Saturday, 28 August 2010

Across the Wallensee for a Zurich Reunion

Bad Ragaz is utterly still, deader than ever, at 6.30am. There's nothing open for water or buns, and the hotel I'm staying in will no doubt put out a search party for Bambi, or anyone else involved with its miraculously people-free accommodation skills.

I'm headed for Walenstadt, where Tom took a barge across the Wallensee lake and then shimmied up small rivers to Zurich. It's about - it's always about - 25 kilometres away, and I've moved off the reassuring Rhine and so am interested in my navigating skills, and those of the IPAD.

I have to say the Swiss do Good Sign. Later in Zurich a pair of late night graphic designers will tell that despite the historic and continuing excellence of Swiss typefaces and typography the Zurich Client is likely to say: "we want whatever is in London."

The signs for us walkers, cyclists, roller-skaters and even once penguins, are great and always give the distance in time, a point that Tom notices 400 years ago. Of course the debate starts here, in a couple of days I am discussing with Norbert whether it is better to know that it is 20 kilometres to go, or four hours. "Four hours," Norbert says, "means you can know if you'll get there before dark, or the church service, or the closing of the city gates.

But what speed do the signs represent?

It doesn't matter, you learn that four hours means two hour, or six.

And so time twists its expanding universe around the valleys of Switzerland.

I'm soon in flat farmland near the river and I'm sticking hard to the banks, avoiding hills. I've found some water and old croissants in a petrol station, and I've checked out the larger suburban chalets, from which - as from the farm houses later - ridiculously small children emerge ladened with backpack, to catch the school mini-bus. My, they start early. It could be New York.

The valley I'm walking down to Walenstadt has proper stage-set high mountains, spectacular things that utterly dwarf the hill villages on the horizons. Riverside factories come and go; roller-skaters pass me, dogs growl and I see plenty of shooting ranges. On Saturday Roli tells me that anyone currently in the army, and Switzerland still has conscription, more later, has to practice shooting a specific number of times per year. In Brugg he points out a notice on a council board, giving the dates.

But I'm only aiming for the 11.20 boat from Walenstadt to Wessen, and hour and a bit of a lake ride. It's the northern most stop of the Wallensee. I feel very blond and teutonic today, though when I sit down to eat lunch at Walenstadt, because I miss my boat by five minutes, I still feel self-conscious among the soldiers, locals, Japanese tourists who've just done a car tour of "Heidiland" - the valley is even signposted as Heidiland, and when I first post this on Facebook a friend asks if I've had any goat's milk yet. Answer no: I'm on a coffee and fags diet, still.

I sit in the harbour and wait for the 2.00 boat; a few soldiers and a couple of locals sunbathe, and the dogs try and swim as fast as the swans. No chance. The clouds do something amazing above the mountains, a blue and white zebra crossing of foaminess.

Everything is even more blue-eyed and blond and I begin to blend in. The Walensee has the same vibe as Lake Como, back down the Splugen and the San Marco passes in ClooneyLand. The boat makes a series of zig-zag steps across the lake, throwing out the most stunning vistas. Tom writes that there was a huge wooden bridge across this lake. It's gone now, and would have really been something.

We pick up more people along the way and by Wessen we are full to disembark. There is a bus to the railway station @ Zeigelbrucke, but I decide to walk: Tom took his barge down a tributary all the way to Zurich, I feel justified in taking the train from Zeidelbrucke, but I damned if I'm going to catch the bus as well.

It gives me the chance to do Cary Grant impressions down long fields of corn, whilst crop planes fly overhead. But the biggest danger, as ever, is the BMW driver on his/her phone.

I use my map app to get from Zurich HB to the Andorra bar, in the gentrified, but not Abramovitch'd, old town near to the Limmat river. Just off Limmat quay, I turn left and walk up to an old paved street, pass the club where the Cabaret Voltaire launched in 1916, pause to take a nod to Dada, and see the Andorra bar, amidst a bunch of places, fifty metres ahead. Norbert is sitting outside, in front of a pet shop, with a beer. He's fidling with his IPhone. Soon we are having a haven't seen you for twelve years conversation.

