Wednesday, September 10, 2014


This summer we decided to take a couple of long week-ends to discover Switzerland with the family. The place I absolutely wanted to visit was the Stanserhorn, the mountain near the quaint village of Stans, right in the middle of Switzerland (by Luzern, see map at the bottom). Why was this on my bucket list? Because it has the world’s only open-roof cable car!

For this trip I took my trusty Fuji X-Pro1 with the 18-55mm “kit” zoom lens. I wanted to travel light and not have to change lenses, so I took the only zoom I have. Click on the pictures for bigger versions (and more pictures in my Flickr stream).

Arriving in Stans, I was first surprised by how small the village was. Park anywhere and you’ll be in walking distance to the train station. The first part of the ascent is done in a little train; very romantic. It takes you past bucolic views with cows and lots of pastureland. You are really in the heart of Switzerland here; this is postcard country! I wondered if I would meet Heidi at the top…


After that short train ride, you get to the bottom station of the open-roof cable car. The ride is very smooth, as the cabin is securely supported by very large iron cables. Even my wife, who is afraid of heights, said it was ok for her as she adventured towards the top of the cabin. The feeling of being transported in an open-air cable car is quite amazing; you feel a gentle breeze and the time passes by so quickly; you are able to see so many things at once. The weather was perfect; it was almost like a dream!



From the top of the Stanserhorn, you get a beautiful view of the 4 canton lake below, as well as many mountain tops. We took a little walk to the summit (about 45 minutes) where we could see some marmots (groundhogs for the Americans). The kids really liked those. There is also a nice restaurant where you can eat local specialties, which came in handy after the short walk.


Overall this was a beautiful week-end and I highly recommend you visit the place if you have time in Switzerland. Going up and down is no longer than 1 hour, but take your time to enjoy the views!

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tripcase app review

I had the opportunity to visit Paris over last weekend. As this was a group arranged travel (with my work colleagues), I wanted to keep a neat list of things we were planning to do. For that, I turned to my trusty iPhone and found an app for that: Tripcase. Here is a short review of Tripcase.

Tripcase wants to be the app that holds all your travel information, from flights to hotels and including everything in between (attractions, restaurants, ground travel, car rental, meetings...). I had previously used Tripit which also has a pro version of their app. I found Tripit nice and easy to use, as all you had to do was forward your booking confirmations by email and it would automagically fill out your trip details. That part worked very well, but I couldn't enter any additional details of my trip (like a restaurant for example). That's why I wanted to try out something else. Enters Tripcase.

Tripcase allows you to forward your bookings by email and it will try to enter the information automagically for you, just like Tripit. I forwarded my first flight booking confirmation (an Air France flight) and it created a trip for me. Good start! Then I forwarded my return flight (an Easyjet flight) but all I got was an email saying that it was not possible to parse that booking. Since Tripcase is made by Sabre (a global booking system), and Easyjet doesn't use them, I guess Sabre chose to not integrate other flights outside of their own system. Nevertheless, you can enter your flight manually and that worked, although it's much less convenient. I wish Sabre would enhance Tripcase to include non Sabre bookings in the future (I'm reviewing version 3.3.3 dated 14th of July 2014).

I then proceeded to add ground transportation information like which underground line I had to take to join the city center. This was more like a free form edit, as the app didn't have a specific section for that. The good point about this is that it forces you to plan ahead. Planning a trip is half the fun, or as they say: focus on the journey, not the destination.

I added my hotel and dates; with the name Tripcase found the address. And finally I added an activity and a restaurant. Everything worked fine, but for some strange reason, the timeline display had a bug. It showed me my ground transportation which I had entered at 2:30 PM before my hotel check-in which I had entered for 2:10 PM. Oh, and by the way, if they would allow 24H formats, that would be much easier for us Europeans. Strangely enough, I saw that this was the number 1 request on their website!

Another gripe is the user interface. It definitively does not adhere to Apple's standards of "iOS Human Interface Guidelines". For example, there is a "save" button when you edit an item. This button is at the very bottom of the manual entries, and everytime you enter something, you need to be careful to press the save button, but since it's hidden off the screen, you need to remember to scroll down there, otherwise all your changes are lost. It happened to me only once; you learn quickly! I would suggest to add the button on top in the navigation bar and use the Apple standards of "Cancel" and "Save" as the 2 choices.

As the app has grown over the years (it's apparently already 5 years old), it must have added lots of bells and whistles. I like how it can look up your hotel and fill in information such as the address and telephone number. It also shows you a map of the location. All this is great, but the problem is when you travel, you may not want to incur high roaming charges for data connections or you could find yourself in a remote area without Internet. I wish the app could have an "offline" mode and save the maps for future reference when travelling.

The app is also quite big in social media. There are options to share your complete trip with someone by email or just a specific portion (a flight if they come pick you up for example). I tried to share my flight number and information with my wife and it worked perfectly as advertised.

During the trip, my return flight (Easyjet) was delayed. The app sent me a notification in advance and proposed to find alternative flights. This was very convenient. It also sent me an email everytime my flight status was changed. I don't know where the app gets this information, but it was more precise than even the airport information! When I arrived at the airport, I had a moment of stress when the departure information mentioned that my flight was actually on time. I ran through Orly airport, only to be at the gate, sweating, but without a plane in sight... it was indeed 2 hours late.

Overall I really like Tripcase. I hope they can improve on the user interface and fix the timeline bug. I would really also like an "offline mode" where the maps are saved for you. And if they could speed up the whole app, it would also make for a better experience. The app just feels a bit slow to load and navigate. I guess it's because all the data is held on their servers? That may also explain why you need an Internet connection.

At this point, I'd give it a 4 star (out of 5): recommended.