To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Author: Madeline Parnall (Page 2 of 3)

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.

 

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!

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.

Ribeauvillé: Undoubtedly Belle’s Neighborhood

If you’ve been to GTL, are at GTL now, or plan to go to GTL in the future, the most important thing to initially consider is: money. Do you have enough to get across Europe? Are you the type whose parents will give you a credit card and just say “go to town,” or are you the type that has been saving for what feels like thirty summers for this experience? Regardless, it’s something you need to think about a good deal ahead of time, and you need to plan to spend more than you think.

I always factor in spending at least a little more than expected, but something I wasn’t expecting was just how crazy incredibly expensive Stockholm was. Stockholm, Sweden is a beautiful place with bountiful opportunities. They’re just all pricey as hell. I stayed in a neighborhood a long walk but short metro ride away from the center of town. I love metro systems, they’re efficient and easy to use (usually), but I wasn’t expecting a single metro ride to be SIX euros! Just for comparison, a single metro ticket in Paris is 1.80 euros. Think about that. And then think about what everything else must cost.

Basically, I blew through an unprecedented amount of cash in Stockholm. I didn’t have any plans for the next weekend, so I just decided I’d do a day trip (I was recovering from a cold and needed the sleep anyway). A friend of mine also happened to stay in, so we planned a quick and easy day hike around some ruins in Ribeauvillé, a small vineyard town near Colmar. You have to train to Colmar and then take a bus to Ribeauvillé: if you’re in a town in Europe that doesn’t have direct access to a train station, you know you’re far out. It was so worth the trek though.

Ribeauvillé is a tiny town pushed up against some mountains, where all the area in between is vineyards upon vineyards upon vineyards. So many grapes! The town itself was honestly pretty surreal. You know how in DisneyWorld they have those fake towns made to look provincial, like Cinderella is supposed to open a window and start singing except the only objects they contain are overpriced slushies and Mickey Mouse hats? I knew we were in the actual place that DisneyWorld tried to mimic, but because my preconceived notions reminded me of a children’s empty amusement park, it still ended up feeling weirdly…fake. Regardless, it was cute and I would totally run through the cobblestone streets singing about bakers and Gaston and stuff.

After finding the most roundabout way possible to get to the ruins, we finally approached three castle ruins on the mountainside. The first one we came upon was my favorite: I loved the way that the castle sat upon this massive rock jutting out from the mountain.

The castles themselves weren’t as big as you would expect them to be, honestly. One of them was a château, but I believe the others were more fortress-type structures that were used in Medieval times.

We climbed all over them and we spent most of our time enjoying the view over the flat farmland from random points, seeing farther and farther as we climbed higher. I would 100% recommend this as a day, maybe two-day trip (if you want to enjoy the town) getaway from Metz. The hike wasn’t too strenuous and there’s not many places in which you can see three separate ruins within a two hour time span.

Altissimo: That Love/Hate Relationship With Your Athletic Friends, Metz Edition

Bouldering.

If you’re a used-to-be-good-at-sports-before-the-SAT’s-happened-now-can’t-do-10-pushups kind of person like me, the Altissimo climbing gym is an incredible way for your much more in-shape friends to push you to exercise! I found this out last week when I thought “hey, I’d like to explore Metz a little more, and I haven’t worked out much this semester, so let’s give it a try.”

Lead climbing.

All lazy person passive-aggression aside, it was an incredibly cool experience. You take the L1 bus from Republique towards Tournebride, getting off at the last stop. The gym is open until 10 pm on weekdays, although the last bus back into town comes at 9, so beware: we didn’t know this and had to order taxis.

You can rent all your necessary equipment, including these sick little booties that make your feet extra grippy on the wall. There’s a massive room for bouldering, which is no ropes/harness climbing, so when you reach the top you just fall back on to these thick pads (it’s pretty fun).

Climbing is honestly a very difficult thing: you have to follow a crazy path that involves stretching the entire length of your body. Or, if you’re tall, just an arm, although being tall doesn’t necessarily mean you can just do anything. There’s a lot of technique and strength that goes into it, as I soon learned.

