Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Football, eawag style

Yesterday, some people at eawag organized a football tourney for the whole institute.  Some 13 teams got together and played football at a nearby pitch for about 5 hours (with short 12 minutes games).  Each team was required to have one girl, and I think we were the only one with more girls than guys.  That's ecology for you.  We didn't have much experience, but had a lot of energy, and it was fun.  We finally one a game for the 11th/12th place game (our 5th and last match).  I was amazed at how well a lot of people did on energy and momentum alone without having much ball handing or strat skills.  Just go.   It was a fun afternoon and a good excuse to get away from the lab bench/computer screen (though our 17 degree C analysis room actually felt good in yesterday's heat).  Naturally the event ended with wurst and beer in proper central European style.  And the winning teams got champagne. 

Three days left here.  Pantry cleaning time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Wilty Weekend

My ex-roomie Jamie and her brother came into town this weekend en-route to Southern Italy and Greece.  It was great to see her.  I showed them around the area, but I think they ended up looking at more chocolate chops and grocery stores than they bargained for because that's what I usually look at.  

On Thursday in preparation for their arrival, I visited the huge Glattzentrum mall and got some food and a nice bottle of spatlase riesling from a Zurich winery. Also, I had gone to a friend's place on Wednesday to pick up some air mattresses and a pillow so they could crash more comfortably in my little room here.  I picked them up from the airport around 7PM, and they were much less sleepy than I expected.  We enjoyed a dinner of pizza bread and riesling.  

Friday morning they were a little slow to wake up, but we made it into Zurich center and took a wander down Bahnhofstrasse, the huge shopping street.  Naturally we stopped in at all the big chocolatiers.  At the lakeshore, they were just closing up the morning farmers market, but we found some nice Italian ladies with bread, and snagged a nice brown loaf before they packed up.  They even threw in three little foccacias since they were done for the day.  Pretty good deal, I'd say.  We caught a bus down the lakeside to the Lindt and Sprungli chocolate factory, which according to various internet sites, was supposed to have a factory tour with free samples.  But alas, the tour deal had been gone for a few years, so all we got was a huge Lindt shop.  We did pick up a few 100g chocolate bars for a buck each (usually 2-3).  

On deciding that a boat ride back to town would be more exciting than a bus ride, we picnicked at the lakeside and caught a boat back into town.  We were a little tired by this point, so we stopped in at Cafe Schober in the old town so Jamie could try their fantabulously decadent hot chocolate.  Wandered a little more, climbed the Grossmunster, and stopped at the Coop for dinner supplies.  For dinner, we made homemade fondue with gruyere and bergkase.  And we dipped sausages.  It was pretty awesome.  

The Wilts needed to find a hostel for Rome, and Jamie wanted Andrew to learn to pick one.  It definitely took him/them about 3 hours to finally decide on one.  It's so hard making decisions. . .

Saturday, we got up a little earlier and hopped a train into Bern, the national capital.  The city
 burned down in the 15th century,
 so all the wood buildings were replaced with sandstone.  As a result, the city is really beautiful with matching buildings and wide streets.  There was a farmers market here too, which had good samples.  There was also a lady from Globos handing out amazing pralines.  We tried to ge
t in for a tour of the parliment building, but all the tour spots were gone for the day.  :(  We wandered down the main street which has cute statues on columns every 100m or so.  The buildings all hung over the sidewalk, which made for a nice walk, and there were little cellars along the street.  Some had shops, but many were bars, so it would have been fun to see the place at night.  

Bern is named after this guys who shot a bear on the site, and bear
s are the city's special symbol.  They have a bear pit with bears, but recently voted to make
a nicer bigger new one, so we didn't get to see the bears.  We walked up a hill to a lovely rose garden and an expansive city view.  Lunchtime was rolling around and our tummies were getting rolly too, so we walked back into town and stopped at the Markthalle, which has a lot of little food stalls, for lunch.  Afterwards, we visited the Swiss Alpine and Mountaineering Museum.  It was a little disappointing, but they had a model of the Val Roseg there, which was cool.  

