Learning Curve

Despite all the traveling I’ve been able to do, I swear that I’m still a good student who goes to class (most of the time). But in the past two weeks, I’ve gone to every single one of my classes! (A pattern soon to be broken.) In honor of the last month of my classes here and my recent avid attendance, here’s a post dedicated to the actual “study” part of “study abroad.”

Coming from a small liberal arts school in Oregon, I’m finding a plethora of differences between there and this large Swiss university. For example, the construction of classes. I’m used to: (4 classes x 3 hours each) = 12 hours total. Here I have all French classes that are: (4 classes x 2 hours each) + (1 class x 4 hours) = 12 hours. My classes are only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which is ideal for traveling and for the weekly Wednesday pub nights. Let me elaborate on the definition of “two hours.” There were would be uprisings we were actually were in class for two straight hours. All classes start a quarter past the hour even if the schedule explicitly says the class starts promptly at 10:00. The class schedule also says that classes end after two hours. But only once have I had a professor hold us the full time. We’re always outta there at a quarter til. All in all, (1) it’s hard to keep track of all these classes sometimes, (2) it’s really easy to forget what happens from one class to the next, and (3)  it’s going to quite a surprise when Willamette tells me the credit equivalent of these classes.

Here are some other small things I have noticed:

  • All the classrooms have chalkboards instead of whiteboards and one of my teachers uses an overhead…what grade is this again?
  • Teachers rarely turn the lights on. Sometimes the natural light is enough but sometimes it’s not.
  • The teachers don’t have private offices; instead they share one with several teachers.
  • The teachers don’t care about phones. (At Willamette, I feel like the professors send you death glares if your phone goes off.)
  • My classes have so many people that the professors don’t know (or don’t bother to learn) any names.
  • I have all of my classes in a 5 story building with staircases that remind me of those of Hogwarts aka confusing.
  • You can buy beer at wine at the cafés and eateries on campus.

Yet as these things are becoming more familiar, it will soon be coming to an abrupt halt. Here’s what’s remaining in my scholarly european exchange: ten days of classes, three small assignments, three exams.

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Two of My Favorite Things: Elena and Nature

(April 17-20, 2013)

I feel incredibly thankful for the study abroad experience and I feel especially special that I’ve been able to kick it with some Willamette homies too. Clara (twice), Gracie, Kevin and now Elena! Right after returning from Paris, I was greeted by the presence of Elena. While I had classes, she did some exploring around Switzerland and then we did some romping together.

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Wednesday: We meet up at Elena’s hostel near Lausanne Gare and then walk to the daily food market held in Place St. François. After buying some food for our dinner, we decide to keep walking to the lakefront since it was a gorgeous day. We stroll from the edge of Ouchy all the way to Vidy and up to the Université de Lausanne campus. After our brief reunion, we split up so I can go to class and so Elena can check out some thermal baths in the area. We meet up for dinner together at her hostel which was an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, wouldn’t except anything less from Elena. We spend our whole evening chatting with three other guests (two Australians one Brazilian) and drinking a grand total of 5 bottles of wine. Returning to my apartment on one of the last metros, I attempted to tipsily pack my weekend bag.

Thursday: I woke up with enough time to finish packing (sans toothbrush par accident) and to meet Elena at the train station. With our backpacks and bags of food in tow, we hop on the train to Interlaken! The weather was absolutely gorgeous so we decide a lakeside lunch would be perfect. First though we buy cheap postcards and find a bathroom and grocery store. Then, we head towards the lake! Well…or we thought we did. The path turns into a road which does not look promising. (The train ride made everything seem so much closer!) After about 20 minutes or so, we double back to where we know we can find the other lake. Making it back to our “starting point” aka the train station, we decide the canal is better for a lunch spot solely because it was right there. After refueling we decide to have another go at finding the lake, this time we head in the other direction. We find a gravel path along the canal lined with wildflowers and little houses. Eventually, we make it to a bridge so we can crossover the canal and reach Lake Thun. We quickly find a little pier with great views of the lake and mountains and decide to get our tan on. Elena also decides to have a lovely little dip…in the glacial-temperature water. The moment the sun goes behind the clouds, we decide to pack it up and head towards the train station again. Incredibly parched and waiting for the train, we just ogled the beverage section at Coop pronto.

