Cars News and Reviews Car-free in a small town: Wengen, Switzerland- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

It's relatively easy for large cities like Rome to become very livable by declaring a car-free zone: population densities are so high that it pays, on many levels, to have a dense public transportation network that operates frequently and inexpensively. On the other end of the spectrum, it is also easy for very small villages to go car-free: nothing is far away, and everything in the village is easily accessible on foot.

Very few small villages have the gumption to declare themselves completely car free: The entire planet is dotted with tiny hamlets literally embracing some throughway (the "Main Street") where cars and trucks tear through on their way from elsewhere to somewhere else, leaving only exhaust in their wake. Even Transition Town Totnes at the edge of Dartmoor, one of the most progressively green small towns, has so far only declared a single car-free day, in September 2012.

In contrast, many small towns in mountainous Switzerland have the advantage that they have always been hard to reach by car, and a few have an additional economic motivation to remain car-free altogether, peace and quiet being part of their brand. The valley of Lauterbrunnen is dotted with small villages that are completely car-free year round, like Mürren, the ski resort where Sir Arnold Lunn laid out the first competitive slalom course.

On the other side of the valley, the town of Wengen has a permanent population of 1300. It is perched on a ledge on the valley wall, 400m above Lauterbrunnen in the valley floor, and nearly 1000m below Männlichen on the nearest ridge above. You can get there by cog train, by cable car, by hiking or by skiing.

Of course there are roads to Wengen that you can negotiate by private car. But once you get there your car isn't allowed into the village, you have to reserve a parking place for it in one of the municipal lots. Which are not large.

The train from Lauterbrunnen comes to Wengen every half hour. Seats are slightly spartan, but there is plenty of space for skis, snowboards and other gear. And, as in all regular Swiss trains, the windows can be opened, so you can let in the pure mountain air, and take your photos of the beautiful scenery without an intervening wall of glass.

A single track serves both the up and down rail traffic; trains pass each other at the exact halfway point between Lauterbrunnen and Wengen. In fact, I suspect the legendary timeliness of Swiss trains probably evolved from the need for precise coordination of trains at designated passing points. Besides, doing it this way cuts the carbon footprint - and the cost - of the rail infrastructure signficantly.

Everything else comes in over that rail line as well: from restaurant supplies to gravel for maintaining the rail roads and hiking trails. Inside the town, goods are moved on electric pallets, moving swiftly and quietly along the streets. If visitors have so much luggage that they can't manage to walk to their hotel, they can take the town taxi - also electric, of course.

"TAXI - Emission free, environmentally friendly. For the sake of Wengen, for the sake of the environment"

The net effect is that Wengen is a profoundly peaceful place, where you can wake up to the sound of the church bell (always exactly on time), and perhaps the cow bells if it's summer, or the sound of people crunching the snow underfoot in the high season.

Even in Lauterbrunnen (at least away from its main street), most of the time the loudest thing you hear is the Lauterbach, the stream that carries the meltwater from the valley's many waterfalls. In town, all motorised traffic stops for pedestrians even contemplating crossing the road. It all contributes to preserve the atmosphere of peacefulness and deep relaxation for which the region remains so popular. If you look at it that way, keeping motorised traffic to a minimum is a job-generating strategy, and the savvy thing to do.


Shared at Small Footprint Friday.



You may also like:

1. Greening our vacation

2. Speed Limit on the Autobahn? - Nein!


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Cars News and Reviews "I Go to the Gas Station Once a Month"- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

Welcome to the July 2013 Natural Living Blog Carnival: Inspiring Change in Others.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month, our members are talking about how they inspire others to make positive changes in their lifestyles. If you have tips to share, feel free to comment on all of the posts! And maybe you'll walk away with a few tips you can use in your own life.


"You go to the gas station once a month?" My good friend Elise, who normally takes my word for granted, is unable to hide her incredulity. I give her my usual line about how, while I like the guys at the station, I do hand over a wad of cash every time I see them; so once a month is enough, thanks. "Once a month," I hear her mutter, again. We go on to talk about other things, but I do believe I made an impression, even on my friend who is already very green.

It's not easy to spread the word about climate change in such a way that people are willing to listen. This issue is so deeply enmeshed with our security that we simply don't want to hear the bad news. It's like trying to talk to Californians about the risk of earthquakes: they just smile and change the conversation.

Denial is built into our psyche, a safe place to hide behind when we are not ready to face really scary stuff, like our mortality - or the fate of the blue ball we call home. I mean, it's so much easier - and more pleasant - to think about the next smartphone you're going to buy, than to deal with the feeling of depression and helplessness in the face of a problem that's literally the size of a planet.

