Chapter 10: Adventuring

I left Geneva on November 28th to embark on a three week backpacking journey across Europe. I left with a healthy amount of fear for what the next three weeks might bring, my rail pass, backpack, boots, and my Deustch Bahn app (because the Germans know the entire rail system of Europe better than anyone else). Although I had a plan in my head I knew that I was basically winging it, terrifying and exciting. 

My first stop was in Marseille, France to see Helen. I was so happy that first weekend was with her to ease into traveling and exploring alone. We had a wonderful time exploring Marseille, hiking, and even clubbing to celebrate Helen’s birthday 🙂  I even tried pastis, a Marseilles drink that had the flavor of black licorice, despite that it was still good. 

We ended the most perfect weekend with hiking up to Notre Dame de la Garde to watch the sunset.   

From this Monday evening I left straight to the train station to catch a train that would take me to Ventimiglia, a small town on the French/Italian border. However my first train to Nice was late and I missed the 11pm connection to Ventimiglia. This became a small sign because I was planning on just waiting in the train station at Ventimiglia until 4am. Instead I was able to book a hostel in Nice and make my way there. 

My trip would’ve been exponentially different had I not had a smart phone.

This hostel in Nice was one of the seediest places I’ve ever been to. I walk up to the third floor of a grimy apartment building to find the “hostel”. I was greeted by an irate British woman, unwelcoming owners, flickering flourecent lights and an already damp pillow. I realized I was really roughing it at this moment. I surrendered my 11 euros took my one blanket and tried to sleep for the next four hours. 

I ended up making friends with the man I was sharing the room with, a chef from sub Saharan Africa making his was to Montreux, Switzerland to work. He told me that the worst thing you can do for your tastebuds is to drink coffe with milk and sugar. I unfortunately ignored that advice. 

Because I had missed my train connections my original plan was out the window. According to the app I could take regional trains along the coast of Italy to make may way to Florence for the night. Off I went. Starting at 5am that day I took trains from Nice, through Monaco, Genoa, and the rest of the Italian coast with a quick stop in Pisa. I finally reached Florence at 5pm and found my way to the next hostel. 

Unlike the previous night this hostel was lovely, clean and bright with nice people. I couldn’t have been more relieved to see a clean bed with fresh sheets. I was planning on crashing even though it was so early but to my surprise I was greeted in the room by another backpacking girl from New Zealand. She immediately asked if I wanted to eat and thus we were friends.

Jess and I explored/wandered Florence that evening in search of Tripe sandwhiches-an apparent must have- with no avail. We settled on pizza. This pizza had special florentine sausage and made my stomach the most happy it had been in a whole day. In the morning Jess and I took our time but for instead a game plan to see all of Florence. We wondered and trapped and relied on directions from strangers. We finally had the tripe panini a and they were delicious. No regrets. Even though Jess and I only knew each other for such a short time we talked about everything, travel, life, boys, food. It was so reassuring to be able to make a friend after being and traveling alone and that I knew I wouldn’t be truly alone. 

That evening I caught a train to Venice. Venice is beautiful and I only saw it for a short time but it’s an incredible city and immaculately beautiful. This night I couchsurfed. I was tired of being alone and I had been meaning to try and Couchsurf. I posted my travel and a nice-seeming- guy offered to host me! It was a really nice easy thing, he got me from the train station in Treviso and we walked to his apartment, we chatted for a little bit and then I slept on the couch. It is such a weird concept but you throw those inhibitions away pretty quickly when you need somewhere safe to sleep. 

In the morning I got up early to catch another Italian regional train to the border. The Italian sense of time is almost nonexistent. There’s no real sense of urgency or timetable keeping. I haven’t been on an Italian train that was exactly on time- a huge shift from Switzerland. In any case the train I was on first was extremely late. And the plan was to get to the Italian/Slovenian border and catch the one and only train of the day from Nova Gorica to Jesence. Timing was important, especially because I realize that I had to walk from the furthest train station in Italy to the closest station in Slovenia. A good 3.5km. 
 

I had 45 minutes to make this walk across the border with my backpack and everything important on my person. This was probably the craziest thing I realized I had to do, no escaping it. I proceeded to literally walk across the border where there was no control, my passport hadn’t been looked at once since I left Switzerland. I crossed through the seemly abandoned checkpoint and had to laugh out loud at how ridiculous it was that I was able to do such a thing. 

I also realized once I crossed this border that I was no longer in Romance Language territory, we’d switch to Slavic languages and partial Cryllic. I bought what looked like pretzels and apple juice from a vending machine that looked maybe 20 years old. I hopped on the one tiny three-car train in direction Jessence. By now it’s noon and the train is passing through beautiful mountains and valleys when the conductor comes by and says. “Next stop bus”. Unclear. 

