Switzerland: Cheese, Chocolate & Blue Skies

Switzerland: Cheese, Chocolate & Blue Skies

the author standing in front of a swiss flag at the Jungfraujoch in Interlaken in 2008

I’ve been putting off talking about Switzerland, because, well, it’s hard to describe. We took a night train from Prague on Thursday, and I awoke somewhere between Mannheim in Germany and Basel in Switzerland, and saw beautiful blue skies (Prague had been pretty cloudy, so we were worried about the weather) and nice fall colors (we were farther south than Prague, so it wasn’t as cold). We caught a connecting train from Basel’s Swiss station and after 2 hours of winding up the mountains – and my ears popping – we were in Interlaken. Interlaken has an average population of 5,000 and it’s at the base of the Jungfrau mountains, between two lakes. It’s a charming little village and the adorably Swissness of it brought a smile to my face.

Friday we walked around Interlaken, just taking in the city. Grabbed some groceries and made dinner at the hostel’s kitchen. Did some shopping, and somehow resisted buying a cowbell but caved and bought a Swiss Army Knife and some other stuff like chocolate. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the TV room of our hostel with a couple other cool kids watching movies.

Saturday we got an early start. As in, my alarm went off at 5:30, and I stumbled out of bed and into a hot shower before putting on about 5 layers of clothing. Saturday was, in a word, amazing. We took a train up to the highest train station in Europe – Jungfraujoch. We climbed something like 4,000 meters in elevation. It was funny, because Friday had been cloudy, so Jean and I didn’t notice that there was a visible snow line. But Saturday morning as we headed up (and watched the sun rise) you could see the line. And then, all of a sudden, the frost on the ground turned into a light snow. And got deeper and deeper and deeper. And all of sudden, you’re in the middle of the Alps.

 

And the sun is shinning, and the air is clear, and the sky is so blue. And except for the voices of the people you’re with, it’s so quiet. And it’s breathtaking, and even though the snow glare makes you want to close your eyes, you can’t help but be wide-eyed and take it all in. After we’d explored, sent some postcards, and headed home, we went for dinner. We had Roesti (think hash browns, but not exactly. And with meat and cheese, and better) and chocolate fondue for dinner. And crashed.

Sunday was the day I’d been looking forward to. We got a much later start, but took a couple trains to a small town called Innertkirchen (where the cows roamed in a nice big field next to the train station). From there we hiked a kilometer or so up the hill to a practically non-existent, and barely marked place called “Pfengli” where my great-grandma grew up. And even though we had to hurry – since the sun sets early where you’re between 2 mountains – we did take time to just look around, snap some pictures, and drink from a true alpine spring. By the end of the day, we were beat. We had some cheese fondue, admired the town of Interlaken some more, and then headed to bed.

Monday we said a sad goodbye to Switzerland and spent the day chaotically taking trains back to Prague. Neither of us wanted to leave, and both of us have vowed to go back. Personally, I think that no European adventure could be complete without a trip to Switzerland. It was the most expensive trip I took, but I don’t regret it in the least.

A wood sign with the words 
Ferienwohnung
Pfengli

on it.

10 Things at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is Thursday, and studying abroad makes you realize all the things (both big and small) that you’re thankful for. So, here’s a small list of things that I’m thankful for, and some things are serious, some are not so serious, but I really am thankful for all of them.

