A little about Switzerland

Switzerland, as you have probably heard, is a beautiful country.  They are famous for chocolate, cheese, mountains, and money.  All of those things they have and of which they are proud.  There is no place on earth where you can ride a train while sipping fine wine, overlook fine vineyards, and find time to enjoy the outstanding scenery.  New Zealand is the only place that rivals Switzerland for beauty, but to go there is quite a trip.  My last time in Switzerland was but brief.  We drove through on a marathon passport stamp run in an attempt to cross 4 countries in one day and collect stamps from each.  Successful as we were we missed the finer points of this fantastic land such as the food and ladies.  No matter how fast you ride, drive, fly, or train you cannot miss the landscape.  It will not escape you.

The Swiss are proud people: proud of what they have, proud of their place in the world, and most of all proud of themselves.  And you would be too if you were raised there.  It is worthy of all that pride.
On this recent trip I flew into Geneva on recommendation from a website that said the lake and mountains there made for a wonderful landing, and for that I am appreciative.  Most people fly to Zurich, which is a nice town in itself, but there is little to see there except the rumbling metropolis of a modern European city.  Trains run everywhere, people walking, dogs on leashes, and little police cars with tinny sirens.  Geneva has those qualities too, but it is a much smaller city, more quiet and peacefuller.  I think the people there may be nicer too.  They speak French in Geneva, much to my dismay.  I’ve always known that there are 4 official languages in CH: German, French, Italian, and Romanish, of which the first three dominate.  English is an unofficial language, and most people there, except the foriegners applying for Swiss citizenship, speak quite well.  My French is less than un peu, and I had to get by on English.  That was fine except when I wanted to order Turkish food or ask for directions.  Mostly though I kept to myself while observing the sights.

Geneva may be the most beautiful city on earth, may be, but I plan to seek cities more beautiful.  Hopefully it will be a long and arduous task that requires a long lifetime of searching.  Flying into Geneva is a treat that everyone should enjoy.  Besides the perfectly clear, calm, blue lake the city itself is nice to see from above, and the crown jewel, Mt Blanc, is there majestically in the distance.  Mont Blanc is of course named for the year round white cap that covers the highest peak in Europe and can be seen for hundreds of miles.  The combination of beauty in one vista there can trump most we’ll ever see in our daily lives, and yet people live there.  That brings me to another point.  The Swiss take their lot in life for granted.  In fact they’re not satisfied living in a beautiful place where everything is taken care of for them.  They don’t find the happiness in a life that rises them above the daily struggle most people in the world experience.  There are few wants that aren’t met, and boredom reigns supreme.  Odd isn’t it, that a country that seems so perfect from the outside can be so boring to those within?  My impression from personal observations and conversations with others is that the Swiss want out.  They look for excuses to go to the big city.  Meanwhile the entire rest of the world wants that picture perfect cottage overlooking the garden and lake just beneath the mountains.

So Geneva, as beautiful as it is, may be as slow a city as exists on earth.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a town that quits selling beer at 9PM, even before dark that far north, and has fewer night clubs than my hometown of 300 people, cannot ever be exciting.  Excitement for locals and tourists alike is taking the ferry across the lake and watching the sailboats lazily blow along.  If you’ve got a good pair of walking shoes 2 days is plenty to see all of Geneva and even be ready to leave.  So from there I took the train towards Bern.  Some trains go straight through, but the one I took stopped in Lausanne for a connection, and I’m glad it did.  Lausanne is another town that’s bursting with beauty.  I didn’t stay long enough to gauge the night life, but I imagine it’s not much better.  A smaller college town that looks directly at the mountains across the same lake as Geneva, Lausanne is the picture perfect place to live.  No one would ever deny that.  A friend of mine is moving there, and I can’t wait to visit.