We took the train back to Zurich, and had dinner and beer in a place in the trainstation recommended by the lonely planet.  It was not amazing, but the food was hearty, and the beer selection was vast.  

Sunday looked rainy, but we took a boat ride on the lake anyway.  It was a 2-hour ride to the other end of the lake, and we amused ourselves with 3-person pinochle.  Not nearly as cool as 4-person, but we made do.  On arriving at Rapperswil, we found a festival going on in the town with jazz and blues concerts and tons of food stands.  Mostly Asian ones, oddly enough.  The castle in the town was really pretty and the courtyard had a funny covering funnel thing.  There were vinyards, and Jamie got a baby bottle of riesling from the next town over.  The wander through the old town was quite charming.  For lunch, they got a cervalat and a wurst and we had brought some picnic stuff.  Andrew was really excited about the Miller beer (silly Americanisms) but they were out so had to settle with Heiniken.  After lunch, we watched the birds and listened to the music until the next boat came.  

They had a night train to catch at 8:30, so I made them some pasta (cleaning out the pantry already) and they packed up their things.  I dropped them off at the station and said goodbye for now.  Sounds like the rest of their trip will be a blast, and I'll even be gone and playing tourist in a few days.  

This is the last week at work.  Today the whole company has a soccer tournament in the afternoon, which should be quite amusing.  Thursday I catch my night train to Amsterdam.  I'm starting to pack and have a lot of chocolate to bring home.  

         My first macaroon experience.  Chocolate wins.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spontaneous sampling trip

I went into work early today just because I was up early, and I caught a few people who were going up the Swiss national park for the day sampling.  And when they asked if I wanted to come, I just couldn't say no.  So I left a note on my lab-mates desk and hopped in the van for the 3-hour drive to the park.  It was rainy on this side of the mountains and very snowy up at the top of the pass (isn't it supposed to be summer now?) but the other side was pretty dry.  We parked right next to the border crossing to Italy, and hiked over a hill to the sampling site.  There were four of us for about 6 samples that took 30 minutes to take, but scenery was nice and we were having a good time.  On the way home, we had to stop at the inn nearby to try the Gerstensuppe (barley soup) under the new management, and after finding it satisfactory, we climbed back into the car for the ride home.  

For going across the alps in a car, there are two options.  You can drive your car onto a hollow train that goes straight under the mountains twice an hour (like a ferry, but on a train).  Or in the summer, you can drive over one of the passes.  If it was snowing today, I imagine it's pretty impassable in the winter.  There were some guys biking it today.  Hardcore.  

I made a beautiful braided yeast coffee cake filled with a mixture of almond paste and poppy seeds and brought it into work today. Since I wasn't around, I didn't get to hear the response, but it was all gone by the time we got back, so i guess it was enjoyed.  

I've been trying to do more writing the past few days, but feeling a little overwhelmed.  I searched yesterday for recent papers on the subject, and it came up with about 60 in the past 2 years, most of which I haven't read or heard about.  I feel like after each paper read, I feel like I know less and less of the big picture.  I guess I'll just keep plugging along.  In good news, I think our reactor materials are about 1/50th the cost of the standard materials used in the literature, so we should have some impact.  I hope.  

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Last weekend alone in Zurich

This weekend was pretty laid-back after a busy one last week.  On Friday, my professor had a group from the lab over to his flat for dinner.  It's always entertaining to hear people from other countries poke fun at their usual targets.  For the Swiss, it's the Austrians.  For the French, the Belgians.  Kind of like Texas for us.  

Yesterday, I went to the Oerlikon farmer's market for a nice wander and some fresh bread and yummy little red berries.  After that, I had a little wander around Zurich city and rode on a lot of different kinds of transit (train, tram, bus, boat) over the course of the day.  

