Friday, June 5, 2009

Bonjour de Lausanne!

This blog comes to you from beautiful Lausanne in the Canton of Vaud. Switzerland has completely surprised and enthralled me. It is a beautiful place, full of very interesting and diverse people. The views are just picture-perfect...I feel like I'm living in a postcard! This picture to the left is the view from my bedroom window!

I arrived this past Monday at a groggy 8AM in Geneva. I was able to get on a train right from the airport to Lausanne, a 45 minute trip around Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). The trains are always on time here, you can set your watch by them (in fact, most of us do). The culture has come as a bit of a shock to me, as the people are much quieter here than in the US. The train was so quiet I felt that one could hear a pin drop, literally. The train itself was very clean and the people very nice.

Lausanne is on the north side of the Lac Léman and is home to two major universities: the Université de Lausanne (UNIL) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). As such, it is a very well-educated and sophisticated place, full of culture and activity. Both schools are actually adjacent to each other on the west side of the city. I work with the Tschopp Lab of UNIL's Department of Biochemistry. It is not, however, close to the main UNIL campus. Rather, it is farther north in a village called Epalinges. Fortunately, all of Lausanne is effectively networked by the metro (subway). Lausanne is the smallest city to have a functional metro. True to Swiss form about being on time, in the newest metro (the one I take to work, the M2), there are signs above the waiting area telling riders how long the wait is until the next train. You never wait more than 6 minutes. The town is also home to the Olympic Committee, and has an Olympic Museum, a park with many statues of olympic events. A picture of the park entrance is above.

All of Lausanne is built into a hill, so much of the city has a view of the lake. One of the great things about the two universities is that they share housing all over the city. I live in student housing La Maison de Falaises, which means "the cliffs". It's a small room, but it has a great view and is close to work (5 metro stops). I live by the city's hospital (CHUV), and have an amazing view of the city. A 15 minute walk gets me directly into downtown, termed Le Centre or Le Flon. Especially neat about the downtown is that it is about 2 stories below the streets above. It is not underground, but rather just set into the land and open to the sunshine. Most of the shops are on pedestrian cobblestone paths that cars cannot drive on. The next two pics are of Le Flon - the first gives perspective and the second a feeling for the shops and main area.

The way of life is so different, here, too, and much more French in culture. For example, every meal is "celebrated" here. There is not a lot of fast food, very few places will sell food you can just eat on the run. The food is very bread, cheese, and fruit-centered. There is a LOT of coffee and expresso around. After lunch together at the cafeteria, much of my lab came back and chatted over an expresso before going back to work; it's part of the enjoyment of life, food, and people. But people are very unassuming and quiet here, they generally do not strike up conversation with people they don't know. They also don't smile to be polite, here that would make you look, as a German friend once put it, "stupid".

I am so fortunate to be among a very international group of people. Very few people cannot speak some English, although I have very quickly become known as "the American who speaks good English". I am the only American in the lab, and the only one I have met here so far. But we have a couple of Germans, some Italian Swiss, some German Swiss, some French Swiss, 3 Australians, an Indian, two Japanese, one Chinese, and some French. People switch seamlessly between languages, depending on who they're around. It's so very unusual to hear, but awesome all at once.

These last couple of days I went to Les Rasses, a little village in the Jura mountains. Switzerland has two mountain ranges, the Alps and the Jura. The glacially-formed Jura are north of the tectonic Alps, making them smoother and thus less desireable for skiiers. Our lab spent time walking to the top of a mountain, though, which was such a beautiful view. We passed many cows on the way up, and I had many opportunites on the couple hours hike to learn about different European cultures. At the top, you could see the French border, as the Jura run along the Swiss-French border from the Rhône to the Rhine. No big fences like in North America - that hasn't been there for many decades, so I had to keep asking people around me where the border was. This last picture is a view from the hotel, only partway up the mountain!

All in all, it has been a wonderful learning experience so far, and I certainly have not been exhaustive here. I will be going out to the Swiss countryside this weekend to enjoy village life with my mentor from the lab, a German post-doc. But for now, here are some pictures of the journey!


Katie said...

Fantastic pictures and description of your time so far. enjoy every moment. katie

Sterski said...

All this the first week! And it will only get me! Wish I could be there to enjoy it with you.

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