Tuesday, September 1, 2015

10 things I am grateful for [feat. Geneva, Switzerland]

An appreciation post

1. Cobblestone streets.  Geneva has a new city and an old city. The old city has the largest cathedral, countless shops and little restaurants, and (if you know where to look), perfect little nooks to hang out in the early evening to watch the sunset.

2.  Studying abroad is hard.  It can be lonesome and it can keep you up at night wondering why you don't know how you feel or why you feel it. But when we relieve ourselves of the people in our lives that serve as mirrors of ourselves, we have to recenter our knowledge of who we are.  It can be difficult to refocus your internal mirror if you have been reliant upon your external mirrors for a while. We often become lazy and let others tell us who we are, without question, this being neither good nor bad. But when they are gone, we are forced to remember why we are the way we are and what fulfills us most. It's difficult, but most beautiful things are.
"If no other in the world be aware, I sit content, / and if each and all be aware, I sit content."

3. The river. I often walk in the evenings, find a place to sit along the river & read one of the books on my never ending to-read list. Now, it is Feminine Mystique, which I would highly recommend. It is about the second feminist movement in the late 1950s.

4. Because wine is a big export here, it is super cheap.  People can get wine for less than 3 dollars, and it is really good quality wine!! America needs to jump on this wagon, and soon.

5. Denner. Denner is the cheapest grocery store in Geneva.  In my opinion, it is a college kid's haven.  I could eat on $10 a week shopping at Denner. Geneva is known for being a rich, expensive city, but if you do it right, it isn't so bad!

6. Irish pubs. The gal pals & I discovered an Irish Pub where everyone speaks English.  Although I love hearing French every day & have been trying to immerse myself entirely in the culture, there is something great about ordering a Guiness in English.

7. The language barrier. Although the language barrier, in some aspects, is the worst part about traveling in other countries, it can also be the best.  I love how much more often I am quiet.  I stop talking, and start listening.  It gives me so much more time to think.  I also love it because I get to interact with people more via smiles and body language. People can usually tell that I am American, I feel, due to my more bohemian, less chic attire (which is not popular at all in Europe), so they cater to me accordingly.  I love when people make the extra effort to say what little English they know & to make conversation. There is nothing that gives me more joy than the kindness of strangers.

8. Well trained dogs. I see at least 10 dogs a day and I have yet to hear one bark. Europe is a strange place.

9. Diversity. I can't believe the United States takes the name "the melting pot". I love how in Europe, no one would ever ask someone "where are you from...originally?" as a result of someone's skin color.  It's just something that would never happen, whereas in the US, it's not always that way unfortunately. In Europe, I see 100 ethnicities every time I walk down the street. And everyone is just European! There is no group of minorities being oppressed that you find on the streets late at night or that you see in "slums". There is no grouping of ethnic groups or stares at interracial couples. It's wonderful and the US should follow suit.

10. Humans.  I am grateful for strangers who smile, for friends who call, and for roommates who go grocery shopping with you at all hours of the day.


 Annecy, France
This last weekend, a group of us took a trip to Annecy.  It is about a 40 minute trip from Geneva by bus. We drove through the countryside; this time not through vineyards, but tall green pine trees, curving roads, and tunnels through mountains.  Every time I get on a bus or a train, I fall in love with Switzerland even more,
When we got to Annecy, we began walking through the streets of old architecture, flower potted window sills, colorful shutters, and cobble stone streets. Every building was a slightly different color. It was a perfect day outside.  The streets were full of craft tables full of old castle artifacts, records, homemade jewelry, old rosaries, scarves, and every kind of knick-knack you could ever want. The river rain right through the middle of the old part of town.  

We moved closer to the lake and found an art show.  We walked through the paintings, but as I stopped and looked at a painting of the river, I felt a little silly.  We mimic real life because we wish to capture beauty, but here I am, standing right next to the breathtaking river, mesmerized by a painting. How silly, I thought.  But also, its so incredible how people connect through what is beautiful.  We slow down a little bit.  Life becomes a little bit simpler.  Even though there were people everywhere and it was loud and un-peaceful, the artist was smiling at me smiling at her painting, and although we spoke different languages, lived on different continents, and had never exchanged a word, we were both experiencing humanity a little bit differently today because we were sharing it together.  Beauty may be breath-taking and captivating, but it will never truly be beauty unless shared.

