Trip to Switzerland & Italy (2011)

Ballet in the Air
Ballet in the Air, Zermatt, Switzerland

O.K., I know that I’m over a year late putting this one together — but I believe it’s worth the wait.

With the encouragement of my son Andrew and his selling to me of his older but refurbished iMac (a transaction for which he claims to have taken a substantial loss), I have endeavored to take the “joy” of viewing your parents’ travel pics to a new level. So for the 2011 trip featured in this post, when you click on the links located toward the bottom of this blog entry, you will be streaming high-quality videos of still photography with music and special effects.

For you armchair film critics: yeah, I realize that the modest home-grown videos featured throughout this blog are probably not up to the standards of someone like, say, Ken Burns.  In fact, my production values are so low that I would hate to think what might happen if the venerable documentary film maker were to get wind that I was using the “Ken Burns Effect” named after him for panning in and out of still photos.  Ken’s so touchy about these sorts of things that he’d probably throw a tantrum, yank out his beard, and most alarmingly, block PBS from re-running his series, The Civil War, during pledge weeks.  So don’t worry. . . my lips are sealed.

On the other hand, I don’t think that I’m hyping this too much by promising you that this year’s journal of our most recent trip to Europe is definitely not your grandmother’s photo album of her honeymoon with “Gramps” in the Poconos.

In fact, you should strap on you seat belt — and turn your speaker volume up — especially for the first video, during which you will be joining us for a high-altitude hike around the famed Matterhorn. Make sure that you don’t look down.

Our trip to Europe in 2011 was planned so that Suzanne and I could really stretch our legs getting in some high-altitude hikes (that is, “high altitude” for Virginians).  Therefore, the presentation features photography of the Swiss Alps around Zermatt and the region of the Italian Alps known as the Dolomites.  Prior to reaching Zermatt, we made a brief stopover in Lausanne, a French-speaking city serving as one of the historic centers of Reformed Protestantism in the 16th Century and the present host-city of the International Olympic Committee.  We also managed to visit some of the wonderful lowland sights of northeast Italy — such as Venice and Verona — between our more extended stays at our two Alpine destinations.

Here’s a welcome note to those of you whose excuse for not being impressed by a lot of background detail is that you got your only exposure to history from your off-season high school coach (re: my comments on the historically challenged in my first blog entry, Trip to the Aegean (2008)):

  • Hooray!  You will be relieved to know that I have provided relatively scant information in the way of historical context in this three-part video.

But gee. . . . you know that I can’t help myself from providing just a few historical observations.

So. . . . class. . . . it’s time to get out those spiral notebooks with pictures of the Beatles on the cover (or maybe it’s the Bieber now) — before we head over to the gym for some volleyball.


First, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Switzerland (the first stop on our journey) has been a stable, independent republic for a very long time, although its present geographic territory wasn’t fixed until 1848. Based initially upon a defensive alliance beginning with the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1291, the nation grew into a multi-lingual nation-state by the 19th Century with a Federated system of power-sharing between the various cantons (provinces) and the central government. One afternoon, while enjoying some lunch with a Swiss couple in a mountain-side restaurant, Suzanne and I learned that Switzerland would be celebrating its “National Day” the following day, which was August 1st. Our table mates laughed as I congratulated them on their holiday and asked how long Switzerland had been independent. They protested in typically good-natured Swiss fashion: “That’s unfair. Everyone knows about your 1776; but we’re not certain about ours. It was probably sometime during the Middle Ages, right?” In any event, Switzerland continues to be a stable and wealthy country, although with an extremely high cost of living. It definitely bears further examination to fully grasp why the Swiss continue to be so successful.


Second, many of you have already visited the fabulous international heritage site of Venice, Italy (our second major stop); so there is little that I, as a humble graduate of Venice High School in California (“Go, Go, Gondoliers!”), can add to the general knowledge of the place. However, the one major point that jumped out at me as Suzanne and I wandered through labyrinthine passages, visited museums, and rode the Vaporetto water transports was that the wealth of this water-borne city-state, which created its many splendors during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, was generated as a direct result of the nature of the republic’s governmental structure and sense of national purpose. The Venetian state, as I briefly note in the presentation, was the most stable and long-lived republic in history. While it was clearly an unequal representative democracy, with only the members of the top 200 or so families enfranchised to participate in the highest levels of the body politic, the fairly lean Venetian form of government, for over 1,000 years, tended to get its priorities straight: the business of the state was to promote commerce, and commercial success was linked to maritime power. Sure, there was some downside to the Venetians’ fixation on maintaining commercial superiority: they exploited the Crusades and the decline of the Byzantine Empire; and they punished their highly skilled artisans severely, such as the glassmakers of Murano, for divulging the technological secrets of their factories.  However, most strata of society, for a number of centuries, benefitted greatly from the stable government and its emphasis on commerce.  Even the Jews, many of them having been expelled from Spain in 1492, found safe haven in Venice and thrived under the system.  Arguably, this Most Serene Venetian Republic (as it was officially called) was the most salient example in world history where so-called “trickle-down economics” seemed to work.

The Dolomites

My final historical observation concerns the spectacularly beautiful region of northeastern Italy, known as the Dolomites — the last stop on our European journey during the summer of 2011. While the entire region has been an integral part of Italy since the Treaty of Versailles broke up the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, for most of its history, the valleys and towns of the Dolomites have been controlled by different political entities. Up until the time it was dismantled by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Venetian republic dominated the southern third of the Dolomites, and the Austrians ruled the northern part until the end of WWI. The remaining areas fell under the suzerainty of lesser principalities, until Italy became a united nation in the 19th Century. Thus, even today, one can hear three distinct languages spoken in the various parts of the Dolomites. German is typically spoken in the northern part (the region known as the “Sudtirol”), and Italian continues to dominate in the southern area around Cortina d’Ampezzo (where we had our lodgings). A third language — Ladin (apparently resembling modern Romanian) — is still spoken by about 30,000 Italian nationals living in five small valleys scattered throughout the Dolomites. While the entire region is rather upscale in nature (due to its popularity among Europeans as a year-around outdoor destination), we momentarily thought that we had overshot one brief leg of our journey and had crossed the border into Austria (“The hills are alive…ah…ah…ah”), as we entered the pristine German-speaking town of San Cassiano while descending from one Alpine pass.  Although we were still well inside Italy, the town resembled a quaint Austrian village.  Even the cops writing parking tickets wore Germanic-looking uniforms.  (Luckily we were able to evade their Teutonic diligence.)  But we loved the entire region – both the Italian-speaking and German-speaking parts.  Suzanne and I both gave the Dolomites our top vote for a return visit with the entire family.

Blah, blah, blog — Time to see the movies!

The total running time for the entire album is about 35 minutes; however, you’ll need to view it (at your leisure, of course) in three segments.

NOTE:  The videos in this blog are for non-commercial, ad-free private viewing by our family and friends. They are not for broadcast.  If you have not been invited to view them, kindly honor this policy.  The rest of this blog is available for viewing by the general public.  Contact me via “Leave a Reply” below, if you have any comments or questions.

Click on the following links when you are ready to view the videos.  Don’t be afraid to turn up your speakers or headphones.  If you want to view a particular scene a little longer, just click on the pause button.  If you experience buffering, either hit the pause button (and count backwards from 99) or back out of the site and re-click on the link on this page.  Most of you are veteran web-surfers; so you know what to do.

If buffering becomes excessive or your media viewer can’t play or interrupts the video, click on Difficulty Viewing Videos? at the very top right of this page.

Enjoy your journey!

– Bruce

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