To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Author: Aria Amthor

Berlin – Hidden History

I’m often struck by how casually historic Europe is, but it has never felt so present as in Berlin. This may be due to the fact that the only historic tour I have taken was in this city, though I am sure I could not be so easily biased. Berlin is ancient, with a long history now entirely overlooked in favor of that of the last century. The negative nature of the history results in an odd attitude of “give it no memorial” yet “never forget so as to never repeat.” For me at least, there was also an eerie sense of how recent this history really is, when a textbook makes it seem so removed.

The ravages of war as well as efforts to obliterate evil leave few visible traces of the 20th century. Brandenburg Tor remains one of the most famous relics of Berlin’s more distant past. The hotel opposite it also survived over 300 bombings during WWII, yet could not make it through one Russian party where the celebration of victory resulted in accidentally burning down the building. The rebuilt hotel now has a bulletproof penthouse that costs €26,000 per night (no breakfast included) and is the famous site of such events as Michael Jackson dangling his child out the window. A more somber example of this trend of demolition can be found in front of a nearby apartment complex. Here, a parking lot where dogs are often brought to pee covers the location of Hitler’s bunker. This, as well as the destruction of other reminders represents Berlin’s efforts to leave no memorial to wrongdoers and instead rebuild anew.

In contrast, tributes to the victims are readily visible and frequent. The memorial for the Jews killed in the Holocaust was the most striking experience for me. This cannot be adequately experienced in any way other than in person. Pictures make it impossible to see its magnitude or depth. These unassuming cement blocks transform into a momentous weight when in their presence. It looks like a cemetery, yet unmarked and uniform, recalling the dehumanization of this population. As you enter, the ground waves up and down, disorienting, but trends downwards as the blocks do so upwards. By the middle, the blocks double or triple human height. They are simply so massive as to force consideration of the weighty events they represent.

Later years in Berlin’s history are marked by the division into east and west Berlin. We happened to be in the city on the weekend after the celebration of the wall having been down for as long as it was up: 28 years, two months and 27 days. Again, the immediacy of this history is startling. I look around and see one united city, yet can still find segments of the wall and people telling stories of their time when it was up.

The last century in Berlin was marked by destruction. A beautiful church, simply blocking the view of a guard tower along the wall, was torn down. Historic monuments and buildings were obliterated in two world wars. Even what remains, such as the beautiful columns of the buildings of museum island, are scorched black and riddled with bullet holes. Statues are decapitated and maimed. Yet the spirit of the city is strong. Now, instead of crumbling under the weight of its history, Berlin chooses to find a new identity.

Berlin is a city of growth. Though the wall was torn down only a few decades ago, the only way you can tell which side you are on now is by a brick path marking the wall’s location. Buildings are being reconstructed, some using original stones and restoring the previous grandeur. Others take a modern spin. Currently, the front of a palace is being rebuilt, but the rear of the building will be modern. In this manner, Berlin is pulling itself up. This city is so valuable that it inspires the efforts of a multitude pour their hearts (and wallets) into bringing back what they have lost, while creating a vibrant new personality.

A Tale of Three Languages

France has a worldwide reputation for its refined culture, so I have adopted the posh pastime of attending the opera. With a love for orchestral music and theater, I was eager to spend the equivalent of an entire week’s worth of meals (so, 15 Euro – thank you Crous for the cheap meals) to buy tickets to all three operas offered by Madame Serafin’s “On My Radar” program.

Despite my excitement for my first dip into the more cultured side of Metz (the On My Radar program is providing numerous other opportunities later in the semester), a surprise phone interview the night of the opera kept me from leaving on time. As is necessary for any starving college student, the prospect of a job won out over anything else, but didn’t stop me from trying to catch what I could. Navigating to the opera alone and in the cold, Metz at night provided a gorgeous sight I had yet to experience before. Built in 1752, the opera house is the oldest still running in France, and one of the oldest in Europe. Consequently, my walk from the bus stop (where my bus ended before it was supposed to) led through a beautiful old section of Metz.

