The James Bond Trail: Villa del Balbianello

We are on the James Bond trail.

First we visited The Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Next it was James Bond Island in Thailand from The Man with The Golden Gun.

Now its Villa del Balbianello in Lake Como from Casino Royale.

We took a little boat cruise with Bellagio Water Taxi.  Janine and Luca, who ran the operation, provide a really delightful experience.

Luca driving the beautiful boat on Lake Como

Luca grew up in Lake Como so added a lot of local flavor as he drove us past the majestic coast line.

Villa Carlotta and its magnificent gardens

Public park, not bad.

Town of Mezzegra where Mussolini was killed trying to escape across the Swiss border with his mistress

False George Clooney house. Thought the sign was funny that read “No George” with an arrow pointing South.

Approaching the peninsula of Villa del Balbianello

Gorgeous property of Villa del Balbianello

We hopped off the boat and were met with a great tour guide.     The Villa had many owners in its history including a monastery, then a cardinal, two Italians, an American, and then its last owner, explorer Guido Monzino.

When Monzino died, he left it to the FAI, the National Trust of Italy so that we could all enjoy it.    You can even rent the space out for a private event, as the funds help to maintain the estate.

The grounds, set for a wedding that evening

The room of the villa were left, still set just as if Monzino lived there.     We couldn’t take pictures but I found this photo online to show you our favorite room.  We entitled it, The Ultimate Man Room.    It was a collection of Monzino’s explorations.   It contained his snow suit from the climb of Mt Everest (he ultimately didn’t make it but sent his guides on who brought back rocks still displayed in the house), his sled from exploring the North Pole, and numerous amazing artifacts.

Image courtesy of FAI.

We learned that in addition to James Bond, the villa was also used in the Star Wars movie as well as a few others. You’ll have to check them out below.

*On a side note, back in my early twenties, my friend K and I also hit a James Bond Casino Royale site in The One & Only Club in the Bahamas.  The movie hadn’t come out yet, but I immediately recognized the hammocks when they appeared on screen and were found to contain James Bond’s murdered fling.  We had leisurely hung out in them one of our afternoons.

Related Links:

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Why You’ve Heard of Lake Como

You Tube scene of Villa del Balbianello in Star Wars 2:

YouTube scene of Villa del Balbianello in Casino Royale :


Discovering Geneva: The Museum of the Reformation

On Tuesday, after our tour of the site archeologique, we took a quick lunch break at Creperie St. Pierre and then moved onto the final stop: La Musée de la Réforme de Genève.   This museum retraces the history of the movement started by John Calvin in Geneva.   It includes artifacts and exhibits from the start until the current age.

The Museum of the Reformation

The museum was interesting; however, a little disjointed.  We were lucky to get English audio guides, but not all of the numbers could be found and they were out of order in most cases.    We spent a lot of time on the ground floor figuring this out while we learned about the origination and first century of the Reformation.

As we moved on, we learned just to hit the #s that we saw that looked interesting to us and continue on that way.

The basement floor contained history from the 19th and 20th centuries.  There were exhibitions on the role in civil society, the progression and dynamics of mission work, a computer screen depicting the statistics of the denominations of religion in the US, and audio of Billy Graham and the evangelistic movement.  That part was pretty neat to see how Calvin’s impact echoed through society today.

You are not allowed to take photos so we don’t have anything to show.

Bottom line – this museum is full of intriguing and interesting exhibits.  However, it might be best to make it your only stop in the day so you can comprehend the full depth of history and really take the time to visit both the ground and bottom floor.     We were a little tapped out from hitting the archeological site first, both in terms of standing and mind-power, so we wore ourselves out before getting to the basement.

Those who do visit this museum, make sure to check out the Reformation Wall in Parc des Bastions as well!


Discovering Geneva: Archeological Site of Saint-Pierre

This past Tuesday, E-dawg and I bought a combo pass to the Espace St. Pierre.  For 18 CHF, it included passes to the site archaeologic underneath the cathedral (8 CHF), the Museum of the Reformation (13 CHF), and a pass to climb to the top of the Cathedral for the view (4 CHF).

