Hi Everyone! I've decided to hop on the #TBT wagon (yeah, it's Monday...livin' on the edge) and write about some things I checked off the ol' bucket list before this blog existed. I'm especially excited to bring you this post, as I've found old messages that I sent to my family upon returning home from a Switzerland trip. I added pictures & links to the messages, as well as shortened some names for the sake of others' privacy. Other than that, though, these notes are straight from my 19-year-old self. Jury's out on whether that's a good or a bad thing. ;) _______________
“ 'D' et moi, nous avons commencé le weekend un peu plus tôt,” was a common phrase of the trip. And it was true; we left Strasbourg on Wednesday night and stayed en Suisse until late last night. After my last class on Wednesday (Civilisation Française II…the professor looks like Professor Snape from Harry Potter and seems to think Socialism is a grand ol’ idea in practice) I met 'D', and we headed to the train station together.
Neither of us had traveled by train before, so it was actually really funny watching us try to get where we were supposed to go. First we got on the wrong tram to the train station, and then spent like 20 minutes looking at the departure board until we figured out that our destination—Basel, Switzerland--was “Bal” in French. The thing with Europe, is you have to validate your tickets before each usage and before getting on the train (you get fined a certain amount by the composter if he comes by and sees that they are not validated). We were just getting on the train when we remembered this, and so she took my ticket and sprinted down the stairs toward the validating machine…1 minute before the train was taking off. She barely made it back on the train before the whistle was blown and the train pulled away. There were practically no seats, so it took us a while to find a spot next to this math professor who was boring and talked really softly. We ate a dinner of cheese, a baguette, almonds & apples.
After a transfer at Basel (and a quick currency exchange…which was in favor of the Euro and the dollar, so wohoo), we arrived in Geneva, and had to find our way to our couchsurfer’s apartment. [25-year-old Aimee's side note: Yes, I did this. Yes, it was stupid and risky. And yes, I'm alive to tell the tale. For those of you who are curious as to what Couchsurfing is, check out theCouchsurfing homepage.] It was almost ten o’clock, we were tired and we had a pretty shitty map, so that was fun. When we finally turned onto the right street, this guy came running up to us, and said, You must be the couchsurfers! I just got off work, and my roommate has been keeping an eye out, so, um, hello! Yeah, that was 'M' who--along with his roommate 'S'--turned out to be the most stereotypical Italian guys ever. We walked into the apartment and 'S' had really loud Italian rock music playing and was getting ready to go out. They asked us if we wanted to go to this tango bar, but 'D' and I looked at each other with the “um definitely not” look and said we were really tired, so we’d stay back. They left, telling us that we could share 'M'’s bed, and that 'S' and 'M' would sleep on the two mattresses on the floor. After they left, 'D' and I were kicking ourselves saying that we were so stupid, that we should go to a hostel, that this was the dumbest idea in the world. We called people back home in Strasbourg and explained the situation. I had 'ML'--another friend who was taking a train the next day to join us in Geneva--write an email to my parents saying that I was safe, and to keep his phone near in case we needed anything. Since he was going to be couchsurfing with us the next night, we decided to just stick it out by ourselves the first night in the apartment with the Italian guys. Wow, it was weird. I don’t think I slept that night. Both guys came home late and got up for work early in the morning, so we didn't see them until late the next day. It worked out well because then we could shower and stuff and not have two guys in the apartment trying to share a bathroom with us (that would have been AWKWARD because the apartment was really small, so um, there’s not many places to go to have some privacy). So after they left the next day, we got up, got ready and decided to get as far away from the apartment as we could and explore as much as we could before 'ML' came to join us.
As typical tourists, we definitely walked by the Jet d’Eau, which is basically just that…a big fountain of water.
We crossed the bridge, and wanted to see the parks along the Promenade du Lac. First, there was the Jardin Anglais, which has that flower clock garden. It’s a bunch of flowers all in the shape of a clock, that tells the actual time with these automated hands that stick out and move. Since it was still winter and pretty cold, it wasn't that great, but hey, we saw it!
Anyways, the Jardin Anglais wasn't really anything special…it was Le Parc de la Grange, which was pretty cool. There’s an old mansion on the grounds with a big rose garden with all these different types of roses from all over the world. They hold a competition there every year for the best new breed of rose and there’s a big festival of the rose in June. A lot of people were walking their dogs, running through the paths, or taking their lunch on the park benches, all of which were dedicated.
