To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Month: April 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

La Coupe de Cheveux

For the last month or so I have been plagued with an affliction affecting both appearance and convenience. Something I normally kept under control was turning into a real disaster; I mean my hair, of course. I try to keep a nice, neat trim so that, for one, I don’t look like more of a homeless person than I already do on account of my beard, and for two, because my hair is a disaster to take care of when it exceeds more than 2 inches. Now you might be saying, “Sam, you realize that there is an entire industry dedicated to the maintaining and styling of the hair?” Well the sad truth is, that being the scared anti-social person that I am who speaks little to no French, I have been too scared of the awkwardness to try and go to a hair salon. I’ve been picturing the hairdressers just rattling off rapid-fire French and looking at me like an idiot when I have no idea what to do, and that scary mental picture has kept me away for some time. But eventually, enough was enough, and I decided I couldn’t wait another month to  get my hair cut at home.

To prepare for this daring feat, I put myself through a boot camp of hair-related French vocabulary until I felt somewhere short of confident that I could probably get the majority of my point across about what I wanted. I’d heard from other people that there was a place in CORA, the local superstore, where I could get my hair cut, so off I went. When I got there, I found that there is not one, but two hair salons, next door to each other, inside this store. I hope this gives you an idea about how massive this place is. Consulting Facebook, people said that St. James was the better of the two salons, but upon inspection, the alternative seemed much more inviting, and more along the lines of a Great Clips or something like that. Not being particularly picky about my hair, and the fact that it was cheaper didn’t hurt, I stepped into Diagonal Coiffure.

I started off strong by telling the gentleman at the counter that I need a haircut in what I can only assume was atrocious French. However he seemed to understand, because for guys, haircuts were about all they did. I encountered a bit of a snag afterward when I walked back to the chairs and awkwardly stood there for a few seconds. One of the ladies said something to me in French, and I think I kind of just stared at her, probably drooling, until, through the magic of charades, she gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs. After that my boot camp training kicked in, and I feel like I was able to pretty accurately say, in French, what I wanted for my haircut. This lady seemed to be able to speak some English, but being stubborn and wanting to use the language of the country I’m residing in, I proudly didn’t speak a single word of English the entire time, even managing to tell her that I was an international student studying at GTL in Technopole. After no time at all, I was done and finally sporting a cleaner look.

Although there were definitely some moments of awkwardness, the process was nowhere near as bad as I had imagined, and I even had some fun speaking a foreign language, although some gesturing was necessary due to terrible pronunciation. I feel like I learned a few lessons from this experience. First of all, don’t overthink things. They are rarely as terrible as what you can conjure of in your mind. Second, most people are actually nice and accommodating and will try to meet you halfway if they can see that you are trying. And last of all, a few minutes of being uncomfortable is better that a long period of inconvenience. If you just decide to go for it, whatever “it” is will almost always work out in the end, even if there are sometimes a few snags along the way.

Daerstetten to Interlaken: Peaceful and Intense

This weekend I decided to break the mold and go somewhere not in a city. I love the outdoors, and heard that Interlaken is nice this time of year. Before I get to the activities we did, allow me just a little time to gush about the awesome AirBnB that I found.

Our small cabin was in the village of Daerstetten, about an hour from Interlaken. In the hills, and boasting a meager population of 2000 people, this tiny town is made up mostly of cow pastures around the mountain river in the valley. Our AirBnB was in a cluster of traditional log cabins dating back to the 1600s. With an amazing view of the mountains and a sheep pen right outside our window, I felt about as far away from the city as you can get. According to our host Jorg, most people live their whole lives in that town. He himself grew up in the neighboring house.
 

View from our AirBnB. Hello, sheep!

 
On the first day, we decided to go hiking through the hills around our AirBnB. We walked past many traditional cabins, tiny clusters of houses, and lots and lots of cows. Hopping a train to a neighboring town, we followed a mountain river, then climbed through a cow pasture and down through another town. The views were absolutely pristine.
 

Reppin’ GT in the countryside. #buzzinabroad

 
The next day, after taking the train to Interlaken, we decided to rent bicycles in the town. The lady at the rental place suggested a route around Lake Brienz, and we were off. The lake was so clear that you could see straight to the bottom even at great depths. It was glittering and blue in the sun. We rode our bikes up and down hills, around sharp corners, and over the dirt paths. It was a total of 45 km, or about 28 miles. About halfway through, I took a nasty tumble on my bike, but I had to keep going. I am very proud that I did! It’s much better to say, “I biked all the way around Lake Brienz!” rather than “I biked about three quarters of the way around the lake and then had to take a train back because of a few bruises.”
 

Bike trip! Before the fall.

