Well, I'll be waiting for a while for the computer to do some big batch jobs for me. I was trying to get them to run overnight, but I set the job up wrong, so I have extra time to wait this morning. Argh.
So I guess I'll be working late tonight to make up for writing this letter during the day. Oh well.
By this time next week, I'll have scanned in most of my map sketches so that you can visualize where some of these places are. You can check my travellogue web site for more pictures, there are about 70 total now. I should have another 24 in next week along with the maps.
That's at http://www.geocities.com/Pipeline/Rapids/1745/
Zuerich is really a normal city. The transportation here as I mentioned before is quite good, perhaps all of Europe has this feature because of the high amount of travel in these parts and the length of time that many of these cities have been settled. People say food here is expensive, and while that's mostly true of the restaurants, it's really more accurate to say it's true of any service oriented activities. Martin, my supervisor, has told me that the minimum wage here is around 14 USD / hour. Switzerland also has a low unemployment rate (around 3% now; before, it was down to 0.5%) and a longer standard vacation period (4 wk of vacation for a starting job). These factors anything that involves people time expensive and thus budget haircuts (at the equivalent of the Supercuts or Hair Cuttery) around 35 USD. Also, because of the longer vacations and higher pay, it's a stereotype to see Swiss supermarket cashiers and janitors on long vacations outside of Europe, apparently.
Well, last month I wrote more about Switzerland, and so perhaps this time I'll write a synopsis of the places I've been in this short time so far.
The first weekend I got an opportunity to visit my friend Susan in Lugano, which is in the southern (Italian speaking) part of Switzerland. The southern state is called Ticino, home of many high quality smoked pork products. There's not a whole lot to do there except relax and stroll along the boardwalk. Lugano is also a lake town like Zuerich, but the mountains around the town are much closer and more accessible to tourists. It's about an hour and thirty minute hike to the top of the short peak (889 m) of Mount Bre which overlooks Lugano and the lake. Paddle boats and gelato stands abound (of course I sampled some, Mmm...) but at least it didn't get too warm and humid yet. The Lugano youth hostel I stayed at is in the northwestern district (30 minute walk from downtown) of Savosa, and it remains the nicest, quietest hostel I've been to.
Muenchen (Munich) was my next destination. Site of Oktoberfest, and great music, I got to do little of either, fortunately or unfortunately. Beer _is_ much better tasting there. I went to Dachau in the early afternoon to learn some history, but there wasn't a whole lot to do except walk around the gravel roadways and visit the memorial museum. All of the original remains of the concentration camp barracks has been destroyed, but a replica building was built to give visitors a glimpse of how horrid the conditions were. That was certaintly enough history for one day.
It's a great contrast between Dachau and Schloss Nymphenburg, the summer place of the old royal Bavarian family. I was up at 6:30 in the youth hostel ("The Tent"), a psuedo camping ground nearby, and went to the castle grounds. I met many of the same type of people you would in Central Park at that hour -- joggers and dogwalkers. Except that the palace is huge and that the grounds are even more elaborate. I'm sure it doesn't compare to Versailles, nor to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, but still it's got to be one of the nicest gardens and palaces I've been to. Around 10:00 it got much more touristy as about 5 different tour buses unloaded their passengers onto the main area, so it was time to leave. In Muenchen central, I spent the rest of the day in the the Alte and Neue Pinothek (New and Old Art Museums). The old one had too many Rubens to count. In some ways having so many great works of art in the same place makes each painting or sculpture much less valuable and enjoyable to look at, coupled with the fact that many rooms cram paintings on both eye level and above. There's just too much of it.
