Category: Travels (Page 2 of 10)
Throughout GTL, I’ve technically been to Paris more times than I can count: I know the walk from Gare de l’Est to Gare du Nord by heart. As far as actually spending time in Paris, I’ve seen a good bit of it (I think), and far too much of it to cram into one blog post. Therefore, these are a few things that I’ve done recently that I think are essential Parisian activities (not just hitting all the big monuments).
One thing I love is tea. A good, warm cup of tea is absolutely heart-warming, especially when having to brace the harsh cold that usually hangs over Paris’s shoulder. When you look up tea houses on your phone, it will lead you to places like Angelina, which certainly are a nice couple of restaurants, but they’re very touristy and overpriced. I had a brioche bun with salmon that could’ve fed one cat fully. Last spring I found a little British-style teahouse near the Notre Dame with good tea and incredible strawberry jam, but I was more so looking for a real Parisian tea experience, which this place obviously didn’t fulfill.
This past weekend I finally found it: Mariage Frères. Yes, there is a chain of them around Paris, and yes they are in somewhat popular and touristy places, but man is it an experience. Up front is the whole store with rows and rows of massive barrels of tea, alongside tea sets ranging anywhere from 30-700 euros. There was a line in which you could smell whatever tea happened to be near you, and when you got to the front a nicely-shaven, dapper man greeted you and got you the tea you wanted with incredible speed and agility.
There was a menu, yes, but it was the size of a Bible, and we just went with asking him what his favorites were. We walked out with 200 grams of nice tea for a pretty affordable price (I think). In the back was the restaurant, which unfortunately we didn’t get to eat at, but I’m sure it’s incredible. Pricey, but this place is the real deal, so I’d put down for a brunch at Mariage Frères.
The Montmartre neighborhood is somewhere I’m getting to know pretty well since my friend just moved there, and it’s been slowly growing on me recently. Montmartre is the whole hill of the Sacre Coeur down to the Moulin Rouge, and while it’s certainly a hike to get up there, it’s by far the best view of the city that exists in Paris (not just my novice opinion by the way). The Sacre Coeur is nice; it looks like most fancy big cathedrals (although the outside is cooler than most), but the view from its front porch is absolutely incredible. You can see pretty much any tall monument or church in all of Paris at once.
The foot traffic in that particular area can be a nightmare, filled to the brim with tourists all trying to get themselves drawn by a Montmartre street artist, but if you go down west of the Basilica a ways there’s a really nice neighborhood with some incredible food and cute local Parisian shops. Go to a fruit stand and get white strawberries, or enjoy one of the endless incredible French pastries while sitting on the classic Montmartre staircases that line the Butte. It’s a lively area with a lot of green and a lot of verve. Check it out the next time you have a long layover in Paris.
Long story short, I had a major miscommunication with a friend of mine that was coming to Paris to study at the Louvre, and I ended up in Paris with a bunch of nice clothing and literally no plan for the weekend. It was nearing Friday night, so I had to decide quickly what I was doing. That had never happened to me before: I was alone with a backpack of clothes in an incredibly central location, and I could go nearly anywhere. It honestly felt exhilarating and liberating, 10/10 would recommend (if you’re not the anxious type).
After spending an hour at the train station help desk figuring out how to get to Cinque Terre, I actually decided to play it safe and just go back to Metz and figure out what to do from there. I quickly convinced a friend to come with me to Freiburg, the closest, cutest German town I could find. It’s about 2.5-4 hours by train away from Metz, and I thought the fall colors would be in full swing for a nice Black Forest hike. Unfortunately, we somehow missed the train TWICE (this was not a good weekend for me), one because we were late and the other for literally no reason except that we didn’t check our watches. We finally got into Freiburg in the early evening, not giving us time to really do too much, but we made the most of it. The town butts up against a series of hills that are densely forested, mostly pine but a lot of little foliage as well.
We found a babbling brook and a whole host of little fens where a million rabbits lived. We came down at sunset and found our way to a tavern that served the meatiest, heftiest German meals I’ve ever seen. I had Schweinhaxen (pork knuckle), which sounds weird or even gross, but I promise it was incredible. I’m a small human and tried my hardest to finish the whole thing, but there was simply no way that could happen, as you may see in the picture.
