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So, I realize that I have not really been on the ball with this whole blog thing lately. I have been getting many complaints about not having posted anything recently- so here’s your post. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to post something interesting or useful today, so instead, I will sum up what I’ve been doing lately, and what I will be up to in the week to come:

Last weekend- Went to Paris!! It was really, really, really amazing and we had loads of fun. I took about 1000 pictures (no exaggeration here) so it will take me a while to sort through them all. I also have plenty of great stories to tell, so look forward to hearing about gypsies, the Eiffel Tower, cemeteries, the Louvre, etc. However, for the time being, you will have to just wait.

This week- Extremely hectic. I’ve had assignments due every single day in all of my classes and I’ve also had TWO tests. Assignments and tests.
NO BUENO. (<— not French)
Also, I've been busy preparing for NEXT week, which is EASTER BREAK!!!!

Next week- Trip around the world!! Or at least around Europe. We are leaving tomorrow for a whole week of travel (by car! AH) visiting Zurich (the foreign part of Switzerland that I have not visited yet…they speak German there- how bizarre!), Austria, and Italy.

So, that is all I have time for.
Ps- in other news, I have started a new blog that I will reserve for photos only. There are just a few pictures on there now, but I am planning on adding many, many more when I return from the Easter break! You can find my other blog here

Minarets in Switzerland

New minarets built in Switzerland

You may or may not be aware of the recent 2009 referendum banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland; you may not know about the Libya-Switzerland conflict going on right now, and I’m not going to go into the details (if you want to know more, click the links).

But living in Switzerland, if you read the paper at all, or talk to any Swiss people, the subject will probably come up. The issue has been mentioned every single day in the local paper that I read, and just the other day, I saw these “minarets” on the side of the road and thought it was a pretty clever idea.

The truth is (according to Wiki and a couple other sources) that there are maybe 4 minarets in the whole of Switzerland! (if you’re wondering, that’s not a lot)
I’m not taking sides here, but I do find it a bit strange that there would be a need to legally ban the construction of minarets here in Switzerland by amending the constitution.

What started as a small, local disagreement turned into a national campaign to save the countryside from un-Swiss, foreign religious architecture. To me, it seems a little extreme. It’s not as if the place is being overrun with minarets. In fact, I haven’t even seen a single one since I’ve been here (bar the ones pictured above). It seems to me that this constitutional amendment would bring more harm than good. Even now, in the conflict with Libya–though it was initially born amidst different circumstances–the subject of the minarets has not been ignored, and it has given Libya one more piece of evidence in the case against Switzerland.

By no means am I implying that Libya is right in its “jihad” against Switzerland, on the contrary. However, it has been rather convenient for Libya to use the referendum in convincing the Arab League that Switzerland is a “racist” country, thus gaining further support in its tiff with the neutral country.

First off, I would like to say that I must be experiencing some sort of delayed jet lag or something, because I cannot seem to get un-tired. Either that, or I just have not been sleeping enough…..so needless to say, I should be sleeping right now- but instead, I am blogging.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will commence this blog of random, unrelated subjects.

First off: blue bathrooms. Have you heard of them? I had, but I thought they were merely a thing of fiction until I saw one the other day at the Lausanne Gare.

Where are my veins??

…and yes, I took pictures in the bathroom.

So, why are these bathrooms blue? Well, I’m so glad you asked! (not really…I was hoping you already knew)
It’s because in the blue light, one’s veins are not visible, making it practically impossible to donate blood in these restrooms. It also discourages any other sort of activity during which one might need to locate one’s veins…(e.g., injecting oneself with illegal narcotics)

We also had a laugh because each bathroom stall had a lock on it that could be opened by inserting 1 CHF. I guess if you gotta go, you gotta go.

On to item #2, Tandem. Tomorrow, I meet with a random stranger, who claims to speak French, and who also claims to want to learn English. Seems pretty convenient, yes? The program is called Tandem (I believe this has already been mentioned) and not only did they match me up with a helpful stranger, but I can also receive college credits for meeting and conversing. Sounds easy? Well, that is to be determined. I meet with my stranger tomorrow…

Of course this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t mention food somewhere in here…so I saved the best for last: Spätzli! It’s pronounced shpitz-ly (cute, right?) and it is as delicious as it sounds! It’s basically just a fat little egg noodle…I bought a pretty large package (it said ACTION! which meant that it was on sale) and I and my roommates have been eating on it for the past couple of days. It takes about five minutes to heat up in a skillet with a little butter (I also added some of my CHEDDAR CHEESE at the suggestion of my roommate Isa). It is one of my new found favorites!

here’s a cool artist I discovered today :)

Cheddar Fromage

Cheddar "Fromage"

I have written a couple of times about how I have been having trouble finding some good cheese. It’s all very confusing because there are so many different varieties, but to my untrained eye they all appear the same! In the US we have easy names and we use food coloring and dyes to color our cheese so that we can differentiate, but here it’s “au natural,” and the names don’t make much sense to me.

