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Category: Travels (Page 1 of 13)

This Is What “Peak” Performance Looks Like

This was the trip that is undoubtedly the high point (literally) of my European travels: Interlaken, Switzerland. Not only was it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, but I climbed my first mountain there, something that I’ve always dreamed of accomplishing!

I could barely take my eyes off of the beautiful, grassy hills and the spectacular mountains, which was somewhat problematic for my stubbed toes.

Interlaken is a lovely town situated between two lakes (hence the name), which looked stunning with a beautiful mountain backdrop as we rode the train into the city. Walking down the main boulevard, we saw many quintessentially Swiss things, from watch stores to chocolatiers to a fondue restaurant, all the while marveling at the soaring mountains that framed the sky. One of the most exciting parts of this walk was seeing hang gliders and paragliders soaring and swooping through the sky! They floated down from the mountains and we sat and watched, fascinated, as they all landed on a huge green lawn in the center of the city.

We stopped to take scenic pictures and have a nutritious lunch of brioche, Nutella, bananas, nuts, and other snacks.

The next day, we were ready to hike! The woman at the tourism office recommended that we walk through the valley of waterfalls, as it was very beautiful and suitable for beginners. We decided not to follow her advice, however—we wanted to see the sights from high up, so we decided to attempt a hike to the summit of the Schilthorn from a little mountain town called Mürren.

After stocking up on food and taking two trains and a gondola from Interlaken to reach Mürren, we were ready to begin. It was 11 am when we started, so our goal was to get as far as we could by 3 pm and then turn around to allow us enough time to catch the trains back to Interlaken. The beginning of the hike took us through rolling hills and many pastures, punctuated by the constant clinking of cowbells and the occasional moo. Sadly, the cows did not really want to be pet.

I found a nice branch early on the hike that I used for a walking stick the rest of the way up. It proved very helpful, especially in the slippery snow!

As the hours passed and we continued to ascend, the trail turned from sharp, steep switchbacks up grassy hills to a flatter, rocky path towards the final summit, and then to no path at all as we approached the most difficult part of the journey. At this point we had truly transitioned from hiking to climbing: we carefully pulled ourselves up rocky ledges, following spray painted arrows through the otherwise confusing landscape, and we gingerly made our way up steep, snowy inclines, testing our weight with every step and hoping that the powder wouldn’t give way

On the way down, I was often prone to sprinting down the mountainside, both because it was fun but also because the steep slope made it hard to stop, so you can see my traveling buddies in the distance behind me along with the foggy mountain peak.

beneath our feet. Near the top, thankfully, there were ropes to pull ourselves up the more treacherous inclines, and railings to hold as we crossed narrow rock bridges towards our goal.

With our tired lungs and aching legs, we finally reached the peak of the mountain—at precisely 3:00 pm! I can’t describe the feeling I had when I reached the top; after 4 hours and after scaling 4,366 feet of vertical elevation, I was so exhilarated, so full of endorphins from the strenuous hike up, and so proud of our achievement that all I could think was “When can I do this again?” I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain at some point in my life, and after actually doing it that desire has only gotten stronger. This amazing trip really opened my eyes to the wonders of hiking and climbing, and I can’t wait until my next opportunity to test my limits and scale taller summits!

On the way down the mountainside, after the rain had stopped, we were treated with an absolutely gorgeous double rainbow!!

The Tale of Two Countries: Waffles, Fries, Bikes, and History

 

Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp

This past weekend, I visited not one, but two countries near France! The first stop of my weekend trip began in Antwerp, Belgium! In Antwerp, I was able to eat some of the most amazing waffles I ever had in my entire life, munch on crispy Belgian fries, go shopping, and embrace the different architectural styles of each city. Something that fascinated me about Antwerp was it had the bustle a big city while still maintaining an old town vibe. Even though there were many tourists visiting all the restaurants, museums, and shopping, it seemed as if the locals were enjoying big tourist spots just as much as well. Another thing I really appreciated about Belgium is their craft for making the best waffles in the world, as I not only had one waffle, but two during my stay!