After finally reaching the opera almost an hour late, I was met with yet another gorgeous building, but with no clear entrance. I guess there’s no red carpet laid out for late comers. After testing some doors, finding them locked, and getting yelled at for trespassing when entering what is apparently an adjacent, but different building, I began to question whether French culture even allows anyone to come late. While I respect the integrity of the opera and the need for quiet during each act, entering during intermission didn’t seem unreasonable. Success did eventually come after following a man back through a door after his smoke break, getting yelled at by security, escorted to the ushers, and finally plopped into a seat in the back.

Once I could actually settle in for the show, I remembered that I had never actually attended an opera before. Singing words inherently makes them more difficult to understand, as is often an issue in musicals. However, operas tend to be sung in the original Italian, making the effort considerably greater. Luckily, subtitles were provided on a handy screen above the stage. In French. While I have taken a few years of French, I am not particularly fluent and have forgotten most of it in the years since my instruction.

One can argue that the point of the Opera is not so literal. “The magic of the stage expresses emotion without the need for words!” I could imagine my orchestra conductor saying. This didn’t prevent the plot from being entirely lost on me, however. Intermission brought an opportunity to catch up from the Wikipedia synopsis, which is something that should be done in advance when time allows. From then on, I acted as a sleuth, piecing together the tale of Eugene Onegin from visual depictions, the plot overview in English, my sparse French, and at times a bit of Italian that was loosely comprehensible. The story is an interesting one that left me without a satisfying ending. In essence, Onegin spurns the love of a girl, gets into a fatal duel with his best friend, and later realizes that he loves the girl after she is already married. She then rejects him, and the story ends. No happy ending, but no dramatic fall from glory. Simply a rejection. A reasonable result, actually. This, in combination with the brilliant Tchaikovsky score, made for a glorious night.

Depth vs. Breadth Touring

Maybe it’s the looming exams, but the realization that my time at GTL is finite has hit with full force. I came with dreams of London, Vienna, and every quaint town between. Four months in Europe seems endless, but throw in the stress that is a Georgia Tech education and it becomes much more limiting.

Unable to avoid the tendencies instilled in me by my classes, I’ve been looking at the situation as an optimization problem. How does one have the ideal European trip? Like most problems in engineering, the system in overly complex without some simplification. Ignoring the fact that I have little idea what actually is available to do in most of the places I want to visit, not to mention those I haven’t even decided on yet, it is fairly easy to come up with two general approaches to being a tourist: depth and breadth.

GT students don’t like being conventional. Coming back from stellar weekend just to find out that everyone else planned the exact same itinerary as you dampens what felt like a personalized journey. So, in theory, I’d love to blend with the locals and eschew the tourist traps, but given that I have never been to the continent before, I can’t help but feeling like I am missing out if I don’t go to Paris and Rome. These approaches also apply to how to tour within a given destination. Do you skim and hop, exposing yourself to as much as possible, or slow down to discover the historical context and consequential significance of that statue in the corner?

There is no perfect strategy, but the cliché answer is that everyone needs to find their own approach. My best memories have been longer experiences, some of which I couldn’t plan if I wanted to. On the other hand, I feel like I can grasp the personality of a city better by hitting as many spots as possible. It’s best to do both. Even an individual trip can feel too rushed or as if I am missing out on the entire point of the city. To counteract this, I’ve adopted the strategy of moving quickly at first, to  calibrate to the new city. From there, I keep open to opportunities to stay if something grabs my attention, but try to learn to let go of the things I know are not as interesting to me.

Above all, I advise to put an emphasis on opportunity. The best stories can’t be planned. When in Paris, I missed out on almost everything the city has to offer, but I spent so long in the Louvre that I not only can navigate such a monstrous maze with ease (and my favorite part of these museums is always the building they are in) but I genuinely learned an insane amount about art and history in general. I’ve become a bit of a snob about the dynamics of subtly spiraling contrapposto sculpture. While in Germany, my mobility surprised me, and I ended up waking up
at 4 AM and walking so many miles as to cover the majority of Frankfurt in a day. This led to day trips in the area and a better understanding of Europe outside the major cities..