10 Things I’m Thankful For: The 2008 Edition
1. My Family:
Not just my biological family(whom I love – even when they drive me crazy!), but those people who over time have become my family, who have embraced me as a sister, a daughter, a friend. These are the people who make my life worth living, the people on my speed-dial – if you will – and the people I miss dearly. I’d list them all, but it’d be too long a list. They have given me everything: a shoulder to cry on, undying support, and constant love. My family, my friends, and my boyfriend. They would do anything from me, and I would be lost without them, and without…
2. My Faith and Dreams: When I think back on the past year, I am (first off) in awe of all the things that have happened and (secondly) grateful. They have been good and bad, but through it all I’ve learned that I have a deeper and stronger faith than I knew – which a year ago, I’d all but lost. And now, living 5,000 miles from home, it’s my faith that keeps me from total homesickness and insanity. As for my dreams, I think it’s our dreams and aspirations which make us push for things in life. Lately, I’ve been mulling over my dreams and contemplating the future. I’ve been blessed to fulfill so many of my dreams already, and to have people around me who encourage me to follow my dreams.
3. Hugs & Smiles: Something I miss right now, because it seems that Czechs don’t exactly hug or smile. But I love hugs, and I am thankful for friends who hug me for no reason. I’m thankful for the smiles that brighten my day, and the warmth and compassion that smiles convey. Actions do speak louder than words.
4. This Semester: It hasn’t been easy. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t miss home to some degree, but I am thankful for it. Having a second chance to study abroad, and to see the Czech Republic through older and more experienced eyes has been an experience in itself. I’ve learned things about Europe and CZ that I never noticed before. To learn – and not just in class – what the world is trying to teach me, is a great gift.
5. Photography: Without my photography, I’d be lost. It’s a challenge, a job, a dream, a passion, and a way to show the world what I see.
6. The rain that is almost snow outside my window: I’m hoping for a beautiful white Christmas.
7. The Internet & Skype: Being 5,000 miles from home, I am ever so thankful for the technology that allows me to hear and see the people I love.
8. Letters: While instant communication is great, I’m thankful for being able to send postcards and receive letters. It’s nice to have something tangible in my hands, however “old-fashioned” it may be.
9. The Rise of the Dollar: I am very thankful that the dollar is strong so that I can afford to eat and live here right now.
10. My Health: Besides the cold I’ve had for the past few days, I’ve been fairly healthy lately, and I’m glad to be over all the sickness I had last year.

Thoughts on Krakow + Tips on the Prague Theater

Thoughts on Krakow + Tips on the Prague Theater

I’m not going to lie, my main reason for the trip to Poland was that it was included in our program, so I figured, ‘why not?’ but, Poland just wasn’t my cup of tea, as many would say. Oh, Krakow was beautiful, and full of people – student, not tourists! (This is a strange thing to someone who lives in a city where the tourist to native ratio is 3:1 in most areas). But Poland was windy and foggy, so…cold. However, we did see the Jewish ghetto – what’s left of it. And the super cool Salt Mines. I’d already been to Auschwitz, so I chose not to go again. Some things really are only meant to be done once in a lifetime.

Since it was so foggy, my pictures of Poland are not as pretty as my pictures of Vienna or Berlin, I haven’t had the energy to sort through them and edit them. I have some good shots of the salt mine, though.

We got into Krakow on Friday after taking a night train from Prague to get there. We didn’t have reservations, which was not my call, and a very bad idea). We saw a castle and went to a church concert at the Church of St’s Peter and Paul. It was beautiful quartet, and the church was a fascinating background. It wasn’t something I’d normally do, but I recommend doing it at least once.  Saturday we went to the Salt Mines, which took a good chunk of the day, most of it really, and since we were beat, we decided to be lazy, and watch the new James Bond movie (with Polish subtitles, maybe not such a good idea). Sunday a few of us travelled back, while the others went off to Auschwitz.

This weekend, since I’m feeling a bit sick, I might just hole up here in Prague. I have tickets for the opera (Carmen) and ballet (the Slovak National Ballet is coming for a joint show with the Czech Ballet) next week, that will be exciting. And I also have tickets for an Advent Concert in December. The beautiful thing about Prague is that with an ISIC card, you can get 50% off of all tickets at the National Theater, which has Opera, Ballet, and Theater tickets, as well as occasional concerts. My seats weren’t fantastic, but they were very very cheap (I got all three tickets for less than $15 USD)

 

Photo from the Vienna opera we visited a few weeks ago.
Things You Notice While Living Abroad

Things You Notice While Living Abroad

Travel Fixed Life Envy
 
No matter where you go in the world, some things will be the same, and some things will be different. Some of these things you notice right away, like 24-hour time. To the rest of the world, 4:00 means 4am, and 16:00 means 4pm. There is no 4:00am and 4:00pm. Get used to it. Other things we don’t notice for months, or even until we return to our home, and our dear friends and family point it out to us. It’s then that you realize that you’re the strange one. 
 
