Saturday, February 16, 2013

L’Hiver Partie 1: Genève

Between my trip to Vienna and Christmas break, I didn’t go on any trips, due to finals and exhaustion from traveling all semester. Christmas came as a much-needed break from school. Though I didn’t go home, I was excited for my family to come visit me in Switzerland (and for them to pay for my meals, let’s be real here.).

The week before my family arrived in Geneva, I stayed with the family of another Pepperdine student studying abroad in Shanghai. Though I didn’t know him, I had met his family in September when I visited their house in Geneva and went to the Bodmer Museum with them and several other Pepperdine Lausanne students. I got in contact with them in the middle/end of November, and they graciously accepted me into their home for a week!

Getting to Geneva was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had in quite a while. Let’s just say that I’m not the most independent person in the practical world, and independent situations like having to figure out the entire bus system of a city (okay I didn’t have to navigate the whole system, but I had never used it before, and I had to figure that out on my own) cause me stress. I know that if I make a mistake it’s my own fault and it’s my own responsibility to figure out how to work out how to get around. Knowing this, I lingered around the Lausanne house the day we had to leave the house, hoping I wouldn’t actually have to leave and be independent.

But then the time came. I left the house with my suitcase filled with a weeks’ worth of clothes, and made my way to the train station, a smile on my face, because I was being independent! The train ride there was relaxed, but I kept looking at my maps of the city’s bus system and memorizing how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C without getting lost. Thankfully, this work paid off and I arrived at the house safely, albeit an hour and a half after I was supposed to. I was shown my living quarters in the family’s guesthouse and conversed with the maid in French until Mrs. de Planta arrived home with her other two sons. I got to meet them and spent dinner, then went to their weekly bible study with them. I got to practice my French speaking and listening skills there. Thankfully, their pastor was understanding of my amateur skills, and helped me out a lot with my pronunciation and phrasing.

The following day I spent sleeping in, cooking my breakfast, and taking a bath (a rare commodity here!) before spending lunch (sushi!) at the house with Mrs. de Planta and going out shopping with the de Plantas’ youngest son, Alexi, after picking him up from tennis practice, at which he had received a bloody nose (we walked around with a cotton wad sticking out of his nose all afternoon – it was quite comical). He and I walked around the main shopping street of Geneva and he bought various video games and we evaluated the different Nerf guns for sale in the toy stores, discussing which would be the best for a Nerf gun war. Once done, we met with his mom at work, and then drove back for dinner.

After a nice and delicious dinner and tea, I went back to the guesthouse and spent the evening reading (read: attempting to read) a French novella and getting a lot of sleep.

The following day I spent no more than four hours out of bed. I woke up late (around 11) and made myself some scrambled eggs for brunch before getting back in bed and working on organizing my photos and videos before napping a little. At around three in the afternoon, I decided that staying in bed all day probably wasn’t the best way to spend my break, so I went to the café down the road and got myself a pastry and tea and finished Pride and Prejudice (which I hadn’t read since October…). Then, I stopped by the guesthouse and picked up a letter I wrote, and walked to the nearest post office – an errand I had been avoiding the whole week. Getting out and doing stuff on my own was so liberating! I even promised myself I’d go into town and go window shopping the next day. I had a quick dinner with the family, then immediately went back to bed.

The next day I finally went into town. I looked around different stores and enjoyed my time out of the house, even though it was chilly outside. While I didn’t buy any clothes, I did get some macaroons from Ladurée and a coffee from Starbs. Of course. Leave it to me to buy food instead of clothes!

That evening, when I arrived back at the house, I had dinner with the family (Mr. de Planta had just arrived back from a business trip in London), and then watched most of a documentary in French about earth and how humans are impacting the environment. Though I only understood about 20-25% of it, the visuals helped, and it was a really interesting film. Sadly, we didn’t watch the whole thing because we were all tired, and it was getting late. Plus Romain, their other son, was flying home from Shanghai the next day and their day was filled with packing for their vacation to their chalet. So I went back to the guesthouse to sleep.