We’re Not in France Anymore

This weekend, I stayed in Frankfurt, Germany. The city is beautiful, where skyscrapers strain around historic landmarks, but the trip was inspired by a desire to rest my injured ankle. Frankfurt is known for some of the best public transportation in Europe. Everyone seems to just step on the trains, but just as I was contemplating whether the tickets were only an obligation for unaware tourists, I noticed a sign translated into English scolding that it was “never less worth it” and how deep the fines were for that very act. I still ended up walking over 10 miles the first day, feeling great and excited to get to know the city I hadn’t researched beyond its trains.

My first time outside France, Frankfurt introduced me to the wonders of German food. Bakeries with pretzel sandwiches and jelly doughnuts just scratch the surface. While walking to the metro from the Airbnb, we ran into a Saturday morning market where we ate fresh lamb kabob and bought a huge half loaf of bread that we snacked on all weekend. These markets are extremely common in Europe, so finding a morning meal at one is a must every Saturday. The best food, though, is incomparably My Currywurst in Heidelberg. With pork, beef, and vegan currywurst, all diets can eat this amazing meal coated in sauces that are so addictive they should become controlled substances. To complement, their sweet potato fries and homemade ice tea are heartily approved by a certified southerner. This was by far the best meal I have had in Europe, and it was so affordable that I don’t have to starve this week.

From my experience, Germans love Americans. English seems to be much more common there, and I was most often regarded oddly when I didn’t just assume they spoke English. I’m convinced a German accent sounds more American than the British do. I was even mistaken for British, so they seem to be matching my country’s accent better than I can. My only complaint about Germany, though, is how incredibly common it is to only accept cash. I spent the last of my money through questionable means, leading to a jog down the block to the nearest ATM while my food was already being prepared for me.

To get the most of the city, we purchased museum passes. This is a 48-hour pass that allows you to get into any museum in Frankfurt, and as they all line the river in what is called the “Museumsufer” or “Museum Riverbank”, it’s easy to get your money’s worth. I do not even remember how many I made it to, after getting up at 4 am to get started on this trip and forgetting to make room for food on the first day’s itinerary. As world-class museums are beginning to be old news, I sought out the slightly more obscure. Instead of another historic art museum, I opted for one on the design of everyday objects housed in a modern, minimalist addition to an older house. This museum chooses to organize its contents into “elementary parts” based on “thematic orientation” as opposed to time period, material, geographic origin, and so on.

After covering most of the highlights of Frankfurt in one day, I wanted to find a way to escape another day of sprinting between museums in a city. A huge benefit of staying in Frankfurt is its central location, so even while in the same Airbnb for a weekend, we got a sampling of German towns. Heidelberg became the main destination, and ended up creating my favorite day at GTL so far. This day was perfect. Our Airbnb was the entire top floor of a kind family’s home in the outskirts of the city, where the best tea I have ever had was provided for free, and the Saturday market was just up the street.

“Picturesque, but compact,” as my grandparents, who have apparently visited here, phrased it, Heidelberg has it all. The town has a uniform architecture with classic red roofs to match the rosy sandstone common in the area. An arched bridge crosses the river to a grand gate that introduces the city. The best, however, is the castle dominating the mountainside and overlooking the town nestled in the valley. I’ve been adapting to European city life, but my love for nature has been neglected. I still cannot walk well enough to make the hike up the mountain, so a train supplied my mobility and the mountaintop view I’ve been missing. This castle has it all. Ancient and evolving since 1214, it has medieval towers that have collapsed into ruin, while a pristine renaissance palace stands within. To describe this beautiful mess, Mark Twain stated that “Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.” You can peruse gardens and forests, ponder the variegated architecture, or go inside to the German Apothecary Museum and a quaint café. Though originally unplanned, Heidelberg was the highlight of my weekend and I highly recommend finding time to stop there.

Losing is Not an Option

I once heard that Tech students “binge everything.” While people often bring a certain intensity to their main endeavors, I have never encountered a population with such competitive camaraderie in all areas, from optimizing their path to class to seeing how absurd a game of chess can get when you are allowed to add a new rule every turn. It comes as no surprise that the BDE’s first event of the semester – a game night – was a smashing success.

At least I can blame the bad pass on my teammates.

Given that I can only handle 3-dimensional mechanics when I’m in a dynamics classroom, as others flocked to the ping pong table, I stuck to the relatively less embarrassing realm of foosball. Still, I am quite terrible at all games, due to a lifetime of never winning against my brother (also a Tech student and ultra-competitive). I still managed a surprising number of points scored for the other team by my own goalie, but I chock that up to the frantic thrashing.