I find myself and everyone on the train whisked off to take a bus to the next portion of train track. I’m assuming that they were doing rail work or didn’t want to have to run the train. After an hour or so on the bus breathing only stale cigarette air, I’m nauseous. At the second part another equally rickety train takes all of us to Jessence. At Jessence we change to an actual international train headed to Zagreb, Croatia. This is still Thursday.  

At this train connection I spot three larger than mine backpacks and three people decked out in Patagonia. Americans. I find myself shuffled to the same train car as them and as if I’m 5 on the playground I ask this if they speak english, if they’re Americans, and if I can sit with them. Yes yes and yes. Nailed it. The next six hours pass by easily speaking with the three recent grads from Seattle who are traveling the whole globe in 9 months (madness). It was honestly just nice to speak outloud and in slang English. My passport was finally checked and stamped at the Slovenian/Croatian border [not schengen]. 

We part ways when we reach Zagreb. The first order of business as usual was to find the hostel. Hostels can be such a hit or miss based on the app. This was in between. I’m not sure if it was great or super weird. I grabbed the tourist map and locked up my things and went to go explore until I needed to sleep [still thursday]. 

Zagreb/ Croatia is primarily Christian so of course they have a large cathedral and squares of public space complete with European Christmas markets. Aka cheap food and hot wine. The Croatian kuna is also super weak so every USD gets 7.5 kuna and most things were 12kuna each. I had wine and a sausage in a bun with ketchup for 17 kuna, just over 2 dollars. It was amazing. 

The prevalence and use of American music is also hilarious abroad. I walked around the markets and the live band started playing Highway to Hell, is unsure why, but there’s a joke there about how it’s a Christmas market. Zagreb was beautiful and I never felt unsafe, contrasted with Italy where I constantly felt unsafe. Back at the hostel I met a woman who had taken a sabattical from teaching at Arizona State which was so interedting. She was living in Europe in different places trying to pick out a place to invest in a vacation home. When I left early in the morning she looked at me and said, ” you have so much integrity, I can tell”. Which was so nice and definitely unwarranted but game me confidence for the day ahead.

The only way to get to Sarajevo is from Zagreb. At least by train. To my extreme delight the train was real. One train a day at 9:18am. I’m pretty sure this train was used in the 1980s. And hadn’t been truly cleaned since then either. I gritted my tears and got on. However just before I saw the men cleaning the train and when they got to he bathroom they sprayed some freebreeze and some disinfectant and it was done. I prayed I wouldn’t have to use the bathroom the entire 10 hour ride, unlikely. Even the nonsmoking compartments still felt so grimy and all the upholstery was limp with grime and pollution. 

10 hours, many different train companions (because nobody else was taking it the whole way), another passport stamp, and the sun rising and setting I was in Sarajevo finally. I saw Sarah and I thought I couldn’t have seen anything lovelier in the old train station that was dark, damp, covered in graffiti and was definitely a vestige of communism. 

Sarajevo is incredible. Even that first night I learned and experienced so much. Sarah is doing research there for a total of 10 months which builds upon the research she did for her senior thesis. Within an hour I’d had Bosnian Pita burek (meat)- the best food in the world. Rakja which is a super sweet liquor with many flavors. And a decadent dessert from Cream Shop. After my time with her I was looking up places to get Bosnian food in DC. So good.

My knowledge on the fall of Yugoslavia and the resulting conflicts at this point was embarrassingly little. Even now after spending time there I feel like I only scratched the surface of what really occurred between Bosnians Serbians and Croats after the fall. I learned an incredible about from Sarah and the amazing network of Bosnian friends that she’s developed. The history is so important and deeply embedded in the city that even the architecture shows how literally the East meets the West with buildings from Ottoman and Hapsburg eras respectively.

We also took a mini trip to another city in Bosnia, Mostar. Which is further south and to our delight was warm. Compared to huddling for warmth in Sarajevo in hats and gloves in bed. We stayed with a family there and I learned how to make the delicious pita is been eating all week. They were so welcoming it was so special to talk to them and laugh with a family even though I speak no Bosnian I picked up some phrases and words. 

I left Sarah so sadly on Wednesday the 9th, making the ten hour trek back to Zagreb. I originally planned to visit another friend in Istanbul but after several angry messages from the Istanbul consulate about riots in the area, train cancellations from refugees, Sarajevo being in such a thick pollution cloud that not a lot of flights were leaving, it was too much of a sign to not go.

When I got to Zagreb I went to double check my plan for the next day with the international office. I was planning on going to Budapest but was greeted with “impossible, impossible, cannot go”. I would’ve hoped someone working at the international desk would be much better versed in English. Even a little bit more would have been helpful. However after scrambling and amending my plans I took the first train out the next morning in the direction of Prague. 

