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Category: Travels Page 1 of 14

Spunky, Sassy, and Portuguese

It’s time to set the mood. Set your record player to play So Danco Samba by Antônio Carlos Jobim on a low volume, crank up the heat in your room to about 70 degrees, spray the Febreeze scent “ocean”, and let a cool breeze make its way through the window. Welcome to Lisbon, Portugal.

If you haven’t been to Portugal… go. I decided I was going to go quite a while ago when I saw round trip flights from Luxembourg for about 35 euros, and when checking the weather map of Europe, it was the warmest destination. Quickly after buying the flight I found a decently priced hotel and reserved it, knowing it wouldn’t be too difficult to find someone to go with me. The first person I called, was one of my best friends, Elle from CU Boulder. She’s studying Mechanical Engineering abroad in Ireland this semester, and we had talked a lot about how we need to see each other at least once (and I actually will be visiting her in April in Ireland as well!). It wasn’t hard to convince Elle, and it was lovely when I landed late at night in Portugal and made my way to the hotel that she greeted me with a big hug and a Big Mac in hand.

That night, we didn’t mean to, but ended up staying up until about 4am, catching up on everything and convincing ourselves that we would eventually go to sleep. We woke up pretty late the next morning so we took an Uber to the breakfast place that I had seen during my intense food research of Portugal. Most places don’t have Uber at all, and usually I prefer to walk, but I was pretty hangry, needed to get there FAST, and it was also unusually cheap. Normally I don’t do much research, if any, about a place (if you haven’t noticed) but this was my number one trip destination so I wanted to make sure we were well fed. And boy, were we well fed. The first brunch place we went to was called Nicolau and was right in the middle of downtown. I ordered Eggs Benedict with a Matcha tea latte, and Elle got a burger with a red bun. Not only was it the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had (I came back my last day and got it again), but it was so well-priced. That’s when we realized that Portugal is in fact one of the cheapest countries of western Europe. It wasn’t even that it was absurdly cheap, it was that it was just very very reasonable.

After brunch we adventured around and every building was noticeably more beautiful than the next. Each wall was lined with unique tile in the most vibrant colors that contrasted so well with everything else whether it was the flowers on the trees or the ocean in the distance. Elle and I repeatedly mentioned how happy we felt just walking and talking in this dream of a city. We visited Castelo de São Jorge which gave us an amazing view of Lisbon from the top of the hill and got to see a lot of peacocks parading about. After walking more throughout downtown we grabbed a cappuccino and an egg tart (a classic Portuguese treat) and then headed to get dinner at another place I had read about called Frangasqueira Nacional. This place is a hole-in-the-wall chicken joint, run by a spunky, sassy Portuguese woman who doesn’t have a care in the world. We met this man who has traveled and lived all over who gave us some reassurance that waiting for 35 minutes for our chicken was just what was going to have to happen, and it was worth it. I’m fairly certain that our chicken was ready after 5 minutes but the woman placed it on the side, helped 5 other customers before us, and kept making sarcastic jokes that were confusing but we laughed since she was what stood between us and our chicken. Either way it was probably the best chicken with garlic rice I have ever had. We ended up taking it back to the hotel and even though we ordered an enormous amount of food we ate it all immediately and it was only 11$ for an entire chicken and a large side of rice. So that was something else.

The next morning we woke up a bit earlier and walked to another brunch place called Fauna & Flora where we split an açai bowl, and I got an iced coffee with avocado toast and poached egg. The Portuguese win at brunch, I just will put it like that. The restaurant was near the beach, so for about 2 hours afterwards we laid in the sun and listened to a band play jazz music (bossa nova specifically). If you know me well, you know that this is genuinely one of my favorite and most listened to genres of music, so Elle got to see me feel so much joy that I knew every song they would play and could sing along.

Post-beach, we walked more around downtown and eventually had dinner at an indoor food market (similar to the one I went to in Amsterdam) where I had a burger (she’s back!!) and met some other girls studying abroad in Spain. Afterwards we sat at a nice bar and listened to more jazz music and then went home.

Elle left early the next morning back home, and while I was quite sad that she wasn’t with me anymore, I got my butt out of bed and headed towards a flea market. It was amazing! There were so many cool antiques and artists that were selling their work. I bought a scarf since my other one disappeared on my ‘night hike’ in Austria and wished that my mom was with me the whole time because it was right up her alley. Afterwards I headed back to Nicolau nearby to grab some breakfast and an açai smoothie before making my way back to the airport.