Architecture in Antwerp

 

After checking Antwerp of the list of places to visit, next on the list was Amsterdam, Netherlands. Walking out of the Amsterdam Central Station the next day, I was immediately hit with The Fault in Our Stars vibes and was surrounded by tourists

Me in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

early in the morning. The first item on the list of places to see that day was Bloemenmarkt, the famous flower market in Amsterdam. Walking to see the market made me more aware of my safety and the safety of the massive amount of bicyclists in Amsterdam! Bikes where everywhere: cruising down the street, chained all along the canal, and on the sidewalks. As I made it to the street of the market, I saw tulip buds for purchase everywhere, cute cafés on the other side, and a Christmas shop. While the flower market was beautiful and the scents from the flowers wafted through the air, the Christmas shop stole my attention with the “66 days until Christmas sign”! After buying an Amsterdam themed Christmas ornament, my stomach was growling and I knew it was time for lunch. At lunch, I ate a savory chicken curry sandwich from Toastable, a very cute and non-touristy café. After lunch, I saw The Anne Frank House, where Anne Frank lived when she was in hiding with her family during World War II.

 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam had great sights to see, things to do, and museums to visit, however, I was slowly running out of time to do many of the great things the city has to offer. As a compromise, I decided to learn more about the history of Amsterdam and see sights at the same time! That day, I took a free classical tour of Amsterdam that covered many gems of the city, social classes during different times, changes in the industry, and architecture of the city. During the tour, it was interesting to learn more about the history, such as squatting and the Dutch East Indian Company. After my tour, my time in Amsterdam came to a close as the train back to Antwerp would be leaving soon. Once I made it back to Antwerp, I did the one thing I knew I had to do: eat another Belgian waffle! 

Delicious Belgian Waffle

The next morning began a bit frantically at the train station once I looked to see which platform my first connection train would be on and it saw “afgeschaft” under the train time. Do you know what that means in Dutch? It means abolished! My first train of the day was canceled, however, thankfully there was a train leaving in 10 minutes that went to the same connection station. Besides that little mishap, making it back to Metz was a breeze. I truly did enjoy my trip to Amsterdam and Antwerp because it was relaxing, fun, and involved quick thinking when it came to changes in travel plans. I also greatly appreciated the amount of knowledge I was able to gain from learning more about the history of Amsterdam. Amsterdam and Antwerp truly were great places to eat delicious food and have some good times.

How to Enjoy A Travel-Free Weekend in Metz

Centre Pompidou-Metz

This weekend, I decided to stay in Metz and take a break from traveling. While traveling at GTL is great and thus far has been the highlight of my experience, I realized I needed to hit pause and take a break to refocus on school and finances. While studying abroad at GTL, I would highly recommend taking a couple of weekends to relax in Metz, and explore the city even more. While doing so, I was more productive with my schoolwork and has new experiences.

While taking my first break from traveling in a month, I decided to explore more that Metz has to offer. This weekend I went to the Centre Pompidou and saw the amazing, vibrant artwork that decorated the museum. To my surprise, the museum was a lot more than seeing artwork on walls; it was an interactive experience as well. Throughout the museum, they had interactive exhibits such as walking in a dark room with blinking lights, a room called “Little Cafe” where you could write and draw on the walls of the exhibit in chalk, and a purple hued room playing piano tunes.

Little Cafe in the Museum (an interactive chalk artwork display)

As I entered the purple room exhibit, all of my senses were intrigued as my eyes were seeing dimly lit purple lights and walls, my feet walking on a plush purple-hued carpet, and my ears hearing erratic, yet strangely calming piano sounds. As I sat in the room, I was overcome with a sense of peace. After I experienced a bit of what the room had to offer, I made my way to my favorite part of my visit. At the entrance of the Centre Pompidou, there was a giant metallic ball in which I walked in and was surrounded by a layout of the constellations. I enjoyed the museum as I was able to not only see artwork, but also interact with it and be a part of creating it.

My favorite part about visiting the Pompidou Centre was that I was able to standing inside of this giant metallic globe and see a portrayal of the constellations.

After visiting the Centre Pompidou, I walked to the nearby mall, the Muse, and went shopping until my hunger and account balance put me to an end. So much for me looking out for my finances this weekend! The mall was stunning and filled with high-end brands and department stores alike. My favorite part of my shopping experience was going to Primark; I was in shopping heaven as I was able to catch their fall sale of the year. After shopping and making my bank account just a little more depressing to look at, I ate lunch at a local Chinese restaurant near the mall. The best part about staying in Metz for the weekend was experiencing different things, and being able to go back to my room and study and complete my homework for the week without the guilt of attempting to do homework in a new country or city.