 
 
A few differences between Europe Prague and the US.
Bread. Bread in the US is toast. Plain and simple. Unless you’re buying a fancy loaf of bread, it’s just not that mind-blowing. In fact, in most cases, it’s a sad excuse for carbs. But in Europe, it’s possible to snag croissants fresh from the bakery, or baguettes that crunch just perfectly on the outside, and are soft on the inside. It’s fresh. And as such, it’s bought every few days.
Weight. You’ll gain it. No matter how hard you try not to, or how much exercise you do, you’re still going to gain it. Be it the bread, the beer, the Nutella, or some combination of other influences, you’ll gain weight. I eat less, am more active, and eat healthier…and still have gained. On the other hand, you should be able to lose it pretty quickly upon arrival back in the US. I think it has something to do with what our bodies are and aren’t used to consuming. I’m curious to see if that is true over longer (more than a year) time.
Stuff. You come over with one little suitcase, and after a few months, you start to ponder the question “how am I going to get all this home?” It’s especially difficult when traveling to multiple places. We buy “stuff” or trinkets, as my roommate calls them. And presents for family. And clothes. And shoes. And all those stupid books for classes (or just books in general) and are stuck pondering the questions What do I take home? What do I get rid of?
Australians. Everywhere we travel, we meet a couple kids from Australia. They are super nice and love to party. They aren’t studying abroad, they aren’t on vacation, they’re just traveling. For months. In Switzerland, we met a guy who’s traveling for 10 months. In Berlin, we met some kids traveling for about 4 months.
Train etiquette (mostly CZ). It’s proper and polite, that if you don’t have a reservation, you always ask if the seat is free. Also, when leaving the cabin (Czech trains are split into groups of 6-8 seats, depending on the train) you always say goodbye, even if you haven’t spoken to the other occupants the entire time. If you forget to ask if the seat is free (because it might not be, and seats can be coveted if the train is full), you will most likely get glared at by some older Czech woman. They’re grumpy – don’t mess with them!
Prazaks. AKA – the people of Prague. They’re grumpy. In general. Maybe it’s because their little city of 1 million is routinely flooded with about 3.5 million tourists a year. Or the rain. Or the crowds on the public transportation. It could be the fact that their beer gets more and more expensive. Or that there are smelly bums all over town. Who knows. But, Prazaks can be the one blemish upon the beauty of Prague. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of nice Czechs. But most of them don’t live in Prague. (I’m sure that someone is going to dispute me on this. Go ahead. I’ve lived in Prague. I’ve lived elsewhere in the Czech Republic. The Czechs who didn’t grow up in Prague are nicer.)
Meeting people. I have met many different people from all over the world – on the train, in hostels, while visiting castles, and just walking through the street. Sometimes we talk for a couple hours, sometimes for only a few minutes. Most times, I never learn their names, and they never learn mine. And even if they do, we often don’t exchange numbers or email addresses in order to keep in touch. (which, as I write this, is kinda stupid. I would have a lot of couches to crash on if I got all those phone numbers and names). I finally understand what it means to be two ships passing each other in the night. You meet, you wave, you exchange some tips, ideas, philosophies, and then…you’re gone. A guy from Nigeria, a couple of kids from Texas studying in Vienna, a fellow historian and philosopher from Ireland, they’ve all made impressions on my life, but half the time I don’t even know their names.
 
 
Life Abroad: In Switzerland

Life Abroad: In Switzerland

Die Schweiz!

Just a quick little update from Switzerland.

Yesterday we went to the top of Europe. Amazing views, and there was snow! I was super happy 🙂 We also had traditional Roesti and chocolate fondue for dinner at a little place called Des Alpes. Yum. And bought lots of chocolate as well. Today we’re off to Innertkirchen and Understock. This trip is crazy, but so much more than I imagined it could be.

 

Life Abroad: Interlaken — The Plan

By the next time I write, I’ll have hopefully accomplished the following tasks. Wish me luck!

So here goes. The plan is to stay in Interlaken, which isn’t too far from where my Great Grandma grew up. It’s kind of a jumping-off point for all sorts of tourism in the area, most of it of the adventure sports variety. We’re arriving on Friday around noon, and we plan to explore the city and around it on Friday. Saturday, we’ll probably head up to the alps – the weather is kinda iffy, but Jean and I want to do some hiking or go up in the train, gondola, whatever. Sunday, I plan on making my way farther east to Meiringen and Grund, then eventually to Unterstook, which is a small village. My Great Grandma grew up in the mountains nearby, and since I don’t know where exactly (and the family that has visited said it’s hard to get to), I probably won’t find the house. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will all work out and somehow we’ll find the house.

 

Also, I’m hoping for snow when we visit.