Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Olympics-obsessed in Lausanne

Most of you know that I am obsessed with the Olympics. I nearly wrote my senior Honors College thesis on them, that’s how much they fascinate me. It’s not even funny anymore. (I’ve had the London 2012 event schedule saved to my computer for over a year. #fanaticstatus) Needless to say my weekend trip to Lausanne, Switerland, the capitale olympique, was pretty awesome.

All 28 American students went to Lausanne on Friday afternoon to get our fingerprints and photographs taken so that we could officially declare our residence in Switzerland. Then we went to the Olympics Museum because it closed for two years of renovations this Monday aka two days after we were in Lausanne. After round one at the museum, everyone else went home while four friends and I checked into our hostel and set about climbing the mountain that is Lausanne for dinner.
Dinner was basically cheese. One fondue, one baked ravioli dish, and three of us got croûtes which are bread with ham (usually) covered in cheese and broiled. Genius.
Saturday is market day in Lausanne and so we hiked into the old city to walk around the streets of fruit and veg stalls. My new favorite way to eat breakfast is to have a shared loaf of bread in one hand and fresh, crisp, incredibly delicious apples in the other.

literally hiking around

Afterward we went up tons of steps to the top of Lausanne where the cathedral and palace are. The cathedral is Switzerland’s longest at more than 300 feet long (fact courtesy of Rick Steves). It’s beautiful but rather plain because John Calvin destroyed nearly all religious symbols in the church. You can still see traces of the original paint but only one of the stained glass windows dates back to the 13th century.

On Saturdays there is also market up near the palace that is part flea market and part cheese/meat market. Anna and I had some leftover bread and fruit from breakfast so we bought some goat cheese and pastries to fill it out and we all took the tube down to the lakefront park to eat a tasty but freezing lunch.

And then we went to the Olympics Museum for round two.

(clockwise) Usain Bolt's 200m kit (2008), Jesse Owen's shoe (1936),
Michael Phelp's swimsuit (2004), Carl Lewis' shoe (1992)

We finished our time in Lausanne with a quick visit to a rather modern/avant-garde photography museum before catching the train home in time for dinner. Lausanne is a very short train ride from the Geneva area and I am sure we will go back again.
PS This morning I woke up to a winter wonderland! x

Friday, January 27, 2012

Week One in Switz

I made it to Switzerland! I got here a little over a week ago and, after living in a Geneva hostel for the first few days of orientation, moved into my host family's house on Saturday. I know that I am behind on my blog and so thanks to the not-so-subtle hints of my little sister, here is a quick update.
I was late in arriving to Geneva so I missed out on the tour of the vieille ville (old town) which is a major bummer because it is supposedly beautiful over there. In the area where our school building is, right near the main train station, it is very busy and crowded; not the beautiful Swiss city I expected to see. But I have found some spots of beauty including this plaza on the lake where we ate lunch the other day, and expect to find many, many more.

the famous jet d'eau

The real beauty of Switzerland comes through in the countryside. We all have homestays in a general area surrounding the village of Nyon, in the Geneva suburbs. I live in a tiny village called Mies (“me”) which is right on Lac Léman. I have to ride the train into Geneva for a paltry 20 minutes - such a short commute! I live with a family of four: a mom, a dad, a 13 year old champion fencer, and an 11 year old tennis player who has worn the same sweatshirt every day since I moved in. They are a darling family! I wish I could get to know them better but they are busy and I am busy and the language barrier is a lot more present than I was expecting.

these photos are from our neighboring, adorable town of Coppet

Speaking of French, we have three hours of French class, three days a week. You know how I talk fast in English? Imagine that in French, combined with a blunt personality, and some students who really only understand 60% of what she says (aka me) and you have my French teacher. It’s rough but I can already feel myself getting a little more comfortable with the language.
Academically, this term is going to be the polar opposite of London. We’ll have visiting lecturers on various aspects of international relations and will also go to briefings and conferences. We have three or four assignments including the major ISP (independent study project) which is not too bad except that every singe assignment includes five face-to-face interviews at a minimum. I’m sorry, what? I’m an introvert; it was hard enough for me to decide to spend a year abroad. So if anyone has some tips they’d like to share, please do!
My classmates are all very nice and it’s a great mix of people to spend four months with. I am the only one from Oregon but not, as I worried, the only West Coaster or even the only public school kid. I’ve already made some really good friends (there’s another pastor’s daughter! Tara in London and now Anna in Geneva...PKs are everywhere) and am traveling with some of them to Lausanne this weekend for a quick stay. The Olympics museum is closing for renovations on Monday so we are going to see it while we still can. As of today there are exactly six months to the Olympics! I’m so freakin excited.