As my weekend in Metz came to a close, I decided to go on a hunt for the chicest and most comfortable café to get some more studying done. While staying in Metz for the weekend is fun, it can get boring stay in the dorms doing work or watching Netflix. The best decision I made was to get out and about and change the scenery in which I would study for the day. When entering Fox Café, I was greeted with the vintage chic, coffeehouse vibes I dearly love. The café was great, and the food and desserts were tasty as I decided to get lunch there! I would highly recommend checking out this little café if you ever need a change of scenery because they have wifi, is close to the train station, and the best part, for my non-French speaking peers like myself, is they speak English!  

Lunch and studying at Fox Cafe

Overall, I had a satisfying weekend staying in Metz, and catching up on some things and work. The benefits of traveling are incomparable, however, make sure to recognize when you may feel stressed or need a break from travels to regroup. It is difficult at times to keep a balance of studies and trying to reap all the opportunities of being abroad at the same time; always make sure to maintain a good mental health and grades through it all. While staying in Metz this weekend, I was able to visit a museum, go shopping, finish my homework for the week, study in advance for a quiz, do laundry without competing for a washer and dryer, and find my new favorite study spot. You never know what you can discover if you just take a minute to press pause.

Day Trips Are Delightful

This past weekend was the first weekend that I stayed in Metz since the start of GTL. On Friday I went on a day trip to Luxembourg, and on Saturday to Nancy and Colmar, but at night I came home to my blissfully familiar Lafayette dorm. I’ve loved all of the adventures I’ve had and the gallivanting around Europe that I’ve done so far, but after a busy and stressful week packed with three midterms, I was very ready to have a calmer, more chill weekend. It was quite refreshing not to have to worry about the usual travelling concerns, like lodgings, train reservations and schedules, packing my backpack within an inch of its life, and inevitably forgetting my pajamas.

Our hearts may have been set on the hot chocolate, but these beautiful rainbow-colored truffles were enticing as well.

Pear cinnamon isn’t a flavor combination I would ever have thought of for hot chocolate, but I’m glad someone did because it was marvelous!

It was a beautiful day as we walked around Luxembourg after our short morning train ride. Our first and most imperative stop was at The Chocolate House! They had hot chocolate spoons in a massive variety of strange and wonderful flavors, so we ordered some with hot milk and stirred them until they melted into perfectly delicious hot cocoa. After wandering the city and taking a nice nap in a sunny park, we decided to go to the Mudam, the museum of modern art in Luxembourg. This was definitely one of the coolest museums I’ve seen thus far. (And also free for students! Hooray!) It’s situated on top of an old fort, Fort Thüngen, and the juxtaposition of the ancient brick walls with the sleek architecture of the museum created a very neat aesthetic. The main exhibition was a series of kinetic sculptures themed around wind and water called Spaceship,by Susumu Shingu. My favorite piece was this fascinating moving water sculpture, which we sat and watched, mesmerized, for at least ten minutes.

This is only one side of an amazing sculpture we saw at the Mudam. As you can see, it was a conglomeration of all sorts of random things, including plastic plants, yarn, water, sticks, a fan, some tea, pebbles, etc. Some parts of it moved, too!

The next day, on Saturday, we went to Nancy! It was a lovely city, with lots of gold leaf and casually ornate facades and gates. First we ventured into the city’s cathedral, something I always like to do when exploring a new city. While Gothic cathedrals obviously share many similarities, each one has its own personality and character, and it’s always very calming and beautiful to amble along the ambulatory and look at the stained glass. Later, we stumbled upon a Japanese botanical garden exhibit in a square, complete with intricate sculptures, flowers, a koi pond, and many bonsai trees. It was incredibly beautiful, and it was wonderful to see the local residents enjoying the public art as much as we did.

I really love plants, especially succulents and bonsai trees, so stumbling upon this botanical garden in the middle of Nancy that had both of those things was the most pleasant of pleasant surprises!

After having a hearty lunch at a pizza place, we power-walked to the train station to avoid missing our train to Colmar. There, we wandered around the old town and admired the beautiful houses, cobblestone streets, picturesque canals, and innumerable dogs. We ate some yummy crepes and spent lots of time sitting in a park, just talking and people-watching as a group of teenagers did tricks on their bikes and as children played nearby in a fountain. On the whole it was a lovely, relaxing weekend to explore interesting cities in closer proximity to our home in Metz!

Colmar was just as cute as you would hope an old French town would be (it reminded me a bit of the villagee from Beauty and the Beast!).

Nice is Nice!

