Iceland, the world, and volcanic ash

So this weeks news has been plagued by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, and the subsequent travel chaos that the world is experiencing because of the massive ash-cloud. Lets take a minute to look at the facts and the global reaction.

People have no right to be upset with Iceland, nor any nation; natural disasters are exactly that… and uncontrollable

People need to stop being so critical of the fact that their Swiss Vacation from Sweden has to be cancelled, because quite frankly the flash flooding in Iceland and the way the Icelandic people are suffering is far greater than a vacation cancelled.

The closures have occurred for the greatest safety of passengers, and air-traffic.

A lot of negative media attention, and social networking has been going on blaming Iceland. It’s not their fault, nor their people’s fault; so stop blaming them and the country.

I find it also kind of fascinating that the world is taking such a huge stance on this. What about when a massacre is going on in Sudan? People notice the ‘issue’ and go about their day, but now that the volcanic ash has affected people’s travel it becomes a huge issue and it’s all Iceland’s fault.

Grow up people; you’re pissing me off. This experience once again helps humans to understand the humility and the grandeur of Earth and how we are all connected in a larger way that we often thing. For instance, weather is often identified by region and sometimes sub-categorised within regions or countries. Frankly stated, we all share in weather and how it affects us. Sure a few centigrade lower here and there, and higher elsewhere, but the way that climate, weather, and the natural balance affects us links us all together. The same Jet Stream that warms the Northern Scandinavian nations, is the same that warms the UK and Caribbean.

Take a step back and realize what you are saying, thinking, and accusing and why. You’ll find you have nobody to blame but yourselves for being so egotistic, selfish, and critical of something that can’t be blamed on any one place or nation.

And for the record, I’ve loved Iceland well before this disaster has gone on. I give this opportunity to wave from the city to my friend Hei∂ar, who I’ve known forever! :wave:

Summer Vacation with Mom: Trains and Basel

On our last day in the Swiss Riviera we finally realised that we had nothing to do for the Monday to Wednesday before the flight home for mom departing from Frankfurt. I had been bugging mom to choose where we would go next, because finding accomodations would be absolutely horrid. Well it turned out that it wasn’t so difficult, so since she has no idea about Swiss geography, we decided that we would go to Basel, or Bâle for the francophones. It worked out for me since I only live about an hour away from Basel, and I was getting pretty tired of traveling and wanted to go home.

We went to the counter to give them our key and information and to call Basel to book the hostel for her, it was quite reasonable price for a hostel, and then we were off to the train station to get to Basel. Since none of our cards worked in the machines, we bought our tickets from the guichet and then waited awhile after buying sandwhiches and coffees for the journey. Our train arrived, and we departed from Vevey heading for Basel. The train was really nice and we got our places in a nice comfy section of the train where there was lots of leg room and luggage storage.

The train ride was only about three and a half hours so we had magazines to read, and we basically just talked about the family or other things that we hadn’t caught up on. It proved to work because before we knew it we were even halfway there! The funniest part of this entire train ride was the people that sat around us. Mom had absolutely no idea what was going on because she can’t do the multi-tasking thing like I do, and since I’m super-observant. I was watching everything that was going on around us, and I noticed this handsome younger-looking man sitting a row infront of us facing us in one of those four person work areas. Well it was probably the fact that we were laughing, and speaking in English because he found us to be quite amusing and something nice to look at. It was obvious that he was francophone, because of the way he stares (I’ve learned to tell), but he kept smiling at me and was distracted from his own crossword, due to either our rhukus or my amazing good looks (I jest of course )

So when we arrived in Yverdun-les-Bains (what an awesome name eh?), he started to disembark the train, and I couldn’t help but notice the outright and obvious staring that he was doing up until the point that he actually got off the train. Full turnaround look even whilst going down the stairs, so I laughed to myself mom being clueless of everything, obviously. I just thought it was a hillarious thing, since I never seem to attract positive attention, but somebody was clearly interested, funny that! So to that random guy of whom I will name Yves from this point forward, I didn’t get a chance to say hello to you since I was talking with my mom, but hey! Hope that we weren’t too much of an annoyance on the train for your travels! Keep on truckin’, mate. The train departed and for the next hour or so we passed through German-speaking and French-speaking regions, I could tell by the announcements and the electronic information in each train about the stops. When it said “Prochain arrêt” obviously we are in a French town, and when it says “Nästa halt” I knew we were in a German region.

