My blog updates about my amazing spring break trip to Switzerland have been anything but consistent. College professors love to bookend spring break with exams, papers, problem sets and other heavy assignments. So for now, I'm going to blame the fact that I'm a busy college student as the reason that my vacation photos are going up 3 weeks after my return to the states. Oh well.
Check out the gallery to see what I did Wednesday through Saturday of my spring break. Photos from the Geneva Motor Show and my tour of Nyon will come later, I haven't gotten to those yet.
I settled into a routine here: I had a fun, though busy day out traveling and then I was in bed and asleep by 10:30. Thursday was no exception as Ed and I headed over to the ski resort town of Chamonix in France. About a 90 minute drive from Nyon, Chamonix is perched at the base of some breathtaking French Alps, most notably Mont Blanc which is the highest peak in the Alps.
On the drive to Chamonix we had the mountains in front of us the entire trip, which reaffirmed that we were headed in the right direction. We arrived in Chamonix around 2:00 and stopped at La Petite Kitchen for lunch where I had a steak onion and cheese sandwich with frites and hot lemon tea, very French. On our way to the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car Ed and I stopped at a bakery to pick up a pastry with the generic name delicieux--a name so generic in fact that Google images did not find anything that looked remotely like it. You're going to have to take my word that delicieux is a pastry made from filo dough, sliced almonds and raspberries and what tasted like mountains of butter.
A pastry in one hand and a camera in the other, Ed and I wandered through Chamonix in the direction of the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, eventually finding the base station and ticket booth. Soon after, we were in a large 60-person gondola and assented the first 2354 meters up to Plan de l'Aiguille in about 10 minutes. We transferred gondolas and in another 10 minutes climbed to Aiguille du Midi at 3800 meters.
Once we departed the cable car, Ed and I had to get used to the fact that we were a couple miles above sea level. I'm not sure if you've heard but there's a lot less oxygen up there. Huffing and light headed we climbed several sets of stairs until we reached the bottom observation decks. A turn around the corner revealed the enormity of what we had just climbed; the mountains chained their way outward as far as we could see. Other than breathtaking (see what I did there?), the panorama of mountains flexed the raw power of nature and showed how small man really is. But then it got better.
Down the stairs, through a couple of convoluted hallways and across a bridge brought us to the base of an elevator carved into the rock. By 4:00 Ed and I were in one of the last groups to ride the elevator up those final meters to the 3482 meter observation deck. Up there we had a closer vantage point to the glacial peak of Mont Blanc. Though the sun was still up it was beginning its descent into the west, making the glacier and snow capped peaks shine and sparkle. I experimented taking a combination of various angles, panorama shots and videos on my camera but nothing really compares--this view must be seen in person.
Ed thought we might be able to see the Matterhorn on a clear day, but no dice. According to the various maps up there, Switzerland's most famous mountain wasn't visible from France's tallest. Not that it really mattered though as we saw a ton of other impressive peaks, both snow capped and not
After not long enough, we were ushered back down the elevator, through another convoluted set of stairs, bridges and hallways. We boarded the last departing gondola of the day back down the mountain. Going up may have been fast but going back down was faster. We transferred gondolas again at Plan de l'Aiguille and began our final descent. There were three cable towers along the route and after passing over each one the gondola would begin to descend a bit quicker which put us passengers in a temporary free fall; it was great.
When we reached the bottom a souvenir magnet and gelato were in order: banana's foster for me and rum raisin for Ed. The drive back to Nyon down a tight mountain road and through various mountain passes was traffic and border-stop free.
What a busy couple of days so far, let me fill you in.
My flight from Washington to Geneva landed on time, right around 7:00 AM local time, so that was good. Ed picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Nyon where he lives--in a very Swiss feeling house up a narrow lane. A lane so narrow in fact that he must retract the side view mirrors on his borrowed car to drive up the lane, otherwise they would scrape on the walls and homes that line the driveway.
After settling in with a shower and large cup of delicious coffee that Shirley made for me, we headed off to the Geneva Motor Show. After I woke up on Sunday, stayed up the entire day, headed to the airport at 3:00 AM and then flew to Geneva (via IAD) without really sleeping in between, the Geneva Motor Show was perhaps the most effective stimulant imaginable for keeping me awake.
So far in my life I've attended a couple seasons of both the New York and Los Angeles auto shows, but Geneva's easily blew both of those out of the water. It's gigantic and filled every one of Palexpo's 102,000 square meters. The show features automakers, both high and low volume, that cater to every market in Europe so there were roughly 50-75% more exhibitors than at any U.S. auto show. To make the most of my time at the show, I limited myself to only looking at exotic cars, concepts and makes and models that I knew I would never see in the U.S. I'll try and write up my impressions in a later post when I post pictures from the show.
After the show Ed and I headed off to the home of one of his friends to have dinner. This friend had a 16-year-old daughter whose nickname was pronounced in a similar way as my last name, so that was kind of a "small world" experience. After staying awake for roughly 50 hours straight, I finally headed to bed around 10 PM local time.
