Friday, February 17, 2012

It’s finally above freezing! And other exciting things

I keep putting off writing a blog post (even though my google stats shot up midweek - I apparently have a small but consistent readership in Russia...) until I have more material, thinking that I need photos and landmarks and cultural experiences in order to post something. False. I have a lot going on and it is all fascinating. It’s just not all fun and tourism like in London.
Rather than seeing famous landmarks and visiting important museums, I am going to lectures, briefings, and mountains. The Jura Mountains instead of Big Ben; the United Nations instead of the British Museum; an essay on water scarcity as a challenge to international security instead of letters back and forth between William and Mary.
Let’s be real. That essay took up a lot of my time. We had to find interviews for it which was a new challenge but it ended up adding a lot to my essay. I’m such a pacifist though; I actually argued counter to my professor because I prefer to see challenges to international security (such as water scarcity) as opportunities for cooperation and peace rather than inevitable war. So we’ll see how that gets graded.
On Sunday I took a break from homework to go to the mountains with my host mom. We went up into the Jura Mountains which are close to the French-Swiss border northeast of Geneva. The plan was to ride the cabines up to the top of the mountain where my host family goes skiing, but because of the stupid Russian wind the lifts were closed. So we drove through the mountains for a long time and it was gorgeous. I don’t have many photos because I was trying to make like John Mayer and stop trying to fit the world inside a picture frame.

We ended our mountain/road trip adventure with fondue. It was so good but my host mom said I am the first student they’ve had who loved fondue. It’s melted cheese that you eat with bread - how could it not be delicious?

Tip: always drink hot tea or white wine with fondue and other cheese dishes
to avoid having the cheese congeal in your stomach 

The most interesting thing we did this week was go to briefings at the United Nations. We heard from representatives from UN High Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Food Programme, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The latter was a little boring, but the rest were so cool. I think we all left the UN very excited about the paths down which we are going.

Good news: I think we have finally seen the end of la bise and the below freezing temperatures! (I hope I don’t jinx it.) Today it was sunny and beautiful and I could finally wear my new TOMS and we’d turned in our essays and everything felt amazing. I cannot wait for spring.

view from school terrace

view from home terrace

This week I also got to skype with a lot of people back home; thanks for filing me with so much love and providing much needed study breaks! I can’t believe I’ve been in Switzerland for exactly a month. I’ve been cold, I’ve been full, I’ve been fascinated, I’ve been challenged, and I am happy. x

P.S. We’re going to Brussels and Paris for the next a field trip. I know, I don’t think I can go back to normal school either.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Spa day

On Saturday, six friends and I took a train ride into the mountains to go to a hot springs, like you do. For CHF 22 we had three hours of access to the hot pools and to the spa facilities - it was pure luxury. I knew it was going to be amazing when we got off the train and this was our view:

I don’t have any photos of the facilities, but here are some of the outside pools courtesy of my friend Chris’ facebook (hey thanks).

In addition to the heated outside pools, there was a pool that played classical music underwater, a sauna series, a Turkish Bath, some light therapy rooms, and a repos room with a wood burning fire. Seriously, I’d never been to anything like it, and we plan on going back after we finish our major research paper. (Although I’m writing my paper on water scarcity, and if I already felt guilty about my water usage I don’t know how I’ll feel after four months of research.)

During the week, I generally spend my time indoors because Switzerland is incredibly cold right now. Yesterday morning my computer said it was 12 degrees F and that doesn’t include the windchill. The cold would be manageable (wear long underwear or two pairs of tights, wool socks) except that the wind will literally knock your socks off. I think it blew one of my favorite earrings out of my ear yesterday. No joke. I’ve braved the cold twice in the past few days and while I couldn’t feel my hands for quite a while afterwards, I got to see some very beautiful Swiss sights.
This is the old city of Geneva, Lake Geneva, and the mountains as seen from the bell tower of St. Peter’s Cathedral.

A beautiful chapel inside the cathedral

This is a phenomenon known as la bise noire. When the Geneva area gets super strong winds they blow the waves of Lake Geneva up onto the shore more than usual. These waves freeze almost immediately when they hit the freezing air, and so you get trees and benches and boats and even cars that are covered in a thick layer of ice. It is so unreal.

The best place to see it is in Versoix, a neighboring town of Mies, but because the wind is so strong by the water my friend and I could only stay for two minutes, maximum. People who were walking on the ice were being propelled along by the wind. I have literally never been colder. I guess that’s part of the Switzerland experience. x