My whole trip to Portugal felt meant to be. Every single person was kind, the weather was absolutely perfect, the food unbelievable, and I got to experience it all with my best friend.

Excited to keep you all updated on everything! Time is going by so quickly and I am appreciative of every minute and every person who reads my blog.

Ciao,

Noa

A Much-Needed Breath of Fresh Air

I think today’s blog deserves a few moments of honesty. First of all, I think it is really important that I stay honest with others and myself because while most of the time everything is truly incredible I do actually have times where I don’t really feel like myself or I feel slightly detached since there is so much to take in. I try exceptionally hard to not let any negativity affect me, but it’s something I do need to accept as reality and move on from. I feel like I am learning so much about myself and what I need to do to make me happy while I am here so it’s been invaluable in that regards.

Last week I ran into some difficulties traveling that made me a little bit unsteady for a short time. Some girls and I had been planning a trip to Budapest, and I wasn’t anticipating being so exhausted after spring break and wasn’t really looking forward to that trip. I think I needed a week off. However, since I had made plans and hotel reservations I went to book the trains when I was in Paris (since it was an overnight train we had to) and they had told me it was all sold out. I tried to book it in Metz, too, and they told me the same. It was quite stressful since I didn’t want to mess up my friend’s plans.

Luckily (but unluckily, just stay tuned), my friend had called the Zurich train station and was able to somehow secure me a seat on the overnight train. While I wasn’t looking forward to the seating situation, after looking at all the fun things to do in Budapest I started getting excited, and Thursday night we made our way to Zurich, the first stop before the overnight train. If you’ve ever had that feeling where things have been going wrong for so long, and it seems strange that things are finally going right, then you know exactly how I felt when I joked that at the Zurich train station where I had to go get my ticket printed something would go wrong. Because it did! Our train arrived at 9:03pm and little did I know that the ticket office closes at 9pm, and they couldn’t print my ticket. So with no other options, my friends left to Budapest and I spent the night in Zurich. Out of all the places to get stuck, it definitely wasn’t a bad place, but after having a kind of rough week emotion-wise it was kind of a struggle that night.

Rainy day in Zurich.

Thankfully I fell in love with Switzerland. It reminded me a lot of Colorado, and I felt so comfortable. I think it was being surrounded by mountains, and the people were so friendly and spoke English so well. Luckily, my aunt who lived in Lucerne invited me to spend the rest of the weekend with them, which made me feel so much better. She picked me up after a day spent exploring in Zurich, and then I stayed in their beautiful apartment in Lucerne.

This very quickly made up for the struggles with the Budapest trip, and there was even a huge festival going on in Lucerne that made the weekend so fun and exciting. My aunt, her twin daughters and I adventured around town and saw all the incredible costumes, listened to different music, and joined in on all the fun. I have never seen so much effort put in by a whole town to make an occasion so joyous and well-intentioned. It was awesome. In addition to the festival, we went to a Swiss grocery store, cooked lunch together, and spent a morning walking around the beautiful lake. I’m really thankful that she was so inviting, and I had a lovely time with her and her family.

The view from the apartment in Lucerne

After that week I figured I’d take the next weekend off, but since it was my last weekend with the Eurail, I knew I had to fit in one more train trip before I couldn’t anymore. Randomly, these two guys that I had met while stranded in Luxembourg on the way home from London, texted the GTL GroupMe asking if someone wanted to join their ski trip. I didn’t think I’d be able to go skiing while here, but my friend had just bought some gear, which she said she’d let me borrow, and I quickly joined their trip.

So here I was going skiing in the Alps with two kids I barely knew, and they mentioned they had an Airbnb booked with a sauna, hot tub, beautiful views, but had “one small catch.” They told me it was a 2.2 km walk up a trail and that the reviews said it was worth the hike, but nothing too bad.  I saw the pictures, it looked incredible, and I decided that it was already weird enough that I was skiing with some guys I barely know, so why not.

I ended up training alone to Munich where I met them at our hostel, where we spent the night. The next morning they left at 5am to go skiing, while I left at 9am (I really value my sleep). I didn’t actually see them at all throughout the day. I was pretty anxious on my way to the resort in Kitzbuhel, Austria, since I haven’t skied in a while and wasn’t really sure how to get to the right place. I ended up meeting a super nice girl who was an instructor at the resort and she told me everything I needed to do. I rented some skis, and then I made my way to the free lifts at the resort. Everyone was so incredibly helpful that I felt so much better. People were also giving me mass amounts of chocolate throughout the whole journey. On the train to Munich the man who worked the food department kept giving me handfuls of chocolate, and the ski people in Austria helped me carry my infinite stuff – and then gave me more chocolate! After they helped me load up my locker, I headed to the lifts. It was really nice because they had three free lifts so I didn’t have to pay for a ticket. While it definitely could’ve been more exciting to go up further into the Alps, I really wanted to work on my technique and my control since it had been so long since I’d skied, and I felt way better by the end of the day. Also the snow was pretty bad, and I heard that visibility was terrible higher up so I felt good about my choice. Later on the boys finished skiing, and we took a train to the city where our Airbnb was. By then it was already dark out, so we got dinner, and I convinced them to at least take a taxi to the trailhead where we were supposed to walk to the Airbnb.

