Coronavirus update – a personal view from Switzerland

Over the past 15 and a half years, I have had many reasons to be thankful and very grateful that I live in Switzerland, but, perhaps, none more so than during the current Coronavirus situation.

When the outbreak started, (it was so long ago now, I forget the exact date), Switzerland was one of the first affected regions in Europe. The lockdown came very quickly, with shops closed, a limit of no more than 5 people in a group and social distancing everywhere.

I recall checking the “Worldometers” website and seeing that the Swiss were ahead of the UK, at least in terms of cases, if not number of deaths, for several days. In the most unwanted league table (unless you are an American President perhaps?) the Swiss were in the top 10 – possibly ‘peaking’ at number 4 or 5. This was not good news for a country with no more than 8.65 million inhabitants.

Wind forward a few months and, while the virus still takes its toll all around the world, based on the figures from yesterday, I see that Switzerland are now down to number 31 in terms of Total Cases. But does this relative ‘improvement’, or worsening for those now in the top 30, tell the whole story?

If you sort the table by Active Cases, the Swiss drop to number 99 with 454 cases. Though that could be as low as 103rd as it seems the UK, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden don’t declare (or maybe don’t know) the number of Active cases. (The Worldometers website simply says N/A). To put that number into context, 454 is less Active Cases than the Maldives, Norway and Australia.

And then, if we consider New Cases, at least based on the figures from yesterday, the Swiss are 123rd (equal with Zimbabwe and Cyprus), with only 3 new cases reported. In effect, the virus has been brought under control and Contact Tracing is now in place to investigate and keep on top of any new cases.

So how did they achieve this I wonder? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I would speculate that a lot of it is due to the national psyche of the Swiss. They are conditioned to follow rules. (Well, at least most people are – there are always a few in every society unfortunately). They have rules which many might find a bit silly, like, you should not make any unnecessary loud noise (like DIY drilling, strimming or playing loud music) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood, before 7am, between 12 noon and 1pm and after 7pm – and certainly not at anytime on a Sunday or a Public Holiday. Cars have to be washed at a dedicated facility, not on your drive or wherever. The list goes on… (I have thought I should blog about some of these rules, but it becomes a way of life…)

Unlike the UK, the nation doesn’t have to be thanked for doing well and be urged to continue to follow the government advice, it’s simply expected of everyone, by everyone. You will also never find the Swiss bragging or gloating about how well they have handled the situation, they are far too modest for that and would probably consider it rather vulgar to do so. (It would be like Roger Federer saying, “Yes, of course I am the greatest tennis player of all time!” and then repeating that in French, German and Italian, just to emphasise the point. It’s just never going to happen).

Nor will you find them today dancing in the streets and celebrating their success. They are far too cautious to think it’s all over. We are still only in the 2nd phase of the de-confinement, though the 3rd phase starts in about a week. Gatherings of more than 1,000 are still banned until the end of August and social distancing is still in place wherever you go. As I say, the Swiss like to stick to their rules and I, for one, am sincerely glad that they do and I applaud them for it. (If I had a Swiss flag icon, I would fly it proudly here – on their behalf of course!)

Below are some stats taken from the Worldometers website together with a picture of an Idas Blue butterfly which I took on Sunday. I’ve been trying to find an excuse to post it and I hope it brightens up your day! 😊

Alpine Flora and Butterfly Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday my wife, Jude, and I went for a walk from the parking area near Les Farquesses up to Les Mayens de la Cretta. With the sun shining brightly and many more alpine flowers in full bloom, we were expecting to photograph a few butterflies. I hadn’t even switched the engine off and Jude announced that she’d already counted 11 butterflies fluttering around the meadow beside the car. We didn’t even need to venture into the meadow to take the pictures, as there was plenty of activity by the side of the road. About 20 minutes later we finally dragged ourselves away. I believe the first 3 butterflies in the gallery below are ‘firsts’ for this website. 😊

Some favourite books

Vivienne, at “Bug Woman – Adventures in London”, had a great idea with her post yesterday, which was to describe 3 of her favourite illustrated books. It inspired me to continue the theme by mentioning 3 of my own.

With a well stocked bookshelf (or three), my dilemma was which ones to choose. So my selection criteria was their relevance to this site which, when I’m not covering holidays, tends to concentrate on Swiss mountain walks and their associated views, with a few butterflies and flowers thrown in for good measure.

With this in mind, my first choice was a big book by any standards, aptly entitled Majestics. It measures 44 x 32cm (17.3″ x 12.6″) and when you open it up you can see why it needs to be. A finalist in the Banff International Mountain Book Festival (Canada), it contains some simply amazing panoramic photos of Switzerland by professional photographer, Samuel Bitton. They are the sort of images I aspire to.

