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Maxime et la nouvelle année

In high school, I was a part of an exchange program where I hosted a French student for a week during my junior year, then I spent a week at his house my senior year. His name is Maxime, and we have remained in contact since this program began. He lives in a small town called Carling that is close to Metz. Because of this connection, I decided to leave for GTL early and spend a week with Maxime and his family.

Picture with my siblings at the airport in Atlanta.

I arrived at their house (after 2 planes, 2 trains, and a bus) at his house the afternoon of December 30th. He is in university at Nancy, but when he is home he lives with his mom (Sabine), his step-dad (Fred), and his step-sister (Manon). Maxime’s mom takes care of two children for her job, so they also live in the house. Their house is beautifully decorated and always very clean and proper. When we are in the house, there is usually music on in the background and we talk non-stop. We also eat dinner together, and I always get a small lesson on manners. Maxime is the only one that speaks a lot of English, so it is an amazing opportunity for me to practice my French. I have learned so many expressions (“Oh la vache” which literally means “oh the cow”, but is used in Lorraine to mean “oh my goodness”), and I am very thankful that they are not afraid to correct my grammar. Life in the house is pretty sweet, and it always surprises me how similar daily life is to that in the United States.

Maxime, my French exchange student, and I accidentally twinning.

For New Year’s Eve, Max and I went to his friend’s apartment in Strasbourg. (Strasbourg is so, so beautiful, but for this trip I didn’t even leave the apartment). We spent the night playing games (“jeux de la société”) like Limite Limite (the French equivalent of Cards Against Humanity), poker, and MarioKart. Limite Limite was difficult (and even more inappropriate than Cards Against Humanity) because I didn’t know a lot of the references, like one of their new anchors. However, I did win one round, and I was very proud of myself. Then at midnight, we crowded around the windows of the apartment to try to see whatever fireworks we could. People shouted across the street, “Bonne année !” then we went in a circle and said where we see ourselves in one year from now. After midnight, we played some more games, started messing around with a violin that only had two strings, and little by little people started to go to bed. It was really simple and exactly like a laid-back hangout with friends in the United States would have been.

One of the best things I got to do was visit Maxime’s grandmother. She was so similar to my own grandmother.  She loved sharing stories and explaining things to me. Then she took us to a room where she was going through some possessions and showed us a pile of books that she offered us. Maxime took about 5 cook books, and I got some French novels (including a beautiful hard-back copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables). After the books, she showed us drawings of her grandparents and the town where she grew up. Then, she sent us to run her errands, and when we came back, and she gave me a little jar of elderberry jam that she made herself and sent us on our way.

My first time eating snails!

The last night at Maxime’s house was bittersweet. I was very excited to get to Metz and start GTL, but I was sad to leave the family. We were already very close, and over the course of a week, they had really become a second family to me. However, they are only a 25-minute train ride away, so I am sure that I will be home soon. Dinner consisted of potato-balls and beef cheek, with snails (escargot) as an appetizer. (I ate two servings of the snails – they were delicious.) It was absolutely delicious, and only the company surpassed the meal. Maxime’s grandmother as well as two friends of Sabine’s came over, and the conversation was lively to say the least. There was not a moment without a story, and they were enthusiastic to include me in the conversation.

And now, for this week’s phrase: “Niquel.” Niquel is a slang word that means very cool or very fun. I learned this phrase when I asked Maxime what he thought of the New Year’s party. This word sums up not only this week, but my entire relationship with Maxime. I am so fortunate to have a partner who is as open, creative, and fun-loving as Max. Hopefully this first week is a sign of the weeks to come.

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.

Oh, La Vache!

Written by Robby

I made it safe and sound to GTL! Because I got to France on December 29th, I didn’t take the shuttle with the other students. (My next post will be all about what I did for the week that I was here, so be on the look-out for that!) So, check-in was Monday the 9th, starting at 1PM, so on the night of the 8th, I spent the night with my friend Clémentine who lives in Metz. I got to her place around 6:30 PM, and then we went out for dinner. We stopped for a quick kebab at a restaurant downtown called Burger Kebab. (A kebab in France is not the meat and vegetables with a skewer, however, a wrap that is kind of like a gyro. You can choose to either have it on bread or in a tortilla, or gallete in French.) Then, we took a quick walk around the downtown area, and she showed me where everything is.

