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Category: Sam (Page 2 of 3)

Graduate Student Interview: Sarah Malak

This week, I was able to catch up with one of Georgia Tech Lorraine’s graduate students, who are part of our institution that we undergrads don’t really see much of. Meet Sarah Malak, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering and one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with. Sarah was born in Atlanta and grew up a huge fan of Georgia Tech, even attending Tech home games when she was younger. However, Sarah decided to move out-of-state for college and only just recently reconnected with the university from her home town.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Akron in Ohio, Sarah received a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Polymers and Applied Mathematics, while also minoring in Arabic – talk about ambitious! She then moved all the way to the Middle East on a program with Middlebury College where she continued her Arabic studies in Jordan. She lived there for 6 months, also stopping by in Israel where she studied in Tel Aviv for around 3 months. Sarah told me that she traveled all over the country while she lived there and said that Israel was the most beautiful place she had ever been.

After finishing school there, Sarah decided to move to Paris where she attended an engineering school, Le Mont, for 1 year. Around this time, she met who the man that would become her husband in Brussels and moved with him to live in Nice. Following this, Sarah decided to get her PhD, and when she learned about Georgia Tech Lorraine, and the fact that she could actually attend the university she had loved in her childhood, it became clear to her it was a perfect opportunity.

Outside of her quite impressive academic history, Sarah also actively pursues many hobbies and interests in her free time. Among these are a number of musical instruments including piano, flute, Balalaika (a triangular Russian guitar), and the Darbuka (a type of Arabic drum). Another very interesting hobby of hers is belly dancing, which is in fact more than a hobby, as she is actually a professional in the art.

Outside of her PhD work, Sarah also acts as a TA for the undergraduate dynamics class here at GTL, which is where I first met her. As someone who has enjoyed getting to travel all over Europe and see lots of amazing things so far at GTL, it was really cool to hear about all places Sarah had gone for school, work, and just for fun. She told me that out of everywhere she’d been, Tel Aviv and Brussels actually stuck out to her the most. Israel for the incredible beauty and history of the country and Brussels for being one of the most interesting places to be. Since Brussels is home to the European Union parliament and is a center for much EU related activity, there always tend to be people from all over the world staying in the city at any given time, this combined with the fact that, in Sarah’s words, “[t]hings just don’t close there,” it makes it an amazing place to meet interesting people and do fun things.

Maybe I should give Brussels a visit myself, it sounds like a great place and it’s just as close to Metz as Paris is. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking to Sarah and if you happen to be taking dynamics here (which seems to be a lot of us) don’t hesitate to come visit her for help during her office hours, she really is a very kind and helpful person.

Castles and Cobblestones

Throughout all of my European adventures, I’ve noticed one thing that most tourist cities have in common: castles and cobblestones. The cities themselves are so old and commercialized that the house tech repair shops and Internet cafés are within one kilometer of their marvelous castles. Most downtown streets are covered with ancient cobblestone, and although, at times, you may trip or stub your toe (it happens to the best of us), it is so amazing getting to walk the same paths as so many people did before us.

This past weekend, I brushed up on my German “Ordering In A Restaurant” skills and sat on a train for three hours to visit my girlfriend in Heidelberg. Thankfully, with her German competence, I didn’t make myself too much of a fool! In all seriousness though, it was a great weekend!

Heidelberg, Germany

Even though I’ve got some Irish blood running through my veins, I completely forgot that Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day, and so did my girlfriend. With neither of us wearing green that entire day, we decided that we were thankful we weren’t in middle school anymore, hiding from overly excited, shoulder pinching, four leafed clover, leprechaun lovers. This isn’t to say that I have anything against Saint Patrick or the day that honors him, in fact I love it, it’s such a fun holiday. However, we all know that one kid who went out of their way to find their non-green-wearing-peers and pinch them when they least expected it. Aside from that, this weekend was full of unnecessary amounts of broccoli, the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, and schnitzel with noodles!

