Sunday
Apr242011

Homeward bound

We left Switzerland this morning, heading west via Basle.

Currently taking a pit stop in northern France en route to Calais where we will board a Eurotunnel train. After that it should take a couple of hours to drive home.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. (Lots to report, and announce.) In the meantime, and further to my previous post, I can reveal that:

Largely unknown by British skiers, Engelberg is one of Switzerland’s best kept secrets. At the end of an open sunny valley and dominated by the impressive 3,200m Mount Titlis, it is a large and friendly traditional village. The world’s first revolving cable car provides a unique way to view the varied terrain as you travel to the guaranteed snow on the glacier 2kms above the village. (Source: ski-direct.co.uk)

We didn't experience "the world's first revolving cable car", which was near the top of the mountain, but we did reach 6,000 feet via a more traditional cable car that appeared, during one stage, to be travelling almost vertically – at which point I shut my eyes, clung to the edge of the seat and swore quietly, much to the amusement of the woman sitting opposite.

That experience was followed by lunch on the sun terrace of an alpine lodge and a relaxing walk around a frozen lake that was just beginning to thaw. With thick snow on one side and acres of grass on the other, it offered a striking contrast.

The return journey down the mountainside was even more spectacular - and this time I kept my eyes open from start to finish.

Above: view from Mount Rigi which we visited on Thursday. We reached the summit via the mountain railway you can see in the picture.

Friday
Apr222011

Good Friday in Switzerland

Spent Wednesday in Zurich, jumping on trams, walking around the old town, and taking a boat across Lake Zurich.

Yesterday we headed for the hills, or one in particular. Rigi is 6,000 feet and we reached the summit via a rack-railway that was built in the 19th century. (Prior to that Queen Victoria was hoisted to the top on a sedan chair.)

The views of the snow-capped Alps were fabulous. If you want to you can stay the night at the summit - in a comfortable hotel, I should add - and watch the sun rise over the mountains.

Today we're going to Engelberg, a ski resort that offers the highest point in central Switzerland - around 10,000 feet.

More later.

Monday
Apr182011

Grand tour

Just arrived in Lausanne.

We caught the overnight ferry to Caen in northern France and spent the day driving through France to Switzerland.

Tomorrow we're driving to Zurich where we'll be based for the rest of the week.

It's 24 years since I visited Zurich. From what I remember I'm looking forward to going back.

Saturday
Apr162011

Review of the week

Thursday
Apr142011

Two good reasons to change the licensing laws

I've had time to think these past few days.

First there was the eight-hour round trip to Blackpool. Then there were two more car journeys, 90 minutes each way, to and from Heathrow, and the flight to Vienna (although I spent most of that reading Brian Moore's autobiography Beware Of The Dog).

When I wasn't reading I was thinking about the Clubs & Institute Union and the difficult if not impossible task of reviving the fortunes of working mens' clubs.

I've also been thinking about the issue of teenagers and alcohol.

Personally, I don't have a problem with teenagers drinking alcohol in moderation. Like me, I'm sure many of you were given the odd glass of wine or beer at home or perhaps you slipped into a pub with your friends and bought one or two pints of beer, a vodka orange, or even a Bacardi and coke. At the age of 14 I was a Tartan Special man, sometimes Newcastle Brown. (Don't worry, my taste buds improved, eventually.)

We didn't go into pubs very often but we knew the ones where we could get served and I don't remember anyone getting drunk for three simple reasons: the landlord wouldn't have allowed it, we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves, and we didn't have the money.

We were in the pub – that was good enough for us. In fact, the only time we did get drunk was at parties in other people's homes when their parents were away and we were unsupervised.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are going to drink anyway and it's better for them to drink in a controlled environment than in the street or a nearby park.

So how's this for an idea – change the licensing laws so that private members' clubs can apply for a licence to serve alcohol to anyone aged 16+. Suddenly, they would seem a whole lot more relevant and enticing to younger people.

Pubs will object (level playing field and all that) and health campaigners will have a heart attack, but I think it's a way to revive our community clubs and give children aged 16-18 an acceptable place to drink, other than the home. Who knows, they may even develop a lifelong commitment to the place.

It will never happen, I know that, but as a parent I would take comfort from the fact that my children were learning to drink in safe, sociable surroundings.

Tom Miers has just written an article for The Free Society on a related issue. See: The government's licensing laws treat us all like children

Wednesday
Apr132011

Austrian Tobacco Forum 2011

Guest post by Dave Atherton:

Yes, the unholy trinity of Clark, Snowdon and Atherton were in Austria for the Tabakforum Osterriech 2011 (Austrian Tobacco Forum) in Altengbach, 35kms outside Vienna. I was looking for Julie Andrews to descend from the hills and waiters in lederhosen, so picturesque were the wooded hillsides.