My friend captured me with my hand over my heart, in a subconscious pledge of allegiance to the schweinhaxen. It was so good. We also had Black Forest cake, which is this thick cake with a ton of whipped cream and wine-soaked cherries on the bottom. Satisfied that we stuffed ourselves with pure Allemagne culture, we waddled back to the train station to hop over to our AirBnB in a neighboring suburb. If you have time, I’d definitely recommend taking a walk through the place where people actually live. It’s so interesting to see how just little things are similar or different from your own American neighborhood.
The next morning we headed into town for a last meal and walkabout before we trained home. Freiburg is one of the most eco-friendly places in Germany, so everyone is out on their bikes enjoying the cool fall weather. We weaved through a bunch of modern home decor shops and old woodworking stores, finally settling on a nice, strangely cheap fish restaurant for lunch near the old tower.
Fun fact: after WWII, Europe was so devastated that America had to step in and help rebuild, creating the Marshall Plan to stimulate the European economy. While doing so, America saw this as an opportunity to spread U.S. pop culture and business as widely as possible in an effort to unify a broken Europe wracked with inter-fighting and distrust. I love a lot of things about America, but the fact that you can’t take a picture of Checkpoint Charlie without also catching the KFC sign, and that McDonald’s chose to brandish its name on the defining cultural symbol of a small German town: this is absolutely ridiculous and asinine. American imperialism is alive and well.
Putting the America rant aside, Freiburg was a super cute town with a great atmosphere, I’d recommend it as a short weekend trip for sure.
Iceland is…something else. I’m not entirely sure how to explain the place. This is the simplest way I can think of: cross a Narnia or Lord of the Rings-type landscape with Mars. And that’s about the best I can do. Imagine ultra-dramatic cliffs with black, craggy rocks at the top – but a lush green carpet of moss everywhere else, and then add geothermal vents steaming off one edge with a waterfall trailing off the other. Also, add some sheep on the way up and ponies at the base. It doesn’t sound real, does it?
Basically, if you like nature even just a little bit and you have a pinhead’s worth of a sense of adventure in your blood, COME TO ICELAND. Save up money, skip out on a few weekends to study, and go to Iceland. Please. For me. I’m 100% going back, no doubt in my mind. Usually when I go somewhere with cool sand I take a little bit in a bottle, but I’m so confident in my going back that I didn’t bottle anything at all. I know I’m being dramatic, all raving mad about a place that I only spent 3 days in, but seriously, this place has every possible cool nature thing you could imagine. Plus the food is incredible, and their wool sweaters are super cute. What’s not to like?
The first thing we did in Reykjavik was set out for an early morning hike up a small-ish mountain right outside the city. It’s called Mount Esja, and it’s very popular and easy to get to by public transit (bus). It starts out with some low, dense trees, which were changing color at the time (as it’s early October), and soon enough you’re doing switchbacks on a very impressive rocky mountain.
We wanted to climb to the top, but it started to rain/sleet, and we ran back down the mountain (literally running, almost rolled my ankle multiple times) for shelter. We were really booking it up and down the mountain, and it took us 2 hours. On the way back down we passed by a nice brook with little waterfalls tumbling into it all along the mountainside: it was my first Icelandic waterfall sighting so I thought they were lovely, when in fact they were nothing compared to what I’d be seeing over the next few days.
As far as the city of Reykjavik goes, it’s a nice little place but I wouldn’t spend too much time within its borders. The cities are not what you’re there to see, although I will highlight a couple things. One of them is the massive beautiful church of Hallgrimskirkja. It looks like basalt columns, and if you like gothic or medieval churches then you’re out of luck. The church has a very pristine and clean feel to it, with the inside all white. Very magnificent though. What I actually want to talk about, however, is what we found on the way there. We took a side street to get to the church, and as we were walking this incredible smell wafted our way. Braud, a bakery within sight of the church, makes cinnamon buns constantly all day everyday, and I swear to you it’s the best cinnamon bun in the entire world. It was seriously so, so good. I went twice. There’s nothing quite like a cinnamon bun fresh out of the oven.
