Sunday, September 23, 2007

The world is a remarkable place

I am sitting at an outdoor table on a hotel balcony in Triesenberg in Liechtenstein, looking down on the Rhine river (not much of a river this far into the Alps, but it has still carved quite a decent valley) and drinking excellent Austrian beer. The haze in the photograph is actual haze. It is not caused by the camera. If there is no haze in the photograph, then that presumably means it is caused by the beer. Tomorrow morning at 9am I shall be back at my desk in an office at Canary Wharf in London. It does amaze me that I can spend weekends like this. Weekends away like this can also be astonishingly inexpensive, too, although Switzerland is a little more expensive than Spain or Portugal. I love being at work on a Monday, and in the middle of the afternoon unexpectedly putting a statement like "I was sitting beside the Rhine yesterday, and a strang thing happened....".

When I am in places away from home, from time to time I see temptation and want to succumb. I see a sign showing bus fares to Calcutta or ferries to St Petersberg and think "I could just buy a ticket and see where I go". Of course, I never actually do this. Today, the temptation was simply seeing a sign on a motorway, telling me that "München, D" was a mere 250km away. I have never been to Munich. I could have given Alan a call, and could have been buying him a beer a couple of hours later.

Of course, the minor problem with that plan is that I have to be at Zurich airport by 9.10pm at the very latest. While I probably could have bought Alan a drink in Munich and made it back to Zurich by 9.10pm, it would not have left much time for anything else other than driving. As it is, I think I will briefly visit Feldkirch in Austria (this is a rare chance to visit four countries in one day, and then drive to St Gallen to have dinner and visit the famous cathedral and then drive back to Zurich.


AlanL said...

Indeed you could. Oh well. Another time. You won't find any cheap flights to Munich in the next couple of weeks though.

The Rhine in Liechstenstein. Who'd have thought it? It must have to do considerable acrobatics to avoid crossing the Danube at some point.

Michael said...

My travel schedule for the rest of the year is finalised, I think, anyway. (A weekend in Portugal next month, another in Paris in November and then I am off to the Far East and Australia for Christmas). What I should do is come to Munich in April for Frühlingsfest, I suspect.

Liechtenstein consists of about a 20km stretch of one half of the Rhine Valley. The river itself forms the border with Switzerland, and the top of the ridge on the eastern side of the valley is the border with Austria. At the north end of the Principality the river contines north as the border between Austria and Switzerland, and then it contines north until flowing into Lake Constance (Bodensee). Lake constance is oriented East-West, and the river flows west out of the lake for a while before doing a sharp turn north and becoming the border between Germany and France. Wikipedia is a fine thing

I drove along the side of Lake Constance for a few minutes yesterday. My goodness that is a gorgeously beautiful place. (I had a little mist over the lake and the evening light with quaint Swiss towns on the side, and I really could have taken some lovely photographs. However, I was driving rapidly along a motorway, and there was nowhere to stop.

Andy said...

not much of a river this far into the Alps, but it has still carved quite a decent valley

Are you sure the river carved the valley, rather than the Rhine Glacier during the ice age? To my eye, the valley seems more U-shaped than V-shaped, which suggests glaciation.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog you have here. I am also thinking of moving across to the UK (partly for the attraction of weekend travel) and noted with interest your observation that weekends away were not all that expensive? Can you elaborate on this at all? Just in rough terms what would you be looking at for a weekend in barca or something (i know it depends on hotels etc) but I would be interested in your experience.

Michael said...

Depends when you go, when you are willing to fly, and when you book. I book my weekends away up to six months in advance, and as a consequence I very seldom pay more than £50 return for an airfare. Then there is the cost of getting to and from the airports at both ends (say £20, although it varies depending on whether you use buses or trains, and where you are going to). Then there is accommodation. My usual budget is 50 euros a night. For that I can usually get a decent pension style room or cheap hotel room. It varies depending on the country (in Spain you are talking maybe 30 euros, in Portugal 20) and you can pay less by staying in a hostel or more in a nicer hotel.

After that it is all depends on things about where you like to eat, what attractions you want to see, and how much beer you drink. (If you look at the archives of the blog it is possible to figure out that I am something of a foodie, so the combination of cheap accommodation but expensive restaurants is one I have a tendency to do). A weekend away for £100 return in total is very doable though.

The trick is to get the cheap flights. If you are willing or able to travel on days other than Friday , Saturday and Sunday, you can get pretty cheap fares from Ryanair and Easyjet even a few days before you travel. If you want to travel on those days you either have to book well in advance or watch for sales.

vijay said...


I apologize for contacting you via the comments section, but I couldn't find an e-mail address for you.

In any case, this will probably come across as extremely random but I just read a post that you made on several years ago regarding television rights for football.

It was so interesting and well-informed that I thought that I would turn to you for the answer to the question that burns in every American soccer fan's mind: Why isn't the Champions League broadcast in HD in the United States?

A contact at ESPN seems to claim that FIFA won't allow them to do so, which seems strange to me, while others suggest that ESPN does not want to foot the extra cost of a transatlantic feed. How do the rights work in this scenario as far as FIFA, UEFA, ESPN and other European networks?

To receive any kind of response regarding this issue would be thrilling because I haven't been able to get any definitive answers on the matter.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


Michael said...

Are ESPN showing English Premier League in HDTV? That would be an easier one to manage, I think.

I don't know anything about contracts signed between ESPN and UEFA, so it may well be there are legal or costs aspects preventing you seeing Champions League games in HDTV. However, broadcast rights for the Champions League in Europe are complicated.

Firstly, HDTV in Europe is not as advanced and hasn't existed for as long as in the US. In Britain we have had satellite HDTV for about 18 months. BSkyB produces and broadcasts satellite HDTV of Premier League games in the UK, and I wouldn't think that it would be hard for ESPN to buy and broadcast those.

However, the Champions League is a different matter. TV broadcast rights are in most countries divided between two broadcasters. In the UK terrestrial network ITV has the rights to show two games of its choice (in practice this means the games involving England teams) on Tuesday nights, and the rest of the games are on Satellite TV on Sky - which means the Tuesday games not involving England and all Wednesday games).

That is the right to broadcast. As to who produces the actual pictures, it is normally a production team belonging to the company broadcasting the game in the home side's country. In Britain this can be Sky, or ITV. If the game is produced by Sky - ie it is the home game of an English team and is played on a Wednesday - it will likely be filmed and broadcast in HDTV. However, if it is on ITV (ie the home team is English and played on a Tuesday) then it will likely not be filmed and broadcast in ITV.

For matches in other countries, the technology and quality of the filming is going to depend on which local broadcaster films the game, and what are their preferences and what technologies they use. In practice, what this means is that only a small number of Champions League games are filmed in HDTV, and the rules deciding which are arcane and depend on the tastes of certain European nations, which are probably not related to which games ESPN wants to show. I suspect they find it all too complicated to bother.

Just out of interest, even watching the Champions League in Standard Definition Television in England can be quite interesting. The tehnology (widescreen or narrow, analogue or digital cameras, the number of cameras, the angles etc) varies widely depending on where the match is being played (and, as bizarrely, what day of the week it is played on). Games in Spain and Portugal (and some other countries) are not filed in widescreen, for instance, which means that in Britain (where virtually everyone has a widescreen TV) we watch the games with black bars down the side.

It would improve the quality of the product if a single broadcaster with a single set of standards filmed every game, but there are simply too many games played at too many places at the same time for this to be viable. It would just be too expensive. When a majority of Champions League games are actually filmed in HDTV, I am sure you will see them in HDTV in the US. But this is a long way off.

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