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Month: October 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Paris: A Couple of My Favorite Things

Throughout GTL, I’ve technically been to Paris more times than I can count: I know the walk from Gare de l’Est to Gare du Nord by heart. As far as actually spending time in Paris, I’ve seen a good bit of it (I think), and far too much of it to cram into one blog post. Therefore, these are a few things that I’ve done recently that I think are essential Parisian activities (not just hitting all the big monuments).

One thing I love is tea. A good, warm cup of tea is absolutely heart-warming, especially when having to brace the harsh cold that usually hangs over Paris’s shoulder. When you look up tea houses on your phone, it will lead you to places like Angelina, which certainly are a nice couple of restaurants, but they’re very touristy and overpriced. I had a brioche bun with salmon that could’ve fed one cat fully. Last spring I found a little British-style teahouse near the Notre Dame with good tea and incredible strawberry jam, but I was more so looking for a real Parisian tea experience, which this place obviously didn’t fulfill.

This past weekend I finally found it: Mariage Frères. Yes, there is a chain of them around Paris, and yes they are in somewhat popular and touristy places, but man is it an experience. Up front is the whole store with rows and rows of massive barrels of tea, alongside tea sets ranging anywhere from 30-700 euros. There was a line in which you could smell whatever tea happened to be near you, and when you got to the front a nicely-shaven, dapper man greeted you and got you the tea you wanted with incredible speed and agility.

There was a menu, yes, but it was the size of a Bible, and we just went with asking him what his favorites were. We walked out with 200 grams of nice tea for a pretty affordable price (I think). In the back was the restaurant, which unfortunately we didn’t get to eat at, but I’m sure it’s incredible. Pricey, but this place is the real deal, so I’d put down for a brunch at Mariage Frères.

The Montmartre neighborhood is somewhere I’m getting to know pretty well since my friend just moved there, and it’s been slowly growing on me recently. Montmartre is the whole hill of the Sacre Coeur down to the Moulin Rouge, and while it’s certainly a hike to get up there, it’s by far the best view of the city that exists in Paris (not just my novice opinion by the way). The Sacre Coeur is nice; it looks like most fancy big cathedrals (although the outside is cooler than most), but the view from its front porch is absolutely incredible. You can see pretty much any tall monument or church in all of Paris at once.

The foot traffic in that particular area can be a nightmare, filled to the brim with tourists all trying to get themselves drawn by a Montmartre street artist, but if you go down west of the Basilica a ways there’s a really nice neighborhood with some incredible food and cute local Parisian shops. Go to a fruit stand and get white strawberries, or enjoy one of the endless incredible French pastries while sitting on the classic Montmartre staircases that line the Butte. It’s a lively area with a lot of green and a lot of verve. Check it out the next time you have a long layover in Paris.

Freiburg: Short & Sweet

Long story short, I had a major miscommunication with a friend of mine that was coming to Paris to study at the Louvre, and I ended up in Paris with a bunch of nice clothing and literally no plan for the weekend. It was nearing Friday night, so I had to decide quickly what I was doing. That had never happened to me before: I was alone with a backpack of clothes in an incredibly central location, and I could go nearly anywhere. It honestly felt exhilarating and liberating, 10/10 would recommend (if you’re not the anxious type).

After spending an hour at the train station help desk figuring out how to get to Cinque Terre, I actually decided to play it safe and just go back to Metz and figure out what to do from there. I quickly convinced a friend to come with me to Freiburg, the closest, cutest German town I could find. It’s about 2.5-4 hours by train away from Metz, and I thought the fall colors would be in full swing for a nice Black Forest hike. Unfortunately, we somehow missed the train TWICE (this was not a good weekend for me), one because we were late and the other for literally no reason except that we didn’t check our watches. We finally got into Freiburg in the early evening, not giving us time to really do too much, but we made the most of it. The town butts up against a series of hills that are densely forested, mostly pine but a lot of little foliage as well.

We found a babbling brook and a whole host of little fens where a million rabbits lived. We came down at sunset and found our way to a tavern that served the meatiest, heftiest German meals I’ve ever seen. I had Schweinhaxen (pork knuckle), which sounds weird or even gross, but I promise it was incredible. I’m a small human and tried my hardest to finish the whole thing, but there was simply no way that could happen, as you may see in the picture.

My friend captured me with my hand over my heart, in a subconscious pledge of allegiance to the schweinhaxen. It was so good. We also had Black Forest cake, which is this thick cake with a ton of whipped cream and wine-soaked cherries on the bottom. Satisfied that we stuffed ourselves with pure Allemagne culture, we waddled back to the train station to hop over to our AirBnB in a neighboring suburb. If you have time, I’d definitely recommend taking a walk through the place where people actually live. It’s so interesting to see how just little things are similar or different from your own American neighborhood.

