FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A small corner of England (in Meiringen)

Posted in Meiringen, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 11, 2007

At the end of a day effectively spent wandering around the perimeter of an airfield I took myself back to civilisation by train and visited the small Sherlock Holmes museum located in Meiringen’s English church. It’s rather strange to wander inside and find yourself transported to a victorian room from 221b Baker Street – and then even odder when you step back outside into Switzerland!

Arthur Conan Doyle stayed in Meiringen in the 1890s and chose the nearby Reichenbach Falls as the place that Professor Moriarty would meet his demise. I didn’t manage to make it there but from the dramatic scenery all around I can see why it would capture the imagination of the writer. Apart from the museum there is a statue of Sherlock Holmes and a ‘Conan Doyle Place’ (with a cute ‘Borough of Meiringen’ sign!).

Meiringen’s other claim to fame is that of the place that meringues were invented and today you can find a few shop’s selling endless varieties of meringues, which I didn’t entirely resist!

At the end of the day I packed up and got some sleep ahead of a morning train to Zurich and a flight back to London City.

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Gallery: Meiringen-Unterbach

Posted in Meiringen, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 11, 2007

I have never really mastered the art of aviation photography but I had some good fun getting a feel for the place and taking a few shots to remember the experience by. Maybe someday I’ll come back and give it another go with a better camera!

There are some great guides to photography at Meiringen – check out the Target Aviation – Photography website and The Scramble Guide to Meiringen.

Meiringen-Unterbach

Posted in Meiringen, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 11, 2007

The sunrise delivered a gorgeous view of a nearby mountain top highlighted with a pinkish tinge which I took as a good omen for the day ahead. I briefly considered the possibility of going up to Axalp again in the hope of getting a full show but decided that I would stick to my original plan and watch the activity around Meiringen-Unterbach airbase (not least because I didn’t like my chances of hobbling all the way up to the top!).

The walk from Meiringen to the airbase took about an hour along a rural road without any footpath – not great but certainly not the worst that I’ve ever trudged along. In retrospect it would probably have been easier to catch a train to Brienzwiler and walk from there as it only takes 15 minutes to get from the station to the end of the runway at Meiringen-Unterbach. Nevertheless, it was worth the walk.

Meiringen-Unterbach struck me as an unusual place – an airbase tucked in a narrow valley with any number of photographic possibilities to combine military hardware against the incredible alpine backdrop. The rural surroundings make this all the more remarkable – cows munch grass happily, ignoring jets taking off a few metres away!

Unterbachstrasse

I got my first sight of the runway when I turned off Hauptstrasse into Unterbachstrasse. In fact, Unterbachstrasse not only give you a good view of the runway – it crosses it! A level-crossing type arrangement is in place to stop you inadvertently straying into the path of a landing fighter jet, but when clear you can just follow the marked pedestrian crossing towards Unterbach. In the distance a waterfall completes the incredible picture.

I reached the gates to find them already down and it wasn’t long before a Northrop F-5E Tiger II crossed in front of us, heading to the end of the runway for take-off. It was great to spend a little time here watching all the activity. A short while later we were treated to a formation flypast by 8 jets and this was followed by the wonderful sight of the jets coming in to land one by one. Once this burst of activity was over I crossed the runway and experienced the view from a different angle (grabbing some shots as military personnel began their ascent to the Axalphorn by helicopter).

Mind the traffic!

In a quiet spell I took lunch at the Hotel Rossli, though my language skills let me down and I would struggle to claim that the green salad that resulted was the tastiest dish I had ever tried! Still, it kept hunger at bay…

In the afternoon, I watched the jets taxi from their caverns and take off for the display at Axalp. An incredible sight to see so close up though the sound as they took off was perhaps just a little extreme by any reckoning. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything though!

Gallery: Axalp

Posted in Axalp, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 10, 2007

Although I didn’t really get much chance to master the tricky conditions of aviation photography at Axalp I did manage to get a few shots of helicopters that captured my (shortened) experience. Maybe someday I’ll try again… or more likely, I’ll settle for checking out the incredible shots on the web!

