery where they use only organic products. Bought some wonderfully strong coffee, gorgeous little ruddy apples with a sweet-tartness I love, Apfel struddle as well, and more Linzertorte just in case we should happen to need a little smackerel of something before lunch. Mmmm. Cost 13 Swiss francs, about $10. Delicious, but a little pricey. We may be eating out of the supermarkets a lot, but we won’t starve.

Looked like another day of drizzle. Even so, the train ride to Einseidlen was magical. As we climbed further and further up in the mountains we passed dark green stands of fir and open meadows of grass and wildflowers. For the most part we shared a narrow mountain valley with a two-lane road and swift-flowing mountain stream. There was a lot of road construction that left the cars at a standstill. I was glad to be on the train. I’ve not had the nerve to rent a car in Europe yet. And except for the time we couldn’t get the 50 miles from Vezelay to the Cathedral at Bourges without taking a train 250 miles up and back to Paris I’ve never regretted relying solely on European trains and buses.

As we climbed higher the steady drizzle was turning into a cold rain.

(to be continued)

Comments
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010 5:00 PM by imweezie
Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed your travels, closest I will ever get. It felt like my travels it was so descriptive. I am waiting patiently for the next installment. You should be a travel writer, or whatever it is called. Makes everything else seem mundane.
WELCOME to Copper!!
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