I'm no psychologist, I couldn't help anyone past their denial stage; so I prefer to go around that. Instead, I like to point out that green living can save a bundle of money. This is certainly true in the long run, and very often gives instant gratification as well. Besides, saving money is something that everybody recognises as a good thing.

My favourite new line is "Green = Frugal".

Examples are everywhere: it saves both money and carbon emissions to eat low on the food chain, to set the thermostat closer to the outside temperature, to bike rather than drive, to choose the car with the smaller engine. The list goes on. The best part: Saving money is something everyone can get behind: there is no controversy about it, and nothing scary.

It's hard to work for something that's far in the future: but anyone who has children or grandchildren looks to the future (just think of - gulp - saving for college). That's why CelloMom reaches out to parents and grandparents, and tries to open a window on transportation possibilities that are out of the high-carbon box.

My second tactic is to exploit technology envy, and to show how small that high-carbon box is in which car manufacturers have placed Americans. Nearly all my car reviews show how here in the US our choices in cars are severely limited: to the largest models, and the largest engines. It's not unusual for us to get a "choice" of two engines, where elsewhere you can choose from six or more, most more frugal, and with more advanced technology, than what you can buy here.

I've had a few angry responses, in which I've been accused of being useless (or worse) by dangling cars that are simply not for sale in the US. I suppose anger is good: anger is one step past denial. And anyway, if you don't know that these gas sippers exist, how can you ask for them? My reviews of cars in German or Japanese showrooms may not help any American in their current car purchase, but I hope to awaken a green envy (or a tech envy) that may some day turn into real consumer demand. Knowledge is power: if you know that this or that model is made with a nice gas-sipper engine, no car dealer can tell you that "Ma'am, they don't make those." You can just sit down at their computer and show them that Yes they do make those.

The time is ripe, and already there are hopeful signs for a shift: for instance, Audi has finally added the cute A1 to its US lineup, filling the gaping hole, and BMW has brought its 1 series to the US as well. Before that you could have thought Germans started to count at 3. Need I mention that these additions have the smallest price tags in their showrooms?

Spreading the word about global warming can seem a hopeless task: It's easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed about the global warming problem in general. But I take care to point out that, even though the situation can appear already hopelessly out of our control, it is not too late to act: we can still prevent worse (much worse) from happening. If we choose a modest car with a gas-sipping engine rather than an over-the-top SUV, we're curbing our carbon emissions for the lifetime of the car. If we don't keep our homes at 72F summer and winter, if we start eating less meat, we help avoid methane emissions throughout the rest of our lifetimes.

I used to get impatient with people who proudly report on their recycling efforts, but who turn out to drive large SUVs - but I'm coming to the conclusion that every little bit helps, and very often that recycling bin can be the first baby step to a crunchy lifestyle.

To paraphrase Mahatma Ghandhi: In our fight to stop global warming, whatever you do individually will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it.

Confession: I troll climate change denier websites. And I leave comments there and at news outlets. I try to make it short, to the point, and humourous. I'm pretty sure I once put a stop on a facebook ranting session by calling into question the remark that started the thread. Misinformation on global warming should not be allowed to swirl around unchecked.

In my daily life, I don't proselytise, at least not too much: I do ask parents not to idle their engines on the school parking lot because our children don't need to breathe the exhaust: parents get that, immediately. Among my friends, I poke gentle fun at the "Ya-haa!" attitude of the crews on shows like Top Gear. When I get carried away and start to spout technical specs on cars, CelloPlayer will occasionally nudge me with an elbow and a "No car rant!" warning. I'm always happy to help my friends with their car buying decisions, but I make no comments about the cars they drive: that is an individual choice to make.

But if the subject comes up, I'm happy to put in my bit on behalf of the planet. Even if it's by bragging about how seldom I have to go to the gas station.


Selected reading on climate communication:

- Talking Climate: research and guides on climate change communications.

- Skeptical Science: explaining climate change science and rebutting global warming misinformation.

- "Can we stop getting creamed on communication?" by Jason Mogus.

- "The science of why we don't believe science: how our brains fool us on climate, creationism and the vaccine-autism link" by Chris Mooney .




Visit Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project to learn more about participating in next month�s Natural Living Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to enjoy the posts our other carnival participants have contributed:

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Cars News and Reviews Low Traffic Zones: anything but cars- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Europe has a growing number of Low Emissions Zones: This generally means that access to motorised vehicles (especially those with older emissions standards) is restricted in certain areas of large cities. For Rome that's about half of the metropolitan area inside the ring (A90 and E80).

The LEZ area is served by a network of commuter trains and buses. Since a bus or train ticket is valid for 100 minutes after you get on, that can get you from the centre of Rome to anywhere in the greater metropolitan area, even well outside the ring road. Tourists taking the commuter train to Rome's ancient harbour at Ostia can get there for €1.50, the standard metrebus fare in Rome.

