swiss miss

lake thun, bordered by the swiss alps

another leg of this journey is underway, and it’s hopefully the last one, and even more hopefully uneventful. or at least, less eventful than it has been thus far…

“votre train a été supprimé à cause de la grève”. your train has been cancelled because of the strike.
great.

let me backtrack. i booked my train from bern, switzerland, to aix-en-provence, france, a few days ago. i waited until i got to rebekka’s to make a decision on how long i wanted to/could stay and to see what was happening with the french rail strike. cautiously on sunday i booked the train, and checked the SNCF website each day obsessively to see if anything had changed with my reservation. i couldn’t print the ticket online, supposedly i had to get it printed at the train station. also, i would have to still book a ticket from thun to bern this morning.

all of that was fine, but in thun, as i was getting this ticket with rebekka (who had to take the same train as me to get to work anyhow), the lady told me she couldn’t print my ticket for bern to aix, i would have to try in bern.

in bern, i went to the international tickets booth, waited in line, and spoke with a gentleman who told me he also could not print my ticket as it was with SNCF (a french rail company), not SBB (the swiss rail company) – even though my reservation was from bern, reserved on an SNCF train, paid for in full. so he started to reserve me a ticket to get to geneva, where supposedly i could print the rest of my trip’s tickets out, except he wanted me to pay 49 swiss francs for the new ticket. 49CHF=49CAD. my entire trip only cost me 61€! i told him that was ridiculous, i didn’t need to pay for another ticket, i already HAD a ticket. he told me that was too bad, my ticket wasn’t valid. and then i got a little bit heated and said of course it’s valid, and why on earth i would pay for a ticket which i already had paid for, that was leaving from this very station? when he got rude and repeated that my ticket was not valid just because it was on my computer screen, i left. i got on the train anyways, just about in tears, and praying (again) that the conductor who checks tickets would be nice (or not show up at all). in fact, she was really nice, and told me that the reservation was enough for her. needless to say, for the first 20 minutes of that train trip i probably looked like a nervous wreck to the nice lady across from me. after that i relaxed and was able to enjoy the spectacular vista of the swiss alps and countryside. incidentally: lausanne. oh my goodness. vineyards on the hill leading down to the large lake which is bordered by snow-capped mountains? rebekka was right i think, most beautiful town in all of switzerland.

in geneva i went to the SNCF building and was presented with the french customer service again (welcome back robyn, we missed you! not!). naw they were friendly and helpful, but only once you sat down in front of them. four women working, a room full of customers, and only one of them was helping people on a consistent basis. the inefficiency is mind-boggling. she informed me the train i booked was cancelled due to the strike, but managed to get me on another train which would allow me to keep my connecting train to aix. phew. and that is where i am now. onward to lyon, with a ticket that doesn’t give me a seat, and i’m just hoping the train doesn’t fill up so that i am able to have a seat the entire hour and a half ride. sigh. this is already a long day.

anyway, wow switzerland is everything people say it is and more. and seeing rebekka was just wonderful (and she treated me SO well). another reunion that felt just entirely normal, even though it’d been over four years since we last saw each other… her apartment has a great view of the alps, but the view gets better the further in to thun you walk, the higher up thun castle you climb, and the further along the river towards lake thun you stroll. just, absolutely gorgeous. thun is right near the interlaken, a very popular tourist spot in the summer months, and an easy place to make day trips into the alps for spring skiing. i have, therefore, found yet another option for a retirement location! (or even to live, as it is close to the capital bern and all the international law/relations options that city offers….) 😀

the view from rebekka’s apartment

we went to bern on saturday, it was just lovely. the sun was out, the bears were out (there is a bear pit in bern that they are famous for – mama, papa and two baby bears). we wandered the market and got some caramels, saw the famous bern clocktower, the beautiful parliament buildings, einstein’s apartment, and sat on the patio of the brewery/restaurant near the bear pit and had a pint in the afternoon sunshine. glorious. we even saw the crazy statue of the ogre eating babies!! (see flickr for more info). we went back to rebekka’s for dinner, and came back to bern that night to go out dancing, which was a tonne of fun.

swiss parliament buildings, bern
bern clocktower
the bears of bern!
lovely rebekka on the patio for afternoon microbrews
picturesque bern
einstein’s apartment!
the chindlifrässer statue… click here for more info on it!

