Thursday, November 8, 2012

Famous in Fribourg!

A couple days ago, Ben, Andrew and I were interviewed for the Freiburger Nachrichten, a daily newspaper in Fribourg. They wanted to know what it was like to be an American living in Fribourg during the American presidential elections. Here's a link to the article:

Be warned: it's in German!

Dream Weekend in Paris

Paris is, and will always be, a city that I see as "perfect." It is big, urban and exciting, yet cozy, historical, French-speaking and romantic all at the same time. The only thing about Paris that still baffles me is why an entire country chooses a huge ugly metal structure to represent itself. But I guess I can get past that. 

I had been to Paris once before, when I was sixteen and on a high school trip. While I have changed a lot since sixteen, Paris has remained the same, in all its perfection, exactly as I had remembered it from four years ago. The monuments, museums, language, feeling of oldness, and city bustle hadn't changed a bit. The difference in my two trips to Paris lies exclusively in experience: 

This time around, in addition to my four years of increased wisdom and wit (or so I'd like to think), I had a much better understanding of the French language. I felt pretty confident using French with waiters, store owners, our hotel concierge, etc. But the rumored Parisian negative attitude toward Americans certainly held true: in communicating with a ticket saleswoman at the Louvre, I spoke French and, upon hearing my American accent (which I am trying tirelessly to get rid of), she switched to English. Naturally I was irked that she would ignore my perfectly-functional (though maybe not so pretty-sounding) French, so I continued speaking to her in French, while she continued speaking to me in English. The conversation went on like this, completely functional, and completely annoying. 

Besides my improvement in French skills from four years ago, my perspective, understanding, and perception of history has expanded significantly. After about 2.5 hours of wandering around the Louve in total bliss, I sat down on a bench in the Italian Medieval wing and composed a note on my iPhone, expressing the "Condensed History of the World as Inspired by Art and Living in Europe and Put into Quick and Witty Phrases" by Eloise. (When I get famous for cynical and humorous historiography, you'll know where it all started. Unless I of course decided to pursue a career path that might actually have some remote hint of relevance.)

And, as much as I resent my concession of softness, this time in Paris was even a little bit romantic (shout out to Zach). Sharing a bottle of wine under the lit-up Eiffel Tower with a nice guy you met in London really isn't the worst thing in the world. 

Here are the photographic highlights:

Arrival in Paris - Gare de Lyon

Straight-lined it to the Louvre

My favorite Delacroix

Sunny day at Sacre Coeur 

View from Montmartre

Moulin Brun? We did see the Moulin Rouge, though!

Notre Dame

Sunset from the bank of the Seine, just across from Notre Dame


Pont d'Alexandre III

Sweet street art

Fanciest bakery on Champs d'Elysées

View from l'Arc de Triumph 

Perfect end to a perfect weekend 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Frat Parties, American Politics, and a Road Trip to Prague

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, but lots of interesting things have been happening, in addition to the routine Swiss student life that I have been living. Here's  an overview: 


A fraternity at the University of Fribourg advertised that they were holding an Oktoberfest-themed party. This sounded exciting, so, naturally, Ben and I went to check it out. We learned a LOT about Fribourg frat culture (I'm not sure if it would be a generalization to deem it "Swiss frat culture" so for now we'll call it "Fribourg frat culture"). Most of the fraternities here are co-ed, German-speaking, and centered on religious premises. Of course, they still uphold the typical frat culture of beer drinking, loud parties, and attracting female groupies who aren't necessarily in the frat already. 

We'd heard rumors that members of the frats tend to dress up in their traditional Medieval/Renaissance/Oktoberfest costumes for parties and other frat events. Turns out this rumor was true. And awesome. At the Oktoberfest party (held in a small restaurant in the old town), lots of the dudes were sporting lederhosen and the girls had on what looked like Snow White dresses. At several points in the party, one guy would stand on a chair and make an announcement in Latin. Upon this announcement, the members of the frat took out their songbooks and drunkenly performed their frat's traditional tunes. I snagged a vid (sorry for the less-than-average quality): 