Today, I spent a lot of time at home writing this paper I'm helping with, which was good.  I also spent a bit of time with fellowship application essays, which are actually surprisingly fun to write.  Though less so to edit.  It was forcasted to rain all day, but as usual it didn't.  So I went out for a 30 km bike ride around the Greifensee, which is really close and has a lot of cute towns and farms around it.  It was nice to get outside.  I realized that I really hadn't biked anywhere other than work and the grocery store before.

Jamie and her brother Andrew arrive this Thursday for the start of their sister-brother Europe excursion.  I'll spend 3-4 days hanging out with them and showing them the sights before they head down to Rome.  And after that I only have 4 more days left.  

I did buy a map of Paris yesterday from a wonderful travel books shop in town, and have been marking down famous markets, boulangeries, patisseries, and specialty food shops.  Let me know if you have any recommendations!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Swiss Fire Cooking

On Sunday, a bunch of us took the train to Einsideln, where my friends Silke and Olivier live in a cute swiss house in the country (3 hours of commuting daily).  We'd been talking about having cooking over a fire for a while, and Aline had a few classically Swiss techniques for us to try.

The town is pretty cute and has the most important Catholic pilgrimmage site in Switzerland.  There was some sort of holy day, so the streets were packed with church-goers and monks.  There was even a priest store selling supplies.  I don't know if you needed a permit to buy things or not.  

Their apartment was really cute and a ways from town.  We had a little apero on their terrace with artisan Belgian beer brought by Silke's parents on their last visit.  I 
also shared a Graubunden nuss-torte I'd gotten in St. Moritz.  The day was hot, and it was nice to just hang out outside.

For the fire, we walked up into the woods to a firepit.  They had logs chopped at the pit and a grill that you could lower down and lots of branches and twigs cut nearby.  Pretty plush-plush.  The view from our vantage was pretty amazing.  If you imagined a cute Swiss valley, that would be about it.  We started up the fire with ease, as the last user's coals were still hot, and prepared out meat items.  For Aline's Neuchateloise method, you season the meat with
 mustard, salt and pepper and then wrap it in parchment paper and several layers of newsprint. Then you tie it up like a present.  When the coals are hot but not firey (after and hour or so), you bury the packets in the coals (hoping they don't light on fire while you do it) and wait for another hour until they are cooked.  

In the meantime, we were hungry, so we broke out the sausages to cook on sticks.  There were several different methods used, but Aline's slit-end sideways method seemed to have the best results.  We also put some marinated veg on the grill.  The food was great, though the meat was a little scorched.

Afterwards, it looked like the rain had missed us, so I broke out the s'more material I'd brought and introduced them to the art of roasting marshmallows.  I think it was a hit.  Aline also had some sweet dough along that you wrap around a thick stick and cook over the fire before filling with jam.  Pain au trappeur.  Or "trapper's bread" for us English-speaking types.  It was pretty great too.  It did start raining during the marshmallow time, but we persevered anyway. 


I was out for a scheduled 11 mile run today, and felt so unnaturally happy at about 80 minutes, that I kept going and ended up running over 13 miles.  Those endorphins.  I used to think that distance runners must be totally crazy, but now I'm beginning to understand.  I felt like I could keep running for a long time and couldn't really feel my legs or feet.  They still don't really feel sore.  

I made an awesome pizza for dinner, so gotta go eat it.  Man, I feel giddy. . .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Alpine Adventure Part 2

The hostel in Pontresina was pretty nice.  I had a 6-bed room to myself the first night and just one other girl the second night.  They provided a 3-course dinner and breakfast buffet with amazing hot chocolate.  I'm convinced the key to good hot chocolate is using real whole milk.  None of this powdered milk swiss miss/carnation crap.  It was right next to the train station too.

On Friday, I got up and caught an 8:09 train towards Poschiavo, a sleepy little Italian town just north of the border.  The train crosses the 
Bernina pass, which (I think) is the only above ground passage through the alps.  It was pretty cold and windy up there.  I took it all the way into the valley of Poschiavo, down a lot os switchbacks.  The town had a cute little square area with churches and cafes.  I walked up into the hills for a lake view and visited with some cows and horses.  With nice little cowbells.

