Wednesday, May 28, 2014

you bet your patootie i'm 30

I used to think being 30 was a bad thing, that I was over my peak, and that my 20’s were lost forever. Every once in a while I’d randomly get the dreaded feeling that I haven’t done as much as I thought I would accomplish – you know, those things that everyone puts together in college – 5-year-plans and the like. Coming out of college at 22, I thought I was going to do so much before I turned 30. I was planning on going to grad school, getting a CFA, planting trees, all kinds of stuff. Now, at 30, a part of me looks back on my life, I haven’t gotten back to school yet, no CFA, and aside from a plastic Christmas tree firmly planted in my living room (no joke…it’s been there since 2011), no other progress there either. Kinda sad when you think about it.

Then, the other part of me looks back at the life experiences I've had over the last decade. Looking back, there have been some things I've done in the last 10 years that I wouldn't trade in for anything. I've dangled my legs over the edge of the Grand Canyon. Back in college, we had woodstocks deliver a pizza through a bathroom window - it was a long story. Once, while trying to meet Vincente Fox, I failed but during the process, accidentally shook Clay Aiken's hand instead (didn't know who he was at the time). Back in 2007 I drove all night to hear Bill Clinton, who I would consider a once-in-a-generation mind, speak at UCLA. I rode a gas station dinosaur on a dare once (thanks sinclairs!).

I took a selfie while sitting under the shade of the Taj Mahal. Three years ago, I almost got arrested for accidentally trespassing on federal land at Arlington. Joshua Bell once hit me in the right shoulder with a Stradivarius. Last October, I carried an large bottle of apple cider through most of Switzerland, four different asian cities, and half-way around the world back to the states solely because it had the name "Ramseier" on it and I wanted to give it to my cousins. Oh yea, and I got a chance to travel quite a bit.

While some of the things I thought I wanted to do, I ended up not getting around to, there were so many things that I got to do that were once in a lifetime! I know…some say it’s moving the goal-posts and declaring a victory. Meh…I’d say it’s not winning or losing, but just taking stock of what’s happened. I know one thing's for sure, I'm totally looking forward to my thirties!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

flight aware – bringing transparency to the flight status

As I'm writing this post, I am sitting in the Stuttgart Airport (STR) waiting for a flight to Heathrow to board in 30min. As it turns out, the plane hadn't left London yet, and factoring in a 1:28 flight time, 30min for clean-up, I'd be looking at close to 1.5-2 hour delay. All we know from the BA rep is that the plane is getting swapped due to mechanical issues.

This is where a useful website called Flight Aware comes in handy. This site allows you to track flights (close to) real time, and more importantly, this will provide fairly good delay information as well as estimates on gate pushback, take-off, and landing times. Apparently they get their info from government sources, airlines, and other factors. In my experience the information has been accurate, and I've used it several times to find out the real scoop on what a delay is anticipated to take. Next time you're on a flight, give this a shot and see if it works for you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RTW 2013 | Lucerne

I arrived in Lucerne around 7pm – man what a city! I knew going in that this was going to be a larger city than the other towns I was in; however I was a bit surprised at the size of the train station. All the other stations were at a nice slow pace, but Lucerne was a pretty busy. I never expected Lucerne to be such a busy place from the pictures, but this city is fairly urban. The train station was definitely moving at a much faster pace than other stations I’ve been in. While most other cities had 4-6 platforms, Lucerne had 12 platforms for trains to dock at. This was due to its position in the Bern as a transfer hub.

Anyways, after leaving the station, I tried to get oriented. It’s a little confusing that there’s multiple exits and both a Bahnhofstrasse and a Bahnhofplatz, but I was able to find my way across the river and over to my hotel. Side note: the worst thing when you’re hauling luggage down the street is the fact that there’s cobblestone and you’re luggage-wheels are making farting noises for nearly a kilometer. Yep…love being in the touristy part of town for that one.

I dropped the luggage off at the hotel and went to the coop for some groceries (I figured after a few fairly pricy dinners I should make a sandwich). I ended up picking up some swiss cheese (emmental, appenzeller, etc), prosciutto, and bread. I headed back to the hotel, had dinner, and set off again to check out old-town Lucerne at night.