Another major thing that has been happening over the past couple of weeks has been the American presidential election, which the other Americans and I have been following diligently (don't worry - I already sent in my absentee ballot). We've been enjoying watching and discussing the debates and their media coverage. Ben appropriately deemed our experience: "Chocolate, champagne, and the presidential debate: the life of a study abroad student." It has been incredibly interesting to be out of the country during such a decisive American time. The experience has certainly lent itself to an interesting perspective, especially in discussing the American election with non-American students who follow it. Surprisingly enough, the most common question I have received from non-American students about our election is not "What do you think about this issue?" nor "Who will you vote for?" but "Who is going to win?" I have been asked this a surprising number of times. I usually just give my thoughts based on debates and articles and polls, and offer to share a personal opinion on the matter, but come on - how am I supposed to know who is going to win?


This past weekend, four friends and I rented a car and embarked on the nine-hour journey Prague! It was absolutely incredible in so many ways. First of all - the drive. A road trip through Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic is both beautiful and interesting. The scenery was gorgeous, as expected, and the company in the car was super fun. Besides myself, the group was Ben (American), Dimi (Belgian), Kamile (Lithuanian), and Joscha (German). Naturally, we had some super interesting discussions during our nine hours in the car about similarities and differences among our countries, linguistics, music taste, and history. They were a lot of fun. 

In Prague, we stayed with a friend of Ben's who lives there teaching English. Couch surfing in his apartment was awesome - so huge and old and right in the city. We hit all the touristy points during our three days there (Wenceslas Square, outdoor markets, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock,  the Lennon Wall, Castle, etc.) and thoroughly enjoyed some delicious, cheap(er than Switzerland) food in traditional Czech pubs (I learned one word in Czech: PIVO = beer). I even met up with a friend from Camp who lives in Prague (shout out to Dana!), and who showed us where to go for the best clubs - lots of fun. All in all, it was an incredible weekend in a beautiful, old city. Of course, I was thinking a lot about the historical perspective on the city while we were there. Here are some of the highlights from the massive roll of photos I took this weekend: 

not-so-old Cathedral (c. 1904)

Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square

Jewish Quarter

View of one of many bridges in Prague. On the top right is the "mini Eiffel tower" on the hill (we hiked up to it the following day). Note the hot air balloon (left). 

Lennon Wall. The guitarist was playing "Hey Jude" - how fitting. 

Giant faceless baby of the Proletariat - statue in a park.

Typical Czech lunch: pickled cheese and hot wine. YUM

Castle entrance 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Overwhelming Day of Languages...and Math

Today was a busy one, as I had three two-hour courses. They are all really interesting, and my French is vastly improving, making it easier and easier to understand the lectures. I have also been noticeably improving my speaking skills, which rendered me a new source of confidence upon discussing an assignment with a professor after class this morning. I then went to lunch with a Swiss friend with whom I spoke only French the whole time - and rather successfully I might add (especially compared with the frustrating attempts I had at full-on French conversations during my first few weeks in Fribourg). 

With all this linguistic confidence in mind (not to mention my handful broken German phrases - at least I can now order in a restaurant), I brightly approached my most difficult lecture class, an ancient history course on Plato and the Laws of Athens. Normally I have a bit of difficulty understanding this professor, not only because he speaks for two straight hours in French, but because he mumbles like he has a mouthful of marbles. All my other professors are significantly easier à comprendre.

The first twenty minutes or so of class went swimmingly - I was understanding most of what my professor was saying and simultaneously taking decent notes. Then we delved into what I thought would be a merely background lesson on Plato's philosophical standards. As it turned out, the remainder of the ("history") class critically analyzed Plato's cave and line theories. In French.

Just when I though things were getting pretty crazy, my professor started writing on the blackboard. In GREEK. As he muttered in FRENCH. (Keep in mind he was facing the blackboard so as to continue his Greek notes, while mumbling significantly more as he was no longer projecting his voice towards the students.)