The next morning we headed into town for a last meal and walkabout before we trained home. Freiburg is one of the most eco-friendly places in Germany, so everyone is out on their bikes enjoying the cool fall weather. We weaved through a bunch of modern home decor shops and old woodworking stores, finally settling on a nice, strangely cheap fish restaurant for lunch near the old tower.

Fun fact: after WWII, Europe was so devastated that America had to step in and help rebuild, creating the Marshall Plan to stimulate the European economy. While doing so, America saw this as an opportunity to spread U.S. pop culture and business as widely as possible in an effort to unify a broken Europe wracked with inter-fighting and distrust. I love a lot of things about America, but the fact that you can’t take a picture of Checkpoint Charlie without also catching the KFC sign, and that McDonald’s chose to brandish its name on the defining cultural symbol of a small German town: this is absolutely ridiculous and asinine. American imperialism is alive and well.

Putting the America rant aside, Freiburg was a super cute town with a great atmosphere, I’d recommend it as a short weekend trip for sure.

BMW: Driving the Future

Written by guest bloggers Alex Rahban & Nicolette Slusser.
 

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“The Ultimate Driving Machine.” A motto held by one of the most well-known auto-manufacturers of the world, BMW – a company forged from aircraft engines and redefined through luxury automobiles. BMW’s history is filled with a rich racing past. Enthusiasts remain true to the brand for its buttery smooth inline 6’s and long throw manual transmissions, but today, the students of Georgia Tech Lorraine experienced a different side of BMW.

Far from the well-known four-cylinder building, we were given private access to BMW’s autonomous vehicle development location. Beyond the unpaved walkways, wet concrete, and yellow caution tape lay the secrets to BMW’s future in mastering level 4 autonomous driving.

Although BMW had previously trod lightly on the topic of self-driving cars, commenting that they wanted to be certain not to dilute their renowned automotive brand, they shared the structure behind how such a system would work. Students were made aware of the difficulties of developing the technology to make self-driving vehicles fully functional on the road. They require advanced software that must be able to process the frames of an image, classify the different objects in the Image, and determine how to interact with them safely. Just one hour of driving produced several terabytes of data which the vehicle had to process in order to function properly. The test vehicles at BMW required a full trunk of hardware to perform this task (weighing in at over 500lbs); however, they indicated when released, the hardware for their vehicles would only require as much space as a shoe box.

From the visit, it is clear that BMW is making a full effort to produce this technology, yet at this moment, they are several years from completion. We had the privilege of being the first group to ever tour the facility; unfortunately though, photographs were not permitted. Although BMW has chosen to be quite secretive with the public about their participation in autonomous vehicles, we can expect BMW to produce truly revolutionary vehicles exceeding both the highest automotive and technological standards.

 
 

Bowling and Go-Karts: Suppressed and Oft Forgotten Youthfulness

Breaking News: the BDE Reminds GTL Students of Their Suppressed and Oft Forgotten Youthfulness Through Bowling and Go-Karts.

With all the stress that Georgia Tech students endure on top of having to choose between studying and travel planning, it’s easy for students to believe they’re like a grumpy 45-year-old, seasoned in the work of studying and so unable to simply let loose and play. The BDE (or Bureau des Etudiants, the student board here) attempted to fight back and reclaim the childlike spirit we all have by taking everyone to Metz’s great bowling/laser tag/go-kart arena!

Bowling lanes were randomly assigned, so I got to meet people that I’ve somehow never even seen before. (Maybe we have totally opposite schedules?) There are a ton of graduate students at GTL this semester, so people I have never and will never have classes with all came out of the woodwork to have a good time together.

Close scores could be competitive, but for the most part everyone was just chatting and having a good time. Then without any sort of transition came the most intensely divisive activity you can possibly play: laser tag.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a caveman fending for your survival group in the wilderness, go play laser tag. All friendships are lost at the entrance and deliriously picked back up there afterwards. We formed teams and went into the dark, neon wasteland-themed maze that then became the land of no laws, and begun shooting each other mercilessly.

Yes, I’m being overly dramatic about this, but it really is intense! At the end of the game everyone came out of the two-story obstacle park sweating and nursing their wounds, stubbed toes and pride having the highest densities, and we all regrouped outside in the fresh air. The go-karting people were still zooming around the track, moving much faster than I’d expected. They also gave little medals at the end for the winners: unsurprisingly, the whole GTL gearhead community swept the trophies up with little trouble.

