Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 26-31

Happy Halloween!
Due to an influx of American culture, Europe has recently been celebrating Halloween. This change has come about in probably the last 10 years. Trick-or-treating is not too popular yet, or at least not too productive since there are few people that hand out candy. Halloween parties, on the other hand, are becoming more and more popular for adults and children alike. People dress up and get together to have a good time in an age-appropriate way. Candy corn is and unknown obscurity here, and it wasn't until I shared some with some of my friends here(compliments of a care package for my awesome former-roomie!, did I realize that, you know, it doesn't really even look like corn.

Speaking of food, I had my first Swiss fondue last night. Not my first fondue ever, just my first since coming here. There was a free dinner for the exchange students. It was fantastic, and not only because it was free. (Fondue from a restaurant runs at 20-25 francs/person.) After a while though, the white wine taste of the cheese gets a little sickening; too much of a good thing I suppose.

To continue with the food theme, I had Pakastani food for the first time on Saturday. It was terrific. A friend of mine from my Mechanical Engineering classes invited me to her home in Geneva for a Birthday dinner. There were about a dozen or so other students, mostly MechE's, there as well. It was nice to get to know a few of my classmates a little better. It was also nice to communicate almost exclusively in French. My friend had asked me to bring an apple pie, which was fun for me because I got to make another pie (not quite as pretty as the first.) It was also nice, because before she asked for the pie, I was not sure what would be culturally appropriate to bring. It's apple season now, so I had purchased some really cheap apples (about $0.70/lb). Since I had a bunch of apples left over, I made some applesauce (compote in French) on Sunday. It was delicious.

In other news, I've arranged to do an internship with a professor here. For the next 10 weeks I'm going to work 6 hours per week on a research project under his supervision. For the other half of the internship, starting next semester, I think that I am going to work for two PH.D. students in a Turbomachine laboratory. This semester's project is part of a larger initiative to recreate the "Dufaux 4." The Dufaux brothers were aviation pioneers from Geneva; essentially the Wright brothers of Switzerland. Their original aircraft is on display in a transportation museum in Luzern, Switzerland. I intend to visit the museum in the near future. If you want to read more about their plane, you can check out this link:
The project I'm collaborating with is called "Faux Dufaux." ( My part is going to involve computer modeling of the "Dufaux 4" airfoils. There is a lack of quantitative information about the aircraft, since the Dufaux brothers were more entrepreneurs than they were scientists. Before designing airplanes, the Dufaux brothers owned a motorcycle business, which is ironic, because before their debut as aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers ran a bicycle shop. Apparently two-wheeled transportation inspires people to build airplanes. I really enjoy biking, I wonder...
Anyway, to get back to my point, it is unknown whether the wing design used on the plane was original or existing technology. It is more likely the latter. I am going to use information collected from a laser scan of the nearly 100 year-old biplane to model the two-dimensional wing profiles and compare them with other airfoils from the time. I'm pretty excited about this project. I will eventually create a report and presentation of what I learn, in order to earn credit from Iowa State. Ironically, this internship is for my French degree, not my Aerospace Engineering degree.

Other than that, my week has been pretty laid back. I watched a couple movies, did some knitting, took a few walks, ran a bit. I'm continuing to improve my French. I have good French days and bad French days. Usually the bad French days are also the days I have trouble staying awake in class. It's tiring to think in another language, and my French comprehension is closely linked to how much energy I have. It's a vicious circle, but it's getting better and better all the time.

Friday, October 26, 2007

October 21-25

I opened a Swiss Bank account on Wednesday. Yeah that is just fun to say. I spoke in French the whole time, except when I was signing documents, they were in English. I thought in regards to my money, I probably shouldn't be signing things that I don't completely understand. The teller was very nice and very helpful. She told me that I spoke French very well. I think she was just being polite. Also, the two tellers at the bank really liked my passport. I think it was the first time that they had seen a new US passport. It never occurred to me that not every country has a passport that is decorated with lots of colorful photos. They took turns flipping through looking at all the pictures while my stuff was printing. They called Mt. Rushmore "Hollywood", though, but I decided not to correct them. Not really that important. The teller who helped me set up my account is going to be coming to the US for a few months to improve her English. She doesn't know where she will be going yet, but she seemed excited.