Thinking it would be both frugal and fun to cook our own dinners while we were at our BnB, we stopped by a grocery store on Friday to pick up a couple of things. We wanted to make this kind of pork stir fry, so as we went through the ingredients we usually see in stir fry, we eventually came across broccoli. Instead of finding small, single stalks, we only found packs of three giant stalks, so we had broccoli for breakfast and dinner, the whole weekend. It’s safe to say that both of us can go without broccoli for a while now!

On Saturday morning, after having stir fry for breakfast, we made the trek up the the world famous Heidelberg Castle, home to the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, the Heidelberg Tun. Built in 1751, the Heidelberg Tun is seven meters high, eight and a half meters wide, and able to hold 220,000 liters of wine. It even has a staircase along the side leading up to a dance floor at the top of the barrel!

Heidelberg Castle.

After our trip up to the castle, we went back down to the main part of the city for lunch at a typical German restaurant. Now, I really had no idea what schnitzel with noodles was before this weekend. I just remember Julie Andrews singing about it being one of her favorite things, so when I saw that it was on the menu, I immediately ordered it. What I got was this huge plate full of really, really thick noodles, an amazing mushroom cream sauce, and a giant chicken nugget to top it off. It was way better than how I’m making it sound, but really that’s how simple it was!

We visited the Lindt chocolate store and a couple of bakeries after that, but don’t worry, I will soon dedicate an entire blog post to all of my sweet tooth conquests! All in all, Heidelberg was good to us, and if I have another chance to visit again, I think I definitely will! So until next week,

Tschüss!

Time to Van Gogh!

As I look out my single window tonight and stare at the beautiful full moon, I am made to reflect on what else in life is full, or what makes life full? Is it good food and good company? Is it inner peace and joy? This may just be sleep-deprived me overthinking a giant, glowing space rock, but these things are nice to contemplate every once in a while. What do I really want from life? Well, I want to experience all of what life has to offer! I want to sail into uncharted waters, both literally and metaphorically, to explore and discover countless new places and states of being. I was a bit wary about traveling to one city more than once while I was studying abroad at GTL, but I fell too much in love the first time, that I couldn’t just do a ‘one and done’!

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Sam I am!

A couple weeks ago, I visited Amsterdam and got to see a maritime museum and a cat cafe, but that trip didn’t even scrape anything off what this beautiful city had to offer me, so I decided to go back this past weekend and see more of it with a couple of my friends!

On Saturday, I went to the Van Gogh museum, which was definitely the highlight of the trip. All of the exhibits were laid out in a way that, when they walk through, people are taken on  a journey through Vincent Van Gogh’s life as an artist, which I thought was really cool. One of the really great things about the museum, is that there is a special interactive tour that people can take which lets them experience some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings through physical touch, smell, and song. This tour, fittingly named ‘Feeling Van Gogh’, was designed especially for the blind and visually impaired to enjoy Van Gogh’s works with their family and friends. Although I didn’t take the tour, I thought that this was a really interesting and cool way of experiencing visual art, and I think its very neat of the museum to do this kind of thing to accommodate to all kinds of people with disabilities that might otherwise keep them from visiting an art museum!

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Almond Blossom (1890) by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

That cool feature aside, as I walked through the museum, I got to see a lot of beautiful paintings and prints that I had only seen in my high school literature books, including The Bedroom (1888), Sunflowers (1889), and Self-Portrait As A Painter (1887-1888). Still, I discovered a piece that I had not yet seen before, Almond Blossom (1890), which I’ve got to say is my favorite Van Gogh piece to date. I got chills a couple times as I stared at all of these paintings, and maybe it was just the intense air conditioning, but there is something about studying Van Gogh’s life while in his own homeland of tulips and clogs that feels so surreal.

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Sunflower maze outside of the Van Gogh Museum (2016), courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Definitely feeling blessed and highly favored after this last trip to Amsterdam, I’ve decided that traveling and art are two things that make me feel complete, and that make my life feel full. Looking at the full moon tonight makes me want to explore so many places and do so many things with my life, and I have realized that just because I’ve already seen one place, doesn’t mean that I have actually experienced it. With all that said, I hope that if you ever get the chance to travel to Amsterdam, you’ll pay a visit to the Van Gogh museum, a truly magical place. I wish I had spent longer in the Netherlands, but alas, classes and studying were calling me back, and those are two calls that one cannot miss! Thank you for tuning in this week, and until next blog post, au revoir!