Setting foot on the Austrian train was like leaving a different world and entering a new one I forgot existed. Outlets, clean floors, new seats, on time. It felt like heaven. I made may way to Prague in just over 11 hours. From Zagreb is passed again through Slovenia, on the border you could see the large banners of the UNHCR flags across a medium sized compound of white tents surrounded by police with dogs. Refugee camp. I wasn’t so close and I never got puff the train at this point but the whole issue that world leaders were debating was right in front of me on this  border. I confronted this again which I switched trains in Graz, Austria and came off the platform to see maybe a few hundred refugees corralled inside a relatively small area of the station, again surrounded by police with dogs and guns- not usually seen. It was very surreal to hear the crying babies and screaming children playing and not knowing much better and the tired faces of people weary of travel, which was the same emotion displayed on my face. Through Austria and Vienna I got off the train at Prague hopped on the hinder ground and got to the stop where I was picked up by family friends. Like sliding into home plate- safe.

I’ve never slept in so late. I woke up around 1pm the next day. Some people would be proud of me for those, I was still mortified, so late. But I figured I would just embrace it and on Friday I sat. I sat and ate and watched Netflix (Sabrina 😭) and slept. I didn’t realize how wiped out I was until I got into a real bed I wasn’t sharing and room that wasn’t with strangers because I finally fully decompressed for the first time in two weeks.

I spent 5 days in Prague. I loved every minute. I stayed with the family of my dads grad school roommate and it was so fun and relaxing. I had time to explore the city by myself but also to watch dance moms and parts and rec. I was able to go to the embassy and take to more foreign service officers about their work and my (potential and distant) future- which was amazing. I also got to see Morgan and her boyfriend Thomas ❤️. Such nice days exploring- Prague is a really cool city with great food and beer. 

 I finally had to gear up to travel again on Tuesday. After laundry and naps I was ready. I caught the 6:52am train to Vienna and I met Austin! We are already great travel buddies and our schedules overlapped for this bit. On the first day we traipsed Vienna going to old palaces and having schnitzel. On the second day we visited the imperial Hapsburg crypts and made a little day trip to Bratislava in Slovakia. This little trip was so fun and I got to hop back into truly Eastern Europe and really compare it to the places I’d already been. 

Austin left me on Thursday and I decided to do a hike out in the Austrian Alps, success. I made it to a small town called Mariazell nestled in the mountains. Nothing compares to the Swiss alps but it was gorgeous, and another Christmas market. My last day alone I spent in Salzburg, Austria. Long walks and exploring another market and another city. However, I basically lived the dream of being Maria in the Sound of Music, my truly favorite movie.

I’m now on my way back to Geneva on 12 hours worth of trains and metros and trams to get there. Passing the alps and the mountains really feels like home, plus I spy a Migros. 

I loved traveling alone. I walked and read and journaled. I got to just think and breathe. I’ve always felt like I am the best possible version of myself when I travel and now I feel that always as it has just come from having th confidence in myself to go and try and do something. 

I’ve had an incredible trip and I know there’s so much to say about each step but I hope I’ve hit the most important parts. 

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Le Lac Léman: Chapter 9

I’m not ready. It has been more than three months exactly since I landed in Switzerland and I am not ready to leave. I am so lucky that I get to spend another month in Europe before starting school again, but even still I am not ready to leave Switzerland.  This place with it’s cheese, chocolate, and cows has really become home. I’m not ready to not look out into the mountains, or wake up dreadfully early to go hiking. I can’t believe this chapter is coming to a close.

So to catch up from the last post. We began our ISP period, which is four weeks of free time to research, conduct interviews, and more importantly travel. In this past month has been a whirlwind with almost no time to stop and breathe, just the way it should be.

In the first week we started our projects, took a quick walk to France, and spent so much time at the beautiful United Nations. Ry, Morgan, and my hiking boots were always present.

Next we went to Zermatt and my wonderful friend and DPE Sister Helen came to visit Geneva! After walking her around town and showing her all of what Geneva is in about 2 hours tops we were ready for the mountains. Zermatt is the small mountain town in the Canton of Valais that is nearest to the Matterhorn. This is one of the most iconic peaks in Switzerland- also known as the Toblerone Mountain.

This was hands down the most beautiful weekend of my life. The first day we arrived Helen, Ry and I hiked from Zermatt to Zmutt another but smaller mountain town. When we reached Zmutt we had beer and chocolate and sat and took in everything.

When we re-embarked on our journey first we decided to go higher, and higher. To our dismay we couldn’t go even 100 feet at the post-beer without being winded and when we realized we had only gone so far and I’ve never laughed harder. The day culminated in about 10 miles of hiking and a beautiful view of the Matterhorn right from our hostel window.

