Hello friends!

I (Lea) have finally arrived back home in Zurich– it still feels weird to say that – after an absolutely incredible week travelling through Italy. We started by taking a train early Good Friday morning from Zurich to Milano. This is probably one of the most incredible train rides as the track winds alternately through the high Alps and then beside the famous lake shores of Lago di Como, Lago di Lugano, etc. After meeting up with some friends in Milano, and getting the key to our apartment, on loan from another friend gone skiing for the weekend, we headed to the famous Milano Duomo for Easter Friday services in Italian.

Duomo – Milano

As per all my experiences so far in Milan, after visiting the famous and beautiful Castle  Sforzesco, we got completely lost trying to find our way back to our apartment – a repeat of my last trip to Milan in the summer. The next morning we woke up to pouring rain, but that did not deter us from travelling to Roma! Through the maze of hundreds of thousands of people we were able to find Hanna in St. Peter’s square and were some of the last people to get inside the church for the Easter Vigil with Pope Frances. It was an incredible experience to be at the center of an institution with billions of faithful worldwide!

Hanna and I were actually in Rome for a conference at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations headquarters. ETH had brilliantly arranged a course where all the leading scientists working on global problems associated with food security from a global to a local dimension all came in to present their life works to us. The two best things about it was that the course came with a 3 day free Italian Eurorail pass, to enable all the conference goers to travel to and from Rome (+1 day in true extravagantly generous Swiss fashion), and the opportunity to network with all these people who are truly the top leaders of their field.

Pope Franceso on his pope-mobile in St. Peter’s on Easter Sunday

I have to run to class now, but there are still many more crazy stories that will have to wait for the next blog posts.

Hanna sends her love to you all from Transylvania, Romania, where she is spending this week with a friend alternating between sleeping in tiny villages with the locals in exchange for milking their cows in the morning, to old magnificent medieval castles left over from another period in history. She will fill you in when she gets back.

Viele Grusse!

Hanna and Lea

Kirstenbosch and Concerts


kirstenboschEstablished in 1913, Kirstenbosch is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and also one of the largest. It sits right beneath Devil’s Peak and the walks through it are beautiful, and steep. Rachael and I went there in the morning to take a look around, and it was beautiful.flower The gardens are home to more than 7000 species of plants and they specialize in fynbos. Fynbos is the term for Cape Flora and are only found in southern Africa. It is the first botanical garden to be part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The nature reserve it’s a part of is a 526 hectare estate. My favourite parts of Kirstenbosch are actually its ‘useful plants’ gardens were you can smell plants, and read about what they’ve been used for traditionally. Some of them seem plausible, while others seem like they’d be a fairly terrible idea to try. They have plants that cure everything from TB to treating stomach aches and fevers.

Another thing Kirstenbosch does is host concerts. They do a series of Sunday summer concerts in the afternoon and people bring blankets, wine and picnics and hang out in the gardens to listen to music. xavier ruddWhile I didn’t make any of those (out climbing), I did get to go see one of my favorite musicians play there in the evening, and it was a pretty awesome venue.

The two main musicians who played were Jeremy Loops and Xavier Rudd. You can check their music out here at these links: Jeremy Loops’s Soundcloud and Xavier Rudd’s Site. Jeremy Loops is a South African musician and Xavier Rudd is from Australia (I’ve seen him play in Toronto before). If you haven’t heard either of them, you should definitely check them out. They played a great show, and it was a lot of fun to get to check the gardens out in the evening.

Jeremey loops


Holi One, Hout Bay, & Chapman’s Peak



The Original Holi Festival

Holi is an ancient Indian festival that has existed for centuries. The meaning of the festival has changed over the years and is celebrated in the name of various gods, however many of the rituals or traditions have remained the same, and the one that seems the most fun, is the spraying of coloured water all over the place. You can find out more about the traditional festival here at this site: Holi Festival. Holi marks the end of winter, and start of spring, its a chance to celebrate and have fun.


Before picture! We're soo clean.

Before picture! We’re soo clean.


Holi-one festival is based on the Holi festival in India. It always starts at two p.m. when thousands of people get together to listen to music and throw coloured dye at each other every hour. The coloured powder you could buy at the festival, and you were given big packages of it in various solid colours: blue, pink, orange, green, yellow. It was apparently environmentally friendly and non-toxic. IMG_5267However, it didn’t taste too great and by the end of the day my throat was pretty dry. This was the first year it’s ever been in Cape Town, and if you’d like to see what it was like, check out this video: Holi-One Cape Town. It was held in the middle of down town, at the Grand Promenade. We got there shortly after two and the place was already covered in powder, there were a couple of food tents, and some places selling masks for your mouth, bandanas, powder-free areas. The rest of the area was fair game for throwing powder around. (Though in all honesty there was a lot of powder tossing and smearing in the powderless tents regardless) Suggestions, if you ever want to go to a Holi-one festival, don’t leave home without at least one pair of sunglasses, a white shirt, and a bandana. Also, bring yourself some water to wash down all that delicious corn-starchy powder. Beer cost about R20 a can and looking back its kind of funny how expensive that seemed. I mean, when has anyone ever gotten a beer at a concert in Canada for under $3.00? IMG_5214




Hout Bay & Chapman’s Peak


Hout Bay is one of my favorite places in Cape Town. I can’t exactly explain why, it smells like fish and its full of old boats, and sailors. The beach there doesn’t get great waves really ever, and its not the easiest part of the peninsula to get too, but I can’t help but feel pretty enchanted by it.