Words cannot describe how beautiful it is. Most of the buildings are very old, and none of them are more than 4 stories. The streets are all quaint cobblestone paths, barely big enough for a car and dominated by pedestrians. I was lucky enough that the Christmas decorations were still up, and there were lights and ornaments hanging over the streets. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then, with no warning, we passed by the cathedral. I have been to the cathedral before when I was in high school, but it still took my breath away. I just kept repeating, “Oh my goodness. Holy cow. Oh my goodness.” (I have done a presentation for a French class before about the cathedral, so it is very near and dear to my heart. I am sure that at some point during the semester, I will visit it and write a post for it.) After that, Clem showed me how to take the bus, and we went back to her place.

I know that it is super cliché, but that night I had a really hard time sleeping (and not just because I was on a sleeping bag on the floor). I was so excited to get to GTL, move in, unpack my bags, and start living my daily life.

The next morning, I was a little worried because check-in didn’t start until 1PM, but Clém had to be at class at 8AM. I decided to arrive early, and worst-case scenario I could read in the lobby. However, the best-case scenario took place and I was checked in to my room by 8:45am. Then, I was able to go downtown, where I was again struck by the beauty and the quaintness, to run some errands. However, I got downtown before most stores opened, so I had about 45 minutes to kill. I walked around until I found a stereotypical French café. I had a wonderful breakfast while listening to some older French women talk about the TV shows that they liked when they were kids and televisions were first coming out.

After breakfast, I went grocery shopping, bought a SIM card, got my bus pass, and also went clothes shopping. (All over Europe every store has sales right now that last until February, so I convinced myself that I needed new clothes.) 

That first night we had a pizza party. It was really exciting to meet everyone and hear about their plans for the semester! I am so excited for this program because everyone seems like they are really going to make the most out of their time here.

On Wednesday, I had my first day of classes. This semester I am taking FREN 3813: Advanced Conversation, ECON 2101: An Introduction to Global Economics, and MATH 3670: Statistics and Applications, as well as completing an independent research project for credit about the French economy. Despite the fact that GTL is not an exchange program, I am striving to make this program  as similar to an exchange program as possible. All of my professors were thrilled when I asked if I could communicate and complete the homework assignments in French. Additionally, my professor for Economics, who is also a professor at the local business school ICN, said that she would be happy to introduce me to her students, so that they can practice their English and I can practice my French. She even said that she would help me audit an economics class that is taught in French at ICN, so that I can live the life of a real French student. It is super exciting and encouraging to see how willing everyone at GTL is to let me practice French with them and immerse myself to my heart’s content.

As far as the resources, all of the buildings are amazing. The best part is the lounge in the GTL building. There are plenty of tables where students can study and work together, and there is also a foosball table, pool table, and ping pong table so students can just hang out. From day 1, there is a really strong sense of community in the program. I have already started to recognize the other students by face, and I always make sure to wave at them, whether I see them near campus or downtown. It’s kind of like the first day of high school all over again. Most people don’t know too many other students, so everyone is very nice and excited to make new friends. Everyone is super friendly, and the friendliness is extremely authentic. People actually want to find friends, not just be nice so that other people say they are nice.

Also, throughout the course of my blog post, I would like to do a favorite French expression or word of the week. This way, I can teach all of you a little French and share some part of the language that has been especially fun for me each week. This week the phrase that I want to share is “Oh la vache.” This literally translates to “Oh the cow,” and it is used the same way that someone would use “holy cow.” (This expression is even more cool because it is very typical for the Lorraine dialect of French.)

I have found myself using this phrase constantly over the course of my first week. Arriving to the train station, seeing the Metz train station, stumbling upon the gorgeous cathedral at night, not knowing that you weigh your own fruits in the grocery store thus causing everyone to wait for me while I sprint back to the produce section to do so and consequently receiving dirty looks from impatient French people – are all situations when I used this expression. This entire first week has consisted of me being blown away, overwhelmed, challenged, exhausted, and shocked, all in the best way possible. And so, I leave you with this summary of my first week at GTL (a TL;DR if you will): “Oh, la vache.”

