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.
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.”
The beautiful Clara and Gracie woke up incredibly early on a Friday morning to make the treks from their respective coastal cities to cloudy Lausanne to have me entertain them for the weekend. At 11 o’clock Friday morning, I stood on Voie 1 at the train station scanning the crowd for two familiar faces. Looking for Gracie, I saw a figure in a white North Face who could only be one person. After waving and shrieking and running across the platform (aka flashing a metaphorical American banner), I embraced my homie Clara.
We wandered up and down the platforms and throughout the train station looking for the third California to complete the reunion. After 20 minutes of aimless searching, Gracie made a grand entrance by sneaking up behind us just at the moment we said her name. In the best three-person hug of my life, we reveled in each others’ presence.
With my poor transportation skills, I navigated us to the hostel and then to the city-centre so we can get some nomz. And we also got some Gomz candy at the grocery store! It was so fun to wander around the city in a tourist fashion since Lausanne really isn’t a touristy place. Not in the winter that is. We meandered around the oldest part of Lausanne and we stopped at Le Barbere so to get some hot chocolate, ice cream, sorbet and tea. Being quite tired and full, we head back to my apartment where we just lounged around for hours. We had raclette for dinner and called it an early night so we could have a full day on Saturday.
Bright and early the two of them came walking up towards my building, making bird calls to announce their arrival. Our Saturday consisted of walking around the lake, hanging out with swans, eating macarons at two different places and discovering an awesome grocery store called Manor. With it being cold and overcast, the only thing we wanted was mulled wine. I am an awful tour guide because I had no clue where to go so I just lead us into a bar called Les Brasseurs. No mulled wine, but they had beer/lemonade concoctions. Clara goes for wine but Gracie and I try out hands at a Monaco (with grenadine) and a Tokyo (lavender). They were delicious! Definitely bookmarking that place and going back.
The smidgen of alcohol in our systems made us a little loopy as we headed back to my apartment. A quick stop at the small food market turned into the delirious purchases of Jean Claude and Pépé (two chocolate Easter ducks). We then went to the finals of the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition. I really didn’t know what it was but all the exchange students were talking about it so I assumed it had to be good. The three of us had a grand ol’ time dancing like fools and watching the skaters come through the final stretch. We too had to push ourselves to make it to through the rest of the night where end up at a very bizarre club in Lausanne. We ran into some very youthful looking characters and some very old music (The Offspring, The Beatles, The Friends’ theme song).
On Sunday, we went to the Cailler Chocolate Factory which is truly a magical place. First of, Clara and Gracie were completely mesmerized by the Alps that we saw on the train there and in the town. Our tour of the factory included a cheesy little interactive history of the company and information on making chocolate nowadays. The most important part was the tasting room in which you could sample every type of chocolate made by Cailler. Too much chocolate but it was so good! That didn’t stop Gracie and I from getting gelato at a little place we found at a train station. We headed back to Lausanne and our weekend was coming to a close. I was sad to see them go but so happy that we could spend a weekend together!
It’s official: I’ve been living in Switzerland for exactly one month. The first two weeks were filled with what seemed like a list of never-ending administrative tasks, the third week was full of West Coast withdrawals and the fourth week was when things finally made sense.
Maybe it was because I jumpstarted my week with skiing in the Alps. Even though staying in on a weekend night and getting up early on a weekend might seem awful, skiing is always worth it. I definitely fell a lot and once lost a ski and continued to fall down the mountain. I also got to see a St. Bernard with a barrel which was something on my Swiss To Do List. I polished off the day at an après-ski bar with a free beer and the bus with belligerent Frenchmen got us to the train station just in time.
Even though I have yet to set my class schedule (looking like nothing on Thursday or Friday but six hours of class on Wednesday) and still frequent the struggle bus (spilling something on my bed for which I will be inevitably charged), I am finally feeling settled. I am a lot more comfortable speaking French even though I rarely have to use it. I’ve started to adjust to the metric system even if I mentally convert it every time. I’ve metaphorically waved the American flag by killing it on the dance floor and various dance platforms.
This weekend (which technically started last night with a two-part Welcome Party for exchange students) looks exciting as well. A day trip to Montreux, hitting the Alps again, making crêpes, going to a local museum. Next weekend will be even better because Clara and Gracie (two fellow Bearcats and Northern Californians!) will be here for the weekend! I’ll be playing hostess for three days, stuffing their faces with cheese and chocolate as we run around the Alps. My sister and I are planning our Spring Break plans to Italy which should be fantastic! I should be able to wear shorts, eat pizza and gelato and revel in the conversion between the dollar and the euro.
