La vie à la Suisse

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… might strike one not as that funny, but delivered with a proper British accent, it sounds hilarious! I was in London two weekends ago and it is the Piccadilly line that is for the place with that, let’s say, unfortunate name…
I like London, but it always astonishes me how long it takes to get in, out, or through it. Additionally, winters seem to get harsher recently, and that creates chaos in the UK’s already stretched public transport system. But I was lucky and made it there and back again with only manageable delays. In comparison, Eurostar travelers went through hell and then some.
This brings me to my point: traveling around Xmas/Year’s end is always close to a nightmare. First, there are a lot of people with the same idea. Second, the weather is bad and interferes greatly not only with getting in time to your destination, but also with the safety of one’s journey. Third, home is a really, really nice place when it is cold and dark outside.
The first time in years, I am at home for Xmas. Sure, we did go to London the weekend before, and we visited friends in Zürich during the holidays. But Xmas eve I was sitting in my couch with a stomach full of Lasagne. And I must say, I enjoyed that profoundly!
However, whatever point I was trying to make is actually going to be moot since we are soon going to New York for 10 days or so… Considering the rubbish weather and the new security measures that are in effect since yesterday, that trip is going to be a treat!
Hmmm, it seems I do not have a point after all. I very much would like to spend next year Xmas/New Year’s at home and avoid the whole travel craziness. But I somehow have a feeling that it won’t happen…

View from my bedroom this morning…

Well, don’t get too excited: This might be only a tiny spark of writer’s itch in the long winter of silence…. Let’s enjoy it as long as it last, shall we?

The summer has been an interesting experience. Visitor’s forced me to leave the security of my light tight apartment and travel the premises of the north eastern part of Lake Geneva: the nicer part, sorry Geneva… :-).

To get started one takes one of the boats across the lake. The connection Haut-de-Lac is especially nice, since it takes you across from Lausanne to the south east and then hops from harbor to harbor along the lake till you are back again. It also stops at Chateau de Chillon and, most importantly, at Montreux.

Now, Montreux is very pretty, at least as much as Lausanne, but what makes it the winner is the additional flair of being more international, or as we writer’s say: cosmopolitan. I went two times to this year’s Jazz festival. The first we got caught by a terrifying thunderstorm and got completely soacked, so that wan;t much fun. The second time was nicer and we listened to a Big Band on one of the outdoor stages. Well, actually, there was only one outdoor stage this year… Later, we went into one of the jazz clubs and had a bit more Jazz and some drinks… Very enjoyable and recommended!

But Montreux is also fun when there is no festival on, you can just visit, sit on a terrace and enjoy the sun and a nice beverage. Or a dessert buffet, if you are lucky….

But in addition to all that, Montreux is your starting point to explore the Berner Oberland. You can either take a train to Gruyère (cheese), or go to Chateau d’Oeux (balloons), continue to Zweissimmen and Gstaad (mountains!), or stay at the lake region, but at about 1000m elevation, which gives you a very nice view over the lake.

One of the places we went for this years sortie fromage, the yearly cheese outing with the lab, was a little restaurant right above Villeneuve. We took one of the cog railroads from Montreux to Haut-de-Caux at about 1200m and then walked to the restaurant, which took us an hour or so… On the way we met a group of paragliders that were getting ready to jump. At the restaurant, you had a brilliant view over the lake all the way to the west. After night fall, you could even see the lights of Lausanne… ’tis very pretty and the fondue was very nice indeed! They have a variant which they call fondue tomate: they add tomatoes and spices to the cheese, so it turns a bit red. Then you eat it with potatoes instead of bread, maching them a bit and pouring the cheese over them… Sounds delicious, right?

Beyond exploring, the summer was filled with lots of movies. It was the year of the comic adaption, I would say, and a very successful one at that! So I had very enjoyable nights at the cinema (Dark Knight, Ironman) and not so enjoyable ones (Hancock…), but I will not start any reviews here and now, I am afraid.

All in all, I would say this was a pretty nice summer. And I am looking forward to the next one….

Wow, it has been over TWO months since I have posted anything… Gues the well has pretty much dried up, huh? Well, while I am shrouded in silence, why don’t you check out the links on the left?

