I am writing this from a jail-cell in Lucerne, Switzerland.
But don't worry; I'm not in trouble or anything. Tonight we get to sleep in the Jailhotel. Jailhotel is a hotel that was made out of an old jail (if you hadn't already guessed that). The rooms are small, cramped and have wooden, creaky floors. The only furniture in the room is two beds, a sink, and a single wooden chair. Behind me is a small barred window, high up on the wall. My writing light is one single lone bulb hanging from the ceiling. The illusion of sleeping in a jail cell would be complete, except for the portable bathroom over in the corner, with white towels, a shower and a toilet. Ignore that, however, and you feel like you're actually in jail.
We left the Flower City at quarter to 8 this morning. Flip told us to sit in the front of the coach if we wanted a good view as we entered the Swiss Alps. It wouldn't have really mattered though, because an hour into the drive everybody on the coach was fast asleep -- including me.
I woke up and looked around the coach. All 50 passengers were sprawled across the seats and into the walkways. I guess last night's drinking fest had gotten the better of them.
We stopped once on the drive between the two cities. Unlike in North America, there aren't real borders between the countries in Europe. There used to be, but now there's not -- except for a few occasions, in which entering Switzerland is one of them. We only stopped to get our passports signed and then we hopped back on the coach as fast as we could.
On our way through the mesmerising Alps, Flip told us a little about Switzerland. Switzerland has not gone to war in over 500 years, she said, which is remarkable because they are right in the middle of Europe and had the two World Wars going on around them. They do, however, have the Swiss Guard placed all over the world. The Swiss Guard are kind of like the ancient Spartans, and are the most powerful fighting force on the planet. Within the country, however, the army is even more impressive -- but that's because every man that lives in Switzerland is automatically part of it (unless they write a letter of extreme cowardliness to the military). Every house in Switzerland must have a gun, and must always have at least 50 rounds of ammunition at hand. From World War II until the end of the Cold War, it was also law to have a bunker in every basement and have 3 months of food rationed away at all times. Lastly, Flip said that there are secret airports in the mountains around the country, and secret locations with bombs under the roads that could explode if the country was to be attacked. Within 3 days the country can be completely sealed, the army ready and deployed and all the families safe in their bunkers. Also, with the Swiss Guard at their disposal, they could kick any other countries butt with ease.
The Swiss also have an amazing education system. Every child can speak four languages and is 100% literate. No country in the world can say that, nor can any country say they are famous for cheese, cows, yodeling, watches, and army-knives and for creating the Red Cross.
When we arrived in Lucerne, we headed north of the city to the Lion of Lucerne Monument. The monument is carved into the side of a cliff and shows a dying lion, laying on the shield of Switzerland. In the lions side is a spear, which is the cause of his suffering. This statue was made after the French Revolution when hundreds of Swiss Guards were killed trying to protect Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI as they ere attempting to flee France. However, the Royal Family was unable to get out of the country fast enough because Marie -- who was known for her immaturity -- couldn't pick what dress she wanted to wear. The Swiss were only doing their job, but they all sacrificed their lives to do it. For this reason, the French built the monument in memory of them.
We then cruised down into the city and stopped at Harry's -- a watch store that sold watches from 15 CHF to 5,000 CHF. They also had washrooms, free Internet and a currency exchange office. Besides the U.K., Switzerland is the other country I will be going to that doesn't use the euro. One euro buys one-point-two francs (which is just about the same as the Canadian Dollar). I got 60 CHF from Harry's -- not to spend, but to break apart into coins and bills for my collection back home.
We then had free-time and I walked around town. To the north were the Old City Walls and to the east was Chapel Bridge. I picked the bridge to go to instead of the walls. Chapel Bridge, also called Kapellbrücke, was a long, twisted, wooden bridge that spans the Reuss River, which gets its water from Vierwaldstättersee. The bridge is made out of wood and passes by the Clock Tower, a large stone tower that has been a church, a prison and a torture chamber, along with a library, a house and now, a store. It was here I picked up a few postcards and a coffee-mug for my mom.
I then walked to the railway station named Rail City (if you can imagine!). I then walked back west to the National Museum and the Kasernenplatz. On the way to Switzerland, Flip told us to pack an over-night bag for tonight because we weren't unloading the whole bus. As I waited in line, one of the tour group members, Ryan (the same Nine Stein Ryan from Munich) was selling a bottle of Rivella. He bought it without knowing his girlfriend Alyssa had already bought him one. He was selling it for €1. Flip told us that Rivell was a very popular drink in Switzerland and to try it if we got a chance, so I bought it off him. It's a clear milk-whey product that is carbonated like Coke. It also has a very strange aftertaste. I really like it, and am drinking it while I write this.
We got to Jailhotel and after settling in, we had dinner. We had ranch salad, spaghetti and meat-sauce and a piece of cheese cake with a Swiss flag on it. I really enjoyed our simple dinner tonight after all the extravagant ones we've been having lately.
We had the rest of the evening free and I went back to my room before heading out on the town. It was there I made a horrifying discovery. I intended to charge my MP3 player but realized my power convertor was too big for the Swiss plug-ins -- something that Flip warned me about, but the man in London's Sony said wouldn't be a problem. Not only that, I also discovered I had left my MP3 player on the coach, so even if I could charge it, I would have been all out of luck! I went downstairs and asked the clerk if she had any alarm-clocks. She didn't, but she said she could send somebody to come wake me up in the morning. I said okay and will be awoken at 5:30 tomorrow morning.
I then went for a walk around the town. I went to the Old City Walls and saw the huge towers and stone steps. I then came ended up near Chapel Bridge and went to Rail City again. I went behind it and mailed some post-cards back home (after having to buy new stamps -- they don't use U.K. stamps in Switzerland! Who knew!), and after a while more of walking I headed back to the hotel.
The night had gotten chilly by the time I got back (as it often does in the mountains) and I heard some of the tour-members discussing taking a late night tram up the mountain-side. They asked me if I wanted to go, but I declined. Instead, I toured around our very spooky hotel and took pictures of the jail corridors and old prison artifacts.
Dia and Kie (another Japanese group member) are in the cell with me and are planning their trip around Paris tomorrow. It seems strange how fast this trip has gone. I had lots of fun and I really don't want it to end so soon. Paris is our final stop.
Well, journal, it's time to sleep. 5:30 comes early tomorrow. Goodnight. See you in the City of Lights!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.
They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.
After a long, dark, frigid winter, Canadians love the few months of summer we get every year. Once the snow melts and the mud dries, we are out hiking, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, climbing and exploring this wonderful country of ours.
Of all the provinces to explore, Alberta ranks at the top of many adventurers' list. From hoodoos to waterfalls, mountains to valleys, deserts to tundra and everything in-between, Alberta offers any outdoorsman the perfect place to embrace nature.