Since there was a peak of sunshine, E-dawg started out by touring the Cathedral and climbing up to the top to see the magnificent view of Geneva from above.   I had done this before and due to the condition of my feet, I passed on the climb and sat in a pew and relaxed.

After she’d taken in the panoramic view above, we descended beneath the Cathedral.  From a previous post, I mentioned there were many different Roman temples and other Christian churches on this site prior to the current St. Pierre / St. Peters.  The archeological site allows you to see the evidence from the previous structures.

A model which lit up to show you the different eras, before your physical tour of the space.

Below is a cross section of photos from our visit.  Two of the most interesting things to me were the mosaic tiles in the reception hall of the bishops, and the tomb of the Allobrogian where someone had drilled a whole to pay homage to his skull.

This web page does a marvelous job of showing the timeline of events, in case you are interested in learning more about the history.

We really enjoyed the site and both rated it a 9 out of 10.

Discovering Geneva: Palais des Nations

On E-dawg’s second day we had pegged the Palais des Nations as a possible stop for the rainy Monday.  It was a good choice because, by default, it was literally the only museum open on Monday.   Also E-dawg had it on her Geneva “must visit” list.

She had read there was a lot of walking and warned me but I decided I was up for it – couldn’t be more than a km or so. We took the bus to Nations.   This was our first mistake.  Or my first mistake.  I just assumed that tourist rolled right through the colorful flags into the Palais des Nations to enter.

The grande entrance to the Palais des Nations. This is the oldest building and is bigger than the Palace of Versailles.

However, the actual tour entrance is was a 1 km walk away from the grande entrance.  This detail would not have been very important to the old me.  However, it is very important to the present-day me with healing feet.    Thus, I wanted to show those readers who might be a little walking challenged where the entrance is.  The #8 bus, Appia stop, gets you considerably closer.   It’s important to conserve energy as this tour does include a lot of walking.

They are very protective of the safety of UN workers.  Rightfully so, since 3000 have died in operations or just by being in UN offices in times of terror.   So, checking in for the tour required multiple steps.  First, you go through an airport-style metal detector.  Then, you approach a desk to register by showing your passport for scanning, getting a new picture taken, and  that photo being printed into a picture badge.

Next you go down an escalator, pay 12 CHF, and walk a distance to the entrance and gathering group of the tours.   You approach the desk, give your language preference and wait.  Then you get a bright orange lanyard indicating you are a tourist so that you can be easily spotted.

We were very lucky to have an amazing tour guide.    We started the tour by seeing some of the conference rooms.   There are over 9000 meetings a year so they need a lot of conference rooms.

We learned that in the traditional rooms, the member states sit in alphabetic order.  Then comes the observer non-member states  (like Palestine, Vatican City), then the NGOs that provide the link between civil society and UN.  Then approved media.

E-Dawg overlooking a traditional UN conference room

The UN has six official languages – English, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian.    If you want to address the UN in a non official language, you have to bring your own translator.

Human issues conference room. The ceiling was done by a Spanish artist and was donated by the country of Spain. His intention was for the textured color to peak like waves of ocean. The color represents the diversity of opinions in the world. The art was unveiled and conference room reopened in April 2009. The current issues in Syria are discussed here.

E-dawg and I in the grand assembly room in the Palais des Nations. The UN logo is different in this room, with the globe view from the top, showing no country is in the middle at the UN.

Original council room of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was formed after WWI. However, they failed at preventing WW2 so it disbanded. Mr. Pettyjohn would be proud I was seeing this place as we learned a lot about it in Freshman History. Now this room serves as the council of disarmement, preventing nuclear and chemical means of warfare.

Some fast facts about the UN:

-It was formed in 1945 after WW2 with the UN Charter

-It started with 52 members.  Now there are 193.  South Sudan was the last joiner.  Switzerland didn’t join until 2002!

