Sabbatical offers one plenty of time for reading, and I have been reading plenty. I’m trying to decide if reading about a place before or after a visit is better. Of course, the answer is both. It’s good to have an idea of what you want to see before you arrive, and why it is you might want to see it. However, I think it is more fun to read about a place after you’ve been so that you can picture just what it is you are reading about.
Now that we’ve been here over seven months, I got around to reading Slow Train to Switzerland by Diccon Bewes. The author of Swiss Watching (which is a great read before you move to Switzerland in order to learn more about the customs) has written about early tourism in Switzerland. Bewes writes about a group of seven Brits who take a first Conducted Tour of Switzerland in 1863. The author follows the same route using the diary of Miss Jemima, but he uses current trains and stays in different hotels (since most of the ones from the early tour no longer exist).
Between learning about the first tour, Bewes’ tour (which he takes with his mother), the reader takes in bits of Swiss history from how the train lines developed into the system they have become, to how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen as the site for the struggle to the death between Holmes and Moriarty, why Switzerland decided to go with the rest of Europe on this Daylight Savings thing (train schedules were one reason, but also because of the Swiss who like to watch German tv shows which they might miss if they are shown an hour earlier), to how the Swiss Flag came to be.
“ The square flag (one of only two square national flags in the world, the other being from Vatican City) was first used as an army flag during that short civil war of 1847, but the exact proportions of the central cross were not settled until 1889. Only the Swiss could argue for years over the tiniest detail like the dimensions of the arms on a cross. In the end it took an act of parliament to settle the argument, meaning that a proper Swiss cross has arms that are of equal length but are one sixth longer than they are wide. … As for the exact shade of scarlet, that took more than another century to decide: in 2007 it was set as Pantone 485. That’s red to you and me.” p. 156
So, with the changing forward of the clocks today, I might just have to see what’s on German tv today … (or not).