A friend loaned me a booklet that was published by the RZIM (Ravi Zacarias International Ministries.) It was written by Paul Copan, a lecturer and writer with a a PhD in Philosophy from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The booklet is entitled "Is everything Really Relative?: Examining the Assumptions of Relativism and the Culture of Truth Decay." The author poses questions and examines the logic of the principles of Relative Truths and Absolute Truths. Basically, he seeks to crumble the foundations of Relativism. I'm curious what others opinions are about these schools of thought. Do you believe that everything is relative and what is true for one may not be true of another, or do you believe that the only truths are absolute? What is absolutely true? How do you define tolerance? What are your feelings about religious pluralism? These are very difficult but interesting questions to think about. I'm curious to discuss them. After I have some more time to reflect and further research what I've read, I'll write more about how I would answer these questions.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October 20

This is the first weekend in a while that I haven't ventured somewhere. It was kind of nice to just relax here in Lausanne. There is a place here where bikes can be rented for a 20 franc deposit that is returned when the bike is returned. So, really it's not renting, because it is free if the bike is returned. I was going to do this, but it was really windy. I went for a walk by the lake instead. It was very pleasant.
The family I am living with invited me to have Raclette with them for dinner. Raclette is a cheese that is native to the canton of Valais. I visited this canton a couple weekends ago and had Raclette while I was there. The cheese is melted and served with boiled potatoes, pickles, and dried beef. It is different than fondue, because the cheese is not soupy, just melted and put on your plate. It was very nice of them to ask me to join them. I had purchased a bag of very cheap apples on Friday, so I decided that I would make a pie for dessert. I decided just to buy a crust. I've never used pre-made crust before. Nor have I ever baked a pie in an oven that is so small and in degrees Celsius. Also, I didn't have American measuring devices, so I just estimated. It's okay to do that with pies though. They aren't an exact science like cakes or other baked things like that. I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but it was great. It was the prettiest pie I've made. I drank Tisane, a calming caffeine free herbal tea that is drunk in the evenings. It was wonderful. The family liked the pie as well, which I was happy about. Tartes are common in Switzerland, but they are a bit different than pies. There is only the bottom crust and they are wider. They are also thinner and not as sweet. It is mostly just fruit baked onto a thin crispy crust. So far I've had plum, walnut, and strawberry. They are delicious, but not the same as a traditional American apple pie.