 

The next day we all woke up exceedingly sore. Just one member of my group and I decided to go to the Trummelbach Falls, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and awesome tourist attraction. After a breakfast of eggs and tomatoes, we headed out on the scenic mountain train.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the mountain runoff from the glaciers began carving a path through the mountain. Trummelbach Falls is the only place in Europe with accessible tunnels to see these rock-encased waterfalls. The water can flow up to 20,000 gallons per minute, and inside the tunnels you can hear nothing but the roar of the water carving its way through the rock. The walls are perfectly smooth from the erosion, and it is all quite terrifying to look straight down.

Need a place to relax by biking nearly 50 km, or hear the soothing sounds of thousands of gallons of water crashing violently through a mountain? Interlaken is the place for you!
 

What the inside of Trummelbach falls looks like.

How To: Find Your Body’s Physical & Mental Limit

The adorable village of Därstetten!

Finally having arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland on a very cloudless and sunny Thursday morning, my three travel companions and I checked into our small AirBnb, then went out to do some exploring. Our home for the next few days was comfortably nestled in the rolling hills of a village called Därstetten. This village was so small that the cows easily outnumbered the humans, and trains only went through every hour. Our house was this sweet, little country home, with the architecture and design staying true to traditional Swiss style homes. It had dark wood paneling on the outside, and carved wooden shutters painted green. There were vibrant red and yellow tulips surrounding the front, as well as a couple of free-range chickens wandering the campus, and we all fell in love with the area almost instantly.

Now I could go on an on about the home and our immediate surroundings, but I’ve actually got a very interesting story to tell you, so I’d better get started:

Waterfalls at the halfway mark!

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to do some more exploring. We ended up deciding to rent a couple of mountain bikes in Interlaken to ride around Lake Brienz. This is where the story really takes shape. I have not touched a bike since probably my freshman year of high school, but some part of me chose to ignore that fact and take on a 40+ kilometer trip in jeans and a sweater. It was nearly 65 degrees Celsius, and I had one bottle of water. Well, I figured I could use the exercise, plus I would be able to see the lake from all sorts of angles! During the first half hour of the trip, I was doing great. We were riding on flat, paved road, and I was really enjoying myself. Then the hills started.

*Pensive thoughts*

I don’t know what we were expecting, seeing as we were in one of the world’s most hilly/mountainous regions. We all turned a corner and saw the road go up. And up. And up. At first, I tried toughing it out, so I switched my gears and went into the first ascent at full speed. Soon enough, I lost my momentum, and found myself pedaling just to keep my bike from falling backwards. At this point, my thighs and calves were feeling a healthy sting, so I kept going until I reached the next turn which seemed to plateau off.

But what was waiting for us when we turned that corner? You guessed it- another hill! I took a breath, gathered myself, and started to tackle this one. We all got about halfway up before we hopped off our bikes and walked them to the next corner. This is how we took on every other hill. After seeing some beautiful waterfalls, falling a couple times, and a lunch break, we finally got to the opposite end of the lake. This next half of the trip was supposed to closely follow the water line, and we all joked that we would get there and see nothing but upwards roads. We would literally be going uphill both ways. That joke quickly turned into a sad reality.

Lake Brienz

There was a stint about a kilometer long that went all the way down to the lake and then it flattened out along the turn. Coming out of that turn, we, I kid you not, saw Another. Freaking. Hill. By this point, I’m already sweating bullets (the hot sun did not make any of this easier), and my legs were on fire. However, against my better judgment, I trekked up the hill. We were just over halfway home, and I was not about to be a quitter. There was one more relatively flat part, when we were going through a small town, but then the uphill battle quickly continued. We did actually go all around the lake- uphill both ways. What a story.

Towards the end, all of our bodies were feeling the toll of 40+ kilometers in our legs, backs, and souls. By the time we returned the bikes, one of us had a faulty ankle, one of us had a crazy-intense sunburn, and the other two of us had enough muscle cramps to last an army a lifetime. Plus, due to the questionable lack of padding on the bike seats, none of us could walk normally. We all hobbled and waddled into our beds that night. We were physically and mentally drained, so after cooking dinner at six that night, we fell asleep quicker than you could say “spaghetti bolognese and frozen vegetable mix” (our dinner).

The moral of this unfortunate story, even though I really did have fun and I’m thankful that I had the experience, is to NOT ride a bike for four and a half hours if you haven’t exercised those muscles in over six years, do NOT overestimate your physical or mental preparedness, and ALWAYS bring two to three bottles of water! Until my next misadventure, this is Sam signing off! 