I always like to read the dedications on the park benches because I like to imagine that it commemorates someone who really enjoyed being outside in the peace of nature. Even though I like the idea of a park bench dedication, all the ones I've seen so far have been—like the man on the train—boring. They all say the same thing, like “In memory of _______” or “For _________, who truly enjoyed this park”, or blah blah blah. Unimaginative, if you ask me. No offense of anything, but if I have a park bench ever dedicated to me, I would like it to be something a little bit more creative. That’s why I got really excited when I found the yellow bench with the king of all park bench dedications: Mon lieu de paix, c’est le parc et spécialement ce banc du lac où on se retrouve entre copines après la promenade. (My place of peace, it is the park, and especially this lake’s bank, where one finds themselves among friends after a walk…a quote said by the lady to which it was dedicated.) Okay, so I’m kind of a dork, but you know, I thought it was really cool that I finally found the perfect one…simple, but still imaginative.
After exploring all the parks and all the way up the eastern part of the bank, we went to the western side and took our lunch by the Brunswick monument. Apparently, some rich duke left the city of Geneva a pretty nice chunk of cash with the requirement that they build him this elaborate tomb with the specification that it resembled some famous mausoleum (I can’t remember which one).
I was looking around and I noticed a few things about the Swiss, particularly the Swiss in Geneva…
1) The buildings follow a sequence: bank, watch maker, hotel, bank, watch maker, hotel….I swear, if you had money to spend, it would take you a long time just to choose a hotel. 2) The boys are particularly well dressed—as in metrosexual to the extreme. I was laughing when I saw this girl kissing what seemed to be another girl, but really it was just an extremely well-manicured boy. For some reason guys thought they looked really good in tight jeans and with a little bit of a mullet. Must be all that chocolate that they eat that drives them a little bit nuts. 3) Whereas everyone in Strasbourg bikes or takes the train, everyone in Geneva drives—a Bentley or Mercedes. 4) Almost everyone is tri-lingual and speaks English, French, and German. 5.) No one is overweight. 6.) Whereas the French sleep in, the Swiss are early birds. Must have something to do with their obsession with time-keeping devices.
After that, we decided to head up the western side of the lake. 'D' really wanted to see the United Nations and OMC, and I really wanted to visit the Red Cross Museum. Turns out, they are right across the street from one another. First we went into the United Nations, and we took a guided tour.
The tour itself was really good, and our guide was really knowledgeable. We got to see three different conference rooms, the old and new buildings, and I learned a lot about the structure of the United Nations. I hadn't a clue about anything before (politics or political history is not my strong point) except that President Wilson founded the League of Nations and that it slowly evolved into what we know today as the UN. Speaking of President Wilson, they worship him in Geneva. He has a hotel named after him, a street named after him, statues dedicated to him…I felt proud to be an American hahaha. Just a fun side note: the countries’ representatives are seated in alphabetical order, which puts Iran right beside Iraq…I wonder if there’s ever been an all out brawl between them.
The UN was cool, but my favorite was definitely the Red Cross Museum. Maybe it’s because my grandpa fought in the war, or because my dad’s a doctor, or even because I have a humanitarian bone in my body, but I just love that kind of stuff. The museum itself was a labyrinth of exhibits and televisions streaming videos from different war eras. Near the back of the museum, there was a case displaying the sorts of things that prisoners of war made from scraps during their captivity. One man made a to-scale model of a mosque from his hometown, and another made a functioning guitar out of cigarette cartons and string.
It was getting late, and our feet were going on strike, so we headed back to the Italian apartment, hoping to God that 'ML' had come to save us from another night of awkwardness. His train had just got in, so was there waiting for us outside the apartment. He said he’d get to know the guys a little bit for himself and if he felt uncomfortable, we’d go to a hostel…but first we decided to pay a little homage to these guys for letting us shack up with them for two nights. The CO-OP chain of grocery stores is to Switzerland as Starbucks Coffee is to Washington State, so naturally there was one right across the street. Figuring that Italian guys liked Italian food, we bought the fixins’ for…well…spaghetti. This part actually is pretty funny—when we started to unlock the apartment (they had given us a key so that we could come and go as we pleased), 'S' yelled from inside, Uh, hold on guys, I just got out of the shower. He then proceeded to answer the door in a man thong…and thought it was perfectly normal! 'D' and I just turned away trying not to crack up, and 'ML' shut the door again really fast in his face. 'S' was like, Oh no, don’t worry, I’m just getting dressed, come one in, it’s fine. I was embarrassed for this guy. Scratch that; I wanted to buy him an economy pack of boxers so he at least had some options.