With my camera identifying me as a member of the media, I made a few connections with members of the BDE who wanted my photos, and got a bit of an inside look into future events. With the mix of personalities here at GTL, the board seems to be following a brilliantly varied trend, but I’ll let them reveal the coming surprises. For this event, free food, games, and danceable music formulated a lively atmosphere that continued on an hour past the intended end time of the event. In contrast, a presentation on four itineraries for visiting Berlin by a student who lives in the city, added an informative spin that led me to book an Airbnb promptly after.

The evening was given direction by a ping pong tournament building in the background. As the matches passed, it grew to become the center of attention for everyone, whether winner, loser, or unaffiliated. Not for the likes of I, who habitually misses while serving and once accidentally referred to the sport as “ping pong ball,” this event was the culmination of weeks of practice in the lounge and seemed, for some, to represent something greater. Going into the experience with
little knowledge of the sport, I thrived on the spirit of the crowd. The excitement was palpable. I found myself choosing favorites, and anticipating certain prodigious matches with the athletic contortions of the most dedicated.

It’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying.

The energy was at times released unexpectedly, with a backwards spring leading to a somersaulting fall. Unfortunately, the most comfortable seats with the best view are situated immediately behind one of the players, but a series of skilled defenders prevented my face from joining the casualties. In perfect moments, the beats of the ball synced with the music in an ephemeral flow. Rampant heckling bolstered the hype, and calls of “You got it buddy! No matter what we say behind your back, we believe in you!” brought back an element of humor. Still in the early weeks of the program, competitors would learn a name then happily vow to demolish them.
It’s this kind of instant friendship that characterizes the spirit of GTL, showing on their faces as the intensity melted into a grin between points.

As the final match geared up, calls for a more appropriate atmosphere were met with the beats of “Eye of the Tiger” and “The Final Countdown” blasting out and instigating a bit of dancing as it’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying. the competitors played. This extra-long match was hard fought for the title of “Supreme Leader” and a corresponding crown, but the crowd seemed eager to cheer for everyone involved.

Cobbled Together

Written by Aria.

Paris: perhaps the most overdone, cliché city in Europe. Rightfully so. Home to some of the most famous examples of art, architecture, history, and culture in the world, there are so many things to do that with the chance to spend three entire days there I got to see…a single landmark and three museums. Not the gargantuan list I was anticipating. The City of Love holds no affection for me and entirely removed my ability to walk for two and a half of those three days.

Getting injured while traveling ranks highly on the list of fears of many GTL students. Tales of overly-enthusiastic skiers stuck immobile have cautioned us all, but I never thought simply walking could debilitate me. A few months back I badly sprained my ankle, and it seems 10+ miles a day of walking on cobblestones in less than wonderful shoes were enough to suddenly, and with great pain, reawaken the injury. Without realizing it, my excited trot down the steps of Napoleon’s tomb would be my last. At least, as I soon learned, there is no better place to be
crippled than Paris.

This casual pose is the product of an inability to stand on my own.

Immediately following the injury while at Les Invalides, I managed to limp the 1.5 km to Grand Palais, punctuated with stops at a delightful crepe street cart and the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III bridge at sunset. Despite the searing pain, it was one of the most beautiful walks of my life. Once at the Grand Palais, the understanding that I wouldn’t be touring another museum that night set in around the time I pondered the beautiful, and absurdly tall, staircase to the entrance. Instead, I took to the stairs of the metro and suffered back to my Airbnb. Despite a notable lack of escalators or elevators at many stops, the Paris metro system is extensive, and wonderful for minimizing walking.

The next day, as if gearing up for a battle, I planned my routes, eliminated waste, and gritted my teeth for the ultimate journey: a block, downhill, to the McDonald’s (breakfast) and one of the pharmacies that inexplicably appear on every corner. Despite this taking more time than I care to admit, I was equipped with calories and a crutch, ready to enact phase two: reach the bus stop across the street that travels directly to the Louvre. Buses, unlike the metro, require no stairs. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, and when you want to minimize transfers, few places can match its ability to entertain for a solid two days. With free wheelchairs available, it becomes almost preferable to be crippled when planning to spend so much time in a place with few other chairs.