We then proceeded south to stay in an adorable AirBnB in Hella, and the next day went along the southern coast. We visited Vik, a small coastal town, with this view from their lighthouse on a random cliff on the beach:
Doesn’t look real right?? It looks like Jon Snow should be rowing underneath that arch and Daenerys should be flying overhead on a freaking dragon. The cliffs on this place were ridiculous.
We also found some impressive waterfalls: the first one is called Skogafoss (above), and I never did find out what the other one was, as we just ran across it on the main road south.
Back up towards Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a small loop that hits a lot of natural wonders in one go. We got to see some geysers in a geothermal region, as well as a waterfall called Gullfoss. I’ve never been to the Niagra Falls, but I imagine standing in front of it is akin to being near this waterfall. The sheer size of it was something in and of itself, but all the different ways it split and tumbled into the ravine was just spectacular. If we hadn’t been on a time crunch I could’ve sat there and watched it for hours.
I really wanted to go see a glacier, and we did see one in the distance, but they were actually causing flooding on the roads that we couldn’t get around. Because of this (and many other) reason(s), I’m going back to Iceland as soon as humanly possible.
Basically, after all of the traveling I’ve done, I grew tired of the Franco-Germanic area and aspired to travel elsewhere, which either requires an 8-12+ hour train or an expensive flight. So, I found a nice solution: night trains! Night trains are awesome. Within France they’re very cheap: I went to Monaco for a 20 euro reservation, which is what you’d pay for an inexpensive hostel. From southern France, it’s just a quick train to Italy, and there are also night trains that go between countries as well. I have some friends that took one to Barcelona for 30-40 euros, and I’m positive the night train to Berlin is fairly inexpensive as well.
The trains have rooms that house 6 beds, and yes, they are super cramped. I’m talking Titanic movie cramped.
But, all you’re doing is sleeping, so instead of staying up late and doing homework or other irrelevant things, get a good night’s rest so you can explore all the next day! (I’m joking, although if you are thinking of doing homework on this train, then forget about it. There were no common areas to just hang out in (at least on mine), and don’t expect to be able to sit upright comfortably in your bed.
Also, If you’re tall you may end up like this:
These trains usually leave late at night (mine left at 10 pm) and you arrive at your destination in the morning.
One thing to consider is that unless you buy out an entire cabin of all six beds, you’ll probably be sharing them with other people. So, if you have a group of friends that are obsessed with a card game and are refusing to quit at even 1 am, just be courteous of the people you’re sharing the cabin with and try to move out into the hallway. That doesn’t sound fun but it’s better that than pissing off some French women who will 100% use the entirety of their vocabulary to make you shut up (totally not based on personal experience). Also, it’s always good to be conscious of your things, but that’s a bit hard to do when you’re asleep. I cannot sleep with one eye open, and I doubt you can either, so I suggest getting a money belt/something similar so you can keep your passport and phone close to you without fear of prying hands. Get out there and see some far away stuff!
I hadn’t originally planned to go to Monaco, but wanting to enjoy the warmth that is quickly getting sucked out of Europe, I decided to look it up on AirBnB and just see what was available. I found a really cheap place pretty close to Monte Carlo, so I went ahead and booked it on a whim. My good friend from spring semester at GTL lives in Milan and was able to come hang in Monaco, and there was a whole group of GTL people happening to go that weekend, so it ended up being quite the party.
You know how in New York City, an okay-looking apartment costs half a million dollars and a spacious one is at least a few million? Monaco is very similar I think. There’s a ton of high rises and apartment areas that don’t look particularly fancy, but then you realize their balcony overlooks a marina where their massive yacht lives.
Which leads me into the yacht talk: if you care about boats even a little bit, come to Monaco and check out these megaliths. I didn’t realize private boats could get this big. Big is an understatement. I’m talking hot tub in the front, helipad in the back, with 12 bedrooms yachts. We looked up some of the names and at least two were on the list of the biggest yachts in existence. It’s absolutely insane, and there’s a ton of high vantage points where you can see the marina’s full of them.
