You learn something everyday, I had no idea the versions of keyboards.

I am completely used to the QWERTY keyboard in the US and am utterly ignorant of other keyboard versions.

Here is the German one, notice the y and z switch, which is a real pain in the ass for me here in Zurich. (until this idiot found out there is a button to click to switch it back.) Also note the additional vowels on the right side.

Of course the French won’t lose the battle of oddity, here is the French keyboard. For me, this is like WTF, for real? I am sure there is a perfect reason for this. Or just the French being French?

Just to make it interesting, here is a Persian one.

First week in Zurich

I arrived in Zurich with high expectations, no one, not a single person, had anything bad to say about the city.

It rained incessantly during the first week, which severely hampered my attempt for sightseeing. But I did manage to see a good eastern part of the city. Zurich abuts Lake Zurich and hugs the Limmat River. Yes, that massive nerve-bundle like structure is the famous city rail way, will update on that later.

Most of the city center is built along the hills so much so that it is not easy to find a perfectly flat street. I have to climb over 2 hills to work every day on my 15 minute walk.

 

I feel so out of place here that I don’t know how to describe it properly. It is like you walk into a party that you weren’t invited and can’t really fit in. I have never wished to speak another foreign language so badly, not since my first year in college while I was struggling with my colloquial English. Die Zurcher do speak English, somewhat, but far worse than the Montrealers. I kept running into problems at supermarkets and in the streets.

 

If I have to find one word to describe my first impression, well we all know the Swiss are efficient, I would say “orderly”. I arrived at a sparkling clean airport, streets are old but in good shape, very little litter around, trams run on schedule, most people follow the “walk” signs. It is just damn difficult to find something wrong with the city.  You know, in high school, there is that perfect person everyone loved yet secretly hated? staight As, good looking, teachers’ favorite, popular with other kids, plays sports, may even play first violin in the school symphony, that’s how I would describe Zurich. It is picture perfect, everyone other building downtown is photo-worthy. It is also as exciting/sleepy as a picture. Nothing, well, almost nothing is open after 8pm, except one grocery store and bars. There is so little clamor, even the city center sounds quieter than Northampton on a week night. I know, I sound like the “sour grape” syndrome in full display. It is hard not to like this city. I am very sure there are parts of the city that are more “exciting” and less glamorous than what I have seen, I’ll just have to find them.

These are just random buildings during my daily walk. The first one is actually Univ. of Zurich center campus.

 

 

 

Concluding with Cambridge and pasties

I thought it was a good idea to conclude my London trip by getting out of London.  Instead of spending 20 pounds to tour the tower of London (which is highly recommended by the Lonely Planet guide), I decided to use that for a round trip ticket to Cambridge.

Half an hour out of London, city gave way to green fields and elegant yet modest-size houses. It turned out that on this Sunday the train was running on reduced schedule, so I had to switch to a bus at Royston. Perfect,  that made up for my lack of double decker bus experience in the city.

Cambridge appeared to be this little sleepy town as I walked by the main church, then things turned lively near the center where all the shopping is. Farmer market was in full swing right next to this century old church.

A steam engine car came by and sounded its horn, just like a real train.

A 6’4 street performer playing guitar out of a litter can. Had to cheer for that.

Oh, here is a weirdly looking but fascinating pendulum clock.

And btw, there are some awesome looking colleges around here, under some big name university, I think.

And a nice museum (Fitzwilliam) to go with.

My biggest find? Pasties. I think the English committed a massive blunder with the marketing campaign for their national foods, fish and chips? Bangers and mash? Please, neither is worthy the tiny crumbs that fall off a hot, tasty pasty. They are like turbo charged calzones with a real dish for the center and croissant like outer shell. I don’t know how to describe it properly not to offend the true value of a pasty.

Anyway, I kept going back to this store to buy more.

During my third trip back, I decided to get two, turkey cranberry and lamb mint. As I was eating off one while clutching the other, I walked through the farmer’s market in search of dessert.  There were several carts full of home-made baked goods. Well, yeah, send me to hell for my gluttony.  I found an open seat outside a “starbucks” near the square. Yup, amidst all the wonderful local coffee shops,( and btw, European coffee is nothing like the US, far more flavors if you ask me), starbucks manages its US image and trying to carve out a corner for itself, mostly amongst expats, I would imagine. I happened to sit at a table with this woman surrounded by grocery bags. I struck up a conversation with her.  Her name is star and she appeared to be a bit cold. So I offered her my lamb mint pasty. She gladly enjoyed it and offered me a Sainsbury lager in return, as she happily washed down her minted lamb while drinking beer with a straw. Our conversation went form casually jovial to weird. She started to complain about the beggars and a few guys near us who love to people watch. Eventually I excused myself , more so because I could go back to get another lamb mint pasty, but also just to get away from her. As I wondered back an hour later, she was still sitting there sipping beer out of her straw, and you guessed it, enjoying herself people watching.