While they continued, the rest of us sat down to experience a truly French karaoke night. If you’re imagining grandiose Edith Piaf or French electro-pop, I’m afraid you’re as wrong as I was. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, sang either Celine Dion or belted a pretty sappy 80’s ballad, all speaking of lost love or something of that nature. Every single French man, woman, and child sang their absolute hearts out, totally sober on a Wednesday night. It was fascinating. And then of course some GTL boys got up, turned their hats around backwards and started with the Backstreet Boys.

I won’t say the French locals hated it – some were bopping along to the b-boy beats – but the sudden change of mood might’ve been too much for the taste of some. Nevertheless, it was a fine night and I’m glad I was there to experience it.

Iceland: The Most Magical Place on Earth

Iceland is…something else. I’m not entirely sure how to explain the place. This is the simplest way I can think of: cross a Narnia or Lord of the Rings-type landscape with Mars. And that’s about the best I can do. Imagine ultra-dramatic cliffs with black, craggy rocks at the top – but a lush green carpet of moss everywhere else, and then add geothermal vents steaming off one edge with a waterfall trailing off the other. Also, add some sheep on the way up and ponies at the base. It doesn’t sound real, does it?

Basically, if you like nature even just a little bit and you have a pinhead’s worth of a sense of adventure in your blood, COME TO ICELAND. Save up money, skip out on a few weekends to study, and go to Iceland. Please. For me. I’m 100% going back, no doubt in my mind. Usually when I go somewhere with cool sand I take a little bit in a bottle, but I’m so confident in my going back that I didn’t bottle anything at all. I know I’m being dramatic, all raving mad about a place that I only spent 3 days in, but seriously, this place has every possible cool nature thing you could imagine. Plus the food is incredible, and their wool sweaters are super cute. What’s not to like?

The first thing we did in Reykjavik was set out for an early morning hike up a small-ish mountain right outside the city. It’s called Mount Esja, and it’s very popular and easy to get to by public transit (bus). It starts out with some low, dense trees, which were changing color at the time (as it’s early October), and soon enough you’re doing switchbacks on a very impressive rocky mountain.

We wanted to climb to the top, but it started to rain/sleet, and we ran back down the mountain (literally running, almost rolled my ankle multiple times) for shelter. We were really booking it up and down the mountain, and it took us 2 hours. On the way back down we passed by a nice brook with little waterfalls tumbling into it all along the mountainside: it was my first Icelandic waterfall sighting so I thought they were lovely, when in fact they were nothing compared to what I’d be seeing over the next few days.

 

As far as the city of Reykjavik goes, it’s a nice little place but I wouldn’t spend too much time within its borders. The cities are not what you’re there to see, although I will highlight a couple things. One of them is the massive beautiful church of Hallgrimskirkja. It looks like basalt columns, and if you like gothic or medieval churches then you’re out of luck. The church has a very pristine and clean feel to it, with the inside all white. Very magnificent though. What I actually want to talk about, however, is what we found on the way there. We took a side street to get to the church, and as we were walking this incredible smell wafted our way. Braud, a bakery within sight of the church, makes cinnamon buns constantly all day everyday, and I swear to you it’s the best cinnamon bun in the entire world. It was seriously so, so good. I went twice. There’s nothing quite like a cinnamon bun fresh out of the oven.

 

 

We then proceeded south to stay in an adorable AirBnB in Hella, and the next day went along the southern coast. We visited Vik, a small coastal town, with this view from their lighthouse on a random cliff on the beach:

 

Doesn’t look real right?? It looks like Jon Snow should be rowing underneath that arch and Daenerys should be flying overhead on a freaking dragon. The cliffs on this place were ridiculous.

We also found some impressive waterfalls: the first one is called Skogafoss (above), and I never did find out what the other one was, as we just ran across it on the main road south.

 

 

Back up towards Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a small loop that hits a lot of natural wonders in one go. We got to see some geysers in a geothermal region, as well as a waterfall called Gullfoss. I’ve never been to the Niagra Falls, but I imagine standing in front of it is akin to being near this waterfall. The sheer size of it was something in and of itself, but all the different ways it split and tumbled into the ravine was just spectacular. If we hadn’t been on a time crunch I could’ve sat there and watched it for hours.

 

I really wanted to go see a glacier, and we did see one in the distance, but they were actually causing flooding on the roads that we couldn’t get around. Because of this (and many other) reason(s), I’m going back to Iceland as soon as humanly possible.

