Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

Geneva Time

We arrived late on Wednesday and then we spent some time Thursday with my sister and at the Cathedral. We recharged our batteries having a crêpe and playing backgammon at the little restaurant next to the Cathedral. And then we walked along the lake. I had a falafel from one of the food stands set up for the summer festival. There were carnival rides, food, drinks and people at both the south and north shores of the lake.

On Friday, we were on our own and without much of a plan. We walked down to Carouge, a small town right by Geneva which is full of art shops and galleries. We were looking for a reportedly great ice cream place. We got some ice cream that I think was Algida/Kibon. Ah well. It was a beautiful day.

In the evening we walked to the Parc de la Grange with our couch surfing host to watch a salsa concert. She met up with an “earth guy” 🙂 and after I tried dancing some salsa. We did not stay for the whole show and after 2/3 hours we went back home.

Saturday morning we got up and went over to the airport to see my sister off. Then we went to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. I guess I was expecting to walk around inside of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), but that didn’t happen. Instead we walked through and unauthorized area for a bit trying to figure it out where the Exhibits were. We found the Globe and checked out – in detail – the “Universe of Particles” Exhibit. More planning would have been better. Now that I’ve looked at the website I realize we could have seen more. The Exhibit was interesting. I got a book, “A Zeptospace Odyssey” by Gian Francesco Giudice, because I got so interested in the LHC. I recommend the book and I think I’ll read it again to try to absorb more of the science. T- confided that one of her wildest dream was this trip around the world and another, from when we was an early teen was to get Nobel prize from discovery some important equation. One has become true and she was wondering how much harder the other was.

Going back towards Geneva from the brink of France, we stopped out in front of the United Nations , it was a gorgeous day and there were a lot of kids playing in the water-jets. After watching the action for a while, we walked down to the Jardin Botaniques. We walked along the north shore of Lac Leman and we could see Mont Blanc to the south.  Then we took a boat across to Geneve Plage. We walked up to the windsurfing school and I rented a windsurf board for an hour. There were all sorts of hipsters sunbathing and drinking and being cool. It felt more like high noon than 6PM. T- sat on the rocks in the full blazing sun. I swam the board and sail out a little ways. Then I made an ass of myself trying to remember how to windsurf. I didn’t really care though. I tried to pull the sail up a couple of times and then decided to swim the whole rig out a little further to make less of a spectacle of myself and get further from the rocks. During that swim I remembered that I needed to set the keel down. It got a little easier to get going after that. Believe it or not I actually was able to windsurf. The wind was very weak which only added to the ridiculous aspect. I paid my respects to my memories out there in the water.

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I was refreshed after being in the lake. T- got fried on the rocks talking to her mother on the phone. Then we talked with our couch surfing host who invited us over to Bains des Paquis. I was much less refreshed after the two hours it took to get there. We all went over to watch Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail out in the Parc Mon Repos. The rabbit scene cracked me up. There was a huge crowd but not much laughter. I think the jokes didn’t make it through the subtitles.

The next day we had butter and honey on baguette for breakfast. Thick opaque honey from the Pyrenees. I love bread and honey. I love bread and butter. I never thought to try bread, butter and honey. Fantastic! Then we all went back over to spend the afternoon at Bains des Paquis. This day the water felt cold. It rained in the evening. Then we went to Jardin Anglais to see a Brazilian Axe band. I tried imitating the dancing on the stage – because I’m afraid the music wasn’t worth listening to. T- was either embarrassed of my dancing or afraid the girls would be all over me because she decided we could leave shortly thereafter. That night, before we slept, we said goodbye to our couch surfing family because we would leave in the morning to fly to Paris. It was so wonderful to spend quality time with a perfect stranger in Geneva.


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It was nice seeing E- family but a bit sad that it turned out to be such a short encounter. We met at the MANCO, a place that E’s sister enjoys, which is very near to the Avenue du Mail. Uncle J- also came but did not visit the Museum with us as he had some errands to do. We walked to a place nearby to snack on something and chatted.

Then we visited the Museum. I don’t usually like modern art, but I enjoyed the exhibition. As usual, and to E’s amusement, I couldn’t help but make a few comments on how baffled I am that some of the exhibits are labeled art. We took some photos and then we sat and talked for a bit in the reception area of the Museum (http://www.mamco.ch/). When Uncle J- came to get E’s sister we all chatted for a while longer. We told them about our great experiences with couch surfing.