Top 5 List of Favorite Encounters of the Food Kind

Thinking introspectively I’ve come to the conclusion that my love for travel might actually be not so subtly linked to my love for good food. Seeing famous landmarks and learning about the history of places is great and all, but my favorite part is undeniably the food. Be it street vendors, marketplaces, little cafés, or fancy restaurants, good food can be found everywhere, and in Europe you have nearly unlimited access to foods from many different cultures, and cuisine that might not be so easily accessible in the United States, so in the spirit of Buzzfeed, I decided to make a top 5 list of my favorite encounters of the food kind.

5. Schnitzel with Noodles, Heidelberg
Don’t get me wrong, this simple meal from Germany was delicious, but it secures a spot on my list for the experience of finally getting to eat the iconic food combination sung about in the Sound of Music. Growing up hearing that song, I never even knew what schnitzel was before coming to Europe, so it was fun for me to not just figure out what is actually was, but also to eat it.

4. Hot waffle with Ice Cream, Amsterdam
Right outside the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, by the famous sign, there’s a little food stand that sells an amazing combination that I had never seen anywhere else. Waffles, ice cream and coffee was a perfect way to break fast before enjoying the incredible art of Van Gogh and touring the beautiful canals of Amsterdam.  

Picture Courtesy of TripAdvisor.

3. Roasted Duck, Paris
This was one of the very first meals I ate in Europe, occurring in my very first weekend of travel. I’ll always have a soft spot for that first destination and the trip was highlighted by finding this tiny little café in the middle of Paris with great hospitality and even better food. This was also my first time actually trying duck and it has quickly taken it’s place high among my favorite meats.

2. Pork Belly with Creamed Potatoes, Munich
This whole meal at a lively restaurant/pub in Munich was amazing but I can say with some certainty that their potatoes were the best I had ever had. People who know me know that I love potatoes, so this was truly a wonderful experience. There’s just something great about the simple cuisine of Germany, and when it’s prepared as well as it was in Munich, there’s not much that can beat it.

1. Gyros, Athens

Right across from our hotel in Athens.

My number one spot comes from a little hole in the wall in the middle of Athinas street called the Pita Bar. My girlfriend and I discovered this place near the end of our trip and proceeded to go there for at least 4 meals in 3 days. It wasn’t particularly fancy or anything, but they knew how to make gyros like you wouldn’t believe. If you ever find yourself in Athens, I cannot recommend the Pita Bar highly enough. Just watch out, because other gyros will never taste as good again.

It might sound a little weird that food would be such a big part of traveling, but really, food is a huge part of culture. Europe is known for its diverse and impressive cuisine and it hasn’t disappointed. I look forward to a few more weeks of amazing food and amazing places.

5 Tips for Train Travel

From using the Eurail pass, I have learned a lot about traveling on trains. Especially when one doesn’t speak the language, going on trains can be a bit daunting. Trust me, I have taken my fair share of wrong trains, slept in a few very cold train stations, and been to many an information desk. This post is a ‘learn from my mistakes’ type deal so I hope everyone is ready!

1. Make sure you are in the right car.
I know, I know, this sounds like a no-brainer. However, a lot of the newer trains have the capability for cars to split off from one another and go to different places. Make sure that the car you get into is going to your destination, because there is no way to switch once you are en route.

2. Secure your valuables with your companions so you can all sleep.
It’s always a good idea to keep your personal items close to you. I keep my passport, Eurail pass, and money in a money belt, and put it under my clothes. However, sometimes I worry about my backpack. I want to sleep, but I don’t want to have to worry about my bag being stolen if everyone in my group falls asleep. So, I came up with a plan. Whenever we are planning on napping, my crew and I all buckle and tie our backpacks together. That way no one can grab our backpacks and quickly make off with one, but will have to struggle through the tangle of backpacks and thus become discovered. It makes me feel a lot safer.

3. Bring a scarf or neck pillow for sleeping.
One thing I learned about taking trains is that you will never know when or where you will be stranded. It is always a good idea to bring extra warm clothes in case you are stranded in a train station, because most of them are not heated. Also, most train stations don’t have places to lie down for sleeping, so having a pillow to rest your head on can come in really handy.

4. Leave enough time for transfers
Even though trains are usually on time, small delays or train strikes can lead to some close calls and missed trains. When planning your route, make sure that you can always get to the next platform for your transfer. I think 20 minutes is a safe bet. Every train station is different, and you need time to figure out where the train is and how to get there. Leave stress out of the equation and plan for decent transfer time.

5. Bring snacks!
Although many trains have dining cars, bringing snacks along for the ride is always an awesome idea. Train travel makes you sleepy, and a quick granola bar, apple, or other snack can be a great pick-me-up. Trust me, you will love yourself later.

