Last Weeks in Lausanne

last week

In an appropriate form of symmetry, I spent my last weeks here like my first weeks. Not since the start of my exchange have I been in Lausanne this consistently. Again, I find myself running around the town fulfilling bureaucratic procedures, including a 20 franc form announcing, “I’M LEAVING.” Just like during the winter, the mountain view from my window is hidden from the seemingly constant ring of clouds. Schoolwork is non-existent and fun abounds. My final exams and projects were both evenly dispersed and unsurprisingly unchallenging. These last weeks in Switzerland have made a gradual sendoff and lovely kickoff to summer.

A few nice days allowed for lakeside BBQs, featuring burgers, beach balls and beautiful sunsets. I played in a beach volleybal tournament and my team got second! (A shock because we were not the second-best team there.) I used muscles I didn’t know my arms had and I had a few epic diving digs. There was an evening cruise (1920s themed) on Lake Geneva organized for the exchange students. While not necessarily a rager on a boat, it was still a good time. I played soccer for 5 hours one day, practicing with a team I had joined for a mini tournament. Unfortunately, the tournament was canceled, but I still balled pretty hard that day. I finally went to the Sauvabelin Forest in northern Lausanne during a nice afternoon. In the forest is a cute pond called a “lake” surrounded by enclosures with cows, goats and sheep. Twice I visited the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne to commence work on the research grant I have for this summer. There were two themed ‘house’ parties–one Aussie, one ‘Merican. The former involved an unplanned dip in Lake Geneva and the latter highlighted my prowess at a certain American “sport.” A sunny Monday allowed for an evening at a carnival by Ouchy, where we went on a 60m high swing ride. After which we all bought ice and an excessive amount of churros. My last Tuesday contained a “field trip” to the Lausanne Cathedral and a revisit to La Barbare for their famous hot chocolate (aka liquid pudding with a scoop of ice cream topped with whipped cream). Afterwards, I got dinner at Holy Cow! which is a popular burger place in Lausanne. Wednesday was the last pubnight at the club where we had the first one. As usual, we stayed on the dancefloor until it got to that point where the music starts to go back in time.  All in all, a good time.

In this short span of time, I’ve gotten to know a handful of people a lot better. I’ve also met a lot of new people these past few weeks and it’s strangely sad to realize that there’s not enough time for a friendship to flourish. It’s a rather romantic idea to think about the people you only met once but who stay ingrained in your memory or remain characters in your anecdotes–and vice versa. But to all those memories both lasting and fleeting, cheers.

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À la Mode

Paired with my confusion over the weather comes my confusion over what to wear. It hasn’t helped that my wardrobe has been limited to one suitcase and one backpack’s worth of clothes and shoes to cover five months and three seasons. Nor does my preconceived notion of what Europeans wear. (Thorough Facebook searching with reveal a certain party theme sophomore year.) Throughout my stay here, I’ve both impressed and bewildered over European fashion. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Believe it or not, snow does not stop fashion. During February when the snow was never ceasing, women did not give their heals a break. While I was sporting big red outdoors snow boots, the ladies of Lausanne would just sling on the pumps and complete whatever trek was needed. Props, ladies.
  • It’s only summer at the beach. A hilarious example of this happened in Paris. blessed with +20˚C weather, my friends and I broke out our summer clothing including shorts, flippy floppies and sunnies. An old woman approached us and asked where are swimsuits were because we looked beach-bound. I misheard the woman though, thought she asked about our bread (pain) not our swimsuits (maillots de bain) and was completely oblivious to her sarcasm.
  • It’s only sunny when it’s summer. People don’t wear sunglasses in the winter because they are a summer item. While there is a direct correlation between hours of sunshine between winter and summer, it can be simultaneously cold and sunny. And as a Californian, it’s practically sacrilegious to leave the house without sunglasses.
  • Legs are not for show. In April, we had a good stretch of nice weather and confusion began about what to where. The Swiss were still walking around like a snow storm was about to hit with parkas, scarves and beanies. I, on the other hand, wanted to wear my cutoffs and tanky toppies. For one of my classes, we were required to write thrice weekly on a forum, practicing French and discussing Swiss and French related topics. Katherine made a post about spring clothing and every European in the class shot her down, one person claiming that wearing dresses and shorts is about showing your legs. Our opinion: actually, it’s about not being uncomfortable in my skinny jeans. Guess we’ll just have to play the cultural card for now.
  • Sweats are reserved for the gym, field and track. Never do you see a Swiss (possibly even European) person in work out clothes. Not even if they are en route to the gym. Nope, you get changed at the gym, field, track. They don’t wear workout attire in public for fear of being judged apparently. Oh and along with this is the occasional man dropping his pants so as to change into his sweats.
  • Here’s what’s à la mode: Longchamps bags, studs on studs on studs, heeled sneakers, American flag scarves, loose fitting pants for women and v-necks for gents.