View of Val Poschiavo from Alp Grum station
On the way back, I stopped at the station Alp Grum for an awesome view of Val Poschiavo and the nearby mountains.  From here, I walked up and over the pass.  The hike took me around a dammed lake at the pass and I ended up walking through a lot of snow.  My feet were very cold.
  Here's the part where I though I was going to fall into the lake.  I couldn't stop thinking of the large amount of melting snow above me either.  I was pretty terrified, but made it out alive.  After that traumatizing hour, I caught the train back to the hostel for the day.  

On Saturday, I had planned to hike up to the Monterasch glacier in the morning before breakfast and see the sunrise in the valley, but when I got up at 6, the sun was already out and I just went for a short walk in the woods.  There were good views of the mountains though, and the sun had not yet made it up over them, so the lighting was cool.
After a hearty breakfast with 3 hot chocolates, I took the train down to St. Moritz and wandered for a couple of hours.  The town hosted the olympics in 1948 and seems a lot like Vail.  Hoity toity and lots of fancy shops.  A lot of places weren't open, as the summer season hasn't started yet.  Plenty of chocolate stores though.  

I caught a train to Chur, the capital of the canton, and enjoyed the view over the 2-hour ride up and down through mountain valleys and along pretty gorges.  The old part of Chur was really cute and pretty expansive.  There was also some sort of kid's action fair going on in the main part of town.  Different areas had things for kids to play with like little hand-pumped railroad cars, various wheeled self-powered transportation contraptions, and good old-fashioned climbing apparatuses.  I was pretty tuckered by then, so I headed back to Zurich and Dubendorf for a quiet evening.  

My milk was going bad again, starting to taste like buttermilk, so I heated it up and put some lemon juice and herbs in, and voila, farmers cheese!  The whey was also really good, kind of like chicken broth, that I've been drinking that too.  Yeah it's a little weird.  

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Alpine Adventure

I just got back from 5 days in the alps.  Little did I know that it's the low season there.  Winter is big, and summer doesn't start up there until July.  The primary purpose of the trip was sampling glacial streams in a valley with some students and a couple postdocs.  I stayed two more days for the heck of it.  

I drove up early Tuesday morning with Mirela, a visiting Croatian student, and Patrick, a Canadian working at Eawag for the summer.  (How is he getting paid, but I'm not?  Oh well)  We made stop at the routine "Heidiland" rest stop.  No
, Heidi wasn't a real person, but you'd be milking it too.  The bathrooms were very classy.  Felt like I should have a bathrobe and slippers on. We made it up to Val Roseg around 11AM, and after dumping our stuff at the guesthouse, we started on our way up the valley.  Mirela was taking drift and benthic samples, so she had some long nets that she left in the stream for 20 minut
es and she also had a device where she collected all the stuff she dug up.  The weather was pretty cold, and it rained on and off, but we finished 3 sites in time to pick up the rest of the people at the train station at 5.  

The hotel was this little place halfway up the valley.  I think it's mostly used in the winter for nordic skiing, and we were the only guests the whole time, though a lot of people made the hike up the valley to the hotel and back.  The rooms consisted of a huge bunk bed that slept four people top and bottom.  Pretty cool.  The valley borders I
taly and consists of two glaciers that have receeded a ridiculous amount in the past hundred years.  It was a pretty gorgeous place

On day two, we all hiked up to the Tschiarva glacier for the first site.  It was rough going through the boulders, and the glacial morraine was huge on either side of us.  I helped out collecting bacterial soil samples for a student.  Mostly getting the GPS coordinates of the sites, which was a lot harder than I thought.  We finished early, but the rest of the team didn't get done until 6:30.  

The restaurant had some Graubunden (the province) specialties like capuns (pasta rolls with spinach and bacon in a rich cheesy sauce), pizzocheri (whole wheat pasta with potatoes and cheese) and Nuss-torte (a caramelly nut pie).  They also had an extensive breakfast buffet with excellent cheese, and I acually wasn't the only one yoinking stuff for later.  I guess we're all students.