Arrived at Basel in one piece, in the heat of humidty and had no idea of where we were going. The map proved to be useless because we couldn’t figure out what side of the bloody train station we were on. So we got a drink, and then headed to find mom’s hostel after checking SNCF train times. We made it there after about an hour of walking, and noticing that all of Basel was under construction and difficult for pedestrians. It’s a normal city, nothing really to see or do, but it would do for the next few days. We got our key and moved her into her very backpackers room, and transferred all the luggage to me to take with me so that she only had a little bag.

We searched for something to eat before left on my train, but the only place with something reasonable was a Pizzeria, where they didn’t speak any langauge other than Swiss German. Needless to say we had a horrible time ordering and communicating with the Iranian family that owned the resteraunt. We eventually got our drinks and food and then we ate. It was horribly expensive like everything in Switzerland but then I went off to the train sation to begin my next two days of commuting back and forth from Strasbourg.

The machine was being evil to me at the train station, but I made it back to Strasbourg with no problems except for the customs guards who asked me a million questions about where I lived and such, which was really annoying but they let me by!

Summer Vacation with Mom: Swiss Riviera

Our Geneva experience was running to an end the following day and I was tired like a zombie so luckily when we decided to head over to the train station to get a train to Vevey it wasn’t such a fiasco. We managed to get out of the busy hostel in time and I checked my e-mails to see if mom’s friend that we were meeting had sent me anything. Who is this woman you wonder, well her name is Carvi and she’s an American woman from Kalamazoo who had married a Swiss man and had been living in Switzerland for quite some time, apparently twenty years. So how does she know us in all of this? Well when my parents got married in Switzerland way back when, my father had kept in contact with Carvi, a woman that he met during his choir tours around the world, and since she was a translator at the time it was perfect for translating the wedding and all supporting documents. So apparently after the wedding my father and her had been in contact via snail-mail and e-mail when it was discovered.

She had since started to work in Admissions at an international bilingual school in Lausanne, and when we sent out e-mails about the death of my father her and her ex-husband Walter had responded and offered accomodations to me at any time whilst I was in France. Also my mother had decided that she wanted to bring some of my father’s ashes to the location of their marriage, so she shot off a bunch of e-mails. Enough of a trip down memory-lane, we got on the train in Geneva headed for Brig, on the way we went through Lausanne on the very interesting Swiss trains. I could swear they belong in America because the seats are huge, and the asiles are massive, big enough for morbidly obese people; I was surprised but never-the-less we arrived in Vevey, the location of our hostel.


I navigated us through the rainy streets to the water where our hostel was and we checked in and got settled, it was a nice little place, and then we got some tourist information and took a nap. I got hungry so we eventually decided to go in search of food, with the help of the tourist information. The town was so small but so easy to get lost in, especially when we couldn’t find the bloody resteraunt that I was looking for, but in any case we settled on a pizzaria owned by some Italian man and the food turned out to be excellent. I had this roasted egg thing as an entré, and then a white cheeze pizza sans tomatoesm which was wonderful and tasty.

We went back to the hostel, found some American hikers that we shared the room with, and I got some sms from Carvi asking to meet us the following morning at the market towards lunch time. We woke up and went to buy vegitables and fruits at the very quaint market, and I received an sms saying that she was waiting for us early towards the hostel so we rushed over and awkwardly met after thinking that we were some other people. She certainly was a nice woman and we went for coffee to organise what we were going to do. Our original plans were to take some of the trains up the mountains and some of the faniculars of course also to see the moutains but the weather was looking a bit grim. After coffee Carvi took us to a neighbour town on the Riviera nammed Villeneuve which apparently specialised in fondue.

I must say that I’ve never had fondue like this, it was absolutely devine, and I just was polite and quiet mostly as mother and Carvi caught up, as all of the other people in the resteraunt was giving us weird looks for speaking in English. I’d just like to point out that I’m fluent in French, and could have easily had a conversation with any of them, but their looks of distain were turning me off from being social. We departed and she dropped us off at the Chateau de Chillon which we were going to tour. Thanks to our Riviera Card we received a 50% discount on the entrance to the castle and began our tour. Unknowing that they had multiple languages for paper-guides I grabbed two French ones and we went on the tour. I read out the things and struggled to think of odd vocabulary that I’d never heard of.