In the meantime I have entered into my regular summer state: Lots of sleep and hiding from the sun… The Eurocup did delay the summ-ernation this year, but it could not prevent it.

Apropos Eurocup: That was a rather enjoyable championship, wasn’t it? Sure, none of the teams I supported made the win, but there was something just about Spain taking the cup home. Sure, the whole concept of a deserved win has no meaning in football, but in the rare cases the winner does coincide with one of the tournaments best teams, a certain satisfaction arises in me…

What’s next? A looong summer is waiting ahead, where I will be mostly busy working. The Montreux Jazz Festival is up this week, and there will be plenty of other festivals in the next few months, so I might actually write something, who knows?

is a children’s game, and believe it or not, it goes WAY back in history. Check out this little historical overview (in German). The english name, btw, is “The Blind Man’s Buff”.

But it is not the game that sparks this article, it is a restaurant in Zürich with the same name. The idea is simple yet intriguing: A full restaurant, with a complete menu including beverages, serves the food in complete darkness! No, the guests are not blindfolded, no, there is not a tiny little light source somewhere, no: The restaurant itself is completely dark!

How does it work? When you enter, the maitre d’ welcomes the guests and gives them a short introduction. Everyone is required to leave coats, handbags, etc in lockers since they would be obstructions in the dark of the dinning hall and near to impossible to retrieve if lost without destroying the atmosphere for all guests. Then, one is obliged to study the menu and to memorize roughly what one would like to eat. On my visit, it offered three starters, main courses, and desserts. The selection was small, but nice and had even a vegetarian choice. Once one is ready to go, one of the server leads the guests to their tables. Now, how does the server see in the dark? Well, they don’t since they are all blind. After forming a little procession with your hands on your front person’s shoulders, we were first brought into a semi-dark ante. Then we were brought to our table in the dinning hall, with the server guiding us all to our chairs.

Boy, the first impression after sitting was disorienting! You really couldn’t see anything which after a while started to heart my eyes! After a while I took of my glasses since I was still straining to see something which really tired my eyes out. Without the glasses it worked a bit better for me, but after two and a half hours I was exhausted, I must say!

But I am jumping ahead. After sitting down, the server took our order. If we expected a concession to the fact that we could not see, we were mistaken: Wine was brought in a bottle, glasses were placed on the table, and it was up to us to make sure that we won;t tip anything over! Refilling the wine glasses turned out to be my job, which I did by sticking my finger into the glass and waiting till me tip felt the liquid… A similar tactic I had to use to find the food on my plate. I mean, they did not serve just a big bowl of something mixed all up! My main course was fish with rice and a comgit of cherry tomatoes! Try to get that on your fork without seeing anything! So combined use of fork and fingers was at least in my case unavoidable!

Why do this in the first place? The the story behind the restaurant reveals that the idea was born during an exhibition called “Dialogue in the Dark”. The idea is to create an experience for people with sight that resembles blindness. That exhibtion toured through a lot of places including Hamburg and was a great success. The restaurant takes that idea further. Besides the helplessness that one feels in a very common and everyday situation, one is also forced to concentrate on the remaining senses once the main sense has been switched off.

Did it work? Well, to some extent certainly. However, I was so busy with the mechanical act of eating that I did not savor the food as much as I wanted to. That was a real pity since the food was very nice indeed. Nevertheless, I can only recommend the experience to everybody. Inspired by this idea, there are now several restaurants all over Europe that offer the same experience. Maybe you can find one around the corner?

A balloon, according to the all-knowing almanach Wikipedia is a “a flexible bag filled with a gas, such as helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide or air”. As correct or valid this definition might be, can it capture the wonder of seeing one rise up in the air? Does it express our fascination with being unbound by gravity? Is it a definition that explains our craving for sailing silently through the air?

Well, I guess not. And thus the rather plain definition fails to express the joy that I had watching the balloons rise into the cold thin air in February when I was in Chateau d’Oex at the Festival de Ballons. The day was nice and sunny, albeit a bit chilly, and the trip there took us through narrow tunnels and steep canyons. There wasn’t much snow, it has been a very mild winter, but still enough to give you an impression of the grandeur the valley must have when it is completely snowed in!