On the second day Morgan joined us and we sought to find a hike that would take us up to Stelisee a beautiful and highly photographed lake. Thus far in our hiking adventures we’ve usually asked the tourist desk what is a good hike for the day because most information isn’t readily available. However, when I asked the info desk woman for hiking information for this lake, side note that she was wearing a customized Mammut flannel, she said, “We don’t advise hiking above 2000m because of the snow everything is impassable. Also the gondolas are closed”. So against the will of the info desk: we hiked. Not only did we hike up to our lake but we started in Zermatt, the very bottom, without the help of any gondolas/cable cars/funiculars we hiked that mountain. It was the most rewarding and fun hike I’ve ever done.

We got up to smaller and smaller mountain towns on our way following our map but mostly winging it. We find where we think the lake should be and we look up. It should be right there. Just above our heads essentially. So instead of taking the path the four of us scramble up the face of this mountain, climbing rocks and snow and mud and bushes to get to this lake. After we get over the ridge we can see it. And Ry has already decided that he must get in the water and after the scramble we know that we have worked for this. We drop our bags. Strip down. And get into the most clear blue and freezing cold alpine lake.

The most gorgeous 15 miles of hiking ever. Note the snow on the edge of the lake. In Ry’s words, this was the doggy paddle of your life. The water was so cold that instantly we found ourselves short of breath and numb. Getting out of the water was such a struggle that I sliced my foot open and didn’t even realize it until we had toweled off. No regrets though. It was incredible.

Helen and I got back from Zermatt and had a few hours, to have tea and cake on the floor of my room, before we boarded a plane to Rome to see Abby. We embarked on our first EasyJet flight unsure of anything, ostracizing the majority of nice Europeans in the airport by being our American selves, and definitely should’ve had our phones taken away from us as we were waiting for the plane.

We arrived in Rome, sprinted through the airport to catch the last train to the city center with just a blurry picture of the rail system and our ‘properly’ validated tickets. We finally found Abby at our AirBnb and collapsed for the night. Rome was some of the most fun ever. Everything was exceptionally beautiful and really all the pictures are true. We hit everything and walked the whole city. While we didn’t necessarily ‘do as the Romans do’ we drank wine, and ate pizza, and a few too many scoops of gelato and saw some of the most beautiful artwork, structures, and sculptures in the world. The most wonderful people making beautiful memories in a spectacular place.

I had 18 hours to rest after returning rom Rome before the next adventure. The lovely Tara had been in Zurich and on the way back to Strasbourg we met in Bern and toured as well as going to Basel. Two of the other large cities in Switzerland. In Bern we could see the Bernese Oberland that I’d spent so much time hiking as well as the lovely Bears that the canton is named after. We got to Basel and obviously being huge nerds had to go to the art museums. We walked through so much art and when we got to an interactive area there was a meditation room. I took full advantage of the meditation- aka I slept. And as Clare put it I am no longer phased by culture. Which is not true. But obviously took its toll when I tried to make a paper crane at the end of the museum and the nice guide spared nothing and gave me shame. He said that I should leave the crane for everyone to see, and to add insult to injury he gave me the perfectly folded crane. Tara and I also Halloween-ed hard. We found one of the only ‘American’ bars, and amongst the street of chic Europeans we dressed up and did our best to recreate college.

From Bern and Basel came days of rest and working on my research before departing for London.

IMG_1259London is an incredible city. Its also so big. I spent two days to myself wandering the streets and I still knew that there was so much more for me to do. Serious me time. I spent about 4 hours straight in the National Gallery, I pulled out my book and sat in a cafe, I wandered through markets and street festivals and I ended my day by myself. I’ve never felt more content and so happy with everything that I did. It was just for me and to make me happy.

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Austin and I had an absolutely amazing time together. I learned the difference between a Bar and a Pub. I got to see GW friends and meet many new people. We stayed out and drank and danced and enjoyed everything. We also toured Harry Potter Studios, the British Museum, the Tower of London and it was so much to take in in such a short amount of time.

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The extension of this adventure was Ireland. With a 3:30am wake up call, a 4:40 train and a 6am flight we made our way to Dublin. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do but after the bus ride into the city we had a game plan. Walk around the city, see the castle, go to the Guinness Factory, and then of course bar hop.

Unfortunately our great plan was interrupted by serious misfortune on the part of the weather. But that didn’t stop us. Through pouring rain and torrid winds we walked the city from end to end, from churches to castles, to museums. My soaking pants and converse still said we had a great day.

Expecting an Italian leather baby in soaking wet clothes.

The next portion of the adventure we decided was to take a 4.5 hour bus ride across the entirety of Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher. Another unfortunate day of weather, but we did it anyway. We hiked a mile along the cliffs in winds that could probably push us off if we hadn’t kept our heads down. But it was incredible. I’ve never fallen in so much mud or hopped so many fences. But we just kept laughing.

After the 4.5 hour bus back to Dublin we immediately hopped right back on a plane to London. From London we couldn’t get our act together to get on the right tube and ended up walking through the entire city to get back home.