October 14-19

I was quite busy this week. I'll start with Monday. I visited friend who is from ISU as well. We watched a movie and I borrowed a book from her. It's really nice to have something to read on the Metro and the bus, and I couldn't find any fiction at the libraries.
Tuesday evening I started a bible study. It's called "Groupe des Disciples." The premise is to study the new testament and the themes that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples. It was really pleasant. There were about 6 or 7 of us and we met at the leader's apartment to eat dinner together. Over tea and clementines, we discussed the Gospel. We are going to meet every Tuesday like this, and then some weekend, we are going to have a retreat in the mountains.
Wednesday I discovered that I really like coffee, well French style coffee anyway. I met a classmate from my French class at a cafe to practice French. She is from Oklahoma, and has lived in Europe for about 7 years now. I'm the only other Midweterner that she has met. Anyway, I wasn't terribly fond of American coffee and the Europeans I've met have a very low opinion of it. French coffee is quite strong, almost like espresso, and is served in a very small cup. It is often served with milk or sugar. I like it either way, black or with sugar and milk.
Wednesday night, I was going to go to another bible study. I found the street, but I couldn't figure out what building it was. The signage here for streets and buildings is rather subtle, and I have yet to figure out the logic in the numbering scheme. After about 20 minutes I gave up and headed home. I was disappointed, but mostly because I couldn't find where I was going. I don't know if I'm going to participate in this study, since I'm already doing one on Tuesday nights.
Thursday afternoon I met with a professor about working in a Turbomachine lab. He showed me around and talked to me about the projects that are going on right now. It was very interesting. I have to do an internship for my French major, and I'd like to do it in a lab here, so I'm exploring my options.
I also had my first test Thursday afternoon. It was for Thermodynamics. I thought I understood the material pretty well, but there were a couple places on the test where I got stuck with the Math. It was kind of frustrating. The exam isn't graded though, the only effect is has is that if I do an amazing job, it will count as a bonus. I'm not counting on that though. This is my only class that has an exam before the final exam. For the most part, the only grade is the final, which is kind of a daunting prospect.
Thursday evening I met with my usual Thursday group. We had a traditional Swiss dinner of Rosti and some meat with a gravy sauce. Rosti is like hashbrowns, but it's not cooked as crispy. For dessert we had a nut tart. The Swiss style of using silverware is intriguing to me, and I haven't quite gotten used to it yet. It is customary to hold a knife in one hand and a fork in the other for the entire duration of the meal. I've never seen a spoon set out on a table. The knife is used to push the food onto the fork. I've tried to use my silverware this way, but I can't get used to it. I rarely use my knife, except to cut things, then I set it back down on my plate like I have done my entire life. If I saw someone using their silverware the other way, and I didn't know if was customary, it would seem a little rude to me. It's interesting. After dinner we had a Swiss trivia contest. I won! It's a good thing I read wikipedia so much. I won 400 grams of Swiss chocolate. I was excited.
Friday was a lazy day. I slept in and then went to campus to meet with another professor to talk about lab projects. I have quite a few options, I just need to make a decision. After talking to him for about an hour, I went to the library to check out some movies. This weekend I got Jurassic Park, The Truman Show, and The Village. I'm watching movies that I've already seen first, after I finish those, and my French is better, I'll start watching movies I haven't seen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

October 13

I traveled with a friend from India to the city of Fribourg today. Fribourg is located in the neighboring canton of Fribourg (imagine that.) The city is on the language border, so to the east, the language is Swiss-German instead of French. There are four official languages in Switzerland. The main language is German. It is spoken in a large portion of Switzerland that is called Suisse-Allemand (Swiss-Germany). Suisse-Romand is the French speaking portion. French is the second largest language. Third is Italian, which is really only dominant in one canton, Tessin. The fourth and significantly less common language is Romansh. Romansh is really only spoken in one small canton, Grisons. For the most part citizens of Switzerland learn their regional language first, followed by German and French. If German or French are your native language, you learn English before you learn Italian. So, the people of Tessin and Grisons usually know four languages, and the Suisse-Allemand and Suisse-Romands usually know three. It's not as important that they learn Italian, because the Suisse-Italiens know both French and German, and likely English. Many people pick up Italian though. Wow, that all probably made no sense.
So, back to my original story, I went to Fribourg. Fribourg is very old. The city recently celebrated it's 850th year. There's a lot of medieval architecture. I visited several 13th and 14th century buildings. The most impressive was the St. Nicolas Cathedral. Construction of the cathedral began in the late 1200s. It was very beautiful, but also kind of tacky. Each individual piece of art or architecture was beautiful, but the whole composition was a little too much. My favorite part was the tower though. We walked up 368 stairs to the top and the view was breathtaking. It was really terrific.
My travel advice for visiting a European city:
Start at the cathedral, especially if you don't have a map. They often have free maps at cathedrals, and most large cathedrals have a tower that you can pay a dollar or two to visit. It is definitely worth the money. Take your free map up with you and use it do decide where you are going to go in the city. Looking at the entire city this way will give you a better idea of the distances, and what you want to see. Maps can sometimes be deceiving, and I've found that things are generally closer together than I think. Looking at the map and the city at the same time is very helpful.
After we visited the cathedral, we walked down by the river. It was a gorgeous day and a lot of fun to take pictures there. It was very relaxing to go from city to nature so easily, and the sound of the water was calming. While we were walking, we ran across a couple herds of sheep. At one point, I was petting one and it started licking my hand. Then it bit me. Yeah crazy, but pretty funny. I was bitten by a Swiss sheep.
After all our walking around we decided to relax at an outdoor cafe. I had some cocoa and a croissant. It was really pleasant. When it started to get dark and cool off, we headed to the train station to return back to Lausanne. It was a fun and relaxing trip.
When I got hope, I had a very fun phone call. My cousin got married that afternoon, and I was a bit sad that I couldn't be there. My dad called me from the reception though, and my family took turns passing the phone around. I think I talked to about 15 people. It was great, almost like I was there with them. Communication nowadays is terrific. It's so easy to move far away because communication is so easy. With email, IM, Skype, blogs, etc., I sometimes forget that there is an ocean and several countries between me and all the people I love.

