Week 4: Concerning learning, CERNing, + Berning

Having (somehow) been in Geneva now for an entire month, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on my time abroad so far, exploring first impressions, personal growth, etc. But instead of doing that, I just have another weekly update for y’all. In this week’s episode, I get my CERN project and we explore Switzerland’s capital!


* This post’s featured image is of a fountain in Bern called “Kindlifresserbrunnen” and yes, it depicts a monster eating babies out of a bag. IDK. Switzerland, amirite?


This week

Monday was spent dragging myself through my Paris-hangover and wishing I could trade Geneva’s dirty streets for Paris’s cobblestone alleys. I went to CERN to meet again with the potential research advisor from last week.

Horse meat!

On Tuesday, our French instructor brought in dried horse meat. The smell and texture were somewhat unsettling but it tasted fine. It reminded me of salami or prosciutto.

After class on Wednesday, Dan and I ventured out to France for groceries and had a free afternoon otherwise. I am desperately holding onto these free afternoons while I still can; we have only one more week until UniGe classes start and the real work begins….

I also tried to emulate Angelina’s hot chocolate that I had tried in Paris using an online recipe, but it wasn’t as thick as I would’ve liked. I will try again later, probably doubling the chocolate.

Some of the chocolate scavenged from French class, including Lindt, Ovamaltine, & Ragusa.

On Thursday, our French instructor brought in a plethora of Swiss chocolate to pass around during our second exam. With all this sampling and my own stack of six chocolate bars currently on my desk at home, I should be able to compile a definitive list of Switzerland’s Best Chocolate According to Maddie by the end of the semester. (Stay tuned!)

To make up for a missed class last week, our computer class at CERN was an extra hour long. We were all dreading being pent-up in the classroom for three hours of difficult material, but it turned out to be the best lecture so far, in my opinion. We also had leftover chocolate from French to help carry us through.

I returned to CERN on Friday to meet with two more potential research advisors. The first was a friendly and enthusiastic German researcher working in a subgroup of CERN’s antimatter project. He and the rest of his team were really amiable and welcoming, but I’m not sure that their project matched my interests. There would be a lot of hands-on electronics work, and since I don’t want to go into physics research, there are probably more productive ways I could spend my time here.

Which brings me to my next meeting. I met with two members of the CMS experiment’s outreach team. They proposed a project for me that would involve keeping the CMS public website up-to-date with the physics and technological advancements of the CMS as well as monitoring some of their social media platforms. There may even be opportunities for me to do some science journalism by writing feature articles about the CMS! Unfortunately I will not get to work with a younger or more energetic team, but I think that my involvement in this outreach program will be far more profitable for my aspirations. The opportunities for science writing and communication that this project will offer are invaluable to my future in these fields. I committed to their project on the spot.

I must admit I’m somewhat disappointed that I won’t be working directly with any of the experiments at CERN, doing things such as coding simulations for a muon detector or building a positron cooling laser (which were my other options), but I think this choice will ultimately be best my career and my happiness this semester. My project’s focus on communication distances me from the “hard” physics research that my classmates will be doing, which relieves some of the pressure I felt about living up to the expectations of my would-be CERN mentor. I’m still a little nervous about this project will go, especially since I have no formal journalism experience. Nevertheless, I’m extremely optimistic and excited, and I plan to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity!

On Saturday, some friends and I took a day-trip to Bern, Switzerland’s capital. Our visit is detailed in the next section.

It was nice to relax on Sunday. I spent a lot of time on homework and this blog but made sure to go on a couple walks just to get out of the building (a rare occurrence on Sundays!) Mina spent the day baking what was intended to be a batch of cookies but, due to our kitchen’s lack of cookie sheets, turned out to be a large cookie cake. (Since there are apparently no chocolate chips sold in the Greater Geneva Area, she cut up a chocolate bar.) It was divine. For dinner, Dan and I made red Thai curry chicken with chickpeas and pearl couscous in an attempt to imitate one of our favorite BU Dining dishes. It turned out pretty darn well, in my opinion.



Saturday morning, Dan, Mina, Casey, Natalie, Dan S., and I took the train to Bern, admiring Switzerland’s stunning countryside (and napping) along the way. Once we arrived, we wandered through a street market in front of Bern’s city hall. Dan and I bought bread from one of the merchants. It was a little crispy on the bottom, but as Dan said, “They like to bern it here.”

Bern is shockingly different from Geneva or any other part of Switzerland I’ve seen. Switzerland is a multicultural country with four official languages—French, Italian, German, and Romansh—each with corresponding geographic regions. We knew Bern was in a German-speaking region, but we didn’t know exactly how “German” the city’s culture would be. Bern was like a different country entirely; every street sign was in German, which is so unlike French or the Romance languages that it is nearly impossible to discern what words mean. We’d been used to being able to talk with locals in either English or French, but here the bread merchant from the street market only knew German with minimal English. It was a bit of a culture shock, which was a surprise for being in the same country, only a 2-hour train ride from Geneva.

