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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

USA - the pictures!

My trip came to a close after two weeks. It's still hard to believe that I managed to do so many things and visit so many different places in such a short timespan. What will remain behind are the memories and of course the pictures I took.

You can enjoy the pictures, too. They're available in my gallery.

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New York Curtains

Saturday was my last full day in New York and so I decided to do some sightseeing.
One of the first places I visited was Ground Zero, the place where the WTC used to stay. I found it amazing that they haven't gotten any further, it looked like they only just started with the foundations for the new project.
Next up was the Statue of Liberty, seen from Manhattan only because the queue to go to the island was one hour long... It was a good decision not to join the queue, because soon afterwards it started to rain heavily. Fortunately I was in Grand Central Station at the time and could flee to the next restaurant for lunch.
At the Times Square I joined another queue, to get discounted tickets for that night's Broadway shows, it took one hour as well.
My next planned stop should have been the observation platform Empire State Building, but as usual things turned out differently, the platform was surrounded by clouds leaving a visibility of zero miles. Deciding that I could see nothing at home for free I went on ;). For the next couple of hours I walked around New York, following a walking tour described in the Lonely Planet. The point of this tour was to visit locations where scenes from famous films had been shot. I did find most of the places, but in the end this walk wasn't as spectacular as the one I did in Chicago...
Then it was time to go to my Musical.

Curtains - The Musical Comedy Whodunit
The leading lady of a Musical is murdered on opening night. This is considered a fortune by most of the other performers since 1) it gave them the possibility to return to better shows and 2) the leading lady was completely talentless and she would have ruined the whole show.
The story then unfolds backstage as an inspector joins the crew to find out who was responsible for the crime, in addition he tries to fix the problems of the show, helping it to become a real smash.
It's grand entertainment. The story presents many interesting twists and the appearances of the director always resulted in laughter. If you happen to pass through New York, go and see it!
Rating: 10/10

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oreo Ice Cream in Central Park & Resident Evil: Extinction

On Friday, I visited Columbia University. I was very impressed by the size of their campus, especially considering that it is (almost) in the middle of New York city.
On my way to Times Square I crossed all of Central Park. I was positively surprised by the forest in the Northern parts of the park and enjoyed hiking through it. Central Park is huge and it took me almost two hours to get through, no wonder then that I got hungry in between. Since the weather was nice and very warm an ice cream seemed a good option. Spotting an Oreo Ice Cream, I didn't need to think twice what to buy ;).
Times Square was also bigger than I had thought and very confusing to boot with the many roads intersecting and crossing there. Still the commercials were a sight to behold and it was interesting to see what shows were currently playing on Broadway.
After meeting up with a former student from the ZHW who is now studying at Columbia for dinner, I decided to catch another movie.

Resident Evil: Extinction
The movie was everything I expected of it: entertaining and bloody with cool action scenes. The cinema was almost sold out and the audience participated vividly, clapping and encouraging during cool scenes. The only thing that shocked me at this movie was a 4-year old boy who was in his stroller in the aisle, accompanying his parents (the film was R-rated!).
Rating: 8.5/10

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Fried Oreos and the day I missed "Weird Al"

My next stop was New York, where I met an old acquaintance from my days at Swiss Re. There just happened to be a big party in Little Italy so we went there to have a look at the attractions. There were an insane amount of different food stalls, some of them even sold Fried Oreos! Loving Oreos so much, I just had to try it, and I can report, that it tastes quite strange but nice, however, the distinct Oreo taste got a bit lost in the process...
What I was also amazed about were the amount of "low carneval" attractions such as "See the Snake Woman" and "Drown the Clown", something I've never seen in Switzerland.
On my way back to the hostel I picked up "The Onion" newspaper to see what was going on in NY for the next couple of days. I almost made a back-flip when I saw that "Weird Al" would have been giving a concert this very evening!!! Well, I guess one cannot always get lucky. But that would definitely have been THE highlight of the trip... Anyways, I hope that there will be another chance to see him when I come back to the States.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

What is there to do in Colorado? Visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park of course! So that's what I did last Tuesday. From Boulder it was a one hour drive to the entrance of the national park near Estes Park. The first thing I saw after entering the park was a flock of moose!
Taking the Old Fall River Road, being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park's high country, which is still a kind of motor nature trail today, gave me plenty of opportunity to stop and enjoy the view as well as do a bit of hiking in between. By the way, the allowed speed limit was 15mph, but I rarely drove more than 5 or 10! In the end it took me almost three hours for this 9 mile journey, but it was time well invested.
One of the highlights was reaching the top at Fall River Pass. At ~2000 miles above sea level this place is above the tree line and the only thing growing are small shrubberies, giving the landscape a semblance of the tundra found in the Arctic. The temperature and wind that was blowing was pretty "arctic" as well and I was very glad about my wind-proof jacket.
Taking the more modern and paved Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous paved road in the nation, back down I next visited Bear Lake. On the way there I happened to spot another flock of elk, this time they were closer to the road, resulting in nice pictures (coming soon, once I'm back in Switzerland).
Hiking around Bear Lake was very relaxing, however, I didn't spot any more wildlife (except a couple of birds and squirrels). Nevertheless, hiking was worth it just for seeing the scenery. Visiting four small lakes within two hours was very interesting and I even stumbled upon an Ent!
On my way back I saw even more elk, this time grazing just a couple of feet beside the road; they weren't disturbed by the traffic and the tourists at all!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

D-War Shoot em' up

In Boulder Colorado I stumbled upon a cinema multiplex. I was intrigued and since there were non other plans at hand I did go to watch a movie...

Shoot em' up
This is one of the bloodiest action movies I have seen recently (the top spot is till held by Planet Terror). Nevertheless, it manages to convey the story of a lone-gunman who finds defending a baby against an apparently endless supply of foes. The action sequences are fantastic and the shooting scenes are just breathtaking (and sometimes a bit over the top). So all in all it was a good "popcorn-movie".
Rating: 6.5/10

I ended up at the cinema again the next evening and the poster of Dragon Wars (D-War) caught my eye, so I saw that movie as well...
D-War
The premise is very interesting. D-War is a Korean production (director, producer and production company are all Korean) but the movie is set in the US and most of the cast are Americans.
The story is based on an ancient Korean legend where two snake battle each other to find Yeouijoo to get into heaven.
The action scenes are pretty good, but after seeing Oldboy and The Host I was expecting more depth to the story than D-War had to show for. All in all it was just another action movie with some interesting scenes (a huge snake climbing up a high-rise and an army of fire-breathing dragons (?) battling helicopters) and not much more.
Rating: 5/10

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Culture in Chicago

After seeing Wicked I was hooked and so I went to more shows the following days.

First was Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit a show which spoofed other Broadway productions. And even though I've rarely seen a Broadway production before, I got most of the jokes. Just hilarious!

Second was War a play by Irish author Roddy Doyle where a weekly Pub Quiy is taking very seriously. I enjoyed this show immensely, it was both funny and moving, cleverly intertwining the life stories of the pub's patrons with the on-going quiz. There were even some scenes which resembled dance routines! All in all a terrific production which you shouldn't miss if it comes to a place near you.

And finally I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in an Imax Theater! Seeing the movie on such a huge screen was pretty impressive in itself, but the last twenty minutes (i.e. the big fight scene at the Department of Mysteries) was even transferred to Imax 3D Technology and that just blew me away! An unforgettable experience and well worth the 15$ admission.