I wish I could say that my fashion has improved since being around all these well put-together Europeans, but truth be told: I love my plaid, my Columbia rain jacket, my soccer sweats, my cutoffs and my bro tanks. Soon we will all be reunited in a place where it’s socially acceptable for us to be together.

Sensory Revival

Not until I arrived in Nice, France did I realize how much emphasis is put on the sense of sight. The Côte d’Azur looks just as beautiful as the photos: unreal water, palm trees galore, yellow tinted buildings, proud French people showing their stuff on the rocky beaches. I was expecting all of this so I was quite surprised with the other charming aspects of Southern France. I welcomed the sensory overload even if it was like getting punched by the sun.

Hearing

I’ve become rather accustomed to the quietness of Switzerland so even the smaller things stood out to my in France. The French people in Nice were very colorful with loud phone conversations, friendly market vendors, bustling restaurants open late into the night and the rhythmic sound of the sea. Not a place where you should get lost in the abyss of your iPod. My other senses were in for quite a greater shock…

Taste

Most European food has been to die for, but the food here was exceptionally delicious. The first thing I ate in Nice was some gelato and sorbetto and a famous gelateria. The sorbetto was mojito flavored and was mediocre but the lavender gelato was like heaven. Southern France is known for its lavender so it seemed appropriate. We wandered around Nice while simultaneous searching for somewhere to eat dinner. We kept seeing restaurants advertising something called “socca.” The restaurant we finally chose had outdoor seating and a decent-sized vegetarian menu. Socca was quite underwhelming since it just looked like a crêpe but it more less sweet and more spongy. For dinner, I had a salad with warm goat cheese and honey. We cooked the rest of our meals in Nice, but a taste that I had forgotten about was salt…iness of the sea. When romping in the Mediterranean, I accidentally got some small gulps of the water, reminding me that large bodies of salt water exist. (It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the ocean–last August and it was the Oregon Coast and it had rained earlier in the day.) It seemed like the taste of salt water only stayed in my mouth while I was in the water. Emerging from the surf seemed to strip me of the overwhelming saltiness coating my mouth. So worth it though.

Touch

This one is a little less fond to look back on. My only goal of this trip was to go to the beach but it came at a bit of a cost. Our beach-time started with a few light raindrops but we were determined to will the sun out. After not too long sun bathing, we all frolicked in the water. Never have my feet been so pained walking on a beach since this beach had rocks instead of sand. Once in the water though, it was fantastic. I’ve never been anywhere tropical (the closet being San Diego, CA) so the Mediterranean was like paradise. After romping in the comfortably warm water, we all went to lay out for a bit. And here comes the sensory overload. For about an hour, we all just lounged and napped out in the sun. I felt the heat of the sun on my skin and welcomed it like an old friend I hadn’t seen in seven months. Unfortunately, my old friend was not very welcoming because I awoke with beet-red back. Although it was a rather painful downside to an otherwise wonderful trip, it allowed us to try different methods of easing pain: aloe, lotion, argon oil, yogurt…

