Changing Trains

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Vevey Lake Geneva

All summer it had been raining in Switzerland and only when I arrived in Zürich did the clouds break and the sun come out in full force. The morning I took the train from Zürich, heading west to Luzern, rain blanketed the landscape once more. With the rain the northern summer chill so reminiscent of my younger days in Germany also made itself felt, and for the first time since my arrival I felt I had returned to a familiar Europe.

I spent the hours on the train between Zürich and Luzern with my face pressed against the window pane, drinking in the green landscape. It was still hard to believe I was actually in Switzerland. Looking out at the gentle rolling hills, without a mountain in sight, preconceptions of what Switzerland actually was slipped away with each passing kilometer. The country actually had flat regions, where you could drive your tractor and set holstein cows grazing.

Luzern Bridge Couples

Of all the cities in Switzerland Luzern was where I hoped to discover the romance of a Swiss lake. In spite of the rain, the colorful banners of the Luzern Festival and the flags of the city and the aluminum and glass structures of the train and bus stations, coupled with a seamless merging of ancient stone clock towers and churches and low-cut, modern office buildings made the entrance into the city seem weightless and cheerful. I stopped by the tourist office and though there was a long line of travelers waiting to get information, the tourist information officer smiled when she looked up and seemed to take a liking to me, for she went way beyond simply telling me where the youth hostel was located, going into deep detail about the history of the city walls, the timing of the bells of the old city belfries, the memorial of the Swiss Roman guards who had died protecting Caesar, even the significance of the faded Dance of Death paintings by Kaspar Meglinger on the Spreuer Bridge spanning the lower half of the city’s portion of the river. When I voiced concern about all the people waiting behind me she waved her hand in dismissal, “They always ask the same questions!” She went on to explain that she had been born in Switzerland, but had grown up in California, on a vineyard. She also told me her last name, which was Dutch, and at my raised eyebrows, she shrugged, “My ex. What can you do? I figured that it was silly to break up on bad terms; after all we had loved each other at first! So I decided to keep the name.” We must have been standing there for twenty minutes, gabbing. I felt like Luzern had welcomed me with open arms, though the eyes burning into my back said otherwise.

Luzern Waterfront 1

After leaving my pack at the youth hostel just on the edge of town, I took the street car back downtown and spent the rest of the afternoon strolling about in the heavy rain. Students from all over the world wandered the streets, mostly in big groups, all taking photographs of the famous sights, especially the KapelleBrücke, a long, wooden covered bridge that spanned the wide Reuss River. From what the woman at the tourist office had told me the bridge had burned down several years ago, due to a careless smoker. Walking across the newly rennovated version now, I stopped every so often to stare at the thousands of names and messages scribbled in Hangul onto the wood by Korean tourists.

Luzern Arbor

Luzern Water Tower

Luzern Couple

The rain got too heavy to walk out in the open so I retreated to the market streets and hugged the storefronts to escape the downpour. Couples raced by, hiding under umbrellas and jackets, to disappear in coffee shops and clothing stores. I bought a hot pretzel at one vendor and stood nibbling at it under an awning while watching the water stream down over the cobblestones.

Luzern Bakery

Luzern Cheese

People often think that when it rains photographs no longer exhibit beauty, perhaps equating the dampness of the rain and the greyness of the skies with lack of color. But in the rain colors come alive where before there was just a dull stone face or strong shadows. When the water glistens on the surface of leaves or street lights reflect their neon colors in the puddles, rain can enhance the effect, pulling your eyes away from the stereotypical sunny skies to the ground or to hidden corners.

Luzern Sparrows

Luzern Duck 1

Luzern Duck 2

The romance of the lake came in the most unexpected way. I was just returning to the youth hostel, and had stepped off the street car, when two Korean university students stepped off behind me. They looked lost so I approached them and asked if they were looking for the youth hostel. We hit it off, and walking back to the hostel, we began to talk about our travels. The conversation never stopped. Khang and Yunho asked me to join them for dinner and when that still didn’t give us enough time to get to know each other we all took the street car back downtown to take a walk around the area I had wandered in all day. I felt like a university student again as we joked about, talking about girls, about dreams, about new places to travel to. We arrived at the edge of Lake Luzern and like a sea it spread out in the darkness as far as we could see. Boat and port lights, mixed with the squiggly strands of street lights, wavered on the dark water, while on every bollard at the edge of the lake couples held each other in the rain. Yunho, the youngest of us and out on his first trip outside Korea, sprinted to the edge of the lake and threw his hands in the air, shouting… and reflecting the feelings of Khang and me… “I LOVE LUZERN! I LOVE SWITZERLAND!” Then he ran back to me, his smile beaming from ear to ear, and asked in earnest, “Isn’t it romantic Miguel? Isn’t it romantic! Oh, Miguel, it is so beautiful!