Christmas in Europe

Because Europeans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and they’re nearly as consumerist as America, Christmas decorations are up and running as early as can be!

Despite the cynical things I just mentioned, Christmas is a truly magical time to be in Europe. I hadn’t really thought about it coming into GTL for the fall, since I just assumed I’d be celebrating Christmas once I got back to the States, but Christmas is everywhere, and I’ll actually have time to enjoy it before finals set in. I had the luck to go to Milan to visit a friend of mine, and considering the only things to do in Milan are shop, eat and see “The Last Supper,” the window displays were out of this world. Christmas trees lined the streets, there were lights everywhere, and Christmas-based stores were stocked to the brim with ornaments and decorations. It was sunny and nearly 60 degrees, so it didn’t necessarily have that cold wintry feel that made you want to wrap up and sit by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa, but it was cold enough to not feel like global warming was breathing down your neck, which is all I care about.

Metz has wonderful Christmas markets and ice sculptures, and in Strasbourg is one of the biggest Christmas markets in France, just an hour away from Metz. I’ve already heard plenty of students making plans to go searching for family Christmas gifts. There’s a major one in Paris too, of course, which I’m thinking about hitting up after finals. To all GTL students- remember to stay safe and be extra alert while in these Christmas markets! Please and thank you.

The Moment We Decided We’re The Luckiest Humans on Earth

I documented this trip with a lot of detail after it occurred in my spring GTL semester, mostly because it was the most ridiculous, problematic trip, but it also one of the best memories of my life.

St. Moritz in a nutshell is a pretty crazy place. It’s in a valley surrounded by peaks. with a giant snow-covered lake, and it really is just the definition of a magical winter wonderland. The downtown area has only the nicest stores, many fancy car dealers, cashmere – that kind of thing. The neighborhoods around it are so freaking cute. Each house had such a charm to it, so many little details and nice bits. The people are very nice and seem to be able to speak every language on Earth.

Traveling there was a whirlwind from the get-go: almost lost a bag, got separated multiple times, almost missed an important train, but when we got off at our stop, it was snowing so lightly that it felt like a little blessing from the world telling us we had made it. Everything felt worth it. We immediately commenced a snowball fight, right on the train tracks. I am awful at throwing so I wasn’t useful, but it was so carefree and fun. The snow was perfect for snowballs.

Upon arriving to our friend Brando’s family chalet, my good buddy Dom immediately cut his finger on a cigar cutter of course, and it bled for about 16 straight hours. At one point we designed a tourniquet for his finger out of my hairband, and it really wouldn’t stop. Morgan’s parents asked her about his finger every few hours the entire time we were there and afterwards.

Skiing ended up being really tough, but not because of lack of snow: we got waaaay too much. There was nearly zero visibility, and I mean zero – I could see clearly just about 10-20 feet in front of me. After that there was absolutely nothing but snowstorm. Because of this, not only could we not see each other, but we couldn’t see what the terrain was directly under us, and so we basically fell down the mountain. There was so much powder that if you weren’t grazing right over it then you were stuck (who knew too much powder could be a problem). It was so much work just to get back to the mountain cafeteria that we were exhausted, and it had only been half a day. We sat and ate some expensive brats for a bit, and by then it had cleared up a good deal. We could actually almost see the mountain range around us!

After a bit of that I wanted to do some off-trail stuff, so Brando and I went over to this frozen lake and skied down from it. However, before this happened we caused (and by we I mean I) a small avalanche- the steep side of a trail to get down to the lake had about 2 feet of fresh snow on it, and when I skidded to a stop to see Brando below me a whole sheet of snow came off. It was beautiful, but then I realized what was happening and looked down to see Brando being carried down by the snow underneath him. It took all the snow down in that area and we got yelled at by some German dude on the lift. (Sorry man!)