sunday was a lazy day, and on monday rebekka had to work so i went out exploring on my own. another glorious day. i tend to get all poetic when i have days like that, and maybe it’s better for your sake i wasn’t keeping a record of my thoughts to put up on the blog. but i mean, come on. i had a picnic lunch in view of the alps by the castle, then i went up the castle towers and looked at the town and the mountains, then i walked for an hour along the river, stopping here and there to admire the swans, ducks, a pretty butterfly, a cute old couple holding hands on the path, another castle across the river, and i even sat for awhile on a bench by the pier to read and watch the boats go by. when i got back to rebekka’s, we had a cheese fondue dinner with her roommate and his girlfriend on the patio and watched a movie in the evening. it was, quite possibly, a perfect day.

thun castle seen walking into town from rebekka’s apartment
thun castle from just under the ramparts
thun as seen from the towers of thun castle
along thun river
a beautiful mandarin duck
lake thun
cheese fondue on the patio

tuesday i didn’t do much, but we went to the lovely margaret and patrick’s (rebekka’s small group) for dinner, which was so nice. and now, provided all goes as planned from here, i will actually beat my poor friends to aix, as they have been delayed all over europe because of the volcano, and i may not even see them until friday, which is the day of the concert in lyon.

there you have it, another travelling excursion ends. and in fact there won’t be many more after this. but you know, that’s okay, i’m actually about ready to stay put for awhile. i’m exhausted!

ciao.

post script: i am home now, at last. four trains and three buses later. it’s 22 degrees, sunny, and the breeze smells sweet. it is SO good to be back. and my friends are un-stranded and heading home soon!! wooo!!

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the real travel update

cheese museum, gouda, netherlands

well, here i sit, on a 9hour train to switzerland, after my flight was cancelled this morning due to the historic and unprecedented volcanic flight disruptor. or, as mark, our friendly hostel staff member, said (with his great german accent and contagious smile), “the capitalism disruptor”.

one of my favourite quotes, taken from the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, reads, “in cases of major discrepancy, it’s always reality that’s got it wrong”. i would say that my being on this train is a discrepancy that can only be explained through the fact that i prayed and prayed as i sat on the metro on my way to the train station that i wouldn’t miss my train. at the 4minutes remaining mark and one stop still to go, i was 100% sure i would miss it. i think God actually slowed down time for me, and it was probably a miracle that the platform i needed to be on was just one over from where i got off. i ran off the metro train, down the stairs, up the stairs, and frantically checked whether i was running on to the correct train to take me to switzerland. i was still asking a friendly german if it was right when the conductor motioned for me to get inside so the doors could close. thus, once again sweaty and out of breath, (and once again having run a portion of the way with my giant pack and my hip rotator threatening to give out on me) i have managed to catch my train and am onward bound to thun, switzerland. i think it can be argued – academically or amongst friends – that i am possibly the most scattered and scared-looking traveller out there. i pack bags that weigh as much as me, then, thinking i’m leaving myself plenty of time, i leave with barely enough time, and end up running – with great difficulty – to catch my bus, train, plane, whatever. along the way, my (already fairly large) eyes wide and threatening to well up, i ask other travellers, out of breath and praying they understand english, if i’m on the right path. thankfully, germans are extremely friendly and intelligent people. this morning would have been fine, had my flight not been cancelled, i arrived with plenty of time (thank you 30€ taxi… ugh). but having checked only the night before whether my plane was running and not this morning before i left, i didn’t find out until i got to the airport at 5:20am that the entire place was closed until further notice.

another case of robyn the traveller, (more commonly known as the giant piece of luggage struggling to live), closes (hopefully), and i’ve got a nice long journey ahead of me in a quiet compartment on car #2 of this lovely and friendly train. and i just realized there is even an outlet under my seat for my computer charger! amazing!! (also, claire and other fellow harry potter fans: i’m actually in a compartment of the train, closed off by sliding doors, and a guy just went by with a snack trolley, assumedly saying in german “annnnything from the trolley dears?” didn’t see any chocolate frogs though, too bad.)

wow, i’ve also just realized how many windmills there are in this country. was it fate for me to take the train? this is such a fabulous view of german countryside! but i digress. i’m trying to write about my last week and a half in europe!