On Wednesday, after I slept in and caught up with the time difference, Ed and I headed off on an a day trip around lake Geneva. Driving along the lake's north shore, our first stop was in Lausanne to have lunch at a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards we toured the halls and basked in the sun shining through the stained glass of the Lausanne Cathedral. Then we got back in the car and headed towards Château de Chillon via a quick detour to quickly see the the sculpted gardens along Montreux's shore with Lake Geneva.
Once at Château de Chillon Ed and I toured as much as we could of the old castle in the 90 minutes before it closed for the day. I saw dungeons, the crypt, a dining hall, various bedrooms, a bathing room, latrines, court yards, turrets, ammunition and weapons storage rooms among many others not listed here. The view of the Alps and Lake Geneva out of the castle were brilliant and quintessentially Swiss. As the sun was setting, the light was dancing off the lake and the snowy mountain peaks which made for some excellent photos--that I will share later once they're edited.
Ed and I got back to Nyon around 7:30 that night where Shirley, who had stayed home for the day, prepared a savory dinner experience that appealed to all senses. We started out with a cheese plate featuring Gruyère, Sbrinz, Appenzeller and Saint Agur Blue. I typically don't care for blue cheese but this double cream Saint Agur Blue was quite good and was easily the surprise of the bunch. Following the cheese plate was a salad of avocado, sweet bell peppers and blueberries topped with an apple cider and maple vinaigrette. The main course was an expertly roasted rack of lamb complemented by a current and berry sauce, rice with onion and bacon, and a medley of Taiwanese mushrooms and vegetables. The meal ended with some rich vanilla and caramel Swiss ice cream paired with dessert wines.
A long day followed by an excellent meal left no reason for me to continue to stay away, I was asleep by 10 PM.
Or to be more precise, traveling again. After powering through the first half of my junior spring semester, I am fortunate enough this year to be heading to visit my step-dad in Geneva over my spring break. This trip couldn't have come at a better time: I just closed out an extremely hectic and crazy week filled with an essay, a mid term exam, two problem sets, various meetings, two on campus jobs and a quick dinner with my mom. Knowing that I would be headed toward one of Switzerland's most vibrant cities at soon was (forgive the cliche) the light at the end of the tunnel. Coincidentally, one of the many things Switzerland is known for is having some of the most incredible tunnels this world has ever seen.
But I'm not quite there yet. Right now I'm sitting at Dulles enjoying the spoils of the east coast and waiting for my flight to the home of those famous treaties. And in the meantime though I'll continue to indulge in free airport WiFi and Dunkin' Donuts' blueberry cake and maple frosted donuts.
I've been putting off this post for a little over a week now and I'm not quite sure why. Probably because I wasn't entirely sure what to write or what the right thing to say would be. In my Junior year of high school, I had a wonderful and extremely influential English teacher who taught me that 90% of all writing is pre-writing: thinking about what you mean to say, how you want to say it and the words to choose. Sitting down in front of the computer or blank page, is the easy part then. And for the majority of my posts so far, that is what I've done and it's worked well. I had experienced something, I thought about how I was going to craft that experience into words, and then I just type away for a few minutes--usually satisfied with the result. In Hong Kong, sometimes I was too busy with school work or my social life to get to that last "writing-things-out" part, and I regret that. However, I've been home for 10 days now and I've have had adequate time to compose and post, though I haven't. But then as I was WhatsApping one of the amazing friends that I met in Hong Kong this morning, I realized that I should stop thinking and just write. So, thanks to Zihui, here are a series of observations.
The battle with jet lag was exactly as difficult as everyone I spoke to said it would be. It took me about a week to completely return to a normal sleeping schedule. My abnormal sleeping pattern involved falling asleep at around 10 PM and waking up again at 4 AM. This was not acceptable and I'm glad to have put that behind me.
I still haven't fully unpacked. While coming home for Christmas break has turned into a routine by now, I've never brought such a large quantity of stuff home. And knowing that I will be packing most of it up in three weeks and taking it to California hasn't helped me want to unpack properly. Instead what I've been left with is piles of stuff on the floor of my room, as evidenced by the featured image for today's post.
It's been nice to see family that I haven't seen in months.
The temperature and weathe here in the Tri-State area is not at cold or windy as it was in Beijing. So either memory is wrong or we're having an unusually warm winter. I'm going to bet on the latter.
I really miss the food in Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong-style milk tea. I was in New York's Chinatown with my friend on New Years Day and I made the mistake of ordering an egg tart and milk tea at a Chinese bakery there. The egg tart wasn't flaky and tasted a bit off while the tea didn't taste as great as I remember it. The tea was served in a paper take-out cup, so after picking up the lid and inspecting the contents I realized that the milk tea was made with a tea bag and regular milk--so basically the wrong way to do it. I did however have some delicious curry fish balls that I bought from a street vendor outside of a Hong Kong-style restaurant.
I took a peek at the Google Analytics for this site, which I haven't done in a while, and I realized that most of my readers are not clicking the "Read More" button that I implemented for the sake of aesthetics. So while the button will still be visible, I'm going to put most of my future content above the break... so you'll see it.