The picture speaks for itself!

I stepped off the train in Nice, France and was greeted with moisture in the air, people walking around wearing summer clothes, and surrounded by multi-colored buildings and bustling streets. The city is a dream summer location spot. And the deeper we made it into the city, the more I started to smell the beach breeze in the air. I was so happy to be in a place that did not frown upon shorts and sandals, being able to dive in the cool water, and just have a great time.

Even though the train ride to Nice was 9 hours long, that did not stop my excitement. The first thing I did was eat delicious homemade Italian pasta, and go on the pebble-covered beach! The beach was beautiful: the water was a glistening turquoise color, it was surrounded by vibrant colored houses and rocks cascading up the rocks, and people of all ages walked along the beach. Later on that afternoon my friends and I ate the best gelato ever, saw a street show with a man jumping over fire, and enjoyed the nightlife in Nice.

The next day, I took a monumental step in my traveling journey as I visited another country on my own. After basking in the sun at the beach and eating even more Italian food, I walked into the train station in Nice alone to head to Monaco! The train was less than 30 minutes away from Nice; I began my little journey to one of the most beautiful, expensive places in the world. Getting off the train in Monaco, I felt independent, happy, and nervous about what to expect exploring the city on my own. I didn’t have anyone else making suggestions on which ways to turn or what to do. It was just me, and what I wanted to do! It felt great walking down the streets seeing hidden monuments along the way, stopping and taking pictures, soaking in the scenery, and wandering around. Never once in my life have I felt so unattached from the rest of the world and complete at the same time. It felt awesome to be able to discover something new on my own!

The famous casino Monte Carlo in Monaco.

While in Monaco, I passed by the famous Monte Carlo Casino, walked through the Princesse Grace Rose Garden, walked past people casually cruising around in Ferrari’s and walking around with Gucci logos dripping from every piece of clothing they were wearing, asked other tourists to take my picture, and sat on the small pebbles of Larovette Beach. My favorite part of my solo travel day trip was that I never felt out of place or uncomfortable; I felt like a tourist enjoying my surroundings. While I was there, I even went to Starbucks to get a peach citrus green tea! Something I was surprised to see was the plant life being a combination of desert plants and lush greenery.


As my trip in Nice came to a close, I was able to shimmy my way throughout dinner as a musician and singer performed in the Mexican Restaurant we ate at, eat more gelato, hang out with other American students traveling abroad, and go shopping along the main strip. Remember how I said I fell in love with Paris a few weeks ago? Well, Nice comes in as a close second. I loved the culture of the city as it felt fun, carefree, and peaceful! When leaving Nice, I rolled past the clear blue water, white and orange houses, cacti, and rocky mountains covered in a lush green terrine. Heading back to GTL, I felt more relaxed than I did when I left. I had come to realize that even though planning trips can be stressful at times with having to make reservations, finding places to stay, and getting studying and coursework is done before leaving, it is relaxing to get away and truly fulfill the study abroad experience.

Magic in Munich – Experiencing Oktoberfest

During the third weekend of September, I found myself in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest! (Quite ironically, in my opinion, but who am I to argue with tradition and warm September weather?) It seemed like half of Georgia Tech-Lorraine was going as well—I myself was staying in a 20-person AirBNB occupied entirely by GTL students, and I saw many others, both undergraduate and graduate students, on the trains to and from Munich.

On Saturday morning, the first day of the festival, we went to see the opening parade, which led through the city and ended on the Oktoberfest grounds where the Mayor of Munich would officially commence the celebrations. It was a lively and fun time: the procession included marching bands playing lively anthems, countless people dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, many horse-drawn carriages, and, incidentally, one cow-drawn carriage.

After the parade ended, we followed the steadily streaming crowd towards the massive Oktoberfest grounds. The huge rides and attractions, the colorful food stands emanating delicious smells, the pervasive souvenir shops and the masses of humanity—all of it reminded me of the state fairs I’d been to back in the United States. The difference was that everything here was steeped in German culture. Instead of shorts and t-shirts, everywhere we looked we saw dirndls and lederhosen. Instead of corn dogs, cotton candy, and endless fried concoctions, the food stands were brimming with schnitzel, pretzels, and gingerbread. Amidst all these Bavarian traditions, however, Oktoberfest was easily one of the most touristy destinations I’ve visited. As we wandered through the crowds, I heard English being spoken as often as not.

