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Month: November 2017

Fall/Spring Break: Learn From My Mistakes

Hello! Recently we had a very long break – a whole ten days, in fact – and this is my reflection/how-to-not-be-like-me post. There are some things that I did right, but there are others that I didn’t do so right, and here they are for your enjoyment!

First of all (and this applies to any trip you take), do not expect Europeans to do American holidays! Yes, Halloween is a primarily American/Anglo-Saxon holiday, but all over France and Spain were signs and Halloween party fliers and decorations, and so I figured it would be a big thing! And it is…just not with costumes. European children will go out earlier in the night, and I’m not even sure if they actually go trick-or-treating (I think people just have square parties with candy) but they dress up! So I said okay, it’s Halloween, I’m in Southern Spain and I’m going to be a pirate for Halloween. I went to go play pool at a local restaurant that was TOTALLY COVERED in Halloween gear… and no one else is wearing a costume. Not a single human. Not even the waitresses or the bartender. We were even pointed at and laughed at a bit, so do not make our mistake! You can’t deny it though, we looked pretty legit.

If you want to do anything particularly wild or involved, book it way ahead of time! There were multiple times when we wanted to rent a moped and zoom around the city we were in, but they needed a full day to process our information before renting to us (and we were only ever in places for two days at a time). We kind of winged a part of our trip and thought we might want to hike the most dangerous (not anymore, but oh well) hike in the world in Malaga, Spain, but apparently that thing sells out months in advance. We ended up spending most of our time exploring the cities or doing our own hikes, which was fine, but just keep these facts in mind when you’re trying to have a trip full of adventure: you can’t be totally on the fly about it if it includes rentals.

If there’s anything you take from this post, dear reader, I hope it is this next point: Do. Not. Travel. Too. Much. Don’t do it. If you have a trip planned that involves hopping between 5 places, calculate the total travel time and see if it’s worth it. When it’s split up between an hour here two hours there it doesn’t seem so bad, but once you realize exactly how much precious time is being spent on a train just playing cards, you’re going to regret it.

A Look Into The Typical Week of a GTL Student

I understand not all of you reading this are current GTL students, so I’m just going to delve into the (slightly exaggerated) average week of a GTL student for those of you that may be wondering what it’s like.

Monday Morning: Welp, I’m still pretty exhausted from the weekend, but I’ll make it up later. All I have to do today is buy groceries (I really have to stop eating baguette sandwiches), get a head start on all the homework I have due this week, and maybe I’ll even have time to go to the gym or run at some point.

Monday Midday: Okay, so I may have been weak and bought another Fermie Chaud (curry baguette sandwich) for lunch from the sandwich place, but I swear I’ll go get groceries this evening, and I’ll cook everything else this week. Oh, you want to play ping pong? A few rounds can’t hurt – I have tons of time!

Monday Evening: Yes, I may have just played ping pong for two hours and foosball for one, but I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m cooking dinner! I’ll have a few hours to study afterwards and just do the rest tomorrow. Wait, how long does the lab homework take? Are you serious?? How is that even…okay, grocery store tomorrow, La Boite de Pizza tonight. It’s healthier than any pizza in the US probably. Maybe?

Tuesday Morning: Alright, today is the day! I’m going to catch up so hard from yesterday, and it’s going to be awesome. I still haven’t caught up on sleep because of that lab homework, but as long as the coffee machine works, then so can I! Or I’ll be like my dear friend Ben and bring a literal coffee maker to GTL. After class though.

Tuesday Midday: Only have one more class later, time to sit down and start on more homework. Wait…you didn’t book the hostel? I thought we agreed on that one with the nice rooftop…it’s totally booked? Are you serious? Okay, let’s figure it out – we only have two days before we leave and this homework can wait. I guess I’ll get another baguette for lunch.

*You can imagine how Wednesday went.*

Thursday: I’m exhausted, I’ve only eaten white bread this week and you’re telling me I’m leaving for London tonight when? In two hours?? Well, here we go.

And repeat.