Smell

We got quite an overload of scents while in Nice. First was the market we stumbled across on our way to the beach. Soap is very popular in Southern France meaning there were several different vendors at this market. We stopped at one stand that had soap in the raw. We then continued to smell all of the prepared soaps, and I bought a turquoise colored one called “Sieste à l’hombre” or “Nap in the Shadow.” Meandering further through the market we found stalls and stalls of fresh flowers and had their smell wash over us like a big wave. After going to the beach, we kept the “girls’ weekend” going by heading to Èze to visit the perfume factory of Fragonard. The tour of the factory is free, but at the end of it they try to convince the visitors to buy their products after getting free samples. I ended up buying a 6 euro solid perfume that I later realized just smells that Lip Smackers chapstick. We smelled about 12 different types of perfumes and cremes, every one seemingly becoming more and more similar. On Saturday, we only had the morning in Nice before we hopped on a train to Aix-en-Provence. Gracie suggested we try to find the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice. (The Cathedral was built by the last tsar of Russia, Nicolas II, to serve the Russian communities living in Nice.) As luck would have it, we decided to visit the Cathedral during some sort of ceremony. The distinct smell of incense consumed the elaborate but small structure as we arrived towards the end of the indoor portion of the service. 

All in all, I’d give the Côte d’Azur two thumbs up. Just bring extra sunscreen.

Like Mother Like Daughter

One reason I feel especially lucky to be having this study abroad experience (and third visit to Europe) is because I’m grateful for all that my parents have sacrificed for me. My dad has never been to Europe and my mom has been only once, the summer after her sophomore year of college where she studied in Valencia, Spain. She was able to travel around after her stay and went to Grindelwald, Switzerland and did some hiking. My mom likes to tell me this story: describing the beauty of Switzerland, the nice couple who picked her up as she hitchhiked and the bus stop her friends and her had to sleep in one night. After an eventful journey, they made it to the Alps. Armed with leather Swiss hiking boots and stylish knee high red socks, my mom trekked up a glacier. For memories sake, they broke out their swimsuits and posed for pictures atop the icy plateau.

mom

She recounts these tales with such clarity, as if she has played the memories on repeat so as to keep reliving them and to not forget them. It’s always a treat to hear my mom’s stories from her youth because it reminds me that my mom was just a young woman once too. She bent the rules, took risks, survived tragedy, made her own way through life. Nowadays, she seems to worry about me a lot. Probably because she knows that I’m a bit like her: a free spirit prone to shield the whole truth from the parentals.

As I accidentally ended up in Grindelwald and hiked along a snowy path in my bikini, I felt a distant but distinct connection to my mom. Being half a world away from home and visiting a place from (what had always just been) a story is just so surreal. Thinking about how timelessness of the scenery made it especially special–a place seemingly untouched by society or time. Also, I realized that I owe so much to my mom since she seems to sacrifice so much to see me happy–which she’s definitely accomplished.

The older I get the more I relate to, respect and appreciate my mom. I owe so much to my mom and hope that one day I can give back to her. For now, all I can do is say “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom. You da best.”

Down in the Valley

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Down in the Valley

I’m kinda over traveling in cities. I’ve seen a decent amount of churches, museums, castles, fountains, statues, etc. Nature, however, I can’t get enough of. (Except maybe the bugs.) Within three weeks, I made two trips to the Bernese Oberland and it’s definitely a place I’d re-revisit. The Lauterbrunnen Valley, specifically is completely under the control of the weather. My first time there, my hiking was cut short due to a snow-covered pathway up to Mürren. My second time there it was so warm that I did the majority of the hike in my bikini. The warmth also meant that the waterfalls were becoming stronger and more numerous. This hike starts down in Lauterbrunnen as goes all the way to Mürren. What this means is that instead of taking two gondola rides for the 5000-feet-high view, we hiked to it.

It doesn’t take long to realize why this region is the most popular hiking destination in Europe. Down in the valley, you can see the surrounding waterfalls and once you start ascending, the breathtaking Swiss Alps become closer and grander. It’s basically like walking through a postcard; definitely top recommended.

85m to Freedom

Typically, I’m a pretty cautious person. I avoid risky situations, I follow the rules, I drive within the speed limit, etc. This weekend, however, I threw myself off a 85 meter cliff.

Let’s back up. Weeks and weeks ago Clara and I planned a trip to Interlaken, Switzerland because (1) that was her limbo weekend being in between the end of her stay in Rome to the beginning of her travels and (2) I pushed for fulfilling my goal of bungee jumping while abroad.

Time flew incredibly fast and we were together again in Switzerland, starting our third mini European adventure together. Friday was a day for reuniting, napping, wine consuming and attempted bar hopping. Saturday involved a slow morning, a walk to Lake Brienz, bernie-ing like bamfs and more napping. At 4:00pm, we headed down to our hostel’s lobby (aka the bar, not joking) and waited to be picked up for our extreme sporting adventure. We were both nervous as hell. Neither of us had done anything like this before so are nerves jumbled together.