I must recommend the incredible images of Peter Steehouwer (if anything convinced me to go to Axalp it was his set of photographs from Axalp in 2006) and the great photos/helpful guide to photography at Target Aviation Photography.

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The madness, delight and frustration of Axalp!

Posted in Axalp, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 10, 2007

I started my day way too early, setting out from the hotel with only a few hours sleep to catch the 6am train from Zürich Hauptbahnhof to Brienz (a journey of approximately two and a half hours). At Brienz I got straight onto one of the waiting Postbuses which finally got me to Axalp village for just after 9am. Already everyone could hear the practice runs taking place, building up anticipation for the full demonstration.

I queued up for the chairlift and then walked up the mountain, following a long line of spectators already making their ascent. I felt in good company for my lunacy! The climb had its moments of stunning beauty (particularly with a cloudline below us) and humour (the incongruous image of a lone port-a-loo half way up a mountain sticks in the mind!). It was a good energetic workout and I found it quite satisfying to make it to the Tschingel (one of three spectator areas).

Above the clouds

The climb

The loneliest portaloo?

The view from the Tschingel to the Ebenfluh control tower on Axalphorn

After the practice runs had finished there was time to chill, grab some food and watch the VIPs being ferried up by helicopter. Finally, after all the waiting the start time of 2pm arrived and a hush descended on the crowd which was broken only when a Super Puma Helicopter started the demonstration in stunning fashion with a delivery of flares.

It’s hard to adequately explain the experience of sitting on the Tschingel as a fighter jet flys directly over head firing at a target on the mountainside, but it is quite exhilerating. I have absolute admiration for the skill and bravery of the Swiss pilots who fly amongst the mountains, particularly in the tricky weather conditions of the day. Sadly, my skills with a camera were quite lacking and I didn’t really get any shots of note. It certainly makes me appreciate the craft of those photographers who come away with stunning shots!

The cloud was steadily creeping into the area throughout the display and flying was eventually suspended and then cancelled (at 2.45pm). It was disappointing but completely understandable – there are really are no margins for error amongst the mountaintops, particularly with all the spectators around! I was blown away by what I had seen and it had certainly lived up to expectations.

Before...

...after

I began my descent which was trickier as the crowds massed around some fairly narrow and slippery points on the path down. I managed to make it safely down and then promptly fell over on the flat ground at the bottom! Somewhat embarassed I got myself back on my feet and hobbled back to the chairlift in some pain.

The descent from the Tschingel

From Axalp village I caught a Postbus at 5pm which got me back to Brienz at 5.52pm and gave me ample time to get some food before taking the train to Meiringen (a 15 minute journey). Finally, at 6.45pm I was able to check in to my chosen hotel – the Sporthotel Sherlock Holmes for some much needed recovery time.

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The lure of Axalp

Posted in Axalp, Switzerland by folkestonejack on October 9, 2007

A while back I stumbled across a rather incredible video on youtube showing the Swiss Air Force in a demonstration at Axalp in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. I think it might have been a clip from one of the films produced by Lionel Charlet though I’m not sure, but whatever it was it got me completely hooked. It surely has to be the most amazing air show anywhere in the world, which quite incredibly takes place at the top of a mountain. In order to watch the show you have to get up there yourself…

I thought it would be easy to convince one of my friends to join me on a trip but it turned out to be quite a hard sell, so here I am on my lonesome taking an evening flight from London City to Zurich with Air France/Cityjet for possibly one of the maddest weekends of my life.

My flight is scheduled to arrive at Zurich at 22:25 and then I will have to dash to catch a train to Zurich Hardbrucke so that I can get to my hotel (the ETAP Zurich City West) for as much sleep as I can grab before a horribly early start. Hmmm, I think I can see why I failed to persuade any of my friends…

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