Saturday, 31 March 2012

Flamingo fun in Slimbridge

Although I've done my fair share of birding while on trips, I don't really think of myself as a person who goes places with the primary goal of seeing birds. Despite this, I seem to be engaging in ornithotourism (yes, that really is a word) more and more frequently. Last week, for instance, I took a trip up to the Slimbridge WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, located a stone's throw from the banks of the River Severn. My trip coincided with the peak of a week-long tantalizing taste of summer we had here in the UK--and what better way to celebrate such lovely weather than with a long and arduous train journey?

As it happened, the day I needed to travel up to Gloucestershire happened to be the one day when there was construction on the rails between Plymouth and Bristol. As a result, an approximately 4.5-hour train journey took 5.5 hours and involved no fewer than four transfers and a bus ride: I rode from Falmouth to Truro, where I hopped off and boarded a train to Plymouth, where I hopped off and boarded a bus to Tiverton Parkway, where I hopped off an boarded a train to Bristol, where I hopped off and boarded my final train to Cam & Dursley. Usually I can get a fair amount of work done on the train, but this trip was so disjointed that I barely managed to listen to music without getting distracted.

I am not sure what I was expecting to find in Cam and Dursley, but it was an even smaller train station than the one here in Falmouth; there weren't even taxis waiting in the parking lot, as I'd hoped. Luckily, I was able to connect my phone to the Internet long enough to download a list of numbers for local taxi companies, but not a single one of them had a free driver or car; while two of these were actually busy doing jobs elsewhere, I later learned that the rest probably just couldn't be bothered to leave home on a Sunday evening. *sigh* I was preparing to walk the 3 miles to my hotel, which wouldn't have been so bad except that I had a really full bladder, when a taxi suddenly arrived in the parking lot. The driver had been dispatched after one of his fellow chauffeurs called to say that there were two desperate travelers stranded at the train station. Yes, unbeknownst to me, a fellow train passenger had also been standing in the parking lot calling every taxi company in town, and it turned out that the two of us were even spending the night in the same B&B (not that big of a surprise when you consider how many there are to choose from in the area).

Our taxi driver--from the company A2B, in case anyone is in the Cam and Dursley area and needs a ride--turned out to be a very nice guy who had just spent his day car-shopping in Wales after working until 2 AM driving drunk people home from the pub. He was kind enough to agree to make this one little unscheduled run to the Tudor Arms B&B before going home for the evening, and I made sure that he got an American-sized tip for his efforts. Luckily for me, that's all I had to pay since my cab-mate insisted on paying the whole bill, which I believe was being covered by his company. Win-win.

Although my B&B room was ridiculously affordable, it was quite nice--no wonder the establishment has been given a four-star rating. Florian and I quickly made ourselves at home:

I had a delicious dinner of stuffed mushrooms at the pub next door before returning to my room to take advantage of the free wireless Internet. I had intended to actually get some work done, but instead got distracted by downloading Scrivener, a writing program with all sorts of bells and whistles for helping you organize your research materials and resulting manuscripts. I spent about an hour and a half doing the program's walkthrough and finding out about how incredibly cool it is. It was only reluctantly that I finally shut the computer and went to sleep.

The next morning I was up earlier than I expected, given that we'd just "sprung forward" the day before and I was still on an hour deficit. After having a perfectly poached egg for breakfast, I departed for the short walk to the Wetland Centre. It was already a beautiful day--starting off cool but quickly warming up. The fields were full of both passerines, singing like mad from the hedgerows, and waterfowl, nibbling on the grass just outside the wetland's gates.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by the Centre's PR coordinator, Mark Simpson, who had helped me organize the trip. Although there would be plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the general bird life, the real reason I was visiting Slimbridge was to find out more about the Centre's captive flamingo population and the techniques required to keep these notoriously sensitive birds happy. Mark had gotten me an appointment with Phil Tovey, the aviculturist responsible for seeing to the flamingos' every need and encouraging the skittish birds to breed. Fortunately, I was not scheduled to meet with Phil until a couple of hours after my arrival, which meant that I had plenty of time to wander around and check out the grounds.

 (The main building at WWT Slimbridge)

One of my first encounters was with a pair of wood pigeons, one of the most common species in the country. Because there is nothing to serve as a reference in this picture, you can't really tell just how enormous these birds are.

