Maybe, like me, you have some favorite places on Earth. Switzerland captured my heart as a 25 year-old medical student in 1969. Back than, the world was a tumultuous place. The Vietnam War filled the daily headlines, but I was, mercifully, exempt – having failed my induction physical exam due to limited motion of my right elbow. Ten years earlier, I had tripped while making a lay-up basketball shot and fractured the head of the radius. I never regained full motion. In reality, this has not been much of an impediment, although on x-rays it looks really awful. It made me 1-Y. When I asked what that meant, the medical examiner, an older doctor, said it meant that if they took me, he would start to worry they might take him. From that time on, my graceless spill on the basketball court was known to to my family as “the fortunate fall.” I definitely would not have made a good grunt. [End Digression]
Another consequence of the ’60’s was my erratic academic performance, ranging from all A’s to all C’s, depending on my emotional state. I was thus not accepted to any stateside medical schools. I was, however, accepted to the Faculté de Médicine Université de Lausanne. My journey there in September 1969 was my first trip abroad and I immediately fell in love with the place. The physical beauty, I found, had a highly salutary effect on my normally bleak outlook on life (“gravity is superfluous, the Earth just sucks”). I truly loved the surroundings and felt secure by virtue of a crude SPS (Swiss Positioning System); by reference to distant mountains, one could triangulate one’s location pretty reliably.
This, in turn, led me to a fascination with geography of Switzerland. I found myself often trying to understand the relative location of places. Example: looking south over the Aletsch Glacier from the top of the Jungfrau, (it seemed to extend into distant forever) I wondered where the glacier ended up. Which finally brings us to my literary destination. Virtual Travel.
I have an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset I use mainly for flight simulation. My favorite sim software is Aerofly FS2, which has photorealistic scenery of all of Switzerland. With it, I regularly fly down the Aletsch glacier and arrive in the Rhone Valley at Brig. From there, I usually fly west along the valley, eventually arriving at Lake Geneva and my still-beloved Lausanne. Or, I take a left at Brig and head down the valley to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Seeing Switzerland from on high remains exhilarating. So much so that it usually triggers intense desires to go there.
My stint at med school in Lausanne turned out to last only 18 months, as my then wife decided to run off with someone else. I dropped out and returned to New Jersey badly wounded. I still remember tearfully looking out the window of the Swissair flight which brought me home, thinking I would never be happy living anywhere else. In some ways, that proved prophetic. I then somehow finished a MS in physiology and a few years later, I managed to get accepted to med school mid-year at Rutgers. A December ski trip to Zermatt was my pre-matriculation reward.
All of which is merely to offer context to my affinity for Switzerland and the ease with which I can feel intense desires to go back once again. Most mornings, I look at webcams in Zurich, Mount Rigi, Jungfraujoch, and Rochers de Naye. My curiosity is such that I try to find exactly the location of the webcams, using various online maps. Google Earth Virtual Reality is free (my animus toward Google is such that I would not use it if I had to pay for it) and a great VR experience.
I am able to ‘fly’ to Mount Rigi in VR to a place called Rigi Rotstock. There, I switch to street view, and see a photograph which clearly shows the webcam at that location. This is an exercise I repeat often, at many locations, with only mixed success. Sometimes, in street view, I can only see the shadow of a pole. It is fun and I have mental notes to look for certain webcams on my next real visit. Last April, for example, I went up to Jungfraujoch (we own stock in the railroad company which goes up from Interlaken) and found the webcam which does a roundshot including the view over the glacier. I find this to be very satisfying, even though it provokes my frequent, unfulfilled longings to head right out to the airport and go for yet another visit.
As I write, my inner entrepreneur is thinking of writing a book along the lines of “Secret, Public Switzerland – Webcams Revealed.” It would have precise maps and photos of as many webcams as possible, as well frames of their fields of view. I wonder if this might sell…? I could even write off the trip…