Most of my experiences and impressions from Hong Kong never made it up onto the blog. I also have hundreds of photos that I need to sort through, edit and upload. While they're all still fresh in the mind, I intend to stick them up, so stay tuned.
For logistical purposes, I've been here at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport for the past seven hours and will need to wait another two before I am scheduled to board my flight back home. This is really weird for a variety of reasons.
- I've observed that Chek Lap Kok has this eerie slowdown that occurs between 2 and 5 AM. Most of the terminal is motionless because it is either vacant or there is the occasional sleeping traveler sprawled out across some seats. So I can see somepeople--but they're not moving. This also seems to be a peak time for the cleaning staff, who have dawned their vacuums and ride-along shampoo machines.
The airport has most of its restaurants concentrated in one centralized food court. The only ones open between 2 and 5 AM are the fast-food restaurants that in fact never close, and they offer a pretty limited menu during those hours. One restaurant, a Hong Kong based chain called Cafe de Coral, had an empty menu boardand its monitor menus were switched off. That didn't seem to stop about 10 people from queuing and ordering food. How strange.
- Being stuck here for a total of nine hours is strange and sad because I am in this limbo between the country that I'll called home for the past four months and the country that my passport says that I belong to. I really love Hong Kong, I'm going to miss the city a lot and I can't wait to come back. However this feels a little bit like a tease as I am technically still in Hong Kong, though I'm trapped in its (admittedly nicely designed) glass airport.
I am just finishing up another one of the most hectic weeks that I've experienced while abroad. On Tuesday I had my final final-exam and then Wednesday and Thursday were filled literally back to back with goodbye meals and outings with friends. I got back late from dinner on Thursday night and still needed to wash some clothes in preparation for my trip the next morning--so I stayed up to do a load of laundry. By the time my clothes were dry and folded it was 5 o'clock in the morning and I was to meet my friend at noon to go to the airport. With a couple of items still left on my to-do list, I skipped sleeping on Thursday night and pulled an all-nighter.
To back track a little bit, in the beginning of the semester I met my friend Sesley when we both joined the CUHK English Debate Team. She had mentioned that she was from Beijing and invited me to come visit sometime. I took her up on her offer and here I am. After we both finished our finals, I headed to Beijing with Sesley when she returned home for her Christmas break. So we just got here today, actually tonight to be specific, after our flight was delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours do to malfunctioning guidance equipment.
After landing and collecting our baggage, we meet up with Sesley's parents and headed over to KFC for a quick dinner. For some reason, Hong Kong and China seems to be obsessed with KFC and they are far more prevalent than in the US. I hadn't been to one in Asia until this evening and I have to say that the spicy chicken sandwich that I had wasn't bad.
Once we were done with dinner, her parents drove us back to their home in on of Beijing's many suburbs. I dropped off by belongings in the guest room before we headed over to the living room to enjoy some tea. Upon sitting down on one of the couches, I saw one of the coolest tea sets sitting on the coffee table (tea table?) in front of me. Pictured above, it was a wooden serving area about the size of a large cutting board with a built in drain that drained into a bucket beneath the table. Off on another table was an electric kettle that Sesley's father was heating water in. Once boiling, he poured the water into a tea filled tea pot to let the leaves steep. Conscious of the timing, the taste and temperature of the tea, he "washed" the small shallow tea cups with the first steeping to bring the cups up to temperature and bathe them in the taste of tea. As he said of course, the tea is best when hot so there is no sense pouring it into a cold and unconditioned cup. The tea was also strained and filtered multiple times before finally served.
This is China so naturally the teas that I tasted were phenomenal and delicious. I tried a couple of black and green teas, all prepared slightly differently and with different water temperatures. The photo you see to the right is the final green tea that I tasted which was prepared as an individual serving instead of as a shared pot. The tea making and talking went on for a couple of hours and it was a really lovely time to bond with Sesley and her parents.
As usual, I am incredibly busy. I was in Beijing last weekend and I'm still combing through and editing the photos from the trip. However in the meantime take a look at a snack that I ate tonight: Black Forest cake and Taro cake from the Hong Kong bakery chain Maxims's Cakes.
It's been two weeks since I've written anything here--and that's two weeks too long. I thought I would break the dry spell with a post about food.
One of the greatest things about food culture in Hong Kong, in my opinion of course, is the afternoon tea set. I am not sure if this occurs in all of her majesty's former colonies, or if it is specific to Hong Kong, but from roughly 2-5:00 PM during weekdays restaurants and cafeterias advertise a snack special. In most of the canteens/cafeteria's around campus what they'll typically offer is a snack food and drink for a set price which is slightly discounted from the price you would pay at the peak meal time. So for example, today I went and got a honey chicken wing with fries and a Coke for HKD 14 (roughly USD 1.80). It was pretty good, but what I like the most are the portion sizes. I am the kind of person who likes to snack between meals, and
sometimes most of the time a bag of chips simply won't do. What tea sets offer is the perfect amount for a mid-afternoon snack. I suspect restaurants advertise these to draw in business during an otherwise lull in the day, and I am a fan.
More and more relevant posts coming soon! I've been busy and I want to share.