When 'S' was fully clothed and putting on his Italian pop/rock music again, he saw that we had bought **gasp** food. We asked if we could use the kitchen to cook dinner for all of us and he agreed, as long as he could help cook. We weren't going to argue; Italian people must know a thing or two about spaghetti, right? All I can say is that while he does live like a poor college student, he cooks like a rich Emeril. We had bought canned pasta sauce but he added all these spices and diced onions and cheese to the sauce to make it taste "like it should". He made dressing for our salad and made 'ML' go out for a bottle of wine. He suggested this really expensive one until we explained to him the reason why we were couch surfing: We are broke.
When dinner was ready, 'S' brought out all of the food along with his picture albums. he narrated us through the Italian Rivera, the Italian Alps, Alba (his hometown), Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and Sicily for a good two and a half hours. The following are some observations I made from this ambassador of Italy:
1.) Italians put olive oil on everything: in the pasta to prevent it from sticking, in the sauce to add flavor, on each serving of spaghetti, they add a little on top. They dip their bread in it, dress their salads in it…I wouldn't be surprised if 'S' used it as a hair gel.
2.) According to 'S', gulping olive oil is the reasons why Italians have such long life spans.
3.) No one is allowed to leave the table until all food is finished. Good thing he talked for two and a half hours…it gave us time to get hungry again for round two.
4.) Italians like to laugh. Loud. No alcohol is needed.
5.) I really want to go to Italy. I think I’ll plan a trip there in April. [25-year-old Aimee's side note: I did do this. Because of 'S'.]
6.) Couch surfing is a bigger project than I had thought. Apparently, 'S' started out as a couch surfer in 'M'’s apartment a couple of months ago. They became friends, so when 'S' landed a transportation internship in Geneva, he asked if he could move in with 'M' for 3 months.
7.) 'S' likes to dance. After the dishes, he proceeded to invite all three of us to go to a Salsa club.
'ML' and I ended up going with him and meeting up with 'M'; 'D' stayed back.
Walking into this club, I felt like I had stepped out of Switzerland and into Barcelona or something because these people could salsa like no other. It took me a while just to stop watching in amazement that someone could move like that. 'M' and 'S' spent the rest of the night introducing us to their friends and trying to teach us how to salsa. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and it ended up being a really fun night.
The next day was our last day in Geneva; we were getting on a train that evening to go to Lausanne. We showed 'ML' the Jet d’Eau and the Brunswick monument, but then we decided to visit the old town.
We visited the St. Pierre Cathedrale and climbed up all the way to the top so we had this amazing view of the whole city and the lake. We were up there around midday, we realized that we had VIP spots to hear the bells; they started chiming at noon in the bell tower that was only a couple of yards away from where we stood. After that, we actually met up with two more friends of ours from IECS (my exchange program). Their names are 'O' and 'E' from Montreal, and we spent the rest of the afternoon with them. We saw the Reformation Wall, which really wasn't all that special because I suppose it is just one of those things that you go to visit just because someone else says it’s important. In all seriousness, though, it commemorates the Reformation movement and its key players, like John Calvin. Geneva was the birthplace of the Protestant movement, and Calvin preached in the cathedral, and based many of his lectures in the city.
Later that afternoon, we had coffee at this café (where a large coffee is about half the size of a small coffee in the States), and then went on a boat tour of Lac Leman and saw this archaeological museum in the basement of the Cathedral.
There’s nothing too special to report about the boat ride, but I fell in love with the Archaeological Site at St. Pierre's Cathedral because I've concluded that I have an infatuation with old things. Underneath the Cathedral, they had preserved the relics of the original foundation, and the original baptismal fonts and crypts. We had an audio-guided tour, but the museum wasn't like a typical museum because you walked on these bridge-like devices through the actual old foundation…right over stone that was centuries upon centuries old. The whole museum had this spectacular “I’m back in the time of Christ” feeling.
Fast forward through the train ride (I did a little dance when I successfully boarded a train without running to catch it). We arrived in Lausanne and it was—bummer—raining and pitch black.
More on Lausanne coming up. Stay tuned!