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Category: Travels (Page 3 of 12)

Cobbled Together

Written by Aria.

Paris: perhaps the most overdone, cliché city in Europe. Rightfully so. Home to some of the most famous examples of art, architecture, history, and culture in the world, there are so many things to do that with the chance to spend three entire days there I got to see…a single landmark and three museums. Not the gargantuan list I was anticipating. The City of Love holds no affection for me and entirely removed my ability to walk for two and a half of those three days.

Getting injured while traveling ranks highly on the list of fears of many GTL students. Tales of overly-enthusiastic skiers stuck immobile have cautioned us all, but I never thought simply walking could debilitate me. A few months back I badly sprained my ankle, and it seems 10+ miles a day of walking on cobblestones in less than wonderful shoes were enough to suddenly, and with great pain, reawaken the injury. Without realizing it, my excited trot down the steps of Napoleon’s tomb would be my last. At least, as I soon learned, there is no better place to be
crippled than Paris.

This casual pose is the product of an inability to stand on my own.

Immediately following the injury while at Les Invalides, I managed to limp the 1.5 km to Grand Palais, punctuated with stops at a delightful crepe street cart and the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III bridge at sunset. Despite the searing pain, it was one of the most beautiful walks of my life. Once at the Grand Palais, the understanding that I wouldn’t be touring another museum that night set in around the time I pondered the beautiful, and absurdly tall, staircase to the entrance. Instead, I took to the stairs of the metro and suffered back to my Airbnb. Despite a notable lack of escalators or elevators at many stops, the Paris metro system is extensive, and wonderful for minimizing walking.

The next day, as if gearing up for a battle, I planned my routes, eliminated waste, and gritted my teeth for the ultimate journey: a block, downhill, to the McDonald’s (breakfast) and one of the pharmacies that inexplicably appear on every corner. Despite this taking more time than I care to admit, I was equipped with calories and a crutch, ready to enact phase two: reach the bus stop across the street that travels directly to the Louvre. Buses, unlike the metro, require no stairs. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, and when you want to minimize transfers, few places can match its ability to entertain for a solid two days. With free wheelchairs available, it becomes almost preferable to be crippled when planning to spend so much time in a place with few other chairs.

My superpower: pity.

From the moment I sat in my wheelchair, everything seemed to be right again. The pain abated. Suddenly, convenient hooks for bags and coats were available to rest our shoulders. Perks abounded. In my two experiences now being impaired, I have experienced another perspective. While people often looked away and loudly ignored me, this meant the same beggars I panicked into giving a euro the day before left me entirely alone to berate my companions instead. When attempting to view the Mona Lisa, I was initially too short to see anything through the crowd. Before I could even settle in to wait, kind staff members ushered me all the way through the barriers set up to keep the crowd back. I would gladly trade the ability to walk for the chance to sit, unobstructed, directly in front of the Mona Lisa. People often complain about its small size and unassuming nature, but if you break your legs for the experience, proximity brings it to life.

Of course, there are always mobility issues in wheelchairs. While everything in the Louvre is technically accessible, it is easy to get lost ordinarily, and laughably so when staircases routinely intrude in the middle of hallways with no elevator or direct path around. After exploring the upper levels for the good part of a day, our extreme hunger convinced us to head to the café downstairs. Unfortunately, it took an hour of multi-floor maneuvering, sprinting through Napoleon’s apartments, around staircases, and up, across, and down passages with déjà vu at every turn just to finally reach our access point and find the elevator out of order.

No one should know the Louvre as thoroughly as I do after having only three days is Paris. Regardless, the experience was unique and I always appreciate a good story. I plan to revisit Paris, so missing out on all else it has to offer is not devastating. I have healed considerably since then, but still take my injury into consideration, setting my sights on Frankfurt, known as having some of the best public transportation in. While incredibly distressing when things don’t go according to plan, alternatives always exist to make the experience more memorable than you may have wanted.

Time Travel to Trier

Written by Thomas Walker.

Last week, I went to Trier, Germany. Trier is a very old city that still retains much of its original Roman architecture. There are several locations where the original walls are still standing or still identifiable, as well as ruins from the Roman baths, amphitheater, and a basilica built by Constantine. Of course, there were obviously many other examples of old architecture between Roman times and now, but I find it utterly amazing to walk down a street that looks mostly as it did to the same people walking it 200-300 years ago.

This is the Porta Nigra (“Black Gate”), built 160-180 AD. It used to be white, but centuries of weathering have turned it black, thus the name given to it during the Middle Ages stuck. It was originally built to be a gate to the city. In the 11th century, it was destined to be dismantled, and the bricks reused in other projects, which was often the case with Roman buildings. A clergyman named Simeon, in an attempt to save the building, took up residence in the building. He was canonized after his death, and the gate was turned into a church, which is why it still exists today.

A section of the original wall that surrounded the city.

