Saturday, February 14, 2009


After a strenuous three day week, this past Thursday and Friday we took a field study trip to Geneva ( I spent the vast majority of my time trapped in meetings at the United Nations ( Most were interesting, however, the representative from the human rights commission was extraordinarily condescending and her presentation seemed to be geared toward local fifth graders than college upperclassmen well versed in international relations subjects.

Free time was limited on such a short trip. On Thursday night, the program took all the students to a traditional Swiss fondue. I've never been a huge fan of fondue, but this was definitely done correctly. It was incredibly rich, but it was paired with very good wine, so it balanced out nicely. We ended up having our bus driver at our table, and he turned out to be a really interesting man. He usually drives musicians around; his first client was actually Dizzie Gillespie. He also served as the impartial arbiter of the mandatory punishment for dropping one's bread in the fondue, which ended up being very important indeed.

By day, free time was even more limited, but we did get two hours before we had to leave to explore a little bit very quickly. Unfortunately the duration of the trip necessitated that I had to pay for food in Switzerland. Geneva is even more highly priced than the rest of the country, from what we were told. Switzerland again did not disappoint, as I got to have by far the most expensive lemon chicken I will ever eat in my life at 40 francs. I really liked Geneva, despite its extraordinary cost of living, and I definitely would have preferred having more than two hours to see the sights.

Today, a few friends and I returned to Staufen, which you might remember as the small town involved in the hike. We received some moderate snowfall over the past few days, so we went hiking to many of the same areas, including the castle above the city, in the snow, which gave it all a much different perspective. We also ran into some shepherd's shrines up in the Black Forest (, which were interesting to see.

It will probably be a while before my next update, because I will be incredibly busy traveling before I get a break to fill you guys in. Next Friday to Sunday, I will be in northern Italy visiting Milan and Turin. We get back late Sunday night, and then Monday morning we depart on our Western European field study trip, with visits to Brussels, Luxembourg, and Paris. Unless I bring my computer with me, which I believe is unlikely, there might not be another update until March 2 or 3.

Here are some scenes from Geneva for now though:

The United Nations always manages to get really nice land for their buildings. Their complex in Geneva, as you can see, was no exception.

The UN buildings in Geneva are a little less imposing than their huge complex in New York, but the Palais des Nationes ( does the job nicely.

Geneva as a city definitely revolves around its waterfront lake. The fountain you see in the center is one if the city's landmarks, a huge geyser, the Jet d'Eau (, shooting right out the center of Lake Geneva (

Another view of a small corner of Lake Geneva. This was taken from a bridge featured somewhat prominently in Under Western Eyes, a novel of Joseph Conrad (

A partial view of Geneva's skyline as taken from the top of their cathedral

The Swiss give their UPS drivers Mercedes-Benz to drive. What think you of that?

The flower clock in the English Gardens. The clock changes frequently in its design. This one was strange because of the irregular positioning of the numbers - the four is way in the corner of the picture, while the 1 is almost in the center of the clock.

Just a rather nice Geneva streetscape.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Switzerland: Where I avoid repeating my mistakes

After returning from Berlin, we had classes begin in earnest. I actually already made one change, and dropped my class on cultural and national identities, because it focused entirely on the Middle East. These topics are doubtlessly interesting, but I'm in a European Union program for a reason, and a slot opened up elsewhere, so my schedule for the semester will be as follows:

MW 9-1030 - EU/US Relations
MTWR 1225-125 - Beginning German I
TR - 245-415 - European Economic Policies
TR - 430-6 - European Integration Seminar
TR - 615-745 - European Political Cultures

The econ class promises to be delightfully easy, as some students in the class had not heard of Adam Smith beforehand, so we had to define who he was for ten minutes. And despite the fact that I probably will not end up doing the Brussels internship after the program for financial reasons, I'm going to try to see if I can go to some of the courses for it, since there will be French review, and I would like to not forget everything I learned last semester.

After our first two days of classes, a very strenuous courseload indeed, yesterday we were bussed to the Alps ( for a day of, well, winter. More specifically, we took the 6 AM bus to Grindelwald (, one of the better Swiss alpine winter resort towns. Personally, I spent the majority of my day doing sledding and tubing. Tubing was actually a little lackluster - the course was rather tame and predominately a series of lazy curves. I was hoping for a bobsled run. Sledding (in German-speaking places known as sledging), was indescribably ridiculous. Essentially, they gave us one of the old Citizen Kane style sleds. And told us to sled down the bus road that they drive up the mountain with. The buses had giant horns that played La Cucaracha, or at least some Swiss equivalent that sounded highly derivative, when they neared so you knew to get out of the way, lest you and Rosebud get run down. This was a 4 kilometer sled route, complete with mattresses on trees and fences to attempt to prevent you from plummeting down the mountain side. So where tubing failed me, at least the Swiss got the sledging right.

