Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More traveling . . .

We've had several visitors the last couple of weeks, so between settling into the lab and traveling through parts of Switzerland with first my sister and brother-in-law and then with a couple of old friends, it has been a busy last couple of weeks! It's been wonderful to have friends and family visit, both to be able to introduce them to Bern, as well as take advantage of their desire to see various parts of Switzerland.

I'm glad some of you will be able to travel here to see Bern, as it really is a beautiful and unique city. They've done a wonderful job preserving the Altstadt, and as a result, the center of the city is vibrant, beautiful, and always has something new to see and experience. We've been lucky to have (mostly) beautiful weather, so it's been great to take visitors on walking tours of Bern, seeing the churches, parliament, open markets in the squares, rose garden, and of course taking advantage of the many outdoor cafes and beer gardens. And of course, watching people jump off bridges to float down part of the Aare is always entertaining!
And Bern is beautiful both during the day, as seen above, and at night, when so many of the city's buildings and monuments are lit up. Plus, it still never ceases to amaze me how safe this city is, especially in contrast to most American cities. I can walk around in the middle of the night by myself, leave my bike unlocked in front of the grocery store and still have it be there when I come back out, and keep the windows of our apartment wide open without fear. It's a very freeing feeling, and makes me rather sad to think about what our cities have become, since 40 years ago when my mother was growing up in Houston, they were able to do the same . . .
We also managed to be in the right place at the right time, so we were able to see the Tour de Suisse come through Bern!

We took a nice day-trip to Gruyeres, which if anyone has a few extra hours, I highly recommend! It's a tiny village perched on top of a hill, really with just one street running through the town, from the remains of the old city walls at one end
to the giant Chateau (really a castle) at the other end. The pastoral setting, where you can hear the tinkling of bells on sheep and cattle just adds to the ambience. And of course, you can sit and relax on a restaurant terrace enjoying a pot of fabulous fondue. Another interesting tourism spot . . . the HR Giger Museum and Bar is in an old chalet just below the castle, so for any sci-fi/Alien movie fans (he did all the designs), I recommend checking it out!

If you want a beautiful hike up in the Alps, with the reward after a 3 hour, 1000 meter upward climb being a stunning view of a mountain lake, the Alps, and a restaurant complete with a good panache, take a train ride to Kandersteg and then hike up above Oeschinensee. I can't really do it justice with words, so I'll just include photos . . .
. . . and to include another random note, on the advice of the one local accompanying us, try drinking the water from the high-altitude (well above timberline) mountain streams! As a backpacking American, this goes against every piece of advice I've ever received about hiking, but I dubiously agreed with the promise that if I get some wierd bug, he would treat me (helpful to have a physician tag-along). I am still healthy almost 3 weeks later, and it was the best water I've ever tasted.

Another day trip gave a view of a rather larger Swiss city, and it was nice to see something of Basel other than the train station and airport. We spent a few hours wandering around the Altstadt area of Basel, which had a stunning city hall and a beautiful terrance behind the main church that had a great view of the Rhine. Definitely more hustle and bustle with cars going through than what I'm used to in Bern, and it is hysterical that Basel now seems like a "big city" when I normally live in Houston . . .

And more to come when photos are uploaded on the Montreaux festival and Murten/Avenches.

Somewhere in between all of the above, I've managed to get some work done :) I've been working predominantly with neurosurgery for the first few weeks, as the lab I am working in belongs to them. I've been learning various immunohistochemical stains to identify neurons in rat brains that are positive for several different proteins. Of particular interest are those that indicate new neuronal growth, especially in experiments creating a rat model of intracerebral hemorrhage, a devastating disease of which still so much is unknown. Some of the experiments also involve transplanting stem cells into lesioned areas of the rat brain, with evaluation of functional recovery and extent of transplanted cell survival and differentiation. Many of the stains, immunofluorescence, and other techniques I am learning (western blot, ELISA) we will start applying soon to inner ear stem cells, as we will be harvesting them from some rat specimens later this week. As it is supposed to be the main focus of my summer, I'm excited to begin. I'm also very excited to learn how to surgically drill out an inner ear, so it should be a good week!

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