Thursday, August 28, 2008

More travels!

The past few weeks have been unbelievably busy, both in the lab and during my freetime, so I have been a bit lax in posting on the blog. No worries! This will be the first of several posts summing up my last few weeks in Switzerland. First, the fun parts with accompanying photos. I've tried to take advantage of my time here, both in traveling through Switzerland as well as its neighboring countries. This is a quick summary of a couple of trips, one long weekend in Rome and then a week of Switzerland and southern Germany.

As several of you who I met and spoke with during the Day in Bern know, I had to leave early due to a previously planned trip to Rome. And after seeing the photos and reading the blog, I'm really sorry I had to miss out on the neat tour of the Zytglogge and Einstein Haus. Although I pass by both daily, it would have been neat to get a more personal tour of both. I also was sad to have left, as meeting everyone was a lot of fun, and it was really interesting to hear everyone's stories, both from Switzerland and the US.

Anyways, Rome was unbelievable! We tried to pack as much sight-seeing in as humanly possible, walking from just after enjoying a breakfast in the garden cafe in front of our hotel to well after dark. We received a luck tip from a colleague who is from Rome about our hotel, which was located directly across from the Roman Forum and around the corner from the Colosseum. It was perfectly situated for easy access to all the sights Rome has to offer. I definitely need to come back, as we were only able to see the highlights, and there are still so many historic churches, museums (including the Vatican Museums, since the line to get in was probably 2 hours long), and ruins that we didn't get to. We did, however, make it to most of the Roman ruins within the city,
as well as the Vatican,
Spanish steps (too many tourists!), Fountain of Trevi, Palatine, and many things in between. When I eventually make it back, I hope to return in the Spring or Fall, when it's not such high tourist season and a little bit cooler. It got pretty hot during the afternoon, but there were so many streetside cafes, hidden restaurants, and gelato stands that we were able to take breaks with wonderful food and drinks.

My parents came to visit me for a week in the beginning of August, so I took a few days off to travel with them through parts of Switzerland. For only a few days, we made it to quite a few places! They really enjoyed their visit, and absolutely loved Bern and the easy access of our apartment to the Altstadt and train station for all of our excursions. I took advantage of their visit to see a few things I had not yet made it to - inluding Murten, a picturesque city still enclosed by the city walls:
Avenches, which has Roman ruins sitting in the middle of farmed fields (including tinkling cow bells as a backdrop), Thun, a return trip for me to Gruyeres, and finally to Zermatt to get a view of the famous Matterhorn, which decided never to show its peak from under a self-made cloud during our entire 6-hour hike. We did, however, have a fabulous hike surrounded by mountains, and took the opportunity to have lunch with a perfect view of the Matterhorn across a small lake (really a pond!):
In true Swiss fashion, people were even swimming in this high altitude, and I'm sure very cold, lake! Zermatt itself was extremely touristy, and if anyone makes the trip, I suggest going in spring or fall and not during high season, but once we hiked away from the Gornergrat train station (which we took all the way to the top - the highest train in Europe!), we had almost the whole trail to ourselves.

As my significant other, who lives and works in Bern, is from Germany and lived in Munich during medical school, we also took the opportunity to go travel to southern Germany for a few days with him as our personal tour guide. My parents were thrilled to have someone lead them around, especially navigating the extensive underground system in Munich! We of course stopped on the drive into Munich at crazy King Ludwig's castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, which were absolutely stunning. I needed at least a day of wandering through Neuschwanstein to appreciate all the nuances of the castle - the ornate trappings are jaw-droppingly beautiful. And a quick, 45-minute-long tour is definitely not enough!
Munich itself was also stunning - although it seemed huge at first after spending so long in Bern! Which, in itself, it quite funny for me since I live in Houston - a city with almost the same population as the entire country of Switzerland. But again, Munich, like Bern, is very vibrant - there are always people walking the streets, the buses/trains/underground are always full, and people really seem to take advantage of all of the street cafes, enormous parks within the city, and of course, the biergartens. I definitely took advantage of the beer, with my amazingly fresh Paulaner Hefeweizen enjoyed at the Paulaner Brauhaus. Liter-sized beer: bigger than my head!
It was wonderful to have Markus show us around his city, and we were also able to meet up with and enjoy some more beer with some of his friends, who are true Bavarians (he's actually from Cologne). They drink beer way earlier in the day than I think I could! And it was also a startling realization for me to be surrounded by German german-speakers, as I could actually understand what everyone was saying! I definitely made progress in deciphering Swiss german during my stay, but it still requires quite an effort, and I still have troubles understanding conversations that I overhear. Good to know that I do better with high german or the not-so-strong German dialects!

Anyways, all of my travels throughout the summer have been amazing, and I wish I had more time to see everything! Especially after seeing all the photos posted on this blog and what I hear from my colleagues, who always have suggestions of new places to go.

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