Another early morning, a 4:45 wakeup and a flight back to Geneva it was so nice to finally be home. And it really felt like home. The swiss trains and the mountains called my name and I came home. I was also then comatose for the rest of the day in bed.

On Friday the 13th we all experinced the horific Paris Attacks. Out with friends we saw the news in the bar and went home. Geneva isn’t so far and share’s an identity with French. It shook the community. I can’t put all of my thoughts and feelings into words as well as I should. But here are wise words from a friend..

If I’ve learned anything over the past semester, it’s that we are at a turning point in history. People are migrating, terrorist groups like ISIS are gaining momentum and racial tensions have peaked at home. But a messy world is no reason to stop living- if anything it should provide more of an incentive to live. I could have been one of those 87, any of us could have been. But we weren’t. And we have to make that count for something.

So gift your time to the ones who truly make you smile and tell the people who mean the most that you really do love them. Laugh a lot, say yes not no, and sing in the shower because you never know what moment will be your last, and it would really be a shame to let anything go to waste while we have the chance to make it count.

RIP to all those who lost their lives in Paris last week. Forever in our hearts and prayers. ‪#‎JeSuisParis‬

I have since finished by 30 page paper entitled An Analysis on the Effectiveness of Multilateral Sanctions with a Case Study on Iran. It was a serious struggle getting it to remain at 30 pages but we did it and the entire document only ended up being 75 pages so we won there as well. I have also given my 30minute presentation. So essentially now my brain is turned off and there is no coming back.

Everything is beautiful. Even after having finished our presentations we’ve still kept moving. We’ve been taking on every corner of Switzerland completing our time with Zurich and St. Moritz (6hours one way). The mountains, the alps, have become such an integral part of my life here that I’m extremely scared about what I’m going to do without them. The things I’ve thought about and IMG_1511.jpglearned I could’ve only learned through walking in silence with the greatest of people, my people, and listening to the crunch of frozen ground under my hiking boots.

In this particular shot I’d only fallen down once, but then also wiped out two more times. Therefore, my warrior name is Beyonce Pad Thai.

Studying abroad has been one of the most amazing experiences. I’ve set my entire world on fire and done absolutely wild crazy things. I want to be able to look back and make sure that I didn’t skip out on the important and little things. I’ve loved every minute and now I’m gearing up for 3 more weeks to myself, two with my family and promptly coming back to GW and jumping right into life.

I’m not ready to leave, but ready to be home. I’ve found a home here in Switzerland with my friends and within myself and the mountains. 

Do it. 

All my love.

 

Le Lac Léman: Chapter 8

21 days isn’t much better than a month, but it’s an attempt.

Finals have come and gone, and also hopefully gone well. Therefore, Independent Study Project (ISP) Period has begun! That means that for the next four weeks our entire program doesn’t have class, we just have to work on our projects and at the end of these few weeks we present the projects and then the program is over! Since the last update a great deal has happened so again, here’s the abbreviated update on everything Switzerland.

After Brussels and Paris we returned to normal class and again had numerous adventures. The first being Oktoberfest which was absolute pandemonium. The bullet points and timeline of this particular adventure describe it the best.

Oktoberfest

  • After 8 hours of train travel Morgan and I made it to Munich and purchased Dirndls!

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  • By 7am Saturday Morning Morgan, Ry, Nagy, and I were in line for the infamous Hofbrauhaus
  • At 9am the doors opened
  • At 9:15 the first stein of beer was in my hand

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  • By 9:45 the entire concept of time was gone
  • Many songs, yells of prost, pretzles, various breads, lots of water, random run ins and a generally marvelous time

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  • Realized it was already 3pm
  • Blood curdling encounter with an irate German woman
  • Search for new hotel, return to fairgrounds, rides and sausages galore

After an incredible day of craziness and lots of running around. Morgan and I decided it was also important to visit something else in Munich to round out the trip. We decided to go to Dachau. Sunday was complete contrast with the day before and that was even reflected in the weather. Sunday was dreary and rainy and really make the experience stand out as being so starkly different than a beer festival. Dachau was so unbelievably interesting, the museum gave so much information on Dachau specific activities and allowed for a lot of pondering. The grounds were open and gave so much space to reflect.

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The next weekend Ry and I went to Milan! going to Milan was such a cool experience especially aIMG_0772s a former DOS intern. Ry worked in the consulate this summer, so of course we gush about State and everything it is, but we were also able to spend time with his friends from the consulate. (Also we took the FSOT while we were there, but failure is imminent so don’t hold your breath there). FSO is still the dream job so it was amazing to speak with people actually doing the job. My favorite phrase, “Oh, you’re cleared? Perfect.”

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Another perk of knowing the consulate was being able to have a little bit of special treatment at the Milan Expo! The theme for this expo was food and there were so many countries represented.