October 12

I was going to go sailing today, but I took a wrong turn, walked a long way toward what I thought was the right harbor, figured out I was wrong, turned around, and missed the boat. I arrived at the right harbor about 15 minutes too late. I was disappointed, but I'm sure I'll have the chance again. I might be a good thing I missed it, because at that pointed I really needed to go to the bathroom. The only public restrooms that I could find around there did not have toilets. Instead they had a square of porcelain on the floor with a drain in the middle. They looked like the bottom of a shower, but there were two raised places to set your feet. If it had been a serious emergency, I would have used them, but I decided to just make my way back to campus.
At the library, I checked out the "Back to the Future" trilogy. I think I can check out books at pretty much every library in Switzerland, or at least the canton of Vaud. (A canton is like a state. Vaud is the canton where Lausanne is.) The libraries that I have visited so far have been pretty specialized though. For example, all of the books at EPFL pertain to Science, Math, Architecture, and Engineering, and all the books at UNIL pertain to the majors there. I want to find some fiction books to read during my transit time, but I have not succeeded yet. EPFL does have a very small Science-Fiction section, but none of them really interest me right now. The DVDs are all science fiction too, but they are free, and there are quite a few that I've either seen and liked, or am interested in watching. I watched "Signs" last weekend. I watch them in French, with the French subtitles. It's actually pretty helpful. I'm starting with movies I've seen though, so I have a better idea what's going on. When my French is better, I'll move to the new ones.

October 11

I had two rather spiritual experiences today. First of all, I went to a taizé worship over my lunch hour. Taizé is a style of worship that consists of "sung-prayers." These prayers are only a line or two long, and they are sung and repeated several times, a capella. I read about the, and it made me think of Midweek Chapel, a similar thing that Collegiate UMC, my church in Ames, does on Wednesdays over lunch in the Memorial Union chapel. I used to go to Midweek chapel regularly when I was in Ames. I was late getting to this worship though, because I was eating lunch and one of the guys I went hiking with sat down with me, so we were chatting. Also, the worship was happening on the UNIL campus so I had to walk over there. I got there about 20 minutes late. I was actually considering not going in, I just planned to find it so that I know where it happened for next week, but the singing was very beautiful, so I decided to go in. I was only there for about 10 minutes before it was over. It was really nice though, I meditated a bit. It was very calming, centering, and mystic.
Experience Number 2: I was meeting with the group of people that I meet with every Thursday night. It is a group of international students and it is loosely affiliated with a student Christian group. We were meeting outside St. Francois, a church/bus stop in downtown. I was about 15 minutes early, and it was a bit chilly out, so I decided to go in. This was not my first time inside, I've actually been in several times. I even attended worship there once. There's going to be a organ concert Friday night at St. Francois, so the organist was practicing (at leas this is what I assumed was taking place). It was really wonderful. The music was really amazing. Some was kind of somber but some was also kind of upbeat and light. There's an organ concert every, or every other Friday night. Tomorrow night's organist will be the "in house" organist for St. Francois. Since this is a very old, historic, landmark church, they have hired a very talented professional organist. It is definitely an experience I will always remember. I actually considered just staying there, and not meeting the others, but I changed my mind. I went outside to meet with the others, and tow of them had shown up. I told them about the music and they came in and we stayed a bit longer, until one more person joined us, then we went walking around Ouchy, down by the lake.

