Saturday, June 9, 2007

Second Day in Switzerland


I was roused from my deep slumber with the most annoying noise ever.


My stupid laptop! Apparently, I managed to fall asleep without plugging in my laptop. I darted over and plugged it in to my make-shift universal plug to stop the noise. 2:21 AM. Dangit. I'm wide awake now. I immediately went back to bed and stared at the ceiling for a while.

I eventually got back to sleep, but was awoken at about 0430 by a bar-fight that broke out below my hotel room. Or maybe it was just an argument. Since I don't know French, maybe it was just a heated discussion about the best football team. I wished I knew French so I could hear what they were arguing about. The volume made me regret that my window was wide open. I tried to get back to sleep, but it didn't happen.

I showered and got dressed, and started catching up on e-mail. It was just past bed-time for the US, so I just missed Stacy. I decided to do some mundane work for the flying club -- getting all of the flights for the past 6 months inserted into the flight log database. That should have gotten me to sleep for sure, but -- No.

It was 6:30, and tummy started telling me that it's time for food. I wandered around downstairs to find that nothing's open yet. I returned to my room to pout. At 0700, promptly I went to the complimentary breakfast.

Oh was this wonderful! I never have had Frosted Flakes that were so tasty. It's not that the Frosted Flakes were especially delicious, but because i put the only sort of white liquid that was available, and it wasn't the typical soy milk that I'm used to. I was confronted with a blast of sweet creaminess, the soft delicious taste of full cream. A typical European thing is to also have cold-cuts for breakfast. I was rather suspicious about the four different varieties of things from which my kids would surely flee in terror. With each of these strange meats, I was same with the same fatty deliciousness that I experienced with the dairy cream on the Frosted Flakes.

I tried some of the local cheeses for breakfast (another European thing), and found myself really enjoying the croissant. I experimented with one of the small yogurts, enticed by the beautiful peach on the packaging. As I savored each spoon-full, I read through the ingredients, only to be horrified that there were hazelnuts in this yogurt. Hazelnuts?!? Barbarians!

I enjoyed the very strong coffee, and prepared for my journey to Bern. I did not eat much more than a usual, but I was certainly satisfied.

Yesterday, as you know, I flew into Bern Flughafen. So now I am quite familiar with the procedure for how to use the trains to get to the airport. I am also familiar that the Belp Bahnhof is not directly next to the Belp Flughafen (The train station, and airport, respectively). Upon arrival at Belp Bahnhof, I realized that the bus schedule showed the next bus arriving 45 minutes from my arrival. I look at the map, decide it can't be that bad of a walk, and head off on foot.

As I'm walking, I was wishing I had a bike. I was "turbo-walking" as I usually do, and passed some slow natives strolling the sidewalks. I stopped at a grocery store to buy a liter bottle of water. The fellow at the cash register was speaking to me, but not in a language that I understood. (more on this in a moment).

I found my way to the glider operation, and followed somebody onto the airport grounds. I immediately found the duty officers, and promptly introduced myself, (In German). Their ears perked up when I noted that I was a flight instructor in America, and relocating to Fribourg, and I was immediately introduced to the club president, Ed.

Ed bragged that he didn't speak English, so we continued our conversation in German. He has a very thick Swiss accent, but he managed to use only Hochdeutsch when speaking with me. I think I comprehended about 70% of what he was talking about. This isn't bad, especially considering that I have not spoken German for more than 3 sentences at a time for almost 17 years. (ya, really). Also not bad considering that I never knew any German airspace or aviation terms when I was originally learning German.

After explaining to me the recent changes in the airspace around the airport, and how the glider operation now had to contact the control tower for landing and takeoff permissions, I asked to see an airspace map of Switzerland. Given that there are so many chunks of airspace that are un-flyable by gliders, I remarked that the airspace looked like "Swiss Cheese"

He did not get the joke. Maybe it was my delivery. Maybe the Swiss are tired of all the cheese jokes (and along with it, all the jokes about trains running on time, pocket knives and watches). Maybe they don't call it Swiss Cheese. I don't know. But I'm making a mental note that the Swiss don't get Swiss Cheese jokes. I will certainly reserve the pocket knife jokes for maximum comedic effect, i.e. when some fellow Americans are around.