As we came down from the lake it was all powder of course so I fell a decent bit but we made it back to the mountain restaurant fine. We reconvened with the rest of the group, just sitting down when Shan asked me where the GoPro was (I’d had his GoPro on my helmet mount), so I picked up my helmet, and it wasn’t there. My stomach dropped immediately. I had lost a 3 foot long metal pole and couldn’t find it anywhere in the powder that I had fallen into, there was just no way I was going to find this small GoPro. I was already thinking about how I was going to pay for it, but for Shan’s sake Brando and I went back to the lake to look for it. I had done the most strenuous kind of skiing TWICE now, and was starting to really feel the exhaustion set in. We finally got to the part where I tumbled the most, Brando skied down and looked inside and literally just plucked the  GoPro from the mass of snow. It was absolutely ridiculous. Before this point, our friends had kept saying we were invincible because of all the almost-L’s, but when this happened I truly believed it.

Everyone was dumbfounded when we came back with it, and Shan was ecstatic. I nearly cried out of joy; we would’ve lost so much footage. After that day we have always been super extra careful with the GoPro (so no more stupid head mounts)!

Dealing with Homesickness: A Long and Arduous Adventure

First and foremost, I am not one to get homesick. Ever. Yes, usually I’m in Atlanta which is only 5 hours away from Charleston, but a few visits with the family throughout the semester is more than enough to sustain my emotional support/family bonding health points. My 2017 has been very different than normal, though: I was in Europe for both spring and fall semesters while also working in Atlanta over the summer, so the amount of days I’ve seen my family has been quite sparing. I could probably count them on two hands, actually (okay maybe two and a half hands). I myself am also pretty terrible at keeping up with people, and it’s taken some real mental training to fight against this lackadaisical view of reaching out to my loved ones.

I hadn’t been feeling very homesick all year until a few weeks ago when everyone was home for Thanksgiving. My friend sent me a Snapchat of his dog and his wacky grandparents playing in a bluegrass band (I know, too cool), and my stomach nearly fell out. I missed my mom and my grandparents so, so much in that moment. I miss my dog tearing through the house while my grandmother can only hope to catch and cocoon her in a Christmas dog sweater. I miss those late night talks with friends that only happen by chance but last hours into the morning. I’d been missing southern food the whole time, don’t get me wrong, but in that moment I REALLY could’ve gone for a pimento cheese sandwich.

So obviously, talking to your family helps. I will say, though, a Skype call is really at a higher level than a normal phone conversation: you can get distracted by what’s on your screen or by things around you, but on Skype it’s nearly a face-to-face interaction so your attention is naturally all on the other person.

Get you some photos! And don’t have your family send you the same photos that are everywhere in your house: ask to borrow some pictures that are tucked away in family albums from when your parents dressed you up in a Halloween costume for the first time, or just photos of you and your siblings covered in dirt in the backyard. These will remind you of old memories that haven’t crossed the skies of your mind in a while and will make you appreciate your upbringing. Nostalgia is a great thing.

Schoolwork can loom over you and feel like you must hyper-focus to get anything done, but you need breaks! Use those breaks to chill out, of course, but every few breaks use the time to email your grandma or maybe send your dad an article that you’ve seen recently. Don’t shut yourself out or homesickeness is bound to get worse.

Milan: The Only Italian City That Works

The title may be slightly deceptive. You may think I mean Milan is the only city that works for me or is appropriate for travel or something; however, this is the one lesson I learned while in Milan for the weekend: if you are Italian and actually want to do productive work, you go to Milan. I spent my time hanging out with my good friend from my spring semester at GTL and his Milanese friends, and we had many discussions on this subject. Apparently Milan is the most productive place in all of Italy, which surprised me, as Rome is so big, but when you enter the Milano Centrale train station you can definitely see it. Everything – I mean EVERYTHING- is as opulent as can be, and while these guys were brought up to believe Italy, and particularly their home city, prides the highest form of culture, you can only nod your head due to the overwhelming evidence in front of you.

I’m from Charleston, SC (southerners know it well, north/westerners not so much), where downtown is incredibly fashion-oriented. Every young person is looking at every other young person’s outfit, and that’s just the way it is – definitely shallow and judgmental, but can also be creative and inspiring. Milan is like this but on the highest level known to man. Every single person looks like they’re late for an editorial shoot in the newest Vogue magazine. In the seven-story malls just a corner of any store is easily worth more than my semester tuition, but hey, might as well try it on.