The Expo was located just outside of Milan because it is MASSIVE. I was completely overwhelmed in looking at all of it. Luckily for us connected people we got to skip the longest lines I’ve seen since the Louvre at its peak hours. In addition we got a special consular discount which I was lucky enough to piggy back on. It was such a great weekend to spend with Ry and getting to know everyone he’s been gushing about as well as to gush about my own State life and experience. It was so so special.

After Milan… We had finals!

Anyway, after finals ended the group of us had decided to travel to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Fun fact that Lauterbrunnen was JRR Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendale in Lord of the Rings. It is absolutely breathtaking. Nagy, Morgan, and I traveled from Geneva to Interlaken and then to Lauterbrunnen (the opposite direction of Grindelwald). I was not expecting snow when we got there, but it was a winter wonderland. It was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve been to so far. So we took a cable car part of the way up the mountain and then took the Mountain View Trail to hike all the way to the small car-less town of Murren. The pictures don’t even do the views justice. It was so quiet and peaceful on top of the mountain. Just to take in the scenery and be engulfed was more than enough.

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The next day Morgan and I traveled from Geneva to Montreaux which is one of the cutest towns along the Lake of Geneva (Lac Leman). We walked from Montreaux all the way to Chateau Chillon where we played princess for the day. It is one of the oldest castles surrounding the lake dating back to the 13th century. Lord Byron wrote poems about prisoners that were there. It was just so gorgeous and basically right in our backyard. The Chateau also bottles and sells its own wine to help fund the restoration costs. It was a lovely day with beautiful sights ending with the greatest sunset.

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So really Switzerland is incredible. I feel so lucky to be doing everything that I have been. It never ceases to amaze me. And of course all I do is stare with my jaw wide open. Being able to travel around but also have a home in a place this gorgeous is a once in a lifetime experience. I truly hope that all my snapchats don’t become annoying or that my pictures can do this place justice. I do feel very much at home in Europe and so happy that I get to spend two more months here, even if that does mean only 6 days between hitting the states and getting back to GW. I just want to absorb everything and I think I am.

Le Lac Léman: Chapter 7

“When traveling, I’ve found that it is not about if the place is more beautiful than all of those you have known before it or if the food is more delicious or if there is more to do. Traveling is about giving up everything you know to find yourself, again, in a completely different environment.”

My dearest sister, Cheyenne.

Summing up everything I feel and love about studying abroad and traveling.

Le Lac Léman: Chapter 6

Looking at the date I am realizing that I haven’t updated this blog in over four weeks weeks, even so it feels more like months.

Everything is absolutely still breathtaking and as a lot of you can see by my snapchats, I’m still not over it. So here’s the abridged version of everything that’s been happening to me and around me for the past four weeks.

Classes are still going well. We’ve had a series of assignments due, presentations and papers along with our ongoing research. I find it so hard to not fall into the mindset that none of these classes’ grades will show up on my transcript or count to my GPA, in which case the exact grade doesn’t totally matter. The classes here also make me appreciate GW so much more in the way that theres variety in class, class structure, and students can and do question the material. Also because classes will be over in just two short weeks from today! Its amazing how quickly things can go by. And after two more weeks I have four weeks to work on my independent study.

My research has been the most rewarding part of academics on this program. For our large thesis we’re required to have four in person interviews with experts in the field we are studying. I’ve been lucky enough to complete and go far beyond what is necessary for this project. I’m loving being able to create my own research and be able to network across Europe to find people to speak with, that are so encouraging of my own research. In Brussels I had one of these interviews and I walked out of that interview for my research with an offer to continue some of this expert’s research on a related topic. Essentially walking out with an internship officer in Brussels. Which is incredible. I had to go to Bern, the Capital of Switzerland, the other day for an interview and on my trip it hit me that I am pretty casually traipsing across Switzerland and Europe to talk to and network with people who take me and my research seriously. Its incredible.

So in addition to traipsing about Europe for academic reasons I’ve been having so many adventures. Since I last updated this we’ve been to the Olympic Museum and clubbing (which will never again be my scene) in Lausanne, on separate occasions. Lausanne is a very cool town a little ways down the lake  which has a lot more culture and life than Geneva which is more like DC with all of the international orgs etc.

Ry, Nagy and I went to Chamonix which is a small french town at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. That trip consisted of waking up at 6am and winging it, along with a whole bunch of running. We took the gondolas up to Le’ Aiguille du Midi which is as high (12602ft) as you can get without actually climbing the mountain.

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Between the two gondola rides we got out and walked on the mountain, which is about halfway up just before the clouds. It was incredible. Minus the sound of hearing Ry and Nagy I could only hear the wind and my own heartbeat. IMG_0172 IMG_0190

Somewhere in the midst of all of this I turned 20. Which was terrifying. In a lot of ways I’ve always felt older than just 20, but seeing the age actually associated was the weirdest shock. My family surprised me with the most thoughtful wonderful gift. A video of all the people that mean so much saying happy birthday, they even recruited Kat and friends from school. It is absolutely amazing, I had to watch it so many times to get the full effect, because in true Mason fashion I cried my way through it. I’ve never felt more loved from afar.

