Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Angelico Austrian Adventure - so long, farewell, auf widersehen, goodbye

We headed downstairs for breakfast for the last time. I've noticed breakfast music is quite different over here. In Australia we usually hear slow jazz with a lot of brass and no beat, which makes people drag their eyelids open and linger over their coffee. Everywhere we've been so far in Europe has played march music with a distinct rhythm to it, which makes people chew their food and then get up and do stuff.

On that (musical) note, a word about in-store and background music in general. As you know, in-store music sits close to Midga's heart, as it represents his biggest victory over the bureaucracy. He started a thread on the Officeworks discussion forum saying how much the Christmas music sucks and offering to record some which people would flock to the store to listen to. All the other stores jumped in and agreed, someone from head office saw it, and that year there was no dreary Christmas music in stores.

Anyway, in-store music over here, mysteriously, tends to be stuff we know - American pop songs from all eras, sung in English. I get the point that most people over here speak English so it's not a problem, but they have plenty of great music of their own, why do they have to get fobbed off with second-rate American junk like James Hacker was?

After breakfast we had some time to kill before we were due to be joined by Midga's Swiss relos - they aren't actually Swiss but they live there. So we took the bummelbahn to the next village along and took the cable car up the mountain - just for fun, and for the photo op too.

Cable car tech is cool. They manage the difference in speed between cruise and boarding by having the cars drop off the cable and into a rack which moves at a crawling speed. The rack also has a trip mechanism which unlocks the doors (and locks them again just before transitioning the car onto the cable). It's a fairly flexible system, cars can be added or taken off as required (we saw spare cars stabled at the winding station). The traction comes from a 25kV plant in the winding house, and the place is full of hefty cables delivering RICH CHUNKY VOLTS to some fairly solid looking steelwork. The stanchions are passive, they have enough roller wheels to allow the cable to change angle if necessary, but don't add any power. The grip mechanism on the cars has to fit into the groove on the wheels, obviously.

The most distinctive feature of the cable car as a mode of transport is that it's not really DDA compliant. Since the car keeps moving (at a crawl) anyone who's really unsteady on their pins will have trouble getting in and out. Ditto wheelchairs. Depending on the exact method of taking cars on and off, I can conceive a system where people get onto a stabled car, which is then swapped for a car that was running. That should fix the DDA issues, leaving the cable car as a very useful option to have in a transport planner's arsenal. It provides a 20 second service frequency, is fairly straightforward to scale up (by adding cars until the winding house draws more power than the grid can provide, or the science of metallurgy can't provide steel cables that will take the weight), and operates at quite a reasonable speed. It's also got a very small land footprint while being independent of road traffic. Unfortunately I suspect capital and maintenance costs might be a bit higher than for some other vehicle types, but staffing costs are minimal.

The views from the car on the trip up the mountain were amazing. Since the car travels in a (nearly) straight line from staunchion to staunchion, the height above ground level varied considerably. Sometimes we were close enough to see every flower, other times we were above the tops of the trees. Some of the staunchions were pretty tall too, and what was funny to Australian eyes was that the maintenance access ladders weren't guarded with razor wire, and didn't have cages around them. Mountain people are just sensible, I guess.

We got out of the cable car about 20 seconds after the last bummelbahn which would get us to our hotel in time to meet the relos. So we checked out the regular bus timetable, which is also an hourly service. It would get us there just in time, and we had 40 minutes to wait. So we decided to visit the wood museum.

It would have been fascinating for someone who could understand German - as well as the wood carving full scale models of all sorts of things, there were videos showing every stage of the process (including growing the wood). Somewhat cheekily they charged us an extra euro on our admission fee for the privilege of taking photos.

Unpainted timber features heavily as a building material in the mountains. After all, there are plenty of trees there, and they're tall and as straight as a laser beam. The timber look, combined with the planter boxes full of flowers, makes the houses look beautiful despite being practically identical. It's time timber made a comeback as a building material, and oil made a comeback as a method of treatment instead of paint.

We got to the bus stop in good time, and the bus turned up at the exact minute the timetable promised. Nice. EUR2.80 took us to the hotel (it's a zone system, according to the metadata on the ticket), on a nicely padded seat in a very quiet bus. It was a high floor with two doors, and had luggage racks. The "Next stop" buttons were in English!

The relos were there when we arrived, and the humans started nattering away nineteen to the dozen. After a huge lunch (after which a doggie bag was required) they took another cable car up to the top of the hill in the village. Uncle Willem looks at the way mechanical things work, same as Midga and I do, so he was able to tell us a few things we hadn't been able to glean from a good long look at the works. It was great to have someone to geek out with.

From the top of the hill we had a complete view all the way round (just like the idiot whose wife used Lumps) and spent quite a bit of time just strolling around taking in the views. The paragliders were taking off from a cafe near the top station of the cable car run, so Midga and Uncle Willem watched them take off and examined the aerodynamics of every stage of the flight. Luckily for the girls it started to rain or we might have been up there all day. We took shelter in the cable car, and by the time we got back down the rain had given up. We kept chatting until it was time for them to head home (they had a four hour drive ahead of them) - or rather, until they'd said it was time, continued the conversation, said it was really time, stood up, had another conversation as an afterthought, said goodbye, given messages to all the family for relaying when we get home, explained their plans for their next visit to Australia, and said goodbye again. Ah, family.

Then it was just a waiting game. We watched our host receive another bus load of guests, not nearly as well behaved as us - petty, demanding and not all that polite. Maybe that's why when we all got on board our bus he came aboard to thank us and wish us a pleasant journey. Thank you, Harfenwirt.

From there it was a marathon of driving, Spencer's humour (until he decided it was late enough to turn off the lights and let the human passengers sleep), breaks every two or three hours, and reading Verity Stob. Midga didn't sleep much, which meant my battery got a workout. Luckily we've found power here at Calais where we're waiting for our connecting bus to London.

The next post will probably involve some tube trains. How exciting!

1 comment:

Chris Angelico said...

"Tall and straight as..." - I was somehow expecting you to break into Ruddigore...