The European Dry

I don’t remember where exactly I heard this but I distinctly remember someone mentioning that in Europe, dryers don’t actually dry your clothes. They just make them less wet. This seems a little odd for me considering the name of the actual machines but unfortunately it seems to be true, at least in the Lafayette dormitory complex.

For whatever reason, I seem to always put off doing laundry until I literally am wearing my last few scraps of clean clothings as I haul my entire wardrobe down the stairs to the laundry room and completely fill up two washing machines. Due to Lafayette charging a small fortune for doing laundry I have to cough up almost 10 euros every 3 or so weeks I clean my clothes. So, due to the machines only taking coins, I have been hoarding those suckers like an old miser.

The very first time I did laundry here in France, I had no idea

My coins ft. cereal.

what I was doing. Since I didn’t know that the machine only took coins (in hindsight that seems obvious) and I really needed to do laundry before leaving on a weekend trip, I ended up having to walk to a gas station and buy a bottle of water in order to get enough change. Now, not wanting a repeat performance of that, I have taken to paying for everything with cash and saving all the coins I get from those transactions so I’ll always have more than enough for my laundry and maybe even get something from the vending machine every now and then.

Now, back to what I think was a faculty member called the “European Dry.” Apparently most European households use a clothesline to dry their clothes and only need the dryers to get the fabric to a damp state. I don’t have a clothesline, and I don’t really plan on getting one, so I have to make do. This is the process that I have been utilizing to actually get dry clothes.

  1. Run your clothes through the washing machine
  2. Do one cycle in one of the dryers
  3. Take out dress shirts/sweater or other things that you hang up
  4. (Key Step) Switch dryers and do another cycle
  5. Fold your now dry clothing

The first time I did laundry I think I must have done 3 cycles through the dryer with the same result of very damp clothing every time until I decided that the dryer was broken and switched to another one, resulting in them finally being dried. I later realized that that machine wasn’t broken, it just had so much water vapor inside from the clothes that it was like a steam room in there. Of course this only works if you basically have the laundry room to yourself, but switching your clothes over to another dryer that hasn’t been used in the last few hours will do the trick almost every time.

You know it’s been a slow week when you decide to write a blog including a step-by-step process for doing laundry, but it’s just the calm before the storm here, waiting for the next round of tests to ruin everyone’s life. In the meantime I hope everyone enjoys themselves, and I hope you enjoyed another of my strange little insights into the life of a GTL student.

Καλημέρα!

During GTL’s mid-winter break, I made my wallet pretty unhappy and traveled to Greece with my girlfriend! We spent about a week in Athens – walking through different flea markets, hiking up to various archaeological sites, and eating gyros pretty much every single day (and by the third day, we were considered regulars at The Pita Bar). We ate ice cream, laughed, and stood in awe underneath incredible and incredibly ancient feats of architecture, making for one of the coolest weeks of my life!

We arrived late Saturday night, and didn’t have anything planned for Sunday except napping all day to rid ourselves of jet lag and then maybe going out for dinner. As both of us are living in countries in which basically everything is closed on Sundays, we expected Athens to do the same. We were dead wrong. The plaza near our hotel was in no shortage of fresh fruit vendors, northern tourists who mistakenly packed only summer clothes for their trip, and the sweet, sweet smell of grilled pork and tzatziki.

As we squeezed our way through crowds of amateur photographers and convincing shop employees, we found ourselves adapting to our new environment. We crossed busy streets as the Greeks do, without a traffic light, and as hard as it was for two people who don’t like saying “no,” we learned to ignore salesmen without remorse. As unsafe and unfriendly as this may sound, that’s just how life in Athens is, or at least what it seemed to be. We were eventually pressured into eating at certain restaurants or cafes by very sweet and friendly waiters, who would wait just outside the building with a menu in one hand, ready to pitch to the next couple that walks by. Nevertheless, trying to blend in and seem like a local was a fun adventure. At one point, someone came up to my lady and complimented her shoes, then was surprised when they found out she was very much not Greek. Girlfriend: 1, Sam: 0.

