I think it is safe to say that the overwhelming landscape of Ticino—a landscape I could not even comprehend when first taking the train from the Zurich airport to Riva San Vitale—is becoming an ordinary aspect of life here in Switzerland. These massive mountains, rising aggressively to surround Riva San Vitale from the west and the east, are now expected and familiar features of the area. Finally! Not stupefied by the surrounding mountains, I look a little less like a tourist.
Today, however, I was quite the tourist.
After finishing class for the day, I took the train with a small group of students from the local Capolago – Riva San Vitale station to nearby Melide. From there, we walked to the popular tourist attraction that is “Swiss Miniatur.” According to the attraction’s website, the park contains hundreds “of models at a scale of 1:25 which represent the most important buildings, monuments and transportation means in Switzerland.” The park, which I would describe as Switzerland’s equivalent of an American roadside attraction. This provided a nice break from the lectures and study sessions in Villa Maderni. I can now say I’ve seen everything there is to see in Switzerland!
Walking along the paths of the park, my friends and I were able to point out buildings and monuments we have already seen, as well and half-jokingly relate some displays to the themes of sustainability discussed thus far in the course. (“Wow, look at that extensive passenger rail network!” “NEAT! A local farmer’s market!”)
Before being pleasantly surprised by the adorability and attention to detail of Ticino’s Mini Switzerland, we spent most of the day inside Villa Maderni, giving our group presentations on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (a SWOT Analysis) of the Ticino Region. The Strengths group noted how well the government cooperates with local businesses, while the Weaknesses group was concerned about the political and economical fragmentation of the area caused by the organization of the municipalities. The Opportunities group looked at counteracting the “brain drain” of the Ticino region by attracting immigrants from Italy, while my group on Threats warned about the implications of getting too entangled in Italy’s economy.
For some of these presentations, we were joined by quite an impressive group of people. Dr. John Dooley, Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, and his wife, Lisa, visited Villa Maderni along with Ron Rordam, Mayor of Blacksburg, and his wife, Mary. Sonny Bowman, an alumnus of Virginia Tech and CESA supporter, was also present for some of the presentations. This group joined us again for a delicious dinner at Villa Maderni along with the mayor of Riva San Vitale, Fausto Medici, and his wife, Daniela.
It was a busy day as a student and tourist in Switzerland, and the week is only going to get more exciting. All of the students here at CESA are looking forward to our trips to Zurich and Freiburg taking place in the next few days. During this time, we will move to our final module in our studies at CESA: Sustainable Transportation with Professor Ralph Buehler.
Author: Ryan Yowell, Undergraduate, Urban & Environmental Planning, University of Virginia