Adventures must be done!

VF Diavolo (4th Nov, 2007)

Reto had asked me if we could get some little outing done on Sunday. I first wanted to climb a peak in order to retrieve a geocache but then decided against it due to time constraints.
Instead I proposed to do the via ferrata in the Schoellenenschlucht near the 'Devil bridge' (thus the Name 'Diavolo' for the VF).
We got to the start of the route by means of a train to Andermatt followed by about 15' walking.
Here we found a mountaineering rope (30m), some quickdrawers and carabiners. Strange. We left them anyhow but decided to pick them up on the way back should they still be there.
The VF was as not very demanding, just as I remembered it; I had climbed it during my officers course in the Swiss Army. Clouds were moving in and a cold wind was blowing up the valley but I felt fantastic today, also thanks to my windstopper that proved itself again.

The Schoellenenschlucht showing the old road and the new one above being protected against rockfall.

Me about halfway up the VF.

Us at the end of the VF.

After completing the VF we descend to Andermatt and hiked to the start again. Strange enough the climbing gear was gone. From here we continued down the gorge (on a walking trail though) till we reached Goeschenen.

Strange happenings and adventures in Spain (28. Oct - 1. Nov 2007)


Although setting out on some normal workshop trip, this day was full of adventures, if one defines adventures as happenings that were not foreseen.
First of all I got to the airport a bit late. What surprised me was the fact that Juerg had not turned up yet.
Not thinking about that too much I checked in at those self check-in machines and then strolled towards the passport control after having unsuccessfully tried to call Juerg on his mobile. Just when I was about to proceed to the passport check, Juerg called and wondered why I was that early as we had decided to meet at 11am.

'What? But it's half past eleven, isn't it?!?'
"But we had a time switch to winter time!"
'Arrrrh, bugger, didn't realise that!'

That was the first time this happened to me, at least I was too early! Would have been bummer when switching back to summer time! Thus had ample time to enjoy a coffee at Starbucks.

All went well till we got to Madrid and went towards the metro station. First a long walk, then the acquisition of the tickets (only 2 EUR for a one way trip!). I put the ticket into the reading machine at the barrier and waited for the gate to open. It didn't.

'What the ...?'
"It's on the other side!"

Indeed, I had inserted my ticket with my left hand and proceeded straight on, but the gate opened left of me. Bugger this!
Despite the claim by the workshop organisers "there is a direct connection by metro from the airport to the railway station" we had to change twice!
The carriages sported some funny pictograms about what not to do.

'Do not breakdance in the train?!?'

The trip to Atocha Renfe station took a good deal longer as planned, around 1.5 hrs, not included the walking in the airport and fooling around because Francesco wanted to check on the buses first (but there were none). Waiting for the luggage had also taken a while. All these factors resulted in an arrival time of 1625 at Atocha Renfe. Our train was to depart at 1640.
Francesco still needed a train ticket (Juerg had obtained ours in Switzerland) and there was a ticketing system with long waiting times. He wanted to buy it on the train, but failed to pass the security check where they scanned the baggage and passing without a ticket was not possible. We therefore split up and Juerg and I continued towards the platform.
Here the gate seemed still closed and we took the chance to get some food and water nearby. Back at the gate it seemed to have opened. We queued up (it was already 1640) but when we reached the counter we were told that this was the wrong checkin, the correct one was already closed, but the train was still there. They opened the gate for us and we hopped onto the train. Luckily it was delayed and continued to do so for a few more minutes. Delays are fantastic! We would have missed the train, had it been punctual!
We had entered the first wagon that we could reach. Here we munched our absolutely tasteless chicken sandwiches that had a very faint tomato flavour at best. Reckon that was some of the blandest food I had ever had.

The inside of the Talgo high speed train.

The Talgo high speed train was pretty nicely fitted, but the thing that fascinated us most were the windows filtering the outside light in some peculiar way; some fantastic contrast enhancement that made even the most mundane scene look dramatic!
We then enjoyed an interesting discussion about sensor technology that was followed by playing around with my digital camera trying different calibration presets for differing light sources.
I once more managed to make a fool out of myself:

'You know, it's surprising that it's already dark at that time. We are about 7 degrees further South than Switzerland!'
"Yeah, but it's winter time ..."