Something to note about CH is that it is expensive.  And that goes for anyone visiting.  One night in Bern our group dropped over 1200 USD on a meal.  Yep, more than one thousand two hundred dollars on dinner.  Sure it was a nice restaurant with good food, expensive wine, and a great view.  Sure we were in Switzerland and our meal was paid for by the institute hosting the workshop/conference.  Sure.  But seriously!  Life ain’t quite that good for me yet.  I am quite happy with where things are going and what I’m doing, but the money isn’t there yet.  That’s just one example of how expensive things are.  The 7 dollar half pint beers and 15 dollar glasses of bourbon are another indication.

Lausanne was a quick stop.  I met a nice couple there that showed me around a little.  We talked and saw some sights.  Before long I was back on the rail again headed to Bern.  Now this may surprise you, it sure surprised me: for all the beauty that a place can have, Geneva was lacking in the lady department.  The girls were nice there, but I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my pants to meet them.  Bern was a different story; even before leaving the train station I noticed the number of attractive females.  This was going to be a great place!  While there I did meet a nice girl that accepted my offer of a drink.  She had a boyfriend but was waiting for him and decided one wouldn’t hurt.  She was very nice and spoke in her best German for me, (Swiss German is quite incomprehensible, even to Germans).  We talked as long as she could before exchanging emails.  I imagine I’ll never hear from her again, but it was a nice conversation nonetheless.  Bern, beyond the feminine beauties, was a nice town itself.  Situated not far from the mountains, the main city lies on a penninsula in a bend in the Aare river.  The river is hundreds of feet below city level, and only brave hikers can make the long staircases down to the water.  We did, but it was to find the perfect restaurant you read about earlier.

Bern, named after the bears which no longer inhabit that region, is the small capital city of Switzerland located somewhere near the center of the country.  It has a long history and nice architecture even if most of the buildings are the same color.  Parliament and soccer keep the people happy there while good chocolate, great wine, and French food keep them well fed.  One thing to note is that the people there are all in good shape.  If you see a heavy person you should probably address them with an American accent because that’s probably where they come from.  So all in all it’s a nice place, and the people are friendly.  We enjoyed 3 nights there perusing the town and local eateries with great views, pictures from some of which are posted below.  Our conference went amazingly well, and I learned so much from the other scientists.  It was a great trip and experience, and hopefully I’ll get to do it again.  Thanks for reading.

Pictures I shared with other conference people.

And those not yet seen, lots though

First day in Switzerland

So things are going great here. I made it to Bern after a nice stay in Geneva. Talk about a beautiful city, Geneva is amazing. I’ve only uploaded a couple of photos, but the whole place is wonderful. The rest of Switzerland is like a big park perfectly manicured and loved by her people. I’ll get to those photos later.

After a mostly uneventful trip, I arrived in Geneva at 8AM. Finding my way downtown a hostel was soon located, but it was too early to check in. So I walked, and walked, and walked. I’m sore by the way, lots of walking. And after a nap I went for a run to see more city. There are so many parks there it’s hard to describe them. Just imagine a the best place on earth, that’s a good start. Sunshine that kept you warm even in the breeze, cultivated flowers everywhere and trees older than most US cities. Add to that the Alps looming in the background and Lake Leman going out to the horizon, and lots of friendly people. It’s a good place to visit. So now for some photos

These are from the flight. The clouds were quite a sight

And then landing in Geneva



The cloud break is at a mountain range.

Then it got better!!!

Higher res upon request.  This was the point when the flight attendants tell you to turn off your camera.  Only this time was different.  One was leaning over me to take the same shot with her camera-phone.  FAA regulations don’t much matter when you’re staring at Montt Blanc (the highest mountain in Europe) at eye level

And then the city. Downtown is set on the lake, so the view are impressive

And some animals

I met up with some Australians (the reason I couldn’t check into my room, they overslept) who had been there a couple days already. They showed me around, and we even played some chess

Then the mountains caught my eye before sunset. Boy was that nice.

and lastly

RUN FIRE MAN!!!

Whoever said Geneva was boring has no clue. I didn’t see much night life, but it ranks up there as the most beautiful city I’ve visited.