The town is very pretty at night. On the older buildings, such as the tower on the chapel bridge, or the Jesuit church, there were spotlights that made them look pretty nice at nighttime. There were also a lot of people out late, so it was quite a nice atmosphere. The mixture of cobblestone, old-town feel, and cool crisp nighttime air made for quite a nice evening of sightseeing and wandering to get my bearings straight.

bedtime buddies

The next morning, I visited a few of the sights in town that I saw the night before. One of the most memorable sights in Lucerne is this monument called the Löwendenkmal, or the Lion of Lucerne. It’s a huge sculpture of a dying lion carved into the side of a rock. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were killed in the French Revolution, when French revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Mark Twain once commented that this monument was "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

Other sights in town included the towers and wall that surround the city, the Chapel Bridge (again), and a few old churches. I had to catch a train at 2, so I wrapped up sightseeing and headed back to the station for my luggage and boarded the inter-regional train to Zurich.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

RTW 2013 | Interlaken & Grindelwald

Interlaken was a nice little detour along the Golden Pass from Montreux to Lucern. I only spent a few hours between Interlaken and Grindelwald, mostly because it was raining and because I wanted to spend the night in Lucerne. The train pulled past Interlaken West and on to Interlaken Ost, where I got off. I would’ve gone to Interlaken West (it’s a lot nicer looking), but the train to Grindelwald and Gimmelwald were through Interlaken Ost. Interlaken sits on at the foot of the Jungfrau, with the highest peak in Europe, the Jungfraujoch. I was originally going to go up to the peak, but due to time constraints and the fact that it was overcast and raining/snowing, I ended up not going all the way up.

I had about half an hour in Interlaken before catching the train on to Grindelwald. The beauty of Swiss train stations was that they are very traveler friendly. They take into consideration that you may be travelling from city to city and want to stop by somewhere for a bit. They provide luggage lockers as well as a manned luggage service to store bags for a few hours if you want to head off to somewhere without being encumbered by bags. I ended up opting for the lockers as it was a few CHF cheaper. It was nice, 5Fr. to lock up my belongings before heading off to Grindelwald.

The trip up to Grindelwald was steep, the cogwheel clicking furiously as we headed up the mountain. The rain started up again as we reached the peak, but the view was breathtaking. The village was spread out all over the countryside and you could see houses and farms littered throughout the mountains. I’ve always wonder what it’d be like to live in a house like that, out in the middle of the mountains, where you’d have to drive 30 min for milk.

When we reached the station, I hopped off and started walking up the hill. The visitor’s center was off to the right, but it was being renovated. I ended up walking around the town, and heading back to the train station. Since a lot of the business revolves around ski season, there were hotels and restaurants that were closed until winter season. I walked around the countryside a bit, but I felt self-conscious as I was sort of walking in between houses and stuff. I ended up going back to the main road in case some farmers came out. In some other towns, I’ve seem farmers walking around with shotguns …so I made sure to be care fun because didn’t want to end up getting shot or something (although everyone I’ve met so far has been super friendly).

The train down from Grindelwald gave me a 10min connection, which would’ve normally been ample time, especially given the fact that Swiss trains are incredibly timely; however, I was concerned that the rain may delay the train by a few minutes, which would’ve left me with a really tight connection (especially since I had to claim my bags from the locker and get to the right train platform). It all ended well, and I was well on my way to Lucerne.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

RTW 2013 | Golden Pass

So, like I alluded to earlier, I missed by 9:44am train to Lucerne (via interlaken) because I turned off my alarm instead of snoozing it. Originally I had planned on having 3-4 hours in Interlaken before heading on to Lucerne. I quickly showered, packed, and hustled over to the train station. I checked with the counter, and it looks like there was a 10:44 train to Interlaken (had to change in Zweisimmen and Spiel). Since it was overcast, I wouldn’t have been able to see all that much anyways.

Once we left Montreux, the train went up into the mountains again, giving us a birds-eye view of Montreux. The rain made it tough to take pictures, but the view was pretty amazing. The train then headed through the mountains and on to Gstaad before reaching Zweisimmen. In Zweisimmen, we changed trains on to a regional train that would take us to Spiel. The reason we had to switch trains is because the route over the mountain pass was a ¾ meter gauge, while the route from Zweisimmen to Spiel is a meter gauge (width between rails).

In Spiel we changed trains again – a local train to Interlaken Ost. The route took us past the lakes next to Interlaken – Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. These two lakes are why the town is called Interlaken – between the lakes. The town is small, and it seems like it revolves around tourism, especially during the summer hiking season or the winter ski season. I take a detour in Interlaken to check out the Jungfrau and see what all the fuss is about. The mountain is amazing, and is the Jungfraujoch is the highest peak in Europe.

