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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Per usual, I've been extremely busy! I took a final exam in Geneva which wasn't too bad, though studying for it took up a little more time then I would have liked. It's too bad really, since the weather in Geneva finally got decent right when we left. The day after my final, my friend Joey and I flew to Budapest. Well, first we had mini heart attacks because our original flight got cancelled. Eventually though, we made it to what is easily one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

Some of the highlights of Budapest include the Parliament building (it's totally worth taking a tour of the inside, look at all the gold!), walking around Buda castle, and the bathhouse. I didn't know that Budapest was known for their thermal baths... or that the city used to be two different cities, Buda and Pest. Also, the "pest" part of "Budapest" is pronounced as "Pescht". Hungarian sounds like nothing I've ever heard before, which turns out to be because it's part of fairly rare language group.

I'm in London settling into the second half of my study abroad, but I desperately wish I was still in pretty Budapest eating goulash instead!
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My class visited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today and it was really informative! I had no idea international humanitarian law was so complex and interesting. We watched a short video, had two speakers, an amazing lunch in the Red Cross cafeteria, and a tour of their museum.

Did you know that there are actually three symbols used by the organization? The two pictured that hang over the building (Red Cross and Red Crescent), and the Red Crystal are all official symbols. Apparently Israel couldn't be part of the Red Cross/Crescent because it thought the symbols were too religious and they didn't like that, so it asked if they could use a Red Crystal. It's the only country to use it, which is apparently why the organization doesn't have it flying with the other two symbols. The Red Cross is actually just a flipping of colours of the Swiss Flag, and is not meant to have religious connotations. The Ottoman Empire thought Red Cross workers looked like crusaders, so they inverted their flag colours to create the Red Crescent in the mid 1800s.

I think it's really interesting that people are highly critical of the Red Cross, but often don't know a lot about it. First of all, it's a private Swiss-based organization. It also was created to treat fallen soldiers on the battlefield regardless of side. It prefers to operate largely confidentially (which is often deemed controversial) and the ICRC has special rights in international humanitarian law. It does a lot more than I initially thought-- and the visit changed my opinion in a positive way. I'm really interested in the rules of warfare and what is acceptable in different circumstances, so it was a neat visit.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

I went on holiday to Berlin this weekend, and it was by and large an amazing experience! Berlin is a very interesting city because it's a true blend of history and modernity. The pictures are a little out of order here, but below is the Bradenburg Gate. There was a music festival going on or being set up behind it, so I'm sure it's more grand looking without all that going on.

I went to two museums on the first day, the Jewish History Museum and the German History Museum. The Jewish museum was okay and had a lot of very old items, but I'm much more interested in German history so I enjoyed the second museum a lot more. It was gigantic!

On the second day I went to four out of the five museums on Museum Island, which is an iconic point in Berlin. I don't think I've ever seen so much art in one day... but it was great. The above picture is a Roman gate in the Pergamon Museum. It completely blew me away!

 This was from the Islamic art section in the Pergamon museum. I am not certain if it was my favourite museum overall because I really like paintings (and the National Gallery was awesome), but the level of detail here cannot be captured accurately in pictures. Islamic art is beautiful, with lots of floral and geometric patterns. Christian art is beautiful too, but I have to say I appreciate secular artwork more...

Of course, I went to the Berlin Wall. This is a portion they left standing, realising they were in a historic moment when they tore it down. I thought the artwork on the Berlin Wall was really beautiful, though a lot of it was covered in graffiti of varying quality. 

Would I go back to Berlin? I don't know. It's definitely not my favourite city, but it was a good experience. It's amazing how history can alter the face and culture of a location in profound ways. I was surprised by how friendly Berliners were on average, and how much cheaper the food was than in Geneva. I can't wait to see where I end up going this weekend!

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

I was quite surprised when a classmate of mine said that he had never been to a botanical garden, and didn't know what it was! I guess I took Singapore's botanical gardens (along with the other ones I've been to) for granted. So, a few of my classmates and I took the bus all the way there. I like taking the bus in Geneva... I don't know the area well yet, so I pretend every bus route is like a mini tour.