 

Vlog 3: Interlaken

Night Trains: For the Long-Distance Traveler on a Budget

Basically, after all of the traveling I’ve done, I grew tired of the Franco-Germanic area and aspired to travel elsewhere, which either requires an 8-12+ hour train or an expensive flight. So, I found a nice solution: night trains! Night trains are awesome. Within France they’re very cheap: I went to Monaco for a 20 euro reservation, which is what you’d pay for an inexpensive hostel. From southern France, it’s just a quick train to Italy, and there are also night trains that go between countries as well. I have some friends that took one to Barcelona for 30-40 euros, and I’m positive the night train to Berlin is fairly inexpensive as well.

The trains have rooms that house 6 beds, and yes, they are super cramped. I’m talking Titanic movie cramped.

 

But, all you’re doing is sleeping, so instead of staying up late and doing homework or other irrelevant things, get a good night’s rest so you can explore all the next day! (I’m joking, although if you are thinking of doing homework on this train, then forget about it. There were no common areas to just hang out in (at least on mine), and don’t expect to be able to sit upright comfortably in your bed.

Also, If you’re tall you may end up like this:

These trains usually leave late at night (mine left at 10 pm) and you arrive at your destination in the morning.

One thing to consider is that unless you buy out an entire cabin of all six beds, you’ll probably be sharing them with other people. So, if you have a group of friends that are obsessed with a card game and are refusing to quit at even 1 am, just be courteous of the people you’re sharing the cabin with and try to move out into the hallway. That doesn’t sound fun but it’s better that than pissing off some French women who will 100% use the entirety of their vocabulary to make you shut up (totally not based on personal experience). Also, it’s always good to be conscious of your things, but that’s a bit hard to do when you’re asleep. I cannot sleep with one eye open, and I doubt you can either, so I suggest getting a money belt/something similar so you can keep your passport and phone close to you without fear of prying hands. Get out there and see some far away stuff!

For the Love of Chocolate

Written by guest bloggers Amira Abadir and Tiffany Chu.

Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Metz in a small residential area: a brown, modern storefront stands with the smell of chocolate wafting through the street. Early one Friday morning, a van of unassuming Georgia Tech students arrived there at Fabrice Dumay Maître Chocolatier.

Photo courtesy of Fabrice Dumay social media.

As our group entered, we were first shown the main storefront, which housed a counter with dozens of flavors of bonbons, or candies, along with shelves lined with varying displays of chocolate bars and gift packages. Towards the back of the store was a large window that peeked into a large, gleaming white kitchen. The window, as we were later told by Mr. Dumay, is there so that his customers can be certain that his candies are produced in-house.

After piling into the kitchen, Mr. Dumay told us a bit about himself. He spent 7 years as a chocolate patissier in the Vosges mountains, then 12 years as a chocolatier before opening his own store. He considers himself to be the only “master chocolatier” in Metz making artisanal chocolates.

Mr. Dumay explained to us the process of chocolate making from cacao seeds into cocoa beans, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter, with the aid of samples. We sampled the three traditional types of chocolate in his shop – dark, milk, and white – each 

with varying combinations of sugar, vanilla, and milk. The last bar chocolate we sampled was new: blonde chocolate. Blonde chocolate emerged just 2-3 years ago and is rare to find in stores. It is a special white chocolate that took 7 years to develop has been “smoked” or cooked until the sugar has caramelized with an even, smooth texture.

We next moved on to other chocolates such as the pralines and ganaches, beautifully crafted with perfectly creamy and crisp texture.

Finally, we witnessed M. Dumay’s legendary house specialties – liqueur filled chocolates, chardons, that come in spiky colorful balls of every color. We tried the raspberry and mirabelle liqueur chardons and were blown away by the strength, flavor, and freshness of the artisanally produced chocolates – quite different from industrially produced chardons. M. Dumay sells approximately 3 tons of these high-quality chardons every year!

Throughout the trip, Mr. Dumay’s passion for chocolate was evident. Before visiting his shop, we wondered: what makes chocolate artisanal? Modern processed chocolate – the candy bars we buy at the grocery store – is a product of the Industrial Revolution. By contrast, artisanal chocolate is an intense labor of love. While many corporate candymakers have found ways to automate the chocolate-making process, people like Mr. Dumay make as much of their product by hand as possible. Dedicating their lives to the art of chocolate making, the master chocolatier’s artisanal chocolate is an entry point for people of all cultures to share and enjoy the heart of chocolate, made with love.

This was a field trip of the Georgia Tech-Lorraine class HTS 2100, “Science and Technology in the Modern World: Regions of Europe.” For more information, see Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s website, www.lorraine.gatech.edu.