From the ouside the castle, you’d never imagine it to be so large but after touring it for a good two hours we realised how freaking large it is and how it truely could house a royal family and guests quite easily. Of course equipped with guards and security measures, including dungeons and royal-bedrooms the castle is complete. During the times of the Helveticans living in Switzerland (the original Swiss people; hence the name Confederation Helvetique) there were many royal families and like most areas in Switzerland they became different cantons and were conquered by others. This particular castle was kept in well shape, even for a tourist location, and was fun to have to duck everywhere becasue at the time, people were much smaller.


As proof of the midgets that roamed the world hundreds of years in the past, view this bed for the Count or Duke that lived in the castle. I’d say that it’s a Napoléan sized person with a complex, but I don’t want to offend the already perfectionist Swiss people. The gardens were beautifully kept (obviously) and we even managed to follow this old woman that looked like a teacher. She was giving a tour to some school children so I followed her and translated for mom, and it turned out to be quite the educational speech that the woman was giving to the kids, none of whom were remotely interested in the slightest.


Following the castle, we embarked on a walk back to Montreux (yeah right eh?), mom thought that it was pretty crazy but after having walked Paris I knew that we could make the 4km trekk! Instead what we decided to do was make it to Montreux, which was quite a bit away from Vevey by foot, and take the train to a medieval town of Lutry to see it since the tourist guide said that it would be nice. It was on the verge of raining, but getting on the trains and off we went.


After arriving
at the train station of course I had no idea where anything was since the map was quite sketchy and without road names. We headed towards the main road, and then smelt garbage and other gross smells until we stumbled on by accident the beginning of the self-guided tour around the village. Saying it was a village is an understatement of the cenutry, as the map made it seem quite large so needless to say we missed some turns due to my lack of judgement. The first thing we saw were these weird stones that looked like Stonehenge gone wrong and Swiss, so we hurried along trying to make it through the village before it downpoared.


Only really interseting thing to see was the harbour, the church which had a wedding going on, and the really hillarious poop-and-scoop signs that are posted everywhere in Switzerland. Isn’t it cute as shown above? I just about laughed and fell on my bum when I read them; what will they come up with next eh? So with all the stores closing up we were thirsty and I decided that I wanted to get some soda and went to a local shop for that, and asked a stupid question to the woman about numbers and the coins since I didn’t realise that a ½Fr was the same as 0.50Fr. I know I’m a ditz but it was a little unclear especially since they are smaller than the other coins, I thought Swiss money was supposed to be representative of the size; duh apparently not!

We headed back from Lutry to Vevey since Carvi was meant to pick us up in a half our to bring us to her flat for dinner. She lives in a village up the mountain only about five kilometers, so she arrived and off we were to her very cute little appartment where she lives alone since the divorce of her husband. Her daughter Patricia was too sick to attend the dinner, so we just got shown photographs of her which obviously I had no idea about her; I wasn’t even born when my parents got married. In any case, dinner was wonderful conversation and food and we headed back to the hostel to be greeted by a huge 80’s party at the casino next door. I put my headphones in and fell asleep and mother complained all the next day about the apparent loudness of everything. Get over it, is what I have to say. I’ve slept through much worse; and am proud of it.


The next morning Carvi met us and would take us into the mountains before going to see Walter, the Swiss ex-husband. We went by car about an hour and a half by highway towards the north-west and got a bit lost but managed to find our way to where we were going. The tiny little mountain village (even smaller) Deborence was a tiny little lake within the mountains, surrounded by green hills and snow-covered alps. It was absolutely the most beatiful view I’ve ever seen, and being completely surrounded by the mountains was well worth the scary incline up the mountain, with tiny roads and going through the mountains.  


The view was so typically Swiss with unfortunately no cows, but little tiny huts and a little resteraunt where we had a drink before going back down. The tiny pondish-lake was at the foot of the mountains, and attracted very few tourists, but the ones who did come there were greeted warmly by a semi-cenile man who was at the café; it was all in good spirits though. We realised that we were going to be late so we quickly went back to the car and headed back into civilisation and to our next engagement.


Next day we were to meet Walter, the ex-husband of Carvi who lived in Tour-de-la-Péliz which is just a few kilometres away from Vevey towards Montreux so we went to the flat and were greeted by an Albanian woman who was apparently his new wife. She seemed much younger and very high maintenance. We had a paniced moment at the door when mother spoke English and the poor Albanian woman didn’t understand, so I quickly and gracefully came in and introduced everyone in French and thankfully Walter arrived. For an old Swiss man, he speaks English quite well with a thick French accent (which is to be expected). So we chit-chatted awkwardly in the study for some time munching down Swiss choclates provided by the pretty Albanain woman to who’s name eluedes me currently.


