Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rest of Europe, January Style

It's been a lot of time and a lot of travel since I last posted. Apologies to my one or two readers! Last I wrote I was in Switzerland. Since then I've turned 23 (ugh does that sound old)(I will hate myself for that parens when I'm actually old), and added a few visas to my passport. This post will be photo heavy and word light. As always, click to enlarge.

After I became old, I did some more skiing, most notably at Titlis. Titlis is a totally underrated ski area in the Urner Alps just on the edge of the bernese oberland that had absolutely stunning scenery, great snow, and minimal crowds. A big part of these excellent views is due to the fact that Titlis is part mountain skiing, and part glacier (= stellar powder). This can be enjoyed on your skis, or via the world's first revolving cable car! I was joined on my first cable car ascent by a group of Taiwanese tourists, who disappointingly expressed no surprise at my Chinese language skills throughout our entire 20 minute conversation. Anyway, gorgeous skiing at 10,000 feet in the literal heart of Switzerland. Highly recommended. These pictures do it absolutely no justice.
Glacier Skiing:

World's first revolving cable car:

Mountain Skiing:

View From the Top:

Toward the end of January I left by train for Brussels where I met up with Savannah, a friend of mine from Beijing. She's getting her masters, and was an excellent host. We did all the touristy things, which resulted in this highly unflattering photo of me being quintessentially Belgian: eating a waffle covered in deliciousness while standing in front of Manneken Pis, on my way to a brewery.

We also visited the Atomium, a leftover from the Expo of 1958 (being Shanghaiese, I have a deep and profound appreciation for all things expo-related). It's (obviously) a unit cell of iron magnified 165 billion times. The structure now operates as a museum of post-war Belgian life; each sphere is an exhibit hall. While wandering through the atom, Savannah and I saw a sign written in French that we didn't entirely understand so we decided to just walk past it and see visually what it meant. Turned out to be a private wine tasting. Even though we weren't invited, the hosts took a liking to the bumbling, illiterate Americans and let us stay and gave us free wine in exchange for stories about New York Jews. Seriously.

The Atomium in all it's eerie glory:

Traveling through the Atomium tubes:

Below the Atomium is Mini Europe, kind of like the world's first Epcot, also built for Expo '58 and unfortunately closed for the winter. A short walk from the Atomium is a Chinese garden and a Japanese pagoda. King Leopold II built them between 1901 and 1905 because he wanted to be able to walk through exotic architectural works without having to do all that exhausting travel. Clever guy. The gardens were pretty surreal, and reminded me of the Chinese garden in Zurich (which was built by Kunming, it's sister city, in a case of the first instance of sister cities actually meaning anything that I know of).

Mini Europe - how many destinations can you identify?:

The Japanese Pagoda:

Other Brussels highlights include such culinary delights as: pomme frites, chocolate, beer, absinthe and the best salsa in the world.

The Grand Place:

From Brussels I took the Eurostar to London. I almost missed my train because I forgot about having to go through passport control, which doesn't really formally exist between countries in continental Europe. I made it with 5 minutes to spare and had a lovely tunnel ride. At St. Pancras I met my friend Elizabeth who kindly offered her flat in Stratford for me to use while I was in London (she recently moved, but the lease on her old place wasn't up yet). In all, I spent about a week in London visiting various friends and places, and copious museuming while my friends were at work or in school. I got to geek out over the Rosetta Stone, ancient jewlery, and mummies! Plenty of pubs, football matches, and a failed pub quiz. Lots of shopping but as I'm impoverished, no buying. Curries curries and curries. No Madame JoJos this time, but pub hopping in West Wickham with the Beynons is always a thrill. Wonderful ways to spend my days. Other delightful hosts include: Kira, another Beijing friend who is getting her masters at SOAS and who visited me in Switzerland earlier, and Emma, and old FDL friend who I lived with last time I was in London.

The best part of the Natural History Museum:

The Victoria and Albert Museum:


The Eye:

(I learned that you can rent out cars - quite affordably - of the Eye for bachelor's parties, and they'll set up a bar in there and everything. This sounds AWESOME until you remember that it takes 45 minutes to complete a cycle, and there's no bathroom on board).
Shopping in Camden:


Trafalgar Square:

The British Museum:

After London I left for three weeks in the States which I'll catch up on soon. And then there was the epic saga that was my return to China. All for future blog posts. I'm now (finally) back in Shanghai. I'm almost settled back in, and my students are already arriving. First day of the new semester is tomorrow!