Monaco: Fancy Beach Version of France

I hadn’t originally planned to go to Monaco, but wanting to enjoy the warmth that is quickly getting sucked out of Europe, I decided to look it up on AirBnB and just see what was available. I found a really cheap place pretty close to Monte Carlo, so I went ahead and booked it on a whim. My good friend from spring semester at GTL lives in Milan and was able to come hang in Monaco, and there was a whole group of GTL people happening to go that weekend, so it ended up being quite the party.

You know how in New York City, an okay-looking apartment costs half a million dollars and a spacious one is at least a few million? Monaco is very similar I think. There’s a ton of high rises and apartment areas that don’t look particularly fancy, but then you realize their balcony overlooks a marina where their massive yacht lives.

Which leads me into the yacht talk: if you care about boats even a little bit, come to Monaco and check out these megaliths. I didn’t realize private boats could get this big. Big is an understatement. I’m talking hot tub in the front, helipad in the back, with 12 bedrooms yachts. We looked up some of the names and at least two were on the list of the biggest yachts in existence. It’s absolutely insane, and there’s a ton of high vantage points where you can see the marina’s full of them.

The first thing we did was find our way to the museum containing the Prince’s private car collection. I don’t know much about cars – I’m not a gear-head by any means – but this might’ve been the coolest thing I saw in Monaco. There were so many classic, priceless cars from every decade. My favorites were the 1920’s Rolls Royce’s and I’m determined to build my own or force my mechanical engineering friends to make me one. I feel like if a major vehicle distributor made bodies of classic cars with everything else kept modern, they’d make so much money.

One of my other favorite sites was a big beach in the northern part of Monaco. It was sunny, and the water was so refreshing – not cold enough to be unbearable, but still so invigorating. We jumped off a rock outcropping and swam to a floating dock, where we could tell there was a decent amount of fish underwater but couldn’t actually see. One of our friends actually swam back and bought goggles, with which we soon found out there were hundreds and hundreds of fish just chilling under the dock. They were super relaxed and let you swim right through them, it was incredible and I wish I could’ve gotten pictures.

Of course, I have to touch on the Monte Carlo. I’m not much of a gambler, but we can’t just go to Monaco without seeing at least one game of blackjack or roulette. The majority of our group was worn out after a day of swimming and sightseeing, so just me and my Milanese friend Brando went. We arrived extremely late, around 2am (not sure how that happened, but we’d been hanging with friends and watching music videos for a long time), and I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be open.

Much to my surprise it was 100% open, and when we waltzed in, there were a decent number of well dressed men yelling around the roulette table. We took a tour of the room – a bit smaller than I’d expected but nevertheless intensely fancy = and settled down on a couch to have a refreshment before maybe putting our hand down at some blackjack. Interestingly enough, we never got to it. My friend began to tell me about his new realization of Buddhist faith, and we became so engrossed in the conversation that everyone had left without us realizing it, and soon enough we were getting ushered out. I probably wouldn’t have gambled anyway.

Overall, Monaco was a great experience and I’d recommend it to anyone that especially likes the glory of the ultra wealthy.

What To Do In Metz: Romantic Boat Outing

I stayed in for a weekend in an attempt to study for a hard test that was promptly moved to the following week (classic). Having a little more free time than expected, some friends and I went down to the river for some R&R: tiny, motorized boat style. Close to the church on the river is La Flottille, where you can rent a small boat without a boating license. For four people and an hour with the boat we each paid about $18, while being allowed to go through two canals and near a little harbor. The engine isn’t anything crazy, you don’t get a speedboat whatsoever, but it’s a nice little way to mosey on down the river.

 

The little shack where you pick up the boat sells ice cream and overpriced refreshments, so I’d suggest picking up some snacks from PAUL and just having a little picnic. We bought a baguette for the sole purpose of feeding the swans. I will say I’m a little nervous around those majestic, but vicious birds. Being from Charleston, a major wedding destination, I’ve seen my fair share of naïve brides try to feed them for pictures and having half their dress ripped away by the evil, unforgiving plantation swans. With this context in mind, finding myself within an arms width of these massive animals while on an inescapably small boat wasn’t my favorite experience of all time. It was like slaying a hydra: as soon as you threw bread at one to disarm it, two more sprouted up in front of you.

Everything ended up alright, though: our boat was too fast for them and their white forms soon faded into the distance. Not without a small parade of swans at first, however.

It’s also super cool to see Metz from the water, a point of view that we’re obviously not used to.

I’d recommend it if you have some free time on a day where you don’t have a ton of classes or if you’re in Metz for a weekend.

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