She’s belaying.

You can also lead climb, if you go with someone that knows how to belay others. This is when you’re harnessed into a rope that’s attached to your partner on the ground, so if you’re high up they catch you if/when you fall. This was my favorite out of the two types of climbing we did: I love being up that high, and it’s so satisfying to see the whole wall that you climbed stretched out beneath you. It’s quite a rewarding experience and I suggest you go if you need something new to do! 

Stockholm: Perfect…A Little Too Perfect

I’ve been trying to find the words to describe this place and I simply don’t think I can locate all of the right ones, so I’ll do the best I can. I knew that if I didn’t plan out a trip to Scandinavia way ahead of time, it just wouldn’t happen, so I booked a super cheap flight to Stockholm, Sweden. I decided to do this trip alone. I’m perfectly fine with traveling by myself, and I’ve already written a blog specifically about how to make the most of solo travel.

I landed quite early into Stockholm on Friday, and there were a few things I noticed about the city almost immediately:

1) The smell. If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know what the city smells like: a very distinct combination of subway gunk and gasoline and who-knows-what-else, with most urban metropolises having a similar smell. Everywhere I walked in Stockholm, it smelled incredibly fresh, green, and crisp. This may just be my bias because I expected the city to be incredible, but it truly was just ultra clean.

2) The greenery. So many parks! Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities because of how much they value recreational green space, and I might say Stockholm now holds that #1 title for Parks & Recreation. Ron Swanson would be proud. So many green lawns, gardens, sculptures with plants on them, plants with sculptures on them…even along the roads there were so many beautiful potted flowers, just to brighten up the sidewalk.

3) The people. It seemed like every third person I saw was a beautiful, young-ish mom running with her adorable fluffy dog while pushing an IKEA stroller containing her Gerber baby-esque child. There were so many of these women! It was almost a little unnerving to be perfectly honest, a bit reminiscent of the Truman Show. Everyone is super tall, super blonde, and super rich (looking). I felt every inch of my entire 5’4″ stature become dwarfed by these people.

Stockholm is a very large city spread out across 14 main islands. This means that pretty much at any point you’re within a mile of a coast line, and this makes for an incredibly beautiful view from wherever you go. This is a view from a bridge next to the Royal Palace.

The subway system is extensive and goes both above and below the surrounding Baltic Sea. The very first thing I did upon dropping my bag off at my hostel was to go to this restaurant that’s only open during the summer called Mälarpaviljongen (I butchered every single Swedish word I attempted to utter). It has the main restaurant off of a beautiful park on the water and a cafe/bar on a floating dock literally on the water, making for a nice calm rocking while you sip your fancy espresso and chow down on their salmon/capers/dill combo sandwich. It was absolutely gorgeous.

This restaurant is also very progressive (a.k.a. standard Swedish) because they sell some goods with which all the proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ+ organizations. Stockholm is extremely open to all things rainbow: it’s not strange to see a pride flag hanging up in a random restaurant.

My favorite thing aside from just the city itself is between the public library and thVasa Museum. The Stockholm Library is the largest in Sweden, and it was so aesthetically pleasing – look at that!!

 

There was a large English section, so I plopped down and read a little bit of Dante’s Inferno, just to feel like a schOOOLar in the fancy LIIIIbrary. I met an incredibly interesting guy named Kim 

at my hostel, and he told me more people are fluent in English in Sweden than America. (Maybe true? I wouldn’t be surprised, everyone spoke extremely well. Don’t quote me on it, though.)

The Vasa museum is basically this massive building devoted to a shipwreck that was unearthed in the 1950’s near Stockholm. The Vasa ship sunk in the mid 1600’s, and because the water has such low salinity, it’s extremely well-preserved.

Look at the detail of the little wooden heads – how insane is that?? If you’re into nautical history/history in general I would 100% recommend going.

Stockholm was so incredible that I’m leaving many things out of this post, or it would go on forever and ever. All I’m going to say is just go, make sure you have enough money for it, and have so much fun!!