-The UN is decorated with art from all over the world, to represent its diversity among member states.    In a grand entrance, there are colored marble in different designs.  Our guide pointed out that the marble comes from 3-4 different countries to show integration and how great works are possible with collaboration.  Pretty cool.

E-dawg stands by the hall of traditional artwork donated by member states

The Russians donated the Conquest of Space and Time statue - made out of titanium like space shuttles. Sorry, its the tiny thing in the distance - I took all these photos with my iPhone.

Trees are donated from all over the world to adorn the park, creating diversity in landscape

What is the difference in Geneva and NYC?

NYC handles more of the political and economical issues while Geneva focuses on human rights, science, technology, health, and world disasters.

The chair with the missing leg was donated by Handicapped, Intl to represent the lives and limbs lost by unnecessary land mines

The WHO (world health organization) is one of the bigger departments here in Geneva.  Also, UNHCR – the high commission for refugees, which helps 20 million people a year!

Why did they pick Geneva?  

NGO, The Red Cross was already there (1863) and it had been proven to be a good place for a headquarters.  Plus,  Switzerland was a neutral country making it additionally easier to facilitate an organization such as the UN.   Third, Geneva was known as a very diverse city which helped exemplify what the UN’s goals are.  Finally, geography – Geneva is in the center of Europe and is accessible by train and airport.

The views aren't bad here either.

Currently, there are 8500 employees in Geneva, but 25,000 delegates participating here each year.    Building on that, 163 of the 193 member states have permanent missions in Geneva.   I know a few women at the women’s club whose husbands work for the missions so this fact a was interesting.

All in all, it was a good tour.   I give it a 7 out of 10 and E-dawg rates it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.

A day with the butterflies

Recently, I visited Papiliorama to take a Digital Light photo workshop.  Papiliorama is a butterfly haven in Swizterland, north of Murten.   It is about a 90 minute drive from Geneva and even has a train stop at Kerzers / Papiliorama for those who prefer public transport.  Luckily, I was able to catch a ride with a friend who was assisting the class.

The class was meant for us to focus on a certain area that we wanted to develop.  During the day, I worked on my understanding of depth of field.   We continually brought our memory cards back to the workshop instructor for critiquing and guidance.  At first my butterflies are too shallow depth of field (I adore blurry backgrounds) which unfortunately kept my entire butterfly bodies from being sharp, depending on the focal plane.  However, then I learned how to expand the depth of field by closing the aperture and increasing ISO, still achieving the background result I wanted.

Unfortunately, my propensity for standing wore out before my desire to stop taking photos and improve on my technique.  However, here are a few of my favorite images:

Waiting to turn into a butterfly maybe

He likes to color coordinate

Taking in the view

Spreading out

Delicately hanging on

Patchwork colors

Climbing into the light

Geneva folks, you’ll have to add this to your rainy day to-do list!

It’s Raining. I guess we HAVE to go to the Chocolate Factory

We were excited to have Gabe’s cousin, Couch Surfer, staying with us for four days in Geneva.  She has been traveling all over Europe for 6 weeks.  Unfortunately, the weather this April has been rain, rain and more rain.   To no surprise, we woke up on her second day to gloomy skies and downpours.

Which begs the question….what in the heck do you do with a guest in Geneva in the rain?  Especially….on a Sunday?

Basically, our conclusion was to taste our way through Switzerland.    And thank goodness that while all cultural attractions in Switzerland are closed on Sundays and Mondays, the culinary attractions are still a possibility.

The Cailler Chocolate Factory is about an hour and a half drive from Geneva, in Broc.   It is located right next to Gruyeres and the Cheese Factory making it convenient to hit both in the same trip, time allowing.   We had been to Gruyeres before with Andres, but not to Broc.  As we drove and got closer and closer to Cailler, we realized we were in the middle of nowhere.  Where I grew up, we would call this BFE.

Our GPS showed we were one mile away from the famous chocolate factory. Really?