My final day in Geneva with the de Planta family passed almost as the others had: laziness. My productivity was found in washing my clothes and packing (for the most part) those which were dry. Like planned, I arrived at the house around four to attend a play at the de Plantas’ church. I also got to officially meet Romain! We drove over to the church, and I got to re-meet some of the members I had met when I visited in September. Pepperdine’s Church of Christ contacts in Lausanne were also there, so I got to talk to them. Again, the pastor helped me with my speaking. We watched the skit, which had something to do with reading the Bible.

After we departed from church, we returned to the de Plantas’ house, and Romain and I hung out at a park overlooking the city lights. After a week cooped up in a guesthouse occasionally talking with some of my friends and family, it was nice to be able to talk with someone my age. We talked about everything from our programs to Malibu to what plans we have for our lives. Though we had never met before that night, I found him surprisingly easy to talk to and to open up to, which doesn’t happen very easily, or quickly, for me. So the night ended up being a nice break from the norm I’d begun in Geneva.

We returned to the house and I went to the guesthouse and finished my packing in preparation for picking my family up the next morning. As soon as everything was packed and ready to go, I went to sleep – or at least tried to. I was so anxious for my family to come that sleeping came as a challenge.

Overall, my week in Geneva was pretty much the perfect way to begin my break – I got well rested and recovered from a long semester filled with a roller coaster of emotions, from homesickness to joy, too much travel, and the like. Though I did feel like my unproductivity wasn’t the best way to begin break, I would now argue that it was the perfect recipe! I headed into the rest of my family-filled break well-rested and ready to travel Switzerland and Italy more. 

Wiener Christkindlmarkt!

Of all the trips I’ve been on, most impulsive, short, and yet long trip I’ve taken was to Vienna. The whole trip was a whirlwind.

When I bought my Eurail, I bought it for ten days over a two-month period. Unlike many other students in my group, who started their two-month period on the first weekend we could travel outside of Switzerland, I made mine effective a week later, which meant that I could travel with it until our last travel weekend. Before my trip to Paris, I only had three days left on my Eurail, which would have meant that I would have to pay for my train ticket on the way back from Vienna; however, since Mindy’s dad paid for my ticket back from Paris, I had two days left on my Eurail going into the Vienna weekend.

The weekend before I went to Vienna, one of the girls from the Lausanne group posted on our Lausanne Facebook page, asking if anyone else had Eurail days for the following weekend. Both my RA and I commented, and we decided that we wanted to go to Vienna to see the Christmas markets (several groups had gone the weekend before, and told us we should definitely go; additionally, I had been wanting to go to Vienna the entire semester, but was sad when I only had three days on my Eurail – there was no way I was going to pay $200 for a ticket, no matter how awesome Vienna is). Instead of taking a train on Friday morning, spending two nights there, and coming back on Sunday morning, we decided to make the most economic trip possible: by leaving on Friday night, taking a sleeper train from Zurich to Vienna, and then returning on Saturday night and taking a sleeper train back, as well. We were to leave Lausanne at 8:20 pm on Friday, and arrive at 7:30 am on Saturday, then leave Vienna at 10:30 on Saturday night and arrive in Lausanne at 9:30 on Sunday morning. That meant fifteen hours in Vienna. Why did we decide to take such a short trip? One, we all had a history paper due the following Tuesday (which actually got pushed back until Thursday), as well as other schoolwork (I had to make a presentation in French the following Wednesday, and I’m pretty sure I had some other work I had to do…). Two, it would be much less expensive to use our Eurails and not have to pay for a hostel in Vienna.