On one of our last days of the trip, we decided to take a day trip to see the islands of Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. We made it through the somewhat seasick-inducing boat ride and arrived at our first destination – Hydra. Hydra is a very small island, and in fact, cars and other motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island. Even though we were given the option to ride donkeys around the island (I guess that’s a big thing on Hydra, all of their gift shop had donkey souvenirs. And yes, of course I bought one), my girlfriend and I wandered around the many, many sets of stairs, and found ourselves in what seemed to be the heart of Hydra. We ended up walking so far that instead of overpriced ice cream or even fruit vendors, we saw chickens running around and smelled fertilizer. Still, a very cool experience, and that was definitely my favorite island that we visited.

After Hydra, we hit Poros, where we wandered along the seaside and sat down after a bit of a break to have a picnic. We didn’t see much of the island, but the sun was shining, the water was glistening, and we were okay with just enjoying the beautiful weather. Thankfully, we picked the hottest day of the week to do this trip! We left Poros and sailed to Aegina, where I saw one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen before – a wild octopus! We were sitting on these big rocks on she shore, looking at the tide pools and pretending like we knew anything about marine biology, when we saw a tentacle unfurl under one of the rocks. My girlfriend instinctively took a stick and tried to coax it out, and we got so close to seeing the whole body, but the little guy was too shy. It was pretty amazing though to see something like that in the wild and up close!

We left Greece two days later, our bellies full (we took Pita Bar gyros to go), and our hearts happy (not just because we took Pita Bar gyros to go). Ha ha! You thought this post was going to be about the Parthenon and different ancient temples, gotcha! Even though those sites were really cool, there is so much more to Athens than just its history! Thank you all for taking your time to read, and tune in next week when I talk about Amsterdam: Part 2!

***Oh, and P.S. Καλημέρα, pronounced KalimEra, means “good morning” in Greek!***

Faculty Interview: Dr. Li

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Wing Li, the mathematics professor at GTL for this semester. I attend the class she is teaching for undergraduates this time around, differential equations, twice a week and can personally attest to the fact that she is one of the most genuinely nice professors currently teaching at Georgia Tech, and someone who really does care about her students learning.

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I learned from Dr. Li that she attended high school in Hong Kong, which is where she first realized that mathematics was the subject she wanted to pursue into college and beyond. After graduating from high school, she moved to the United States by herself to attend an American college, first receiving her B.S. from the University of Iowa, and then her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, both in mathematics.  Now Dr. Li teaches at Georgia Tech and is currently in her 3rd semester at our French campus.

Dr. Li told me that she believes that many professors are reluctant to volunteer to teach at GTL, often due to having kids who are currently enrolled in primary or secondary school in the Atlanta area. However, Dr. Li is in the unique position of being married to a native of France and having kids who are fluent in the language. She told me: “it was an excellent experience for the children, not only did they get to learn subjects in French, but they also got to really see the differences between the American and French school systems.” Because of this, Dr. Li was more than happy to volunteer for the position multiple times.

Currently Dr. Li is involved in research related to a subject called operator theory, which she described to me as basically being linear algebra (matrices, subspaces, etc.) but with infinite dimensions. She says it is an extremely interesting subject since: “you can’t just use a calculator or a computer to solve for the answer when you’re working with infinite dimensions. You have to really break everything down to pure theory instead of solving for specific examples.” Also, “if you can understand how things work with infinite dimensions, working with finite dimensions becomes simple.”

Outside of math, Dr. Li told me she’d always had an interest in music.  Following graduate school, she began taking piano lessons, but not having a piano of her own to practice at home, she switched instead to voice lessons. “It was convenient because I will always have my voice with me, but I didn’t realize how much of a strain lecturing for hours every day would be.” So, finally, she ended up choosing the violin, which she practiced an hour every day for 8 years until kids came into the picture.