Walter had decided that they were going to take us by car to Lausanne and visit the Olympic Museum, because guess what; Lausanne was the original offices for the Olympics, and still are! Who would have known that this tiny little city would have such a history with so many international sports organisations? Well Walter knew it, and apparently he’s a former national judo player, so he was quite proud to display his Swiss history at the museum. We had some videos taken of us awkwardly, and since he was trying to show off his high lifestyle he even took us into the most expensive hotel in the city, just to show us. He’s a bit of a weird man, but very kind.

The museum was very informative and nice, so we went through a bit rushed and learned a lot and then headed back for some dinner. Walter and company decided to go to a tiny little authentic Greek resteraunt over by the castle, so we gracefully accepted and off we were. On a Sunday evening there weren’t many people there at the hour we arrived, so we had the whole resteraunt, and as it tourned out the wife knew the wife of the owner of the resteraunt who was the hostess so we received absolutely amazing treatment. I’ve never had real Greek food but I was blown away by the amazing tasting food, they kept bringing us more and more stuff, with real wine from Crete. The woman was so kind and warm that it made me really feel good things towards culture from Greece, which really I’ve been inclined to not enjoy due to lack of personal space and the sexual nature of the culture.

Funny moments of the conversation during dinner included talk about how Walter had apparently found the cure for cancer, and it was cinnamin. I humoured him as I realised he was cenile as clear by the expressions of the Albanian woman’s fac
e. At the end of the dinner the hostess came to ask us where we were from and such and we told her, and then she asked something to my mother which obviously she had no idea how to answer, and then I explained that she didn’t speak French at all, so she didn’t understand anything that she had said all night. This is where she laughed and explained that she was wondering why she kept getting blank looks for the whole night, she asked some questions about the area and why we were here and then we were off after a wonderful dinner. Quite frankly the best dinner I’ve ever had; in such a warm place. The chef came out and introduced himself also, explaining that the salad was fresh from their garden on the roof and everything. It was so quaint and nice, so Walter took us home so we could be off the next morning to wherever we decieded to go.

Summer Vacation with Mother: Geneva

So we left from Gare de Lyon in a huge rush because well we had problems getting up and public transportation. Despite all of this, we made it on time, but it turns out that we nearly missed the train because as we were boarding the TGV train with a destination of Geneva. It was a nice train, and after finding spots for our luggage we sat down and made our way to Geneva. It was a quick journey only about 5 hours at a lovely speed of 250km/h going through the green pastures of the Jura. I think it rained at some point but I’m really not sure, but the tiny little train stations that we passed were an amazing feat for me, to realise that even in these run downed ones they still have TGV trains!

The weather in Geneva was quite nice, windy but along Lac Léman it was just gorgeous. I had to comment about the large amount of immirgants that there are in Geneva. I later learned from a local that the city and basically the country is all immigrants, and they open their doors to many people; but don’t allow naturalisation. In any case there are lots of people speaking French with weird accents that aren’t francophone at all. It was fun in any case to be able to communicate with them; but golly gee willigars are things in Switzerland expensive! It’s horrible, I want to hurl everytime I go to buy something!


So what is there to do in Geneva? Well it’s the origin of a lot of international organisations and incidentaly the UN, so a trip to see the UN offices was something that was absolutely… manditory. When one walks up to the UN offices in Geneva they notice that there is a huge ground fountain area that has a unique show going on with lights and fountains of different hights and sizes. In the distance over near the entrance there is this massive chair, that truely is the largest chair I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It has a missing leg that is to symbolise the ongoing and unfortunate existance of landmines, and demonstrates a simulation of a limb being removed forcefully from a body. Truely is something that I can relate to, having been the MC at A Night of a Thousand Dinners two times during my high school career. For those of whom don’t know what that is, it’s a fundraiser around the world where people gather for dinner to donate money to eradicate the usage of landmines worldwide, something that the United States refuses to do, as they are continuously the largest producer, distributer, and user of the dangerous weapons.