Ok, so this last story was not spiritual, but it was really funny. We left St. Francois and walked to Palais de Justice, which I believe is the courthouse. There was a lawn there and a small park with some trees and benches. There was also a very nice view of the lake, since we were still uphill from it. There was a few people there with there dogs. One couple had a dog that looked like a doberman, or about that size anyway. It was dark, so I couldn't tell for sure. The dog was running around the lawn and they were playing fetch with it. Instead of using a stick though, they were using a green laser pointer. Hilarious! They would just shine it around the lawn and the dog would chase it. I've done this with cats before, but they generally figure out that they are never going to catch the light, and they tire of it pretty quickly. This game, on the other hand, went on for at least 20 minutes, maybe longer. It was the laziest game of fetch, on the owner's part, that I have ever seen. The dog liked it though. I actually don't think he was really that interested in catching the light. He was just enjoying running around.

October 8-10

I went to a dinner for the Mechanical Engineering section Wednesday night. It was good, but really awkward. I'm glad Gwendolyn, the other American in MechE, was there. We sat with a professor and a secretary from the section. I guess Gwendolyn has this professor, but due to confusing scheduling, she's missed 2 of the 3 lectures. The professor works in a production and robotics lab and the secretary works in the Turbomachine lab. Anyway, I asked them if it is possible for bachelor students to work in the labs. I need to do an internship for my French major. This could be working in industry or doing a supervised project in a lab. I explained the idea to them, and it sounds like I going to be able to do it.I think that I'll probably just be working on my own project under the supervision of a professor, but that's cool with me. They both gave me their contact information, and I'm going to email them this weekend. I was checking out the turbomachine lab website, and I've actually already visited it. I think I'd prefer that over the robotics lab, it's more up my alley. Yeah, so I'm really excited about it right now. The food was tasty. They were showing a movie afterwards, but it was the Simpson's movie, and I wasn't that interested in staying, so I decided to go home. So I had the most bizarre metro ride home. It turned out that the secretary that I met was taking the same metro, so I was talking to
her. Then i noticed that we were moving quite slowly after leaving a stop. Then, the train stopped completely, and the conductor came out and slammed the door very loudly, I jumped because I didn't see him. He stomped to the back of the train, and then we started going the opposite direction, back into the tunnel we just came out of. All of the sudden all the lights went out. It was a bit freaky since it was about 10 at night and we were in a tunnel in a metro. Don't get me wrong, the metro, and the whole city are very safe, but still. Luckily they came back on and the conductor came back, but he was not very happy. We sat there for another minute or so, then we slowly made our way to the stop. After that it was fine, there must have been an electrical problem, and he just had to restart everything. Yeah, very strange.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October 6-7