And  all the pictures (45 out of 450)

Headed to Switzerland

I’m really excited about this. I’m going to discuss Mars and my research with other like minded people.  It’s a great opportunity to meet people and learn.  It’ll be great, and I’ll post lots of pictures.

Honestly, I’m just as excited to see Germany again.  yep, Jack gave me a couple extra days (week+) to travel and see Stuttgart, my German hometown.   This is so cool. 😀 😀 😀

Isaac

Hi

Thing are going well. I’m in Missouri and getting all of my ducks in a row to graduate. The paperwork is filed, I’m getting my professors setup to be on the committee for my defense/orals. I finally got my grades from Germany, and they were actually better than I expected – well, they couldn’t have been better in fact. I made As in my physics classes, the ones I’m transferring to Missouri.

I’m very pleased because it is not normal to make As in Germany. I say that because there is no incentive like we have here. A German student at the end of his studies gets a certificate/diploma no matter what his GPA, and the guy with perfect score is just as qualified as the guy that just passed his classes. Like I said, I’m happy. If these grades really are part of my transcript like my professor says, I’ll have a 3.94 average for the Masters. There was one B+ I made my first semester in Graduate Electrodynamics. I redeemed myself though, and the second semester with the same professor and more difficult material I made an A.

Ok, today will be fun. First Yom Kippur at the Temple with my friends Dave and Diana. Then “Taste of St. Louis”. Jessica and I will spend more time with her friends who are pretty cool people. Then later Margaritas probably followed by sleeping. Gotta run, the day is beginning.

First impressions of home.

After arriving in Houston I stayed with a friend of mine, Forrest, for a couple days. It was great seeing him again, and he was very interested in hearing what I had to say. That was great for me because I had the “well In Germany this and that” mindset, and he never grew tired of hearing my comparisions. I think most people would have told me to shut up after just a little of that. We had a good time hanging out and even got some work done before he took me back to the airport.

I arrived in Dallas on Saturday morning. Mom was waiting for me at the baggage claim and Grandma circling with the car. We were so happy to see each other, hugs and kisses all around. I had seen my mom this year, but it had been more than that since I’d seen my grandmother. She and I were so happy. Sunday was her birthday, and I got to see the aunts and cousins that live in Dallas and have been a part of my life since I was born. Homecomings are always great! Plus we eat really well too.

So, I’ve been home almost 6 days now and some things have come to my attention that I had lost in a years time.

The first thing I noticed is that the roads here really are bigger. I’m not sure if it’s Texas or in general, but it’s so nice to ride on a road wider than a car! I’ve been driving too of course, and it’s fun to be able to read the road signs again.

This morning I fried some eggs. I always do that, but I realized as I was cooking that the butter was salted… That’s a good thing, and those eggs tasted much better because of it. 😀

When Forrest and I had gone to Taco Bell one afternoon I paid with quarters, but both our meals were on one ticket. The bill came to exactly $3 and Forrest gave the man a 5 and 4 quarters. That’s 6 dollars, and I asked him why he would do that??? He said he didn’t want change, “but” I answered, “you’ll get a one and a two back.” The Euro of course has one and two Euro coins and the paper money starts at 5. I had forgotten about 1 dollar bills! How silly I felt.

Something I really like is water at a meal. It was great the first time I sat down and water was placed on the table and it even had ice! I turned around once while eating and the glass was full again before realized it. Refills and free water are a good thing. Try that in Europe. HAH.

That brings up waiters of course and the difference. Once in Paris my cousins, mom, and I waited 45 minutes after eating for the check to come. I think someone would be fired here for doing that. Here the waiters actually wait on the customer, and you can get the check or a drink or anything promptly. That’s handy!

Last night we went out to a bbq house. It was fantastic. I hadn’t had a cooked peice of beef but only a few times this year (that I didn’t spend too much on and cook myself). Here is was bbqued and ready to eat. Yummy. Not only that but they had IBC rootbeer in a glass bottle waiting for me. You already know what I drank for dinner last night.