But if you happen to choose a sunny weekend day for that trip you will find the commuter train packed with a crowd of beachgoers headed for Lido, discreetly wearing swimsuits under T-shirts and sun dresses, and all happily chattering away. The festive atmosphere inside those cars can get pretty loud, and makes you understand why some longer-distance railway trains have designated quiet cars.

Inside the LEZ area, there are generally zones where most private cars are banned for most of the day, usually in historic city centres. There are exceptions to the rule, such as city buses, and private cars owned by residents of those Limited Traffic Zones (LTZs). Rome has the largest such LTZ: it covers the part of the city centre (where most tourist attractions are located). The exact rules about who is allowed to drive in and park, and when, are like the opening hours of various Italian institutions: highly complex, and baffling to anyone but the bona fide resident. And intruding into the LTZ without a proper permit can land you a hefty fine.

But like in many other metropolitan areas, a car is more of a liability than an asset, anyway. Especially in the oldest parts where streets are narrow, the easiest way for healthy people to get about is on foot. Besides, if you walk it's easy to nip into a cafe to enjoy your morning cappuccino (standing at the bar) and nip out before five minutes are over: try to do that if you have to park your car.

For longer distances, buses are cheap and frequent, and the subway is fast and very efficient. A single ticket is valid for 100 minutes including changes. And it allows chattering with friends and colleagues which you can't do if you're doing a solo commute, isolated in your box on wheels. It often seems as if everybody who has a companion to talk to, talks. Sometimes simultaneously. And many of those who don't have a companion will be talking on their mobile phones. All in those melodious Italian tones that CelloDad admires so much.

Those who don't like public transportation tend to take the motorcycle or motorino: the updated version is much sleeker than the Vespa scooter made famous by the movie Roman Holiday. Of course, you don't have to be Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn to share a motorino with your date.

Most motorinos come with a handy compartment in the back, where you can stow a helmet when you've parked, and in which you can carry your gear, your shopping, or your briefcase.

Because the motorino is used for going to work as much as for anything else. Some commuters ride them dressed immaculately (Italian suits, of course), not a wrinkle to be seen.

Motorinos are space efficient: six of them can be parked in the space of a single car, and entire streets can be lined with motorino parking, with neatly painted parking lines.

I was starting to think that a motorino is nice for sunny places like Rome, but that maybe moving a cello requires something larger, but I was proven wrong.

It appears it is possible to carry a cello (on your back) while riding a motorino. If you do that as a passenger, you can still continue chattering with the friend who's driving.

Yes, some trains are covered in graffiti. Yes, buses can be full. Yes, it can get loud in there. But one has to shudder at the thought of all those people trying to come into the city each in their own car. It would turn a perfectly lively and livable, if slightly gritty, city into a living inferno. I'd take the shared ride, thanks.

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Cars News and Reviews Pedestrians-Only Zone- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

It could be argued that central Florence is more of a museum than a city. That is one good reason to avert as much car traffic as possible. And that is exactly what the centre-city Florence has accomplished: After a while you realise that most cars you see are the white taxis - and even of those not very many. There are a few bikes plying the cobblestone streets, but mostly people get around on foot. A medieval town is walk-sized, after all.

The way Florence has accomplished this is simply by banning all car traffic between 7.30am and 7.30pm, with very few exceptions. There is apparently a steep fine for cars entering the pedestrian zone without the proper permit. I imagine that handicapped residents are allowed a car (not that there are many parking spaces: those are carefully arranged outside the old town). And there is the fleet of white taxis, many of which are hybrids or EVs: among their number are quite a few Prius+ hybrids, the kind that could in principle seat seven.

The upshot is that the city streets are pleasantly unclogged of automotive traffic: it's so quiet you can hear the flocks of swallows go by as they call to one another. The air is clean, so you can enjoy a good meal at one of the many outside venues. And I bet that the exterior of the magnificent cathedral will stay cleaner for much longer, after the current round of restoration leaves it blindingly beautiful.

Many of the city buses are electric; all are inexpensive and frequent. So it's really silly to try to come here with a car. Besides, walking around you can try to imagine what it was like to be in this city in the heady days of the renaissance, among all the art, literature, philosophy and science swirling around the place.

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Cars News and Reviews Healthy Eating On Vacation- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

I love travel: it lifts you out of the everyday, puts a fresh perspective on your life, and opens your mind and heart to new possibilities. But one thing that doesn't go on vacation is my commitment to feeding my family healthy meals. It's one of those positive feedback loops: eating well contributes to happiness, being happy takes a lot of energy - we are never hungrier than when on vacation.

