Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Sat Feb 5 09:29:41 2005
Curse of Saint Moritz

I've been back from the trip since last monday evening, but it's been a lot to digest (and there's still a lot to think about). It was certainly an eventful trip in almost every sense of the word.

On the programming front, I got a lot of work done on the next version of POUND. It is now not far from having all the features that the current version has, the only difference being a lack of RSS, themes and custom CSS. It already does a lot of things the old version doesn't, and improves in general method over that version. Despite it not being ready at all for third party use, needing a lot of cleanup and cosmetic work, I'll probably upgrade my current BLOG to it within a month or so. If any of you out there want it, I'll be happy to mail you a tarball. As a reminder, on your server you need mod_perl, apache2, and postgres. A lot of the new features are still under construction, but it now has a wiki-syntax for entries, has an attached wiki, supports entries from multiple users, and has a login system that isn't horribly insecure.

On the athletics front, The snowboarding was pretty good. I'm not a great snowboarder, because I'm too cautious to go down the hill quickly, but I had a good time. The Alps were beautiful, although they wern't as snowy as they might've been. I wore a big santa hat I have while out on the slopes, and the local kids would sing christmas songs in german or english as they passed me by (yes, I was going slowly). I fell more often there, but part of that was the snow kept getting in my eyes -- I couldn't wear an eyemask because I kept sweating onto it and it got all foggy. One nice thing about boarding there was that the slopes were very long, so on reaching the top, it took awhile to get down to one of the lifts. There were also lifts going every which way, some at the base level of the mountains, and some partway up that took one up much higher. It had a nice exploratory feel to it.

On the internet front, I suffered a bit from withdrawl. I was hoping to BLOG while in europe, but there wasn't much reliable internet. In the Paris hotel, I was able to get on the net by climbing out onto a very narrow windowsill designed for flowers, to get on some random wireless network. It was too cramped to type much. In Chelerina/Sankt Moritz, I was able to get on the net at an internet cafe, but it was expensive and about 45 minutes from the hotel. In Zurich, I paid for a temporary internet pass from swiss telecom, which runs wireless internet all over Europe, and charges obscene rates. It was, I think, the equivalent of $40 for 24 hours. In retrospect, that was a mistake. In Belgium, I found a Pakistani internet cafe while walking one day that had very nice, affordable internet -- one euro an hour ($1.30 an hour). Finally, in Amsterdam there were some internet terminals that were about 3 euros an hour. Overall, it wasn't as connected as I had hoped, and I assumed the internet mentioned in the hotel brochures was free. Sigh.

On the food front, It was quite a good trip. On the flights, I ordered Kosher meals as an experiment, and it was quite good -- better than any of the normal meals. On the way there, it was prepared by a company called KoshAir, on the way back a company called Hermopolis. Next time I'll try Halal or Hindu meals. Paris had really good croissants and other fine foods from street vendors all over the place. Unfortunately, it's considered rude to walk around with food in Paris. I'll miss Parisian Croissants a lot. I also got some fine mustard in a store there. On the way to our next destination, we had a nice meal in Zurich which was an interesting mix of french and german style. Very tasty. Unfortuntely, because of misread train tickets, we were missing our train onward, and had to make last-minute arrangements. In Sankt Moritz/Chelerina, we ate all our food in the hotel (Alter Brauerei, or the Old Brewery). It was cafeteria style, and fairly simple food in most cases, in large quantities. It wasn't bad, but wasn't special either. We spent the night in Zurich, and had a nice cheese plate and some wine in one place, and an overly alcoholic but tasty fondue in another. In Belgium, .. I actually don't remember what we ate. In Amsterdam, I found a nice pancake house, we ate at a Kurdistani place (never even heard of one of those before) and the last night we were there, we also ate at a nice french-style restaurant. I also had some indian food.

On the money front, the trip was a disaster. I didn't bring enough money, I didn't have enough saved, and so I skimped on food and other things for much of the time there. I need to be very careful with money and skimp to get to where I was before the trip. This was a source of considerable stress.

On the museum and sights front, The trip was wonderful. We saw a ton of museums, and almost saw a few more (i.e. visited but did not get in). There was a lot of art, a lot of history, some ruins, a cat museum, some old houses, etc. The highlights were the Joodsmuseum in Amsterdam (Jewish History museum), Anne Frank house, and the ruins of the old palace in Brussels.

On meeting people, the trip was interesting. In paris, I met some of Nicole's family, and also met a friend of mine who I've never met in person before. In Chelerina, we met a pair of Swiss, in their late 30s, and chatted with them in French and German. There were some interesting storekeepers here and there, and the Kurdistani restaurant owner had an interesting perspective on things. I also met with some socialist organizers, and had some interesting conversations with them. More on that in a coming entry, I think.


The national cultures and impressions.. were interestingly different, and it was in some ways disappointing to come back. The Parisians were indeed snobby and status obsessed, and I would probably find it suffocating to live there, even though the food was so nice. Paris is a lot like New York City, except better-dressed and without that American sense of "anything goes". Switzerland had a very different feel to it -- the people wern't so two-facedly distant/polite, instead being open/honest, a bit cranky, and serious about vacationing. Brussels was like Paris, but less so, having a better attitude and worse dress. Amsterdam was wonderful -- it was very laid-back, friendly, and open. Europe in general is a lot more crowded and less distant than America, societywise.

Other impressions.. The Euro is interestingly different. The bills differ in size as per their value, and are beautifully done. They use coins instead of bills for values up to 2 Euro (about 2.6 US dollars). I like the way their currency feels. The Swiss coins are uninteresting, but their bills are also very attractive, perhaps more so than the Euro. I picked up some Ome Henk CDs in Amsterdam, and now know a bit more about what the group is. Weird. It was a pain lugging snowboards all over europe. It would've been smarter to rent them there. I enjoyed walking in the woods in Switzerland. Amsterdam is probably the place where I could most imagine myself settling.

Ham/Pork.. was everywhere. It was disgusting, and avoiding it was difficult. Europeans like ham more than Americans do. I was effectively vegetarian in some places.

That's all for now. I'll retroactively add pictures to this entry within a day or so.