i need not recount the precursor story of robyn the struggling piece of running luggage bit where i nearly missed the shuttle to the airport last week for my flight from marseille to eindhoven, netherlands; and based on this morning’s escapade, i’m sure you can imagine. i made it, sleepy and dazed, with literally no issues. it was as if france wanted me to leave, and for once made it as easy and seamless as possible. i made it to amsterdam where claire met me at the station, and her, josh, tom (another friend of the aussies, who is studying in amsterdam) and i spent a fabulous three and a half days exploring amsterdam and the surrounding area. we travelled around like local dutch people on two bikes, with one of us on each bike sitting on the back, visited the van gogh museum, went to tom’s favourite brewery, went to the hague – where we visited the peace palace (and like good polisci students, got more excited than should be considered normal, and even got a little emotional around the world peace flame), the escher museum, the rembrandt museum with the vermeer paining of ‘the girl with the pearl earring’ – and i got blisters on my feet from all the walking. we went to gouda one day, and not only ate a lot of gouda, but purchased a lot of gouda… and we also ate a LOT of poffertjes and stroopwaffels. in fact, i don’t think a single meal i had in amsterdam could have been considered ‘healthy’ necessarily…. but so delicious!

amsterdam canals
tom and claire at the flower market
at the escher museum
escher up close. amazing.

me at my future workplace, the peace palace. den haag, netherlands
canada around the world peace flame
claire, in gouda
making poffertjes
ugh soooo good

tom and me, gouda

claire and josh, gouda

humour me a minute while i go on about amsterdam. it is absolutely gorgeous. they’re not kidding when they say there are a lot of canals and a lot of water. it’s everywhere. and EVERYONE bikes, this stereotype is 100% true. supposedly 80000 bikes get stolen every year there. eighty THOUSAND. that means that there are at least twice that many (and almost certainly more) that don’t get stolen! the whole city revolves around the ability for people to bike around. it’s fabulous. also, it’s clean, and the architecture is beautiful. every apartment that i could see inside (creeper much?) from the street looked super nice. unfortunately, we were just a little too early for the tulips to bloom, but daffodils were everywhere, the flower market was a sea of colour, and the trees were budding. spring in europe – it’s fabulous! anyway, suffice it to say that this was a city i could envision living in at some stage. and yes, we did go to the red light district one night to see it. it was bizarre and extremely surreal, but also very safe.

bike riding, amsterdam
me on the back of claire’s bike, amsterdam!
i amsterdam

claire and i flew onward to copenhagen friday evening, where we met caitlin at our lovely “sleep in heaven” hostel around 1am. she’d arrived earlier that day, scoped out the city, and informed us that it was going to make us fat and broke. her reasons? 1. it boasts the longest shopping street in the world, and 2. they put marshmallow fluff and chocolate covered marshmallows on your ice-cream cones. copenhagen was beautiful and grande, but maybe a little too big (and too expensive) for me. however, their hotdog stands (street meat) are delicious and they DO have bacon wrapped sausages, on which they put slices of pickle, so, you know. can’t complain really. we spent an afternoon shopping and sitting at a pub where a great band was playing covers, we went to the national museum, the danish palace where they house the danish crown jewels, and climbed the rundetårn – “round tower”, the oldest functioning observatory in europe (everyone now: “tooooo the observatory!!”). and we remarked on how incredible of lives we lead whilst eating ice-cream and walking down by the harbour in front of the opera house. OH and we went to ‘christiania’, a semi-autonomous hippie commune in the city where we saw a lot of weed for sale and bought cool rings from the market.

new harbour at night, copenhagen
cait at newharbour, copenhagen
claire outside the danish palace museum
cait and one of the danish crowns
climbing the round tower
one of copenhagen’s many copper-roofed towers

after copenhagen we all flew together to berlin. the flight was early enough on tuesday morning that we arrived at what is now my favourite hostel before noon. the hostel, called “jetpak alternative”, is located near görlitzer park, in what my cousin eben calls the more authentic and cool part of berlin. but i think it’s pretty safe to say that ALL of berlin is cool. the staff at the hostel were famously friendly and helpful, and the common room is essentially a café where the staff make you espressos or cappuccinos or whatever at any time of the day – for free! you could literally have ten coffees a day (dad thought i was ‘on something’ the other day when i spoke to him on skype. i think it must have been all the caffeine). and then the bedrooms, with cozy comforters, brand new everything, and lovely bathrooms (with heated floors and sweet motion sensored lights in the mirrors). also, free and fast wifi everywhere, and laundry services! could you ask for more from a hostel that cost only 20€/night?? no wonder people extend their stay there all the time.

