Sunday, December 16, 2007

Europe in pictures: 41 - 83

Before we move on to the Switzerland pictures, I'd like to mention one "cousine" whose picture I apparently failed to take: Pauline. Pauline's a lanky teenybopper now, and quite a nice person to boot. She's the one who taught me a few new SMS/Net expressions in French. The last time I saw her, she was a toddler (one of François' daughters), chasing after her sisters and shouting, "Me, too! Me, too!" She's just finished taking the written portion of her driver's exam, and soon she'll be doing the behind-the-wheel part. She and I went shopping for a DVD for one of my students at the local Carrefour (I ended up looking through five or six shops), and while she was a bit shy with me, she was still a hoot to talk with. Bonne chance avec ton examen, Pauline!

Also of note: the near-disaster we had upon my departure from la Gare de Nantes. It could've been bad, folks. We arrived at the train station... I looked down at my ticket and suddenly realized it said "Lozanne" and not "Lausanne," which struck me as odd. I wouldn't put it past the SNCF (French railway system) to use weird spellings for certain destinations (perhaps as part of the SMS/Net trend), but I decided to ask my French parents whether they thought the ticket was a mistake.

Turns out it was. Too bad I hadn't caught the mistake the previous day, when we'd gotten the ticket. Lozanne, it so happens, is an actual city in France (we all learned something that day). This miffed me-- not merely because I was angry at myself for not having caught the mistake earlier, but because I had specifically gone to the guichet international (the international counter) to make the TGV reservation. Why would they send me to a domestic location? In any case, Papa, who's around 70, told me it was time to hoof it to the other side of the station so we could correct the mistake at the international counter, pay whatever extra fare was required to get me all the way into Switzerland, and get me on the train on time. Papa took off at a sprint; I huffed and puffed along behind him-- falling farther and farther behind, truth be told.

We got the matter resolved quickly enough (different, more alert staffer this time), then rushed back to get my bags. Papa, incredibly, grabbed the larger, heavier bag and sped off to the tracks, taking the stairs two at a time when he got to them. I kept pace with Maman, who wasn't about to sacrifice her dignity by running. We all made it to the train just in time. As it turned out, Papa was right to hurry: I had barely a minute to spare, and French trains run more or less on schedule, not stopping more than two minutes or so unless the stop is a terminus. Our good-byes were, as a result, somewhat hasty; I emailed them later to say that the whole zigzaggy, frenetic mess had felt quite Korean.

Right... that brings us about up to date. What follows are pics of my transit inside Switzerland; I took no pics inside the TGV, instead taking pics inside the InterCity CFF train (which is Swiss) that took me to Interlaken Ost Station. Ready?

Me on the InterCity:

Stealing an idea from Lorianne, I took a pic of my reflection in the window opposite where I was sitting:

I actually got off the TGV at Geneva and took the ICC going directly to Interlaken. There was a college-age Korean couple in front of me at the ticket window of la Gare de Genève, where I was to buy my ICC ticket; they spoke no French, but did manage well enough in English (Switzerland: where almost everyone is trilingual, though all languages will be spoken more slowly and with a German accent). Below you see the paperwork, along with some scribblings in my journal (thanks again, Sneem, for the Moleskine!).

Below, a shot out my window. The camera lens is visible in the reflection.

I decided to stay at the Hotel Stella, the same place I'd stayed in 2002 (my records, creepily enough, are still on file with them). The cab I took from the train station was driven by a burly, bearded, Swiss-German guy who looked like a cross between ZZ Top and a Hell's Angel. He was friendly enough, though, and after my rudimentary German conked out on me, I switched over to French, which put him at a disadvantage. Once you're in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it's possible to get around with French, but you're really better off knowing Hochdeutsch or, better, Schwyzerdütsch (a.k.a. Schweizerdeutsch, or Swiss German). In Interlaken, it's probably better to use English than French, given the number of tourists. I wasn't about to miss the opportunity to keep retraining my rusty French, though. Call me selfish.

It was around midnight when I checked in and stumbled into my hotel room. I was tired. More important, I was hungry, and I had two sandwiches in my bag.

First views of the Hotel Stella, Room 31:

The all-important bathroom, where great things would be happening:

And now, some loving shots of the salami sandwiches I ate that night:

If nothing else, the above three shots were an excuse to practice using the macro function on the new camera.

Next, a shot out my third-floor window the following cold, rainy morning:

More shots of the cloudy, gray vista outside my window:

And now, a link to my first video on the new camera! No big shakes (in fact, none of these videos is all that great), but you get some idea of the shrouded grandeur of the mountain valley I was in.