In the early years of the web Norbert ran a very cool Interactive Newspapers conference in Zurich every November. He very kindly invited me for five or six years. The first time to give a keynote, alongside a Very Grand German Publisher who'd flown in his jet from Paris and spoke a lot about his kids in the lab and the wonders of The Renaissance. The crowd asked me to slow down, it was my first public speech and I was pumped to explain why everybody was wrong.

In later years Norbert asked me to do something else: to sit at the back and then ask to hard questions that everyone else was to polite to contemplate. It is fair to say not everybody loved me. But then in those days there was this idea that newspapers could make Croesus millions online.

Norbert has a workshop with a large regional Swiss newspaper tomorrow. He introduces me to Beat, the bar owner, who has a Boy's Own Bachelor Pad opposite, complete with roof terrance with just fantastic Rear Window views and a panorama across Old Zurich and its churches. Tomorrow night Dinner Party, Beat says. He has about 10,000 DVDs in his living room and the whole apartment is a shrine to movies, Once Upon a Time in the West seeming to get most poster action, including a rare East German poster from the 80s. Friends of Beat like to play a game where he leaves the room, somebody removes one DVD and then he has 60 seconds to guess which.

He's never lost.

We all talk for hours. Beat tells us that at one of the bars down the road a tourist has asked, "Where is the non-smoking outdoor terrace."
"She was lucky not to be clubbed to death," Beat says. The laws about smoking inside bars only changed a couple of months ago, and Switzerland or certainly Zurich is still a city of Karsh Smoke Images.

We're having a sort of boy-man (of 51, Norbert and I discover we are the same age) conversation about all those topics of middle age. We've all moved some distance from 1998. Norbert lives in Berlin now, in what was East Germany. A hip area where things change from week to week. We go back to the optimism of the early days of the web, of online newspapers: the hope, the hype, the lies and the genuine successes. These days, until in fact the arrival of the "app" and the idea that with mobile internet, accessed via a paid for app, there might be hope for a financial future for online media, the reality is desperation in the newspaper world of print. Actually the Swiss still buy print in large enough numbers, the papers are regional, and local, and read and mean something.

"I woke up about four years ago turned on my laptop and thought - my screen is so flat, everything is the same." Norbert says. "There's no nuance, nothing subtle. I read many, many more books now."

He's been reading about neuroscience, as have I. He talks about the stimulus to certain parts of the brain when we mirror the actions of others. "We need other people, the whole experiment we've lived through about the individual - it's failed. Or rather if it doesn't fail then it's all over for us all."

Beat has been to see his youngest son, who lives nearby with his mother. It is his first day of school. "I told him that the great thing about school is that it is a countdown to Life," he says.

In Switzerland, Norbert says, education is about making you "something" rather than encouraging the curious. But we need the curious. We need more than the flat, annihilating computer screen. We'll talk more, I'm sure. A happy first reunion.

The guys go to bed and I read Goethe's Autobiography on the IPAD. The young years; the intensely curious years. The fights with rote-learning teachers and personal tutors, the explorations of the Classics, Hebrew, art - people. Perhaps it is Goethe's particular genius to make this all seem fun. What price the Angry Birds game app now number one on the free downloads?

The light streams into my top floor bedroom at 6am, and the bells from the churches are made especially loud by their proximity, and the height I'm at. I stagger to the roof terrace and have a look around. In high rooms office work is starting by 7am. Hollywood Zurich style has replaced Heidiland and I am in a Big City for the first time in a week.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Bambi in Bad Ragaz; Heidi everywhere

A 6am start in Chur to revisit the Cathedral and just try and imagine. By seven school kids are passing in clumps and couples and solitary singles. Does Swiss school begin at 8?

