Monday, May 25, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: My First Austrian Cache

Yesterday was a geocaching milestone double header. Shortly after grabbing my first Liechtenstein cache, I also grabbed my first Austrian cache as well.

It is always a good day when one adds two country maps to ones geocaching statistics map.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: My First Liechtenstein Cache

Today I added another country to my geocaching map:  The Principality Of Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small country directly to the east of Switzerland, and sandwiched between Austria.

It is one of the smallest countries on earth - of the 249 countries, it ranks at 219, with only 160 square miles for the entire place.  It also boasts a total of 187 geocaches.

The cache I found was the closest one to the Swiss border, and is a TB hotel.  We then went on to find the very first geocache in Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein's First (GCC2F4).  The country is nestled in the Alps, so I was treated to this amazing view from the cache location:

Friday, May 22, 2015

GPS Maze Europe

When I was in Mainz Germany for the Mainz Gutenberg 2015 Giga event, I also got to take in another unique geocaching experience: the GPS Maze Europe exhibit.

The GPS Maze Exhibit is just that: an exhibit about GPS technology, geocaching specifically, in a winding series of displays.

I have attended the Canadian version of this Maze in Toronto back in January 2012.  This Maze is an updated version of that one, but intended to tour Europe.

The Maze was a very popular activity during the weekend.  I never saw more than ~100 people waiting in line to get in.

The fact that the Maze has its own icon in the statistics page, and that it featured 10 lab caches around the maze, and the Maze being located in the same building as the Giga event, made it an absolutely 'must-do' for all 5000+ geocachers who attended the Giga.

As you can see, the line-up was out the door - and I arrived 30 minutes before it opened.
Most of the displays were in Germany (which, given it was in Germany, makes sense).  However I do not speak or read german, so I missed a lot of the content.  However there was enough in english that I managed to get more out of the experience than I expected.
One of the cooler displays was a time-lapse map of all of the geocaches placed in Germany, starting with the first one in 2000, up to the present day count of 630,000+.  The display below shows the count in Berlin (left, red) and the entire country (right, blue).
The Maze was really well done.  Lots of interactive displays, and a ton of information, made this maze a pretty cool thing to explore.  There was a lot more content than I remember from the Canadian/US versions.

If you are European, or visiting Europe, you may want to track down and check out the Maze.  It is well worth the time.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: My First Swiss Cache

Today, while biking my way thru the mean streets of Zurich on the way to the office, I stopped by a little park called the Klopstockweisse, and found my first geocache in Switzerland.

Thats one more map space filled in for me!

Finding the cache involved hopping a fence in the woods at the edge of the park, which gave it that air of danger and adventure.

It was also situated in the shadow of a castle: Schloss Sihlberg:
It is never a bad geoaching situation when there is a schloss involved. Fact.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

GC50FTF: Mainz Gutenberg Giga Event

I was saddened to learn that a work trip was going to interfere with my plans to attend GeoWoodstock this year. However as a consolation prize, and a happy coincidence, I found I was going to be in the general neighbourhood of a Giga event.

Giga events are rare.  This is only the second one in the history of the world, and both happened in Germany.  So my chances of attending one any time soon in North America were remote at best.  So I jumped at the chance.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the latest Giga event the Mainz Gutenberg 2015 event in Mainz Germany.

If you are not aware, Giga events are geocaching events where more than 5000 geocachers attend - all in one day.  To put that in perspective, the largest US mega event I am aware of had about 2500 cachers.  A Giga is a *lot* of geocachers in one place.

The event was held in Rheingoldhalle, which is a large civic center type place, right on the Rhine.  I was a little worried about the location as a civic center in the middle of a town is not exactly the normal place for a large geocaching event. As you can see its all glass and stone in the middle of a rather modern portion of a large city.
It does have a really large stone courtyard tho, which actually worked out well as many of the activities, and a lot of the food, happened in this courtyard.

Despite my reservations, I had to admit that it did make for a fantastic location to host 5000+ geocachers.  There was (mostly) enough room (there were some choke points, but things soon thinned out to sane levels of human density).  Also the combination of the Rhine on one side, and the amazingly picturesque city view on the other, one couldn't help but be impressed.

I mean, how many Mega events have you been too where you get this as a background?
In the courtyard they had some pretty cool activities.  The first was a high ropes course.  Actually, given that there were several vendors selling climbing gear, I suspect this sort of thing happens a lot in Germany.
Some of the other events included a Segway course, and a European version of the GPS Maze exhibit (more on the maze in a follow-up post).

Of course, Signal was there as well.
Many of the vendors were in the large hall space. They had some top names there like Garmin, Lens Laser, and Leatherman, as well as the usual assortment of geocaching specific vendors (tho generally the European versions)
The log book was a large block with log sheets on all four sides, topped with a crackin' mannequin version of the events mascot.
Although most of the attendees were European, as one may expect, the event certainly did have an international flare.  The map where folks placed pins in the locations where they are from shows visitors from literally all corners of the globe. I highlighted the foreign pins in green so they are easy to see in the map:
Suspiciously vacant of pins is the portion of the world known as Canada.  I placed my pin in North Carolina, as that is where I came from, however I remain a proud citizen of the Great White North. I kinda like the idea that I may have been the sole visitor from my homeland there (although the likelihood of other expats having visited from elsewhere can't be discounted.

The event was not devoid of other entertainments either.  The event was headlined by a rather rockin' rock band known as Gear Down.  They played a lot of the classic Rock tunes.  At the time this photo was taken, they were hip deep into Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.