We got to the trailhead, and I realized pretty immediately that this was no “walk.” After a full day of skiing, we now were faced with what ended up being a 2.5 mile hike, and by hike I am talking full incline and lots of stairs, through the middle of a mountain in the complete darkness. We were following some sketchy Google-translated instructions from the Airbnb host and started trekking through the mountain. These poor kids had no idea what they were thinking bringing me on this hike. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to hike if it is what I am anticipating. But I was not ready for this and complained a little bit more than usual (they might tell that part differently :)). Eventually after an hour of hiking we finally reached what we thought was our Airbnb but turned out to be a different random hotel in the middle of nowhere. Then right before we got to the Airbnb, we walked by this creepy mini church that literally LIT UP when we got close to it, and it was terrifying. While I almost gave up, we hiked for another couple minutes and finally made it. Thank God I wasn’t skiing the next day. While I had plans to go to Salzburg, I knew there was absolutely no way I would make it up this mountain a second time.

But the reviews on the Airbnb website were definitely true. When I woke up in the morning and looked out the window I realized it was all worth it. The guys had gone skiing that day too, so I didn’t see them until dinner, but I had a really relaxing day.  My legs were exhausted but I got up and hiked a few miles. In all honesty I have no idea how I made it up the mountain in the first place in my crappy rain boots because the next morning I got so many weird looks from people with their hiking poles and full on gear as I was wearing the most random outfit to hike around. Regardless, it felt so refreshing to be outside and be in such a serene beautiful place. I missed hiking, I missed skiing, and I have to say that while the journey to get here was absolutely bizarre, it was the best weekend I’ve had. I spent some time in the hot tub and sauna, where I met some really nice girls from Munich and talked to them about how weird it was that I was there in the first place. For dinner we ate at the Airbnb, and I had this crushed up pancake that is apparently an Austrian delicacy. The Airbnb host was telling us that it’s named after some emperor that only ever requested that to eat and his cooks were always so confused because out of everything he could’ve eaten he’d request that. I feel like that’s how my mom feels when I order mac n cheese at a restaurant.

The next morning the guys left super early again, and I made my way down the mountain and trained home alone. This weekend was special in the sense that I was finally able to be outside and in nature rather than in the hustle and bustle of the cities. I felt so refreshed after that weekend and was thankful I didn’t stay home. That was also an incredibly long blog, but I am FINALLY! caught up on all of my trips, and can be more up to date from here on out.

I am feeling so much better this week, and I can’t believe it is already week nine of being abroad. I’ll be back home before I know it, and I am not ready. I think I’ll have to come back for sure.

See you soon!

Noa

MTV Spring Break 2019 (My Time in Venice)

My spring break began when my amazing parents arrived to Metz on Valentine’s Day. How fun for them that they can spend the day of love with the child they love the most! (I’m one of five and by far the most expensive, so you decide for yourself if that’s true.) Anyway, it was so good to finally see them. I picked them up at the train station, and after convincing my dad that Uber is not an option here, we took a taxi to their hotel, which was a 10 minute walk from my dorm. We gossiped for a while, and then my dad walked me home, which was super sweet since it was really late, but I still feel guilty for making him walk through the mud that we could’ve avoided. Every time I walk through the mud that technically isn’t really a shortcut I remember how I made him ruin his brand new shoes. It’s okay though – I bought three new pairs of shoes for myself since then to compensate for the damage I caused.

The next morning, I took my parents to Fox, a coffee shop downtown that is super hip that I study at probably once or twice a week. After getting breakfast, I showed my mom all around downtown Metz as quickly as possible before we caught a train to Paris since we were flying out of Charles de Gaulle that evening to Venice.