The walking out of a town is always full of details, those of the Beiderman-Klass who live in the periphery houses, or the smarter apartment blocks. Soon enough these have faded, to be replaced by river side factories. I'm using my analogue BFlat walking app today. Which means sticking close to the no-hill zones of the river, even if that means proximity to railway tracks, autobahns and factories. Tom is always saying that journeys are ten miles, which is almost never right - today I'm going to walk more like 18 by the time I am sitting in the Hotel Bambi, right in the centre of Bad Ragaz - and away from the fancy Five Star spa places and the casino.

As ever there are more fabulous stratospheric buildings on hills, they must have made their impression on Tom. Chur was around 2,500 people when Tom passed through; now it is a city of 30,000, capital of the Grisons. In fact when Tom hits Bad Ragaz, our destination today, he says it is his first stop in "Switzerland".

But Bad Ragaz, for its beauty, is a nothing much happens place. When I collapse sweating at the refined Cafe Huber, the Ladies Who Spa move their chairs slightly, as if frightened of catching something.

The last part of the trail comes off the Rhine through a tended park in which each flower and tree has a label. In nice Swiss typography. In the middle of small lake is a floating artwork, a bunch of naked men. Later in Beatz, the bar for the people who don't go to The Pub, a guy says: Bad Ragaz is always having art experiences, and there's work all over town, they never take it away.

It is a measure of the busy nature of Bad Ragaz that I'm asked to pay for my room in cash the day before, because there won't be anybody there in the morning. The winds start up and beer mats and napkins fly off down the high street towards the thermal baths.

In Beatz I meet the guys and a couple of their girlfriends. None work in Bad Ragaz, they travel to other towns. Michael starts his shifts at 6am, he's a controller in a factory that makes the machines that make solar panels. The machines are exported to Asia, the panels made, and then sold back to Europe. I start at six so I can finish at three, he says. You know, have some time to do stuff.

But everyones agrees there's not much to do in BR. Most people went to Chur, for the festival. It wasn't as good as a few years ago.

Michael's going with his girlfriend Lisa to Biarritz tomorrow, for a week of surfing; when he was a kid his family took him to Italy, over the mountains. It was so cheap. A couple of years ago he worked for nine months in an Italian town, but after work the men only wanted to chase women and talk about cars. He came home.

Lisa says that when her dad was young he bought a VW van in Bad Ragaz and drove to India. He didn't smoke though, he still insists. When the Alllied Forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 Lisa's father said: "I've been there, they are proud people, it will never work. The Afghans will win.

Another guy at the table tells me about the Heidi tourists, often from Japan, who fly and bus in, check out the Heidi Trek and then zoom off for the Matterhorn - that's Switzerland.
Another talks about the "outsider towns" full of foreigners; that's often where the work is.

The boyz wander off for a this or that, and we have to go inside by ten: the indoor smoking laws were passed only two months ago in Switzerland and Bad Ragaz does Bad Neighbours, they don't like people on the streets. Nicole the owner has to shepherd the boys inside. Soon enough everyone's left: there is early work in the morning.

I walk home to Bambi in windy silence. And set my alarm for dawn. I am the only person in the building.

New Mobile, New Chur, New Labour

Author's note. The photographs are all on my Facebook pages, so to see them you'll have to visit.

I am half way through a panegyric to the wonders of Swiss nature walking the first few miles from Ems towards Chur. Tom did this part of the walk at the end of his day from Thusis. I'm looking at the wide open meadows and the cows and the hills either side and life is Heidiland. It should be a doodle. .

And then the path sign points up. Up means climbing. I climb.

And climb. Panegyrics are forgotten. Tom, I'm guessing, stayed low near the river, though later some guys in Bad Ragaz tell me that The Rhine in Tom's time would have been much wider, and un-damned, and so the land nearby muddy and treacherous. Still, I don't think Tom would have come this far up; I've walked for half an hour and I'm still level - albeit now in the distance - with the Church at Ems. It's a great view, and now a house, high on an adjacent hill, becomes apparent. It is impossible not to marvel at the courage of those that built these vertigo-testing homes.