Lake Geneva Sailing

Still floating on these words I woke at dawn the next morning and took the train west again, for Chamonix, France, the doorway to my mountain dreams.

Martigny Rain

17 Responses

  1. I very much like the selective desaturation in these images.

  2. What lovely cool, grey pictures. For some reason, I’m particularly taken with the whimsical one of the duck.

  3. I love how the feather patterns on the sparrows are echoed in the fanned-out cobblestones of the photo below them.

    :)

  4. Hey Miguel,
    What lens / body combinations are you using there? I’m looking for a wide to standard lens right now and I liked the perspective in say, that last photo, for instance.

    Perrin

  5. Beautiful, beautiful photos again, Butuki! And your story is very infectious – I’m excited and smiling at the picture of the three of you by Lake Luzern. How wonderful to experience and share that kind of joy with strangers.

  6. Pascale, these kinds of images seem to draw me lately. For some reason they reflect more of what I am feeling than the usual, brightly colored images.

    Rana, when I saw the duck’s head pop up from behind the stair I burst out laughing, almost scaring the poor duck away. No one disturbed that little corner by the river very often, I take it.

    Pica, of all the comments you have ever made this is the only one that I’m afraid I don’t quite understand. I looked at the enlarged versions of the two photos you mentioned, but can’t find the feather patterns. I also don’t think I’m at all that conscious of the patterns in the arrangement of the photos, mostly it is just done because it “looks right” or because it seems to fit what I am writing.

    Perrin, I use a Nikon D70s body with a Nikkor 18-200mm VR zoom lens (“VR” means “vibration reduction”). It is the first lens I bought designed specifically for a digital SLR. So the “18-200mm” here means “28-300mm” in 35mm SLR terms, a very good range, though I much prefer 24mm for a wide angle lens. I also tend to prefer fixed-focal length lenses over zooms, but since I wanted to travel as lightly as possible and didn’t want to lug around and fiddle with a whole lot of camera equipment I decided to go this way. A compact digicam would have been nice weight and bulk-wise, but they are too slow to start up, focus too slowly, have a bad battery life (my SLR ran on the same battery all summer long, for several thousand photos), and the focal lengths of lenses, both in the wide range and telephoto range, are usually too shallow one way or the other. And I wanted more control over the photos. So I decided to bear the weight of my DSLR and use just one lens on it. The Nikkor 18-200 VR lens is one of the best lenses I’ve ever used. For its range it is one of the lightest and most compact. It focuses very quickly and silently. There is little distortion or vignetting at the edges of the picture, except when out at 200mm. And the VR feature makes taking photos in low light without a tripod a joy. I could never have taken most of the photos above in those lighting conditions without the VR feature. Wait till you see some of the night shots of the mountains coming up! My only two complaints about the lens is that when carried hanging downward the barrel creeps, a very disappointing problem for such an expensive lens. My Tamron 24-200 has a lock that prevents this and I can’t understand why Nikon can’t seem to think of this. Many people complain about this lens’ creep. The other thing I don’t like is the 28mm wide angle limit. 28mm is better than the usual 35mm, but not wide enough to get the full effect of a landscape. I sometimes like to get close to a subject and let the wide angle distort its size compared to the background, creating a proportional effect, but 28mm isn’t quite wide enough to do it right. Also, the Nikkor VR lenses are very expensive. Olympus has it right in placing the vibration reduction mechanism inside the camera body. That makes for much cheaper lenses. Still, I am very happy with this lens. For the kind of photography I usually do it is all I need. I do want to take more animal shots, though, so eventually I’m going to need to get proper telephoto and macro lenses.