After the art show, we ventured out to the park & the water.  The lake was in a valley surrounded by mountains.  It was unbelievably clear and blue. There were probably more than a hundred paddle boats out on the water and people swimming. We ate lunch in the park, then ventured out to find an adventure on the lake.

We ended up deciding to go with a tour guide out onto the lake in a boat (slightly smaller & more intimate than the boat featured in the top picture).  I didn't understand anything through his thick accent, but it was lovely to listen to and French men are also pleasant to look at.
This was my favorite view from Annecy.  It is difficult to see from the photo, but the hills were green, and the mountains in the back were rather jagged and mountainous. The water was calm and clear and the sun was warm on your shoulders. We ate gelato twice, laughed, talked about politics, religion, men, books, and travel, and shared the type of friendship that warms you heart.  Overall, it was yet another perfect day.

Mount Saleve

Mount Saleve
Mount Saleve is right across the Swiss Border in France.  It is free with a Geneva transportation pass.   It's very different from Latin America, where crossing borders can take up to 2 hours and can be a disaster.  I have crossed the Swiss/French border 3 times and have yet to have my passport checked or even went through a border where border control was even open, even though Switzerland is not part of the EU. It's nice to be able to border hop & not worry about not having the correct documents.  Mount Saleve is so amazing for hiking. You can either hike up the mountain; it takes about 2 hours. Or else take the cable car up (9,50 CHF round trip) for a college student. 
The first day we went to Mount Saleve, we hiked for about 3 and a half hours desperately lost on top of the mountain.  There was a storm rolling in & we were frantic, but it was so worth it. I would advise everyone to at some point in their life, climb a mountain while it is about to storm.  We were so close to an angry sky and there was an erie quietness to the land.  It felt like a different world. The wind was soft, but the tall grass almost looked like an ocean, moving in waves across the mountain side. We watched the rain sweep across the mountains miles away and saw as it crept up to the city. 

It's so impossible to describe. All of your senses are full to the brim.  The wind kisses your skin, all you can hear are cow bells in the distance, and your vision is full of color, texture, and a view for miles. 
 Another day that we traveled to Mount Saleve, the cows were in our path (as seen in the above photo). I've seen cows my whole life, but it was so much neater to see wild cows with bells roaming on top of a mountain.  I had bent down to snap a photo of one right before realizing that it was not indeed a cow, but a bull.  It started charging after me & we all three took off running towards the fence. Fortunately, the bull didn't pursue us, but it definitely was a good laugh. (The-angry-bull-charing-at-me photo is featured on my Instagram)
My adventures in Mount Saleve are not finished; I have yet to explore the other side of the mountain. But Mount Saleve has been my official happy place since coming to Switzerland. So this is a thank you, appreciation post, for Mount Saleve, home of the angry bulls and whispering clouds.

Chateau de Chillon

Chateau De Chillon
From Geneva, we hopped on a train that took us through Lausanne to Montreux.  To one side of the train was a view of Lake Geneva and on the other was hundreds of vineyards with quaint little homes dispersed amongst them on hillsides and in valleys, methodically placed as if to create the most aesthetic view possible. 
The castle was more than beautiful. 

We adventured inside the castle for a few hours. I still don't think I found my way through every hall way and corridor.  The interior of the castle was set up so that the middle felt almost like a town square. It reminded me of the town where Belle (Beauty & the Beast) runs through the town in the morning grabbing a book from the library, mingling with the sheep, and watching townsmen carry out daily tasks.  I realized perhaps it wasn't as glamorous as I thought as I walked into the basement to see a noose and a chamber that which used to hold hostages, which was equally as cool.
I met a couple of my closest friends this day. Annie & Megan. Annie is the mother. She always makes sure everything is running smoothly. She's loud and laughs more than anyone I know.  She has a contagious personality; She's so full of life.  Megan has the best stories about her half American, half European life with her hipster father and extreme backpacking adventures. She's kind and genuine, but always provides entertainment due to having an "always in the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunate series of event" kind of life happenings. God was smiling upon me the day we became friends. I am so lucky.

Then we took a boat ride back from Montreux to Lausanne. It was a perfect day.  The wind was gentle and warm.  The water was so blue, it looked unreal.  The mountains were distant enough so that you could truly feel small and minute in comparison to their large expanse, but close enough that you could see their snow covered peaks or foliage covered sides with small houses nestled into the sides. It was truly spectacular.