As one last note on the trip, last time I was in Switzerland, in Basel you might recall, I had to pay 18 dollars for a personal pan pizza. The Swiss have institutionalized highway robbery as their food-service industry. Yesterday, I learned from my mistakes and smuggled a loaf of bread and jar of Nutella across the border, so I could teach those Swiss a lesson.

Anyway, I'll leave you with some pictures of the Alps:

The sunset (sadly, could only be taken from a moving bus) over Lake Thun (

Alpine trains.

The travels have begun

First things first, I've recently returned from several days of traveling. As such, I'm having to split this entry up into two, so no computers shut down from picture overload.

Since the last entry - actually, very recently thereafter, I came down with a rather bad case of the flu. I was quite sick from Sunday night until about Wednesday morning. Thrillingly, I had two exams on Wednesday, so even though I was no longer sick for them, study time was not really existent. I also had to miss a soccer match Tuesday evening I was supposed to go to. But such is life, and at least I was generally well for the trip. All that remains at the moment is a persistent cough.

Early Thursday morning we departed for Estonia ( Estonia is essentially, as far as Europe is concerned, the middle of absolute nowhere. As such, the capital city, Tallinn ( if you had not clicked the link in the past) felt rather provincial despite it's significant legal status. They have been doing their best to eradicate memories of Soviet control, which they refer to as an "occupation" despite being fully incorporated into the Soviet Union. They seem much more accepting of their Russian colonial legacy, however.

This is one of Peter the Great's palaces, Kadriorg, right outside of town on the Baltic Sea ( It's actually considerably smaller than I expected. Interestingly, out front was a series of ice sculptures of the Chinese zodiac to celebrate Chinese New Year. Do let me know if you can possibly explain why.

Tallinn's old town has remained fairly well preserved despite generally being fought over for 600 years.

This is a statue commemorating the Soviet war dead from World War II, the Bronze Soldier ( Previously, it held a prominent place in a major town square. The Estonian government recently moved it to a Soviet military cemetery a few kilometers outside town, past a dilapidated army complex. Russia was, needless to say, displeased.

Estonia had tons of old churches, relatively concentrated together. They were fully integrated into the urban environment and they certainly did not follow the German urban historical policy of disencumberment, which removed buildings around urban churches so as to make them a more dominating presence in the squares. In Estonia, there is even ice skating right above.

Directly from Tallinn, we flew to Berlin. Actually, that's sort of a lie, we had to double back across Germany to Frankfurt because there are no direct winter flights from Tallinn to Berlin, but we ostensibly got there directly.

I enjoyed Berlin a great deal. The city has some issues dealing with its past as well and seems to be a perpetual construction site. But there is certainly a ton more going on, with monuments and points of historical significance on almost every street corner. Might I add that both Berlin and Tallinn were very cold. Going still further north in winter, not always a good plan, especially when we had to spend so many hours at a time outside.

This is one of the big surviving East German landmarks, the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz ( East Berlin still feels rather different than what was West Berlin, with the exception of the very central part of town, Mitte ( Mitte, as the location of most of the conventional tourist points and was directly divided by the Berlin Wall, has been fully reintegrated. Yes, Alexanderplatz is technically in Mitte, but is far enough away from the immediate surroundings of the wall that it still seems like East Berlin. As our hotel was slightly outside Mitte further into old East Berlin (, this was the district which I was able to best get a feel for.

This is actually a protestant church, believe it or not, the Berliner Dom ( I ended up not getting inside to take pictures because one day we got in because we pretended we were going to a service. The second day I tried to go in to take pictures, they wanted to charge me five euro. I find it unacceptable to charge admission to an active house of worship for any denomination, so alas, no pictures have been taken. The Berliner Dom is located on Museum Island ( which has a rather impressive concentration of artifacts in one place. I only made it to a couple museums on it, but I managed to see the Ishtar Gate (, one of the surviving gates of Babylon dating from the 6th Century BC.

This is the German parliament building, the Reichstag (, amidst the Berlin snowfall. In the late 1990s, a giant glass dome was put atop the building, which permits both looking in and climbing to the top to get views of the city.

The views are rather good, this is only a small portion of the way up to the top, but you can easily see the Brandenburger Tor ( and most of the other landmarks of Berlin by climbing its winding ramp.

I rather enjoyed Berlin though, despite a tense moment where a rather offensive girl from our class compared the Israel/Palestine conflict to the Holocaust. Publicly. In a meeting at the German Department of Defense. Needless to say, I don't think the program will be getting that meeting again anytime soon.

Alright, stay tuned to part two of the entry.