Saturday, 29 October 2016

Bergwerk Käpfnach

Today we will take a tour in a place out of common. Let me invite you to a special visit in the Bergwerk Käpfnach, a genuine coal mine located in the picturesque town of Horgen, on the shores of the Zurich Lake.

Nowadays, most of Swiss energy consumption is covered with nuclear and hydro power. Therefore, coal mines like the one in Horgen are no longer needed. They remain however witnesses of the industrial heritage of the region.

The entire area of the Käpfnach coal mine is large, including around 80 kilometres of tunnels below the Zimmerberg mountain.

To move the coal around such area man needed help. I have heard that in some coal mines they used horses to do this work! How outrageous. I did not receive a clear answer how these wagons were moved around, but looking at their weight I can only trust this was steam power or electricity.

Look, here comes a little model of the mine. This definitely looks like a locomotive. What a relief, no horses were harmed here my friends. We can get in!

First we can take a look at the overground museum, where different types of coal are exhibited. In the Käpfnach mine the so-called brown coal was mined.

But looking at artefacts in a museum is no fun. So let's jump on the red train called Barbara. Saint Barbara is the holy patron of miners, who celebrate with great care her day, being 4th December. The inscription on top of the tunnel says "Glück auf!" which is a traditional greeting of German-speaking miners, expressing a wish for successful mining and safe return on the ground.

The little red train will take us inside the tunnels that used to be production lines. They are narrow just enough to accommodate the train, so you can literally touch the walls next to you.

They are also low, so helmets are a must.

The brown coal is not really brown. But it is also not black like the charcoal you would normally have in mind when thinking of a mine.

The layer of coal in Käpfnach is only one meter tall, which you can clearly see here.

Did you notice the thermometer? Do you have any idea how many centigrade are here? Less than ten in fact.

Do not be surprised, after all we are 500 meters below ground level.

I think that you are staring to realise that mining in a place like that was not a piece of cake. It was dark, cold and narrow. The miners were digging the coal out lying on the floor, in a hole that was just about one meter high.

Then, they were putting the coal into the mining wagons so that it is brought up.

The Käpfnach mine was mainly used during war time. First during the French-Prussian war in 1870, then during the First and Second World War. It was finally closed in 1947. A group of enthusiasts keeps the memory of the old times by introducing tourists to the hard life of the miners.

I hope that you have enjoyed this unusual trip below the surface of the Earth. Now the last stage. Grab your carbide lamps and try to find your way out! Glück auf!"

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Pinewood Derby

Today we will have the chance to participate in the creation of something completely new and unique. I was offered the opportunity of participating in a pinewood derby! Pinewood derbies are a tradition of Cub Scouts of  Boy Scouts of America. The first derby took place in 1953. Not much has changed since. Each participant is getting the same box.

Inside you will always find the same kit - a block of pine wood, four plastic wheels and four nails that will become the axis.

How can you race a block of wood? Well, you need to work a bit on it. We need to prepare some tools.

First we need a saw and a set of clamps. We will cut the block in halves to improve the aerodynamics. Then we need to polish it well.

The heavier the car the better it races. The maximum weight is typically five ounces (150 grams). To get there, we will use some metal washers.

We will glue the washers with a hot glue gun. Then we can start painting.

Does it remind you of anything?

And yes, I told you. You can take a Polish guy out of Poland but you cannot take Poland out of a Polish guy. My human family not only painted the car in the colours of the Polish flag. They even called it "Winning Warsaw".

Time to go for the race! First, we need to register. Each car is carefully weighted.

Over seventy cars were registered for this derby.

Here comes ours!

The track starts high, since the cars are only moved by gravity. Then comes a long flat part.

The track ends with sophisticated measuring devices that measure the time up till one ten thousandth of a second. On top comes a camera.

Winning Warsaw is ready to race.

Off they go! If you can hardly spot the cars do not worry. The average speed is around three hundred kilometers per hour!

Well, this time we did not win.

Still, the pinewood derby proved to be real fun. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did. And next year, we will build a better and faster car. I count on your help!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

China garden

The city of Zurich has many twin towns. One of them is Kunming in China. In 1993 the experts from the garden department of the city of Zurich have helped Kunming designing the city drinking water supply and drainage. The people of Kunming wanted of course to thank Zurich for this assistance but it proved not to be so easy. I am sure you all have an uncle or aunt who "has everything". Buying Christmas gifts for them is a nightmare. Now think of a gift to one of the richest cities in the world, that was never touched by war, where the quality of living is among best in the world and that literally has it all.

The people of Kunming thought hard and came with a marvellous idea of offering to Zurich a genuine Chinese garden. A place of peace, where the inhabitants will be able to isolate from the rush of the city. It is located on the shores of the Zurich lake and surrounded by a high fence.

If you would turn back, you would see the Zurich Lake and on the other side, Felsenegg where we have hiked last year.

The main entrance is not wheelchair or pushchair friendly unfortunately. But I guess it is part of the traditional Chinese design. The signs on the golden plate mean "Chinese garden".

Inside, you can find all types of reference to traditional Chinese culture, philosophy and craft. First, you can see an artificial mountain.

It faces an artificial lake in which you can find the royal red carps. The mountain and the water represent Yin and Yang, the contrary though complimentary forces of the nature.

To cross the lake we need to walk on the rocks. The water is not deep but still, mind your step.

In one of the corners of the garden you can find a pavilion, which seems ideal for meditation

I must admit however that when I have looked upwards, I have completely lost my focus, distracted by the colourful paintings on the ceiling.

In the middle of the garden you will notice a pavilion located on an artificial island. It is very picturesque.

Behind it, comes the water palace.

On both sides, it has a gallery facing the lake. Let's enter on the left side.

The ceiling and the columns are beautifully decorated. Both sides include benches for those who would like to enjoy the magic of the place.

Let's go inside.

You can admire there traditional Chinese pictures and furniture.

Some of the ornaments are amazing.

But the most amazing thing about the pavilion is the view. Let's turn back to the main entrance. I believe I would not get bored eating breakfast with such a view for many, many years.

I hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse of China in the middle of Europe. I must say that I was enchanted. Another amazing thing about the garden is that it is dedicated to the Three Friends of Winter - pine, bamboo and plum. They are evergreen which means that visitors can enjoy the beauty of the garden all year long.

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Last week we have visited the Abbey of St Gallen with its famous library. We will stay a bit longer in the city to enjoy its location (and the nice weather). Let's leave the abbey and the old town by one of these nice narrow streets.

We will cross the river Steinach ...

... and after about ten or fifteen minutes we will arrive to the lower station of the Mühleggbahn.

 If you would have doubts in which city you are, it is enough to look on the walls.

 We will take the funicular to go up the hill.

On your right you can notice a nice waterfall. It shows a bit how steep this hill is.

The funicular runs most of its length in a tunnel. But I see some light at the end of it.

Next to the upper station I noticed a bakery shop. But what was even more interesting was that it seemed to have a parking space for broomsticks! It seems that some witches have faster ways of going up the hill.

I have spared you the walk up the hill because I wanted you to keep your strength. The goal of our trip is the Dreilinden weg, one of numerous hiking trails in canton St. Gallen. It runs on top of the hill, at your feet you can see the city of St. Gallen.

You will quickly notice the abbey.

I propose we stop here for a moment and use this nice device. 

It is a sort of telescope that will allow me to demonstrate to you that St. Gallen is actually lying on the banks of Lake Constance.

It is time we return to the upper station of the Mühleggbahn. Once again, the light emerges from the tunnel.

Let's jump in and move on to new adventures.