Chateau d’Oex is a balloon haven. It has housed the festival since 1978, bringing in more than 10000 guests in the last years. It was from here that the Breitling Orbiter 3 started his flight around the earth, to be the first hot air balloon to complete the tour non-stop. Besides the festival and competitions, there are temporary and permanent exhibitions around ballooning, and of course passenger flights.

No, I did not fly in one of those things. They look pretty and beautiful from below, however, I really have no ambitions in goinjg up with one. Besides, the prizes, depneding on length of the flight, can be easily a few hundered Swiss! So, I rather stayed on the ground and took pictures

Enjoy!

… which turned out to be very warm! Last sunday, the needle rose as high as 12C, and that in the middle of January! So, I took the opportunity to take a walk through Lausanne, stopping at some nice vantage points to take pictures. Check out my picture page to see some nice panoramas of Lake Geneva (ou Lac Léman en français)!

Otherwise, things are rather quite around here. January is almost over, with an even quieter February looming up. For the time being I am getting my kicks by folliwng the American Presidential candidate nomination process. Don’t worry, I am not going to turn this into a political blog. There are a lot of smart people out there commenting and analyzing the race, with my rudimentary knowledge I wouldn’t be really adding anything to it. The only thing I wanna mention here is this amazing web page called The Green Papers, which gives not only clever and interesting comments, but also has all th etechnical information how the nomination process and later the actual election works. And while you are browsing around, check also their list of presidential hopefuls… There are some really crazy goofballs under them! If you are lucky, they might even have a webpage.. :-)

While a lot of people are aware of the American election process, surely only Germans are following the election craziness in Hessen, if at all. Again, Iwill restrain from any deeper commenting/ranting (at least at this point), I will just say that I am hoping feverishly that this election kicks Koch out of power! He is one of those yucky arrogant bastards who always conjurer up an evil, evil foreigner to get themselves elected. The political landscape will be a better with him out of power, and right now it looks as if there is a real chance for voting him out of office! So, all you guys living in Hessen, don’t forget to cast you vote next Sunday! I am counting on you!

I should also mention that Hamburg is electing a new Senat in February. And as always, there is this uneasy feeling that really doesn’t matter who is elected mayor, since the main two parties, CDU and SPD, don’t differ so much in Hamburg; somehow the party in power ends up being pro business and pro millionaires. And the water keeps flowing down the Elbe….

Ok, so much for today. Before you close your browser, check out the Oscar nominations! I for my part have seen almost none of the movies, because most of them haven’t been released in Europe yet! Bummer!

Well, well, well, it has been a loooong time! Too long, some of you may say, but the creative mind behind those razor-sharp comments and analyses had to rest awhile, get adjusted to the new surrounding and its challenges.

But before we celebrate the return of the traveller, I might add that I will be very busy in the near future, so don’t expect the post count to sky rocket! I will try to do some more frequent updates here, that’s all I can promise right now…

As you can see, not only has the design changed a bit (and might be subject to more changes), I am also now part of the wordpress.com family. The old blog was hosted on a friend’s webpage, and he decided to discontinue it. But don’t worry, all your ol’ and favorite posts made it safe and sound through the import/export process. Concerning the title and the “About” page, I haven’t really thought of anything witty yet, so feel free to give me your opinion about it. I might even consider it… :-)

Meanwhile, I have returned from my Xmas vacation. Leaving around the 21st, I spent two weeks in Hamburg and London to relax and celebrate the reunion with friends and family. Tradition like the legendary Xmas eve video session as well as food and drink cravings were honored. In Hamburg, I was very pleased to see that the Xmas market at the Jungfernstieg was still around after Boxing Day, so I could indulge in some Glühwein and Schmalzgebäck. I also dropped into the new Europapassage, but it was very full, so I just paid a short visit to a book store and then fled the masses. Another thing I was looking forward to, but didn’t do, was going to the movies in one of my ol’ places. But shockingly enough, the selection of movies in general and movies in english in particular were awful and in comparison to Lausanne (sic!) even outdated (SIC!). Who would have thought that? It seems that we are getting movies even earlier than Britain, at least in some cases (I am Legend, for example, started here a week earlier).