Nearby, there was a Roman structure that would have housed one of the three bathhouses in the city (see below). This one would have been one of the largest in the Roman Empire, attesting to the wealth and prestige of the city. The presence of the amphitheater also supports this. I did not get to explore the ruins because I spent too much time in the museums (more on that later), so I plan on going back.

This structure would have housed three Roman bathhouses.

 

The first museum I went to was of Romanesque construction built on the original Roman walls.

Below is one of the original Roman walls the museum was built on. There were many coins and mint supplies found around this wall during excavations for the museum, suggesting the Roman Trier mint was nearby. The gift shop had several genuine Roman coins for sale, but they were all low-grade, high-priced, and had no provenance to Trier.

The museum was built on the original Roman walls.

Now for a bit of history into the town. The name “Trier” stems from the name “Trevori,” which was the name of the Gallic tribe that was living in the area. The city was annexed by the Roman Empire after the defeat of the Gauls by our good friend Julius Caesar. According to legend, the city was founded 1,300 years before the foundation of the Roman Empire by a man called Trebeta. This legend is recorded by a medieval inscription on the “Red House”: “ANTE ROMAM TREVIRIS STETIT ANNIS MILLE TRECENTIS. PERSTET ET ÆTERNA PACE FRVATVR. AMEN.”

 

The Red House (on the left, with the inscription above the first floor).

During the Middle Ages, the City of Trier tried using this legend (since proven to only be such) to gain autonomy from the Archbishopric of Trier. Alas, they were unsuccessful. As a part of the Roman Empire, the name was changed by emperor Augustus to “Augusta Treverorum.” He then decided that this city should be one of the regional capitals. The city quickly became of great importance and size, with upwards of 80,000 people. An amphitheater was built in 100 AD, and a major mint was established in the 3rd Century AD, signifying the importance of Trier.

In the 3rd Century, Trier became the seat of an archbishopric, which is basically an area where the archbishop has authority. This early start eventually made it one of the most

 

A model showing what Roman Trier would have looked like.

important states in the Holy Roman Empire (or as my high school history teacher called it, the Not-Holy Not-Roman Not-Empire). Then in the early 5th century the city was captured by the Franks, then by Attila and the Huns in 451, and then firmly held by the Franks again in 475 AD. The city became incorperated into the Kingdom of Lorraine in 843 with the Treaty of Verdun, ruled by one of Charlemange’s three grandsons, Lothair II. When he died in 870, Trier became part of the East Frankish Empire under Henry I, which would later become Germany.

An example of the Archbishop’s power was erected in 958 in the market square, which stated his authority and that God, through him, will protect the city. The original is in the city museum for protection, and a replica was put in its place. As you can see, this amount of power is very likely the reason the city tried to break away from the archbishopric:

I did not get a good picture of the cross in context, but it can be seen over the hut in the center of the picture.

The city of Trier got a boost in the first half of the 14th Century when Archbishop Baldwin of Luxembourg took the position from 1307 to 1354. He was elected into the position at 22 years old, and was very reluctantly recognized by the people of Trier. During his term, he greatly expanded the city’s territory and made it quite prosperous.

Archbishop Baldwin’s grave in the Trier Cathedral (which was INCREDIBLY beautiful and ornate):

In 1583, Trier was finally able to achieve its dreams of autonomy.

Now, as a coin collector, I have to mention the coins in the museums. In the first museum, there were only a few dozen coins on display, but they were a selection spanning 2,100 years from the Roman Republic to the Euro. The audio tour gave a fascinating tale on how they each related to the history of the region and what events and cultural aspects led to the next coin type. As I am a visual learner, I was disappointed because I don’t think I grasped the info as well as I could have if I had read it. After finishing up at this museum, it was 3:30pm. I had become separated from the friends I had come with, and they happened to be on the other side of the city. I meandered over there to the museum they were in by 4:00pm. When I arrived, they had already toured the museum, so I was a bit disappointed. Then they start talking with me excitedly about the coins on display.

Since none of them collect coins, I knew the display must have been amazing. Now with only 45 minutes to tour the museum, I buy a ticket and proceed to look at as many artifacts as possible and find this legendary coin display. Most of the museum comprised of Roman artifacts attesting to the wealth of the ancient city. Apparently, there was a path dedicated to monuments erected for the dead.