I went grocery shopping with my [Swiss] roommate yesterday and gained some insight into the way the Swiss feel about cheese (I suppose it’s a bit of a generalization to use my roommate to represent the whole of Switzerland, but I’m gonna go with it).

First of all, there are two large categories of cheese here: there is real cheese, and there is fake cheese. When my roommate first referred to some cheese I had bought as “fake,” I thought I had made a terrible mistake. However, I realize now that “fake” simply means that the cheese has been reformed; in other words, it’s not part of an original wheel or block of cheese. I assured her that much of our cheese in the US is “fake” according to her standards, so I was not bothered much by this.

“Real” cheese, as you may have guessed, is cheese that has been cut from a wheel or block. It normally has paper, or what I would call a “rind” around at least one edge. Most of the harder cheeses have paper, and the softer cheeses have a slightly lighter colored “rind” of more pungent, smelly cheese around the edges (like brie). This is REAL cheese. It is generally stronger smelling, with strange names, and holes, and sometimes spots of discoloration. To be honest, I’m pretty intimidated by it.

As I may have mentioned before, I have been longing for some cheddar cheese. I never thought I would miss it so much. After searching and searching with no success, I finally decided to ask my roommate. To my dismay, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I decided to see if I could find it in my French/English dictionary. It was there, and in fact, it was the exact same word in French. Puzzled, I went back to tell my roommate; making a joke I said, “well, it’s the same word in French, but you probably just say ‘sheddar’ instead of ‘cheddar’!” Laughing smugly to myself, I looked up to see the recognition on her face. Indeed, this was the case. Of course, I should have known.

This was slightly discouraging to me, because now I knew that I had not simply missed it because it was called something different in French. While shopping yesterday, I decided to look one more time. This store had a very large variety of cheeses, and a deli as well, to get even fresher cheese. After looking around a bit, I decided to ask the lady behind the counter as a last ditch effort. “Ah! Oui!” Her eyes brightened as she held up one finger. She disappeared behind the big glass counter. I peered over to see her rummaging behind the rest of the cheese. She reappeared a few seconds later with a large, unopened block of CHEDDAR CHEESE! I half expected her to blow the dust off the top or cut some mold off the edges, but I was so happy to see my long lost friend that I didn’t really care. It was cheddar cheese. Not yellow. Not reformed, fake cheese. It was REAL cheddar cheese. I didn’t even look at the price, I purchased 300g.

Yesterday I ate a grilled cheese sandwich with my new cheddar cheese, and today I shredded some of the cheddar cheese and made tacos! I’m so happy!

The Basel Zoo was so much fun! They let you get so close to all of the animals, and there are several animal “haus”s where you can sit and watch the animals from benches inside a heated building. I love it!

Basel Zoo!

Sleeping Turtle

Big BOOTY

Giraffe Haus!

Croc!

Lions...

in the middle of the city!

Wise old elephant

He was eying me...

...then he attacked!

Pretty bird

Creepy monkey

Penguins!

The fuzzy one in the corner is so cute!

It really pays off to stop and look at those bulletin boards around campus. You know the ones I’m talking about- they are covered with advertisements for different organizations, clubs, performances, political rallies, forums, rooms for rent, books for sale, and almost any other college-y sounding thing you can think of. I used to stop and look at those things all the time. They are pretty much everywhere on campus, and always are full of interesting things. As a freshman, I remember writing down websites, phone numbers, and taking down dates of meetings and performances, but my busy schedule (and lack of motivation) kept me from ever really benefiting from any of it. As I began to realize this, I stopped less and less to look at the boards, and eventually I began to not even notice them anymore.

But, as one would assume (and some may know), life in a new place can change your perspective– as has been the case with me. The Unil campus, like almost any other campus, has the same bulletin boards with the same kinds of advertisements; but to me, it is a whole new world. Thus, my fascination with the signs and ads returned, and just as I had done before, I have begun writing down events and dates again. A few days ago, I happened to see a sign with the word “gratuit” on it. If you don’t know already, that means “free” in French. A very good word to see if you are an international student like me. So, I wrote down the date, location and time and made it a point to attend this event.

I ended up dragging along Amber with me, and at 7:30 am we met on the EPFL campus (the neighboring college campus where they have majors like engineering and physics, as opposed to Unil’s language and arts programs). After walking around for a bit, searching fruitlessly, and eventually reading some maps (wandering aimlessly is one of our new favorite pastimes), we found the room where the free stuff was supposed to go down. We were the first to arrive, apart from one girl who was apparently part of the organizing team. Wanting to make sure we had come to the correct location, and that indeed they were giving free stuff away, we attempted to ask her if we were in the right place. After a few awkward sentences and much head shaking we almost left discouraged. However, Amber’s brilliant idea to show her where I had written down the name of the event : “Vide Grenier Gratuit” proved a success and she welcomed us in with a smile.