My superpower: pity.

From the moment I sat in my wheelchair, everything seemed to be right again. The pain abated. Suddenly, convenient hooks for bags and coats were available to rest our shoulders. Perks abounded. In my two experiences now being impaired, I have experienced another perspective. While people often looked away and loudly ignored me, this meant the same beggars I panicked into giving a euro the day before left me entirely alone to berate my companions instead. When attempting to view the Mona Lisa, I was initially too short to see anything through the crowd. Before I could even settle in to wait, kind staff members ushered me all the way through the barriers set up to keep the crowd back. I would gladly trade the ability to walk for the chance to sit, unobstructed, directly in front of the Mona Lisa. People often complain about its small size and unassuming nature, but if you break your legs for the experience, proximity brings it to life.

Of course, there are always mobility issues in wheelchairs. While everything in the Louvre is technically accessible, it is easy to get lost ordinarily, and laughably so when staircases routinely intrude in the middle of hallways with no elevator or direct path around. After exploring the upper levels for the good part of a day, our extreme hunger convinced us to head to the café downstairs. Unfortunately, it took an hour of multi-floor maneuvering, sprinting through Napoleon’s apartments, around staircases, and up, across, and down passages with déjà vu at every turn just to finally reach our access point and find the elevator out of order.

No one should know the Louvre as thoroughly as I do after having only three days is Paris. Regardless, the experience was unique and I always appreciate a good story. I plan to revisit Paris, so missing out on all else it has to offer is not devastating. I have healed considerably since then, but still take my injury into consideration, setting my sights on Frankfurt, known as having some of the best public transportation in. While incredibly distressing when things don’t go according to plan, alternatives always exist to make the experience more memorable than you may have wanted.

Starvation Sunday

Written by Aria.

Alternative title: how I was 72% under my food budget the first week.

As Tech students, we all go a little overboard with quantification, but in terms of budgeting I find it helpful. In this case, it instigated genuine concern for my own well-being. Had I really been eating, or do the French stay so thin by inducing some hallucination of consuming endless bread? I had come to France with the anticipation of hemorrhaging money, and my savings were prepared for it. Instead, I seem to be doing better than in Atlanta.

The outdoor market in Metz, with some of the best food around. Unfortunately, only on Saturday mornings.

The secrets to my success are quite simple. Intuitive, really.

  • Skip meals because you woke up too late, forgot to include eating in your
    itinerary, and/or are too tired to grab bread. (Let’s be honest. This has nothing to do with being in Europe. This is college.)
  • While in French cities, have your entire food allotment consist of pastries picked up every few hours, each from a different bakery. Take them to go and keep touring.
  • Your sit-down meals are now a baguette with brie in the park.
  • When you can’t remember the last time you had anything that wasn’t a carb, go to Crous and spend 3.5 EUR for a meal with such novelties as fruit and meat. Don’t forget your side of bread and choose another carb to make up the bulk of your meal.
  • Plan to do your grocery shopping on Sunday. You will soon learn that most
    businesses are closed on Sundays, and that all you have in your fridge is ice and juice. Luckily, the corporate spirit of America keeps even French McDonald’s open. On the walk there, stop from exhaustion (who knows when you last consumed a calorie) and realize the Paul a block from your dorm is also open. Buy a baguette.

Fresson: the best cakes in all of France. Bring cash, because unless you are planning on buying too many cakes even by my standards, you won’t meet the credit card minimum.

College students have adapted to the harsh conditions of their environment. In this culture, they use every part of the baguette. The pointed end is dipped in olive oil for an appetizer as the meaty body simmers in the remaining oil. After Caprese sandwiches are consumed, the meal is finished off with Nutella spread on the fleshy innards. Despite their large size, baguettes are best consumed the day of their acquisition. Those less skilled in the art often partner up to complete the task, as it is frowned upon, albeit possible, to order only a half baguette.

The happiest moment in my life. Then I dropped the chocolate square on the ground.