As the rides were quite expensive, we decided that we only wanted to try one; so, naturally, we needed to choose the best and craziest one to satisfy our thrill-seeking. The Ferris wheel, rollercoasters, and merry-go-rounds were too mundane—we settled instead on a ridiculous, crazily spinning contraption that looked like a cross between a pendulum and a wagon wheel. Upon vaguely googling this to try to find out what it was, I discovered that there’s a list of carnival rides on Wikipedia! Ours was most similar to one called the Top Scan. I decided to see if I could spend the whole ride with my eyes open as the world spun around me (to test my future astronaut potential), an idea that was actually far more fun and far less nauseating than I anticipated!

The food was by far one of the best parts not just of Oktoberfest, but of my Munich experience in general. At the festival, we tried curryworst, a spicy saucy sausage on a bun that proved incredibly messy to eat but very yummy nonetheless. Our other fair fare (hehe) included apple funnel cake, gingerbread, frites, and a beautiful chocolate covered apple. On the Sunday morning before we left, we walked to an unassuming bakery a few blocks from where we were staying and got sandwiches and pastries, and I had one of the most delicious chocolate-filled donuts I’ve ever tasted. Finally, as we prepared to depart from the Munich train station, I realized my fatal mistake: I had come all this way to Germany and failed to eat a pretzel! I got one for the road before we left and ate it on the train, satisfied with the wonderful taste of Munich that this weekend had given me.

 

Passing Time on Trains and Travels

Throughout the many train trips, bus rides, and long walks that take place as Georgia Tech Lorraine students explore Europe, there are endless ways to pass the time with ones traveling companions. I’ve had tons of excellent organic conversations with people on my excursions so far, but some of my best memories have come from playing games with my friends as we relax on trains or wander cities.

It’s hard to get photographic evidence of verbal games, so here’s a picture of the sunrise as seen from my room in Lafayette, another place where I’ve had great times and conversations with friends!

One of my personal favorites is a word game that my friends and I play quite frequently, called Contact. Contact is a bit hard to explain without actually playing it, but basically it involves trying to guess a word that someone has come up with as you incrementally learn more letters. My friend had given us six letters of the word: c-a-r-b-o-n, but we had exhausted our chemistry knowledge—it wasn’t carbonation, carbonic acid, or any other element-related term. We resorted to coming up with ridiculous car puns to try to think of words. What do you call a tiny tree in a vehicle? A car-bonsai! Obviously, these answers were unsuccessful, and the word eventually turned out to be “carbonara,” but they certainly provided their fair share of hilarity!

 Another great pastime was born out of desperation and travel woes. On our very first weekend of travel, after trying to catch a train that apparently didn’t exist, my friend and I became stranded overnight in a tiny French town with basically nothing but the clothes on our backs, our dead phones, and, luckily, my notebook and pen. Naturally, as we waited all morning for another train that wouldn’t arrive until noon, we decided to write limericks together! (As one does.) Each of us would alternate contributing a line, and we ended up composing eight masterworks, most of them themed around our sorry plight. Here’s the first one we wrote, and my personal favorite:

     Delirious girls at the station,

     Were filled with a great consternation.

     They wanted to go,

     But their train didn’t show,

     So they’re stuck on forever vacation.

Then there’s Make It or Break It, which is where you present someone with a scenario where they’ve met their soulmate, who’s perfect except for one flaw, and they’re asked if that flaw is a dealbreaker. They’re perfect for you in every way, except they can only ever walk backwards. Or, they’re perfect for you, but they can only speak in Justin Bieber lyrics. (These seemed mutually exclusive to me. No offense to any of you Beliebers out there.) This game is both a funny way to learn about new people and a great source of thought experiments. For instance, your soulmate is perfect, except all their hair is grass—do they cut their hair with a tiny lawn mower?

My favorite part about all these games is that they all involve creativity, often laughter, and usually learning something new about someone in the mix!

Stepping out of My Comfort Zone in London

The London Eye and The London Aquarium

The best thing that I have learned to do since being in Europe  is stepping out of my comfort zone when traveling, realizing every place I travel to is unique and incomparable and going with the flow of things. During my trip to London, I had the opportunity to remind myself of the lessons I have learned over this semester about not being afraid to step out of my comfort zone. London is a place I always dreamed of traveling to since I was younger; I dreamed of peeking my head out of a quaint, red telephone booth and being surrounded by British accents. From my visit, I was able to live my dream and also be faced with a few realities that come along with traveling such as rainy days and changing plans.

