Sep 052010

9/3/10 (Day 2)

Our first full day in Switzerland started around 1am for me when some boisterous folks walked around outside our open window. There were many other interruptions in sleep like the garbage truck, but eventually we were up around 8am.

We took a leisurely breakfast at Sol Miel with it’s pastries and espresso. It took us several tries to figure out that the cashier was trying to sell us espressos. We just couldn’t figure out what she was trying to ask us. When I hear someone speak to me in French, I instantly want to start answering in Spanish because that’s the only other language I know, but Spanish isn’t any more helpful than my English.

After breakfast we walked to the main train station, only a few blocks away and found the right tram for CERN. We had tried over a month ago to get the much sought-after CERN tour tickets, but unfortunately the tickets sell out 3 months in advance. So, we went to see the public exhibits instead: Microcosm exhibit and The Globe. Of course, the first train we boarded was going the wrong way, we were still learning the Swiss train system. The trams were all very nicely labelled with route maps, announcements of future stops, and even labels for crossing bus/tram routes. If we had to use just the announcements in French for our stops we probably would have missed most of them. Luckily the trams had computer screens showing the name of the next 3 stops.

Arriving at CERN, we were lucky enough to find an English tour group that had just started and stood with them for a time learning about the LHC. At 27km in length and 100m deep, this physics experiment is massive. The exhibits in CERN were in 4 languages, and we were easily able to follow all the green signs in English to learn about particles, matter, and the CERN project. At the Globe we were very impressed by the spherical chairs similar to those in the movie Men in Black, and spherical exhibits all at different heights depicting particles inside an atom. Many of the spherical exhibits were touch screen computers and we were impressed by the technology involved. Apparently the idea for the world wide web also started at CERN as a way for them to collaborate and share their research with each other.

After we got our science thrill for the morning, we transferred back to the main train station and the underground mall there to find some paninis for a tasty lunch. Luckily Mark has a basic understanding of French and can help out in a tough situation. Numbers and days of the week have been the most helpful so far. The train schedules in particular vary on the weekends.

Our afternoon was spent in the Red Cross Museum which we went to mostly because it was recommended by everyone. We purchased the audio guide so we could learn about the exhibits in English, but were also happily surprised to see the sign posts had English translations as well. The museum was very well put together with the history of the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross. Some of the more impressive parts were the card catalog of index cards showing every single prisoner of war from the First World War. There were separate index cards for each prisoner and another for the family searching for the prisoner. There were literally millions of cards. There was lots of information about what the Red Cross has done during various wars and then how the started helping with national disasters too. All very interesting and the exhibits were done very well.

Next to the Red Cross Museum was the UN. We couldn’t go in, but we did take some photos.

Then, we hopped on a tram to the Strand area across the river and on the lake. We decided to wander and see where we ended up. We started out in a street mall of sorts and found a chocolate shop to indulge in. We had no idea what kinds of truffles we were ordering, but they were good once we started eating them. We just pointed and handed over our money. Choosing food in a foreign language has been challenging in general, we’ve preferred lunch shops with prepared sandwiches that we can just point at. We’re starting to learn dessert and fruit names as we visit the gelatto shops.

Walking along the promenade at the edge of the lake proved to be enjoyable both for the people-watching and the view. We walked towards the Jet D’eau that shoots 140 meters high on the edge of the lake and at one view point a rainbow formed in the mist at the base. Then we started meandering inwards, away from the lake, looking for the Parc des Bastions, and finding that our maps were not complete with all the small side streets. At one point we were wishing for google maps and GPS on our phones, but we haven’t purchased a sim card for the area yet. By the time we found the park, we really only spent some time sitting on a bench to figure out where to go for dinner in the area.

Dinner was at Chez Ma Cuisine, specializing in a few chicken dishes. The menu was both in English and French which was a treat. Our other choice was directly next door specializing in pigs feet prepared several ways. The chicken place was crowded, and the pig place was deserted, so our choice was easy. After our delicious roasted chickens, salad, and a large pile of french fries, we tried our first international gelatto place. Joanna showed great restraint by passing on the treat since they didn’t have any chocolate left. By now it was after 8pm and we walked back to the tram and then back to the hostel.

We paid for internet tonight so we could get the train schedules for the next day as well as get updated on email and the all-important Facebook gossip. The weather today was sunny and perfect, probably never above 76 degrees in the sun, and cooler in the shade.

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