The last remnants of summer are fading away. The trees are changing colors and the evenings are becoming cooler. I've always loved the smell of autumn. Something about the earthy aroma is very comforting to me. It's grape and pear season now, so I've been buying them often at the grocery store. I've also many new stands popping up to sell roasted chestnuts. It makes me miss the smell of Bavarian roasted almonds in shopping malls. I've always associated that smell with Christmas shopping.
Yesterday, I took my first trip in Europe that I had planned myself. I decided that I wanted to go to Rhine Falls before it started to get too cold, so I just went. Rhine Falls is the largest plain waterfall in Europe. It is near the small town of Schaffhausen in the Swiss-German part, not too far from Zurich. I invited a couple friends and the three of us headed out early in the morning. We arrived in Schaffhausen around 11 am, and hiked 3 km to Scholss Laufen, a castle on a cliff above the falls. We had brought sandwiches and ate together outside the castle. The walk along the river through the trees in their fall glory was very pleasant.
The Rhine Falls are not very tall but quite wide. For one Franc, spectators could get very close to the falls. It was amazing. The shear amount of energy stored in that water was breathtaking. I was also amazed at the fact that the turbulence in the water seemed to subside shortly after the falls. The water not too far downstream seemed quite placid in comparison to the falls. Rainbows could be seen in the spray. There was also a lookout in the middle of the river, that could be reached by tour boats. We opted not to take the boat.
After taking a great many pictures, we took a train to Winterthur. This train was small, more like a metro. At Winterthur we got on a larger train to go to Zurich. It was actually a double-decker train, and we sat on the upper deck.
When we arrived in Zurich, we really had no real plans, which I was surprisingly comfortable with. We had a few suggestions from guide books and other travelers, and a few vague ideas about what we wanted to see, but for the most part we just went exploring. We did not have a map outside of my travel guide, and this was not a particularly great map. We searched in several of the train stations, but never did succeed in finding a free map of Zurich. One of my travelling companions tried taking a picture of a map on the wall, and using his camera to zoom in as we were searching for places, but this was not particularly useful.
In Zurich we visited two churches, Grossmunster and Fraumunster. At Grossmunster, a cathedral, we paid 2 francs to climb the 188 stairs to the tower. The view was amazing; we could see the whole city. Zurich is much flatter than Lausanne, so I think this might have been the highest point in the city.
Fraumunster was just across the river from Grossmunster. In my opinion Fraumunster was the more beautiful of the two. There was a smaller room attached to the main sanctuary that looked like it might be a chapel of sorts for smaller ceremonies. New stained-glass windows were recently put into this room, but photography was not allowed. The windows were beautiful. They were quite a different style than the stained-glass windows that I'm used to. The sections were less defined, and the colors blended together more. They made me think of a watercolor painting made of glass. The ceiling in this room was also beautiful. It was very high and painted white with colored stars. It sounds tacky, but it was actually very beautiful.
After visiting the churches, we went in search of some interesting streets we had read about. One was defined as "Tacky" and the other as "Funky." The tacky street sure was tacky, but also very fun. It reminded me a lot of State Street in Madison, WI. There were many kebabs and other cheap food stands, as well as bookstores, a world market, and other fun holes in the walls. I was mildly disappointed in the funky street. There wasn't a lot of action, but it was 6:00 in the evening. I think if we had been there later, or not on a Sunday, there would have been a bit more action.
After eating calzones at a snack stand, the three of us found the train station and headed back home. It was a very fun day, and it was great to get to know a couple people better, but I sure was tired when I got home. I promptly kicked off my boots, drank some water, brushed my teeth, and headed to bed.

Friday, October 5, 2007

October 1-5

I joined a program called Tandem. In tandem, people are paired up with someone who's maternal language they would like to learn. It's a program for conversation practice to improve
language skills. It's loosely regulated, basically the partners just choose how often, how long, when, and where they meet. I went to the meeting for Anglo-Franco- and Germano-phones. Everyone had to pin big white cards on their shirts that said "....... Chereche (looking for)......" You filled in the blanks with the language you speak, and the language you want to improve. Then you walk around the room and find someone with an opposite card. My partner's name is Erika. She is from France and she's studying Geology at UNIL (the other university.) She's very nice, and her english is great; much better than my french. She's been to the US several times. Her dad's job requires him to travel a lot. He speaks 5 languages. Amazing! She also spent 2 weeks one summer in with a family friend near Boston.
Anyway, after the info session. We went back to her apartment and made crepes! She really didn't measure anything. This is something she does often I guess. Basically it's just flour, a little salt, an egg, and a bit of milk; add water if not runny enough. They were very tasty. The first one I had was with ham and cheese, then cranberry jelly, then just sugar. You can really put anything in them. They're a bit like tortillas in that sense. I miss tortillas.
Erika lives in a building of studio apartments. Most of the people there are students. Her apartment was very nice, but very small. I think the whole thing, including bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, is smaller than my first dorm room was. We sat out on the balcony for a little bit and drank tea. A couple of the neighbors joined us. I didn't really catch most of what they were saying. Turns out there are some words/phrases that are different in Switzerland than in France. That's' good to know.
Erika and I are meeting every Friday for lunch to practice our languages. She's intrigued by Thanksgiving. It was rather difficult for me to explain Thanksgiving and Black Friday to her in French. She wants to learn how to cook sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.
After that we went to "boire une verre" (go out for a drink). It was the first time that I had ridden in a car since I left Nebraska. I had a small beer. It was called kreiche, and was made of cherries. It was alright, but not terrific. Interesting though. I also ate a piece of something that I can't spell, but is native to the Alsace area of France. It was a thin crispy crust, with oil and some spices. I think it sometimes has cheese on it. I guess in a very broad sense it was kind of a thin crispy version of Pokey Sticks (for all you Iowa Staters.)
It's been about 22 degrees Celsius here this week (around 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Beautiful weather. It has rained a few times this week though, but they were very nice rains.
I met with my Thermodynamics professor. I thought I was having a lot of difficulties in that class. He thinks I was exaggerating. It's encouraging to know that I was doing better than I thought. All of my professors are very understanding and willing to help. I suppose my professors at Iowa State were the same way, but I never really took advantage of Office Hours. I think that is something that I will do more when I get back.
I went to my first "Discotheque" on Wednesday. I danced. Can you believe it? Me, dancing, at a club, on a school night! It was fun, but I didn't stay very long. I wanted to catch the last bus home. I missed it by about 2 minutes, and had to walk. Luckily I had a couple friends going the same direction, so I only had to walk alone for half of it. It took me an hour.
Last night I went to a cafe with a group of international students that I meet with on Thursday nights. We all had "chocolat chaud" or hot chocolate. It was nothing like Swiss Miss, it was much more delicious. Wow, it was really amazing. It was thick, we had to use spoons to drink it. It was kind of like warm pudding and the whipped cream on top was real whipped cream. None of that Reddi Whip stuff. Wow, just thinking about the hot chocolate makes my mouth water. It was heavenly.