I didn’t really have many expectations for our trip to Venice since I kind of had hoped that since I was with my parents I wouldn’t really have to have anything planned. But I guess they thought that I would because when we landed in Venice it took us a hot second to figure out what was going on. First, I didn’t really do any research whatsoever and failed to realize that Venice was a literal island. I know this sounds incredibly dumb, but then my dad was pretty confused as well when we asked the taxi driver to take us to the hotel and he said it was impossible. My dad looked at him and said, “what do you mean it’s impossible,” and that’s when we realized that my mom had been right all along (she always is by the way), and that we had to take a literal boat to the hotel. We laughed for way too long and were still very confused as we took a boat taxi, in the middle of the night, to our hotel, and the second we reached the island we realized it was all worth it. It was completely quiet when we got off and as we turned the corner to find the hotel we saw the most beautiful gondola next to our incredible hotel with glass chandeliers that looked like candy.

Getting to Venice

The next two days in Venice were absolute magic. We had perfect 60 degree weather, and since it was an off season the crowds (while still pretty big) weren’t too much to handle. The first day we walked all through the downtown, got lost in colorful alley ways, ate some gelato, and ended the day by taking a boat to Burano, an island known for its colorful houses and lace. We stayed there until the sunset, and it felt like I was living in a Disney movie. On the way home we had the tastiest dinner of my entire life. So much pizza, gnocchi, spaghetti, and every single bite was absolutely delicious. Then for dessert we shared tiramisu and chocolate mousse, and I am so hungry just thinking about it. Sometimes I wish that I was in Italy all the time because the food is so much more up my alley than the food in France.

The next day my mom and I went on a tour of a glass factory in Murano, another nearby island that was organized by our hotel. It was really fun because we got to take a private taxi boat, and the weather was still perfect, so it felt like we were in the middle of the summer. Then we met back up with my dad, walked around Venice some more, and eventually took a train to Milan. I’m not a huge fan of Milan since it is so industrial but it was still fun to spend some time there with my parents and walk around the Duomo. My parents had a few meetings planned the rest of the break, so after Milan we headed to Lucerne, Switzerland, where we met my aunt who lives there. While we were in Lucerne for a short time, I actually went back there a few weeks later (which will be in my upcoming blog post) and got to experience more than just a short stay. From there we flew to Nantes, France where my parents had some more meetings. I actually work for my parents too, so I was able to go to some of the meetings as well. It was nice to visit another French city that was different than Metz and Paris. I actually liked Nantes a lot because the downtown was pretty well established and had a lot of smaller, cute boutiques and antique stores.

After Nantes, I had to say goodbye to my parents which was really hard, but luckily right when I dropped them off at the airport, my boyfriend landed and we spent the weekend in Paris. I feel so lucky that he came to visit for such a short time because I really missed him, and it was nice to be surrounded for so long by people I know and love so well. Thankfully, we also had perfect weather in Paris, and I truly feel that Paris is a completely different city based on the weather. We visited Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay (my personal favorite since I love Monet), and drank a whole lot of boba. I also bought a book I’ve been really wanting to read at Shakespeare and Company, and so far it is the best book I’ve ever read.

Quick plug: it’s not that new of a book, but it’s called Flash Boys by Michael Lewis and is about high frequency trading. It’s incredibly interesting, and I’m not done reading it, but it is absolutely insane and worth reading.

Eating banana bread with Danny

Anyway back to my time in Paris: one of the days we just walked along the seine until we got to the Eiffel Tower, and I made us walk for 30 minutes until we found this coffee shop and drank cappuccinos with banana bread. In all honesty, it was the best cappuccino I’ve ever had.

Afterwards we visited Sacre Coeur since I’ve never been, and that pretty much concluded our short weekend together. Luckily he is visiting again in a couple of weeks and I get to see my friend from CU Boulder in Portugal later this week as well as in Ireland in April, so lots of familiar faces coming up. That was definitely one of my longer blogs but so much happened – and I didn’t even share it all! I think that spring break was exactly what I needed.

Another blog is coming very shortly! And then I will finally be all caught up on telling you about all my adventures.

Phone A Friend!

Hello all!!

Things are getting fairly busy here, which is nice since I like having stuff to do, but it’s also nice because it is definitely not a stressful busy. I have class work but I am never rushed and am only really tired from so much traveling! I just got back from Spring break, but I’ll first tell you about my travels, woes, and other choses (that rhymes and proves to you that I am a French connoisseur), up until spring break. I’ll definitely share about my spring break with my family in a few posts!

So to begin describing my time in Milan, it’s important I give some background information about my best friend Christine. Christine is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the kindest human beings I have ever met. She is also the smartest person I know and is exceptional at everything she does.