Madrid: Tapas and Parks

I promise I’ll talk about other things as well, but I just have to comment on the food first and foremost. Skip ahead if you don’t care about cuisine (I don’t understand you, but I respect it). I love food! I love food. I love it so much, and it breaks my heart to see people not care about it as much as I do. Madrid is the capital of Spanish food (as well as the capital of other stuff, like the country or something), and I was sure not to squander my appetite before arriving. Like Barcelona, you can get any Spanish food as well as any Spanish-conquered food, so there’s half the globe of options. One thing I knew I had to have was arepas: they’re corn cakes  loaded with your favorite toppings like plantains, steamed pork, and mole sauce. We found a place near Plaza Mayor (which is a big, historic square with not much actually to it) and downed some nice arepas within seconds. Not sure what these candies were but they were super good and just fun to have.

Tapas were incredible, ranging from octopus and fried calamari (Madrid is pretty far from the coast, but they love seafood) to shredded cow tongue and mojo chicken. I thought the classic churros and chocolate I’d dreamed of included hot, drinkable chocolate, not literal melted chocolate: so when they were out of churros and they looked at me funny for just ordering the latter half, I was given a strange glance and soon realized why.

Do not be like me and try to drink melted chocolate by itself, your stomach and wallet will thank you later.

Now on to normal city highlights. Overall, the city was very vibrant and bustling. Most of the streets are narrow, and the buildings all around you are quite tall, so it feels a little claustrophobic, but also could be cozy. It’s a lot like many European cities in which many roads lead to a big plaza or square, but Madrid is special in that there is ALWAYS someone playing music or dancing in them. It felt like we just followed one music scene to the next, consisting of anything from steampunk jazzy-funk to African drumming circles. Right near Plaza Mayor was a guy playing the accordion to “Despacito,” and both Spaniards and a group of Asian tourists were getting down.

One thing we loved was the amount of parks, and these aren’t some dinky half-dog park half-playground parks. One of the main parks is five times the size of Central Park, and the one we spent the most of our time in (El Retiro) was also incredibly massive and absolutely beautiful. The fall leaves were right at their peak turning colors – lucky for us – and we bicycled all over the place.

On a side note, I would kind of recommend renting bikes in Madrid, but also not- some parts are super hilly and don’t have bike lanes, so if you’re wimpy like us, your day may require a lot of bike-walking. We went to the top of the hill of El Retiro to see the skyline and the Temple de Debod for sunset. For some reason or another the president of Egypt gifted an entire temple to the city of Madrid, so it was deconstructed and rebuilt on the highest point in this beautiful park. I had a weird feeling about it (not a fan of displacing ancient religious structures/objects/most things), but I have to say it was an incredible sight, especially at sunset.

Madrid is a great place that I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in: definitely on my list to go back to though!

How to Pack Light

Hello dear travelers, let me tell you all that I know about how to not crush yourself with 50 pounds of things you don’t need. I had to learn this the hard way. It was spring break 2017, I was super excited to make my merry way through Greece and Italy, and my backpack ruined everything. This is an over-exaggeration of course, I had a wonderful time, but it honestly would’ve been so much better if I hadn’t brought 10 days worth of clothes and my heavy computer with me. I ended up getting a big hiking backpack with hip straps, but that can only help so much. My shoulders could barely be called shoulders by the end of the trip and it actually took a few days for them to feel normal again. Granted, I am a small female that can’t handle an entirely full school backpack sometimes. Regardless of your size, here are some ways to ensure you don’t have my experience.

Realize you don’t need that many options. One going out outfit, one comfy outfit for trains, and a few normal day outfits will do. (That is, if you’re doing cities. Obviously you don’t need a clubbing outfit if you’re camping in the Dolomites… at least I don’t think so?) Choose carefully, and choose things that can dress up and dress down easily. Don’t bring something you would be iffy about wearing normally. Only bringing about 5 days worth of clothing got me this size Jansport backpack, which is incredible compared to what I had last break.

I mentioned bringing a few outfits, so how are you supposed to make them last the whole trip? You try your hardest to stay in AirBnB’s and hostels with washers. Most hostels have a laundromat either in them or close to them, just pop your clothes in while making breakfast and hang them to dry somewhere during the day.

If you’re positive you’ll be staying somewhere with no access to a washer, get a small thing of detergent and hand-wash your clothes in the sink. It’s a lot easier than you think.

Also – you’re not going to use your computer enough to make it worth bringing, so don’t make my mistake!

Vlog 5: Adventures Around Metz

Sweet, Sweet Barthelona

My experience of Barcelona is split up between two short and sweet weekends, one in the spring and one in the fall. I’m definitely going to come back to Barcelona to truly steep in the culture, but the time that I had with it was pretty meaningful. I packed a ridiculous amount of activities in for a total of 72 hours.

