Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Here comes the sun

Not much to report about for this weekend. I caught a cold during my last day in Paris and after sniffling all week, I decided to forgo traveling for the weekend and just concentrate on taking it easy. Which, although boring, is what I did. On the plus side, the weather here is finally beautiful. It’s been warm and sunny for a quite a few days in a row and it really makes Geneva a more appealing city. I went downtown on Saturday and walked around the waterfront. It’s such a different scene from when I first arrived here. People are out, soaking up the sun on park benches, flowers are blooming and bits of green have begun to fill in the spaces on the weird knobby trees that line the water. On Sunday I did more of not a lot. After a massive load of laundry, I caught up with some family and friends on the phone and cleaned up around the apartment a bit. (Althea’s on my conscience.) I also went for a walk on some trails around my apartment and heard a cuckoo bird. Have you ever heard a real one before, because I hadn’t, just the sound that comes from the clock. And it sounds exactly like that. In fact, when I first heard it I thought, “Who in the world has a cuckoo clock in the forest?”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April in Paris

I made my second visit to Paris this weekend with Carolyn and Sanjay, who work with me at the lab. We had both Friday and Monday off for the Easter weekend (got to love the European holiday schedule) so we had a lot of time to travel to the City of Light. After a light lunch on Friday we checked into our hotel, Hotel des Sans Culottes, which in French means “without pants.” It has something to do with the revolution, an appropriate theme since it’s located in the Bastille district. The hotel was a little seedy, but in a great location on a really trendy street close to the Metro.
We went to the Eiffel Tower, which I’d visited the first time I was in the city. But it was great weather and it was interesting to see the difference a month makes in terms of the flowers and landscape. After waiting in two long lines, we finally made it to the very top for a great view of the city. In a way, I’m grateful it took so long because we got to see the tower in daylight, sunset and darkness, when the lights are turned on. My one real annoyance of the wait was a girl named Mackenzie. Standing in front of us with her college friends, Mackenzie (who I couldn’t help but eavesdropping on) complained about everything, including her name. “I guess it’s not so bad,” she said. “My parents almost named me Kendra, and I’m like, mom, dad, thank God you didn’t name me Kendra.” I almost instinctively said, “But my name’s Kendra.” Then I stopped myself and resorted to glaring at her while we slowly moved through the line. Thanks, Mack.
That night, we had a late dinner on the Champs Elysees, where I had authentic French onion soup.
On Saturday, we went to the Picasso Museum, which I really enjoyed. Although my mom is a pretty big art buff, I don’t know too much about famous painters. All I really knew about Picasso going into the museum is that he painted really weird stuff. The featured exhibit was about his work made for an eight-year period in the 1930s and 40s while he was dating photographer Dora Marr. Most of his work on this time is based on her, so the exhibit was filled with different version of the woman: Dora with green skin, Dora made up of squares, Dora with her eyes on the back of her head and her lips on her neck. The exhibit also included photos of the couple, which added some reality to the otherwise really out-there work. I was also generally impressed with the sheer number of work Picasso made. In addition to the many Dora paintings, many others were in rooms around the museum, which we weren’t able to finish.
After the museum, we went to the Notre Dame cathedral. It was raining, so not the best time to admire the church, but I still paid my respects to Quasimodo (see photo). We missed the viewing of the crown of thorns by a day, which is brought out every Good Friday. I’m amazed that the crown still exists; wouldn’t it have disintegrated by now? I had a Nutella crepe at lunch, really tasty.
On Sunday, we went to the Louvre, which is just as big, if not bigger than you might have heard. We concentrated on some of the paintings and the Greek sculptures, making stops at the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. Later on, we walked down the Champs Elysees and checked out the arc de Triomphe.
There’s still a great deal more I want to see in Paris. I probably won’t make it back during this trip, but I definitely want to return in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mountain photos

I bought a card reader for your viewing pleasure. These are from the past weekend in the Interlaken area.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I have a job!