Solo Travel: A How-To

As GTL students travel all over the continent, there may be times where someone wants to go somewhere or do something specific that absolutely no one else wants to do. If you’re one of those people, but you’re worried about traveling by yourself, have no fear! I’m here to tell you how to do it right (as I’ve come to experience) and safely.

One thing you have to keep in mind is how you appear to others. If you’re worried about getting pick-pocketed or being scammed, try not to look über-touristy. Save your fanny pack for another time and maybe zip your jacket up over your American flag t-shirt. If you’re lost, stop and find a map or look at your phone on a spot away from a street corner where you would stand out. Maybe try to go to less-touristy places instead. I mean, there’s so much to see in these incredible places you’re exploring, and especially being by yourself, you’re more likely to chat up a local in a neighborhood art gallery than in the London Eye.

I recently went to Stockholm by myself and got to enjoy a goblet of strawberries, the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had, and an overpriced – but refreshing – cucumber soda. If I had been there with anyone else I’m not sure I would’ve paid them any attention anyway.

This leads me to my next point: talk to people! Be open to it! That was very hard for me to figure out how to do, not being the most social butterfly of the bunch. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you then that’s fine, but most often people in a hostel or in a relaxed social setting will be open to conversation. Talking to other travelers is easiest, as you both might feel like outsiders, but I really urge you to try and speak with a local if you really want to get a feel for the culture you’re visiting. It’s so fascinating to me how Europeans perceive America and the contrasts between growing up in these two similar, but also incredibly different atmospheres – and without fail the young Europeans I’ve talked to feel the same.

By now you’ve probably heard earful after earful of “be wary of pick pocketing don’t put down your purse don’t stray from main roads at night,” and unfortunately I’m going to give you yet another earful, but hopefully a meaningful one. Simply be aware. That’s all. Don’t do anything that would put you in a weird situation, especially now since you can’t just call your friend over. Lie if you have to, and I mean this especially for my girls out there – if someone asks if you’re traveling alone, never ever say yes! It gives you a good escape plan with a fake call if it’s necessary, and if they end up being cool and you become lifelong friends, then they should understand your precautions.

I hope this has been helpful. I know there’s a decent number of people that I’ve overheard talking about solo travel, so if you have a friend in need then link them this tidbit right here!

Ping Pong-athon

I am not entirely sure why, but for some reason ping pong is the most enrapturing and competitive thing to exist among Georgia Tech student activities. I witnessed this phenomenon all through the spring at GTL, in which all kinds of people – undergrad and graduate, American and French, expert and amateur, bourgeoisie and proletariat – come together over the sacred game that is ping pong.

Photo courtesy of flowperformancepsych.com.

And now it is happening again. This time with a little more gumption, I might add. A ping pong tournament has already been created, with no BDE involvement whatsoever. A fellow classmate asked me to join the roster, definitely because he didn’t want there to be any bye’s and simply needed another person, but I am determined to believe that he saw potential in my swing. Realistically, I could quite possibly be the worst person at ping pong in the entirety of the GTL student body. I can volley maybe a few times, usually hitting the tiny ball way out of bounds or sometimes at the opponent. My aim is random but hey, maybe that’s the power behind my technique…?

Photo courtesy of Imgur.

In contrast, some students have such control over the ball that they can make it go one way and when it hits the table it goes a completely different way. This is some sort of magic to me. I understand that they’re putting “spin” on the ball, it’s been explained to me 14 times, however I still just don’t truly get how in the world they do that. To get more insight on the competition, because I obviously have none, I interviewed local ping pong master, Chris Tugman.

When did you start playing ping pong?

“I played tennis as a kid, but as for ping pong I just played with some friends in high school and didn’t really play too much until I got to GTL.”

So, would you call yourself a master?

“I am beyond a master, I am the Prince of Ping Pong. The Tyrant of Table Tennis. Look out opponents.”

This is all he had to say, so I guess everyone find your partner on the roster and get ready!

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