As a quick aside, in high school, Christine was initially my math tutor before we became best friends. She helped me a LOT and then one day she texted me in college asking ME for some help with something. This was my chance! I could finally repay Christine for the countless hours she spent explaining the intricacies of vectors. Maybe she will even need MY help with math, I wrongly thought, not even considering the fact that she finished Calculus 3 in high school and I hadn’t even reached that level of math. I told my dad how excited I was, and I waited eagerly until Christine finally responded to my “of course I can help you” text with: “what color nail polish would look better with my dress?”

Why am I sharing this story with you all today? First, to give you some context on why Christine and I are a perfect friendship match, because we provide different (some may even say equally valuable – I KID obviously) knowledge to the table. And also to remind us all to stay in our lanes and remember where you come from.

Okay while that was all incredibly irrelevant to my time abroad, Christine is also a very busy woman who I never get to see. Even if we schedule something for the one day she is in Boulder every year, it usually doesn’t work out. But! We have had weird luck, and what I would classify as a “blessing” by somehow planning trips to be in the same place at the same time without knowing. Last year, we both happened to be in NYC the exact same day, had called each other the night before and then found out and were able to meet up! This year, I randomly gave Christine a call, she mentioned she was in Italy (which I had no idea), and I had mentioned I’d be in Italy for exactly one day the next week since I’d found 20 euro round trip flights. Long story short, Christine was going to be in Milan that exact same day right before she was leaving back to the States and I got to see her!

It was perfect and fun. While I don’t like Milan as a city that much in all honesty (will explain in spring break blog), I had the best time with her and her friend. We went into the Duomo, I shopped (but of course), and we had the loveliest dinner where I ate Milanese Cotoletta and spent almost three hours talking and catching up. At the end of my one day in Milan, I actually cried a lot because it was difficult to see someone I love so much for such a short time and then have to go back to my crazy, different life in Metz. It made me miss home and my people a lot, but was exactly what I needed at the same time. Having stability and people that are consistently there for me is something I take for granted sometimes and I am thankful that I have those people that have treated me with respect and have kept a friendship throughout the years.

There Is No “S” in Hotel

Hello again!

I am now the self-proclaimed cheap flight-finding queen. After my 20 euro trip to Milan, I have become slightly obsessed with finding cheap flights because they are less stressful than trains. With trains they can just sort of cancel them, give you no other options at 1 AM, and when you ask for other options they pretend to Google things for 25 minutes until telling you in German that you could take a taxi for 400 euros.

That being said, I quickly found a cheap trip to London for the next weekend! My friend and I decided we would give a hostel another chance since it wasn’t as last minute as Amsterdam. Also, for those who don’t know, one of my best most avid readers, my 12 year old sister, kindly sent me an edit saying, “you wrote hotel wrong, you put an s in it btw just lettin’ you know.” Just in case any other 12-year-olds reading my blog are confused, hostels are a version of a hotel that you do not want to stay in. The s stands for “super bad.” 

When we got to the hostel in London, called the Wombat, it was actually “Super great!”  Everything was clean, the staff was really nice, and there were no cats in our beds. We got in really late so we went to bed, and the next morning we had a free breakfast at the hostel before we all split up. I visited Oxford Street and walked around all of the shops until I met up with my friend in Chinatown to drink boba. I may be inconsistent about posting my blogs, but at least I am consistent about my nutrition. From there we decided to head over to Camden Market, which I absolutely loved. It reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle a bit, but also those indoor jewelry markets in NYC. Definitely up my alley. I love unique jewelry and art vendors, so it was really fun to see.

After the markets we met up with our third friend at an incredible taco restaurant. I cannot remember for the life of me what it was called, but they were exactly what I needed. The most exciting part of London for me was that a few days before with the help of my families convincing, I bought a ticket to see the Book of Mormon. I was worried spending a lot of money on a ticket, but let me tell you that after watching that show I would pay triple what I had paid for. It was by far the funniest show I have ever seen. So crude and hilarious, and the cast was so talented. I have not stopped listening to the music ever since, and I can’t wait to watch it again one day.

To end the night my friends and I sat at a jazz speakeasy, which was really nice. We met a good group of people that had recently graduated from Cambridge, and we spent the rest of the night hanging out with them. The next morning we woke up after only a few hours of sleep, walked around Notting Hill and Kensington Palace, and headed back for the flight home.

These weekends are extremely quick but every one of them has left me with memories that I hope will last me a lifetime. I am feeling really lucky recently and am thankful for everyone in my life. I’ll definitely let you all know about my spring break as soon as I have another chance to write!