So we've got mumbled French, notes on the blackboard (and later also on prepared slides) exclusively in modern Greek, and then comes the real kicker: MATH. Now, I haven't really looked at numbers or lines or shapes more than practically since AP Calculus three years ago, so seeing Plato's philosophically-deriven formulas and geometric jumbles (explained in mumbled French and noted in Greek, keep in mind) wasn't exactly my idea of a typical history class.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Favorite Running Route

I recently discovered an awesome place to go running. The route takes me along the train tracks (towards Bern), over a huge bridge covered in interesting graffiti in several languages, through lots of fields and hills, an open highway, and back into the city of Fribourg via the Pont de Zahringen. Of course, it is super easy to follow the paths and avoid getting lost because in Switzerland, all "chemins" (trails) are marked with yellow signs pointing towards major landmarks or cities and showing the distance (in time by foot). Thank you, Swiss organization! This is SUCH a beautiful route, so I thought I'd capture and share the highlights:

Train tracks and cows
About to cross an enormous bridge over La Sarine. The footpath is the lower level of the bridge; trains use the upper level.

My favorite bridge graffiti (even though it is in English)

This guy stared me down while I did some abs in the field.
Crossing the Pont  de Zahringen back into the city of Fribourg. On the bank you can see the "castle" built by an interesting guy living in the basse-ville who likes to keep alive the legendary Bolze traditions of witches and dragons. Above, you can see the Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas, the parton Saint of Fribourg. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cooking Adventures in St. Justin

The dorm where I am living this semester has a big beautiful kitchen in the basement where students cook a lot. The kitchen is a very fun and social place. Last night I tried an awesome recipe for Veggie Lo Mein - very popular among the other American students.
Before we'd even started eating, Ben and Andrew and I were in the silliest mood, which inspired an addition of sugar to the pasta (actually DELICIOUS). Halfway through eating, we decided it would be good to add some eggs to the lo mein, so we cracked some eggs in a pan and were about to fry them up when we realized the stove wouldn't turn on. In typical Swiss fashion, the kitchen shuts down (all the appliances turn off) promptly at 22h. Sigh. Here is what the eggs then looked like (the pan was already a little warm):
Looks delicious, right?

Oh well, it was still an awesome meal. And we were listening to THIS SONG for most of the evening, so it was bound to be fun. And then of course Andrew built a model dinosaur (freebee from the Swiss grocery(super)store, Migros), which he proceeded to catapult through the kitchen with a fork. 

Whirlwind Weekend in London

Last weekend Ben and I hopped an EasyJet flight to London and an incredible couple of days. Here are some of the highlights:

Sometimes you just gotta be a little touristy. #noshame

  • Staying with my aunt at her awesome flat in Paddington
  • All obligatory sightseeing: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, etc. etc. 
  • British Museum: whaddup Rosetta Stone
  • Churchill's War Rooms: This was REALLY cool. The exhibit was the actual building (basement) from which Churchill commanded his military during WWII. Lots of rooms were shown exactly as they were left when the cabinet picked up everything and abandoned the war rooms upon the Japanese surrender at the end of August, 1945. For example, oxygen masks that were sitting on tables in the rooms in the exhibit were the same ones that cabinet members carried around during the war and then left in the War Rooms. It was a history major's paradise, especially as it provided an opportunity to explore the ways in which Europe looks at WWII, as compared to the American perspective. One of my courses at the University of Fribourg is also about WWI and WWII (and how Europeans essentially see it as one huge war - a civil war between the European states), so this also brought an interesting perspective to my interpretation of the War Rooms museum.  
  • Open air market at Portobello - lots of fun vendors!
  • Fish and chips. yum
  • Bike tour of the East End - another historical gallery. Biking through the streets that inspired so many authors and filmmakers was REALLY cool. I felt very Oliver Twist-ish. The bike tour also went to Brick Lane, where we at DELICIOUS ethnic foods (very lacking in Switzerland) and walked around.
  • Catching up with my cousins at some fun British pubs - shout out to Mats and Patrik. 
  • Clubbing with the one and only Ketch Cowan, ski teammate studying in London this semester, and meeting his cool friends
  • Double decker buses. Also obligatory.
It was so much fun to see a big city because it was fun and happening while maintaining the European flare. It was definitely refreshing to spend the weekend in an Anglophone culture where shops are open past 7pm - but at the same time this made me appreciate Fribourg and the rolling hills of Switzerland even more. I was very happy to be back at the end of the weekend!

Spark Notes: YOL(ondon)O