I have mentioned this second book before, but it’s constantly in use during the summer as I do my level best to identify the butterflies I’ve photographed. It’s in French and is a “Guide d’identification des papillons de jour de Suisse”, written by Vincent and Michel Baudraz. The first ‘half’ is a step-by-step guide to help you identify the butterfly. This is ok until it asks you what the underside looks like and you only have a picture of the upperside – which explains why I cannot always be sure of my naming! The second part has all the butterflies listed by family together with detailed pointers to their unique features.

Throughout the book their are beautiful and incredibly accurate coloured drawings of each. Anyone who has ever tried to identify the subtle differences between two very similar butterflies will appreciate how precise they are. Not only that but the book is ably supported by this website, which shows the distribution (albeit only in Switzerland) and has a selection of photos which can often confirm the identification.

My third choice is Our Alpine Flora by E. Landolt and K. M. Urbanska, which is published by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). My copy is in English, but very often it seems like another language, as the detailed descriptions mention “actinomorphic” or “pedicellate” flowers, “fruit a silique opening by 2 valves” or “lanceolate, shortly petiolate” leaves. My over-simplistic technique is to thumb through the (rather too small) photos at the back until I find one that looks like mine. I know it’s a bit hit and miss, but I’d never identify anything without it. 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

Ascent of the Dents du Midi, (@3,257m or 10,685ft), Valais, Switzerland

For my 4th ‘archive’ post, let me take you back to August 2006…

I’d only been in Switzerland for a few months and one of the guys in the office said, “How do fancy a trip up to the top of the Dents du Midi?” Now, anyone who has been to Vevey or Montreux will have seen this very impressive, sawtooth of a mountain, which dominates the horizon at the eastern end of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva). See pic 1, which was actually taken a few years later from our apartment in Mont Pèlerin.

The plan was to leave work early on a Friday afternoon, drive up the Val d’Illiez and park near Champéry, before hiking up to the Susanfe mountain hut. (I didn’t know this at the time, but I now know it was about a 7km or 4.5 mile walk and a climb of a little over 1,100m or 3,600ft). After spending the night in the hut (dinner and breakfast was included in the price of the accommodation), we’d walk up to the top of the Dents du Midi, then descend and walk to the Salanfe hut at the end of the lake of the same name. (This would be 11.5km or 7 miles and 1,200m or 3,950ft). Again, after a hearty meal, possibly a few beers, I couldn’t say 😉, a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we’d retrace our steps back over the Col de Susanfe and descend to the car park. (This would be the longest day at 14.5km or 9 miles, but ‘only’ 700m or 2,300ft of ascent).

After putting my name down to go with 12 others, I realised that I was double booked and my daughter, Sarah, who was only 16 at the time, was coming over to visit that very same weekend. Ooops! She thought she might slow the group down but, after a only a little(?) persuasion, she agreed to join us.

The weekend got off to a good start, with everyone meeting up on time, but it soon became clear that one couple could not keep up. So they dropped out and stayed at the Bonaveau refuge on the Friday night. The rest of us reached the Susanfe hut in good time for dinner. Saturday saw the 12 of us reach the Col but, as the going got quite steep from then on, about half way to the top, another 5 decided enough was enough and they turned around and headed down to the Salanfe hut.

By this time, Kevin and Cristina were well ahead and they had reached the top and were on the way down when they passed the 5 remaining “heading strongly for the top”. And, as you will see from pic 19, we all made it! 😊

This was the first time I’d stayed in a mountain hut (or 2) and certainly the first time I’d ever been to over 3,000m (or indeed 10,000ft). Sarah was an absolute star and, I think, she has just about forgiven me, (if not for this post)!

Coronavirus update – a view from Switzerland

I’ve been encouraged by Stephen at Fractured Faith Blog to write a few words on our experiences during this ‘crisis’ period. After all, the Blogosphere is one big inter-connected and generally very supportive community. 😊 Since I might be one of the few people you might follow in Switzerland, I thought I’d give you some insights into how things are in what is generally considered a well ordered country.

We have been in lockdown mode for around 4 weeks now. Unlike France, where you need to stay within a kilometre of your home and have a piece of paper indicating the reason for not staying in, we are allowed out (but encouraged not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary – though see below).