A quick train ride later, we arrive in Lauterbrunnen–a valley in Switzerland renown for it’s amazing hikes, views and 72 waterfalls. Not wanting to waste the daylight, we decide to explore the area after checking into our hostel. Being a couple of rebels, we hop a fence so we can climb up a trail to get a better view of Staubbach Falls. We almost hiked higher so we could go behind the waterfall but decided against it. Good decision because when we returned to the base, we saw that there was an abundance of snow. Back at the hostel, we eat our dinner (bread and cheese and fruit) outside, meet the hostel cat and huskies and enjoy the beautiful view of the valley. We spend the evening writing our numerous postcards and doing some light reading.

Friday: We wake up to slightly worse weather, that of Oregon. We don’t let a bit of rain stop us though so we decide to hike two trails. To sum of Wengen, the first trail, in one word is: UP. Not stairs, not switchbacks, just up. It was definitely a challenge for me but it was worth it. The whole way up we had great views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley below and then going back down was a breeze. Back at the hostel we had a break for lunch and then were back on a trail. This one was slightly easier because it was just switchbacks leading up to the top of the other side of the valley. Unfortunately, we ran into some snow on road and then reached a point where the road was completely covered in snow. Having feeling rather accomplished for the day, we decide to head back down and have an early evening full of wine and relaxation. It was definitely a good call because about two hours later, the light rain from throughout the day turned into fat snowflakes. And it continued to snow for the rest of the night turning the sun-soaked valley from the day before into a winter wonderland.

Saturday: It continued to snow all night so we woke up to piles of snow all around the hostel. We decided that out best course of action was to just say goodbye to Lauterbrunnen earlier than planned. Hiking and stunning views are the main draw of the valley so when the weather sucks, there’s not much to do. As we waited at the train station, we noticed that even some of the gondolas were shut down because of the snow. We took the train to Interlaken where we bought some souvenirs (more postcards for friends and a Swiss army knife for me) and then we were back en route to Lausanne. We considered stopping in Bern since we had a connecting train but decided against it since we both had been traveling a lot recently. At the Lausanne train station, we said goodbye as Elena was catching a train to Paris for her flight back to the states. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with a wonderful person in a wonderful place!

How To Soothe A Restless Soul

I seem to have gotten used to being on the move, since I have been away and traveling for the past five weekends. I’m not one who likes to sit still anyway. Even since childhood I’ve been that way. My mom likes to tell people that I started to run before I could walk (which apparently isn’t physically possible for a toddler but whatever it’s a cute anecdote). To deal with my excess amounts of energy, my mom enrolled me in gymnastics so I could bounce on a trampoline and jump into a foam pit for a few hours every week. Even nowadays this restless energy is still present. I’m pretty bad at being in one place for too long or even just “being bored.” All of the traveling has been great for my restless soul because I’ve been constantly on the move and with very little time to sit still. My body probably hates me though for my month-long cold and poor eating habits. 

But traveling can get so addicting. Upon my return from traveling with Elena in the Bernese Oberland, I started to plan out the trips I could squeeze into my remaining weeks in Switzerland. On Monday, I was feeling anxious and impulsive and booked a trip to visit Gracie in southern France. I later learned this was the weekend before two exams but I figure I can just combine travel time and study time. 