For now, thanks for reading!

“Nutella is 58% Sugar, And My Body Can Tell”

I wasn’t initially expecting this, but last weekend was the best I’ve had since being abroad. I went to Paris, which is somewhere I’ve actually been twice before, and I think this is part of what made it such a good experience. I also think I am starting to get a little bit homesick. I don’t specifically “miss” home but I think I miss things that are familiar to me. For example, I bought a toaster at the store and that was the best thing that happened to me just because I could finally start eating more meals that I was familiar with. BUT, I also decided to buy nutella, and let’s just say it’s now hidden in the depths of my drawers since it is so bad for me. So going to Paris was important for the following reasons: First, I was staying with a family friend who was the best host and made me feel so welcome. Second of all, I had already been there so I wasn’t stressed that I had to see everything in 3 days and walk 12 miles like I did in Amsterdam. And third, I got some nice alone time – and more importantly I got to drink boba tea while I was there.

I took the train on Thursday evening, which was super easy since I only had to pay 10 euros to reserve a seat and it took an hour and a half. Our friend Lydia picked me up at the train station, and we went to her son’s house where we picked him up and went to eat shawarma and falafel. I think people reading this probably think that’s all I eat in addition to burgers, and at this point you are not wrong. During the week I don’t really have the chance to eat any meat or anything truly filling so these are good options for me. It was actually really delicious, and there are a lot of good falafel places in Paris, so of course we got some the next day too. That next day we also went to the Grand Palais because Lydia had tickets to a Miro and Michael Jackson exhibit. They were two different exhibits, and while we rushed through the Michael Jackson one (it was pretty weird and not our style), the Miro one was really up my alley. His art really developed and changed as he grew older and has a large range of styles.

After our falafel lunch, I spend my time exploring Paris alone. I went back to Notre Dame since that was my favorite spot from the last time I was here, and then found the boba place!!! It was probably the yummiest thai tea I’ve ever had. I went back home that night where I had a nice dinner with Lydia, and then I worked on my probability homework.

The next day I spent most of my time walking along Rue de Passy, which is right by Lydia’s apartment and close to the Eiffel Tower! There are a lot of nice shops, and afterwards I headed over to the Louvre – which I had free admission to as a student in France! I really love all the different sculptures and focused most of my time seeing the different Greek Gods before quickly seeing the Mona Lisa (there were so many people, and it wasn’t as special as I was hoping). Afterwards I had lunch at this cool American diner where I ate… you guessed it! A burger! For dinner that night I went back to Lydia’s house where she had her son’s family over and her husband.

I spent the rainy Sunday morning going to a Giacometti Art Exhibit with Lydia and her husband Ed, and really enjoyed that as well. His sculptures are really different and not like anything I’ve ever seen, almost creepy!

After our museum excursion, I spend most of the day working on homework, had some soup, and was honestly really sad to go! I got on the train home and after reflecting on this weekend, I think having that familiarity of people I know and a place I know better made it a lot more special than other weekends. I will definitely be back to Paris, and I am glad I did something more relaxed to remind myself of the normal pace of life.

The Cat Wasn’t Dead: A Weekend in Amsterdam

Hello!

It’s been a bit since I went, but I thought I would share about my experiences in Amsterdam! It was my second weekend trip and for a while before I actually came to Metz, I knew I wanted that to be my first “big” trip. By then I had my Eurail pass activated so 3 other friends and I decided to plan out the trains, reserve a hostel, and go! A few things I learned about the last minute planning are that the good hostels go kind of fast if you need enough beds for multiple people but otherwise everything is pretty easy to plan.

We decided to leave Friday morning and chose trains that didn’t have any required reservations which basically means we don’t have to pay any extra for the trains alongside our Eurail. Our first train to Luxembourg went fairly smoothly except for we accidentally got off one stop before, frantically asked a lot of people if this was the right stop and then hopped right back on the train before it continued. As a pro tip, if you are going on a train with its final destination being a larger destination, and you are the only people that are getting off, you are PROBABLY not there yet!

From Luxembourg we had to get on a train to Brussels, and we thought we were fine and could sleep until midway through the ride the train operator says some words in French, all my friends look at me to see if I understood, and a man came over to tell us in French that the weather is bad and the train is stopping at some random stop where we will need to transfer. Honestly, this didn’t really stress me out because I feel like there are so many options for trains and flights, and it was only Friday, so worst case we could always hop on a train back home. We walked towards the exit and met another guy who laughed and told us “Welcome to Belgium. The trains here are always like this.” We talked to him for a while, which made it more of a funny experience, and then got on another train.