But my heart is beating fast. I stop to photograph some designer animals that I think are Llamas. But I'm thinking John Smith, the leader of the Labour party in the early 1990s, who died of a heart attack at 56. Smith was the great hope of old Labour. He was also a hill walker, he'd climbed all 300 of Scotland's high hills. There's a club. Hang on didn't another Labour high-up, Robin Cook, actually die hill walking? Yes, in 2005.

I'm thinking stay politically neutral as you keep climbing today.

I was told about Smith's death while on an aeroplane coming back from Martinique in the French Caribbean by the French Cultural attache. We'd had a few "political" discussions during my week on a "fact finding" mission for The Times Travel pages. Fact: Martinique is Lovely. It was May 1994.

Smith, Cook, they were part of a What-If? parallel world in which Tony Blair - and Gordon Brown - did not exist. Or rather: they had lived up to to their promise. For the period after 1994 until the election of 1997 which ended 18 years of Conservative rule, was incredibly heady. The Web was The Thing. Britain - and Britannia - was cool. There was a lot of optimism around. These are my thoughts as the path keeps climbing, my heart keeps beating, and I'm thinking I don't want some Blairite to finish the Tom Coryat project.

Tommy must have been getting excited. After the rigours of the mountains he's coming down the valley, and just about to see his first Grison city, Curia - now Chur. From on high looking down on the town I am reminded immediately of Brasov, in Romania, where I once spend a very happy half summer. Both cities nest in the strategic focal point of a valley. Both have cable car access to higher points, satellite tourist walks and skiing places. I take a guess that like Brasov the Romans must have been here in Chur. It is so their kind of thing.

Thoughts of John Smith move on to Tony Blair. His "journey" is published soon. The New Labour Project in the UK risen and fallen - and now defeated. A few days ago Wired magazine declared the Web to be dead, and sitting high in the hills outside Ems using my Orange 3G pay as you go SIM to check my route, using my mapping app - I feel I might be hitting the Matterhorn shortly - I thought: well, this mobile everywhere, everything culture, based on apps and social networks and GPS is utterly compelling. It is the Coalition of technologies.

Walking the route means I come into town the medieval way, via turreted gatehouses. Back to Work Chur is very different from its carnival weekend. I wander the old town, the Cathedral, St Martin's church, the tall 16th century building covered in astrological signs. I take a bus to the outskirts of town, to a bleak white shopping mall with large signs for an "erotic mart". Here, amidst the Vitra stories and gardening centres and car dealerships is the H.R. Giger cafe, a themed cafe based on the designs of the Chur local who created the beasts of Alien. But the theatre of the Giger cafe disappoints, it's strictly West-End, not immersive moderne. And the drama that might have been in the bathrooms - just imagine an Aliens styled Heren und Damen - is pure white IKEA.

Giger is a big name in Chur; the last time I was here the Kunsthaus had a large exhibition of his life's work, starting with the graphic novels. Giger was a sexy comic book artist very early, in the 60s. Sexy that is in a fetishy, misogynist, snakes in every orifice, kind of way. The Alien, in the greater context, makes a lot of sense. I wonder for a while about the impact of geography and location on Giger's imagination. The monsters of the mountains, the close knit families, the local sense that "everything" including the mountains is alive - in some way. The anxiety of the grand and the panoramic.

In St Martin's Church I feel very close to Tom. He is finally back in Protestant lands, though this was not Switzerland, it was the Grisons. Tom enters Switzerland in Bad Ragaz, my next stop. Giacometti's father did some of the stained glass in St Martin's, and it has a modernist take - in my eyes - on the Pre-Raphaelite. I am sure this is art-historically wrong, but it gives the feeling.

I started my day in Ems unusually with a "namaste" from a tiny Indian boy off on his first day of school - they go back early in Switzerland. And now in Chur mid-afternoon is about end of school. I wander the Cathedral, then sit at a pew and read Tom, via Google Books.

This ability to be able "carry" my reading, my guide books, maps, computer - my needs - is incredibly compelling. I hope the new mobile - web is dead - world - proves more resilient than New Labour. As if on cue a Google Alert informs me that the leader of the Coalition Government, David Cameron, and his wife, Samantha, have had a daughter.