Turns out our jump** location was in Grindelwald which was great because Grindelwald was on my “Places to Visit” list. The jump was located in a canyon, technically 85 meters above the bottom of the canyon. After we got out of the van, we took a group photos (which Clara and I enhanced with our thugness) and then walked about two minutes to the jumping platform. We were read a humorously written contract and then fitted with our harnesses.

Choosing to go second did not give me much time for contemplation or observation. Instead, I literally just through myself over the edge without being fully aware of what to expect. Before my jump, the “instructor” told me to aim for the trees across from the gorge and that this jump had four times as much extension and air time then with a simple bungee. At this moment, I realized I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I was already strapped in completely and only a few inches from the edge. I looked up at the photographer, swore like a sailor and then took a few deep breathes. “Don’t think, just do.” And then I was air-born.

I can’t even describe it really. For most of it, I was freaking out. I got a running start and threw my arms up and then threw my body over the platform. Almost instantly I started screaming and I frantically grabbed for the limp rope in front of me. Suddenly my whole body seized as the rope became taught and as I swung through the canyon. The whole time I was grasping the rope, even though doing so did not greater ensure my safety. I was a little disoriented as I swung through the canyon. I looked upwards towards from where I had leapt but could not differentiate anything. In the moment, I thought I had swung through a narrow crevasse in the canyon. None of this mattered really except for the sake of a sweet picture of me swinging and posing at the bottom of the canyon.

Adrenaline rushes are addicting. Right after I took my harness off, I wanted to strap it back on and have another go. I got to watch Clara jump though which was pretty exciting. She shrieked like a banshee throughout most of it but had an awesome time too. We had to wait at the bottom in the cold for the other jumpers which was not fun, but we were glad we were rid of our nerves and just high on life.

“You’re not hardcore until you live hardcore!”

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** This technically wasn’t bungee jumping because my feet weren’t secured. This “canyon jump” allowed for four times as much suspension than the bungee jump though. It was probably more exhilarating anyway because all my limbs were free allowing me to basically run in midair.

Weather Or Not

Growing up in California has made me very spoiled about seasons. Sure, I’ve spent the last three years in Oregon but that doesn’t mean I’m not confused when April rolls around and it’s not consistently gorgeous weather everyday. Unfortunately for my vitamin D levels, it has been an unusually cold and long winter in Switzerland. Back in February I was talking with a woman who has lived in Lausanne for several years and she told me that typically there is about a week of snow that marks the high season of winter. That cold season extended itself beyond seven days and all the way until the end of March. There are been a few random days and moments of days with sun, some of which I spend on the floor of my room so as to have prime access to the rare rays of sunshine.

The first thing to know about European weather is that it cannot be accurately predicted by weather.com. It’s continually been outrageously wrong. For instance, this past Tuesday it predicted a thunderstorm to roll into Lausanne at 5:00pm, right after I finish my last class of the day. Being strategic, I went on a run earlier in the day to avoid the storm. As I sat in class, I noticed that instead of the sky becoming coated in looming clouds the sky was becoming more and more blue. As the clouds whisked away, so did my motivation. After class, my friend Katherine and I broke in her new ping pong equipment at the table in our courtyard. (Lausanne is littered with ping pong tables.)

That thunderstorm did come eventually though. Katherine and I went to Geneva on Thursday and just wandered around since it was a gorgeous day. Worried about the actual homework we needed to do, we left Geneva in the afternoon. We talked about studying outside and I made a joke that if would be funny if it wasn’t sunny in Lausanne. While on the train, Katherine checked the weather and informed me that a thunderstorm was on it’s way. With some pretty impressive timing, we arrive back to our apartments with about 30 minutes to spare before the thunder and lightening storm came. (FYI: I’ve never experienced a thunderstorm in Oregon. The last storms I remember are (1) the last night of the Sasquatch Music Festival in 2011 during Wilco’s set and (2) one night while I was at my friend’s cabin in Shasta when I was 16.)

Stay tuned for a post on how I attempt to balance comfort with European appropriateness in terms of my “spring” clothing…