I was introduced to the other Ex-pat in the club, Sandra, a Canadian who has been living in Bern for 19 years. I spoke, and Sandra spoke, and Ed remarked, "Well, they sound exactly alike!" making fun of mine and Sandra's North American accents. To be honest, Sandra had vastly superior German speaking skills, especially when speaking the local dialect.

I was warned that Swiss German was difficult to understand. "Yeah, yeah" I always thought. "It'll be like listening to somebody with a really thick Scottish or Texan accent. I'll be able to manage."


It is really not fair to describe Swiss German as German at all. I'm not sure why they call it German. Here is the scenario: I'm talking with one of the natives about any random subject. My comprehension rate is hovering somewhere between 80 and 90%. The conversation now includes a third person, a local, who does not yet know about my American-ness, or my unable-to-understand-Swytszedootch-ness. The local with whom I'm speaking, turns his head to speak to the third party who just joined the conversation. He begins making German-like sounds. My comprehension level drops to 3 or 4% immediately.

I really was not prepared for this. I was warned, but I doubted. Now I believe. If you don't know German, the only way I can describe it is like this: Pretend you are watching a bunch of kids playing guns in the back yard. They are re-enacting WWII, just like all the war movies they've seen. The kids who play the German side make German-like noises. A native German speaker would come into this observation, and realize the children were making German-like sounds, but they had no meaning, and were nothing more than gibberish.

Never before have I been faced with such simultaneous disappointment and triumph at my German speaking skills. I fared terribly when listening in on the locals talking to each other, and I think I did a really good job in the one-on-one conversations. I also realized that I should have read the sailplane terms in German pages first.

Today had a special flight operation going on. Annually, they get a bunch of kids glider flights for a modest fee, hoping to rope them into a new hobby. So this meant that there were lots of 14 and 15 year olds who were using up the gliders and instructors. So I ended up waiting all day to fly. In the time that I waited, I talked to a lot of the people in the club, which is as important a part in the gliding experience, as manipulating stick and rudder.

I met Ruth, who was a relocation consultant, located in the city of Basel. She spoke English to me the whole time (and I didn't mind people speaking to me in German). She gave me lots of advice that would normally be charged at a hundred Francs per hour. I asked her lots of questions, and she gave me lots of stories about subjects that I would never expect. I asked her questions like, "What are these signs on all the buildings, with a big capital "T" diagram?" She had no idea what I was talking about. (See picture to the right. Do you know?!)

I finally got to fly with Kurt, and we went to 1000 meters (about 3000') in the Duo Discus. Flying the Discus is quite easy, I had no problems staying behind the towplane. The bank is a little slower than the ASK that I'm used to, but I didn't seem to have much problem. This Duo Discus was equipped with a FLARM -- a device used to make sailplane-to-sailplane collisions alerted in the cockpit. There was also a Cambridge navigation device.

We flew over the very large hill near the airport. The glider group has this special airspace carved out for them, called "Lima Bravo", which allows them great freedom to roam within the class uh.. I guess it's class "D" airspace next to the airport. It's quite convenient, because the hill is just about the altitude where a glider pilot is reminded that it's time for him to go home. Once the trees start to brush up on the underside of the aircraft's fuselage, they know it's time to make their way to the pattern. In such a circumstance, it is important to call the airport first and get permission to land.

The terrain around the area can not accurately be described by Google Maps, so I will ask you to take a look at an oblique view of the area with Google Earth. (click to get a better view). the landing area, quite small, shown in red. The takeoff runway is quite long in purple. The approximate ground track for our aerotow is shown as the long purple line. The yellow line is the ground track for the landing that Kurt did.

I recorded a video while Kurt did the landing, but it is too big, and this inferior operating system of Windows makes it very hard to convert into a different, less huge format. Currently, the video is 152 megs, and Youtube only allows 100 megs maximum.

The flight was very late in the day, but quite enjoyable. In order to solo here, I'll have to get my license set up with the Swiss FAA (called BAZL), and I'll have to get really comfortable with the procedures at this airport.

I feel that the language barrier -- me not knowing their local dialect, is really going to be a burden.

They have some different procedures in their club. At the beginning of the day's operations, they have a 5 minute meeting in their clubhouse -- mandatory. At lunchtime, they have another mandatory lunch meeting. At the close of operations, they have a final meeting to ensure that all items are wrapped up. Of course, the meeting was all in the local dialect, so I had no idea what they were saying. I think I picked up 7 or 8 words in the whole briefing. :(

Here's the slide show of my flying for that day (Make sure to click on it)

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