Perhaps they should call her Apple.

Monday, 23 August 2010

@ The Big Easy, aka Der Einfache Grosse

Perhaps it is my age but the Sunday afternoon version of Chur's festival is far more to my taste. The alleyways and courtyards of the old town echo to a grosser easy of old Americana tunes, Johnny B Goode, Teddy Bear and Nobody Loves You When You're etc. etc. There are no conga lines; no mass renditions of Gaga-ish Argentinia, and no hint of trouble.

Long trestle tables full of families eating sausages and three-feet long kebabs are everywhere. It's very communal - practically socialist Fox might claim. A day of catch-ups, from last night perhaps, or from time. There are numerous hugged reunions. The kids seem to love it. There are street games, straight out of Tom's time: throwing things at heads to win a prize, strength tests - even a Swiss take on the Rodeo, with a bronco buck straight out of 1960s Dinosaur movies.

Chur seems set to celebrate middle America, pick up bands knock out rock and roll and ballads, and go on and on. I'm acclimatising to the tattoos which are ubiquitous - as is the smoking. Tom's monarch, James the First, who liked to think of himself as a bit of a scholar - think Prince Charles minus Camilla plus "n" number of boys - wrote a treatise against tobacco in 1604. A Counterblaste, in fact. Clearly its message never crossed the Channel, nor got anywhere near Splugen, Thusis or Chur. Perhaps Zurich will be the new San Francisco of Switzerland. We'll See.

I haven't had time to track down Shakespeare in Splugen yet - guess I have the rest of my life to become the new Dan Brown/Stephen Greenblatt/James Shapiro/Crazy Person - but I have discovered that the alleged hotel was:

1) Built 150 years after Shakespeare's death
2) Its most famous visitor was Nietzsche
3) Then Napoleon

Resting Bikers are found in the hotel @Frustuck. I retreat to my terrace and the rhododendrons - there we go - with some Hindi-Pop in the air. Mid-morning I go to Chur. The festival works, what's there not to like about a schoolboy keyboard vocalist heading up a pop trio with an overweight George Michael guitarist on flashy Gary Moore Guitar? It's like Keane without the Public School thing. Two Calenda beers down the answer is: nothing at all.

At my trestle table a "Beckham" in vest (Wife-Beater for the USA readers) has shoulder and arm tattoos of both cows and Chinese lettering. There are also a lot of Billy Connolly haircuts - mullets as were, but that gives the communal coiffeur-ery a 80s resonance that doesn't do justice to the beards and bi-focals.

But I'm grosser easy. It's ok.

Having a Facebook moment in the food area of the music arena I'm accosted by Varenna who is selling lottery tickets. I feign ignorance. "You know: you pay money, win prizes?"
I get the picture. We move on.

Is that an Apple Tablet?

I confirm that yes, it might be.

Then we must be friends, Varenna says. I am in online marketing. Effective online marketing strategies - that make money.

Of course.

I touch screen away; soon I'm on Varenna's home page, it's part of the Oviva Social Network. Bookmark it, Varenna says. You'll need it. Do you get comments on your blog - ouch baby, below the belt surely? - with Oviva not only do you get comments, but you get paid for them.

Ok, Ok.

I see you're on Facebook, so "they" know everything about you. On my network everything is - how you say?- secure.

And so ends my first ever listening to Latino rock at a county-town in Switzerland online marketing pitch done offline by a lottery ticket seller. I photograph a three three old wearing headphone ear muffs - well it is the trad jazz bit of the day - and chat to his parents. The husband is half-Scottish; the wife once lived off the Edgeware road. So much for journalism.

I'm asked to sign a petition about Kulture in Chur. All for it, I say, reaching for the pen. But my language choice disbars me. The next signature hunter is less discerning - clearly a girl with a lot of Facebook Friends - and I sign away. I've been away four days now, I wonder how many libraries Jeremy Hunt has closed since I left?