I also stumbled upon a jackdaw who was watching me almost as much as I was watching him. Jackdaws' eyes are a very pale yellow, contrasting strongly with their dark black and grey bodies. The birds look eerily thoughtful as they calmly regard you from their perches.

Since Slimbridge is a wetland, waterfowl were in abundance. The pools are divided up by biome, such that there is one area for North American birds, another for Asian birds, and so on. There are also several local species that hang out wherever they want to, since their wings aren't pinioned and they can come and go as they please. I believe this was the case with the greylag goose I spotted (below). If its face looks familiar to you, that's probably because greylags are the origin of most of our domestic goose breeds.

Among my fellow New Worlders at the Wetland were some red shovelers (below), which hail from South America. They look fairly similar to their northern cousins (the appropriately named northern shovelers) that I've seen in the US, and also to their more distant relatives, the ubiquitous mallard. These guys were amazingly relaxed despite my fairly close approach:

On the other side of the Wetland, I spotted a female coot--a native Brit--working hard to satisfy the appetites of her brightly-colored young:

I would have found this much cuter if I didn't know that coots have a nasty habit of preferentially feeding the stronger of their chicks, first ignoring, and then pecking to death, the weakling. Even though this female was still feeding both of her fledglings, I could already tell that one was receiving more attention than the other. I understand why this is a biologically sound reproductive tactic, but that doesn't make it an easier to watch.

I also picked up some botanical knowledge while wandering around the grounds. I discovered that these twiggy masses are not, as I had assumed, bunches of mistletoe. Rather, they are the trees' own twigs, growing in abundance due to an immunological response to infection by the tiny dwarf mistletoe--which, despite being only an inch or two in length, harnesses the power of water pressure in order to blast its seeds distances of up to 65 feet. The masses are colloquially known as "witches' brooms." If you look closely at the second one from the left, you'll notice a crow perched on one edge; it seems that the birds favor these as foundations for their nests, since half the construction work has already been completed by the host trees.

Soon enough it was time for me to meet with Phil, who was a very gracious and knowledgeable host. All told, he devoted about five hours of his day to showing me the flamingos and answering all of my questions about them. I won't say much more than that here--if you want to know about captive flamingos at Slimbridge, you'll just have to buy my book. =) I did get a few photos I can share, though:

(A mixed flock of (mostly) lesser, one James, and a few Chilean flamingos. The lessers are the ones with dark brown beaks and faces. The James is towards the top left and is the only bird here with a yellow bill; the only remaining James at Slimbridge, this gal (at least, she's thought to be a female) is a minimum of 70 years old. The greyish bird at the front right is one of three Chilean juveniles successfully bred on-site.)

(A mixed flock of greater and Caribbean flamingos. These guys are very closely related and can be hard to tell apart; some researchers think that greater flamingos made their way from the Old World to the New and evolved into the Caribbeans. Greaters are generally much lighter in color, with bright pink only in the wings; Caribbeans--such as the one sitting awkwardly in the center foreground--are much more crimson.)

(The greater-and-Caribbean flock from another angle. The birds are in the midst of a group breeding display--note the heads held high and the wings held outwards. In the foreground you can see the mud nests constructed by Phil and his troops to encourage the flamingos to breed. These are last year's nests; construction on this year's will start in the next couple of weeks.)

(Yep, this is what you think it is--the next step after a breeding display. Unsurprisingly, I've not ever seen flamingo copulation before, but I have read about it; the second I saw this male cozying up to his lady friend, I knew what was coming. As you can see, the female is supporting all of the male's weight, and she may in fact also be about multitasking. While I watched, this couple had several mating attempts--either because some were unsuccessful, or because they just really wanted to make sure it worked.)

(A mixed flock of Andean flamingos (foreground) and Chilean flamingos (out in the yard). The Andeans were standing inside one of the flamingo houses, in which the birds receive their supplemental food, and also where they are kept if the weather gets too nasty.)

Phil eventually had to get back to his aviculture duties, leaving me with another hour or so to explore the Centre before closing time. Unfortunately, all that time out in the hot sun--yes, hot, in the UK, in March!--had left me with a headache, and I had no drugs to alleviate the pain. I went to the gift shop in the hopes that they had some on sale along with sunscreen and batteries and other useful things people always leave at home when traveling, but I was told that they were not allowed. Because I could tell that a migraine was forming, I asked, in desperation, whether there might be a first aid station where I could get some help, and was again informed--quite rudely, I might add--that nobody would be allowed to give me any pain medication. These crazy Brits and their ridiculous health and safety laws.

This left me with no other option than to head back to the hotel, where I'd left my luggage and planned to meet my taxi (scheduled in advance this time!). I figured I might find some drugs hidden away somewhere in my toiletries bag. If not--as turned out to be the case--I planned to have my taxi arrive early so I could stop at a gas station before hopping on the train. I only describe this situation in detail because it is the epitome of one of the most frustrating things about Britain--inconvenience. You really do have to plan ahead for everything, because you can easily find yourself in places where there are no stores, or the stores are so small they don't sell what you want, or they've closed at 4 PM and you didn't realize you needed to go shopping until 4:15, and so on. In the US, of course, even the smallest towns routinely have a gas station with the basic necessities, and that gas station will be open until at least 11 PM. Ah, the convenience of America. But I digress.

As I approached the canal that separates the Wetlands from Slimbridge proper, the red warning lights started flashing and the gate arms came down across the road. At first I was confused because I didn't remember seeing any train tracks there, but then I realized that traffic was being held up for boats. Because I am my father's daughter, I figured I needed to document the process in detail:

(The first boat through was a boring little leisure craft, but the second was this canal boat named the Ozymandias, a literary coincidence that, for probably the first time in history, collides my father's love of water vessels with my mother's love of British poetry. Incidentally, I often see canal boats while looking out the windows during my Cornwall-London train rides, and I always think how fun it would be to vacation on one.)

(After the two boats had made their way through the crossing, the bridge was swung back in place...)

(...and as I watched from the banks I had the strange urge to run and jump on the bridge as it moved. It was kind of like that weird feeling you get when you're up really high and you're terrified of falling but at the same time you think "I could just step out into that void..." The human mind is an odd thing.)

Once I got back to the pub and collected my bag, I had time for a quick sit-down (which felt wonderful considering that I'd been on my feet almost all day, lugging around my computer in my backpack) and a glass of Coke. When I went out to catch my taxi I discovered that I was to be chauffeured by the same driver I'd had the night before. He obligingly drove me to the Shell station, where I not only got some drugs but also something to eat for dinner during my journey. 

My driver and I got to talking again and we covered everything from driving to settling in the UK to starting families. Brits are always asking me where I'm from--just as Americans probably ask the same question of everyone in the US with an English accent. Inevitably, one of the topics that comes up is my "patriation process," if you can call it that, and people seem to find it fascinating; the average person has no idea about all the flaming hoops immigrants have to jump through, and they are usually surprised at how stressful it all is. Another thing they find interesting is the fact that I can't just use my American driver's license over here, but instead have to go through the testing process all over again. They get used to how easy it is to move between the different countries of the EU, and forget that not all international relationships are that smooth. In any case, my driver was Welsh, so I suppose he himself knew a little bit about resettling.

Luckily for me, the train ride home only involved two transfers, so I was able to sit back and get some work done (once my headache went away, that is). The train was unbelievably hot, probably because nobody had adjusted the heating in response to the unseasonably warm weather. I had to strip down to my tank top, but even then I was still sweating. The car cooled down little by little as people disembarked; by the time we pulled into Truro, I was able to put my long-sleeved shirt back on and was also the only person left in my carriage--which was a bit nerve-wracking because it made me feel as though maybe I'd missed my stop. Fortunately, I hadn't, and was able to immediately hop on to my final train of the day. It was dominated--visually, acoustically, and olfactorily--by a group of about half a dozen guys who must have been heading out to drink in Falmouth after pre-partying elsewhere. They had consumed so much booze that the entire carriage smelled like a pub, and I don't think they once stopped shouting/talking during the entire 20-minute ride. At one point they started licking each other's nipples, and I'm not sure that even overconsumption of alcohol is a good excuse for that. All I can say is, it was not a boring journey.

I wish I could say that I will be visiting other flamingo-y places in the name of research--India, Spain, and the Caribbean are particularly enticing--but, sadly, that is not the case. I do have one good piece of news, though: I just bought myself a new camera lens in honor of my rapidly approaching birthday, so my next post should have some lovely visuals.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Pocahontas Files word cloud

A word cloud generated from previous Pocahontas Files posts. I wonder why I use the words "also" and "one" so much. The prevalence of "time," however, I understand--there just never seems to be enough of it!

If you want a word cloud of your own, go here to create one.

Monday, 12 March 2012


Shortly after I first moved to the UK, my husband and I took a road trip during which we encountered fog in the middle of a day that had been blessed with otherwise pleasant weather. I had no idea that fog could happen in the middle of the day, which shows how naive I was about British weather. Now I know better, but that doesn't mean I don't find days like today weird. We had fog all day, sunrise to sunset, and at no point could I see any more than about an eighth of a mile from my front windows; much of the time my view was limited to about half that. Here is the photographic proof:

Fog over Events Square and adjoining marina. The camera was able to detect features--like the boats' masts--that I couldn't see through the fog.

Here's the less "warm" version of that same view, after a few more minutes of sunset.

The Events Square parking lot and park, to the left of our balcony. This is the longest view I got all day--probably about 200 m.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Switzerland 2012: Lausanne

Until this week, I knew next to nothing about Switzerland, except that it's a place with well-made utility knives, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, chalets, and secret bank accounts. Also, I knew it was neutral in world affairs, and supplies the Vatican's guards. In other words, I had a very limited and stereotyped view of the country, derived almost exclusively from how it is portrayed in films. After having visited Switzerland for a grand total of about 48 hours, I can't say that I am much more educated about the country, but at least I have seen some of it, and spoken a little of one of its languages, and eaten a whole lot of its cheese. Not a bad start.

Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol, UK
The road to Switzerland led first through Bristol, where my husband and I spent the night in the Avon Gorge Hotel, just a couple blocks away from a place where my husband lived while doing his PhD at Bristol University. It was a grand-looking old hotel that had the sort of circuitous and inexplicable hallways I've only ever seen in British establishments. To get to our room on the second floor, we went up a flight of steps, down a hall, down 2 steps, down a hall, down another half dozen steps, and down another hall. You'd think that we'd have worked our way back down to the front desk by then, but in fact we had arrived at our door. Because we checked in after sunset, we couldn't enjoy our balcony or its view until the next day:

Our balcony

The iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, which requires a 50p toll. Unfortunately, the tollbooth is not manned, and does not accept 5p or 1 pound coins. Guess who didn't have exact change and held up traffic until a good Samaritan saved the day by donating spare coins?

Our room had many interesting features besides just the balcony. The decor was very tropical-British-colonial, and our bathroom had this handy little bottle opener next to the toilet, which is good because I always like to take my drinks into bathrooms and expose them to all the toilet germs:

Recently I've been reading a few blogs about vintage styles, so I couldn't help but notice the incredible retro faucets at the sink. These are some serious hunks of rock:

Our trip to the airport and flight to Switzerland were both pretty uneventful. I didn't have a window seat so, unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to see either Geneva or the Alps from the air. However, the mountains make their presence known pretty much everywhere, so I was able to get plenty of good views later on. Official entry into Switzerland involved a rather unusual immigration process. The officers gave most passports only a cursory look and waved the bulk of passengers through very quickly. My American passport garnered a bit more attention, and unlike my British flight-mates I got a visa stamp upon entry and departure. I am not sure why I was treated differently, but I'm not going to complain about anything that fills my passport pages--I ordered an extra-large passport specifically for that purpose.

The airport is next to the train station, which is where we needed to go in order to get transportation to Lausanne. We purchased our tickets using automated machines that only gave instructions in French; it is moments like that when I am grateful to have studied that language for 8 years. I was amused to see that children and pets counted as 1/2 and 1/4 people, respectively, while adults counted as 1 person apiece. One thing I immediately noticed was that the train station was exceptionally clean; also, true to the exacting standards of the Swiss, our train departed right on time. 

One of my main enjoyments when traveling somewhere new is seeing the countryside; I suppose it is the biologist in me comparing ecosystems. Unfortunately, I couldn't snap any good photos of Lake Geneva because trees kept getting in the way of my view. That was not, however, an issue with the mountains:

Even the unattractive towers in this picture can't ruin the spectacle of the snow-covered peaks in the distance. Although this particular field is empty, most of the agricultural areas we passed were devoted to grapevines; this region of Switzerland is renowned for its wines. There were vineyards of all shapes and sizes, from tiny plots in someone's backyard up to massive, industrial-scale growth, and they were crammed into seemingly every spare inch of space. Here's a blurry one, as seen from the train window:

Once we arrived in Lausanne, which is only about 45 minutes away from Geneva, we opted to walk to our hotel rather than hail a taxi. According to the various Internet maps we consulted, the walk should only take about 15 minutes and cover a distance of about 1 mile. One thing that Google doesn't accurately convey is vertical distance as well as horizontal distance; it turned out that we were trudging up steep inclines and climbing steps left and right. This wouldn't have been so bad except that I was wheeling my suitcase along behind me and it was making a terrible racket because much of the ground was cobbled rather than paved. With a little help from the iPhone's GPS capabilities, we eventually found our way to Hotel Crystal, which sounds fancier than it was. However, it was conveniently located in the heart of the shopping district and offered a lovely view of Lausanne's Notre Dame Cathedral:

Lausanne's Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in the Gothic style. It is apparently considered to be the finest Gothic structure in Switzerland, and one of the top ten examples of Gothic architecture in Europe.)

We were also positioned diagonally from a bell tower whose bells chimed out every hour, but paid particular homage to the hours of 9 AM, 12 PM, and 6 PM, ringing for minutes on end. Sadly, my attempt to record video of this seems to have ended in failure, as I cannot find the movie anywhere on my camera. Suffice it to say, the acoustic display was incredibly loud. Here is where all the noise was coming from:

(You can just barely see the bells above the cupola on the left)

Farther down from the tower, both vertically and horizontally, was the bustling shopping and restaurant district. We had two particularly fine establishments within seconds of our hotel's front door: Starbucks and McDonald's--wherever in the world you go, there they are!

The whole reason we were in town was so that my husband could give a lecture at the University of Lausanne. His host, a researcher at university, escorted us to Les Brasseurs, where we could have both drinks and dinner. Simply because he could, my husband ordered a liter of beer--or, in British terms, 2 pints. It's an amount that many people would drink in one sitting, but it looks ridiculous combined into a single serving rather than brought in two separate glasses:

Florian de Fal steals a sip from the half-empty liter of beer

For dinner, I opted for the Swiss version of pizza, which is called flammenkueches, or "flamed cake." Basically, it is a thin dough covered with toppings such as cheese, meat, more cheese, vegetables, and even more cheese. Honestly, I've never seen so much cheese in my life. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, it was all I could smell--and believe me, it was a powerful scent. The pull of fromage was so strong that I ordered La Trois Fromages, which came with goat cheese, herby cheese, and reblochon. It was delicious, as was my husband's rosti montagnard, which came with raclette (another Swiss cheese), ham, and an egg on top. Thinking I would finish the night off with a nice light dessert, I ordered pommes cannelle et glace vanille, or cinnamon apples with vanilla ice cream. Little did I know that this also involved dough; it was kind of like an apple pizza, with thinly sliced apples layered over dough and then topped with the ice cream. I guess I should have anticipated this development, because pastries are such a prominent part of the cuisine in this area of the world.

After dinner we headed up to an Asian-themed bar (in terms of decor, at least) called Karma, where I had a cute little pot of jasmine tea that I managed to pour all over the table while trying to serve myself. My husband and I peppered his host with questions about Swiss culture--in particular, its government and political policies. I can safely say that I now know more about these topics than I ever anticipated; my only worry is that I will mix up these facts with the ones I am currently learning for my "Life in the UK" settlement test (but that is a whole other blog entry). I learned that the original Latin name for Switzerland is Helvetica, and that the reason we have a Helvetica font is that its designer was Swiss. The Swiss motto is the Latin phrase meaning "One for all, all for one." Who knew the original Musketeers were from Switzerland?! Also, I found out about a whole new language that I didn't even know existed: Romansh, which emerged from the "Vulgar Latin" spoken by Roman conquerors of the country.

The next morning my husband and I enjoyed the continental (literally!) breakfast at our hotel before he went to campus to give his talk. The breakfast was, as you might predict, about halfway between what you'd find in France and what you'd eat in Germany. It had the delicatessen-like array of cheese and cold sausages that we'd previously encountered in Bielefeld, plus all the croissants, baguettes, and other freshly baked breads that you always find in France. Luckily, there were also "normal" things like yogurt and cereal, plus a juice machine that made fresh orange juice on the spot.