I’m still not exactly sure of the correct translation of “Vide Grenier Gratuit,” but I do know that it is made up of the words vacuum, attic, and free. As expected, people had donated unwanted items in hopes of benefiting someone else. The quantity seemed scant, but I quickly realized that we had made the right decision in coming. I found a fan (something I will need once summer comes– because of the lack of air conditioners here), and Amber found a much needed lamp. I also picked up a French CD and some French books, some paper, a notebook, and a binder (school supplies are NOT cheap here). The fan and the lamp alone (necessity items that would have needed to be bought) saved us probably a total of around 100 CHF (!) That’s a lot.

Lesson learned? Take advantage of the resources available, it is definitely worth waking up early, reading a map, or overcoming the language barrier anytime.

My new super awesome fan

people in wheelchairs like to pop wheelies here

giant croissant

milk

doggies and children can ride the metro for 1/2 price!

Napoleon Dynamite

très vite

yummmmmm

cool tree

stank

recycle your pets here

rhodanie- where chelsey lives

heavenly lunch

mayonnaise

End of day 3.
(I think)

Before I left, everyone told me the days would go by really fast- and I assumed they were correct. Time flies when you’re having fun right? Wrong. At least not this time. Things might begin to speed up soon, but perhaps because of the jetlag, or the hours I lost, or for some other unknown reason, I feel like I have been here for weeks! And I know it’s not because the days are extra long- cause they’re not. Stores and restaurants close at 7 during the week and even earlier on the weekends. Public transportation stops running at around midnight (I don’t even know why it runs that late, because there is no reason to be out if everything is closed). It’s going to take a lot of adjustment for a late riser and night owl like myself.

So far I feel like I have gotten a lot accomplished. I have spent these first couple of days running around the city with Amber and Chelsey (the two other girls here from A&M) and our “buddy” Alain. The university exchange program set us up with Alain to show us around and help us become acquainted with the city. He has been a life saver. I do feel bad for him though- little did he know when he signed up for this, that he would have not one, not two, but THREE giddy, excitable American girls to handle. But, unprepared as he may have been, he has handled it very well- though he did admit, very politely, that it was a surprise. So, Alain, if you happen to read this, thank you. I owe you big time.

DOG!

One of the first things I noticed when arriving in Switzerland was a huge Great Dane inside the Geneva airport. I was slightly surprised to see that they allowed this great big dog inside, but I attributed it to the much more relaxed security and friendly atmosphere of the airport. However, I began to notice more and more dogs every new place we went. Dogs on the sidewalks, dogs on the metro, dogs in the post office, dogs at the mall, dogs outside the grocery store, dogs inside the grocery store….they are everywhere. There are even little doggy hitching posts outside the grocery stores. Long poles about 6 inches off the ground where you will see little Fido and Spot sitting patiently, loyally waiting for their owners to finish shopping. The downside to this abundance of pooches is the equally abundant amount of doggy poo :(

The city of Lausanne is beautiful. The rolling landscape was not flattened when the city was built, and as a result, there are hills, stairs, elevators, and escalators everywhere to maneuver the many, many levels and layers of the city. If you know me very well, you may be aware of my aversion to escalators. Or might I say, my previous aversion to escalators. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I have been cured. When you have been walking for a couple of hours up and down stairs and hills, an escalator is extremely inviting.

Metro stop in front of Triaudes

My first couple of encounters with the public transportation here in Switzerland had a lasting impression. We had to take the train from the Geneva airport to Lausanne. Dragging our luggage through the airport and down what seemed like 100 flights of stairs we finally made it to the train station. After standing around, wandering aimlessly and then asking a few people, we eventually figured out which train to get on. I noticed that there was a pretty big gap between the platform and the train, one big enough for a leg to fit into, and took note. Of course, I must have noted wrong, because as soon as began boarding the train, my foot went right into the hole. Fortunately, I have lightening reflexes and managed to come away without injury, but it definitely made an impression.

After arriving in Lausanne, we had to take the metro. I learned rather quickly that the doors are not operated by a person. Nor do they care if there is a person walking through before they decide it is time to close. There is a warning sound immediately preceding the whooshing sound of the doors closing rapidly with deadly force. We also learned that if there is a crowd of people attempting to board the metro, and the warning sound is heard, the result is a stampede of frantic people who do not wish to be crushed by the merciless sliding doors. It is quite unnerving at first, but since the public transportation is the best way to get around town, and the metro is the fastest way by far, it is best to simply learn to heed the warning sound, and stay clear of the doors.

I also take the above-ground metro and the buses. I like these a lot better, because they move slower and you can see the person driving. I did learn however, that if you do not push the button on the door, it will not open. And the metro will leave you. Even if you are banging on the door. And it wont stop. Even if you run after it.

Tomorrow: Residence permits, UniL orientation, and the beginning of my first weekend in Switzerland!

Walkway on campus at UniL

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