Milano (Milan) is the same distance as Muenchen is from Zuerich, so I used another weekend to visit there. Not as rich in sights as other Italian cities (which I will not be visiting this time around), it was quite relaxing not to run around seeing sight after sight. There is pretty much only the Duomo (cathedral) and the San Sforzesco castle and the associated shopping district that runs between them. Besides that, Milano is mostly an industrial town and not terribly scenic. The subway reminds me of Montreal (like underground buses with pneumatic doors that will cut you in half if you are too slow), but the stations themselves are about as unclean as New York's. It was only about 2-3 weeks different in time and about the same climate but it was much muggier and I got about 15 insect bites as a souvenir from the Milano youth hostel. Wah!
I visited Isabelle from I House in Paris after a week of rest in Zuerich. I spent a day in the Louvre and really liking the addition of the glass pyramid entrance by I.M. Pei. I like it better that the East Wing of the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. which he also designed. Walking to the Arc d'Triomphe, I finally realized how big the arc was. I guess it's about about 10-15 floors high, and very massive and imposing from the base. It was quite fun to be in Paris, after having to seeing the city map so many times during Chinese school on Sundays (There was a two year period at Bullis H.S. in MD when I was taking Mandarin lessons in a French classroom, that's why)
Isabelle lives in the 15th arondissement (district), each arondissement having a different character somewhat in the same fashion as the neighborhoods of NYC. We had a nice long dinner and she prepared plans for us to go to Normandie (the northwest part of France from Paris) for the rest of the weekend. That was an unexpected bonus and I was quite grateful for her preparations to have a very interesting weekend. She takes her vacations very seriously! Thanks Isabelle :) We ended up taking the train out to the the seaside town of Dieppe, less popular because of the pebble beach. Well, pebble is the wrong word -- probably rounded rocks is the right way to visualize it. The current was very strong that day, and we kept on walking, swimming towards one direction to stay the closest to our towels. Dieppe has some wonderful boardwalk waffles and several nice non-touristy restaurants, one of which we went to. I don't usually eat shellfish, but when things are fresh and it's a new experience, I gues you have to make an exception. The meal was quite good, and Isabelle helped me figure out some of the etiquette of eating them.
From Dieppe we went by rented car to Rouen for the evening, which is about 1 hr south of the coast. Rouen was having a harbor festival for sailing ships that happens fairly rarely so it was especially exciting to see it. Presented as "L'Armada du siecle" (sp?, or the armada of the century) it was a collection of sailing vessels (merchant and military) that were docked in the harbor. Several of the boats were boardable and we ended up on the deck of a Portuguese training 3 mast ship for seeing a short fireworks display. A Uruguay ship more central to the city featured a DJ and we stayed to listen and dance for a while.
We stayed at Isabelle's father's country house near Dieppe at Poires (sp?) for the evening. We had a very late lunch the following day and wound up at the local beach-park for a quick swim before heading back to Paris by train. The train was super packed, we were standing for the 1 1/2 hrs. back to Paris. Consequently, we returned to Isabelle's apartment and got to meet her mother. The three of us had a quick dinner, homecooked by her mother -- it was really good -- before I had to leave (it was already getting late to catch the train back). I have to thank Isabelle and parents again for helping out in hosting me. It was quite enjoyable, as I'm sure you'll agree.
This weekend, I stayed in Zuerich, but on Saturday I went shopping and by luck of the draw, I bought a new pair of Rollerblades. They are quite popular here in Zuerich, maybe as popular as skateboards, but not as much as bicycles. I bought them at Manor which is equivalent to JcPenney or Sears in the States -- popular, mid-to-low end department store. They were quite a bargain, 5 wheeled racing skates from 2 years ago for 66 USD. I ended up "test driving" them on Sunday and just kept on going around the Zuerich lake for some 30 km to reach Rapperswil, which is about 2/3rds of the way toward the southern end of the lake. The weather cleared up in the evening and you could see the Northern range of the Alps quite well from there.
The rest of my summer is planned out, but there's still room for visitors. Let me know if you are coming to visit Europe (when and where (Kevin, let me know if you are!!)). I still have to see much of Switzerland itself (prodded by my supervisor -- "you're missing half of the country w/o going to the mountains!"), so it would be fun to see you if you can make it out here.