Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gehry and Gstaad

Earlier this week, I visited my dad's campus to meet him for lunch. Most of you know my dad works for Novartis, a pharmaceutical company headquartered here in Basel. A few weeks ago the International Herald Tribune wrote a piece on the campus, which I believe re-ran in the Times a few days later:

Anyway, the campus is really cool because each building is made by a different accomplished architect or artist collaboration, Gehry, Siza, Federle etc. Originally all the buildings were intended to be white squares, but then they decided that might be boring. Everything is still pretty square, but exciting to look at, and then of course there's the incredibly non-square Gehry. The campus also has the world's largest freestanding glass building. It's only used as a security checkpoint! But it's all glass, not even structural supports.

So, the main street, Fabrikstrasse:

The Diener & Diener/Federle:

The Sejima and Nishizawa collaboration:

The Gehry:

Last weekend I went skiing in Gstaad. Notable for the ridiculous weather. Here's a photo from the top.

You can see a bowl of alpine peaks just peeking out above a cloud. That is the cloud I descended into and stayed in all day. There was a visibility of between 5 and 10 feet. And cliffs. So I had to feel for death with my poles. It was terrifying, but I wasn't about to waste a day on skis. Even though at times the whiteout was so bad that I actually felt nauseous, as I literally couldn't tell what was up or down and couldn't see my feet and there was just impenetrable white in every direction. Weird to feel claustrophobic while in what would normally be actually is an incredibly open space.
The view from my chairlift, just before the chair in front of me faded from view:

So, my most eventful skiing in a few years. Also, the train I took to Gstaad was called the White Bull. I'm quite convinced this is the tackiest thing Switzerland has to offer. The train had bullprints down the aisle, and occasional seats covered with "white bull" fur. Every time the train left a station there would be a Southwestern "yeeehawwww welcome to the white bullllll" except awkwardly in German. The guy who brought the coffee cart around was dressed in a white bull costume.

Hopefully I'll be traveling a bit soon. Will definitely be in London by the 28th, New York on the 2nd, followed by DC and Boston. Let me know if you're going to be in those places. I'll be looking for playmates/places to stay.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Basel Doldrums and December Review

It's been over a month and a whole new decade has begun since my last post. Quick review of my eventful december:

Marina came to visit! It was so wonderful to have a friend come by. I've been getting pretty lonely in Shanghai lately, and feeling homesick. I regret that I was kind of busy when she did come (it was finals/end of semester prep time) but I'm so glad that she did! We did all the touristy things, did a lot of shopping and even threw in some obligatory KTV. Marina gets a shoutout for mastering the essentially Chinese practice of riding on the back of my bike to get everywhere. She also brought me a ridiculous survival package - coffee, reeses, jolly ranchers and tide pens galore.

Oh, and we went to the top of the Jin Mao and marveled at the ridiculousness that is the Giant Bottle Opener. Shanghai, you are ridiculous.

The end of the semester was so sad. My students were all really awesome - as I'm sure you all know by now - and I was really sad to see them go. I do get to keep two for next semester though! I'm optimistic for the next group. I didn't really know what to expect this past fall, and my non-expectations were certainly exceeded. Spring, you've got some work to do, but mainly I'm just excited to meet you all and be better at my job since I know pretty much how things work now.

Due to a last minute scheduling change, I found myself with almost two months off between semesters rather than the two weeks I originally expected. A blessing and a curse. Great, because who doesn't enjoy vacation time? Not so great, because I'm poor and thus can't travel too much. Right now I'm still at my parent's house in Switzerland where I've been the worst tourist ever. I've rarely left the house, although to my credit it has been raining quite a bit. Mostly, though, it's because I don't really know what to do in Basel as a single person who doesn't speak German. Ideas welcome. That said, the flight from Istanbul to Basel is one I sincerely recommend a window seat for.

Basel from the air (note the background Alps:

And, my parent's village from the air:

I did get out for a bit with a family road trip to Luxembourg and the Black Forest. Luxembourg was EVEN MORE adorable than Switzerland (see posts from March 2008) - as if that's even possible. I failed at finding my grandfather's cobble shop (is there a name for that, like cobblery or something?), but I would like to go back and try and delve deeper into the Melsen clan.

The Black Forest (southwestern Germany) was also adorable and pretty much made of gingerbread houses and cuckoo clocks. We threw in the Heidelberg castle for good measure.

I spent my first New Years with family and not friends for the first time since I was about 10. That was weird. Mom, Dad, Clayton and I went to the oldest bridge over the Rhine to watch the fireworks display. It was impressive, but a bit lonely, as you look around and everyone else was in giant groups of friends and couples. I've since learned that it's Swiss tradition to spend Christmas with your family, and then ditch them to spend New Years with your friends, which explains this a bit. Regardless, the fireworks were pretty and I had several embarrassing conversations with people on the tram in German. Surprise: my German is not up to par. Also, this dude filled his backpack with fireworks, threw a bunch of matches at it, and ran:

But, like I said, things have been painfully slow recently. If you're in Europe right now, PLEASE let me know. I WILL visit you. Or you can swing by here.