The host family <3
The host family ❤
Loves.
Loves.

The next trip: Ry, Nagy, Angie, Zach, Vivi and I went on was to go on a hike in Grindelwald. Which was yet again another early morning. I hadn’t missed a Saturday morning sunrise in a while. We took the train from Geneva around the lake and then to Interlaken and finally to Grindelwald. Its funny that Switzerland is so divided that when we all fell asleep on the train in Geneva everything was in French, but by the time we crossed Fribourg everything switches to SwissGerman, which is another challenge entirely. Where we hiked to Grosse Scheidegg and when we got to the top after a solid three and a half hours we had the most delicious beer. We stayed the night and it was probably one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

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Thinking of you Kelsey Hatchitt and our impending 30day throwdown.

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Other notable events, one of the first circuses I’ve seen since being a little kid to came to Nyon.

Morgan, Maggie and I also took a little trip to Lucerne (Luzerne). Yet another sunrise train ride and laced up hiking boots we decided to take on this mountain. We took one gondola up the mountain, and then decided to hike between that first and second gondola point. We got on to the hiking trail and though we were going to be okay just following the trail. Well after getting lost 3 times, hiking the mountain twice essentially , and also getting caught in the pouring rain we made it to the top. Switzerland never ceases to amaze me in how stunning it is. We were at the point in Switzerland where four different Cantons meet.

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Shortly after our program took a trip to Paris and Brussels, for mostly educational purposes but of course we still had a great deal of fun. Brussels is one of the most interesting cities I’ve been in. Its a lot smaller without a huge waterway through the middle of it so its very easy to get turned around in the older parts of the streets. Waffles. They are so great, and only 1Euro for a plain waffle, I think the Foggy Bottom farmer’s market is ripping us off big time. They’re just so so delicious. We were there for a total of two and a half days but I already know that i need to go back. It was so great and I got to meet up with a DPE friend, because of course we would see each other halfway across the world in another huge city.

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#rushdpe

And then Paris. Paris has such a special and distinct place in my heart. The last time I was in Paris I was at a similar point that I am now and being there with my family and being able to travel and learn about being a foreign service officer has shaped my life in so many ways. We were able to stay the weekend and I had the best time, because I got to see Annie. This little visit could not have come at a better time. I loved being able to be in Paris and create my own experience as well as catch up with my dear friend. Really a wonderful trip, it should get its own post, but I know that won’t happen.

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Wouldn’t be complete without running into someone else from GW by accident.

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The Louvre for free at night

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Gawking at 17th Century Italian art the Louvre
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Musee D’Orssay aka home.
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Open air food festival. Le food market.

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That seems to be some of the most important updates, however there is no way to capture everything that has happened in just a few short weeks here. This experience is incredible and the way that I can actively shape it is even better. I can see myself growing every time I have to grapple with speaking German or navigating a new city’s public transportation system in just a few minutes. I feel so much more myself being here and traveling, as in this is exactly what I want to do. Everything is just so beautiful and I feel so lucky to be here. That being said I always miss GW.

There’s just no way to fully capture everything I’m doing, seeing, and experiencing. Its like these relays are just the tip of an iceberg.

Le lac léman: Chapter 5

Every day here is an adventure and every time I attempt to update this blog I feel like I only relay 10% of everything thats been happening to me. So far this experience has been everything I’ve ever wanted as well as surpassing all of my expectations of what it would be like. Meals with my host family are a beautiful blend of speaking English, French, and Farsi, whilst discussion European education laws or immigration, or most recently Donald Trump and the absurdity that was the GOP’s most recent debate. I’ve loved being able to speak with such intelligent people whose perspective is completely different from my own.

Week one of classes has also been great. We all commute into Geneva in the morning on the most beautiful train ride, during which I always look out the window and gawk, because you can actually see Mont Blanc and France! Nagy, my buddy (because we live on the same street and like middle-school we walk to and from school and our activities together ), has noticed and on multiple occasions we’ve both said we can’t let the locals know we’re not used to it. We’ve also been here for almost two weeks and its still breathtaking every time. In class we’ve had multiple lectures from experts in the fields of Multilateral Diplomacy, Security Peace and Stability, as well as Research and the greatest and best part of these lectures for me has been that these experts do not base their thoughts and arguments on American Exceptionalism when they speak to us. They are from New Zealand or France and have been researchers and diplomats there first. Its so interesting to learn from professors that do not use the U.S. as synonymous with ‘we’ in international relations.