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On our own again we took a suggestion and walked over to the St. Pierre Cathedral. Geneva is now considered a Protestant city. It was not always like that, but the second visit of Dr. Calvin to town was like a hurricane bound to change city habits. In the St. Pierre Cathedral we saw “Calvin’s chair” and the statue of the Duke of Rohan whose remains are buried there too. We also visited the subterranean archaeological site underneath the Cathedral. This is one of the largest archaeological sites in Europe. The visit was quite interesting and we learned that there were many other religious buildings sited where the present day Cathedral is. One can still see some mosaics dating back to the Roman Empire. They reminded us a lot of a floor mosaic we had seen back on our two-wheel adventure in Turkey.

At night, we met our host and talked a lot about life in general, family, cultures, the East – she lived in China for a while. Then E- worked with her for almost 2 hours trying to get a new router to work properly – which ended in a successful effort and caused some laughs as he was so proud of his achievement.

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I got the J.M. Coetzee book Disgrace from the couch surfing library of our hosts in Zürich.  I finished reading it in Geneva.  These days I am inclined to be scared of places I have not been and that could be dangerous.  Maybe I’m just getting older.  Maybe I value my life more. It wasn’t always so – I haven’t always had so much good in my life that I was afraid to lose.

This book made me very afraid to go to South Africa.  It was a thought-provoking book.  After thinking about it more, I realize that it probably shouldn’t be read as a “true” story.  It don’t think some of the things the characters in the book do ring true.  I’m inclined to think it is more of an allegory.  The message I got from the book is that the apartheid system did sever psychological damage to both the whites and blacks in South Africa.  And that damage is still manifesting itself today in more psychological and physical cruelty.

While I’m still scared, I would like to someday go to South Africa to form a first hand opinion.

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Finally in Geneva

When we started to plan our trip we thought of going east to west, running with the wind, because of the time changes and seasons etc. From the beginning, we wanted to stop in Geneva to visit my aunt and uncle there. As things changed, we decided to go to Europe sooner, rather than later, to see her. By the time we arrived it was too late to see her. However, my sister was there to help my uncle through and we wanted to see them.

T- had been to Geneva for a weekend when she was in Dubendorf, but could only remember a couple of spots. I had been to Geneva to visit a couple of times as a teenager. Neither of us had strong memories of the city – its layout, the buildings…

My most vivid memories from my previous visits are of taking a walk with my aunt with her dog Frenchy in the mountains in the south of France – I think I had been arguing with my cousin. I remember my aunt with a very easy-going attitude and that she could easily make me feel better. She was quick to laugh and quick to make a joke. I also remember that we all went for a picnic in the mountains one afternoon and I tried Panache (lemonade mixed with beer). As a teenager I wasn’t excited to drink. I also played a lot of rummy with my uncle’s mom.

In Geneva, I remember taking wind surfing lessons on the lake. And I remember the Davidoff store where I bought some cigarettes. I remember laughing a lot with my uncle. When he noticed me once picking off an unidentified black spot on a bread crust he said to me, “if you spend a few months here you will eat only the black spot,” and then he laughed.

On this trip, we arrived in the afternoon and it immediately felt different from Zürich – it seemed a little more chaotic. It was a short tram ride from the train station to the Avenue du Mail. Our couch surfing hosts were a family of three. Mom was still at work. However, one of her daughters was near the apartment and came to let us in. We dropped our things in “our” room and waited in the kitchen for our host who would be home in a bit.

Once again, we were struck by the hospitality of our CS family. It was a small two bedroom apartment. Mom gave us her room and was staying with her daughter’s in their room. They were all nice, smiley and funny. The atmosphere reminded T- a bit of her own family – the way the girls would give their mom a hard time, poke jokes and so on. She remembered how she also used to join forces with her sister to give their dad a hard time 😉

That night we went to a pizza place nearby and got some pizzas to take away. We learned about a Japanese band called An Cafe, which the girls were crazy about. They showed us their posters and I commented that it was an all girl band. The room went silent and sensing the gaffe, T- corrected me saying it was two boys and three girls. To our surprise it was a boy band. Apparently, our understanding of Japanese style is totally lacking. We sat in the kitchen and talked until late. We went to bed in wonder of our luck and looking forward to the next day, when we would see my sister and uncle.

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In our last night in Zürich we had Rosti for dinner. We had the frozen kind which according to our host is better than the homemade kind – a statement that raised a lot of controversy. Rosti is similar to the hash browns in the US, but much better. After we ate, we watched another movie on the home theater – a good one named Los Lunes al Sol. It’s about some out-of-work ship builders in Spain. The main character is pretty full of crap, but the history is quite relevant.

