Today, on “Maddie’s Adventures in Switzerland”: a tram accident, lots of French food, and a day trip to a Swiss town whose mountains are straight from a wanderlust Pinterest board.
On Monday, our French teacher brought in two loaves of French bread and a wheel of “Lamembert” cheese—the plagiarized Swiss-version of France’s camembert. That afternoon Dan and I took a walk to the nearby Parc La Grange and stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient Roman villa built around 50-60 AD. (I mean, it’s there on display, we didn’t just accidentally uncover thousand year old historic artifacts.) Also I finally caved and bought snacks at the grocery store, including a funky delicacy called “Flips”, described as “snack au maïs et aux arachides”, or “snack with corn and peanuts”. Turns out it’s essentially peanut butter Cheetos, sans cheese. Not having realized what it was before purchasing, I was at first a little disturbed but now I’m semi-addicted….
Tuesday was the first day of our computer programming class. We were led through the logicless sprawl of buildings on CERN’s campus to a classroom where we were taught the basics of the standard model of particle physics, Unix (CERN’s computer operating system), and C++ (a computer language) by a short but fierce aggressively-Italian BU post-doc. After that, we were taken on a tour of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), requiring a shuttle to drive us 20 minutes to the other side of the 27 kilometer ring, in Cessy, France. We were led underground to the enormous detector, its cross-section measuring 45 meters in diameter. Despite its name, the detector is not very compact….
Most of us will not be working on the CMS experiment, but it was still a wonder to behold. The CMS is like a rockstar for physicists: most of us have only seen pictures of it in textbooks, magazines, or on TV, but to actually see it in real life was totally awe-inspiring. I doubt that I will ever be able to fully appreciate the engineering that makes it work or the physics it investigates, but seeing it (and taking dozens of pictures with it) was an incredible privilege.
Afterwards, about 10 minutes into our 45 minute commute back home, our tram was stopped. One of us understood enough French to translate the driver’s announcement: there was an accident on the tracks and everyone had to get off. There were no further details.
We all exited the train and followed the hoard of commuters walking towards Gare Cornavin. It was cold and dark and we were in an area of the city we had only before seen through the windows of the 18 train. We walked past two more tram stops before we saw the accident—all that remained was a vespa lying on its side with a tram a few yards away. We ended up walking the 3 kilometers all the way to Gare Cornavin and caught a bus home from there. It was a bit annoying, but it was also an adventure! We still don’t know exactly what happened at the site of the accident.
On Wednesday, we had physics orientation at UniGe. During the 15 minute session, our electricity and magnetism professor gave us our booklist and two members of the school’s Association des Etudiants en Physique (AEP) led us on a brief tour of the physics portion of UniGe’s campus. This was one of our first formal encounters with peers while in Europe and, despite this small sample size, we came to the consensus that Swiss young adults are objectively tall and beautiful.
Our French instructor brought more food for us on Thursday! This time it was a thin pastry that tasted like funnel cake. Its identity remains a mystery. (UPDATE: they’re called les merveilles.)
On Friday, Dan and I crossed the border for groceries again with our friend Kavi. We took a bus from Geneva that drove right into the heart of Annemasse, France, as casually as if it were crossing state borders rather than into an entirely different country. Our destination was an enormous Walmart-esque store called Géant Casino. The selection was huge and the prices were better than Switzerland’s, making the entire experience rather overwhelming.
At checkout, however, we were cut in line by an elderly French woman. According to a sign on the wall, older women and disabled persons are given priority. The rule struck us as odd; I think I would have been less annoyed if the rule also applied to elderly men, but instead it seems to adhere to some strange chivalrous code from the distant past.
After 90 minutes of shopping, we finally emerged with some excellent findings (meat and eggs were less than half of Geneva’s prices).
Saturday’s day trip is explained in the next section.
Today (Sunday), I had subpar off-brand Ramen noodles for lunch and have spent most of my time doing homework, uploading pictures, and finishing this post. Maybe I’ll go for a walk later just as an excuse to get outside. (Update: I did not go for a walk. I feel like trash.)
Our first excursion was on Saturday! Almost all of us in the BU program woke up early to take a bus at 08:30 to Gruyères, Switzerland for the day.
Our first stop was Maison Cailler, the factory for the Swiss chocolate brand Cailler. We took an interactive tour that ended with free sampling! Afterwards, we were let loose to stock up on chocolate and other goodies; I bought a CHF 6.50 dark chocolate hot chocolate with espresso and a mountain of whipped cream, plus an abundance of chocolate for gifts. It was divine.
Next, we drove up a hill to reach Gruyères itself. I’ve attached some pictures below, but they cannot possibly capture the beauty and majesty of the scenery in real life. The sights were truly breathtaking. It felt surreal to witness such sublimity with my own eyes. And the town itself seemed like it came straight from a fairy tale.