My time as an intern has come to an end, almost. After about a year of back-to-back internships, I actually have a job. A full-time, benefits-receiving job that will allow me to stay in one place for longer than three months. I head to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in June as a science writer for their communications office and the lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source. It was a tough decision, but I think I’ve made the right choice. And one of the added perks of the deal: I’ll once again be within driving distance of my best friend. That makes me really happy.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Berner Oberland

All I have to say is “wow.” Well, that’s not really it, but you get the idea. The mountains in the Berner Oberland really are spectacular. I’ve been told it’s a must-see both by my great-Aunt Marge and Uncle Emil and my friend Skippy. They were definitely right.
I took the train from Geneva to Interlaken on Saturday. From there I took a smaller, private train to Lauterbrunnen and then hopped on this kind-of scary track car that climbs up a hill at about a 45-degree angle. I just kept wondering what was keeping the thing from careening back downhill. From there, I took another smaller train to the town of Murren. Murren is beyond cute. It’s basically one huge ski resort, with cozy, Swiss looking hotels and gear shops lining the streets. No cars are allowed there, or maybe there’s just no way for them to reach it. I’m pretty sure that you can be anywhere in Murren and have an equally beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. I walked across town and took a cable car up to Brig, on what was both an exhilarating and scary ride. Every time the car passed a support post, it rocked back in forth like a Ferris wheel cart does when it stops. That was definitely enough to break me out of my awe with the scenery, at least for a few seconds. From Brig I took yet another cable car up to the Schilthorn, a mountain peak almost 10,000 feet high. I guess it’s famous for serving as the movie set for the old James Bond movie, “On her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The cable cars even had 007 printed on them. The Schilthorn also has a revolving restaurant, a gift shop (of course) and an observation deck with an unbeatable view of the mountains, which are still topped with plenty of snow and ice even though it was pretty warm on the ground.
The mountains were filled with skiers, who I couldn’t believe were brave enough to actually go down the steep slopes. And in the distance you could see lots of parasailers floating by the cliffs, also a very brave and probably slightly crazy bunch. I watched some of them land later on in the middle of a park in Interlaken.
Words really don’t do justice to this trip. And unfortunately, I can’t upload my photos right now. I’ve been using my roommate’s card reader and she left for a month-long trip to Jamaica this morning and took it with her. I’ll see if I can buy one soon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Royal visit

I saw the king and queen of Norway yesterday, Harald V and Sonja. The royal couple visited CERN to acknowledge the Norwegian scientists here and take a tour of part of the Large Hadron Collider. I’ve never had to write a story about a royal or presidential visit or anything on that level, but it happened exactly how I imagined it. There was a caravan of cars, a royal flag placed on the hood of the king’s ride, and a bunch of secret service-type men with headsets who got out first and surveyed the area before giving the OK for the king and queen’s entrance. When the couple stepped out of the car, my stomach dropped. I think I’ve seen too many historical clips of the Reagan assassination attempt or movies about assassinations, and the only thing I could do was wait for a gunshot. The scene was just so perfectly like those I’ve seen on TV, with the photographers aggressively snapping shots behind the outstretched arms of the bodyguards. I could imagine one of those black-suited, grim-faced men flinging himself over the king and queen at the first sign of trouble. Fortunately, nothing happened. The arrival really was the most exciting part of the visit, at least for me. CERN’s administrators gave some short talks, the royal party and a few select others (not including me) went underground to the LHC tunnel, and when they came back the king and queen shook hands with the Norwegian scientists and students at CERN and were escorted out the door.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lyon (not Lion)

For a change, I left the details of my weekend travel to someone else. On Wednesday, I still wasn’t sure where I was going to go for the weekend, when my editor Corinne suggested that we go to Lyon in France. She had to pick up a dress she ordered and I was more than happy to catch a ride there with her. We went with three other women from CERN, Renilde, Elena and Cecile, so the car was packed during the hour and a half drive there. I’d never heard of Lyon before living here, probably because Paris soaks up most of France’s spotlight. It’s a really nice city, separated by two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone, and two hills. It was settled by the Romans, and therefore has a lot of Italian influence in its architecture and was once famous for its production of silk.
One of the most striking parts of the city is a cathedral that sits on top of one of the hills. It looks like some kind of fairy tale castle.
The weather was bad at first, gloomy and rainy. We walked down many of Lyon’s shopping district streets and then had lunch at a French restaurant. I had this couscous and vegetable-type creation, which I’ve also had at the CERN cafeteria, so it must be a common dish in the region. As we were eating, the rain poured. And then the skies suddenly cleared and stayed that way for the rest of the day.
We took a guided walking tour in the afternoon. It was led by a very informative, but irritable woman who made threatening gestures to a youth group band that was warming up for a show in one of the city’s churches when their music drowned out her voice. Quite funny.
Most of the tour was based on the oldest houses of Lyon, which have now been turned into apartments or condos. The exteriors and interiors have been restored, keeping the original look to the buildings. Most houses were at least three stories high with arches and spiral stairways. To access them, we had to walk through these covered alleys called traboules, which were created to save time and protect the silk from bad weather when transported.