Below is a shot of Round One of my breakfast that morning:

Buffet-style. Veddy nice, veddy nice. You will, of course, have noted the Nutella.

I have a younger Korean cousin who tripped through Europe and then complained to me afterward about how he always ate the same thing, meal after meal after meal-- cheese, bread, butter, fruit, blah, blah, blah, again and again. I told him that people unfamiliar with Korea often made similar complaints about the food here, too-- red pepper, rice, red pepper, rice, more red pepper, more rice... He didn't like hearing that. My point wasn't that the pot was calling the kettle black, though; I was trying to say that, sometimes, unfamiliarity breeds contempt. You have to give it time, settle in, experience the nuances that distinguish different pastas, breads, cheeses, wines, curries, jjigaes, guks, t'angs, etc. Whirlwind tours don't allow that to happen. How important time is.

Aha-- another video! This one, I'm not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of it. It is, ultimately, a pretty fucking stupid clip, but you might enjoy it for precisely that reason. I was trying to show the viewer the insanity of being in an elevator with no protected front-- the wall in front of you is sliding up or down, and if you get your necktie caught in that, well... too bad, I guess. It's essentially a glorified dumbwaiter, and not uncommon in Europe (not to mention older American buildings: there's an elevator like that in Caldwell Hall at Catholic U., if I recall correctly). There's just enough room for one Kevin plus a suitcase or two.

Below: here's your first look at the Borg-like intrusion of Korean culture. Compared to 1990, which is when I left Switzerland after spending a year there, Interlaken has definitely gained some Korean barnacles in the form of restaurants, dry cleaning shops, mini-travel agencies, Net services (not really PC-bahngs, but cheaper Internet than the normal European cafes offer), Bierhäuser, and other little spots of Koreana.

To balance this off, I duly noted the presence of the American cancer pressing against the city's groin:

But, wait! Another Korean place (see below)! I had to go visit my Swiss mother in time for lunch, but I ended up back at the place you see below to (1) buy a phone card and (2) shoot the breeze with the Korean owner while nibbling quasi-Chinese food. I think I've lived in Korea too long: the urge to stop and talk with a Korean, despite being well outside of Korea, must indicate some sort of profound internal change. Can't pass a bruvva up, I guess.

Some random sights as I strolled the city later in the day:

NB: Two canals connect Lake Thun on the west and Lake Brienz on the east. Together, if I'm not mistaken, they constitute the River Aare, the same river that flows through Bern. What you see below (what's that called? is it a lock?) probably helps control the proper flow of the river. I imagine that, in olden days, the Aare simply terminated at Lake Thun. This is all speculation, mind you; I need to check some references.

A commenter on this blog had mentioned some weeks ago that Interlaken has a Hooters. Sure enough-- you see it below. I didn't go inside. Why bother, when my tits are probably larger than those of most of the female staffers'? I can amuse myself by doing my very own chicks-with-dicks impression.

The next eight photographs document my laundry adventure. Not pictured is the ancient Swiss-German woman who arrived when I sounded the buzzer (per instructions). I spoke to her in a mixture of German, French, and English; together, we were quite the Star Wars cantina. I hadn't brought along much clothing for this trip, so everything I had was in need of washing by the time I got back from my lunch date with my Swiss maman in Fribourg (quickie lunch; sort of disappointing, but she had her schedule and I had mine). Ready? Here we go.

I had plenty of time to wait while the clothes were chugging away, so I strolled along the canal dividing Interlaken and Unterseen. I also realized I needed to take a ferocious shit, what with breakfast and lunch in my guts (successive meals tend to push out previous meals in my body... I don't know how it works for you, but that's how it is for me); the following photos are the result of that restroom-questing stroll which became, toward its end, less a stroll and more of a power walk.

Below: ducks.

Cool view of the mountains. Which ones am I looking at? Damned if I remember.

I wound my way back toward a clutch of houses, following one of the well-marked Wanderwege (trails, paths for strolling, hiking, and even mountaineering) that make their veiny way through all of Switzerland. I paused a moment to capture images of some of the strange flora/fauna.

I'm not sure who lives in the house you see below, but judging from the decor, I suspect he's got six fingers on each hand and eleven toes on one foot. His other foot is doubtless a pitchfork.

And finally, to end this part of the essay, one last video: GRAFFITI.

We're not done with the Switzerland pics, Kemosabe, so stay tuned for more later.



Anonymous said...

I think we took a picture of the same duck spot when we were prancin' round there 15 years ago. Remember that picture? YEAH BABY

Unknown said...

Oh man, the "round one of the breakfast" pic brings back so many memories (and they're all good). Freshly baked bread or rolls (broetchen) with butter, cheese and cold cuts. Yum.