anyhow, enough raving. we had recommendations from everyone on what to do in berlin, and were told that “if you’re tired of berlin, you’re tired of life”. so there was certainly no shortage of things to do. we visited the turkish markets and ate a lot of fried goodness (and fairy floss! more commonly known as cotton candy…), went to the hamburger museum and saw a super cool exhibit by walton ford, plus iconic paintings by andy warhol, and tried to get tickets to the ballet but it was sold out. on wednesday afternoon, after the hamburger (hamburgler?? there were no hamburgers in that museum, someone must have stole them!!) museum, we walked to the brandenburg gates, the extremely important historical gates separating east and west germany. for the disappointingly low amount of knowledge i have on the history of the berlin wall, it was incredibly moving. as we walked through the gate in awe, i involuntarily started tearing up. it was like the weight of the place was tangible for me… the meaning of the gates, and the turbulence the place once represented, and what progress has been made by way of peace with the fall in 1989… but it didn’t end there! around the corner is the impressive and poignant holocaust memorial site. in an old bunker underneath the site is a powerful and extremely well presented holocaust information centre, where we spent the better part of an hour and a half walking through and fighting back both horror and tears. at one point, in a dark room with lit-up floor plaques presenting select testimonies, postcards, letters and poems from victims (some written on pieces of toilet paper and hidden, others written on postcards and thrown out the moving trains bound for concentration camps), i just about started sobbing reading a letter from a mother to her children whom she would never see on earth again. needless to say, it was an intense and emotional day. we finished the day by getting some great spätzle from a little shop recommended to me by eben, and seconded by the hostel staff. germany for the win!

brandenburg gatesholocaust memorial site in berlin
cait at the holocaust memorial site

yesterday was great also. we were told by numerous people to do the “alternative walking tour”, which is free (with suggested donation), and takes you all over berlin showing you incredible (or just plain funny) street art, the stories behind some artists and tags, historical underground stuff like student movement sites, some bombed out warehouses and train depots now turned into cool artist collectives and skate parks etc., buildings covered in bullet holes, and just an entirely different side of berlin than what a tourist there for only three days would normally see. it was WELL worth it, even if it was 5hrs of walking with my already hurting feet. after that we visited the east side gallery – the longest remaining stretch of the berlin wall now covered in really cool murals, and went later for a great german dinner at a lovely restaurant (wiener schnitzel anyone?), including a shared bottle of delicious austrian red wine!

on the alternative tour. mark, our great tour guide
in the rain, gazing at some incredible street art
the astronaut
tony weisbecker haus, berlin
one of MANY incredible murals on the east side gallery wall

oh and feel i should add that a portion of the metro ride back to the hostel last night after dinner was spent discussing, at claire’s questioning, which classic disney princess we would be if we had the choice, and why. after giving our answers (i chose jasmine, claire and caitlin both wavered between aurora – sleeping beauty -and ariel – the little mermaid), we then had a very serious discussion on how ugly the two dresses ariel wears in the movie are. yes folks, we are university polisci majors studying abroad in a foreign country. this is the height of culture.

and that brings me to today. i’m heading to thun, switzerland, to visit my good friend rebekka, whom i met in ywam in hawaii over four years ago. i’m very excited to see her, to catch up, and to see a bit of switzerland. i’ll be heading back to aix (provided those french aren’t still on strike) around the 20th. the following weekend a bunch of us are going up to lyon for a night to see mumford and sons in concert, and on the 28th erik arrives to visit for a few days before he and his girlfriend heather take off to travel europe together. after that, my first round of exams begin! time is going fast now, when i get back it will be only two months until i am home. so crazy. and also so exciting!

for now, as i admire the lovely, green german countryside out the window of the train, i’m going to quit this already very long post and hopefully upload it with photos when i arrive at rebekka’s later tonight.

cheers, and prost, gesundheit, santé and tak!

p.s. this train has gotten so full i can’t even hope to make it to the food car (and i’m starving). my fellow compartment travellers were quite surprised i managed to make a reservation on the train – and as fate would have it, i thankfully decided to pay the extra 2,50€ to reserve a seat – turns out it was an extremely good thing i decided to book the train while i was still sitting at the easyjet terminal at schoenefeld airport in berlin. if i’d waited any longer i would probably have been out of luck! someone was watching over me today, that’s for sure. 🙂

travel update

me, standing along the historical path of the berlin wall. amazing.

i’m exhausted. i’ve tried to write an update a bunch of times now, but by the end of each night i don’t have it in me. i suppose this is a good sign? means i’ve been having a good and busy time travelling. which is true! my two friends are early risers and rarely let me sleep in 😛 … and i’m still on a late-night sleep schedule. SO. if the bags under my eyes are any indication, i’m tired. i’ve been posting photos pretty regularly though, so you can check those out, and i will record the trip in word-form shortly. for now? going to find some bratwurst and sauerkraut.

prost!