Oh, you think we’d get there by now? No, this is where the fun starts! After waiting at the train station, we missed our first train because of the signs not actually showing Amsterdam, another train being stopped early, and finally 11 hours later instead of 7 we made it. By the way, the best part of the train stations is that you need to pay to use the restrooms. No wonder they need free healthcare… everyone holds their pee and doesn’t get to drink water for free… seems like a problem.

Finally we arrived in Amsterdam, and I thought the only thing we need is to get to the hostel and lay down for a second to feel better. Everyone reading this is probably thinking, “Noa, you had such a long and stressful first trek. Whatever larger force is out there that controls people’s fate will give you a good place to rest.” Well that’s what I hoped too, but we arrived to the hostel where I think, “this will be okay,” until I look at the beds and see a large lump, which did not move and turned out to be a cat. For about 5 minutes my friends and I looked at the cat, looked at each other, made some noise, and concluded that the cat was most definitely dead.

At that point, I’m laughing but horrified, trying to find other places to stay, and eventually we go down to reception to ask if someone can remove the deceased cat from our room. “Oh yeah,” they told us, “that’s the hostel cat, she’s really old so she might be dead but maybe not.” Long story short, the cat wasn’t dead, just very old and stiff, probably deaf, and really unkempt. And it kept coming back into the room in the middle of the night until I declared to the staff that I was allergic so that they would keep the cat away. I am not even allergic, I love cats, but I learned I’m not a huge fan of hostel cats.

Morning in Amsterdam

OK, so that was honestly the only couple hiccups in the trip. After we dropped off and locked up our backpacks, we headed to get dinner at a wok place which was really yummy and went back to bed. The next morning, all of my friends wanted to go see the Van Gogh Museum and had tickets, so I decided I wanted to walk more around downtown. This was hard for me at first, because I knew I didn’t really want to go to the museum but I struggled worrying that I’d be missing out. This was a huge learning experience for me because walking around Amsterdam in the morning alone was the best decision I could’ve made. I was saving most of my “museum” budget for Monet-related exhibits since he is my favorite painter, and I hope to visit his house, so I was happy with my decision. Instead I had a yummy croissant and jasmine tea and walked all around the tulip market and through some stores. For lunch I met back up with my friends at a pancake house, got a burger (because this is me we are talking about), and then we went to another outdoor market.

Tulips!

All the markets were really nice and I am glad they are open year round, but it was definitely really cold! For dinner we went to a fun place called FoodHallen, which was basically a lot of different food stands indoors. I ate a chicken shawarma with french fries that tasted nothing like it does in Israel, but it was still really yummy!

After that we had tickets to go to the Anne Frank House, which was really important to me. We spent a lot of time there, really learning about the history and each individual that spent time in that home and those who helped the Frank family. It was very difficult to see but absolutely something that everyone needs to be educated about. I think the part that stuck with me the most was how it initially felt rather big, but that then you realize they spent two years in there living in absolute fear, and it feels a lot smaller. If you are going to visit this museum, which I think everyone should, I would suggest going on an off time if there is one because even in the evening there were a lot of people and it made you have to through a little bit more rushed. Afterwards, we headed back to our hostel and went to bed.

It was a really quick trip, and the train ride home went a lot smoother with no delays. Despite all of the issues that occurred, I’m actually really happy they happened because I learned a lot about myself. I now know what I am more comfortable with and am completely fine with straying from the group to make sure I am experiencing my travels the way I want to. I would definitely go back when it’s a little bit warmer so I can experience more things without having to plan around what keeps me warm!

Colmar – A real life fairy tale!

Written by Noa Margalit

For my first weekend trip a few friends and I decided to visit Colmar, France. If you’ve seen Beauty and the Beast, it is the town that it is based off of and it’s absolutely beautiful. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave town the first weekend, but a day trip to Colmar was the perfect solution. Also, I had definitely explored downtown Metz more than I was anticipating during the first week just because I had a lot of time after classes to do so.

To get to Colmar, we had to take a direct morning train from the central station in Metz, which went through Strasbourg, and finally arrived in Colmar. It was really easy to reserve tickets. Since none of us wanted to activate our Eurail passes, we just ordered some online and sent them to our phones. I think the most challenging process of the train systems here is that every single person you talk to tells you a different thing. For example, some people said you can’t reserve online, but only at the train station (this may be true for certain cases but in our case it was not). Also, we got to the train station way earlier than we needed to but it was good because we were able to figure out how everything works with no stress.