My first day in London was jam-packed with tourist locations, sightseeing, and yummy food. Arriving in London, I expected to be surrounded by thick British accents while standing across from the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben. What I did see and hear was slightly different from what I expected: Big Ben was completely covered in metal ladders and construction equipment, and the British accents I heard were nearly what I thought they would be (they were the usually more diverse accents of tourists). Even though I was not able to see Big Benin its full glory, I did see the London Eye, Parliament and Parliament Square, and take my cliché picture in a telephone booth. It was also exciting to visit the Buckingham Palace and see the British flag flying high above the palace, indicating the Queen was home. The best part about the first day was going to Chinatown! I walked under the little red lanterns that decorated the sky, and saw Asian cuisine and shops and live street performances. That first night, I was able to see London come alive at night. Another fun thing that I did that night was going to M&M World! Even though I am not much of a chocolate person, I could not resist creating my personal multi-colored M&M goodie bag.

Buckingham Palace (the Queen was home!)

When visiting London, I was able to eat delicious food and experience the best that the city has to offer. Some of the most relaxing and interesting places to visit were: Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner; seeing Harry Potter fans walk around with glee at Platform 9 3/4; visiting an exhibition on women’s suffrage in Parliament; browsing through Liberty, the shopping center that inspired Oscar Wilde; seeing infamous artwork in the National Gallery; and strolling in Piccadilly Circus. While I was there, I ate food from different cuisines; I had sweet and sour chicken at a highly rated Chinese restaurant, a traditional flavored infused Sri Lankan lunch, and breakfast in a modern café near Leicester Square.

Chinatown

Liberty Shopping Center

When traveling to different places, I highly recommend finding hidden gems in the city and not being afraid to ask locals what to do! The second day of my trip in London started out gloomy, rainy and slightly disappointing as the places I visited either were booked, expensive, or obstructed from a good view with the rain. Here is where going with the flow and exploring different activities comes in with traveling! That morning after regrouping with coffee, I decided to break away from the group I was traveling with for an hour to visit Leadenhall Market. As I walked under the overhang of the closed market, I was in awe at the beautiful architecture of the market, photographers taking advantage of its emptiness, and embraced the peace of the market. While I was there, I able to get a picture of myself taken by young filmmakers and photographers, and also get advice from them on the best things to do in London from a local perspective. As a result of having a 10-minute conversation with some people and asking for a picture, I was able to figure out what to do for the rest of the day in London!

While London is known for royalty, Winston Churchill, and landmarks like Big Ben, it has a lot more to offer than just that. This trip was good for me because it reminded me to not compare places that I travel to on a ranking scale. Every place, culture, and experience is different and that is what makes traveling such a great experience! At the end of my adventures in London, I was able to realize this and overall look at the experience as something unique on its own.

A Very Nice Time

Perhaps the most pun-inducing travel destination there is, Nice, France certainly lives up to its name. We had a wonderful time there, and I could describe just about everything we did as nice, but for the sake of you readers I’ll try my best to curb my pun-making tendencies and use some more creative adjectives.

The three of us began our journey on Friday, meeting up with a friend in Paris on our way. I attempted to do my electromagnetics homework on the 6-hour train ride from Paris to Nice, a task that got increasingly more difficult as the tantalizing sea waters and beaches came into view, but somehow I managed it. Our AirBNB was a cute apartment that was very close to the train station and which had yet another confusing European door. We didn’t know it then because our host let us in, but we would spend ten minutes later that night trying to decipher its mysteries before finally arriving at the right combination of key turns and black magic for it to open at last.

The breathtaking sunset over the sea and the city. The ocean waves were mesmerizing to watch.

After depositing our bags, we walked down through the city to the coast to stroll along the rock beaches and climb the castle on the hill (yes, like the Ed Sheeran song). Our calves were burning after walking up so many stairs, but the incredible view was worth it, and we sat at the top of the tower for some time just watching the sun sink below the horizon.

Stone beaches are lovely in a different sort of way than sand beaches—there’s something soothing about sitting among so many smooth rocks that reminds me of meditation gardens. Plus you don’t have to clean your feet afterwards!