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Eating in Chicago

I've spent a couple of more days in Chicago and I've come across two awesome places I just had to recommend:

  • Pizzeria Uno: try an original Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

  • Bubba Gump: a restaurant dedicated to Forrest Gump with excellent food and intriguing decoration.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chicago

Things to do if you happen to spend a day in Chicago:

  • Visit one of the top floors of the John Hancock building which offers a splendid view of the city and it's suburbs (It's flat as a pan out here!). I can really recommend going to the Observatory, because next to the view you get also a lot of information about Chicago's history.
  • Wander around the streets and appreciate the different architecture styles.
  • Visit Ohio/Clarke Street corner to (a) see an extremely futuristic McDonalds, (b) have a look around the Rainforest Cafee and (c) eat the fantastic Ribs at Barnelli's
  • Take a stroll around Millenium Park and be amazed by the sculptures there.
  • Go to a performance of Wicked, a fantastic musical telling the story of Oz from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West, a must see!

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University of Illinois at Urbanna-Champaign

The main reason for my trip to the US was visiting different universities to get a feeling whether I would fit in. So I drove all the way south to Urbanna-Champaign, which wasn't covered in my US Lonely Planet (this left me quite disillusioned) to get some firsthand experience.

When I encountered a Squirrel just after arriving I thought: "How neat!" However, I soon discovered that Squirrels and Rabbits are considered a pest and after seeing the twentiest Squirrel it kind of lost it's novelty value ;). The university however was fantastic, they have over 40'000 students but it still held a lot of a small town atmosphere (Urbanna-Champaign has 100'000 inhabitants). I made the most of the two days there and met with a Professor, who then promptly invited me to attend one of his classes. In addition I took a Campus Tour and met up with a Swiss guy who finished his PhD there this last Spring.

Conclusion: I felt extremely comfortable there and attending the class had a lot of appeal. Now I'm hoping to get accepted :)

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Six Flags Great America

is a big amusement park one hour outside of Chicago. I spent all of Sunday there and picked the perfect day, the weather was warm and sunny and there weren't too many people, the most I waited for an attraction was 30 minutes (Normally up to 2.5 hours).

I'm still a bit flashed from the rides, they beat everything that I've seen so far in Europe. I'll quickly list my personal favorites here:
  1. Deja Vu: The craziest of all the rides including two 90 degree drops a looping and a boomerang. The name comes from the fact that you first ride forwards and then the whole way backwards again. Dizziness guaranteed :)
  2. Batman: a breathtaking ride with looping, corkscrews and fast turns.
  3. American Eagle: A huge all wood roller-coaster.
  4. Raging Bull: is similar to Europa Park's Silver Star but is twice as long!
  5. Superman: is insofar special that one is (f)lying in a horizontal position.
I ended up trying out 17 different rides for a total of 26 rounds. The downside of this fantastic day is that Europa Park and the other amusement parks in Europe are just lame in comparison... *g*

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Military Service and Vacation!

For the last three weeks I stood in the services of Switzerland. Yep, we still have mandatory military service consisting of a 15-week boot camp and a yearly 3-week repetition course. I just finished the later one and am immensely happy that it's all over. Fortunately I got lucky just at the beginning and grabbed a place in the Inner Service, there I was responsible to help the kitchen crew (doing the washing up among others) and cleaning the sleeping rooms. The kitchen was a blast, great folks always up for a joke. However, sleep was a rare thing and with the bad weather front we had, I caught a bad cold just before the end...
Anyways, next up is my long-awaited trip to the US. I'll fly to Chicago tomorrow and will stay there till Sunday next, then I'll continue to Denver and stay four days in Colorado. My last stop is New York City.
PS: Sorry for any errors in this post, but I'm tired to death, I had to get up at 4.30am the last two days...

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Grindhouse: Planet Terror

On my day off from military service I went to the cinema to see Roberto Rodriguez's Planet Terror. In the US this movie was shown together with Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, but after the bad sales they decided to split it up and so we Europeans could enjoy an extended Version of both movies.

Planet Terror is everything I had hoped for, extremely gory, trashy and thus funny. This is definitely the best movie I've seen this year and you should see it too, if you can stomach a lot of gore and blood ;).

The fake trailer for Machete before the movie is hilarious too, I hope that Rodriguez realizes this project soon...

Rating: 10/10

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