The first thing we did was find our way to the museum containing the Prince’s private car collection. I don’t know much about cars – I’m not a gear-head by any means – but this might’ve been the coolest thing I saw in Monaco. There were so many classic, priceless cars from every decade. My favorites were the 1920’s Rolls Royce’s and I’m determined to build my own or force my mechanical engineering friends to make me one. I feel like if a major vehicle distributor made bodies of classic cars with everything else kept modern, they’d make so much money.
One of my other favorite sites was a big beach in the northern part of Monaco. It was sunny, and the water was so refreshing – not cold enough to be unbearable, but still so invigorating. We jumped off a rock outcropping and swam to a floating dock, where we could tell there was a decent amount of fish underwater but couldn’t actually see. One of our friends actually swam back and bought goggles, with which we soon found out there were hundreds and hundreds of fish just chilling under the dock. They were super relaxed and let you swim right through them, it was incredible and I wish I could’ve gotten pictures.
Of course, I have to touch on the Monte Carlo. I’m not much of a gambler, but we can’t just go to Monaco without seeing at least one game of blackjack or roulette. The majority of our group was worn out after a day of swimming and sightseeing, so just me and my Milanese friend Brando went. We arrived extremely late, around 2am (not sure how that happened, but we’d been hanging with friends and watching music videos for a long time), and I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be open.
Much to my surprise it was 100% open, and when we waltzed in, there were a decent number of well dressed men yelling around the roulette table. We took a tour of the room – a bit smaller than I’d expected but nevertheless intensely fancy = and settled down on a couch to have a refreshment before maybe putting our hand down at some blackjack. Interestingly enough, we never got to it. My friend began to tell me about his new realization of Buddhist faith, and we became so engrossed in the conversation that everyone had left without us realizing it, and soon enough we were getting ushered out. I probably wouldn’t have gambled anyway.
Overall, Monaco was a great experience and I’d recommend it to anyone that especially likes the glory of the ultra wealthy.
If you’ve been to GTL, are at GTL now, or plan to go to GTL in the future, the most important thing to initially consider is: money. Do you have enough to get across Europe? Are you the type whose parents will give you a credit card and just say “go to town,” or are you the type that has been saving for what feels like thirty summers for this experience? Regardless, it’s something you need to think about a good deal ahead of time, and you need to plan to spend more than you think.
I always factor in spending at least a little more than expected, but something I wasn’t expecting was just how crazy incredibly expensive Stockholm was. Stockholm, Sweden is a beautiful place with bountiful opportunities. They’re just all pricey as hell. I stayed in a neighborhood a long walk but short metro ride away from the center of town. I love metro systems, they’re efficient and easy to use (usually), but I wasn’t expecting a single metro ride to be SIX euros! Just for comparison, a single metro ticket in Paris is 1.80 euros. Think about that. And then think about what everything else must cost.
Basically, I blew through an unprecedented amount of cash in Stockholm. I didn’t have any plans for the next weekend, so I just decided I’d do a day trip (I was recovering from a cold and needed the sleep anyway). A friend of mine also happened to stay in, so we planned a quick and easy day hike around some ruins in Ribeauvillé, a small vineyard town near Colmar. You have to train to Colmar and then take a bus to Ribeauvillé: if you’re in a town in Europe that doesn’t have direct access to a train station, you know you’re far out. It was so worth the trek though.
Ribeauvillé is a tiny town pushed up against some mountains, where all the area in between is vineyards upon vineyards upon vineyards. So many grapes! The town itself was honestly pretty surreal. You know how in DisneyWorld they have those fake towns made to look provincial, like Cinderella is supposed to open a window and start singing except the only objects they contain are overpriced slushies and Mickey Mouse hats? I knew we were in the actual place that DisneyWorld tried to mimic, but because my preconceived notions reminded me of a children’s empty amusement park, it still ended up feeling weirdly…fake. Regardless, it was cute and I would totally run through the cobblestone streets singing about bakers and Gaston and stuff.