Our first stop was the Bernisches Historisches Museum, Bern’s museum on Swiss culture and history that also includes the Einstein Museum. We were really only there for the latter, so we spent an hour or two learning about the life of Einstein in what proved to be a rather poorly-designed exhibit. Still, as physicists, it was an essential stop and I learned a lot about one of the greatest scientists ever! It was especially interesting to learn about Einstein’s promiscuity and many love interests. Oddly, that’s not something they teach us in school….

Next we ate a quick lunch; to my surprise, food in Bern proved to be very expensive, much more than in Geneva! Sandwiches at a café cost about CHF 14 so Dan and I just finished off our bread from that morning for our lunch. We ate at Münsterplattform, a beautiful park outside Bern’s cathedral, overlooking the Aare river. It was a sunny but chilly day, and the park was full of locals playing bocce ball and a similar game with wooden pegs. We spent lunch trying to figure out the rules of the latter game. (Some Googling has determined that the game is called “Kubb”.)

Afterwards, we went to the Einsteinhaus, a narrow and unassuming apartment on one of Bern’s main roads that was once home to Einstein himself. It was quite small and there wasn’t too much new to see, especially having just come from the Einstein Museum, so we finished in there quickly.

Einstein’s parlor.

After the Einsteinhaus, we hiked up to the Rosengarten (rose garden), a public park on top of a big hill overlooking the city. While it’s too cold for roses to be blooming right now, our climb rewarded us with a stunning view of Bern.


Not quite satisfied with just a hilltop view, our next stop was the top of the bell tower of Berner Münster, the Cathedral of Bern. After paying a small fee, we climbed an enormous winding staircase (254 steps, to be exact!) to an upper level of the cathedral. The open (albeit narrow) windows all along the spiral stairs made the ascent a little nerve-wracking, but the spectacle from above was well worth it. Bern looked beautiful and quaint from above, but even better, we had a magnificent view of the mountains. No photo could do the scene justice, but we tried:

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We were also able to climb 90 steps higher to the upper spire. On the way down, we were even able to see the bells in the bell tower! One was the largest bell in Switzerland, weighing 10.5 tons.

My garlic rosti!

Once back on the ground, we found a Swiss restaurant for dinner called Le Mazot. Our French instructor had recommended we try Bernese rӧsti, a latke-like dish I described briefly in my post about Gruyères a couple weeks ago. We each ordered a different kind of rӧsti; I chose one with garlic, butter, and cream. While they were smaller than we expected, the hearty potato dish certainly filled us up. And when we were presented with our collective bill—in a glorious moment of cosmic serendipity—we all paid various amounts in cash, got back our change, and were left with exactly the total on the bill, a feat that will surely never be achieved again in any of our lifetimes.

After dinner, while waiting for our train home, we found a Dunkin Donuts in the Bern train station. It was a sublime sight for our deprived Bostonian souls. Sadly, however, their beverages were about four times their prices in America so we couldn’t enjoy a sugar-loaded, artery-clogging iced coffee that evening.

The train ride went smoothly and we all safely arrived home. My sole souvenir from Bern was a new patch for my backpack.


General updates

I am devastated to report that I did not go on a hike for my first month in Geneva. Four weeks have passed and I have certainly had time to venture out to one of the close-by mountains and enjoy Switzerland’s stunning natural beauty. But I haven’t. The closest I came was walking 75,000 steps around Paris last weekend. Hopefully I can make it a habit for the rest of my time here, though!

We discussed American coinage in our computer class this week while learning about probability and statistics. In an unexpected bout of nostalgia, I found myself missing American currency. I had never thought so much about the figures printed on our coins until our instructor asked how we did coin tosses….

Gum is not cheap here; a pack costs more than CHF 2, which is twice the price in America. I guess our breath is destined to reek for the next five months.


A running list of things not readily available in Geneva:

  • Spicy cheese
  • Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
  • Chocolate chips
  • Brown sugar
  • Black beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Chili powder/cayenne pepper



Bluetooth speaker (25 December 2014 – 6 February 2017)

My trusty bluetooth speaker (nameless) passed away last week while doing what it did best: blasting music at full volume. (Chances are high that it was “Sunset Lover” by Petit Biscuit because I’ve been obsessed with that song lately.) It served me well for just over two years and Room 12 will miss its services greatly. The funeral was lovely; tears were shed, mostly by me upon realizing that I can’t buy a cheap Groupon replacement here in Switzerland. Rest in peace. ❤


Quote of the Week

“I would literally drink chocolate ganache if I could.”  

– Casey

Same, Casey. Same.


Finally, best of luck to all my Bostonian friends who have been braving the blizzard(s) for the past few days! I feel like I haven’t experienced a proper snowstorm in two years now and I am extremely jealous. Especially because the temperature is going to be up in the 50s in Geneva this week. Sigh.



Maddie 🙂

4 thoughts on “Week 4: Concerning learning, CERNing, + Berning

  1. Pingback: Week 5: Involving lots of coconut milk – mad world

  2. Pingback: a Double Stuf update: Weeks 6 + 7 – mad world

  3. Pingback: We’re halfway there… [Week 12] – mad world

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