Finally, before I end this “quick” update, let me tell you about the United Nations. It is so cool.
The end.

The chair is missing a leg, to symbolize the UN's work against land mines

We have library passes which allow us access not only to the books, journals, treaties, and full catalog of the UN but also to their cafeteria, ATM, and post office. We’re guessing about that last one, but one of the (two) guys on the program is a UN intern so we walk around with him to look more official. These library badges are pretty legit on their own though. Yesterday, after doing some research at the Red Cross library, my study group ate lunch at the UN and then walked down the row of flags in front of the Palace of Nations - my favorite way to exit the UN - pretending to be the future Ban Ki Moons of the world. Geneva is not like I imagined, but I’m loving it anyway! x

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Smooth travels from here on out, right?

Fun fact: I am still in Portland. My flight to Geneva left this morning without me. No worries, I have one tomorrow morning but that means I will arrive in Switz 26 hours after everyone else meets for the first time. It’s part my fault, part FedEx’s fault, and part the Consulate’s fault, but it all traces back to my passport.

Getting a visa is hard work, and I had to do it from two different countries. It took a long time for me to get authorization and to determine what I had to send in with my passport - did you know that the San Francisco Swiss Consulate will talk about visas for only one hour in the afternoon? I sent in my passport via two and three day mail (that’s where I am at fault. Now I know to always send important things overnight) and apparently three FedEx days are four normal person days. 
So yesterday my lovely mother sat at home all day waiting to sign for my package while I spent hours trying to find a way to track a package without a tracking number only to discover it was supposed to be delivered today. The day that I was supposed to be on a plane. We were able to cancel my plane ticket and find another one for a fairly good price (but a day late because flying eastward from the West Coast is not easy) so I’ll get to Geneva no matter what. It’s not the end of the world, no matter what I thought last night, distraught, sobbing, and sick to my stomach with guilt.
Now I have a free day and there are all sorts of silver linings to this bad news bears cloud (got to see Portland snow, watching lots of Downton Abbey, more chances to eat mom’s lemon bars). I am just hoping that this will be a funny story in May when I can look back on this trip as a whole. Here’s to getting rid of all my bad travel luck before I even leave my house! x

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In the middle of it all

Oops. I didn’t mean to have a month-long break in the middle of my blog, but my last few weeks in London were so busy and then I came home and for the past month I have been so focused on making the most of life that blogging went on the back burner. So this is really just a post for posterity’s sake.
A week or two before I left London my classmates and I went to a bunker below the Whitehall complex. There we visited the Churchill War Rooms, an underground safe house for Churchill and his staff during the WWII Blitz of London. While Churchill only spent three nights in the bunker, his staff lived there for many months. They turned off the lights in 1945 (for the first time in many cases) and abandoned the bunker; the lights were turned back on in the 1970s, the desks, beds, and telephones were dusted and then encased in glass - nothing moved. Everything is just as it was. Awesome.


I also visited Primrose Bakery (our absolute fav bakery in London) a few more times with my girls for cupcakes and, once, for a delicious breakfast of crumpets and tea.


And then it was Thursday, the last day! I interned in the morning, took an exam in the afternoon, and then the AHA staff hosted a little tea gathering for us and many of our professors. I tried mince pie - not bad - and we all excitedly talked and goofed off, driven by an odd mix of happiness and sadness.

Much of the group outside our 200 year old school building.

After drinks with our (handsome, German) economics professor and a few hours at a local student pub, we all hugged goodbye. All of us, even the token frat bro. What a wonderful group of people to spend three and a half months with. They have set the bar very very high for my Geneva classmates.
My winter break has been filled with family, friends, and food which is exactly how I like to spend time at home. But now that Christmas, New Years, and the Rose Bowl (champs!) are all over, I have to look ahead to Geneva - to reconfigure my 50 pounds of luggage to fit two winter coats and numerous pairs of wool socks, to mail in my passport to receive my visa stamp, to prepare myself to be in classes with Ivy League East Coasters. I really need to get started. After I go grab tea with some more old friends. x

I have a long reading list to learn about Switzerland