Photo Silver Spoon: Who says eggs have to come in dozens?

But it's not always easy: when I'm at home I know exactly where to go for clean, whole foods: my CSA farm, my milk farmer, the local health food store. When we're travelling all that familiar routine goes out the window and I get to re-invent our food on a daily basis.

One thing I've learned from bitter experience, is not to expect real food at child-oriented venues like zoos or theme parks. I really don't see why children's taste should be so insulted that they are exclusively served fat-soaked and sugar-laden "food". I don't even see why there should be a "Kids' menu" at restaurants: my children eat what I eat, only with smaller portions.

To tell the truth, on one road trip I gave up and stopped at a burger chain, just to be different. CelloDad was surprised. CelloPlayer was bemused but tried this and that. ViolaPlayer categorically refused to eat anything. Even passed up on the bottle of water. Having gone through the Food & Health block at our Waldorf school, and having read Fast Food Nation, my child chose to go hungry rather than submit to the industrial fast food. I have to admire that.

So back we went to our wholesome food regime. This gets easier as you have more money to throw at the issue, but there are plenty of healthy food options that don't cost an arm and a leg.

High-end restaurants

A friend of mine once went on a trip across France with Michelin's restaurant guide in his hand. This friend is French, as well as a serious foodie: the kind that would row to an island in the Channel just to buy a few kilos of a certain potato grown organically on a particular field, ideally situated for cosseting by the kind climate of Brittany's coast.

My foodie friend spent ten days from Marseille to Strasbourg hopping from one starred restaurant to the next. Since many of these restaurants put an emphasis on local and organic, his meals on this trip were probably very good in all senses of the word. But my guess is that he spent a faint-inducing amount on food for the trip.

Go online to find unique, local restaurants

But even without the Michelin guide (or Routier's, or Zagat's), we don't need to rely on fast-food chains for our on-the-road meals. We now have yelp, and google maps, and other online food finders where - this is the crucial part - patrons leave feedback. All it takes is a smartphone (or some homework before the start of the trip), and you can always find a restaurant where you can have a great meal made from fresh, local and "clean" ingredients, sometimes in the most remote of small towns. More often than not, these places are very comfortable and homey, and have prices that are much more palatable than those of Michelin-starred restaurants.

We once ended up having lunch at the only restaurant in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in the south of France. We were on the third glorious course, with excellent wine, when our toddler fell asleep. The owners bustled about to convert two chairs plus some pillows into a comfy napping nook so that the toddler's parents could continue with the meal. We spent three hours over that lunch, and still talk about it.

I like to believe that the advent of internet-based customer feedback will eventually make fast-food chains obsolete. We only relied on them on our road trips because they were convenient and cheap, and our psychological makeup is such that we are more willing to swallow mediocre but uniform quality, rather than to go for the potential excellence of an unknown mom&pop eatery.

But with our smartphone in hand, we have a good idea of what a diner is like, before we've ever even seen it, and whether it's worth making the 10-mile detour to get to it. We can have real food wherever we go.

Farmers' markets and grocery stores

That same smartphone can also help us find the farmers' markets where you can sample what's local and fresh - sometimes it may not be your cup of tea (sixteen kinds of cuttlefish, ugh), and sometimes you will find unusual delicacies that you wouldn't find anywhere else.

If there are no farmers' markets, we just find the health food store, or even the grocery store with an organic section in the produce aisles. Many of these have delis stocked with take-away foods that are just as convenient as conventional fast food, but much better for you, and often less expensive.

Photo Tony Bailey

Cook your own

If you have a way to cook on your travels, you can make your own meals from scratch. When we go camping we never have to eat in a restaurant. We have our camping stove, and a small fridge that plugs into the 12V outlet in the trunk: we're set. Eating this way is not more expensive than cooking at home, and like at home, you know exactly what goes into your meal. But in the outside air, everything tastes ten times better.

Photo HnHogan

When staying in hotels, cooking for yourself is not part of the package. That's why, when we're not camping, my family prefers to stay at apartments or cottages: those tend to be very comfortable, often the weekly rate is less expensive than staying at hotels, and they come with a complete kitchen. Usually the owner will provide a list of farmers' markets in the area.


Whatever we do for our main meals, our snacks are home-made or bought at a grocery store - unless we find some scrumptious local specialty, or some luscious fruit at an organic farm stand (my dad once bought a crate of apples straight from the orchard; that crate was our snack box for the trip). We pack finger-food goodies in small glass jars or in cookie tins; road trips are just about the only time I allow snacking in the car. We each have a water bottle at our respective seats, refilled at the tap in the morning and cleaned every evening, so we don't have plastic bottle waste.

Any suggestions?

Care to share your tips for healthy eating on the road?


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