On day 3, I joined the main group which was taking samples
 of algae and benthic bugs.   We had 8 sites and by the end of the day were pretty efficient.  It was really cool working with the stream ecologists and seeing how excited they get about the in
sects and larva
e in the stream.  They would get the samples and then pick through them on a white tray to put into bottles, and were very excitable about certain kinds of bugs.  They would pick them up in their hands and show them to everybody.  It's funny because most people, probably including me, think that stream grubs are pretty gross.  

Afterwards, the rest of them hurried home to get the samples in the fridge.  I took the 7 km walk down the valley to the town of Pontresina, where I spent the next two nights in the YHA hostel there.  More on this in the next post.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Day on the Rhine

Yay, I finally figured out what button puts pics in my posts.  About time, I know.

This weekend was supposed to be really rainy, and Saturday sure was.  It ended with me and my roommates all cooking a lot of soup over the course of the day.  And lots of reading and Ted Talks.
Sunday, I decided to take the rain risk and I bought a special ticket for a Rhine day-trip.  I went north by about and hour to Stein am Rhein, a cute old medieval town just at the start of the Rhine river.  It was fun to wander the little Germanic streets lined with cafes and cute touristy shops.  Lots of bakeries, chocolate shops, and tons and tons of cafes.  Some of the buildings in the central square were really old with murals on the fronts.  And of course quaint church towers.  There was a nice castle on the hill above town with a good view and some vineyard surroundings.  There were also a lot of cute little snails around.  Like slugs but with the shell, like you see in books, like I've never seen in American terrestrial environments.  Cute. 

After an extensive wander and some
 Hemingway to tide me through the lulls, I caught a boat downriver to Schauffhausen.  It is home to the continents largest waterfall.  Alas, though I walked toward it, I didn't really get to see the front because I had to run back to catch my train.  Luckily, the train went by and had a great view.  Now why did I walk 6 km there and back?  Anyways, the town was again really cute, though a little more modern with trendy boutiques and a McDonalds.  I like towns with pedestrianized centers.  Speaking of, I have to go to Copenhagen someday.  Back to the Rhine, I caught a train back to Zurich.  

I had seen a poster last week for a concert in Zuri's Grossmunster church.  This church was the post of Zwingli and the most important site of the Reformation in Switzerland.  Sure enough, there was a nice little choir/organ concert to round out my lovely day.  I like organs, but never realized how awesome it is that piano keys are so sensitive.  And there is something so magical about multi-part music.  They ended the concert with a couple American spirituals, which were classy, and I forget how fun their odd harmonies can be.  

Today was a normal day at work, packing for tomorrow's trip.  When I got home, I packed lunchy things and baked three little bread rolls for sandwiches and also baked some plum snails..  Kind of like caramel rolls but with plum jam and cinnamon instead of caramel.  

Tomorrow at 6AM, I leave for the Eingaden mountain region near St. Moritz, where we will be sampling in the Val Rosegg glacial valley.  It'll be a fair bit of walking and carrying, but I'm sure the scenery will more than make up for any hassle.  I'm going along as an extra pack mule to help people carry their samples and equipment.  Oh, life is hard.  I'll be staying a couple of extra days to savor the mountains, and returning for a BBQ at a friend's house on Sunday.

Best wishes to everyone back home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Work work work

This week has gone pretty fast.  Lots of lab work, hopefully productive.  We should be finishing the stuff we've been working on for the last three weeks.  Unless something goes wrong and we need to start all over again.  So yeah.

Next week, we go to the Alps for a sampling trip near the Val Rosegg glacier.  We'll be taking benthic and sediment samples in new streams near the glacier.  For three days, and I'm hanging around for another two while we're there.  It should be pretty awesome.  

I've been watching a lot of Ted Talks, which are short online lectures by a huge array of intelligent people on any topic imaginable.  www.ted.com/talks