Happy travels everyone!

Krakow: The Old City of Eastern Europe

As a Lithuanian, I was very excited to go to Krakow, Poland. As any Lithuanian will remind you when you respond, “I haven’t heard of that country,” the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, and Krakow was one of the main capital cities of the country.

This is a monument dedicated to the 1409 cooperation of Lithuanian and Polish forces in Grunwald.

The Polish are a proud people. They have seen some of the most brutal wars, famines, and atrocities of any European country. Since the 11th century, they have only seen about 100 years of peace total, in the 16th century. In the span of WWII to the fall of the Soviet Union, they lost about 35% of their population to death camps, shootings, war, and gulags. They have a fierce hatred for oppression, extreme national pride, and they oppose all things Nazi and Soviet. According to our tour guide, ask a little girl about 4 years old what the colors of the Polish flag stand for, and she will respond with intense expression, “White is for the innocence of our country in the many wars waged on its soil, and red is for the blood that our people have sacrificed in those wars.”

This is the beautiful square in the heart of the city. The old city was so prosperous because of trade with Middle Eastern countries for horses!

After the lighthearted tour of the old city, famous for its walled defenses, beautiful castles and wonderful cathedrals, my group and I were ready to face one of the most difficult topics in human history: the Holocaust. About 1.5 hours outside of Krakow is the site where the most people were killed in the shortest span of time in history. Auschwitz and its sub-camp Birkenau, Nazi death camps, are today Krakow’s main tourist attraction. No one is excited to go to Auschwitz. Remembering all of the atrocities committed there is not a fun day trip. But it is something that every human should do, and it is a burial site that everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to.

The victims were mostly Jews, but also included Soviet prisoners, Romani people, and Polish people. Here are some statistics from the US Holocaust Museum website: “Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died).” When you enter Auschwitz, you see the sign above the entrance “Arbeit macht Frei,” meaning, work sets you free. However, this was not true at all for the prisoners sent there.

After arriving off the cattle cars after days of journey without a break, food or water, you would be filtered through the entrance. If you were sent to the left, you would be sent directly to the gas chambers. If you were sent to the right, you would be put in the forced labor camp or sent to the human experimentation area. The only people sent to the work camp were strong young men. Women, children, the elderly and those with any sort of disability were sent to the gas chambers.
When you entered the gas chamber, you were told that you would be taking a shower. Prop shower heads would be on the walls. However, the room was filled with Zyklon B, which would kill you painfully in about 10-20 minutes depending on your proximity to the vent. We walked inside the gas chamber, and could see the nail marks on the walls where people had tried to claw their way out of the gas chambers.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the camp as a sign of respect. Here is a view of the barracks from the outside. 700 people were kept in each building.

After the people were murdered, a forced Jewish labor force would have to shave all of their hair to be used for coat lining or mattress filling, and all gold teeth and rings would be taken (along with any possessions they had taken on the cattle cars) to houses in the camp known as ‘Canada.’ These storehouses for valuables were called Canada because Canada was a symbol of wealth for the Polish. Then, the corpses would be placed in ovens and incinerated. Walking the paths of these people was incredibly moving and powerful.

If you were sent to the work camp, you would be given insect-riddled and soiled uniforms and tattooed with a number. You would sleep 8 in a bed in barracks with mud floors, full of rats and insects. Only one latrine was provided and almost everyone had dysentery. You were given about 200 calories per day. You had to work 14 hours or more of backbreaking labor, and if you fell, injured yourself, or passed out from starvation, you would be sent to the gas chamber. If you did not fulfill work quotas, you would be subject to capital punishment, including having your arms broken, lashings, beatings, spending a night in a suffocation cell (no ventilation, many people to a room, only a few survive) or a standing cell, (four people placed in a 1 meter by 1 meter cell with no room to move at all. After all of this, you would be expected to work the next day.

At Birkenau, the site of the largest mass killings, our tour guide informed us that there was a 1 inch layer of human ash just below the grass. The camp was liberated by the Soviets. Many of the prisoners that survived, however, were sent to gulags – Soviet-enforced labor camps – immediately following their liberation.

I know this post has been really heavy, so I want to leave you with an inspiring story. On our tour, our tour guide mentioned a professor that was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in the beginning of Nazi occupation. He survived four years of hard labor in the camp. After the war, his political ideals landed him in a Siberian gulag, because he opposed the Soviets, where he survived another four years of starvation, hard labor, and cold. He lived to be 104 years old. When asked by a student how he lived so long, he responded “I wanted to live long enough to see Poland peaceful. Now, after 80 years of nonstop war, I can tell them at the moment of my death that everything is alright.”

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén