Switzerland: Some particle-arly interesting visits

As finals have come to an end, I finally have the chance to catch up on relaying my adventures. In the past few weeks before finals, I had the chance to visit Geneva and the CERN research center. CERN, or the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, was the first European collaborative science research center. The European Organization for Nuclear Research operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and is composed of 22 member states.

It was a treat to be able to tour the CERN facilities and see the amazing work that scientists are performing as we speak. Though particle physics is not the easiest topic to wrap your brain around early on a Saturday morning, I definitely ended up learning a great deal about our universe and the fact that there is still so much information left unknown for us to discover. All of the matter that we have observed thus far comprises less than 5% of the total matter in the universe — LESS THAN 5%! Scientists are working to discover more about this elusive “dark matter” and “dark energy”, a discovery that would unlock more of the secrets of our universe. In a world where new-age technology seems to be the solution for all of our questions it is absolutely astounding that we still only know about less than 5% of our surroundings. The journey into the unknown is still upon us. Just when one things that the unknown is becoming smaller and smaller, we are faced with these facts, putting into perspective that we are but a small piece of a larger puzzle that is still in the process of being constructed.

About a week after I went with the Erasmus group to tour CERN, I was thrilled to welcome my brother to Switzerland. He came to visit for about a week, a week which consisted of visits to Zermatt, Lucerne, Zürich, Montreux, and Fribourg (of course!). I finally had the chance to see the Matterhorn, one of the most famous mountains in the Swiss Alps. Needless to say, it did not disappoint! It was a perfectly clear day with sunshine illuminating the landscape. The town of Zermatt is lovely, with small shops lining the main street and the view of the Matterhorn in the distance. Due to the wintry terrain, the five lakes trail was closed off, so we decided to take the gondola up to the glacier paradise. Once we made it to the top, it felt like we were on top of the world! The mountains spread out across the horizon, as far as the eye could see. At the top, there was also a statue of Christ on the cross. It’s amazing to be reminded of his sacrifice while being surrounded by the peaceful glacier landscape. So white, so still, so quiet, and so close to the heavens. At that moment, I was reminded of my many blessings – the sense of gratitude I feel for have the opportunity to spend a semester in this amazingly beautiful country can never be fully expressed. I only hope that the impact that this place has made on my life will shine forth in every other venture I pursue.

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Finally, our adventures in Lucerne, Zürich, and Montreux were magical as well. In each of these cities, we visited the Christmas markets. Unique in their own way, each market served to showcase the Christmas spirit in a new fashion. The Lucerne market was small and quaint. The Zürich markets were large and extravagant, with a Christmas tree covered in Swarovski crystals in the train station and a lovely set-up in front of the Opera house which borders the lake. I have to say that Montreux was the most whimsical market, with Santa flying over the booths every hour and colorful lights floating on Lake Geneva. In Montreux, after touring the medieval Chateau de Chillon, we had a delightful mug of hot cocoa while browsing the stalls at the market. Overall, the entire trip was wonderful. Though my exams were right around the corner, having my brother come to visit gave me a chance to realize the many blessings I have to be thankful for and the true reason for the season of Christmas.

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