This is not going to be a Tom day. At the Kunsthaus - the art gallery for the Grisons region - there's a good exhibition of mountain photography: I'm going to try and meet the curator tomorrow. The images go back to the 1850s and while that's still 250 years ahead of Tom it is getting closer.

I ask the couple next to me how to say The Big Easy in German. There is much scratching of heads, we don't know. I say the words one by one: they give me the translations..

But it makes no sense in German! The man says.
The woman writes it for me anyway: Der Einfache Grosse

That's what we have today, our very own Swiss "happening".

Then I sees Cher - circa that song that required straddling a warship's canon. In fact from my trestle table outlook I can complete a Billboard Top 100 Antique Rock Starts without straining my neck. Consider Motley Crue, Fleetwood Mac and Bon Jovi as givens, then, blimey, Shirley Bassey, that Scottish woman from Texas, and for the kids we have the Osbourne girl who ditched her boyfriend by Twitter, Avril Lavine. Perhaps no New Jack City or Michael Jackson, but otherwise this is too Einfache a game.

Rock Me Slowly sings the schoolboy keyboard player, let's call him Gunter Barlow, like our Gary.

Tom was reacclimatising too: this was a different mood - indeed religion - from Italy. I'm still on the fence about his real beliefs - being even a crypto-Catholic was not a good thing after the Gunpowder Treason three years before, and yet there's something about Tom...He must have visited every church in Europe. Tomorrow I will visit Chur's, and I hope to see some Durer. Like Goethe, Durer went early to Italy and brought some of that country's sun and sex back to illuminate "northern" culture. In another kind of global exchange a Swiss girl named Sandra has got up on stage to sing a Mariah Carey song. She's not bad, and the sing along with Gunter Barlow is quite nice: they hear "music in the air." Then I twig, it's fucking Glee, for sure. They sing another song, more bluesy, and I lose any facility for aesthetic judgement, why not? Any minute now Denis Quaid will turn up and make a dodgy bust.

I ask a young policeman what time this all ends.
At five, with a fierce yet strangely sympathetic smile.

And so it comes to pass. In fact the coming down is the most impressive feature of the day. A couple of years ago I photographed the Moscow State Circus on tour in England. Now they were good at taking the tents down and spinning their boleros and stuff, but this lot in Chur are efficiency itself.

I go back to Ems, the hotel - where neither the phone, wifi or showers work - hasn't done my laundry. I go into Infer mood. How did Tom smell after three and a half months on the road in 1608? I hope he bought new boxers in Venice.

After Durer I might just squeeze in Giger again. Alien I-V and all that vs. Predator stuff, as well. There's a theme bar somewhere in town.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Shakespeare in Splugen, exclusive

The payback is the next day. Unlike Tom I'm not in training. Everything aches, I walk like John Wayne after a three day ride. Brokeback Splugen.

There is another gardening centre past the railway station at Thusis, which makes three for a town of 2000 people; I'll see even more today on the walk to Chur. One thing: they leave out the cafe tables and the gardening products at the centres, they just sit there on the street at night indifferent to crime. Perhaps the punishments are draconian, or maybe it's just something in the Rhine water.

Under the railway and out into the sunshine close to the river, past the early morning tennis games and dog walkers, and into the distance the mountains are forcing the sunlight to emerge at 45 degrees, in an almost monochrome vision: like an old religious print, really. I head for Sils, crossing first the Hinterhine, and then the autobahn. I want to be away from the cars - which means I'm going to have to climb.

Tom mentions the flat meadows of the area, and the sheep and cows, as though the great mountainous beasts that surround us don't count, I think that's the point. Away from the river and the motorway Sils is absolutely quiet, not a soul has stirred yet, it is about 8.30. Late starting again.

I'm not lost, it is impossible to get lost lost when the natural map, the river, is telling you the rough direction. It's just that I want to follow the hilly trail, take in some of the villages off the Lycra Track. I find a restaurant in Sils, close to the church. I order a coffee from a tall blond man and show him my map. He follows me outside and then calls his wife.