Questioning what we would do if we met a tractor trailer of chocolate coming the opposite direction on what appeared to be a one-lane road to the chocolate factory

Our GPS didn’t fail us – we were in the right spot.    Later in our tour, we learned why Cailler is in the middle of nowhere.   Basically, they wanted access to great milk (cows) and a water supply (Alps).   They also say the chocolate tastes better because of the fresh air of the alpine landscape.  Thus, the undisturbed panorama in Broc could provide both.

And no worries about a collision with a tractor trailer on the one lane road – every piece of chocolate is shipped out via rail.   That is except what goes out in tourists pockets!

Arriving at Cailler.

We were grouped into a small cluster of other English speakers for our tour.    The tour was “self-guided” and started by shuffling us through a series of rooms/exhibits to tell the story of chocolate.

It started with the Aztecs and the story of their discovery of the cocoa bean.   They mainly used it to make Chocolati, a cocoa-based drink, which they considered a drink of “the gods”.   Trouble soon arose when Cortez conquered the land and the Aztec people and took the cocoa beans and recipe for Chocolati with him back to Europe.    There, the beans became used as a currency and grew in popularity amongst the nobility (poor people couldn’t afford it).

The controversial drink raised question with the Dominicans, as they suspected that it was a drink of sin and could provide a way for evil to enter the body.  Luckily, Pope Pius V declared it okay and also indicated that drinking the yummy substance didn’t constitute a break in fast during Easter.   It’s popularity continued to grow throughout Europe, particularly in Paris, and it was marketed as an aphrodisiac.

The Belgians and Germans contributed a great deal to the Chocolate Movement.  However, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that the chocolate movement moved to Switzerland.  And, they caught up fast.

1n 1819, Cailler opened the first chocolate factory in Switzerland.  In 1875, Peter “invented” milk chocolate by figuring out how to fuse the chocolate with a valued Swiss resource: dairy.  Nestlé who had invented baby formula from milk, helped add to this new delicacy with his know-how around milk and manufacturing.   During the Great Depression, Nestlé and Cailler actually merged for survival.

Swiss chocolate is said to be the best because they were the inventors of milk chocolate.   However, don’t discredit the dark so fast….it is also a specialty because of the specialized conching (the process in which chocolate gets smooth and shiny) and aging that is unique to Switzelrand.

After learning the history, we got to touch the beans and ingredients, learn about why chocolate is good for us, and watch Branches being made.   If we have brought you chocolate from Switzerland, there is a good chance you tried a Branche bar.

Got a flashback to I Love Lucy watching the chocolate on the assembly line

We got mini branches to taste and then we got to go the tasting room, with 15 types of chocolate.   They were smart and had a chocolatier on guard so that guests couldn’t scarf up all the chocolates.

Also, we had heard to “hold out” in tasting as the ones at the end are the best and you don’t want to burn out, so we did so.  The tip was accurate.  The nicer ones were at the end.  I adored the dark Ambassador ones with coffee and hazelnut filling.

Me & Couch Surfer, getting ready to taste!

We wrapped up around 4pm and decided to skip the cheese factory in lieu of more time in the Lavaux wine region.   Lavaux is an easy stop to add to any trip on the other side of the lake.   We drove through the adorable wine village of Chexbres before parking at Vinorama, known to be open on Sundays and a place that hosts a variety of Lavaux types.

Vinorama is a nice spot to take visitors, you may remember it from when The Captain and Swiss Miss were visiting.

Gabe and Couch Surfer in Lavaux. The last time I came, the waterfall was frozen solid.

Last time I came, we did a formal tasting.   However, this time, we opted to each select two half glasses.    Our selections rounded out the chocolate and the afternoon with a nice taste of another Swiss product.