After the detour to see the Jungfrau, I caught the 5pm train to Lucerne. The route from Lucerne to Zurich was incredible, and since the train took a path that was up in the mountains, I was able to catch a glimpse of the towns and lakes all the way to Lucerne. As it darkened, I caught a bit of sleep in preparation for checking out Lucerne that night.

RTW 2013 | Montreux

After departing Zermatt, I needed to get to Montreux to catch the Golden Pass train back up to central Switzerland, to Lucerne. Montreux is situated on Lake Geneva on the side opposite to Geneva. Since the beginning of this trip, I’ve pretty much stayed in the German-speaking area of Switzerland (except for the bernina express, which passed through some Romansh-speaking areas). Montreux marks the first time I’ve set foot in the French-speaking area.

This town is also in a hilly area (I’m starting to see a trend here…) at the foot of the Alps and, of course, not realizing that the hotel I booked so close to the train station is in fact (again) situated on the hill above the train station. I made my way up the to the hotel and dropped my things off and set off to explore the town. On the bright side, the view from the hotel was nice. =)

Montreux is a really nice town, but much more populated that the other areas I’ve been in the last few days. It sits on Lake Geneva a few miles from the Swiss-French border, and is a nice place to hang out, catch a boat to other towns on the lake, or just bum around the riviera.

From here, I headed over to the Château de Chillon, a castle built on an island right next to the shore. This castle was built around the 12th century, but expanded in the 14th century. It was made popular by Lord Byron, who wrote The Prisoner Of Chillon about a monk who was imprisoned there. Lord Byron also carved his name on one of the pillar dungeons for fun I suppose.

After the castle, I took a ferry back to Montreux that gave me a chance to see the town from the water. When we arrived, I walked along the shore until we reached the Freddie Mercury statue. Apparently he lived in Montreux, and they dedicated a statue in his honor after his death. By now it had gotten cold, so I headed back to the hotel to get a jacket and headed out to look for dinner.

I found a restaurant nearby that had gotten good reviews on trip advisor. I heard that their specialty was fondue, so I opted for the traditional – moitié-moitié (half/half) – Gruyère and vacherin cheeses. It was quite tasty, but I think even if you get a portion for 1 person, you need to share it with 1-2 other people, as it gets kinda tiring after a while of the same thing. This was the first time I’ve ever had fondue (even though I’m familiar with the concept) so the waitress explained the process just in case.

After dinner, I headed back to the hotel, but because none of these hotels have AC, I had trouble falling asleep (it was kinda warm, but if I opened the window it got loud. The next day, I was supposed to catch the Golden Express at 9:44am, but I woke up at 9:40. I ended up catching the next one, which took me to Interlaken an hour late. Oh well…

RTW 2013 | Zermatt

the zermatt mascot
Zermatt is a small ski and mountaineering town hidden in the Alps at the foot of some of Switzerland’s highest peaks, the most famous being the Matterhorn. This town is entirely car free, and the only vehicles on the road are electric vehicles that resemble sturdier custodian carts with roofs. It seems that the entire town is geared toward tourists, whether they’re there to hike or ski.

The town is quaint, and has a more rustic feel than the ritzy St. Moritz that I just left earlier that day. Nevertheless, the street was lined with fancy boutiques, as most people walking around were tourists. The town also has a local train, the Gornergrat Bahn, that goes to the nearby Gornergrat peak, which has a hotel and is an excellent place to see the Matterhorn.

first sighting of the matterhorn - late afternoon
Since I arrived in the afternoon, I explored Zermatt a bit, had a tasty meal of local lamb and potatoes au gratin before settling in and preparing for the next morning, where I would head up to Gornergrat for a view of the Matterhorn in the early morning. I ended up going to sleep early, and woke up just in time to catch the 8am train up. There were only a few people on the train, and it chugged along, ascending the mountain at a brisk pace. Since Gornergrat was a bit away from Zermatt, it also allowed you to see the Matterhorn from a different angle, which was pretty cool.

At the top, the hotel allowed you to use their facilities such as observation deck and so forth, and I was able to snap some good shots of the Matterhorn from their deck. I also enjoyed a tasty cappuccino from while staring at the peak in utter amazement.

The way down was also interesting, as the peak is now covered in sunlight, and every glace at the Matterhorn seemed a bit different. By the time I got back down, it was time to pack and catch the train to Montreux.