After finding the most roundabout way possible to get to the ruins, we finally approached three castle ruins on the mountainside. The first one we came upon was my favorite: I loved the way that the castle sat upon this massive rock jutting out from the mountain.
The castles themselves weren’t as big as you would expect them to be, honestly. One of them was a château, but I believe the others were more fortress-type structures that were used in Medieval times.
We climbed all over them and we spent most of our time enjoying the view over the flat farmland from random points, seeing farther and farther as we climbed higher. I would 100% recommend this as a day, maybe two-day trip (if you want to enjoy the town) getaway from Metz. The hike wasn’t too strenuous and there’s not many places in which you can see three separate ruins within a two hour time span.
I’ve been trying to find the words to describe this place and I simply don’t think I can locate all of the right ones, so I’ll do the best I can. I knew that if I didn’t plan out a trip to Scandinavia way ahead of time, it just wouldn’t happen, so I booked a super cheap flight to Stockholm, Sweden. I decided to do this trip alone. I’m perfectly fine with traveling by myself, and I’ve already written a blog specifically about how to make the most of solo travel.
I landed quite early into Stockholm on Friday, and there were a few things I noticed about the city almost immediately:
1) The smell. If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know what the city smells like: a very distinct combination of subway gunk and gasoline and who-knows-what-else, with most urban metropolises having a similar smell. Everywhere I walked in Stockholm, it smelled incredibly fresh, green, and crisp. This may just be my bias because I expected the city to be incredible, but it truly was just ultra clean.
2) The greenery. So many parks! Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities because of how much they value recreational green space, and I might say Stockholm now holds that #1 title for Parks & Recreation. Ron Swanson would be proud. So many green lawns, gardens, sculptures with plants on them, plants with sculptures on them…even along the roads there were so many beautiful potted flowers, just to brighten up the sidewalk.
3) The people. It seemed like every third person I saw was a beautiful, young-ish mom running with her adorable fluffy dog while pushing an IKEA stroller containing her Gerber baby-esque child. There were so many of these women! It was almost a little unnerving to be perfectly honest, a bit reminiscent of the Truman Show. Everyone is super tall, super blonde, and super rich (looking). I felt every inch of my entire 5’4″ stature become dwarfed by these people.
Stockholm is a very large city spread out across 14 main islands. This means that pretty much at any point you’re within a mile of a coast line, and this makes for an incredibly beautiful view from wherever you go. This is a view from a bridge next to the Royal Palace.
The subway system is extensive and goes both above and below the surrounding Baltic Sea. The very first thing I did upon dropping my bag off at my hostel was to go to this restaurant that’s only open during the summer called Mälarpaviljongen (I butchered every single Swedish word I attempted to utter). It has the main restaurant off of a beautiful park on the water and a cafe/bar on a floating dock literally on the water, making for a nice calm rocking while you sip your fancy espresso and chow down on their salmon/capers/dill combo sandwich. It was absolutely gorgeous.
This restaurant is also very progressive (a.k.a. standard Swedish) because they sell some goods with which all the proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ+ organizations. Stockholm is extremely open to all things rainbow: it’s not strange to see a pride flag hanging up in a random restaurant.
My favorite thing aside from just the city itself is between the public library and the Vasa Museum. The Stockholm Library is the largest in Sweden, and it was so aesthetically pleasing – look at that!!
There was a large English section, so I plopped down and read a little bit of Dante’s Inferno, just to feel like a schOOOLar in the fancy LIIIIbrary. I met an incredibly interesting guy named Kim
at my hostel, and he told me more people are fluent in English in Sweden than America. (Maybe true? I wouldn’t be surprised, everyone spoke extremely well. Don’t quote me on it, though.)
The Vasa museum is basically this massive building devoted to a shipwreck that was unearthed in the 1950’s near Stockholm. The Vasa ship sunk in the mid 1600’s, and because the water has such low salinity, it’s extremely well-preserved.
Look at the detail of the little wooden heads – how insane is that?? If you’re into nautical history/history in general I would 100% recommend going.
Stockholm was so incredible that I’m leaving many things out of this post, or it would go on forever and ever. All I’m going to say is just go, make sure you have enough money for it, and have so much fun!!