At Georgia Tech Lorraine, students are encouraged to travel as much as they can, so I thought I’d ask Dr. Li a little about her travels. She told me that of all the places she’s been to the Greek islands struck her as the most beautiful, but the place that had the greatest impact, she revealed, was actually Alaska. “I had never seen anything so vast, yet in a way it was romantic and inviting. A place where I would very much like to stay and contribute to the land instead of just pass through.”

Dr. Li’s parting words to me were ones of advice for students here at GTL “don’t miss Metz,” she told me. “As you travel to famous locations all over Europe, don’t forget about the place you are calling home for these 4 months, and the incredible beauty and history that is right in our backyard.”

Trains, Trams, and Automobiles

Today, I write to you from the sweet and small balcony of room 412 at the Attalos Hotel in Athens, Greece. I can hear the quiet, perpetual buzzing of the street lamps, the metallic screech of car brakes, the deep roar of a tour bus, and people below carrying drunken conversations in a language I cannot even begin to start understanding. Klick-klack, a train goes by. The sound of a skateboard rolling past carries up high to my balcony, and a church bell rings to the turn of the hour. All of these night sounds have me focusing on the wheels that are constantly turning to get masses of people from one place in Europe to the next.

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Zoom! I wanted to take a picture of the aesthetically pleasing subway wagons before I needed to hop onto a bus, but it was already moving :/

The efficiency of public transportation in Athens is not really comparable to what we have in the more northern countries of the EU, like France and Germany, but it is still quite the feat. Back at my home in Washington, we only had a bus that ran through town maybe once every hour. In France, even in small towns, there is a bus that runs at least twice per hour, and there is a train station to get residents to further destinations. Because of this, everything seem more accessible here.

From what I’ve noticed by talking to EU citizens, most people prefer a reliable public transportation system than a car. Sure, sometimes cars can come in handy, but it seems that taking a bus or a tram to work and back is both cheaper and nicer than weaving a car through traffic. It especially comes in handy for students and younger people, and it really helps if they aren’t old enough for a driver’s license, which are often expensive and difficult to get. People can easily get from one end of town to the next, cheap and quick, which is really nice (especially when student debt is looming over your shoulder asking you when you want to make a deal with the devil for free education)!

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Frankfurt Am Main Hauptbahnhof was giving me really intense hanger vibes

Throughout my European travels, I have taken international trains only a couple of times, but I already know that I love it. There is almost always a restaurant wagon, the seats are gracious enough to be spacious enough for my giraffe legs, and you can look out the windows and watch the beautiful countryside pass as you sip your macchiato. All of this and more adds to the temptation of Europe, and it increases the chances of catching the travel bug by about 48% (these are not, of course, real statistics, but I feel like this would be a pretty accurate number if there even were statistics on this).

The other main mode of public transportation in Europe, besides long distance trains, are short distance buses and trams. The inner city public transportation is absolutely incredible, with different wagons coming in every 2 to three minutes to get you where you need to be. You can’t even compare this to the transportation back home- it would be a dishonor to European transportation. I, for one, love taking the buses and trams here. They’re so convenient and affordable, and now that I see it in action, I really wish the US had better public transportation systems. I thought I was fine with my car, but taking a train is so much more fun! Maybe that’s just because I’m still pretty new to all of this, but I guess only time can tell!

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A wild Public Bus has appeared! What will you do next?

And until then, here is your French Word of the Week!

Ballot (n.): bundle, package

Example in a Frenglish conversation-

Sam: “Hey, have you mailed in your ballot for the election?”

Tina: “What do you want me to send them? A care package? I mean I don’t know the senator personally, but I guess I will…”

Ciao!

Battle of the Dorms (feat. Lafayette)

When coming to GTL we were given a choice between 3 dormitories to live in: Aloes, Lafayette, and Crous (SPOILER ALERT: Lafayette is the best). All have their own merits, with reasons for and against choosing them. Back in Atlanta, I could not make up my mind whatsoever on which one to choose and ended up making my decision based on the fact that my friend had lived in Aloes last spring and had a bit of trouble with spider (and I’m deathly afraid of spiders). That combined with the fact that Crous wasn’t a thing when he had done GTL was just enough to tip me over the edge to choosing Lafayette.