We managed to get some cheap train tickets to Geneva. We got the Super Saver tickets on the Internet. I’m not sure if the Super Saver program is still active. I think I saw on the SBB website that it would end sometime in August. At any rate we paid less for two tickets (62 Euro) than one regular priced ticket (80 Euro). With some sadness, because we had such a great time in Zürich, we were off to our next and second couch surfing experience in Geneva.

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Zurich Highlights

For me, Zürich was a highlight of the trip so far.  I’ve heard that some people think Zürich is not such a great place for tourism.  It is expensive and maybe there aren’t a lot of amazingly old buildings or ruins or things.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The best thing about the places we’ve been on this trip is not the things we’ve seen or “done.”  By far the best part of the trip is interactions with different people.  In the case of Zürich, I would have to say the kittens were a bonus.

We met our couch surfing hosts who I will always remember.  The man of the house has done some inspiring traveling – e.g. the Panamerican bike tour from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.  I get the impression he’s a damn good engineer as well.  The woman of the house has also traveled a lot and has lived in South America as teacher.  As for the cats, who doesn’t love kittens?  And why wouldn’t they love kittens?  Every morning we opened the bedroom door so the kittens would come in while we dozed and we could wake up watching them burst with energy play fighting with each other, getting into every nook and cranny and generally trying to cause trouble.

We also met two friends of T- from years gone by.  Both wonderful and interesting people.  One was T- supervisor when she was an intern in Dubendorf and he works with databases and plays soccer (football).  He spent an afternoon with us and we walked all the way along the Limmat River and then crossed to the West part of town to take the tram up Triemli.

The other friend is an triathlete who eats only whole food – nothing highly processed or refined.  This guy was in the Ironman triathlon that happened while we were there.  We saw him the day after he finished the race (in 14th place!) and he looked healthier and with more energy than either T- or myself.

We watched some of the Ironman competition and during the eight hours we took a couple of breaks, because even watching it takes a lot out of you ;-), and we rented a paddle-boat for an hour.  We took the paddle boat from the eastern shore across to the water jet and back.  On land again we walked south to the Zurichhorn park. Then we went back to the apartment and the Ironman was still going on.

That night we went to watch an open air movie showing right on the Limmat off the Wassenwerkerstrasse.  While we waited for the movie to start around 9PM, we watched some Swiss couples jumping from bridge supports into the river.  The water was cold by our standards but they weren’t even shivering.  They got an ovation from the crowd.

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My favorite spot was the Zurichhorn park.  When we walked through, there were so many people out in the park.  They were all out enjoying the sunshine, kicking soccer balls, playing Frisbee, just lounging about with friends, swimming in the lake.  The park was without litter – even the public bathrooms (free) were clean.  The lake water looked clean. There were paddle boats and sail boats.  Mountains all around.  If I go to heaven I want this park to be there and I want it to be full of people in the same way.

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We arrived in the main train station of Zurich (HB) and made a first stop at the tourism office in the station.  There was plenty of information on what is going on in town, transportation tips, lodging and maps.  We got the “Check Out Zurich” guide, which had a handful of tips from young locals – on clubbing, dining, strolling around, etc…

After we got some info we headed off to the bus stop. Following directions to our first CS (Coach Surfing) experience we arrived at the right stop. While we walked to the building we were greeted in the street by our host that recognized us by the luggage as his guests.  We went up ate a small lunch and our host gave us all the info we needed.  We couldn’t have had more organized hosts for our first time – they had thought of everything.  His organization and care were impressive.  They had a spare room with a bed (not a couch), a desk and a computer with internet access and also 3 cute kittens and two adult cats.

His girlfriend arrived after we had chatted for a while in the living room.  They planned to have some friends over for the evening and we were invited to participate.  We dropped our bag, and went for a walk to explore the neighborhood.  We walked down to the Limmat river and then quickly back to be on time for dinner.  Dinner was Raclette – I loved it! My type of food 😉 Cheese and potatoes.

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Everyone was so nice. After we ate we played a dice game. E- was in a bad luck streak and could not roll high numbers. Our host was rolling good number but still loosing due to some penalty rules. To close the night, we watched Shrek III in the home theater. The movie was nice but not as good as the first one – typical.

It was a great first day in Zurich and a great first day of couch surfing.

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