As I plan ahead, I see the weekends dwindling away, narrowing in on my time here. I’m so excited though for everything I have planned and all the impromptu things that are bound to occur!
One of my goals for my study abroad experience in Switzerland was to try an extreme sport. Something that I wouldn’t mention to my mother right away, like bungee jumping or paragliding. Definitely did not think I could check that off my list from a sledding experience.
My romanticized version of sledding is children with wooden sleds, sliding down a hill nearby their house. Calm, harmless, delight. So this weekend when my friends grabbed their helmets, I was confused. When I was told to put on snow pants and goggles, I continued to be confused. Then as we drove to a ski resort (only 10 minutes away) and stood in line for a ski pass, I was really confused. Our talk about the reality of avalanches in Switzerland during our gondola ride up was hardly helpful either. Neither was the story about their last sledding venture that ended with them jumping off the sled so they didn’t hit a tree.
Turns out sledding here is extreme by comparison. There are small runs that the sledders use consisting of twists and turns and bumps and jumps. This was quite a shock for a newbie. After the first section, my friends told me what to do and gave me the plastic “more American” sled with a wheel and breaks, we continued on. It was like a 20 minute run! We stopped about halfway through to look out over the pass towards the Italian border too. It was not very exhausting but was still very exhilarating Apparently a perfect activity for when you’re hungover. Now that I’m comfortable with “extreme” sledding, I’m ready to hit the slopes again next weekend and get some skiing in. Watch out Alps, you haven’t seen the last of me.
My past weekend in Valais exposed me to the craziness that is Fasnacht, the gorgeous Swiss snow, and the distinct cuisine of Valais, Switzerland. Here’s a taste of the latter:
Bier! The drink of choice around here is beer. Wine is also popular, but when it comes to getting drunk, the Swiss drink beer. The beer isn’t necessarily better or stronger, but it can do the trick all right. All throughout Fasnacht, there would be chimes of “Bier!?” as one person finished their beer and was buying the next round for the group. I was asked if many American girls could drink like me, so you’re welcome American females, I’ve done you good!
Flammli. Only once this weekend did we not have beer. At our first stop on Saturday night, a guy asked me in his broken English if I wanted “Schnapps, liquor uhh spirits?” I was so down even if it meant abandoning the old adage, “Beer before liquor never been sicker.” Instead of bringing us a round of shots, we all got a tiny cup of coffee, a glass of clear liquor, sugar cubes and spoons. As I reached for the sugar to put in the coffee, my group stopped me because the sugar served another purpose. Here’s what you do:
1) Drink the coffee.
2) Put the schnapps into the coffee cup.
3) Put a sugar cube on the spoon and dip it in the schnapps.
4) Take a lighter and light the spoon and sugar on fire so the sugar.
5) Then light up the small cup of schnapps so the sugar can caramelize. Do this for a few minutes until the schnapps becomes darker.
6) Pour the aflame schnapps back into its original glass.
7) Wait for it to cool and then enjoy.
Literally the most work I have ever put into a drink, but so good!
Roclette. This is a classic Swiss meal. It’s basically just melted roclette cheese served with potatoes, pickled onions and little pickles. We had a fancy little machine consisting of a flame that heated a plate which had four little dishes for the cheese. Since there were eight of us, we employed a shortcut which is just using the microwave. That’s basically it, but it was delicious. Definitely something I would and could make for myself.
My first day in Switzerland is turning into my first night. Today I arrived in Geneva, being greeted by my exchange partner who guided me to Lausanne. He helped me buy a month-long bus pass and the cheapest cellphone in the store. Unfortunately, the man at the University in charge of international students was out sick today, so I guess my welcome will be postponed until Monday. After my failure to understand Swiss doorhandles, I was able to retrieve my room key and enter my apartment and room.
I’m moved into my (rather large) room, but it feels so empty. The walls are white and the bed is small. There are a lot of bookshelves and sadly I have very little to put on them. There is no dresser so most of my clothes are still in my suitcase. I’m looking up the French words for for tack, tape, pillow, basket, and bookshelf. Useful words I like to think.
There are other people living with me, five of us total. I am the first of the new batch to arrive. They’re all international students and very nice. The Dutch guy pegged me as American immediately and the Finnish girl woke me up from my three-hour afternoon jet-lag nap to show me the grocery store before it closed at 7pm. (She also told me that I spoke French well. Cha-ching!) The first things in my basket were French wine (only 4 CHF!) and brie cheese. Bonsoir mon dîner.
So this one time I went to Switzerland. And this other time I made a silly collage about it.
FUN FACT: These photos (except for the one of me in a child’s toy car) are from the Romansh region of Switzerland. Romansh is a romance language and is one of the four national languages of Switzerland.