When we arrived I wanted to take a tour and see the insides, but we had a bit of problems finding the enterance until we walked around and went to where there looked to be a mass amount of foreign looking people. I went in and got the supercool visitors badge, which made me feel so official, and we had to wait an hour for our tour. We took it in English for obvious reasons, if not so obvious because my mom doesn’t speak a word of French unfortunately. I figured that since we had a pass we could walk around the grounds, but the security guards would have nothing to do with that so they chased me down pretty quickly and directed me to the waiting room for the tours. We sat there boringly and waited to take the next tour in English, and then finally we started. We had a really nice tour guide who was French, and she struggled at times with English but it was a very informative tour. She showed us all the rooms that were important, and lucky for us there was a conference being held there so the rooms were in use.


The lovely thing about the building is that it’s divided into several different wings. The new one and the old one, which are all connected by the famous hallway that was even around during the times of the League of Nations, that means pre-1920’s for all those who are not familiar with the history of the United Nations. The other interesting thing about the office in Geneva is that it’s where all the member-states gifts to the UN are. Just about every country member has given at some point the UN a gift that reflects culture in some way or another; the most prolific one was the USSR’s monument in the outside area. I have attached some pictures of other gifts below. The one on the left is a painting of a conference between Sweden and Finland when they were desputing the territories of Åland Islands off the coast of Finland, apparently the painting was a reflection of the peace finally achieved on the subject.


After the one hour tour we went to the gift shop and bought some souveneers. It’s a true shame that the main UN office is in New York, but I will have to go one day to see those offices which are much larger and even more international than this one. I bought a flag that had some emblems on it, and mom bought this square box thing that shows different aspects of the UN Offices in Geneva. After this we embarked on the walk back to our hostel. Before we had even gotten to the UN we had quite the fiasco of looking for a bank, and one of the rudest woman gave me directions, but we found a machine that we could use so it was all good.


Along the way we came across some of the most beautiful green pastures that I’ve ever seen it was amazing to see. But what else could it be like in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to; the only thing that they have going bad for them is the high cost on everything. We also passed along the tram tracks the UN High Commission for Refugees which was this huge building, and I didn’t notice until we were leaving but all the buildings around the UN and even in that whole quartier were devoted offices to different departments of the United Nations; quite neat.

Although out stay in Geneva was a couple days, it certainly felt like a lot shorter time since we were actually doing some formal things whilst there, eating out (or at least trying to find places to eat out at), and doing a tour then looking around for shopping mall which never existed. On the final night I was sitting in the lobby talking on my mobile to Robb when some Swiss guy named Guy sat next to me and started talking. Apparently he just likes to meet foreign people and learn t
hings about the world and whatever; he was a nice guy but very weird. In any case I just went for a walk in the rain and then came back quite late to bed, ready to wake up in the morning to get out of the hostel and move onto Montreux, our next stop in Switzerland.


Apparently since Wednesday things haven’t been so exciting. And why would this be you ask; because I’ve fallen ill. I thought that I could escape it and keep myself healthy while here, but I suppose it was inevitable! Thursday morning I woke up and was feeling a slight scratch in the back of my throat, but I thought it was just some dryness since the air here is really dry, but as the day progressed I found my sinuses going crazy and then getting excessive nosebleeds. It turns out I have a cold, but of course this didn’t stop me from going out on Thursday night, the night of parties in France since everyone goes home for the weekend. So Nic and Sarah send me a texto saying that they are going to the Salamander at 23.00, so I think, fine fine I will suck it up and go have a good time just becasue I was bored and stressed from school a bit.

I got ready, and we all were late that day, but I was mostly just a bit irritated becasue my teachers aren’t being really clear about when something is ‘due’ and when it’s ‘due’ to be handed in. Apparently we are supposed to read their minds, regardless I managed to get everything handed in and nothing too crazy was happening. Right, so getting ready and then we were all late and we walk over to the Galia after visiting Zara and Matthieu who were going somewhere else. We said hellos and then left for the party, and of course as always Nic has his huge entourage with him. Whole bunch of Americans were there, lets see if I can remember their names. The were Sara from Rhode Island, Jessica from Syeracuse, Sarah from Maine, Lisa from God-only-knows-where, and then some random girl who I don’t even remember being around us that night. Anyways, we get to the disco and Ginette’s mom calls her mobile so she ditches us for awhile and we go in and it’s lame to the max. Apparently it was Economics night, and everyone there was weird, and it was mostly guys just sitting around, but the most disturbing thing was the fact that they were playing 80’s funk. When I say funk, I mean serious funk that it’s impossible to dance to, so after ‘attempting’ and clearly the rest of them not being drunk enough to continue they go and ask the DJ to change it and he says ‘I’m not allowed’ so we are all thinking ‘lame!’