To embrace the French culture, I highly recommend a diet consisting entirely of pastries. Your wallet and taste buds will drown out the complaints of your heart. While touring, we tended to rack up at least 10 miles a day. Instead of stopping for any significant meal, we simply located the best bakery nearby and shared a few pastries. Most places in France are cheaper if you take the food to go, so this leads to fighting off the pigeons as you eat your cake on the street corner like the desperate wretch you are. This is worth it for the ability to buy more cakes later. Nothing has topped Metz’s own Fresson, which was once voted as having the best cakes in all of France. Their raspberry tart may be the highlight of my time here so far. For a quality shop, their prices aren’t bad either.

The French cuisine lives up to its reputation, making my limited menu tolerable. This is no excuse to survive only on bread, however, so I now am striving to diversity my sampling outside the comfortable bounds of carbs. That flaky spiraled pastry, named “escargot” isn’t quite the same story as the original dish.

Redefining Home

Written by Aria

An inactivated Eurail pass, residual jetlag, and a knack for procrastination
compose the exact ingredients for a weekend at home. Despite months of
asking every person I have ever met for suggestions on where to travel, I had
made no plans. Everyone always talks of the opportunities at GTL, but they
don’t mention how overwhelming that ability is. In an unfortunate catch-22,
my desire to make the most of my trip to a city, given a limited number of
weekends, causes me to want to plan extensively, which leads to a need for
more time than I have, and a resulting lack of an itinerary by the time the
weekend rolls around. Four days feels much shorter when you have to fit in
all your schoolwork as well as travel research. Instead, I took the weekend to
figure out this city a mere bus ride away, with no pressure from an inability
to return or need for a hotel.

Voted the most beautiful train station in France. Has the friendliest pigeons and “sunflower” street lamps that fold down at night.

To travel such a short distance seems trivial. I know people who have
walked to the train station. But I, struck with both laziness and a remarkable
lack of experience with public transportation, was immobile. Fortunately,
Metz has a wonderfully easy bus system. With some tips from other
strugglers, I still managed to walk past the convenient bus stop right outside
my dorm, for about a half mile before settling in at the next. However, I
experienced great success mumbling something about “deux pour deux”
(two for two) to the bus driver while presenting my 6 EUR, which managed
to elucidate my need for a two-way bus pass for two different people. I
believe this to be the most complicated concept I have successfully
conveyed to a local in French. Eventually, it is wise to get a monthly bus
pass, but that requires the ability to abandon my poor habits.

The cathedral. A free shelter from the wind.

Not immediately adjacent to GTL with all its English-speaking inhabitants and simultaneously less touristy than Paris, downtown Metz does not guarantee that someone nearby will be able to speak English. This has exercised my very limited French more than any other area, as I racked up my French-only conversations like medals. These, of course, largely consisted of repeated simple sentences beginning with “Je voudrais” for “I would like” followed by a failed attempt to pronounce whatever looked good. I have developed a healthy acceptance of any French food offered to
me, as my attempts to communicate with locals often do not take into
account the fact that I panic when talking to strangers even in English. I say “oui” to every question asked, whether it can be answered as such or not, and occasionally end with a flustered “bonjour” instead of “merci” as I gratefully accept a pastry I had not realized that I ordered. It is all delicious, regardless.

13th century fortress, now used by locals as a shortcut on their daily commute.

While photographing a particularly cute pigeon, a seeming caricature of an
older French man sauntered up, expressing joyously to us some sentiment
involving the bird. I soon gave up my French, and he switched to the most
whimsical English as he described his love for the birds, both to watch and
to eat. At times his words failed him, as he exclaimed that his “English flies
away!” while mimicking the flaps of the bird itself. Despite the reputation of
French snobbery, I have experienced nothing but endearing cheer from my
interactions with the locals.

Centre Pompidou-Metz. Temporary exhibitions rotate through, with a current focus on modern Japanese art.

Metz is dichotomous in personality, with vibrant modern life amid
ancient architecture. This is common in Europe, but for me, the novelty of
the juxtaposition is fresh. From city scenes viewed through the opening of a
13th century fortress gate, to rock concerts held in an old monastery, the
history is not only praised, but incorporated into an evolving culture. It is a
city on the rise, home to the first satellite branch of the Centre Pompidou of
Paris and other growing attractions. Despite its old roots, Metz has a
youthful feel. It seems fitting for us to discover Europe through a city
transforming with us.