Monday, October 1, 2007

September 30

Sunday was my first experience of the Swiss Alps. Xchange planned a trip to a town called Martigny. By planning, I mean that I paid 30 francs, got on the right train, was given my pass to the “Foire de Valais” (Valley Fair) and told to find my way home sometime. Even with the lack of organization, and possibly because of it, the trip was great. I didn’t actually know anyone that was going, but I met some people in the group on the train. I was told that we were going to a cow-wrestling event when we got into Martigny. I assumed this meant that people would be wrestling cows. I was wrong; the “Combats des Reines” was actually fighting between cows (not bulls). I didn’t really like it all that much. Maybe it would have been different if I had known the rules. From what I watched, several cows were led into the ring and let loose. Sometimes, if two cows got close to one another, they would bash heads for a while. Otherwise they just stood around. I think they would take the losing cows out of the ring after a while. Again, I didn’t know the rules, so I was just guessing as to the procedures. All of the cows wore giant bells on their necks. I don’t think they really liked the collars. When they would fight, the bells would make a lot of noise.

I only stayed at the cow thing for about 15 minutes before heading into the fair with a guy I met from Boston. We walked around a building for a little while. It was basically Country Fair meets Home Shopping Network. There were a lot of things to buy. Some were homemade, and others not. There were a lot of product demonstrations that reminded me of infomercials. Sadly there were no free cheese-tasting booths.

I some how lost the person I was with. I think he had heard about free cheese and headed toward a different building (seriously). At that point I met up with three other students on the trip. One was from Mexico, one from Brazil, and the last from Germany. I had ridden the train with the German that morning. We went to find Raclette, which is a cheese used in fondue. We bought some, and it was served melted on a plate, with two very small potatoes and a tiny pickle. It was delicious, but not very filling.

We decided that the fair was kind of uninteresting for anyone not wanting to spend lots of money, so we set off to go visit a chateau that we could see up the mountain. It was very old, but I think kind of small as far as castles go. After about an hour of hanging out with these guys, I found out their names.

We sat in the shade outside the castle for a little while to soak in the view. It was gorgeous. It was surreal but it also seemed so natural just to be sitting on a mountain, on a Sunday afternoon, in the shade of a castle, speaking French with three other people, while French was not the native tongue for any of us. It’s something that I will never forget.