I have pretty limited experience with the other dorms and maybe Lina can respond

My own mini kitchen (minus the dishes).

to this challenge at a later week and tell us all why Aloes is actually the best (doubt it), but I think that my home in Lafayette is far and away the greatest because of 2 words: “Individual. Stove-tops.” (That might actually be 3 words, does a hyphenated word count as one or two and is stove-top even supposed to be hyphenated?) I may never know, but what I do know is that being able to cook myself a steak dinner anytime I want from the comfort of my own room is one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. Of course, every great thing must have its drawbacks, and in Lafayette this comes in the form of unreliable wifi.

I say unreliable when describing the internet in Lafayette but, at least in my experience, it has actually been quite reliable; just reliably bad. Basically every 10-20 minutes the wifi will just completely shut off for one or 2 minutes. While it does work, it’s actually pretty decent quality. I’m able to stream HD video and uploads and downloads are quite fast. However, with this reliable failure every 15 minute or so, I am rarely able to make it through a TV show episode on Netflix or a Skype call with my relatives without total failure, sometimes even resulting in my computer crashing.

It’s definitely a downer, but the outages are typically pretty short so I can resume whatever I am doing after going to refill my water bottle or get a snack or something. Every now and then, the internet will work great for the entire day, which has seemed to happen more frequently recently (thank goodness), but also on rare occasion the time intervals will reverse: so every 10-20 minutes the internet will work for about one minute. All in all, it’s not the end of the world. Not very much of my schoolwork actively needs the internet and I can get by with the delays when I’m just using the computer for my own thing.

The Lafayette exterior.

I’ve definitely enjoyed living at Lafayette and having my own mini kitchen for the first time, but of course, in all seriousness, it doesn’t matter where you live while you’re at GTL. This semester is an amazing experience that is related much more to the incredible places you’ll go and people you’ll meet than where you happen to sleep on the weekdays.

The Old World

Picture courtesy of Safari Wallpaper.

Having never traveled to Europe in my short life, my view of this continent has been purely framed through the looking glass of media and pop culture. In fact, everything outside of the United States has seemed like almost an abstract, foreign concept. I feel as if a lot of people, myself included, who have had few experiences outside of their own bubble are subconsciously fixated on the idea that people in other places are somehow different. But, after moving to Europe for the semester, I’ve realized that despite being thousands of miles away and on another continent, this is still planet Earth inhabited by human beings. This may sound obvious to you, and of course it should be; this thought process isn’t taking place on a conscious level, but a subconscious one.

Of course there are also a lot of little interesting differences I’ve noticed too, and just for fun I thought I’d share a few of my observations.

  • Unrefrigerated Milk: Apparently in France, and most of Europe, the majority of milk is sterilized by method of heating to an extremely high temperature for a short time. This kills all the bacteria in the milk giving it a shelf life of multiple months. The milk I’ve gotten like this weirded me out and I thought it had a bad aftertaste. Maybe that’s all in my head though.
  • Crazy Drivers: Everybody says city drivers are crazy, but I live in Atlanta, and those drivers are nothing compared to the people of Metz. I’ve noticed that drivers here are way more reluctant to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street and also will zoom past you as soon as you’re not in the way on a crosswalk (compared to America where it is polite to wait until the pedestrian has crossed all the way). This makes walking to school every day a little more “interesting” than usual.
  • European Outlets: I don’t know if it’s just me but I think that these things are terrible. Every outlet in my room causes whatever is plugged in to be extremely loose and fall out with the slightest bump. I’m not sure why the world can’t just have universal outlets, but if anybody changes, it should be Europe.

These were just a few of the things that stuck out to me since coming here, but are more simple quirks than real differences.

Going back to my main point, it’s easy for me to forget that I’m actually living in an entirely foreign country a lot of the time. I don’t know why, but when I’m walking back from a day of classes, there’s this one spot along my walk where I always just have a little mini realization: “Holy cow, I’m in Europe!” Nothing really looks or feels different in Europe, and it’s an amazing little epiphany that my subconscious has had in realizing we are in fact all living together on one planet that, whether we like it or not, we all must share.