Note to other mega event organizers:  Your event should also have a rock band - just sayin'.

So this Giga certainly was an experience.  It was incredibly well run, and aside from feeling a tad claustrophobic at the choke points due to the sea of humanity, and being a tad oblivious to a lot of what was happening due to the language barrier I had a good time.

There were 30 lab caches, 10 for the Maze, and 20 strewn throughout the downtown part of the city.  Most of the lab caches were the typical "go to location, find word on sign, use word to log cache", but they were in some incredible places - they made a great tour guide for the town.  More on the exploration of Mainz in follow up posts.

The best part was really seeing all of the geocachers while out exploring the city.  Mainz has a population of 200,000 people but everywhere I looked I spotted geocachers.  I mean everywhere - in restaurants, on the bus, at historic sites, in the hotel lobby.  You couldn't get away from them :)  It was kinda awesome actually.

The Prodigal Luggage

 ~ or ~
How I Stopped Worrying And Love The Swiss

Today's travel adventure was going very well.

I had planned to take a train from Mainz Germany to Basel Switzerland, then another train from Basel to Zurich. From there I would negotiate the Swiss public transit system, and arrive at the apartment where my employer was putting me up for the next week (my main purpose for being in Zurich is business related).

So long story skipped to the middle, I did indeed successfully navigate the European rail systems and arrived at the corp apartment right on time.

All was well, so I decided I should email my wifey to let her know of my triumphs, and my current status as a temporary Zurich resident.   So I reach for my laptop, which is stored securely in my backpack.

Wait. Something is wrong. Where is my laptop? Heck, where is my backpack?!?

The sickening truth slowly descended upon me like blunt force trauma: I forgot my bag on the train - crap! (exact words expressed were a little harsher, but my mom reads this blog, so we'll stick with crap).

After a mild panic attack, I took stock of my situation.  I soon decided I should call the train company. The number is on the back of the ticket, and although my cell phone doesn't work here, the apartment is equipped with a phone. So eagerly I dial.  Nothing. Just some angry swiss words on the display which I could not read. Phone wasn't working. Time for Plan B.

Plan B: To the Internet! I pull out my phone and attempt to connect to the apartment wifi. Access error.

Likely fat fingered the password. No bigs. I try again.

Access error.


Yes. Seriously.

So I tracked down how the Wifi was wired here (which is annoyingly not obvious), and started rebooting devices. 15 minutes of frantic debugging later I finally got connected.

I contacted a local co-worker via Hangouts, and soon came to the realization that my best course of action was to return to the train station and report the missing bag.  So thats what I did.

Upon arriving back at the train station I set about the process of locating the Information desk, where I was then directed to the baggage claim department, where I was informed that no bag had been turned in.  The clerk did, however, look up my train information and informed me that it would return thru the station in 65 minutes, and I could simply look for the bag on the train when it arrived. Otherwise it would cost me 15 Swiss Francs to make an official report of missing baggage.

He gave me the information I would need: track and destination (Track 9, Basel), and the time of expected arrival.  However he also told me to check the big board in the station as tracks sometimes change.

This, of course, made me paranoid.

Plus my faith in this system was low.  No way would an unclaimed bag stick around for 3 hours in America.  Heck, likely not even in Canada.  It would probably cause some sort of bomb scare. However I've heard stories about the Swiss being polite people who like to mind their own business, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

At this point, what did I have to lose?

So I set about waiting.  As I did I thought about what else might change, so I started tracking down every train headed to Basel (tip: there are a lot of them).  I talked to many friendly train workers, and looked in many train windows, but alas no luck.

I paced the station.  I bought a banana. I stood still and fidgeted a lot. I checked the big board for updates. I ate the banana. I paced some more. I fidgeted again.  I checked the board.

At this point I expected security to come talk to this strange bloke pacing the station looking like a nervous ninny (at least my look was honest, I *was* a nervous ninny).  As I paced I thought of all the things in that bag that I would lose - a fair amount of cash, my jacket, travel adapters, my work laptop... heck, even the chunk of German Mountain Cheese I bought at a farmers market in Mainz! (I think that you'll agree this is a truely sad situation - you can replace almost anything, but as a Canadian living in the US, it is almost impossible to replace Germain Mountain Cheese!)

So finally the big board updated itself and a train was scheduled to depart on Track 9 about ten minutes before the time I was given for its arrival - so I focused on that train.

I paced some more.

Is it time? no.

More pacing.

Oh, I think I see a train!  Is it coming to track 9?  YES!

I rushed over to the train, and started going thru the cars, looking in the spots where I was sitting in each car (I couldn't remember which car I was in - just that I was in First Class - which narrowed things down a bit).

Finally I spotted it.

I rushed over. Is it?

Yes it is! My missing bag was in my hands! Success!  Other utterances of joy!

I turned around, and quickly explained to the amused looking old Swiss gentleman who was staring at me that I had lost the bag, but found it again. I kind of expected him to think I stole it, but he just smiled at me, so I rushed off the train.

A quick tram ride later and I am now back in the corp apartment, typing this story on the laptop I lost, while eating my German Mountain Cheese, and drinking milk from a wine glass (cause, why not?)

I am also thankful for the Swiss folk for being awesome about other peoples belongings, and who don't consider every abandoned bag a bomb scare, or some personal treasure to claim as their own.  

I think I am going to enjoy Switzerland.

Dankeschön, Deutschland

You have been good to me. Auf Wiedersehen!