And maybe one of the most significant things I’ve noticed is the heat. It is wonderful. I spent the last year wearing coats and jackets even in summer. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt when Forrest picked me up from the airport. It was the first time I had felt really warm in a long time. Spain of course was warmer, but even on a really hot day there, I’d feel more comfortable in Texas.

I’m glad to be home. Things are familiar here, and I’m ready for a vacation from my vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go back for sure would even consider living there again, but it’s nice to know my way around and speak the language without straining myself. Of course my grandmother left the room yesterday when I put the Spanish Channel on the television. Oops.

I promise to get the second set of pictures up soon from the bike trip around Europe. My grandmother’s connection rivals ours from 1996 and we’re blazing at 26.2kbps. As soon as I get a decent connection I will upload those photos and tell the second half of our exiting trip around Europe. 😀

I’m home!!!!

I made it safely. Man, after one year in Germany and Europe it sure is a good feeling to be in Texas again. This day seemed so far away and yet is is already here. I flew from Stuttgart on Wednesday and landed in Houston Wednesday evening or what would have been 3AM my time. I was really tired believe it or not.

My friend Forrest picked me up from the airport. It was very nice of him and kind of fitting since he was the one that dropped me off exactly 1 year ago. My luggage had been left in Paris so we made it to his house with little more than my computer and some books that were too heavy to be checked. Of course I made him take me by taco bell on the way home. It is very odd the things you miss when away from your home country.

I noticed first off the heat. It was nice. Houston wasn’t too hot Wednesday evening, rainy and very muggy, but not like I had figured it to be. Maybe it was 85. But that was a welcome 85 since I’d been wearing sweaters and jackets for the last year. There may have been only a handful of days the entire year in Germany when I truly felt warm. There were some in Spain however that I got to sweat a little.

I’ve gone though a lot of emotions lately: firstly the excitement of going home; the sadness of leaving my friends and Germany behind me, lots of anxiety from travelling, wonder at what is next, and of course jet-lag. Not sure if that is an emotion or not, but it affects them. The excitement of going home is obvious, I haven’t seen my family or friends in a year. My mom, Andrew a friend from highschool and his wife are the only people I saw in all that time that I knew from home. Of course that’s what you expect when you are an ocean away. Sadness is something to be expected when leaving somewhere you’ve been so long. I made lots of friends in Stuttgart and became accustomed to the way of life there. The people I will miss the most; I’ve never made friends so fast or so many in such a short time. One year ago we were all in the same boat, new and foreign to a place. Because of that commonality we grew together fast. I think it takes an extraordinary person to leave everything they know, and I met a lot of extraordinary people. I’m just thankful to have had the opportunity. Germany of course I will miss but for different reasons. I learned a lot there, that America is very isolated and sees a very narrow view of the world, that there are wonderful people anywhere you go, that stereotypes may have some basis in fact, but wherever you go there are probably more exceptions than followers of that rule, and more things that I can even name right now. I also wonder what is next. I have September basically planned out, but most important I need to find work, first any source of income, but then a real job where I get to use my education. I have to start paying back debts. Where I will be after September I don’t know – I do hope for Texas though.

– warning, the next paragraph may be boring because it describes air port problems that most people have already dealt with at some point –