A Grappig Weekend

If I told High School Me that I got to drink coffee in the same room as about twelve cats, explore a 19th century Dutch pirate ship, and make tacos in a stranger’s house all in one day, High School Me would probably have thought that Present Day Me was a fictional character living in the wonderful fantasy land, Future-Magic-ville. Well, dear High School Me, I got to drink coffee in the same room as about twelve cats, explore a 19th century dutch pirate ship, and make tacos in a stranger’s house all in one day, ALL IN AMSTERDAM (which pretty much is, for me at least, Future-Magic-Ville)! This weekend was, to say the least, pretty great!

First of all, let me tell you a little about The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in specific. The city of Amsterdam (earlier known as Amstelledamme, named after the dam in the Amstel river by which the city was centered) was founded in the 13th century as a fishing village. Or did you know that the Dutch East India Company is actually called Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Dutch?

This brings me to another fun thing about the Netherlands: their language. Let me declare how deeply in love I am with the Dutch language. It is the perfect mix between English, German, and magic, and everyone looks so cool when they speak it! My favorite word so far, is “grappig,” which means “funny”, and it is, in fact, said in a very funny way. I learned this word at a small white marble table in the corner of a cat cafe, where I saw a lady keep pointing at the cats and saying, “Grappig! Grappige Kat!” One of my high school friends who I met up with that weekend actually is Dutch, so he was my translator the whole time, and he taught me a couple phrases in Dutch. However, the only thing I can remember now is how to say funny, which will not help me out, except maybe in a conversation about cats living in a coffee shop.

Now onto the cat cafe. Picture this: you’re enjoying a nice macchiato, an old friend sitting on either side of you, the room temperature is perfect – warm and cozy. You’re just about to have a third sip of your coffee when you notice a slight shift in your friend’s eyes. You look down to follow their gazes and there, right in front of you, is a fluffy, white cat, walking past your table. Your eyes follow him as he struts across the room, and you start noticing more things, more cats. About twelve. There are about twelve cats in the same space as you. This was definitely a high point in my life.

After brunch at the cat cafe, my friends and I went to the Maritime Museum, where we spent about 20% of our time learning semi-useful information, and the rest of time playing on the giant pirate ship that was docked in the back. Granted, it wasn’t actually a pirate ship, but it was still really cool getting to run around on it, pretending to be crewmen! We were able to lay in tiny boat hammocks and walk through a life-sized whale sculpture within the same hour. We were having a wonderful day so far. Once we hit the three hour mark at the museum, my friends and I decided to head back to our AirBnB to make dinner. On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store and got all of the necessities for making tacos, plus a box of chocolates for our hosts (Pro tip: when staying with a host family, leave them a nice box of chocolates and a sweet note. You can never go wrong with a nice box of chocolates and a sweet note).

The day was over, our bellies were full, our spirits were high, and we all slumbered off to prepare for the long day of traveling ahead. One of my friends, who flew in all the way from Oxford had to leave the house at six in the morning to catch his ten o’clock plane. Thankfully, my train didn’t leave until about one, so I could sleep in a bit and have a slow morning. My Dutch friend took me to the train station with me later that day and we had brunch at a small cafe across the platform. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I hopped on the train for a seven to eight hour journey back to GTL.

Amsterdam was a beautiful city, and I am definitely going to visit it again. If you ever find yourself in the land of clogs and tulips, I highly recommend the cat cafe, Maritime museum, and checking out the local farmers markets. You can get a bit of culture, history, and cats in one day’s visit, and that, to me, seems like a pretty spectacular way to spend a weekend!

Before I leave you for the time being, here is your French Word of the Week!

Comment (adv.): how, what

Example in a Frenglish conversation:

Tim: “Hey Sam, comment in the world did you get that limited edition shirt?”

Sam: “Strange wording, but yes I can comment on my shirt. It has gray piping and a white base, and it actually used to belong to John Cena…”

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