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog: Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

Schwingen in Switzerland: Chocoholics Anonymous

Discovering Geneva: The Patek Philippe Museum

As I mentioned in a previous post, Geneva benefitted significantly when well-educated, skilled tradesmen found refuge in the city during the Reformation.  One such way is in timepieces, most importantly, the wristwatch.   Due to John Calvin’s strict hold on the city, he did not appreciate any luxurious items being created just for luxury’s sake (for more on this, read about Old Town and the Cathedral).  So, those goldsmiths and silversmiths had to find some practical activity in which to dedicate their talents.  Keeping time was practical.  Thus, how Geneva became known for the wrist watch.

Everyone wants a Swiss wrist watch.  They are known for their exquisite detail, design and reliability.  And, you can’t walk very far in Geneva without hitting a store selling them.  However, don’t get excited about buying a Swiss watch when you visit us.  With the exchange rate and price of goods in Switzerland,  it’s much cheaper to buy your Swiss watch in the US.

Typical landscape of Geneva. Watch store after watch store.

If you like watches, when you visit us, you can tour the Patek Philippe Museum.   Patek Philippe is a brand of watches, based in Geneva.  In fact, the most expensive watch ever sold was a 1933 gold Patek Philippe, for $11 USD million.  Don’t worry – you don’t have to shell out that much cash to get a Patek Philippe.   The cheap versions start at about $10,000 USD.

The museum has four floors of displays on keeping time.   The ground floor contains actual work desks & tools used in the early days.  The top floor, 3rd floor, contains the archives and a library.  The 2nd floor has the antique collection.   The 1st floor holds time pieces from the last 150 years.

When Gabe’s cousin, Couch Surfer , was here, we caught a Patek Philippe visit late Saturday afternoon after her 4:20 train arrived, knowing it would be closed Sunday and Monday.

It was a worthwhile stop.  My favorite pieces were the timepieces for women, discretely designed to look like necklace pendants.   Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos inside the museum.  However; from this video, you can get a gist of the miraculous pieces contained inside.








*Sunday and Monday, most of the museums are closed in Geneva.  Plan accordingly with your visit if you want to hit museums and tours.

Pont du Gard

Post by Lauren

Part of our group left after a week, leaving behind Mama Mia and The Gladiator.  The Gladiator had said he wanted to see the South of France so we took a road trip: SOF style.

This is the route we took; a big loop through 4 countries...if you count Monaco as its own country

Gabe and I tried to tailor the trip to:

-see a variety of geography

-see what was most interesting to all of us personally

-stay in financially efficient hotels. The South of France ain’t cheap.

Our first stop was at the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct  near Nîmes.  We knew that The Gladiator would like it because he enjoys history, particularly of ancient cultures.

The Pont du Gard was built in 19 B.C.    It is 50 km long and has three tiers.  It is remarkable site to witness and thus is designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  By the way, we hit 5 UNESCO sites during the family’s time here.  Gabe and I increased our total number by 3 during the family visit!  Woo hoo.

The Pont du Gard was designed to carry water to the fountains and baths of Nîmes, estimated 44 million gallons/day.  It is noted that Augustus’s son-in-law, Agrippa, was likely in charge of the design and execution as his aide and magistrate of water supply.

We had a sunny day.  However, it was incredibly windy.   We had brought a picnic to enjoy in view of Pont du Gard and had a hard time tying everything down while we ate.  Being the only one without sunglasses, I accumulated lots of Roman dust in my eyes which I had to flush out in the restroom of the tourist office.

My french tutor attributed the wind to “le mistral” the wind current along the Rhone river.

If you are touring Provence, this is a worthwhile stop.  Just be prepared for le mistral!


Post by Lauren

Italy was high on the list for the family to see while they were here.   We considered going to Venice but our schedule was already packed as it was.  With Venice being 7 hours on the train, we opted for going to Milan instead as it is only 4 hours from Geneva.  We thought 14 hours would be overkill, especially since we’d done about 20 hours on the train thus far into the trip.

Direct trains leave Geneva twice a day for Milan – 7:42am and 1:42pm.  We picked the early train so that we could maximize our time.

