Sunday, July 26, 2009

Trekking through the vineyards

As I sit here at the end of my last weekend in Switzerland, I am starting to realize all the things I will miss. I have even stuck my camera out the window to catch video of my view (which can't be captured, despite my efforts). I've taken the "scenic route" from my place to downtown Lausanne just to try to soak in the last couple romps down the hill, although I'm not crazy enough to try to come back up the hill that way. However, in many other ways I am more than ready to go home, as I really miss the people, the foods, and even the simple familiarity of being in one's home country. The difference has been really wonderful, but there's "no place like home".

This last week at work was an interesting one, as my mentor was out of town. Unlike most people, who find the absence of their supervisor to be time to slack off, I generally work harder. I have no one around to say "that's just not worth it", "won't that keep you here too late?", or simply having help making plans for the next experiment. It's actually a great practice, though, as I will work more like that during my PhD studies. What I have to learn now is how to contain my exuberance, that unhealthy excitement that pushes me beyond my limits because I just want those results. With science, as with many other things, the harder you push, the more things you can get done poorly. This summer has taught me, more than anything else, how to take my time so as to not make mistakes, but this week that just left me getting out much later than I intended. I'm sure the pendulum will swing into place, and then I'll be a perfectly balanced researcher, but for now, I'm waiting for that piece of wisdom.

On a funny note from lab life, I've been picking up a lot of English and its strangenesses. Odd, really, that I'd come all the way to a French-speaking country just to learn my native language, but it's true. For instance, my supervisor is a German with a Scottish boyfriend, who spent much of her univeristy years in the UK. As many things in biology reek to high heaven, she used the word "fushty" to describe a certain smell. I asked her to repeat, and realized it wasn't just her accent, that was just not in my vocabulary. It's a word for disgusting or sketchy. So now I've added that along with a word for content/pleased she also taught me, "chaffed". Along with that, a German in the lab has taught me some of his language, along with making fun of my American sayings, like "have at it". He said that when Americans say "hi", it sounds just like "hai", the German word for shark. So once I said "hi", and he replied, "fish". Once he explained, it made more sense, but it's good to know that it's better to say "hello" to a German.

After a long week at work, I realized that I needed more than anything else to just sleep in, take a more laid-back weekend, and get ready for my departure this coming Friday. I had originally set out a plan, on an excel spreadsheet (my dad was an accountant, all life can be organized on a spreadsheet) with all the places I wanted to go before I left. Ishita, Nasreen and I picked appropriate weekends, and so since a couple weeks into June I've had every weekend planned. Given weather and other concerns, some things got shuffled around, and then Sundays were added to enable us to do even more. All of a sudden, I ended up at this final weekend without a Saturday plan. Fortunately, I had left something off the list that was just perfect for this Saturday, the Lavaux. It was close, beautiful, and a great way to cap off this excellent Swiss experience!

The area between Lausanne and Montreux, the Lavaux, is composed almost entirely of vineyards tucked up into the hills. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, as these vineyards have been cultivated since the 12th century by monks. With its perfect location along the banks of Lac Leman and its many adorable villages that maintain their old-world charm, it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas in Switzerland. I took off in the late morning for my hike through the vineyards, and walked for at least 15 km (although probably more) up and down the hills. You just pass vineyard after vineyard, seeing a few small villages along the way. It was just so
incredibly quiet out there, and people generally stick to only to three of the more popular areas. If you go off the beaten path, you don't really lose any of the charm, but you do escape the noise! There are 6 different "appelations" in the region, two of which produce "Grand Cru", the most quality of wines. What makes these wines so special are the grape (mainly the Chasselas, uniquely from the Lac Leman region), the soil (rocky, left from a passing glacier), and the abundant sunshine.
Beyond the hiking, there are "caveaux", little wine cellars that open from about 5PM-10PM and serve wines from the region. Generally, it's kind of a little mom-and-pop shop, where the vineyard owner showcases his wines. I had the opportunity to visit one in the little village of Epesses (also the name of one of the appelations). I sat at a little wine bar, speaking to this vineyard owner who opened a bottle of his Dezaley Grand Cru and showed it to me, saying in French, "this is my own wine". After I tried it, I told him it was very good, and he smiled that proud smile of a man who's produced a masterpiece. Here in the Lavaux, people take great pride in producing only the best (although that's a general, and very nice, attribute of the Swiss). I tried another glass, which he was very sure to top up to the 1 dl mark on the glass, just to make sure I got exactly what I paid for. When I asked where one could buy his wines, he said only in his caveau. It's so interesting to be in a place where they make so much wine, and have so many visitors, that people can just sell their wines from their own backyard.

So that's all the updates I have, other than to say the next time you hear from me, it will probably be in the form of my final report. I have coming up this trip to Bern, along with many of my ThinkSwiss colleagues. I am so excited to return to Bern, as that remains one of my favorite cities in Switzerland. I agree with Ursina's comment, the Aare is one of the nicest things there, and it really does "make the city". So for now, à bientôt!

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