Monday, August 30, 2021

Neuenegg, Switzerland (Ovolmaltine)


Growing up I remember drinking Ovaltine, the chocolate/malt powder you mix with milk. Then, it seem to disappear. What the heck? Back in 1904 a Swiss company (Wander AG) near Bern started making Ovomaltine. Pretty soon Ovomaltine could be found around the world. However, in the USA it was called Ovaltine. Wander was sold to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis in 1967 and in 2002 it was sold again to Associated British Foods. 

In 2007 food giant Nestle acquired the rights to Ovaltine in the USA. That's when Ovaltine seemingly slid from the public eye. Why? Food giant Nestle didn't want Ovaltine taking market share from Nesquik, its own chocolate powder drink. You can still buy Ovaltine online at Walmart and Amazon. 

So, it's a Saturday morning and I'm in Neuenegg (population 5,000) checking out the factory/headquarters of Ovomaltine. The factory dates back to 1927.
I heard there's a factory store for Ovomaltine products and was disappointed to find it closed. Ovomaltine ranks up there with the likes of Coca-Cola as one of the most recognizable brands in Switzerland. The brand extension is unbelievable. There are Ovomaltine cookies, Ovomaltine muesli bars, Ovomaltine ice cream bars (very good!), Ovomaltine drink, various Ovomaltine chocolate bars, Ovolmaltine crunchy cream spread for bread (kind of like peanut butter). Still waiting for them to come out with Ovomaltine-flavored potato chips. 
After leaving Neuenegg I mapped out some country roads to cycle through. Every village has a church and I've seen thousands of 'em. This one is unusual as there's a lookout platform below the clock (click on the photo to enlarge). Is it to watch for approaching enemies or maybe it's a wine tasting bar.  
This is a new covered bridge.
The sign says I can buy fresh milk but, doesn't that cow's head look more like a dog's head? 
Here's a colorful water fountain in Schwarzenburg, population 6,800. 
This butcher shop in Schwarzenburg doesn't want to lose customers. If the shop is closed one can buy meat & cheeses via the vending machine.
Schwarzenburg Castle date back to the 16th century. 
View of one of the many narrow valleys I cycled through.
View of medieval ramparts (walls) in Fribourg's old town area. Note the covered bridge over the river. I've posted previous blog posts on Fribourg.   
In the distance you can see Fribourg's spiffy new bridge spanning the river gorge. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Villars, Switzerland (Villars Golf Club)


Villars, with about 1,500 inhabitants, is a mid-size ski resort. 
It's market day with a butcher, fruit merchant and bakery stand holding court.
It's fun checking out the fruit and veggies and going "what the heck is that?"
Villars has an 18-hole golf course and I vaguely remember checking it out during my first visit back in 2007. I decide to revisit the course and drop by the tourist office to ask directions. The woman suggests hopping on the train as it passes right by the course and it'll be the third stop. However, when my bike and I get off the train I stand there for 10 minutes trying to figure out where to go as there's nary a road, sidewalk or pathway to be seen 
In the distance I can see what looks to be a clubhouse.
I then spot what looks like someone had taken a weed wacker and made a path so, off I go. It turns out the path takes you right pass the driving range. I swear that idiot guy hitting balls at the range saw me as a moving target and was trying to hit me. Then again, he could be like me--someone who doesn't get enough practice and hits the ball left, right and on occasion---down the middle.    
This is the clubhouse/restaurant for Villars Golf Club. Next year (2022) will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding. The starter/cashier says the golf course was originally located behind the Palace hotel in the town center but, members realized they could make a killing by selling off the valuable land for development and relocating a few miles up the mountain.    
I asked several golfers about the course and was told the front nine and back nine were completely different. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what there talking about as they point up the mountain and very steep fairways can be seen on the back nine. Two guys pass me with push golf carts and I tell them that must be quite a workout. Then again, I didn't get a good look at the carts and they could have been electric push carts.   
I ask the starter/cashier how to get to the road that'll take me back into town. He says go to the right but, then suggests another route that has "no traffic and smoother". I'm to follow the path next to the clubhouse that'll take me up past the tee off for 18th hole--"it's a 10 minute walk".  
Jeez, it was hell pushing my bike up to this spot. It took a good 20 minutes with my having to stop every 10 feet because it was so steep. This is where you tee off for the par 4 18th hole. Can you see the clubhouse way, way down to the left? To the right is the green. Don't forget you can click on any of these pictures and they will enlarge.  
A train passes by.
So, I've been doing this blog for 12 years and it's the first time I've posted a picture of me. Why am I smiling? I'm cancer free!!!  Shortly after this past Christmas in Palm Desert, California I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the colon (later changed to cancer of the appendix). Stage IV is the most advanced stage and means the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. The odds of winning this battle were not good. What got me through it? Many factors including having a positive attitude along with the thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement from family and friends. Most of all it's the result of the terrific team of doctors treating me.