On the train station in Caceres we met a few dudes from the Netherlands which we knew from other conferences. After some chit-chat we studied the city map. A very poor example of cartography.

"Erm, where are we?!?"
'Look at that North arrow, that's about 90 degrees turned around!'
"Yeah, and where is the map scale?"

'Uhhh, where is that hotel? Hmmm, forget about street indices right away!'

Juerg and myself at the deserted train station in Caceres.

By the time we exited the train station all the taxis were gone. At least it seemed so. Shortly later on we saw some white car drive away, and caught a glimpse of some tiny writing on the trunk reading 'Radio Taxi' (about font size 24) and as it turned the corner we saw a tiny greenish light bulb.

"You reckon that was actually a taxi!?!"
'Could be ....'
"First time I see a taxi you can't recognize as one!'

The bloke behind the counter was kind enough to order another taxi (indeed, they are mainly white ...) and by means of that we got to our hotel. Having dropped the baggage we strolled off towards the old city centre in search for food.
Along the way we came upon some figures cast in bronze in front of a church. It's apparently the dress they wear around here for the Easter processions, but I was more reminded of a costume of the infamous Ku Klux Klan.

Figures sporting the typical dress worn during Easter processions.

After an exhausting day consisting of (a) talks during the morning session, (b) lunch at the university and (c) three consecutive tutorials where Franceso and I introduced the attendees to BinGO and SPECCHIO, a guided visit to the old town of Caceres was in order.

The conference attendees awaiting the city tour on the Plaza Major.

We trailed along behind our guide who went to great lengths detailing what families had built which palaces, torn down and resurrected what towers, etc, etc. General chuckling was to be heard when the concept of 'defensive balconies' was introduced. That's some handy add-on to any building enabling the owners to drop boiling pitch on the impertinent neighbours wanting to call in for tea.

'Fantastic stuff, these palaces, what?'
"Indeed, but what about getting some food?"

'I'm hungry as! How about going to see some typical restaurant?'

"Uh, chances are we're going to see another palace!"

Statue near the Plaza Major.

Defensive tower.

First palace of the city. Many more were to follow ....

Old city gate.

Defensive structure with beautiful battlement.

Church entrance.

Narrow vista near the museum.

This excursion was followed by some well deserved dinner (at was actually a terrible 10€ meal including a wine that would have passed as vinegar and a chicken that must have been grilled some days ago judging by the stale taste it had) and partying till rather late-ish.

Again all day was spent at the conference centre where I eagerly awaited every chance to get some caffeine into the system. Nonetheless, some talks were very interesting, especially the one on mathematical morphology operations. Way cool stuff!
After the official part I had the honour to join the Hyper-I-net progress meeting as Mathias was arriving too late for it. First the e-learning issues were covered. Then the chairman proposed to continue with the second part of the progress meeting (planned for the day after) straight away. Fair enough, the only thing I began to wonder was what Mathias would say when discovering that he had traveled to Spain for a meeting that was already over!
As it turned out, Mathias turned up just in time for the conference dinner!
Things got even more bizarre: due to the limited train tickets available he had bought a ticket for the train leaving already next morning! Now he had no time to join a meeting that had already happened!
No wonder he had to listen to some cheerful comments:

"Hey, don't you think that traveling to Spain for just a dinner is a bit overdoing it?!?" 'Especially for a dinner that you gotta pay for yourself!'
"This is so absurd, really cracks me up!!!"

The not so impressive dinner was followed by some joyful partying and drinking. Brilliant times, throughly enjoyed it. Still, when coming back to the hotel around 3 am I was very much in need to crash for a few hours!

A few more talks to listen to this morning. I felt amazingly fit, not a bit tired. Beats me.
At the end of the sessions I was surprised to being called up to the front to represent RSL during the wrap up of this event.
A long train ride took us back to Madrid where we arrived in the dark. The main station is most amazing with heaps of exotic trees forming a little rain forest.

Jungle in Madrid 'Atocha' station

After being rather unimpressed by the Spanish kitchen so far, we were served a really good meal in a restaurant where we were lead to by Thomas (who had attended the conference as well) and his wife. The was inevitably followed by more drinks. In the end we visited some places of interest on the way back to the hostel where we fell into our beds, knowing we would have to get up four hours later to catch the airplane!

Some administrative building.

Plaza Major in Madrid.