Like a lot of countries, we had some panic buying initially. Even in our small village, the shelves were cleared of pasta for the first few days, but normality was soon restored. The ‘Co-op’ restricts the numbers entering to about a dozen (it’s not a huge shop, but not small either) and lines are clearly marked on the floor where you must stand to respect the 2 metre rule at the checkout. Only one person is allowed at either end of the conveyor belt. So if the person in front has a lot of shopping to pack, you have to stand and wait until they’ve finished before it’s your turn. There is also hand-wash at the entrance/exit which you are asked to use. The manager told me the other day that he had not heard of any cases in our valley, which is somewhat comforting, because…

My wife and I often sit on our balcony and watch the world go by. Normally there are very few people around and about, I guess that’s because they are normally at work or have better things to do. But recently we have seen groups of up to 8 congregating and having ‘garden parties’, when the Swiss rule is no gatherings of more than 5. Not only that but one of our neighbours was actually sharing a fondue with his partner and another neighbour, which we thought was unbelievable.

Another annoyance to us is to see ‘outsiders’ arriving in the valley. Last week we observed one Austrian car and several French number plates. These countries have closed their borders to incomers, so why do they feel it necessary to travel out of their own country? In addition, all Swiss cars have a 2 character canton prefix on their number plate indicating their owner’s origin (like GE for Geneva and FR for Fribourg) and we’ve regularly observed non-Valaisan (VS) cars in and around our neighbourhood. Many Swiss have second homes and come up and/or invite their friends for the weekend, despite this being discouraged by the authorities. The Swiss are normally very good at following the rules, but even they seem to balk at the very idea sometimes.

On a more positive note, it has meant we’ve managed to get a few little jobs done around the house and my wife, Judith, has turned her hand to baking bread (and very successfully I might add – see pics below) to save us going to the shop too often. (Bread goes hard very rapidly in the dry atmosphere of the Alps!)

Anyway, that’s my little ‘piece’ said. Please feel free to Comment and/or post some of your own personal experiences.

Stay safe everyone.

“First Up” by Arthur Manton-Lowe

Firstly, please accept my humblest apologies for all the emails that this site has been generating for the past 24 hours.  I’ve been trying to resolve an issue where the picture gallery doesn’t appear in the emails which are sent out.  My testing proved inconclusive (with different results for two almost identical posts), so I left it with the WordPress Happiness Engineer to resolve and he did some more, also inconclusive, testing.  He advised switching to the latest WP Editor, which I may well do, the next time I get a chance!

In addition, by following myself, I’ve seen how the gallery images have been listed, one beneath the other, which isn’t ideal.  So I may also switch to using the Read more (of this post)… link to encourage people to view the gallery with the black background of my template.

But, to more interesting things…  Life en Suisse, during the Corona virus…

Today my wife, Jude, and I took a trip down to one of the DIY stores to pick up a painting which we’d left for framing.   In Switzerland, the lockdown is not as severe as in some countries and, after they called yesterday to say it was ready, Jude agreed a time to pick it up.  So we drove down and joined a queue of about 8 cars waiting patiently in a line in the car park.   One by one, as each car reached the front of the queue, the occupants were checked in (as having an appointment) and the driver (or passenger) got out and walked to the ‘office’ (which was carefully segregating customer from staff) to pay and to be given instructions where to collect the item.

As I was waiting, I saw our painting being brought out on a trolley and it was left at collection point A.  (Thankfully it wasn’t raining, indeed the skies are perfectly blue this week).  Jude soon arrived back and we drove around to said collection point, loaded up and drove home.  After unwrapping the picture, we were delighted with the result.  So I thought I’d share it with you… 😊  (Well, I hope it’s below, but if not, please click on the title of this post).

It’s painted by our good friend Arthur Manton-Lowe.  He told me that the location of the building is about 2 kilometres from his home in Vienne, France and the title is “First Up”, since first up lights the fire…  The inscription on the side reads: “Never let the fire in your heart go out.  Romans 12 v 11-13”

DSC00547

 

Oberland Odyssey, Day 6

Our last day of the trip would be a ‘straightforward’ walk back down the Aletsch glacier, retracing our steps on Day 2.  At least the weather was clearer to take in the fabulous views – and for me to show you what a glacier looks like, close up.

The Aletsch glacier is a ‘dry’ glacier in that it’s not covered in snow (in the summer anyway) so that you can see where the crevasses and holes are.  Hence the reason we are not roped up below.   On previous days, we had been on ‘wet’ glaciers where, as Des discovered, you can disappear down an unseen hole!

Even then though navigation is not that easy as the edges of the glacier tend to be all gnarled and bumpy, with lots of crevasses.  More than once we had to retrace our steps to find our way through the maze to the middle.  That’s where the glaciers coming in from each of the valleys above collide and create a relatively flat surface to walk on.

I hope you have all enjoyed this series of images and thanks for allowing me this little trip down memory lane.  Picture 4 remains one of my all-time favourite photographs.  😊