So, Friday I spent doing homework and hanging out with my good friend Nathan, as well as cooking soup with him (he, Kyle, and I were all weekend cooking partners – I was teaching them how to cook (and teaching myself more recipes than my typical pasta with tomato sauce dinners and whatever’s-in-the-pantry-works for lunch). After a quick dinner (the soup wasn’t quite finished when I had to leave, sadly), I left with Brooke and Antonia for the train station. It felt so nice to not have to be awake at an ungodly hour, like four in the morning – ain’t nobody got time (or energy) for that! We got on the second level of the train and headed to Zurich. About ten minutes into our train ride to Zurich, the guy sitting diagonally across the aisle from us hiccupped or something, and the liquid he was drinking (that was still in his mouth) went flying across the car. Brooke cracked up, and I had to try my hardest to suppress my own laughter. He immediately took another sip of whatever he was drinking and called someone and started talking in an obnoxiously elevated voice. About twenty minutes later, he hiccupped again. I noted a strange smell, but couldn’t figure out what it was until I glanced back at him and realized that he was drinking beer. And that he was vomiting, not hiccupping. EW! There was beer all over the train seats and floor. Again, he took a huge swig of his nasty beer and called someone, using the same unnecessary volume. The whole car reeked of beer, and I had to keep myself from gagging. Yet again, he did his vomiting routine, and I prayed that he would please just get off at Bern, which was coming up in a few minutes. But as we sat at the train station, he didn’t budge. Just when I thought it would be impossible to be rid of his disgusting presence, he bolted down the stairs just before we departed for our second leg to Zurich. I was so relieved.

And then he started talking on the phone again. I wanted to punch someone in the face. And again, he came back up to our level and sat in his previous spot. Once we were in Zurich, I tried to get away from his stench as quickly as I could. Once off the train, we found our next train to Vienna, to find that our sleeper car already had two men sitting in it (our sleeper car didn’t have mattresses, but had six seats that extended into beds). Thinking we were going to have to sleep with them in the car, we gave each other skeptical looks and settled in. Another lady came in, also with a dissatisfied look on her face. The two men began talking to us, and asking us where we were going and where we were from. Once we were done with that conversation, we turned our attention to something else. Because we’d been doing homework on the last train, we decided to watch a movie this time around. So we put our headphones on and commenced watching Hercules. Immediately, the two men began blatantly talking about us, and pointing at us. It was so awkward! And uncomfortable! And of course, the younger of the two went and bought beer for him and his acquaintance. So again, our car smelled like beer: the inescapable scent of the trip. Once we were about twenty minutes in, the men stopped us and asked us if we were watching Shrek or Madagascar. Brooke told them what we were watching, and we returned to the movie. Thankfully, the younger guy got off soon thereafter, and the older man fell asleep until he had to get off. At some point the other lady had gotten off. That meant that we had the whole car to ourselves! So we unplugged our headphones and watched our movie with the lights off.

After we finished the movie, Antonia and I read for our history class before going to bed. Sleeping that night was incredibly hard, and I probably only got about two hours of sleep, if that. It was uncomfortable and I was so cold! And thankful to get off the train, even though it was 7:30 in the morning (yes, that is the college student in me talking). Brooke had been in Vienna for a few hours before during the semester, so she knew the general direction of the center of town. We got money out of the ATM and went to a café for breakfast. After some eggs and cappuccinos, we headed down the street, looking at all of the shops that weren’t yet open. Once nine o’clock rolled around, most of the shops were open, and we went into several furniture shops and looked at their adorable Christmas decorations. Then we found the Starbucks and bought mugs and coffees, and spent a while there with the free Wi-Fi (fun fact: in the Lausanne house, we call it wee fee. And our wifi network is called GeorgesP, and it doesn’t work too well, so the most common sentence muttered within the Lausanne house is: où est GerogesP?). A few minutes after departing Starbucks, after crossing several streets, we encountered the Christmas markets!