We left the castle and decided to hike through the vineyards. It was not easy, but it was great. My legs were very tired afterwards. I think it may be the first time that I’ve been in a vineyard. I’ve seen them before, but I’ve never actually walked through one. We ate some grapes. Yes, I know this is stealing, but it was hard to resist, and we didn’t take that many. I’ve finally gotten used to grapes with seeds in them, and these grapes were absolutely heavenly. They will make some great wine someday, I’m sure.

When we finally made our way back to the train station, we found out that we had about an hour to wait before the next train. We went into a café to play foosball. I was not terrific, but luckily my partner was. We each bought a game, and that killed the time before we headed back to Lausanne.

September 29

I attended worship at St. Francois this evening. It is a very old Evangelical Reformed church downtown. It is not Cathedrale, that I have been taking pictures of, because that is in fact a Catholic Cathedral. I actually go to St. Francois at least twice a day, because the main downtown bus stop, where I transfer from metro to bus or vice versa, is located right outside. I thought the service started at 17h, but it really started at 17h30, so I had some time to kill beforehand. I bought a crepe form a charity stand. It looked like a boy/girl scout troop because they had similar uniforms, but the money was for an international relief charity. I've wanted to buy a crepe from a stand or creperie for a while, and this seemed like a very good time to do it. It was quite tasty; it had strawberry jam in it.

The service at the church was a neat experience. There were about 25 people, largely women above the age of 80. I was definitely the youngest, and possibly the tallest person there. I wasn't sure where to sit when I got inside, because the pews pointed 3 different
directions. One section faced towards the altar, another section towards the middle, where there was a pulpit type thing, and the last towards the organ, opposite the altar. I chose the middle. I was wrong. The pastor came and told me that the service would face the “heart,” which meant the altar. I don't know why it was called the “heart.”
The hymns were very old, but I liked them. The organist was fantastic, and the music sounded absolutely beautiful in that building. I may be the first time that I’ve heard an organ played in an all-stone structure. After the scripture readings, there were intercessions by the organist. They were a bit melancholy, but I liked them. Some of the low tones resonated beautifully. It really was very spiritual for me, kind of mystic.
Communion was strange. I think I need to learn the Lord's Prayer in French. It had never occurred to me before. For communion, everyone went up to the front and made kind of a half circle around the altar. Then the pastor came around with the bread. It was my first common cup communion. The cup was just passed around the circle, but there was a guy there that kind of followed it. I think he was probably carrying a cup of 'non-alcoholic' fruit of the vine. The cup was the same, but it had a ribbon tied around it. Also, it was backwards to me, because the communion wine was white, but the other cup, that I
assume to be grape juice, was red.

I really liked the experience of this service, but I don't think it is really a place where I could build community. I'm glad I went though. It’s neat to attend new worship services.

After the service, I met a friend and we came back to my place, fixed some dinner, and watched a movie in my room. It was fun. We watched “She’s the Man.” Not exactly quality film making, but very entertaining nonetheless.

September 28

I went to a Movie Night sponsored by a Christian group on campus (GBEU). It was marketed towards International students. We watched “October Sky,” one of my all time favorite movies. It was great. It was also pretty cool to watch that movie because the 50th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik occurs this week (October 4). I met some really great people. There were about a dozen people there and they came from Greece, Burkina Faso, California, Finland, China, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and India.

Two students that I met from China live near me in Lausanne, so we ended up taking the Metro and Bus together. It was neat. I think that their English teachers must have been from the UK because they spoke with British accents.

It’s great to meet so many people from all over the world. I learned some interesting things about China. China has three time zones, but only one of them is used. The people in the east just start working earlier than the people in the west. Also, one of the students expressed her concern about how many people in China go off to other countries to study and then return to China to work. She didn’t think that this was bad, as she is doing the same thing herself; she just questions whether things learned in abroad are appropriate for China. For example, economics and politics in Western Europe are quite different than China. How can that knowledge be put in to practice in a positive way for China?

Another interesting fact: Studying for the GRE is quite popular in China because a lot of students hope to go to the US for Masters and Doctoral programs. The section that Chinese students study the most, and therefore do the best at: Grammar. This also happens to be the area that American students do the worst in. Interesting, considering the GRE is given in English.