Daniella gives great instruction, up to the next church, right, down past the - how do you say? - well, and then head for Scharans, you can't miss it. She asks how far I'm going. Holland, I say, following the Rhine. Bruno laughs, eight weeks, right? Something like that if I don't - as Tom did - take a few boats. Daniella goes inside and emerges with a new glossy magazine about the Rhine. Rheinfluss. I find the editor's email. Pull out my machine and email him. This you could not do even ten years ago. Keep it, she says, it's easier to read than those computers.

There is a castle up on the hill, you'll see it, Daniella says. There was a secret tunnel down to this building, my mother when she was a child walked about 500 metres of it, but it had collapsed.

How old was it?

I don't know, this building was started in 1450.

Then Tom would have seen it? Quite so.

I explain a little about Tom. using the "he drank with Shakespeare" line as it at least gives context if not quite documented proof. "Ah you know that Shakespeare went to Splugen," Daniella says, as if I've read all of Shakespeare's plays including Measure fur Measure and Caesar Lear. "There's a hotel up there with a sign on its walls. Shakespeare was here."

Oh no!

I can't go back, I'll check the website for the hotel later. But...From my lite reading about yer man's life I suggest the Splugen episode is not particularly well known. As we have no proof Shakespeare left the country, this is, er, interesting. During the 2007 walk I seem to remember an Italian claimed that Shakespeare was in fact a local. More pertinently, perhaps, I'm thinking that Shakespeare in Splugen might in fact be Tommy boy - he certainly crossed the Splugen Pass, the point at which I officially began my rewalk yesterday. Could he, in some boasty, bar room chat down in the town have either claimed to be the man, or told a few stories about him? This obviously needs a little more research and while I could stay with Daniella and Bruno in Sils and annoy them intensely by scouting around research papers online with my Athens log in, I'd rather listen to the sounds of the locals taking their shooting practice - which echo down the valley - have another espresso and get going. Tommy was an early starter, it makes sense, the midday sun is hot enough and really if I'm fit I could walk to Chur in about six hours. That's what Daniella tells me, anyway.

You are staying in Chur? Bruno shakes his head. The festival is on, there won't be any rooms and it will be very loud. This is double confirmation: at my hotel in Thusis they have tried to book a room, any room, in Chur. All that was on offer was a "worker-apartment" in a Best Western on the autobahn outside the town. Call me fastidious, but I decided to risk it.

Now I wasn't so sure.

Walk as far as Ems and stay there, Daniella says.
Ok, thank you, how much to I owe? Daniella shakes her head. Have a great walk she says.

Fields. You don't cross many fields in my walk of life: heaths occasionally; parks, but not fields that are either tended so that Tiger could putt on them, or chemical-free and abundant with every kind of flower. It is all very green, and above the mountains are that greeny-blue that comes with the haze of early sun. Tom mentions the ruins around here a lot and it is obvious why. God and his church DIY boys have flecked these hills with vertiginous buildings, some ruined in the appropriate gothic style others looking very much up and running. It is the sheer complexity and effort that must have gone in to getting them built that inspires. This now is Protestant Country as far as Tom's thinking goes, though he notes many "papist" allusions.

Sometimes the trail takes me close to the river, at other times I climb; soon enough I am in - well not Scharans as I should be but - Furstenau. Which is lovely and there is a huge house at its core which should be a hotel, but isn't. On one of its terraces a couple - old Swiss man, young Swiss woman - look down on me from their newspapers. The Blofelds of Furstenau. It's warm now and I'm travelling with everything, which isn't much but enough. Including leather jacket. I'm hot.

Dogs. Rory Stewart, T.E. Lawrence, Tommy, you name them, they can deal with dogs. I'm not so good since a bite in Cappadochia in central Turkey many years ago led to the dread rabies injections in the stomach. And then there's just the barking. Anyway, today every dog I pass is an untethered Alsation hungry for some red meat. And every owner is a laughing don't worry kind of Swiss. I leave the paths and hit fields, see more ruins, spin around to take in the entire valley from Thusis, and then hit a narrow road where a woman passes in horse and cart.