We arrived in Milan just around lunch time and started to figure out how to take the metro and get euros out for the group.  We spent about 2 hours in the Milan train station trying to navigate.  Hello Italy and chaos!  As it turned out, we couldn’t take the metro with the wheelchairs – only steep stairs provided access – so we hopped in two cabs to take us to the city centre.

It took us a little while to find our hotel, but when we did find it we were rewarded greatly.  Gabe had done the research and found apartments nearby the Duomo.  Little did we realize that the view would be this good:

Glamour Apartments in Milan. Mama Mia, Sweet Wine and The French Cougar loved the marble bathrooms.

After marveling over the stately bathrooms and a quick lesson on bidets (see S in S for more), we dropped our bags and headed out for lunch.  We found a nice café directly in front of the Duomo and settled in for some wine and pizza.

Pizza lunch in Milan

Italy's best....gelato!!

The Gladiator's favorite part about Italy

Hanging out in Piazza del Duomo

After lunch, we grabbed some gelato, and Gabe took Sweet Wine, The Gladiator and French Cougar to the tour office to see if we could arrange something for the next day.  We had another small snippet of Italian chaos when some guy passing by stole The Gladiators sunglasses that he had left on the grass.   Mama Mia and I really couldn’t chase him down in our wheelchairs, so Dunkel saved the day by chasing after the guy who gave them back.

After a little bit of free time exploring, we met up for walking to a close-by restaurant, Al Mercante, recommended by a few folks.  It was family owned, cozy and welcoming.  We ordered in the typical Italian way, with a primi and a secondi.  In Italy, this is customary – to start with a pasta and then move onto a meat or fish dish.  Real Italians also add on an antipasti prior, but our tummies weren’t conditioned to this treatment yet so we just left it with the two courses.   However, some of us did participate in dolci, dessert.  Special thanks to Sweet Wine for treating Gabe and I to this marvelous meal.

The next day, after breakfast, we took a guided tour.  The guide, Esther, was quite good.  We’d recommend her for anyone traveling to Milan.  We navigated through the thousands of soccer fans in Milan for the Milano vs. Barcelona match happening later that night.

Dunkel, embracing the soccer spirit

Our first stop was the Duomo.  We learned that it took 500 years to complete, constructed between 1300 and 1800 AD.  The Duomo of Milan  is the world’s 3rd largest church (behind the Vatican and Sevilla).

Waiting to enter the Duomo of Milan after learning that "an Italian 5 minutes" really means 15. Not very Swiss.

The Duomo of Milan was styled after Notre Dame of Paris, built 200 years later.  It can contain 5 times the people however, at 40,000.  It is a Gothic style and has 3000 statues.

Duomo of Milan

There are 91 masses a week.  However, no weddings or funerals with the exception of very important events.  Versace’s funeral took place here in the Duomo of Milan.

One of the Duomo’s most notorious events took place in 1805, Napoleon ordered the Pope to come to Milan and crown him.  No one had ever ordered the Pope to travel before.

The marble used inside and out came from Lake Maggiore, outside of Milan.  Back then, it was quite important that it was a local source because of the difficulties of transportation.  As I mentioned, the marble used outside is the same as inside.  However, inside, the marble is dark.  Because of the current economic crisis in Italy, they cannot afford the expense of cleaning it inside.

The inside of the Duomo, 2012

After learning about the marble, we studied the stained glass.   Esther taught us that before the Catholics who attended the Duomo could read & write, that stained class told stories of the bible.  This particular scene details the life of Jesus Christ.

Some arts don’t improve with technology.  Esther said that today, designers are still not able to recreate the blue color that the talented craftsman achieved in the 15th Century.

Stained glass in Duomo of Milan, circa 1450 AD, telling the story of Jesus Christ's life.

After the Duomo, we continued on through the Galleria, the “living room of Milan”.  Gabe and I had discovered it the day before so enjoyed the second look.  We saw the original Prada, which will celebrate 100 years next year.  Speaking of the devil, our guide had the pleasure of touring Meryl Streep herself when she visited Milan. She said she was a very nice person.