A shout out from the Swiss Alps goes to Dr. Tate de Leon, family medicine (Rancho Mirage, CA), Dr. Henry Tsai, oncologist (cancer doctor), along with the nurses at Lucy Curci Cancer Center (Rancho Mirage, CA) and, Dr. Jula Veerapong, cancer surgeon, (UC San Diego Health)!

At one point I lost 40 pounds (about 18 kilos). Now, I'm back to my normal weight thanks to indulging in daily visits to patisseries and drinking Ovolmatine (available only in Switzerland). 

Coming down the mountain from the golf course I snapped this view of Villars.
Main shopping street in Villars. It looks deserted but it's not as road construction has limited access.
Boarding schools are what makes Villars known around the world. After World War ll parents starting sending their kids to safe havens for schooling. Beau Soleil, located on the main street through town, is one of four here in Villars. Beau Soleil, with around 240 students, also ranks as one of the most expensive boarding schools in the world---with a cost of $150,000 a year. 
Aiglon College, with 360 students, has a campus-like setting with 25 buildings. 
Heading down the mountain from Villars.
Passing through tiny villages one can stop and fill water bottles with delicious cold water. The date of the water fountain is usually stamped on the side. In this case: 1870. 
Another village has a long water fountain--big enough to swim a lap?
What's funny is this water fountain sits directly behind the long one in the previous photo.
Hiking is big doings. The yellow signs tell hikers how long it would take to reach a destination.
This bicycle tells I'm getting close to Aigle on the valley floor.  Aigle, with a population of 10,000, is home to the International Cycling Union, the world governing body for sports cycling. 
That castle in the distance, located amongst vineyards (click the photo to enlarge) is Aigle Castle. Built in the 12th century, the community purchased it in 1804 and until 1976 served as the local prison. 
Jeez, I find more of these bicycles displayed all around town. Had never seen these in the many times I've visited Aigle. Finally tooting their horn to let people know they're here. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Biel/Bienne, Switzerland (Swatch's drive-thru watch store)


Biel/Bienne, population 55,000, straddles the line separating the French-speaking part of Switzerland from the German-speaking. Back in 2005 the city officially changed its name to Biel/Bienne. All street names in Biel/Bienne are in two languages. The sign above reads: Water Street. In German it's Wasserstrasse and French, Route de l'Eau.
So, the reason I'm here is to check out Swatch Group's new, unusual-looking head office. It was built two years ago at a cost of several hundred million dollars and has been described as an elongated honeycomb. The 250,000 square foot building is also one of the world's largest timber structures. My first reaction: What were they thinking! During my years of travels I've seen quite a few of these honeycomb structures and they don't age well.
The right end of the structure has scaffolding all over it meaning they're doing repairs.
What happens is the color of the panes start to fade AND, rain plus the elements invariably cause black streaks running down the panes. Jeez, why didn't they consult me? 
The honeycomb structure connects to this new five-story building. Notice the wood Swiss crosses on the ceiling. Above the "lip" is the office of CEO Nick Hayek Jr., who has been the big boss since 2003 and the guy who signed off on building this place. The Swatch Group, with over $8 billion in revenues and over 36,000 employees, is the world's largest manufacturer of watches. Brands include Omega, Longines, Harry Winston, Blancpain to name a few. Though publicly-traded, the Hayek family controls more than 39% of the shares.
To the left of the new building you can see an older building--that's part of Omega's headquarters complex.  
This sign directs you to Swatch's drive-thru store. 
This is the store.
So, just like a fast-food drive-thru you pull up to the speaker.
You check out the "menu" (watches) and then place your order.
Going inside the store and I ask the cashier "are people really that lazy that they can't come inside?". She laughs and says what people usually do is come inside, check out the watches and then get back in their car and use the drive-thru to take "selfies" with their purchases". Notice on the back wall all the Big Mac-like containers. Pretty clever.  
If you collect Swatches, did you know there are Swatches that can only be bought in Switzerland? Here they are. 
On the second floor of the five-story building where Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek hangs his hat is the Swatch museum. It's free. Since its inception in 1983 Swatch has produced 9,154 distinct watches. On display here are 6,234 of 'em. 
What's with the bike? You pedal and the display case rotates.
A display of giant size Swatches.
I snapped the picture of Swatch's head office from the Swatch museum. 
This is part of Omega's museum on the third floor.
More of Omega's museum.
That's an exact replica of the Apollo Lunar Module outside Omega's headquarters.  Why? Buzz Aldrin wore a Speedmaster Omega when he stepped on the moon.