Great Expectations

Written by Aria

Bonjour! Welcome to a travel blog brought to you by the Champion of the
Uninformed, bearing the wisdom of a week’s experience in international
travel.

I began precisely as planned, easily navigating through airports alone for the
first time. In an effort to sneak experiences in wherever I can, on as little a
budget as possible, I switched out my 6-hour layover in Chicago for a 23-
hour one. This meant I could stay with a friend from Tech, play in some
snow, and go to the Museum of Science and Industry in the morning. Instant
Chicago vacation, friend not included.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Visualization of me trying to decide where to go this weekend.

With Part I of my 3-day travel to Metz completed, I settled in to wait for the
plane to Paris, when given the tantalizing offer of a $1,000 voucher to give
up my seat and take the next flight. While there are backup plans ready for
latecomers, I had a shuttle awaiting me, a dorm to check in to, and an overall
strictly programmed schedule to follow. In the end, desire for a real bed won
out.

My time here has been full of…surprises? The word doesn’t quite seem
right – too cliché. But in an almost comic trend, I seem to experience the
opposite of my expectation at every turn. For months, I dreamed of that first
sight of NotNorthAmerica, coming out of an endless ocean and basking me
in its snowy, foreign mystique. Instead, I got clouds so low that by the time
we cleared them, it seemed as though we were about to slam into the
runway, just like my hopes of a view of the French landscape. From there, I
connected with other GTL students, navigated an airport subtitled in
English, and managed to scam my way onto an earlier shuttle that included
reconnecting with my boyfriend. The scenery was gorgeous, but besides the
quaint buildings, it really felt quite American. With familiar faces, language,
and landscape, I wondered where the magic was.

My notable lack of view of the European landscape.

Yet now, every time I start thinking I’m getting the hang of living in France,
I’m struck by something so totally alien that I’m reminded of how out of my
element I really am. Immediately upon arriving at the dorm, our attempt to
get off the shuttle (the audacity, I know) was met by the police promptly
showing up to yell at us in urgent, incomprehensible French. It turned out to be an issue with where the bus driver had parked, but all we knew was that
the nice little trailer with all of our belongings was driving away, and
perhaps we had experienced our first European swindling.

These blunders never seem to end, yet they give me a sort of comfort in
knowing that there really is something utterly different about this place.
Living is France is at times absurd. There is a mysterious, ubiquitous mud
despite seeing no rain. I have purple toilet paper that brings me joy that
cannot be underestimated. Drivers, even at high speeds, stop for pedestrians
and expect you to start crossing before they give any indication of slowing.
The tap water tastes odd, leading to a series of heists as students smuggle
bottled and filtered water back to the dorms. I am unsure if I or my
microwave is not operating correctly. Students must take a designated path
to class under the threat of not getting insurance coverage if hit by a car.

My first week has yielded some knowledge of essential staples to the GTL
experience, listed below:

1. Crous Cafeteria: a treasured gift to my wallet and stomach

Cheap, delicious, close to class, and one of few motivators to eat non-
bread. One employee delights in teaching the Americans French words, exclaiming “très bien!” when we come back with more phrases
than last time.

2. Cora

Breads come in such forms as “pain long” and as Google translate
suggests, “pointy wand.” Fruit is surprisingly challenging to buy, so
stalk the indigenous inhabitants of the environment to observe their
behavior.

3. Paul

The Waffle House of Boulangeries (bakeries): found on every corner,
solid food, but you could do better (Aux Petits Choux, a block away). They have two options: to go (Vente a emporter) or eat there (Vente sur place). It’s cheaper and faster to take it to go, but if you don’t realize which line you are in and then go sit at a table, they will not be pleased.

Yours truly, with hood at the ready for any sign of snow.

 Ultimately, my advice is to stop
anticipating anything. Plan, yes,
and definitely budget, but your
constraints should not limit your
perception. I was only ever
disappointed whenever I had an
image in my head of what my
experience would be. When I
stopped trying so hard and just
started to let the country be what it
is, I could revel in the details of
this strange culture.

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