Sadly, only two of the vendors were open, so after strolling along the closed shops, wondering when they would be open, we spotted a huge arched gateway, and decided to see what was behind it. There we found the national Austrian library. And there we marveled at the building’s beauty (fun fact: the library is part of the building in which the Austrian parliament meets). After snapping enough pictures, we meandered about, wondering what else we could do before the Christmas markets opened. And then it hit me: see the Lipizzaner stallions! Had it not been for my travel guide to Europe, and my sister’s love for horses, I never would have though about going. But I suddenly remembered, and suggested it to my two travel buddies. They agreed that it would be interesting, and asked me what time watching the training started. With the help of my handy dandy iPhone, I figured out that the training sessions started at eleven. And it was 10:55. But we had no idea where the arena was. Once again, iPhone came to the rescue and told us it was a five-minute walk away. It was actually in the same building as the library, but on the opposite side. So we bought our tickets and rushed inside to see the magnificent horses, only about five minutes late. At first, we were positioned behind a lot of people, near one of the corners, and thus couldn’t see much; after repositioning ourselves, we could see practically the whole ring. Oh my goodness it was amazing! I’ve seen Lipizzaner stallion shows before, but this was the real deal. I was seeing it in person in Austria! My basic knowledge of dressage made it even more special – I knew the techniques, and what the riders were aiming to do with their horses. And it was just so glorious, how fluid and graceful their movements were! We left with complete satisfaction and joy that we had been able to see the show – and that we were in the right place at the right time! – as well as some pictures (which weren’t allowed, but shhh, nobody has to know!)

(This photo was taken legally...what are you talking about?)

From there, we visited the gift shop before exploring. Down the street from the gift shop was a Louis Vuitton, and, being girls, we couldn’t help but be attracted to the allure of the store. What we encountered was a pleasant surprise – the main shopping strip of Vienna, all decked out with Christmas lights hanging over the streets and hundreds (maybe even a thousand) of shoppers. 

(The main shopping road - I wish America, and Albuquerque, had more like this)

After looking around at some of the shops, we grabbed some lunch and some donut-like pastries without the holes in the middle. 


Brooke tried out some of her German, and the lady picking out the donuts for us was thrilled by her charm and attempts to speak as much German as possible (it’s a good thing I didn’t try – she probably would have been annoyed by my lack of motivation to try to say things in German). Once again, we walked through the streets and tried on shoes at different shoe stores (I even tried on some ridiculously tall eight-inch heels, and was exactly the same height as Brooke! I had such a new perspective of the world! I felt like I could conquer the whole world with my new height).

Since both Antonia and Brooke had brought their laptops with them, we decided to take the trolley-bus back to the train station to drop off their backpacks (and some of my purchases) in the lockers at the station. After we lightened our loads, we continued shopping along the main road we’d walked on earlier that day. By the time we arrived at the Christmas market, all the cabins were finally open! We looked at each shed and drank our hot wine and hot chocolate. I ended up buying ornaments for my family and some friends, as well as a nice ring for myself. Once we were done at that market, we decided to walk around. We noticed Christmas lights by the cathedral, so we walked over to that area just to find another market! 

(So pretty!)

We walked around that market and bought some more gifts, and marveled at the awesome sight around us. Everyone was into the Christmas spirit, which made us even more excited for the holiday. After walking around the market, we walked back to the train station to make sure we didn’t miss our train to Zurich.

The train back wasn’t too bad. Granted, the sleeping car next to us was filled with obnoxiously drunk people screaming and laughing for an hour or so. Other than that, the trip was fine. I ended up sleeping about six hours, which was a huge improvement from the night before (I couldn’t even believe I had been on my way to Vienna the previous night!!). The train from Zurich back to Lausanne also went smoothly, and we arrived home around 9:30 am – just 37 hours after we had left the city! As soon as I got into the house, I jumped out of my gross clothes and into the shower – possibly one of the best showers I’ve ever had. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and catching up on some of my homework.

Though it was a whirlwind trip, filled with too many encounters with beer and drunk people, it was definitely a great trip! I must say Vienna is one of my favorite cities, and I wish I could visit sometime in the summer or during warmer weather. Although, I must say, the Christmas season was quite an enchanting time to be in the city! What can I say? I just love Austria!