Seven friends and I stopped in a restaurant called Fleur de Lys for lunch. We had been recommended Fondue moitié-moitié, fondue made by mixing Gruyère cheese, vacherin cheese (vacherin fribourgeois), and white wine. Casey and Kaitlin ordered raclette, a traditional Swiss dish that involves smothering special raclette cheese on meats, potatoes, and vegetables. Dan had rӧsti, a potato pancake-like dish described by our RA Gordy as “hash browns done right.” We were advised against drinking cold beverages with so much cheese, so we complemented our meal with hot tea. Everything was delicious and warm.
While waiting for a tour of the Château de Gruyères, Gruyères Castle, we took advantage of the castle’s hilltop location to capture the magnificence of the surrounding scenery. Alas, the photos can only give an idea of the mountains’ true splendor:
The Château itself was grand and full of history. We explored its halls on a self-guided tour. The rooms were an eclectic mix of ancient bed chambers and modern art galleries. There was a random mummified hand on display and I’m still confused as to why it was there…?
Our bus back to Geneva left around 16:30. I departed with new patches for my backpack, a gift for my dad, and a camera full of stock-worthy photos that make me envious of my own experience every time I look at them.
Switzerland is like that kid who reminds the substitute teacher that you have an assignment due when the teacher is gone. There are approximately 798,286,167 rules for both the city of Geneva and our BU residence, with exorbitant fines to match. I haven’t been fined yet, but here are some examples of infractions I need to avoid over the next six months (reminder that CHF 1 ~= 1 USD):
- Riding the tram or bus without a TPG pass: CHF 90
- Littering: as high as CHF 300
- Noise complaints (quiet hours start at 10pm): CHF 100
- Non-respect of the recycling policy: CHF 260 per floor for kitchen garbage infractions, CHF 60 for bedroom/bathroom infractions
A note on that last item: the Swiss have an extremely strict recycling policy. There are separate recycling receptacles for glass, paper, aluminum cans, and PET (polyurethane) plastic. We are all still unclear on what metal can or cannot be recycled, and the guidelines for plastic are even more vague. We can only recycle plastic if it says “PET” somewhere on it, but it feels weird throwing other plastics away with the non-recyclable trash. For being so rigid about recycling, the Swiss have given us very little instruction and quite a hefty fine for not adhering to their ambiguous rules….
I am still apprehensive about working at CERN. As I explained in a previous post, I have seriously low confidence in my physics ability and I feel desperately unqualified to work there. Every time we go to CERN’s campus for class, I still feel slightly out of place….
My roommates (Casey and Amina) and I have finally figured out how to control our shower. The first day we were here, Casey unwittingly semi-flooded our bathroom because the showerhead shoots water horizontally at the opposing wall, causing it to drip all over the floor. For about a week, we were showering with the showerhead angled into the corner so it wouldn’t happen again, but this meant we had to be practically up against the left wall, so that wasn’t working. But I think we’ve all figured out that the knobs really only control pressure as opposed to temperature, so if we can get a good balance of hot and cold at low pressure, we can shower more-or-less comfortably. I still feel like I’m jumping a hurdle to step into the bathtub but that’s more of a me-problem, I guess.
On a similar note, the bathrooms in our classroom building at UniMail are freezing. My trips to the bathroom are the worst parts of my day; I don’t think they even bother to heat them. On top of that, there’s no “hot” nozzle on the sink so my hands go completely numb when I wash them. #firstworldproblems
I am not doing too hot on my goal to hike at least once a month. I have two more weeks to make this first month happen….
I think I’ve found a way to do my daily workout! I’ve been using a study room on the first floor of our residence that is usually uninhabited from 7-8 in the morning. (Note that I said “usually”—someone has walked in on me once. Kind of uncomfortable, not gonna lie.)
It is still cold.
I did my first load of laundry this week. The buttons on the machine are about as useful as Egyptian hieroglyphics. There are some instructions on the inside of the machine doors written in French, Italian, and German, and I am able to decode surprisingly little of it. I inadvertently set my first load to “steam dry” and it came out of the drier as wet as it started. And, in classic BU fashion, it’s not free….
Dan and I are continuing to make our plans for our Paris trip! We will be leaving Thursday evening on the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), “high-speed train” in English, and spend our long weekend in the City of Lights. Our exact schedule is still in the works but we are definitely hitting up the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, a nice restaurant for dinner one night, and some cutesy Parisian cafés in the mornings. And since much of our relationship revolves around omelettes, we’ll have to find a way to incorporate those, too.
This Tuesday, I’ll be meeting with a potential CERN research adviser. He works with antimatter, which would be insanely cool to work on! I’ll update you all once I know my project.
We don’t have class on Wednesday, so some friends and I are trying to plan a day trip around Switzerland. Details to come!
This week has been pretty exciting, the highlight definitely being the day trip to Gruyères. We’re starting to sink into a routine so these updates may not be as exciting. But I’m so excited for our Paris trip this week. Tune in next week to find out how it went!