Friday 11 February 2022
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Feeling slightly guilty about the ease of travelin Europe and having looked up on line that there were no Covid restrictions preventing us from traveling to Switzerland, we set off by car at noon for the city of Thun. With people being responsible and using easily available RAT tests to monitor Covid, and self isolating as required, business continues with minimal interruption. The driving in Europe is pretty easy, especially in France with good quality toll roads, and we sped along at 130kph reaching the Swiss boarder at Geneva in around 4 hours, passing Orange, Lyon and Grenoble. At the border we were pulled to one side to purchase a road toll pass for 40E, which is valid for the year. Just out of Geneva heading up the east side of the lake the traffic came to a standstill, the GPS telling us it was going to be 55 minutes to cover 5kms. After 15 minutes or so we were directed to turn off to the left and headed up a narrow winding road which we followed for about 15 minutes before heading back onto the motorway, having bypassed the traffic jam. The motorways here are great too with a speed limit of 120kph. With a great view of the alps across the lake we continued northeast heading up into the hills towards Bern.
Passing Bern we headed southwest, arriving at Thun around 7pm. Checking into the Seepark Hotel on the lake front we headed into the restaurant where we enjoyed a Michelin star dinner before turning in for the night.
Saturday 12 February 2022.
After a late breakfast we took a stroll around the waterfront into the town centre, built around the canals that run through the town and passing the old Scholoss Schandu (Castle Hotel), built in the 1800s. Not far down the canal we boarded the Schiffahrt for a cruise of Lake Thunersee. Heading a short distance up the canal we were soon out on the lake.
The scenery on the lake is up there with one of the most picturesque boat tours I have ever done; up there with a trip on the Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu in the South Island of New Zealand. We managed to secure a table on the top deck and enjoy a leisurely long lunch as the boat made its way up the left side of the lake, stopping at many picturesque towns to drop off and pick up passengers. There is a real mix of the old and the new including large mansions from the 1800s intermingled with the more modern chalets and houses grouped together and spread out over the hillsides. About half way up the lake the boat started to criss cross its way up the lake calling in on villages on each side. Mountains run up the right (west) side of the lake, all spectacular and of different shapes. Just about all have a building or mast on top. Some houses are perched in places that look impossible to access.
I decided to get adventurist and try out a local cheese dish (raclette). A little burner was placed on the table powered by some candles, the idea being to melt the cheese and drizzle it over the potatoes that came with the dish. Not quite enough heat made it a long, slow process, by the end of which I was a little cheesed out.
Many houses along the way had boat sheds alongside or underneath with the boats conveniently all raised above the water on a hoist.
A road runs along side the lake sometimes heading up into the steep cliffs and cantilevered out over them with many narrow tunnels carved into the solid rock.
Reaching the top of the lake we headed into a canal that took us into the town of Interlaken where people take the train to head up to the many ski fields in the area. The sky above the town was full of Paraponts with their pilots dangling below them as they glided through the very calm and clear skies.
There we waited a few minutes while people disembarked and boarded before starting back down the lake.
There is a canal that links with Brenzersee, a second lake, and during the summer they extend the cruise to include that lake too. It was great to see the landscape from the other side as we headed back down the lake getting a double dose of the scenery. The odd boat was on the lake fishing for Northern pike and trout. As we looked back up the lake towards the end of the journey we had great views of the three great mountains this region is famous for; the Eiger (left), Munch, and Jungfrau. There is a railway line that runs under the summit of Munch to take passengers to the Jungfraujoch, a restaurant and observation area including an ice tunnel through the glacier, that Sylvia had visited back in 2001. It is situated in the saddle between Minch and Jungfrau. At night from the hotel one can see lights up there.
Disembarking we took a stroll through the town passing over the wooden bridge, that contains the old the wooden weir that controls the outflow of the lake, to the local castle, also now a hotel, built around 1200AD. Some nice young tourists from Albania asked that we take a couple of photos of them to which we obliged.
On the way back to the hotel we passed the thousand plus year old Scherzligen church with history going back to 900AD
Sunday 13 February 2022
After a relaxing morning and a late breakfast Sylvia headed off for the drive back to Nimes. Early afternoon Casca, from B&T, picked me up. We headed along the lakeside road which gave me another perspective of the stunning landscape. After passing through the narrow tunnels on the cliffs and the narrow cantilevered bridges we arrived at Interlaken where we enjoyed a yarn and a drink in a very nice cigar bar. It was again a stunning day with great views of the surrounding mountains. We then headed down the west side of the lake stopping at the village of Aeschi bei Spiez where Mark lives to enjoy a late lunch at the Chemihutte, a large busy and well-run restaurant overlooking the lake.
Casca gave me a rundown of how the village works: each household, as in most towns, contributing to the maintenance of the town and the local bomb shelter where everyone has a spot reserved. Most towns and cities in Switzerland maintain such structures. Since the mid 1800s the Swiss have been digging fortifications and shelters to protect their population from invaders. In 1882 the 15K Gotthard double track rail tunnel was completed with fortress tunnels linked to it. More tunnels and fortifications were added over many years and during WWII. This is known as the “National Redoubt” and secured the mountainous central part of Switzerland providing a defensive area for a retreating Swiss army. They also have huge underground complexes containing hospitals, nuclear shelters and more. Some have been closed over more recent times. Many are now museums. Switzerland is one of the few countries that still has national service, where people between 18 and 20 are called up to do military service. This is well supported by the population as last time the left wing pushed for a referendum to remove it 72% of those that voted wanted it maintained. People I have spoken to over that past few days that have served all believed that it gave them a good start to life, learning self-discipline, independence and much more. With reservists and regular soldiers they have an active army of some 120,000. People that object to military service do a stint working for the community such as in rest homes.