One of the first times I was really by myself was when I arranged a meeting this week with one of the experts from class to advise me on my Independent Study Project (the huge research paper that I basically chose this program for). I had to find his office and figure our the transportation to get there, and actually prepare for what I wanted to get out of this meeting. And I did it. Which looking back was much more of an accomplishment as it seemed. We talked about multilateral sanctions around the globe and different facets of the UN and the E.U.. I learn so much every single minute. The best way I can describe this is that (hey clare) my sense of self increased tenfold. I can network in a foreign country and be taken seriously for my research with experts.

Adjusting to everyday life here has also come way more naturally than I thought it would. We commute to school every day for the mornings, a break for lunch, and then in some afternoons we have French for three hours and then a dinner with the host family, and then homework and to bed. It feels a lot like high school with the added bonus that in those small breaks and weekends you can do whatever you want. I thank my parents for giving me such a mind for having a schedule that I’m comfortable in. I thank being an RA for being able to live alone and not feel lonely. I even thank the vern, yes the vern, for helping me live comfortably in a more quiet secluded place with a 15 minute commute to anywhere in our town.

It has also been so great to meet such an amazing group of people. Everyone on this program is so interesting to talk to on almost any subject. I also feel so lucky to have made friends so quickly, because most of the best friendships are based on experiencing new things together, a lot like dating.

Also I’m reading Eat Pray Love, which is yes very cliche and basic, and which is much better than the movie sorry, and it has been so perfect and parallel to a lot of my feelings the past few years of my life that it inevitably speaks to me. Which I will not go into depth about, because thats weird and its not all about me, but this last quotes I read last night after getting back from going out in Lausanne,

“Traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel.”

“Dear God, I could use a little break from this cycle, to give myself some space to discover what I look like and talk like”

Which if you know me echo some of my thoughts about my life, at least in part. In any case I am relishing and absorbing every moment. Which is important considering we end classes October 19!

view from the top of the cathedral in lausanne

Le lac léman: Chapter 3

the UN! my program allows us to use the UN library as our primary place for studying and we have full access to all of the UN and League of Nations original documents and archives! 

 

finally badged again
  
the picture does not do this room justice
    
  
one of the oldest UN chambers
  
UN chamber with artwork from a spanish artist
  
i will never get over this view
 

Le lac léman: Chapter 1

The past four days have been a whirlwind and I feel as if I’ve been in Geneva for weeks. Everything is vastly different and makes D.C. and everything there feel like a lifetime ago. However, since I’ve arrived, I’ve not stopped smiling. Arriving in Geneva instantly confirmed that this is where I need to be.

I and a few other kids on the program got off of our plane from London weary and ready to get through customs and were greeted by a large circle of our program all sitting on the ground in the Geneva airport. And then the name games began. The few seconds of solace of getting through all 3 security checkpoints and customs vanished. I was nervous looking out at the group of people that I would be spending the next four months with, whether I liked it or not at this point. What if nobody likes me, then what? Which is not a thought that has been so far out of bounds and not like I was thinking it the whole week prior to leaving. Lets be real, the thought of leaving everyone and everything that has become home, for 4 months of a currently blank schedule would get to many people.

Everything from then on was so natural in the way that we got to know each other and embrace life abroad. I’ve been having an incredible experience so far. I’ve gotten to be present in every moment and sitting and realizing that I don’t have to take my eyes off of something is profound. Anyway, getting to know everyone on my program has been overwhelming but they’re all very interesting and more importantly normal.

We’ve traipsed across the city multiple times and the blisters on my toes grow by the second, in a poorly timed purchase of new shoes.

We’ve all gotten very good at brushing off the eye rolls of every native as the ‘stupid Americans’ walk by.

We have had orientation sessions for the curriculum and the French placement test, hooray beginner. We also went on a historical walking tour which was obviously one of my favorite things gliding on that AP euro memories.

Today we were picked up by our host families, so I’ve met my host parents and I have moved into my room, which has a beautiful view.


I think I’ve won the study abroad lottery because even though I cannot go to Iran my host mother is Iranian! So I spent the afternoon chatting with her in Farsi which she hopefully wasn’t too disappointed by..and she gave me a french travel book that translates French and Farsi- cutting out English entirely, jury out on that one though.

Both of my host parents are fluent in French which I’ll be attempting besides speaking to Swiss and French men in bars.

The other girl with my host family from the program and I went on a walk in my town that just 15 minutes outside of the center of Geneva, named Nyon. It’s right on the lake and so beautiful.   

I spent dinner with my host family and their friends nodding and smiling as all the french floated far above my head, and when they stopped to speak English the table’s mood came to screeching halt, as to explain yet another thing that they had already been talking about. In other news I also tried Kangaroo meat at dinner; teared up and thought of Katy No Pockets and that was the end of that.

Apparently only in French is Lake Geneva not called Lake Geneva but actually called Lac Léman, so I figured it’d be appropriately pretentious for yet another study abroad blog.