I’ve been to Milan twice now, one trip being super touristy and the other was just a one-on-one visit with a friend. Thankfully both times I was able to make it to Luini’s, the most killer panzarotti restaurant of all time (taking my Italian friends word for it). Imagine a bun that tastes kind of like county fair elephant ears, but more savory, and then load it with mozzarella and Serrano ham and whatever other Italian goods you’re craving. It’s so good (and so publicized) that there’s two lines out the door at all times and they’ve hired someone whose job is to literally push you into and out of the store. What a time to be alive.

You’ve gotta see the Last Supper! If you’re in Milan and you want some history and some art and stuff like that then go see that old boy. It’s a classic! I didn’t realize it was a painting on an immobile wall. It’s deteriorated a good bit over time so some parts are more difficult to see, but they light it up all nice to show you the best of it. Keep in mind you need tickets in advance.

The big lively, touristy place to be is the Duomo. The national gallery has all the big fancy stores, and they lead you right up to the cathedral of Milan, with a nice spacious square in front. I still haven’t been inside but I’m sure it’s nice like most European cathedrals.

I will say don’t go to Milan if you’re not into shopping or art history. There are nice parks and other things, but that’s not really what it’s best for. Unless you also have a friend from Milan, in which case you’ll spend the whole time trying not to fall off the back of a moped (but you’ll feel like Lizzie McGuire, which is a hell of a trade).

Canary Islands: Almost Africa

Today I’m going to be talking about my trip to the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are a Spanish territory off the coast of Morocco, where they are very much geographically Africa, but culturally quite the opposite. I was excited to head to a place with some possible African influence, but was greatly disappointed, as the whole island was either Spanish or British/Slavic/other European descent. It’s a very popular destination for British tourists, being a close tropical vacation experience to their often cold island.

Once I got past this initial shock, we greatly enjoyed the place, even if we were only there for two days. It reminded me a lot of Greece with its rocky cliffs on beautiful clear water, but with the added aspect that it was a volcanic island with black sand beaches and lava fields. This combined with massive black crabs that you could hear anywhere near the rocks made the whole place feel a bit like Jurassic Park or some other-worldly place.

First we went to the volcano responsible for the creation of the island. At first I was confused about exactly what we were driving through, as I recognized the field of rocks to be like Iceland but without the moss, and then I realized we were literally in the volcano itself and were driving to the caldera to see the highest view. Unfortunately the gondola up to the top wasn’t running because the wind was so bad (it was incredibly cold up there too), so we just pulled over somewhere and started to climb up some mountains. Find you some friends that will look at something and say “Hey, let’s climb that.” It’s been the best decision I’ve made in a while.

My favorite thing we did was the Masca Gorge. You drive through tons of windy mountain roads to the tiny town of Masca, which didn’t have any formal roads to it until the 1970’s, deeming it the “lost village” of Tenerife. Now it’s a bit touristy (as is the majority of the island), but we only ran into a few people in the gorge and for the most part had it to ourselves. I love gorges because of the crazy way they work with sound: you can hear little movements of animals from random directions because of the strong echoes created by the gorge. This gorge was particularly cool because of the rock formations on the cliffs, all eroded into holes that you could fit in. Not that we climbed to fit in them – that would be dangerous and totally insane.(But also 100% worth it and I recommend). There were lizards and skinks nearly everywhere you looked, creating a creepy setting at first, but we eventually got used to the constant rustling and it ended up being pretty cute.

After the gorge we went to see Los Gigantes for sunset, a set of massive cliffs dropping off into the water. We swam on the black beach among little neon fish and stared at “The Giants” until sunset. The rock pools in the area eroded into completely perfect half-spheres, in which at lower tides created habitats for hermit crabs, legged-fish and every kind of crustacean known to man. Maybe not lobster, but everything else for sure. All in all. the place was a gorgeous way to end our day.

In retrospect, I didn’t spend nearly enough morrotime in Tenerife. Can’t have it all I suppose – but definitely visit the Canary Islands if you’re looking for something slightly touristy, but also rugged too!

Vlog 8: Switzerland

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