April 08, 2018

Walking the Dog in Switzerland


International travel expert, John Newton braved the icy conditions up on the Saint Bernard Pass to catch up with some friendly giants for a walk in the Swiss Alps. He was relieved to swap the mountains for level ground where he mingled with younger, mischievous furry friends. All 10 of them.

It's that time of year again when locals and tourists alike get the chance to take a walk on the wild side with the Swiss national dog, some of which have achieved worldwide fame as movie stars, starred in a host of advertisements and featured on postage stamps.

Every weekend from the end of December until the end of February, the Barry Foundation – based in Martigny, Switzerland - organises leisurely walks accompanied by Saint Bernard dogs in the mountain village of Champex-Lac.

The 90-minute walks take dog lovers around the idyllic, snow-covered alpine lake, with participants taking it in turns to hold the Saint Bernard's on a lead, while youngsters can enjoy a ride in a sledge pulled by the dogs.

"The walks are beautiful. Our Saint Bernard's love going out in the snow and coming into contact with the visitors," said animal keeper, Leah Fluckiger. "The participants sense that too. And what's more, the walks lead through the spectacular scenery of the snowy alpine plateau."

Each walk in Champex-Lac is accompanied by three Saint Bernard's. One of the heavyweight dogs pulls a specially-designed sledge for children under the age of 10 to ride on.

"As long ago as in historical times, the Saint Bernard's used to pull carts. This remains a very suitable activity for the dogs, even today," said Manuel Gaillard, who is in charge of the dogs. "We have adapted the work of pulling the dogs a little, and replaced the traditional carts with sledges."

Ideally, the walk should be combined with a visit to the Saint Bernard museum, which is the only one of its kind in Switzerland and tells the story of the dogs, the Great Saint Bernard Pass and hospice. "The museum in Martigny is open every day. Visitors can find out more about the history of the hospice dogs and meet other dogs from our breeding kennels," said Rudolph Thomann, managing director the Barry Foundation which, as owner of the breeding kennels, is responsible for the continued management of the 300-year-old breed and the preservation of the special type of hospice Saint Bernard dog.

The Barry Foundation is named after the legendary Barry, who lived at the hospice in 1800 until 1812 and is considered the most famous of all the dogs who ever provided rescue services on the Great Saint Bernard Pass. He saved the lives of more than 40 people.

The many legends surrounding his name greatly contributed to the Saint Bernard's reputation. As a result, there is always a dog named Barry at the hospice, which was founded by monks in the 11th century as a refuge for travellers and pilgrims on the 2469-metre high Great Saint Bernard Pass – for centuries an important traffic route between the economic centres of northern Italy and North West Europe – and for pilgrims on their Via Francigena route to Rome.

Large mountain dogs have been kept at the hospice since the mid-17th century to guard and protect those staying there. The Saint Bernard's were rapidly adopted as companion dogs and above all as rescue dogs for travellers who lost their way in the snow and mist. The dogs from the Great Saint Bernard Pass saved the lives of many people, averting countless deaths in the snow. The reputation of the Saint Bernard's (then called 'Barry dogs') grew throughout Europe in the 19th century – thanks to chronicles published in many languages and to reports passed on by word of mouth by the soldiers who had crossed the pass with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800. The legendary Barry became the archetype of the rescue dog.

Today, Saint Bernard's no longer play a key role in mountain rescues. Helicopters and faster, smaller dogs get to the accident scene much quicker.

Contact them direct for special offers and discounted passes. Go to: www.champex.ch or email – champexlac@saint-bernard.ch

In Switzerland, the writer received a good licking at the Saint Bernard Museum and Hospice. After travelling to Martigny by train on a Eurail pass provided by Rail Plus, Australasia's leading international rail specialist. For more information on European train journeys, itineraries and pricing, go to www.railplus  or call (In Australia)  1300 555 003.

Story and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

  1. Author, John Newton finds a favourite
  2. I want to lead, no I do, no I do
  3. Please throw the ball for me
  4. Who wants to be rescued
  5. Please take my photo
  6. Running rings around
  7. Yes, we are twins

April 02, 2018

Struth! Shiver me timbers, it's the coldest place on Earth


David Ellis

IF you're already shuddering at the prospects of winter just around the corner, spare a thought for the 500 folk who live in the tiny village of Oymyakon in Russian Siberia – in winter up there, the mercury drops to a teeth-chattering minus 50C or colder.

So cold that saliva in peoples' mouths can freeze into needles that prick their lips, where car engines are left running outside owner's homes all night so they won't freeze and need to be thawed with a blow-torch to start next morning, and where school is cancelled only when the temperature falls below -55C.

And where when somebody dies, a bonfire has to be lit over their potential burial-site to thaw the ground so that the grave-diggers can do their job.

Oymyakon is officially the coldest permanently-inhabited place on earth, with its coldest day ever a body-numbing -67C… consider that by comparison, the inside of your refrigerator averages 4C and your freezer a mere -20C.

Visitors to Oymyakon are rewarded with complimentary "Pole of Cold" certificates from the town's official Guardian of the Cold and last January a brand new electronic thermometer installed in a public square as a tourist attraction, shattered when the temperature dropped to -62C.

The little 500-person village, that's 6.5hrs flying time from Moscow, was founded next to a thermal spring by reindeer herders who watered their animals there in the 1920s and '30s; today it has a small but growing tourism industry with attractions including reindeer tracking, ice fishing, playing in the thermal springs and experiencing that bizarre winter cold.

And while winter days get a mere three hours of daylight, in summer there's 21 hours daily and temperatures can reach a very warm 30C. For more information drop their tourist office a line on  contact@visityakutia.com

[] REINDEER that were hunted for their meat and fur in Oymyakon's early history, are now a favourite with tourists and used in hunting-down good photo opportunities. (Image: Oymyakon Tourism)

[] IN Oymyakon in Russian Siberia, if you leave your car outside overnight without keeping the engine running, here's what you'll wake up to next morning. (Image: Oymyakon Tourism)

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