Geneva has a beautiful botanical garden. It has a very nice area with lots of very old trees of all different varieties. It also has a wonderful Swiss Alps section with all the weird little mountain plants proudly on display. Geneva's botanical gardens are probably best known for the enormous glass greenhouses, which certainly did not disappoint. It was like walking into the desert or rainforest respectively. The best part of all is that it's free!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

I went on a day trip to Gruyères today, which is an incredibly beautiful little Swiss town in roughly the middle of the country. It took me and five other girls about two hours to get there, which was well-worth the journey! The views were simply incredible.

Then these beautiful girls and I ate the most amazing cheese fondue ever. I don't know if an expert would agree, but we all thought it was delicious. Naturally we had to drink white wine while eating fondue, so all that cheese wouldn't form a giant ball of goop in our stomachs. 

After, we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in the town. We wandered around looking for cute cows to photograph, explored the general area, and eventually ate ice cream. Basically, we ate the entire day away, which is the best way to spend any day really. Also, what the heck is this alien thing? I don't know. There was a museum featuring all these weird things there...

Gruyeres is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance! While it is touristy, it wasn't too busy today (Friday) and had a definite charm to it. Besides, the cheese was impossible to resist!

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Monday, June 6, 2016

It's been a whirlwind the past couple of days! It seems like every day in Geneva is full of new, crazy adventures. On Sunday, my group went on a hike in France. It's so easy to cross the border here... there wasn't even anyone there to check passports or anything. Open borders sure make life easy. Anyways, the sight at the top looked like a desktop background. We took a cable car up and down the mountain, which is good because the climb up is quite long and very steep. 

There was a lot of hiking around in the forest but I didn't get any pictures because I was well, hiking. I was also delighted that there were fields of buttercups! There were also some cows but I didn't think they were cute so I didn't photograph them. It was a bit rainy but generally decent weather. There were paragliders everywhere despite the sound of thunder in the distance (?!?!?!?), which was fun to watch as well. I really want to do it, but it's quite expensive and I don't know if I'd like it. 

Today we went to the UN! Someone else has the group photos and the photos of me there, but here are some pictures of conference rooms. We had three different speakers, two of which were very interesting. The group also had lunch in the UN cafeteria which had the most amazing dessert station ever. Since we had "conference badges", we could actually wander around the UN without a tour guide. So naturally I took advantage of that by accidentally wandering into someone's office, getting flustered and hurrying out only to get lost for a couple of minutes. The UN in Geneva is really large-- getting lost in the building even for a short while was scary. 

The library, where we had our lectures. The painting was apparently about human suffering. 

The newest conference room, which has the COOLEST ceilings ever. It was really cool to sit in the chairs and pretend to be important. 

This room was inherited from the League of Nations, and they do cease-fire agreements in there. I don't know why I thought when the League of Nations dissolved that the buildings themselves also went poof, but that's not the case. The United Nations inherited the League of Nations buildings, which makes them that much more interesting. 

I can't wait to see what this week will bring! I think my friend and I are going to Zurich (and maybe Liechtenstein) next weekend, so I'm sure I'll have something interesting to post later on this week. 

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

I can't believe I've been in Switzerland for only a few days... it feels like it has been a few weeks at least! I think that must be because classes started. At least the class is interesting so far, even though there is rather a lot of reading.

The water that comes out of the fountains in Switzerland (or at least Geneva) is perfectly drinkable, which I think is cool. Certainly saves money! I remember always buying bottled water in China last year, which was kind of annoying. Anyways, I thought this fountain was neat. 

Giant chess at the park! My friend beat me, so I'm going to have to try and beat him next weekend.

University of Geneva! It's really pretty. 

What the streets look like here.

So far, all is well. I'm learning the area where I live and gearing up to do some serious travel while I'm here. The list of places where I've decided to go has definitely condensed, so it looks like it's getting time to book. Spending the summer abroad is pretty great :)

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