    Marja-Leena, That evening with those two Korean kids was one of the best I’ve ever had in my travels. It was the kind of encounter that you dream about when planning a journey. It doesn’t often come about, but when it does, it’s magic.

  7. Miguel, may I know what post-processing techniques you use on images like the sailing boat. I’ve been playing with rescuing cheap phone-camera images by turning contrast, sharpening and saturation way up, and the results, while much inferior to your work, are superficially at least similar.

    My wife’s father is Swiss, and we’ve twice now had a couple of glorious weeks, mostly in Geneva and Interlaken. Just wonderful.

  8. Oh gosh, sorry to be dense. The sparrow on the left, primary coverts fan out like the cobblestones in the photo below it.

    (They’re just pointing in the same direction. It doesn’t mean anything. It was just an echo I caught.)

  9. Hi Andrew, I use PhotoShop to work on the photos. The processing is pretty straightforward. First I save the original JPEG image as a Photoshop file so that I can work on it without losing file information (I’d save it as TIFF, but with 850 shots this time, I just don’t have the hard drive memory for all my thousands of photos). Next I crop the image at the original size, before resizing the image to the size I’d like it on the blog site. Then I evaluate what I want to do with the image, usually first adjusting the levels to get the desired brigthness and contrast. Most images end up needing to be brightened a bit. However, this often restults in the saturation increasing, and so I then go to the saturation adjustment to lower the strength of the colors. I usually prefer images to be understated, in the case of the photos here being brought down by up to 85%. From here I determine whether to change the image’s general hue, and usually when the saturation is close to black and white it needs some adjusting to make it resemble the more silvery effect of print photos. I go to the color adjustment tool and work on the balance of different colors to get it just right. For the sailing photo I raised the blue and cyan levels, and lowered the green levels. The photo was actually supposed to be more gun metal colored, but I realized after I was done using my old monitor that the monitor had yellowed out quite a lot and so the final image was a lot more blue than it was supposed to be. Next I sharpened the image using the techniques that I describe in my sharpening tutorial. The photo still lacked something though. I played around with a number of the filters, such as the Gaussian blur and the distortion filter, when I came across the diffuse glow filter, which I had never used before. It gives a sandy effect and softened the overly photorealistic effect of the original image, which didn’t reflect the feeling of the moment when I saw the scene. Exactly what I wanted.

  10. Miguel, I’m much obliged for that. My wife is a wedding photographer and I set up her workflow, thus I am acquainted with Photoshop. But she does all the editing — I stopped at levels and curves — so I don’t know how one achieves various effects.

    If your budget permits, do have a look at Lightroom. It doesn’t replace Photoshop for editing, but for viewing, classifying, processing it’s brilliant. It’s taken hours off the time my wife requires to go through a set of wedding images.

    I love that grainy look and the almost monochromatic glow of the image. In the past I wanted to see images more in line with the f/64 philosophy, but now I respond to grainy, colourful, almost abstract images.

  11. Great photos all, and I enjoyed the discussion of Photoshop techniques above (pretty much the same as my own approach, though I am much less sophisticated on the camera side of things). But I’ll have to agree with Rana: the first duck photo takes the prize!

  12. By the way, I don’t know if you subscribe to your own feed, but this post appeared five different times: evidently every time you publish an edit, the damn thing re-pings.

  13. Dave, sorry about that. Not quite sure how it happened. I recently subsribed to FeedBurner and that might be where the problem comes from. I think I might just go back to my original set up abd stop using FeedBurner.

  14. That’s one of the coolest things of travelling on your own: you’re much more open to contact with other travellers (or locals) and the contact tends to be much deeper, intense than it would be if you’re with a partner. Good for you! And your photo’s.. love them. Totally agree with your statement that rain photography can be as interesting or more so than good-weather photos, the green water and duck photo. I want to be there in the rain when I look at it.
    And Miguel, thanks for responding so detailed to the camera and lenses question -I’m in the process of choosing my first DSLR camera and lens and every bit of info helps.

  15. Amazing story!!

  16. Wonderful post. Thank you!

  17. Wow, I want to go there! And I love the picture of the sparrows — they’re so cuppable. :)

    Will you be heading towards the UK, too?

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