I soon found that I had the whole museum to myself, and after I was done with each room, a guard would lock it up behind me. The closer it got to 5:00 pm, the more irritated the staff started to look. So I rushed through the exhibits trying to feast my eyes and camera on as much as possible as quickly as possible. I soon get to the end with 15 minutes to spare, but I did not see any impressive displays of coins. Knowing I could not have simply missed it, I walk up to the security guard (whose face turns to “Aw, crap, what does he want?”). I just simply ask “Münzen?” and the guard brightens and leads me to the glory room. Here is what greets me:

A giant pile of gorgeous Roman aurii, the largest intact hoard of such in the world. I can assure you I had a stupid grin on my face since I had never seen so many incredibly valuable coins heaped in one place before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milan: The Only Italian City That Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canary Islands: Almost Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vlog 8: Switzerland

Vlog 7: Norway

Vlog 6: Cinque Terre

Cadiz & Castles on the Ocean

Cadiz is a small peninsular town on the coast of southern Spain, and it is also the capital of the Cadiz region. My mom urged me to go there while I was in Spain for fall break, and because I was doing so many big cities, I figured I’d take a break from the crowds and the beach it for a minute. I will say if you’re tired of swathes of tourists, go to Cadiz – there were very few tourists. I’m not sure if for a particular reason, but we barely saw any at all.

The town is very walk-able, and you’re never farther than a mile away from the coast at any point in the peninsula. It has the classic plaza-centralized landscape of many European cities, but they’re on a much smaller scale and are incredibly personalized with family-owned restaurants and bodegas literally everywhere. At any point in time you can look inside a bar and see old men slicing Iberian ham from the leg and drinking local sherry. What I’m trying to articulate is that it gives off a very homey feel.

One thing I absolutely loved was the market. It’s in the center of town and there’s what feels like miles of freshly caught fish and fruiterias, or fresh fruit and vegetable markets. I’ve never stared 50 lbs. of tuna in the face until that day. The thing about Spain – but particularly southern Spain – is that it is sooooo cheap. So, so incredibly inexpensive. We decided to make dinner that night from market finds with our three-person-can’t-finish-it-all meal totaling up to $4 per person, and this was including some very good fresh fish. I think our vegetables in total were about $1, I’ve never experienced getting a heavy bag of pretty much anything for that much. Once we realized how cheap everything was we just started buying things left and right: our lunch, random juices, and on.

The beach itself was nice, because the water was cold per usual, but the really neat part was the fortress at the very tip of the peninsula. It was a Moorish fortress, but probably Roman before that, and was used by Spaniards afterwards – a classic Mediterranean mix. There’s a long stone walkway that leads out to it, and while you’re not allowed to enter, the tide pulls away from the walkway to where you can climb underneath it and hang out around the natural “moat” that the ocean forms. We were there right at sunset, adding to the whole picturesque beauty of the place.

If you like cathedrals, the Cadiz cathedral is really something you should consider. It’s not all dark and gothic like most cathedrals across Europe: it’s so old that the paint has completely worn off to reveal a creamy white-colored stone, looking much older and more beautiful (in my opinion) than most gothic stuff you’ll see. Downstairs is the crypt in which the ceiling is curved so you can talk on one side and it’ll sound like you’re whispering to your friend across the room.

The cathedral is also home to one of the best views of Cadiz: the bell tower.

While we were up there we heard a group of children singing “Despacito” in the plaza. Very quaint, but lively town!

Fall/Spring Break: Learn From My Mistakes

Hello! Recently we had a very long break – a whole ten days, in fact – and this is my reflection/how-to-not-be-like-me post. There are some things that I did right, but there are others that I didn’t do so right, and here they are for your enjoyment!

First of all (and this applies to any trip you take), do not expect Europeans to do American holidays! Yes, Halloween is a primarily American/Anglo-Saxon holiday, but all over France and Spain were signs and Halloween party fliers and decorations, and so I figured it would be a big thing! And it is…just not with costumes. European children will go out earlier in the night, and I’m not even sure if they actually go trick-or-treating (I think people just have square parties with candy) but they dress up! So I said okay, it’s Halloween, I’m in Southern Spain and I’m going to be a pirate for Halloween. I went to go play pool at a local restaurant that was TOTALLY COVERED in Halloween gear… and no one else is wearing a costume. Not a single human. Not even the waitresses or the bartender. We were even pointed at and laughed at a bit, so do not make our mistake! You can’t deny it though, we looked pretty legit.

If you want to do anything particularly wild or involved, book it way ahead of time! There were multiple times when we wanted to rent a moped and zoom around the city we were in, but they needed a full day to process our information before renting to us (and we were only ever in places for two days at a time). We kind of winged a part of our trip and thought we might want to hike the most dangerous (not anymore, but oh well) hike in the world in Malaga, Spain, but apparently that thing sells out months in advance. We ended up spending most of our time exploring the cities or doing our own hikes, which was fine, but just keep these facts in mind when you’re trying to have a trip full of adventure: you can’t be totally on the fly about it if it includes rentals.

If there’s anything you take from this post, dear reader, I hope it is this next point: Do. Not. Travel. Too. Much. Don’t do it. If you have a trip planned that involves hopping between 5 places, calculate the total travel time and see if it’s worth it. When it’s split up between an hour here two hours there it doesn’t seem so bad, but once you realize exactly how much precious time is being spent on a train just playing cards, you’re going to regret it.

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