This week in Lausanne was probably the most routine-like one I’ve had in a while. Maybe it was the toll of actually going to all of my classes, but I felt the restlessness ensue again. And with the temperatures (temporarily) reaching the upper 60s, I felt my motivation slowly dwindling as well. With over four full days spent in Lausanne (the longest duration in over a month), I felt the immediate urge to get back out there. On Thursday morning, I decided to hop on the train to Montreux so I could walk along the lake and go someplace different. Montreux is so gorgeous in the springtime, with beautiful flowers lining the lakeside walk from the train station to the famous Château de Chillon. There are so many little boat docks, shaded benches, tanning areas and swimming spots all along the walk as well. For some reason, both the mountains and the water are more impressive from Monteux than at Lausanne. You can see the green of the trees along the mountains and the water is a more-inviting blue. 

Whether it was all the vitamin d or the solo excursion itself, I came back in a better mood. I’m going to have to hold tight for another 6 days before I’m off to Interlaken with Clara on my next adventure. Until then I just will try to squeeze as much as I can out of my time left in Europe–48 days!

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Lausanne Livin’

In the past month, I’ve only spent nine days in Lausanne. That time includes by trip to Budapest, spring break in Italy, a weekend in Paris and two days hiking in the Bernese Oberland. With my time abroad quickly dwindling, I’m trying to squeeze every bit of thrill out of this experience. Unfortunately, I am not constantly traveling, but Lausanne has been stepping up it’s game while I’ve been around.

  • The day I returned from Italy, I went on a run not to waste the sunny weather and was surprised to find that the sun also indicated warmth!
  • That week I got to attend a hockey game, which was on my list of things to do in Switzerland. I got to see Switzerland smash France all within the arena/rink/stadium? in Lausanne. There was also one fight at the very end which was almost more thrilling then the five Switzerland goals. Luckily the venue wasn’t freezing cold, because I am a little bit over the cold weather. 
  • Upon returning from Paris, the weather was once again gorgeous. Dear Europe, sorry I’m not sorry for wearing shorts when the weather is warm. I was definitely the only person I saw in shorts that day, so good thing I didn’t go with one of my signature pair of cutoffs. 
  • The following day was even more gorgeous! And I have Elena visiting as well. We trekked up the hill from Lausanne Gare all the way to the fresh food market in Place de St. François. We then walked along the lake and all the way to UNIL, catching sites of Spring in Switzerland such as cloudless skies and blooming flowers. (It took about two hours for that whole stroll.) We both even got a little pink from all the sunshine! 
  • The University here has busted out the sheep, which are the grass-mowing technology they use here. They make the walk to the library a little more enjoyable. 

Every time I travel, I get incredibly restless and just want to continue on to my next adventure. In the meantime, I’ll sit back and savor the small nuances of Lausanne–41 days left!

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That’s Amore.

For my ten days of Easter/Spring break, I chose to visit the wonderful boot-shaped country of Italy. Like most first-timers to Italy, I planned my trip around the three main cities: Rome, Venice and Florence. Based on my short time in each place, each city has a distinct personality while still maintaining that Italian “je ne sais quoi.”

Rome

My longest stop was in Rome with three full days and two half days. I again got to see Clara and we were joined this time by our homie Kevin. Craziness filled the air as we were in Rome for probably its busiest time of year: Easter. Despite all the tourists, I was still able to get a thorough glimpse of Roma. The thing I loved most about Rome was how the clichés were fulfilled. Gelaterias and pizzerias around every corner, vespas whipping down the cobblestone roads, expressive hands, unwanted calls of “Ciao bella!”, ancient ruins casually placed throughout the city. Aided by the lovely and knowledgable Clara, we got a twofold visit, that of a tourist and that of a resident. We saw the major sites and ruins, had a Pope sighting, ate plenty of gelato and pizza, drank wine and limoncello, went to a Lazio soccer game, watched the movie Gladiator (don’t judge). We saw Rome during the night and day, rainy and blue skies. At all times it was gorgeous (except maybe the Tiber River). “This is a history major’s dream” as Kevin put it. The city is still so alive despite its obvious past.