I love boats! Hout Bay is full of them.

I love boats! Hout Bay is full of them.

Rachael and I went down there to check it out and just walk around. The weather hasn’t been great in Cape Town, so it seemed like a good day for exploring since hiking, and climbing would have been pretty gross with all the wind and rain. Winter is coming to Cape Town unfortunately, and it seems to be hitting earlier than anyone really expected it to. We walked around the docks and watched some workers cut up bits of fish to feed a hungry seal. They had a can and were asking for coins, and were letting people feed the seal. If you put the fish in your teeth and waited it would even kiss you ( I didn’t try that). It reminded me a lot of the fisherman feeding the massive sting rays in Cape Agulhas. There was blood all over the dock next to them, and the whole area smelled like fish as tourists sort of goggled in packs taking pictures and holding toddlers with ice cream in their hands ( I had my camera out, so I really was no better). The stingrays slid under and out around the boats, unbothered by the commotion around them. One of my roommates even went in and pet one.


We walked through the boats, and I took hundreds of photos–some you’ll probably see posted throughout the next couple of weeks. I’m in love with the old boats, and the smell- salty and sharp and fishy.


Hot Stuff: Thermal Activity in NZ

New Zealand just happens to lie on the edge of two tectonic plates. This leads to a thermally/volcanically active area running down the middle of the North Island and many parallel mountain ridges running along the west coast of the South Island. This tectonic activity caused the recent earthquakes in the Christchurch area (Canterbury).

So we should avoid these potentially dangerous areas, right? No! They are a huge tourism centre, and there is so much cool stuff to see! There are brightly-coloured mineral pools, geysers, hot springs, bubbling ponds, deep sunken pit craters, gargling mud pools, brightly-stained rocks, and best of all: the constant smell of sulphur! Okay, so the smell of sulphur isn’t so great, but the rest is awesome.

Most of the thermal tourist attractions are near Rotorua and Lake Taupo, however that means that these areas are also really expensive. We tried to see as much as possible on a student’s budget.

Early in the morning on our first thermal day we went to a small town called Te Aroha. A small area of the town is a historic thermal spa complex, and it has been restored beautifully. We watched a small geyser erupt and went for a walk around the town to look at the old buildings and gardens.

Gurgling, steaming, sulphur-smelling, bubbling mud pools. Awesome, right?

Gurgling, steaming, sulphur-smelling, bubbling mud pools. Awesome, right?

We carried on south and soon arrived at Rotorua. After getting some directions at the iSite (wonderful nationwide information centres staffed with knowledgable locals), we continued on to Waiotapu (Wai-o-tapu: sacred waters) to see some amazing natural thermal phenomena. It is all rather hard to describe, and even harder to get on camera, but hopefully you will get some idea of what we saw from the photos below. We stopped at some bubbling mud pools on the way to the welcome centre.

Steaming crater in the ground filled with black bubbling mud at Waiotapu. The paths get surprisingly close!

Steaming crater in the ground filled with black bubbling mud at Waiotapu. The paths get surprisingly close!


The minerals at Waiotapu create awesome colours. This lake was very turquoise in person.

The minerals at Waiotapu create awesome colours. This lake was very turquoise in person.

No, I did not edit this photo. It really was that crazy.

There was an eruption of Lady Knox geyser at 10:15am (daily… daylight savings time the same; figure that one out!), and then a self guided tour through some amazing scenery.

Waiting for the eruption of Lady Knox Geyser

Waiting for the eruption of Lady Knox Geyser

We stopped at “Craters of the Moon” thermal area as well. It is smaller than Waiotapu but also very neat.

Craters of the Moon thermal area is very new and constantly changing, so new craters can form through collapse of the surface ground at any time, plus there is hot steam constantly rising from the craters. Stay back!

Craters of the Moon thermal area is very new and constantly changing, so new craters can form through collapse of the surface ground at any time, plus there is hot steam constantly rising from the craters. Stay back!

I am simply amazed at where plants can manage to grow. This pit had several steam vents (fumaroles) that released water vapour well above 100 degrees C, and yet all these ferns, shrubs and mosses seem quite happy.

Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ, and the most closely monitored thermal area in NZ. It’s nothing to worry about, but the lake is actually the flooded mouth of an active volcano due to erupt any time now. No big deal. Kiwis are pretty chill about these things.

Beautiful Lake Taupo (photo taken from narrowest bay)

Beautiful Lake Taupo (photo taken from narrowest bay)

Northeast of Lake Taupo are the Huka Falls. They may not be tall, but they are very fast-flowing and they’ve carved a small gorge out of the rock around them. Unfortunately, I can’t find the photos we took of the fall, but you can look them up online!

Next time: underground adventures in caves!

Friday Photo: Cheetah Outreach

Rachael and me with cheetah


Cheetah Outreach

The Cheetah Outreach is located in Somerset West outside of Cape Town. They do environmental education and conservation work. One of their projects was training these really cute huge dogs to defend livestock from cheetahs. Cheetahs don’t like to attack anything bigger than they are, so the dogs work as a good defensive measure and helps to prevent farmers from having to shoot the cheetahs. The species is currently now only found in certain parts of Africa. The females are solitary and raise cubs on their own, and the males are more social and form coalitions that run around together. The Cheetah we met was apparently a celebrity, his name was Joseph, and he was apparently in a movie with Patrick Swayze. (Sorry if I spelled his name wrong). To find out more about the project check out their website: Cheetah Outreach.