Swiss Bags and Italian Food

One of the wonderful things about working for IBJ is that, because there are only about fifteen people in the office, everyone is really close (both figuratively and physically - there's not a lot of space).  Everyone says hello to everyone else when they arrive in the morning.  I know about everyone's family, where people come from, and what kind of chocolate they like.  There's always chocolate somewhere in the office.  Dark chocolate, milk chocolate truffles, white chocolate with strawberry rhubarb filling, caramel with salt, pane au chocolate.  But the nicest thing that IBJ does for it's employees and interns is to throw a little gathering party whenever anyone leaves or arrives.  There are four of us - all interns - leaving this week or next week, so we had our leaving party on Monday afternoon.

Work friends

Me, Mirjam, Anting, Yen, Natalia - Interns at IBJ

The whole office gathered for food while our individual supervisors gave little speeches about us and then gave us presents.  The four of us got Freitag bags, which, if you've never heard of them (which is likely unless you're Swiss), they're handmade in Switzerland out of recycled tarps, seatbelts, and tires, etc.  The tagline for the bag is "simple, powerful, and ugly" - all of which are true.  It is one of the most Swiss things you can get someone - apart from a Swiss army knife or a Rolex - and it was very sweet.  The whole office then went out to dinner at a place on the docks, followed by ice cream nearby.  Everyone's a lot of fun and all of the managers have really interesting stories about their jobs and their lives - for example, my supervisor is an avid curler (as in the sport: curling… it involves a broom and a giant rock).  We've heard stories about backpacking in India, skydiving, and being in the Massachusetts legislature.  The people are great, the stories are fun, and it's Switzerland, so the food is wonderful.


Bellinzona Castle Grande

I've been in a frenzy with work this past week.  I'm trying to finish the eLearning general skills course before I go, so I'm really pushing myself.  I can do some of the work at night, which is good, but some of it requires the software at the office, which is a pain.


Bellinzona Castle walkway

This past weekend I visited three towns in two days: Lugano, Bellinzona, and Locarno.  All three make a sort of triangle around two lakes deep in Italian Switzerland.  Switzerland has four national languages - Italian, German, French, and Rumantsch.  It was nice to be somewhere where I understood more of the conversation around me.  My Italian isn't perfect, but it's good enough to understand someone and to ask for quite a bit more than I can manage in French.  Plus, the food is SO good.  French food is ok - I love the bread - but Italian food is definitely my favorite.  I had pizza with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes (buffalo mozzarella is the best kind, apparently - I liked it).  Then I had penne all' arrabiata - which is so spicy I had to keep sprinkling parmesan cheese onto it to cut the heat.  On Saturday, I arrived in Lugano at noon and took a boat tour on the lake.  The lake is absolutely beautiful and the mountains surrounding it are mostly uninhabited except for little pockets by the docks where five or six houses cluster together.  I took a ton of pictures - despite the pouring rain and thunder that started halfway through the tour.


Lugano view, very rainy

On Sunday, I visited Bellinzona on the way to Locarno.  Bellinzona is a tiny town in a valley surrounded by mountains.  It's famous for having three castles literally right next to each other.  I can't imagine why anyone would build a castle two hundred yards from another castle, but that's how two of them are situated.  I wandered through one of the castles up on a very windy hill.  The castle was limited to the battlements and open stone passages surrounding an expanse of green.  It was very lovely and I spent the morning exploring the castle.  I then took a twenty minute train to Locarno and wandered alongside the lake on a beautiful, cloudless day.  Quite by accident, I discovered a beach with swimming pools and fun obstacle course rafts.  I had been wanting to swim for ages and brought my bathing suit with the purpose of finding a nice spot on the lake to take a swim.  This place was really fun and there were tons of other people.  The lake water was freezing.  You could walk along a path through the water to a diving board out in the lake.  It took me a good ten minutes to convince myself to jump off the diving board into the freezing cold water, but after that, it wasn't bad.  The pools, in comparison, were really warm and very nice to laze in afterwards.  I even went off a thirty foot high dive into a deep pool - realizing halfway down that it was really, really high.


Locarno view

The final highlight of the trip was the train ride back to Geneva.  I took a tiny train through the mountains of Italy.  The mountains were clustered so close together and so densely wooded that it was like being in an untouched forest.  Every now and then I would see a tiny house all alone, halfway up the mountain and wonder how they managed to live in such isolation.  Due to the precarious nature of the track, I also developed a strategy for how I should survive were the train to tip over and strand me in the woods with nothing but my wits and a water bottle.  However, my plans must be saved for another day as I returned to Geneva without incident.

Lugano boat ride

Me on a boat tour in Lugano in the rain

P.S. I accidentally published this on Vlada's page. If you suffered from confusion or anticipation of my new blog, I'm sorry.