Venice

My next stop was Venice with my sister who came over from the States grâce à our mother. (When my sister was studying abroad four years ago, I visited her during my Spring Break. We went to Liverpool, London and Dublin.) We had an adrenaline-pumping arrival in Venice at 10:30pm trying to navigate the poorly-marked streets with our less-than-helpful map and directions. Finally arriving at our B&B, we woke up a guest by ringing the doorbell and disturbed another by asking to use his phone. (This was funny because I spoke in English and French and the guy came to the door with a blowdryer. Not quite right.) Luckily, we were soon in our room, two tired travelers. Venice in the daytime was truly magical. Narrow streets, numerous canals, adorable bridges. My impression of Venice was that it’s a city for lovers due to the lack of noise from cars, wandering the streets with the inevitability of getting lost but not caring, stumbling across with bridges with locks, relaxing on a gondola. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it as I was increasing my love affair with Italia. With only one full day, we made sure to hit the major sites: the Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Palazzo Ducale and Accademia de Venezia. It was quite a full day especially when you calculate the time and energy getting lost (not romantic for a pair of sisters with tired feet). The next day, we only had the morning before we were off again. Not being able to risk getting lost again, we took the vaparetto which is basically Venice’s transportation system via boat. We took it to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art to offset all the ugly baby Jesuses from the day before. This was one of my favorite things because it was such a surprise. I got to see works by Picasso, Braque, Dali, Kandinsky, Picabia, Magritte and Jackson Pollack.  With a hop, skip and a jump, we were leaving Venice and on route to Firenze.

Florence

While Rome is for history buffs, Florence is for art lovers. Seemingly frozen in time from the Medici reign, Florence is full of pockets of treasures. We lucked out with great weather the first day so we trekked south to the Plazo Pitti via the Ponte Vecchio to marvel at a palace full of art and meander through a grand garden speckled with signs of spring. We continued upward towards Piazzale Michelangelo which offers a great view of Florence. From here, I could really see the beauty of this European city in its preserved state. Unlike American cities that are painfully modern and recent, the cityscape of Florence is exclusively dominated by the architectural masterpieces from the Renaissance. Our second day was an art overload. We started with the Galleria dell’Accademia to ogle at Michelangelo’s David. While da Vinci’s Mona Lisa tends to be underwhelming, David does not disappoint. We continued our journey with a quick tour of the Duomo and then we were off to the Uffizi aka the best museum in the world for Renaissance art. Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, da Vinci, as well as many others. We ended the day with some purchases at the San Lorenzo leather market with gyros for dinner since we were both a little tired of pasta and paninis. Our last day, we toured the Palazzo Vecchio and had our final gelato (half stracciatella half tiramisu) and pizza.

And just like that we were headed to Rome for just a night before our early morning departures. We had a bit of a mishap with our Rome accommodation (ask me about it later) but it did not damper my opinion of my experience.Ciao Italy! Grazie! 

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Ski Weekend

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Ski Weekend

With spring (slowly) approaching, I made my last adventure to the slopes this past weekend. And with so much style. The exchange program through my school organized a ski weekend that was crazy cheap! It included: two lessons, two days of skiing, two nights accommodation, two dinners, two breakfasts and transportation. We stayed right at the base of the ski resort so in the morning it was just a five-minute waddle in our ski boots to get to the lift. While the conditions were poor and the snow was unimpressive, it was still a great weekend. The highlight for me was getting to do the Swiss version of night skiing. Unlike American ski resorts, none of the ones here have lights on them meaning them close around 4:30. What my group had the opportunity to do was ski with flaming torches! We skied down without poles with the slope only being lit by the people with torches.

The second day was the longest I had ever skied in one day but that didn’t stop me from après-ski-ing at a Mexican bar in the village. The last day had the best weather, with great visibility which led to a faint goggles tan. At the end of the weekend, I was incredibly exhausted at the action-packed weekend. With my ski season in Switzerland coming to a close, I feel thrilled to say that I’ve done a third of my skiing in the Swiss Alps and that I definitely improved my skiing abilities. I will miss the mountains but I’m excited for the warmer adventures I have planned in the near future!