London was more visiting people than doing sight seeing, but I did make it to the Tate Modern. I must say that I wasn’t as awake and attentive as I wanted to be, which is probably why I dismissed the “crack on the floor” in the Turbine Hall right away, but as I had to admit afterwards to my increasingly irritated company, it did make us discuss itself and the cocept of art in general. A lasting impression, however, was caused by a totally different work: “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” by Francis Bacon. Mind that the version at the Tate is the 2nd version, which is described near the end of the Wikipedia article. I would have loved to see a complete crucifixion by him…

Anyway, that was my vacation, and I have been back to Lausanne for a week now. The biggest change is that it somehow seems a bit less frightening and overwhelming here. Sure, the language barrier is still high as the Great Wall, and sure enough there are tons of things I have to do to get my job rolling. But leaving for some longer time and coming back has given me a bit more perspective on this place. And I do notice now more than before, that Lausanne is fairly international, you do hear all sorts of languages being spoken in the streets. I guess I wasn’t listening too carefully before. And things do change for the better, as I realized two days ago when I noticed that the rules to book the laundry room had changed! Maybe there is hope for me here after all! Besides, even in the winter Lausanne (and surroundings) has lots of nice things to offer. There is the Festival de Ballons coming up, for example, so stay tuned for my coverage. Of course there are still a lot of things to be learned and done (my apartment still looks a bit empty…), but over time it’ll all play out well, I believe!

Ok, this is all for now. I will end this first post in 2008 with a very fond Happy New Year to you all!

there are no news.
no new pictures.
no fancy stories.
no funny anecdotes….

But hey, after all, I am living in Switzerland now, don’t I? :-)

No seriously, the past few weeks have been quite stressful. Shortly after finally settling in my apartment, I had to leave for the IceCube collaboration meeting in Gent… So there was the stress of putting a talk together again, plus the whole travel planning. Well, after that I had barely two weeks to put together another talk, this one for the colleagues in LPHE1, my new lab/institute. That done (gave the talk last Friday), I am finally facing the routine of work life, at least till the end of the year. Thank goodness!

Meanwhile, my exploration genes are fast asleep. I did not do any traveling around here so far, though I did visit Allaman, because our favorite “swedish” home store has his local outpost there. Otherwise, most of Lausanne and surounding communities is more like a terra incognita. And that might not change in the near future, I am afraid…

Anyway, this was just a quick update. Besides, I wanted to make sure that I do have a post in October….

… seemed to last almost forever. Guess that’s because of the long days doing all sorts of things and running around like an (almost) headless chicken. Probably I did not feel much different about this back in the US two years ago. Then again, things were less stressful, mostly since I got a lot of help from colleagues.

But things aren’t bad at all, and if I sounded very very depressed a few days ago, than it was more because of my anxieties about my lacking language skills. Otherwise, there isn’t much reason to be down, actually everything is in pretty good order! On Friday, I applied for an apartment, and I should be getting the rental contract next week. The move-in date is next weekend! I will be sending all relevant contact information soon…

What else? I didn’t have much time to explore Lausanne, but what I have seen is very pretty! Downtown is built on a very steep hill, so the path from the central station to the shopping arcade has a slope of about 10-12%… So one can shop and work out in the same time!

Yesterday I was at the movies, watched “Interview” in one of the smaller multiplexes in the city. Prices are rather painful (SFR 17), and concessions are not cheap either. A döner is about 8 bucks, that hurts a bit! Then again, this is still ok, I have heard that Lausanne is allegedly one of the cheapest places in Switzerland… Well, maybe as long as one earns a Swiss salary…

It is strange, I do miss my place in the US a bit. It is not a terrible longing, but I had grown very fond of my own four walls there. Besides, it is always a very comforting feeling if you know your way around a place. Obviously, I don’t know anything about this place yet, and it certainly will take some time to develop a sense of familiarity, as it did with Newark. What I can say with certainty is that this is a place which has a real chance on growing on me.

Whatever. Let’s wait and see how the first few months pass by. In the meantime I will try and keep you updated about the small and big developments around here. Oh, I should mention that general elections will be held next month, who knows, maybe there will be lot of fear and loathing?

Hmmmm, I think this was most likely one of the most incoherent posts I have ever written. I must asmit that my brain is in Sunday mode, there isn’t much activity between my temples… Therefore, I will stop now and go read my book!

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