Once my husband departed, I set off to wander around the city and see what I could see. I passed through the weekly Wednesday market at the Place de la Riponne and, yet again, smelled the very strong scent of cheese wafting through the air. I went up to the cathedral and admired the intricacy of its carved front door:

I was a bit disappointed at all of the reconstruction work that's been done, since it is very obvious--you can probably see it in the image above. I don't mind the idea of restoring an old building, but I hate how obvious these restorations are. When I got home and did a little research, I was surprised to find that the work had been done in the late 19th century, since most of these newer stones look like they could have been laid in the past 10 years. I was more impressed by the style of the fire hydrant outside, since it was an unexpected place to find such attention to detail and artistry:

After leaving the cathedral area, I continued to wander around the city and take in the sights and sounds. I passed an amazing street band busking in front of the noisy-bell building near our hotel; they sounded kind of Latin but I am not sure whether they were South American or traditional European. Although they played their instruments well, the impressive bit was their multi-part harmony. I thought I might go back later and see if they were selling any CDs, but by the time I returned to the square, they had vanished. There were plenty over other musicians sprinkled throughout the area, though--including an older man playing a strange device that sat in his lap and had a crank that he repeatedly rotated. I think it may have been a hurdy-gurdy, but I only say this with the benefit of hindsight and Wikipedia; I didn't get a very good look at the time. He was singing songs that were very clearly old folk tunes, and which sounded interesting but incredibly out of place, given the setting.

One of the weirder things I saw during my wanderings was a bus driver holding up traffic at a stoplight while he repeatedly vomited out the window of his vehicle. I can't say I've encountered that during any of my previous travels. Other bizarre sightings include a strange style of lingerie in which the bottoms reach all the way up to the top of the ribcage, just under the bra, and, elsewhere in the same store, cooking salt flavored with the stamens of Swiss alpine flowers.

Unfortunately, that is about the extent of my sightseeing, since I was suffering from a sore back and couldn't comfortably walk around for more than a couple of hours. I did manage to stay on my feet long enough to buy a new pair of boots, which I was hoping I could do in order to take advantage of the nearly 1:1 exchange rate between Swiss francs and US dollars; it was much cheaper than shopping in the UK.

That evening our host took us out to fondue, which apparently is a Swiss specialty. I'd never really thought about that before, but it makes sense--fondue is usually made with some variety of Swiss cheese, and it's exactly the sort of warm, comforting meal that would be dreamed up by people who live in a cold, snowy climate. The only drawback was that the entire meal consisted solely of bread and cheese, and by this time I was fairly certain I was morphing into a human-sized piece of cheesy dough thanks to what I'd been eating for the last day and a half. I asked the waitress if there were any vegetables available, such as mushrooms or broccoli, that I might dip in the cheese; this elicited a look that combined disgust, amusement, and confusion, and ultimately produced no results. Luckily, I was able to order a salad instead. There was so much fondue that even Florian got in on the action:

By the time you are done eating a pot of fondue, a crispy crust of cooked cheese has coated the bottom of the dish. This is considered to be the best part of the meal, but of course can only be eaten by those who have the patience to chisel it free, as well as the room to stuff it in their already well-laden bellies. Our host told us that he normally likes to throw an egg or two in the dish and have a cheesy, eggy delight at the end of the night, but he also admitted that it can be difficult to eat something that rich and heavy at that point in the evening. All I know is, it's a good thing these people live in such a hilly place, otherwise they'd never burn off all the calories and fat they consume each day.

The next day we lounged around in our hotel room until noon, at which point we checked out to the sound of the bells clanging away across the street. We headed back to the train station--a journey that was much more pleasant in reverse thanks to the fact that gravity was assisting in the movement of my suitcase, rather than trying to prevent it. We were a bit worried that our return tickets to the Geneva airport would not be valid since we hadn't specified that we wanted to take the journey on a different day than when we'd set out on our trip, but luckily we didn't have any problems.

Sasha contemplates the Swiss countryside
The rest of the trip went smoothly, unless you count Sasha's pouring hot tea all over his lap during the drive home from the Bristol Airport. Switzerland is an hour ahead of the UK, so although we arrived back home around 9 PM, it felt more like bedtime; I always find traveling so exhausting, plus airplane rides invariably leave me with migraines. The best part of climbing into our bed was returning to normal-sized pillows--the ones we had in our Swiss hotel room were flat little square things that offered absolutely no support.

However, that's really my only complaint about the whole trip; well, that and the fact that I wasn't spry enough to spend more time exploring the city. I'll just consider this reconnaissance for further trips that will be longer and involve a) time spent on a boat on Lake Geneva, and/or b) skiing in the Alps. At least I know that if I start pining for a taste of Switzerland to hold me over until those future visits, I have a nice bar of Lindt chocolate sitting in my cupboard.