Monday 14 February 2022
Casca (Technical Support Manager Europe for B&T) picked me up from the hotel and we made the short trip to the B&T Headquarters and factory in an industrial area on the edge of town. Casca, originally from the US, has been in the gun business for many years, having worked for several of Europe’s other firearms producers. I was taken to a conference room where Casca gave me an in depth presentation on the extensive product range. This was a real insight into the prestigious side of Swiss precision engineering, attention to detail, good organisation and logistics. Today the business is 31 years old, started by company owner Karl. Starting as a mechanic and having just completed a stint in the Swiss army, he started making suppressors. Over the years the products have developed to include a range of rifles, assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, suppressors and accessories. Employing a hundred people, they maintain guns for the Swiss Army and supply guns and accessories to police and militaries world wide. They now also have a factory in the US.
Their latest product is the APC9 Pro weapon System that has a selection of lower receivers to accomodate different types of magazines. This weapon was recently adopted by the US Army as the next generation Sub Compact Weapons. Part of what won them this tender is that 15 weapons were disassembled and all the parts thrown into one box and reassembled from the mixture of parts. All the reassembled guns worked perfectly when reassembled with the mixture of parts. True precision engineering.
They make all the accessories for their guns as well as accessories and suppressors for other companies. Another innovation has been to research the ability of police to shoot, which worldwide is not too good. Even at 2 meters one has a 62% chance of being missed by a new cop.
As a result of this they have developed the universal weapon with a stock to give police a better chance of hitting a target at a longer range with less chance of hitting an innocent bystander .
The presentation included the full range of products including guns for firing less-lethal ammunition. The non lethal 40mm launcher fires a foam type projectile to incapacitate a person causing them minimum harm. A number of these have been sold to the NZ police.
After lunch I enjoyed a tour of the factory with its large number of well laid out C n’C machines. That evening Karl picked me up at my hotel and we went into town for a meal at a very nice Italian restaurant, where we we chatted about the growth of B&T over the years and the city of Thun with its low crime rate and good standard of living. I met Karl and his team at the MilPol (Military Police) show in Paris last year and they very kindly invited me to pay them a visit.
Tuesday 15 February 2022
Arriving at B&T mid morning Casca took me into one of the internal shooting ranges where I got to try out a number of their 9mm Sub Machine Guns and a couple of pistols. Over many years I have fired many sub machine guns. These ones are excellent with excellent recoil management, accuracy and trigger operation. All are fitted with Aimpoint sights making it easy to engage the target. Some I fired had suppresser fitted and some without.
Next I tried out the USW (Universal Service Weapon) with its fold out stock, which extends the pistols accuracy considerably.
Next I got to shoot the YP9 (Veterinary Pistol) Modelled off the rare Wellrod, originally made for the SOE during WWII. The VP9 is bolt action with a 5 round magazine. It is a suppressed pistol, primarily used by vets for quietly putting down wounded or sick animals in urban areas. It comes complete with a well laid out case including accessories. One of the suppressors, like the Wellrod, has rubber baffles to make it very quiet.
The range visit over, I enjoyed another lunch with Karl, Mark and a couple of others.
Next was a tour of their shop/show room with its great range of B&T firearms plus a range of outdoor clothing and products. Out the back they have 10 and 25m shooting ranges.
The visit over Casca dropped me back at the hotel passing on the way the local Tank practice range right on the edge of town. Thun has a major army training centre where most of the Swiss soldiers come at some point of their training. Swiss soldiers still take their firearms home with them where they keep it until the next training session. There is little gun crime in Switzerland.
I really enjoyed the experience of visiting B&T and enjoying the people and the opportunity to see true Swiss precision in action.
Wednesday 16 February 2022.
After an early breakfast during which I watched a young lady come down to the lake front, as she had done the day before, strip down to her bikini and go for a dip in the lake – the water was probably a little warmer than the -2 degrees showing on the local outside temperature – I strolled the short distance to the local train station. Like most of Europe there are a selection of tracks and a number of platforms. The countryside is interesting with a mixture of farmland and villages almost adjoining . A train change at Bern and soon we were underway to Geneva, heading into the mountains and then down alongside Lake Geneva arriving at the station in about 2 1/2 hours. Then a 2 1/2 hour stopover at the station in Geneva. There are no places to leave bags at stations any more so I had to hang around the train station before boarding the train to Lyon. Interestingly on the trip through Switzerland nobody came and asked for my ticket and there was no sign of any police or military. As soon as we crossed the French border police boarded with a sniffer dog and went right through the train the dog sniffing every bag. I just took my mask off to have a drink and a policeman said “put it back on as there is a €150 fine if you don’t”. For some time the line followed the Rhone River through the hills before heading out into the rolling country and arriving at Lyon. After another couple of hour break we were sure soon rolling out through the suburbs of Lyon. Interestingly, like in many places in Europe, people have planted their vegetable gardens alongside the railway line or within little fenced off plots, which look to be well cared for and maintained. Arriving at Nimes’s Pont du Gard station about 15 minutes late Sylvia was there to pick me up and we headed home for a quiet evening.
Friday we head to Paris for a couple of days as Sylvia has some meetings there, then to Sao Paulo in Brazil for 3 days, then Bogotá in Colombiaro. From there I head back to New Zealand where I’ve managed to fluke a quarantine spot. Sylvia will head back to France.