Travelling is always a lot of work, and the trip from Germany to Texas was very stressful. I arrived with what I thought would be plenty of time; and it was – if nothing went wrong. Things went wrong however, and plenty of them. First my reservations were good, but the computers didn’t like that I hadn’t paid. Of course my ticket was an open ended return so I didn’t have to pay. I knew that and the representatives of Air France knew that, but the computer wasn’t having any of it. I waited patiently for what seemed like hours but was probably only 20 to 30 minutes while they called every person in the office to try every trick to get my ticket accepted, but nothing worked. Finally they started from scratch and just printed me new tickets with 0 cost. Take that computer! Then it was check in time. Well time was already running shorter than I wanted, but this proved to be some more trouble. Last year they had permitted me to bring two bags of 32 kilograms each to check. This year it was 23 kilos. Well, that’s a big difference – exactly 40 pounds I was over, more than that to be honest. One bag was at 36 kilos, yes I brought home more than I left with. Most of the weight was books though. The Union that represents air port workers doesn’t allow them to pick up anything over 32 kilos, so I had to find a way to reduce one bag by 4 and in a hurry. I was already carrying a backpack that weighed way over the limit and was full, so the lady gave me a hand bag, and I filled it with cables from the computer and other electronic devices – you wouldn’t believe how much a bunch of cables weigh – about 9 pounds, and that put me at exactly 31.8 and 32. I could board – but I had to pay. That meant going back to the other office and paying, then returning to the check in place with the receipt. That worked, and the security check didn’t take too long, so I actually made it at the time the plane was supposed to start boarding. PHEW… well…. Of course the plane was late, and we left Stuttgart late, so we arrived late in Paris – and that meant more running through one of the biggest air ports in the world. There were more setbacks in Paris, one was that I was randomly searched, plus having to go through passport control. In the end I made it to the gate as they called “final boarding call”. That’s it, I was going to make it to Houston!!! Of course my luggage didn’t, but that’s been taken care of.  the good news is that jet-lag isn’t as bad going this way as the other, and I’m only waking up a few hours earlier than I should
– ok, I promise no more air port talk –

I have so much to tell and lots of photos too.  I’ve already uploaded some of the highlight photos from the motorcycle trip in Europe, but that’ll wait till the next post in a day or two.  I’ve also many many more photos from all the places I’ve been which in their own time will be uploaded and talked about in this blog.  I like telling the stories, and I’ve already gone back and read some and am glad to have written them.  So, even though my travelling will be limited to Texas and some in St. Louis, I will continuously post stories here, and now that there is more time photos will be included too.  So, if you are interested keep an eye out.

Ok, this turned out longer than I planned.  I’m home, and that’s the important thing.  Saturday I fly to Dallas to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday.  Then early next week Mom takes me home to Austin where I can start getting my life back in order.  I have a lot of people to see, and a lot of phone calls to make.  Talk to you soon!

Man, this is a weird feeling

Today I fly home.  It has been one year exactly (well, tomorrow would be one year exactly).  I’ve done many things and seen many places.  Best was all the wonderful people I me.

I am really excited about going home.  I miss many things a couple of which are my famliy and Texas.  Europe is great, but it’s not my home.  These last 2 days have been very strange.  Yesterday I actually relived my first day here but backwards.  Everything I did the first day I had to undo.  It was weird going to those same places and seeing them again but with a different perspective.  I remember the first day: full of confusion and totally being lost.  I wouldn’t have gotten anything done except for the help of my friend Johannes.  This time I was confident and knew where things were.  I also speak German now (well enough) so I can do things on my own.  I walked past the photo store that took my photos for the visa, then the visa office, then the health insurance place, then the backery where I bought my first pretzel.  I remember all of that day even though it was so long ago and I was already so tired from travelling.

Last night I drank my last been in Germany.  I’ll miss that too.  Also I went to the castle in the middle of town and took pictures of the fountain just like I did on my first day.  There was a going away party for a Japanese friend.  Only the Spanish people are left, and me, so we ate Sushi and said the last good byes.  This morning I bought my last pretzel, this time to eat while flying home when I get hungry.  I also said good bye to Carlos.  He has helped me out a lot recently and has been a great friend.  I’ll miss him too.

Now I’m doing the last couple things before leaving for the airport.  I have to make sure my grades get sent to the right place.  Hopefully everything will work out so I can graduate – that’s important.  And tonight I sleep in Houston.  Man, this is a weird feeling.  I like it though.  Next time I write I will be back home!