All in all, it was a nice end to a lovely trip, except  for the bloody rain at the end that got me soaked all the way back from Cambridge.

Cheers all, off with London and onward to Zurich.

a few notes about the English

Just when I thought the coins in Canada was annoying, here are what I collected first hour in London.

For those of you who haven’t been to England, if you can correctly guess the values of all of them, I’ll bring you a few.  I will post the first picture with descending  sizes, then I will post the one with descending values.  Yes, the hint is that the value has nothing to do with the size. (btw, coins do last 50 times longer than paper money, so it is a good austerity measure.)

And yes, the English are keenly aware they are driving on the wrong side of the road, on top of numerous one way streets in London.  In order to help the hapless tourists (like me?), it is painted at most intersections where you should look. Cute, eh?

Also, unless you are in a fairly modern building, modern like a couple years new modern. Otherwise, all the sinks are installed with 2 faucets, one for cold and one for hot water. Hrmmm, I don’t know if that has gone beyond the realm of peculiarity into the stupid zone. maybe you can use one for each hand?

 

Image

Riding the London Tube can be a challenge at times, cramped trains and endless tunnels, and it does feel like a tube. yet I found it quite a worthy experience.

 

Being the oldest system in the world, there are clear marks how 11 lines and 270+ stops were constructed at different times and realigned later. Forget about sticking to a color, it is all about hopping between lines to find the shortest route possible. During partial closures of several lines on the weekend, finding your way around can be a puzzle game that is sometimes frustrating, but rather interesting to me.

Some of the stations are so old that they don’t have room to add in escalators, so elevators are installed. At Russell square, there is this spiral staircase that ascends 175 steps, equivalent of a 10 story building. No wonder most people are taking the lifts, only stupid tourists like me who had no idea would venture out and happily count the steps up from the subterranean tunnels.

One thing I liked about London is that you never know when you would walk into a grand old structure in the midst of glittering modern buildings. Such as the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington place 2 blocks away from Piccadilly Circus (see gallery “walk about west London”), or this nice looking old pile of bricks right outside Russell Square, it used to belong to Duke of Bedford, I was told.

Around the block from the Russell Square park lies the British Museum. A student of history and science,I had been itching to visit the most comprehensive museum  for human history and cultures in the world;or otherwise known as the trophy house of grandest larceny, courtesy of my interpretation.The museum is so large (>8 million items ranging from rock fracas of 15 tons to the feathers of extinct birds) thanks to the colonial history of the British Empire. Now, I am no big fan of the colonial era of mankind, although I have to admit it fostered the unprecedented cultural and technological exchange between the conquerors and the conquerees; however the entire period  was marked by extreme cruelty, unfair treaties and all came at a huge human cost. ( If you care to know why the Chinese in the mid 19 century had their asses kicked by the British, then paid the Brits obscene amount of reconstitution so that the Brits and Americans can sell opium to china to offset the trade imbalance resulted from tea exports, here is your wiki page.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_war) that sure brings new meaning to the phrase “war on drug”, isn’t it?

sorry I digress. Undoubtedly most of the pieces in the museum were acquired during the 200 years of English expansion into the world. Look, here  is a 7 ton marble lion from Syria,

 

and 2 giant red wood totem poles from the indigenous first nation people in Canada.

The numbers of the disputed items from other countries are staggering, the massive amount of Pantheon Marbles from Greece,

thousands of southeast Asian scrolls and potteries.

Hence I call it the house of grand larceny. I don’t think there is anywhere else you will see 8 million pieces of stolen or robbed foreign goods proudly on display. Don’t get me wrong. The museum is a totally fantastic place that everyone should visit. I just think it is mind blowing to think how much the british had taken from other countries, but I don’t hate them for it. I think any nation in the same situation would most likely have done the same thing. It is just human nature. However I have to mention the raging debate between the British government and the countries that lost those precious items. Does the museum or the British government have the right to keep them? The Greeks said no, they have been asking for the return of hundreds of Pantheon Marbles for years. They even built a new museum to match the preservation conditions that the British claimed to be superior. The Chinese government wants their stuff, naturally.  Personally, I don’t know what my position is.  I look at it this way, if my neighbor down the street broke into my house, punched me in the face and poked me in the eye, then took my finest silver and put them in the display case in his living room, where more people visit each day than my humble abode. I don’t know. I would be mad but also proud that my stuff is showing off to the world, especially if it happened during my great great great great grandpa’s time. It would’ve been nice to have them back, but hey, the world doesn’t operate on niceness last time I checked.

Let me know what you think and check out more amazing stuff from the museum at the galley page “trophy house of grand larceny”.