Upon our descent, we began looking for a place to eat, and we stumbled upon a street occupied entirely by restaurants, each one much like the next and advertising either Italian food, seafood, or some combination of both. Because there was so much competition, each restaurant had waiters standing outside for the sole purpose of talking to pedestrians and trying to get them to come in (which was stressful for both us and them) and we ended up choosing one pretty arbitrarily. Luckily for us, it ended up being delicious—by this point, I’ve been in France long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by incredible bread, but this definitely had me contemplating the morality of smuggling the basket away in my purse. (You could say it was…inbreadible?)

The next morning, we took a bus from Nice to a lovely town called Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and took the 6 mile walk around the peninsula there. It was absolutely stunning; the rocky path wound up and down through the cliffs along the coast, through trees and around tiny inlets. A bit of the way through, we stopped at a tiny little platform near the water where a few people were swimming and had a picnic, the latter of which I now consider a staple of my GTL experience. There have been many occasions during our travels where we’ve wandered a Carrefour or local supermarket, each person picking up one or two things to share, and then we find a park or a bench or a train to share in our makeshift feast. Truly, a baguette, some apples, some brie and good company is really all you need to have a wonderful meal.

The stone cliffs and the forest were quite a sight to behold. If you look carefully on the left, you can see the walkway railing and the path jutting out of the cliff.

The rest of the day was just as marvelous as the beginning, from the views on the rest of the hike, to swimming on the stone beaches, to getting ice cream as we walked back to the bus stop. One of my favorite parts of the trip, though, and about all my travels, really, is sharing the journey with friends. Whether you’ve known each other for ages or you’ve only just met, sharing food, sharing stories, sharing awe and excitement in whatever new experience is just around the corner is one of the best things I could ask for, and I can’t wait to share more travels with friends old and new during the rest of my time at GTL!

An Abundance of Art in France

This was one of my favorite pieces at the color exhibit at Le Pompidou. I like it because although it isn’t supposed to be a picture of anything in particular, I can stare at it for hours and keep finding new images within the abstract shapes.

As of this weekend, I have now been in France for over a month! In that time, I’ve somehow managed to see so much art and visit enough museums that I can hardly keep track of them all. In Paris with my family, I visited essentials such as the Louvre and the Museé d’Orsay; Giverny, where Monet lived and painted his famous water lilies; the excess and gilded splendor of Versailles; and L’Atelier des Lumieres, a place best described as a digital art center showcasing immersive experiences. Since arriving at Georgia Tech Lorraine, I’ve also seen Le Pompidou in Metz, the Baron Gerard Museum of Art and History in Bayeux, and the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) in Antwerp, not to mention the many public artworks and beautiful buildings I’ve witnessed during my wanderings.

Seeing so much art has made me think about the purpose of both art and museums, and about the ways humans choose to express themselves. There are so many functions of museums—to preserve collective memory, to educate visitors about the past and the present, and to create an experience for the viewer, among other things. There are even more reasons behind the creation of art, and it’s been very interesting to observe how those reasons have changed over time.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre, created around the 2nd century B.C.

The Louvre, or at least the part we visited (it’s SO very large) was mostly comprised of older art, from ancient eras to medieval times; in general, from before the 19th century. Much of the art, from the massive commissioned oil paintings to the Greek and Roman sculptures, is as realistic as possible, aiming both to capture the details of human form and often to tell a story or promote an ideology. Pieces were often used to convey political messages as well. For instance, the massive painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, with its intricate detail and over one hundred visible characters, is visually stunning, but also specifically intended to paint the emperor (pardon the pun) in a positive light. Similarly, at Versailles, there were portraits and statues of various kings all around, most made to look more majestic than the subjects they portray actually were.

One of Van Gogh’s most famous self portraits.

While the technical expertise and beauty of these realistic works is marvelous, my favorite works of art have always been those that seek to portray the world in a way that it’s never been viewed before—as a result I’m a big fan of Impressionism and of the more modern art styles that followed, from the 19th century onward. The way that Monet’s Water Lilies captures the softness of the scene, the way that Van Gogh brought out so much emotion with his color work, the strangeness and abstractness of the modern art at Le Pompidou – those are my favorite works of art to experience, when something completely different or entirely new is created from what already exists.

This polar bear by François Pompon at the Musee D’Orsay was one of my favorite pieces. It’s so minimalistic and made of such simple shapes, but captures so much movement and personality.

Most of all, I love how every work of art has the reflection of a person within it. Each piece says something about the artist, about the time when it was made, about society, in some way, whether or not the meaning was included intentionally. I could continue to talk about art to no end, but mostly I’m glad that my learning about it and my museum-visiting days have no end in sight!

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