The overall feeling of the city is very young and vibrant. Everyone is either a chic, well-dressed woman, a punkish-looking skateboarder, one half of an adorable and small old couple, or a man with an incredible beard reading a philosophy book. Or a tourist, which comes with being anywhere, but especially Barcelona, being the capital of Catalonia. The boardwalk on the beach is always so full of life, with people walking their dogs and rollerblading and playing volleyball. Barcelona is also the skateboarding capital of the world, so you can always spot some young guys and girls doing tricks on any available surface. I’d highly recommend finding a famous skating spot and just watching some professionals take on feats of stairs and inclines that make me cringe just thinking about them.

If there’s anything I want to impress upon you about this particular city, it’s (surprise) to not just go see the Sagrada Familia, but to go IN the church itself. You will never see anything like it in your life, and the beauty of it is literally breathtaking. I gasped out loud. It’s a similar response to seeing the Grand Canyon or the Alps for the first time, except this is man-made which makes it all the more incredible of an experience. The church was designed primarily by Antoni Gaudi, the famous Catalonian architect that has done many crazy architectural feats across the city. They started construction in the 1870’s and it has yet to be finished, projected to be done in 2026 (as of now). The church is designed to mirror the unparalleled beauty of nature, and man does it do the trick: I don’t want to show too many photos because I want you, dear reader, to have my experience, but I’ll give you a little taste. (Photos don’t do it justice anyway.)

LOOK AT THAT. Look at how beautiful that light is. There are so many gothic, dark, and musty cathedrals all over Europe, whose stained glass are full of cluttered depictions from the Bible, but this church completely rejects these norms and uses light for the sole purpose of beauty in color and gradient. I absolutely love it and I will try my hardest to come back when it’s totally finished.

The other highlight that I will mention is food. I love Hispanic food of every kind, so I’m a little biased towards Spain in general, but I will say there are some places in Barcelona that totally blew my mind. There is one restaurant that isn’t necessarily Catalonian, but is too good: Brunch and Cake. Yes, it’s a bit “white girl overpays for Instagram-able plate,” but good God, is that plate incredible. If you want a dark green matcha pancake with strawberry compote while overlooking the harbor, I suggest you try out this restaurant. A great thing about Spain in general is that there’s a ton of immigrants from all the places they imperialized (a little disturbing, yes), so you can find every kind of Hispanic-infused meal in Barcelona/major cities. One of my travel buddies is Colombian so he took us to a few Colombian restaurants and I was schooled in the ways of the Colombian meal.

I ate so much I was on the verge of puking for a few hours in fact. If you like fun at all, go to Barcelona! Maybe not in fall 2017 because of the independence marches, but you should definitely go at some point.

Crêpe and Game Night!

My favorite night of the year happened last week: crêpe making night!! Okay, it isn’t my favorite night of the whole entire year, but I love crêpes, and I love making crêpes, so it’s always a great time. The Bureau des Etudiants pulled out all the stops with assorted jams, hella Nutella, and even a jar of that Biscoff cookie spread (the only thing we look forward to on Delta flights – you know I’m right). We got the crêpe hot plates heated up, Ratatouille on the big screen, and a plethora of various board games that are usually stowed away in the BDE closet.

Giant Jenga was a big hit: I’m not sure whether to blame the design-oriented part of us GT students, or the need for a small no-stakes gamble. Regardless, it’s simply fun to watch this massive tower crash down and make everyone in the GTL lounge jump every 20 minutes. I haven’t played small baby (now) Jenga in a long time, but I’m nearly positive you couldn’t do the craziness that I saw with big Jenga. Or maybe that’s just GT engineers blowing my mind with their planning and balancing skills. To be honest I’m a little shocked that no one happened to get hit by the avalanche.

The crêpes were a bit of a mess at first: getting an even consistency is difficult the first time, and then flipping it just becomes a jumbled debacle not dissimilar to scrambled eggs. Soon enough everyone got the hang of it, and people not in BDE came over and just made crêpes for others out of personal enjoyment.

All in all, it was a very successful night, in which people from all realms of GTL – some that I see every day, some I’d never met before – could come together for games and food.

(Thanks, BDE!)

Vlog 4: Bettmeralp

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