Since we had reserved seats everyone sat on a different part of the train, and we arrived about 1.5 hours later. When you first get into Colmar, it looks like any other French town until you make your way downtown. At the heart of the city every building looked straight out of a fairytale, with each one colored brightly and little details that made them look really special. I’m not really one to travel in a big group, and as we were walking downtown I already felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of people I was with. The first thing I saw downtown was one of my favorite stores in France, “Maisons du Monde” which has cute home goods and was also a good way to part ways with the group. My friend and I went to the store while the rest went to get lunch and after looking through there we also started exploring to find food. Every corner you turn in Colmar there is something really unique and special. We stopped so many times just to admire the area, I especially liked the copper roofs on the church that were partially turquoise. Eventually once we got lunch I got a baguette with chicken inside, which is my favorite thing to eat in France. First of all, it is so cheap, only about 3 euros. Compared to a sandwich in the states which runs for around  $8, it is also a lot tastier.

Downtown Colmar

After eating, we wandered around more shops, and I bought a scarf since all the French wear scarves and I have to fit in. We didn’t end up seeing the rest of the group until meeting at the bus stop to take the bus home. This was probably the worst part of the trip, since our bus was delayed by almost an hour, and it was very cold outside. I felt like Colorado prepared me well though, and I had on my two pairs of pants, leg warmers, coat, gloves, a hat, and my new scarf to keep me warm. Eventually we got on the flix bus (it took almost 3 hours), and made it home. We decided to take a bus back to keep things cheap, and so our day trip ended up being very worth it.

Overall, I am really glad I took a small trip on the first weekend just to demystify the train experience and to start seeing a little more of the places around me. Sunday was nice to take off and relax, but I think I will try to see a new place every time I have the chance!

Some Fun-don in London

In mid-October, we decided to go across the pond and spend the weekend in lovely London! (I’m not sure if “across the pond” can be used for going across any large body of water, but I like the phrase so just bear with me.)

Our trip began with us taking the Eurostar train LITERALLY UNDER THE OCEAN! I still can’t get over how marvelous modern engineering is that somehow, we as a species managed to run a high-speed train under the sea. The Chunnel links France and England under the Strait of Dover, sitting at 250 ft below the sea bed at its lowest point, and with its undersea portion stretching a total of 23.5 miles (37.9 km), the longest of any tunnel in the world. Actually going through the tunnel was pretty underwhelming because, you know, it’s just darkness like any other train tunnel, but thinking about the sheer amount of water that was sitting above us made it more exciting.

The fish and chips to go was a nice idea in theory—in practice it was messy and difficult, but still delicious!

Upon disembarking at St. Pancras station, we were quite hungry, so we decided to walk to a restaurant serving a quintessentially British food: fish & chips. We got our orders to go, but fish & chips proved very difficult to eat without forks and while walking, so we sat down on a deserted curb to have our delicious feast, then took the Tube to our AirBNB.

On Saturday, we had a leisurely morning and ate lunch at the ubiquitous Pret a Manger. (I found it ironic that the classic London fast food chain has a French name.) Then, we went to go see the British Museum. Even without the incredible exhibits it houses, the sheer size of the building was impressive—the center of the museum is a huge open expanse of white marble, with sunlight streaming in through the roof and a massive stone pillar of rooms rising out from the center of the cavernous space. Highlights of our visit included the Rosetta Stone, giant Egyptian statues, and an interactive exhibit about a man mummified thousands of years ago.

Soren showed us the Royal Courts of Justice building in London. The pointed arches and circular window are reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals, which we’ve been studying extensively in HTS 2084 at Georgia Tech Lorraine!

At the museum, we met up with one of my best friends from high school, Soren, who’s currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics! After we were done wandering around the exhibits, he showed us around his campus. We saw his dorms, a couple of lecture halls, and the giant LSE library, among other places. He’s studying there for a year, but he’s only been there for three weeks so far, so it’s a very different feeling for him than for us, who already have two months at GTL under our belt. Seeing how he’s just starting his study abroad experience really made it hit home that we were already halfway done with ours.

Lastly, we decided to go to the famous Brick Lane for dinner to get Indian food! The whole street was filled with different Indian restaurants, with people outside each one trying to entice customers to choose theirs. We chose one based off of reviews we had read beforehand and chose several dishes to share between us, including butter chicken, chana masala, vegetable biryani, and naan, of course.

Hannah and Sarah with our delicious Brick Lane meal!

Overall, we had a marvelous time in London with good friends and good food, and I would love to visit again someday to see more of the bustling but beautiful city!

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!!

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