The main purpose of the forum was a discussion with a range of interested parties from Austria and Germany how to fight the smoking ban mania which is now engulfing Europe. (I see Poland has succumbed to a ban and Hungary will be joining them soon.)

Walking into the hotel on Sunday I found the bar and restaurant were adjacent to reception. There were spherical glass implements on all the tables and I had to be reminded they were in fact ashtrays. Like a boy who has been promised a day out at Alton Towers, a visit to the bar was a must and even at dinner no-one minded if you smoked. There was a non-smoking section anyway, strangely not quite full.

The main business was on Monday and after the introductions by the excellent Klaus Fischer it was into the speeches. The first person to speak was Walter Wippersberg, an Austrian professor of film, who went into the history of smoking bans and associated authoritarianism – and, yes, he did mention the war.

I was the second speaker and covered the devastation of the hospitality trade in the UK, the science of passive smoking and the European Union dimension. Then it the turn of my old friend from Munich, Bodo Meinsen, who had invited me to Bavaria to speak six months ago. Chris Snowdon was excellent on the similarities of tobacco control with alcohol prohibition in the USA. Simon wrapped things up with a few words about Forest and the need to support the consumer.

The conference was well-timed. Anti-smoking campaigners in Austria are said to be planning a petition calling for a comprehensive smoking ban. They need 100,000 signatures for the Government to consider it. The good news is that before Christmas tobacconists in Austria organised their own petition (in response to the EU's Tobacco Product Directive). Out of a population of eight million, one million Austrians signed it.

If only consumers in the UK were equally motivated.

PS. Thanks to Dave for the above post. What he doesn't mention is that he missed not only his original flight to Vienna but there was a problem with his return flight too.

Update – Dave writes:

The Tube was playing up on Sunday so I missed my flight and had to go by British Airways.

I got to the airport in time on Tuesday after getting up at 4.00am. My lady driver was obviously taught by Nicky Lauder. She makes me look slow.

As I had missed the Austrian Airways flight on Sunday they cancelled my return flight and I had to book a new flight via EasyJet.

I can laugh now but not yesterday.

Wednesday
Apr132011

From Austria with love

Just back from Austria.

Further to my previous post I now have a complete set of cigarette packs featuring the following slogans: 'I Love Austria', 'I Love Nature', 'I Love Snow', 'I Love Mountains' and 'I Love Sunshine'. Imagine something similar in Britain. (No, nor can I.) The only thing missing is 'I Love Freedom'.

If you've never been to Vienna I strongly recommend it, if only for the legendary coffee houses. This time yesterday I was enjoying breakfast – or should I say frühstück – at Café Landtmann which is said to have been popular with Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Paul McCartney.

According to their website, "The Café Landtmann offers a big non-smoking area as well as large facilities for our guests who wish to smoke". We were sitting in what appeared to be the largest indoor area and as far I could tell there was an ashtray at every table allowing customers to eat, drink and smoke at the same time. A more civilised way to start the day I cannot imagine.

Café Landtmann wasn't the first coffee house I visited yesterday and smoking was allowed in every one. An increasing number of Viennese restaurants ban smoking indoors but not the one where I had lunch, so everyone has a choice, including staff.

Talking of food, Austrians love their meat. I feel like I've eaten an entire cow over the past two days. They like their food battered too, and I don't mean grievous bodily harm. At lunch on Monday even the cauliflower was deep fried.

Anyway, I'm about to hand you over to Dave Atherton who has written a guest post about the one-day conference we attended on Monday. It took place at Hotel Lengbachhof in Altlengbach, a short drive from Vienna and was organised by Verband der Cigarren und Pfeifenfachhändler Österreichs (VCPÖ).

And, yes, enquiries revealed that Hotel Lengbachhof was chosen not just for its conference facilities but because delegates could smoke inside the hotel in comfortable smoking areas and even in the restaurant (which is no longer the case in many Viennese hotels).

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed the past few days. Austria? I'll be back.

Monday
Apr112011

Chris, Dave, the Danube and me

Currently in a Viennese bar overlooking the Danube.

Three hours ago I was in another bar, in a hotel some kilometres outside Vienna, with a certain Dave Atherton. Chris Snowdon - another name familiar to readers of this blog - was in the vicinity too, threatening to visit the hotel sauna.

What are we doing in Austria? I will reveal all on Wednesday when I get back. I have invited Dave to write a guest post, and Chris will be blogging too, I'm sure.

I should mention that people are smoking (shock horror) in the bar where I am currently sitting, just as they were in the hotel restaurant last night. Writing as a non-smoker, I genuinely consider it to be the height of civility and quite wonderful to behold. I can't understand why Britain doesn't try it.

Sadly, if the tobacco control movement has its way, the unsuspecting Austrians around me could lose this precious freedom in the near future if a referendum goes against them. We must do everything we can to stop it happening.