Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Antarctica and Switzerland

In keeping with my proposed commitment to expand my own and my readers’ knowledge of the geography of the planet, I figured I could profile Antarctica, one of my top most interesting get-to-know places.

As far as vacations go, Antarctica is not necessarily the “go to” spot, but it is becoming increasingly popular. There are now cruises and even walking expeditions where you can actually explore parts of the continent on foot. Previously I had thought setting foot on the continent was only possible if you had a reason to be there, i.e. work/research or something similar, but definitely not just for fun. Apparently I was mistaken. I continue to meet people who have visited Antarctica for their annual vacations. Here are some interesting facts about the continent.

It almost never gets above 32° F (0° C) in Antarctica and the highest recorded temperature at the South Pole is 7° F (-13.8° C).

There are 28 airport landing facilities in Antarctica.

Fewer than 200,000 people have ever been to Antarctica (however, that number is steadily climbing).
Antarctica is the only land on our planet that is not owned by any country.

Although covered with ice (all but 0.4% of it, i.e.), Antarctica is the driest place on the planet, with an absolute humidity lower than the Gobi desert.

Hmm… not that interesting is it? So while I really want to go to Antarctica one day, I think the real experience is seeing it and being in awe of its reality. Since I haven’t been there, I don’t really think I can relate its appeal. I’ll get back to you all after I’ve gone.

Anyway, another place I’m dying to try is Switzerland; one of the most beautiful and picturesque countries in the world. This could possibly be more relatable because, after all, who doesn’t want to go to Switzerland??? Even just for the Swiss chocolate, mountains, clogs, and lederhosen… they do still wear clogs and lederhosen don’t they? I mean, they’ve got to give tourists something to feed off of.

But realistically, Switzerland has a rich culture both in historical and present-day context. Here, then, are some interesting facts about Switzerland.

There are 4 official languages in Switzerland : Swiss German (64%, many dialects), French (20.4%), Italian (6.5%), and Romansh (<1%)
A 2006 survey found that Zürich and Geneva had respectively the first and second highest quality of living in the world.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, and is still based there. The flag of the Red Cross is the flag of Switzerland with the colors inverted (who knew?)

The Swiss have a long tradition of watch-making, and are the uncontested leader in luxury watches, with brands like Audemars Piguet, Baume et Mercier, Breitling, Chopard, Franck Muller, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rado, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Tissot, Vacheron Constantin.

Switzerland knows a great variety of climates. From a polar climate in the high mountains above the snow line, to an almost subtropical climate in the southern Alp valleys.

Visiting Switzerland is not complete without seeing the Alps. The Bernese Oberland, or the highlands, is an area that offers one of the best views of the range in the country. The Swiss train system seems to be a popular way of navigating through the mountains and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Jungfraujoch is another mountain peak that I’d like to visit. At 3454m, the top of this mountain is the highest point in Switzerland. It boasts an indoor ice palace where everything is made completely of ice, even the floors and walls! Sounds cold, but beautiful. Between the never-ending waterfall in Wengen-Murren and the renowned chocolate and cheese fondue in Interlaken, and even the abundant wildlife in the Swiss national park, Switzerland seems like a country with a lot to offer the novice traveler like me.

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