Galleria, Milan

The original Prada store, Galleria, Milan

Next was La Scala, the famous opera house in Milan.  It was finished in 1778.  Esther listed three reasons it was so famous:

-the superior technical / sound accoustics

-the history, particularly Giuseppe Verdi, the talented composer who put the crack-down on the social antics of the Milan well-to-do when attending the opera

-the fact that success in the Scala gives you an international passport for your music career

The final stop was The Last Supper.   This was my favorite stop.  Until recently, I didn’t know that The Last Supper was painted on an actual wall.  It was done in the dining room of the monks in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in a style like a fresco.  During WWII, the church was bombed and the adjacent wall crumbled and so The Last Supper barely escaped.  It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

They are very protective of the painting, with due cause, so we had to go through three independent air-conditioning chambers before we were let in the dining room.

Last Supper courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It was simply amazing to witness Da Vinci’s perspective compared to the other art that day. If you stand back in the dining hall of the monks, the scene seems to go on endlessly.  Noticing the other painting opposite the room, which was painted during the same time, the perspective and depth simply wasn’t there.  It was a new concept which made Da Vinci stand out as an artist.

Also of note is Da Vinci’s use of emotion in The Last Supper.  Previous artists had used the same faces for all of the apostles.  In order to differentiate Judas, they put him farthest away from Jesus.

However, in his rendition, Da Vinci focused on the emotion of the men at the moment when Jesus announced that one of those at the table was going to betray him. Disciples are grouped in threes for further examination, each with different reactions.  Judas is now depicted in the middle of all of them, fairly close to Jesus; however, he is in the dark, not the light.

What a treat, especially a week before Maudy Thursday to experience this painting.

Ciao Milan!


Post by Lauren

Recently, I was fortunate enough to get into a tour at CERN. CERN is located in Geneva, but its underground facilities span both in Switzerland and neighboring France. CERN stands for Conseil European pour la Recherche Nucleaire but also is known as the European Lab for Particle Physics.



It was founded in 1954 by 12 countries (now 20 are members) to determine the origin and structure of the universe. You may remember it from the scene from Angels and Demons when the antimatter was stolen.

I am relieved to find out that this scene is not based on fact. You can’t use antimatter for energy like this, and it can’t be captured and “stolen”. Good to know. Especially because it under us right now. Like literally. They are trying to recreate the Big Bang underneath where our apartment lies so they can understand more about the Universe.



As you can see, a 27 km pipe runs 100 m underground, creating a vacuum comparable to outer space. The particles are whizzing beneath us within the ring 11,000 times a second into France and then Switzerland.

Basically, they accelerate and create head-on collisions for the particles to try to detect and look for “The Higgs Particle” sometimes called “The God Particle.” Each beam has around 3000 bunches of particles, with an average of 100 billion particles in each bunch. Even with those numbers, there is typically on 20 collisions among 200 billion particles. The machine generates. However, there are so many that they can only keep the most interesting ones. So they filter for that and store only the most interesting data.



They have about 100,000 computers in a networks (called computer farms) to analyze the interactions. Only 10,000 or so are here in Geneva  and the rest are in labs all over the world. They use a web network to share and confirm the data transmissions.



You can see in real time how this data is coming in from all over. In fact, the World Wide Web was actually invented at CERN in order for scientists to share their data & experiments. Interesting!

Someone is watching the data and systems 24/7. Mostly it is a team of scientists in Europe. But they said that the folks in the USA take the night shift, so its being monitored and controlled by a lab in Chicago.

They used to let people underground up until when construction was finished 3 years ago. Thus, I didn’t get to go underground, but did get to see the former version that they still use in conjunction with the new systems.

However, I did get to see the spot where antimatter was first discovered!



The CERN guy joked that while the main building is in Geneva, since their facilities spans the border, they actually tap into French electricity. They are using 7 trillion volts of electricity to make this happen and in France it is a lot cheaper. Just like my groceries.

For another take on the tour, check out my new friend’s blog, The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People.