Category: Authors (Page 3 of 23)
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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 the Vasa 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!!
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!
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.
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…?
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!
Europe: Is cold. This is a subjective, grammatically-incorrect statement: however, this is my blog post so I’m going to establish it as fact within the bounds of these internet margins. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, where people wear their heaviest puffy coats when it gets to be 40 degrees. Coming to Atlanta for college even required some adjusting to, and so when I prepared for January in northern France I tried to be optimistic, thinking “Eh, there’ll be snow so the cold will be worth it.” Fast-forward to January 17th-ish, when I’ve been at GTL for almost a week, the winter-wonderland effect has worn off, and I’m looking back on December 2016 Maddy in pure, unadulterated jealousy.
Dramatics aside, the fall season doesn’t get nearly as cold. Compared to the spring when my cheeks became freezer-burned on the walk to school, a measly low of 32°F is entirely bearable. My southern disposition was scarred, though, and so I began planning my fall around minimizing the amount of time spent as a popsicle. I knew I wanted to experience the Alps in the warmest weather possible. I started researching popular day hikes near Metz, keeping in mind that the first and warmest weekend was also unfortunately shortened by a day. All of the hikes that I found were incredible, of course, but they were mostly farther than I wanted to travel. I had heard of Interlaken from my friends that did the Oxford program in the summer and thought to look it up. Turns out one of the “best hikes in the world” looms right over the incredible town of Interlaken, called the Hardergrat. I saw some photos and was hooked immediately.
I’m going to say it out loud: I am an adrenaline junkie. I love any and everything that goes fast/high, but I also do like to keep safety in mind (death prevents you from continuing to go fast/high). I am a somewhat experienced hiker, having gone to Colorado and Utah to do some pretty amazing stuff in the past, and so I felt prepared for what the Hardergrat was asking of me. Boy, was I in for a surprise. We set out early to get hiking poles and get up the mountain, taking a cog train to the Harder Kulm, a restaurant that overlooks the Interlaken valley.
We spent maybe 10 minutes here admiring the view, and then we set up to the first part of the trail: summiting Augstmatthorn. The trail up to this point was honestly one of the hardest hikes I’ve done possibly ever. It was like climbing stairs for miles, with incredible views, yes, but so SO difficult. There were some horizontal pasture areas with fields like you see in The Sound of Music, but most of it was along a densely forested uphill ridge with an incredible view of the Interlaken lakes.
After about 2-3 hours of huffing and puffing, we could finally see Augstmatthorn. Our hearts sank. Not only was it a good ways away, it looked MUCH steeper than what we’d been conquering since 9 am. We took a quick “I’m tired, but not defeated” break and started on our way.
We maybe took oh, I don’t know, seven breaks to climb Augstmatthorn? Yeah. It was insane. Some of the stairs had the height of my legs, so I wasn’t necessarily waltzing up like my two tall marathon-running companions. In fact I was nearly
climbing. When we got to the top I collapsed, partly from exhaustion but partly from the scenery. We took in the view while I shoved a sandwich into my face as quickly as I could. You could see off both sides of the ridge we were on: to our left were beautiful pastures and farmland, while to the right were the lakes and the edge of Interlaken. You can see the glaciers and white-topped mountains in the distance: it was absolutely breathtaking.
At this point, we had to decide if we wanted to continue to the actual Hardergrat trail (which we hadn’t even gotten to yet), or if we wanted to make our way down. I only had a little bit of water left, and even though the Hardergrat was the reason I’d
chosen to come to Interlaken in the first place, we figured it was better safe than sorry. The photo on the right is the rest of the Hardergrat trail.
Going down was almost as hard as going up, simply because of how steep and slippery the eroding dirt path was. We ran into some cows, had to say hi of course- aren’t they beautiful?? I’m no cow expert but those are some good looking cows.
At the bottom was a cheese-making restaurant, in which I promptly spent ten euros on cold water without looking back. It was worth it.
Long story short: Switzerland kicked my butt, but if it hadn’t then it wouldn’t have really been Switzerland.
Have you ever had a move-in day like this? A move-in day where you’re completely wiped from traveling for what feels like days and you’re not sure which way is up? A move-in day where despite the weariness your stomach is a bundle of excitement from the culture shock you’ve been anticipating for months now as you walk through the CDG (Charles de Gaulle, Paris’s main airport) terminals and see an explosion of French writing and ads? This could describe many international student’s experiences simply coming to Tech, yes, but arriving at GTL means Europe is now your oyster: this is something totally unique, and I’m so excited for others to experience this incredible opportunity!
Coming back for my second round of GTL, I’ll admit, I wasn’t as pumped as the first time. With just a summer of office work in between 8 months of adventure, this lifestyle is my norm now. I know it won’t be this way past 2017, and I will be filled with remorse to see this chapter of my life end. However, the idea that this way of living is sustainable is just a fancy lie I like to tell myself: it’s absolutely exhausting.
Some of you will be totally fine and take the whole continent head on, without stopping for breaks. Some of you will need some weekends in Metz to ground yourself and catch up on sleep/work. There’s no right way to do it: you do what’s best for you. I will say that I tend on the side of “no ragretz,” (translation: “no regrets”) constantly trying to push and see and experience as much as possible, but when I found myself with a stable cold for 2 months and an overdue need of a long night’s sleep, I had to slow down. Walking 10+ miles a day under those conditions is ill-advised.
On this note, I will give some sage words of advice. Going out and clubbing can be an incredible time (I love dancing and so do Europeans). HOWEVER, if you can’t function the next day, you’re just doing a massive disservice to yourself. How are you going to explore the Churchill War Rooms if all you want to do is sleep? Granted, people come to Europe with different agendas and desires. I’m not judging them if that’s what they’re here for. But for the (I think) majority of us that truly want to experience the culture and see that museum or church we’ve always
been interested in, all I’m saying is be wise with your time as we have so little of it.
Okay, enough mom stuff. One thing I absolutely love about GTL is that it’s kind of like the fall of freshman year, round two. Everyone is completely open to meeting each other, there’s no boundaries among friend groups yet, and the amount of times I hear “yeah I’m down, what’s your name again?” just makes me smile.
You won’t believe how close you’ll get to your travel partners. You’ll quickly find out who takes charge, planning and navigating with an itinerary, and who likes to wander and stumble upon things as they go. Over time you’ll learn your friends’ most fundamental personality characteristics and in a variety of ways: sometimes through shouting matches over when you get lost and someone didn’t want to ask for directions (there’s always a dad), or simply ordering a meal through charades. I’m currently seriously missing my old travel group, and while I’m jealous that they’re all together back at Tech, I know I made the right choice to come back to Europe, and I’ll find a new group of my own that will be just as tight.
And so on that note, GO HAVE FUN!!! WOOOO YOU’RE IN EUROPE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!!! WITHIN THE LAWS OF PHYSICS!!