So: inferring Tom. What wasn't there? Easy sensory stuff first. No electricity lines humming about, no drones from cars, planes, trains. No pistol shots echoing (well not too many). The sounds he hears are the river, the wind, and in the fields the cow bells, church bells the most, surely? Perhaps the beat of hoofs, dogs. He's enjoying the meadows, and the ruins, but he's not marvelling at the mountains. He doesn't have Darwin, or dinosaur bones to prove anything. He believes the world is around 4000 years old. He tells the time by the sun, and takes his directions from the Rhine. God made all this, he thinks. But the mountains are ugly, scary places of heathen ideas, best to move on to the towns.

Hmm. C - needs more work.

I take coffee at Pratval with a man engrossed by sand wrestling live on SF Sport TV. Men wrestlers, this isn't volleyball. I check out the towns and villages ahead on Wikihood, and move on. Now I'm on a cycling path, one that goes all the way to Chur, which is now only about 16 kilometres away. I say hello to each cyclist that I pass in an attempt to break my prejudice. A particularly bad place in hell, perhaps the Walmart Wing, is reserved for the mother, an Alpha MAMIL [middle aged man in lycra], who sang "Bye" to my "hi" later in the afternoon when I was beginning to tire.

The pylon wires hum above, and the river flows to my left. I'm not really thinking about much more than the now. It is nice. Lunch - a double salami sandwich, ice tea, espresso, two glasses of fizzy water...and a Facebook at Rothenbruhnen. An elderly Swiss couple sit behind me and shout non-aggressively at each other, deafening the accordion channel that is playing pop-ily on the radio. Then Madam has a volcanic coughing attack and I throw the Marboroughs in the Death in Venice (the German name for an ash tray sounds like Ashenbacker, or something. It made me laugh at the time).

The last part of the walk is inevitably the hardest and at the obligatory midday for all pasty Englishmen, like me. Was it just one relentless climb? There were great views of hilltop churches, ox-bow lakes, valley panoramas, etc. etc. But in fact all I seek is shade. Forests beat fields. Beat villages. Beat everything short of a pool. I make the 11 kilometres in just under two hours but I'm beat and my mood isn't helped by my first vision of Ems being of its golf course. And my second being its Stepfordy hinterlands. At the station I drink a gallon of water and find the only hotel on Google Maps. Having sat down to drink I discover it is actually quite hard to stand. I BrokeBack off to the Hotel Sternen.

Which, of course, is Indian.

The garden view from my terrace reminds me, I think it is the rhodadenroms, (whoops) of the Theosophical gardens in Calcutta, a life time ago. There is a lot of curry on the hotel menu, and my wifi logon is Singh. It doesn't work.

Much later I take a bus into Chur, which I remember in the rain as Croydon plus some alleyways. Today it is Mardis Gras plus Margate Funfair. The entire labyrinth of the old town is turned into temporary bars, stages, restaurants; an exercise in the communal. Everyone seems to having a lot of fun. I notice that there are many many tattoos. The entire city is in party mood. I am a bit of a party-popper, but only through tiredness. I'll be back for the other culture in a day or two.

In the concert arena - free green wrist tag compulsory - a Swiss rapper is being sarcastic. And the teenagers are being bored, plus texting. Later a progressive rock band - full title - named Headache, play with suitable pain. Later still there is a Lene Lovitchy Elastica rip off. Plus tattoos. I eat a biryani, feel my legs begin to buckle, and catch a taxi home from a place next to a strip joint named Octopussy - my first genuine Bond allusion. While I am waiting in the taxi office a MAMIL sans Lycra comes in, takes half a dozen boiled sweets from a jar on the desk, and orders a Stretch-Limo. I hope he hasn't made new friends at Octopussy - the evening could cost him quite a few superbikes.

Not to mention the saddle sores.

Brokeback Armstrong.