To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Category: Travels (Page 4 of 9)

Castles and Cobblestones

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

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

Heidelberg, Germany

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

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

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

Heidelberg Castle.

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

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

Tschüss!

Amsterdam, a Severed Ear, and a Whole Lot of Garbage

This weekend, we made the journey to Amsterdam. Although the weather was bleak, we bundled up, and woke up in the morning ready to make the most of the day. Before I begin my usual account of historical events, I would like to give a small shout-out to the Amsterdam public transportation system. With frequent buses and trams and a ticket that allows you to swipe on any mode of transportation, my companions and I never had any trouble finding our way around the canal city.

The most tourist-y picture, smack in the middle of the museum quarter.


Now, to the history part! Ever since I was a child, I have always been drawn to Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter with his bold brush strokes and distinct style. When I was about 7 years old, my family took me to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. When I visited this weekend, I messaged my parents: “This museum was honestly life changing.” To which my mother replied: “It changed your life in elementary school too! You went from a perfectionist to ‘Oh, just get it done!’ It was after you saw the bold brush strokes.” So I guess I owe my adult personality to this painter.


Everything about Van Gogh is inspiring to me. He struggled with mental illness, didn’t begin painting until 27, and had the courage to challenge the social and societal norms of his time. The museum itself is in a modern glass building, where well-displayed galleries take you through his whole painting career from his earliest painting to his last days. His impressionistic style was quite revolutionary, and he is considered today the most famous painter in the world. The museum was thorough and excellent, displaying everything from Vincent’s letters to his brother, with whom he had a very close relationship, to his painting technique. (He didn’t typically mix colors on the palate, but rather mix the wet paint as it was applied to the canvas.)


My favorite thing about Van Gogh’s art is that his paintings aren’t meant only to depict a subject, but to depict what the subject is feeling. He preferred painting and living in the country, because he thought country living to be more honorable and honest than that in the city. He attributes the city to what drove him to madness. Indeed, in his last paintings while he was living in a mental asylum, he used much more red than in his previous work because he was trying to reflect the emotions of the patients there.


Van Gogh was truly mad, and many know the story of how he cut off his ear. He was living in a small house with his friend and fellow painter Gauguin, but after a few weeks, Gauguin began to find Van Gogh utterly intolerable, and attempted to leave. Van Gogh, angry at his friend, chased him into the street with a razor, and then being unable to catch him, cut off his ear in a fit of madness. He then presented it to his mistress, who was understandably horrified at the whole affair. Van Gogh knew he needed help, and a few years later actually admitted himself to the asylum, comforted by his brother’s shipments of painting supplies and letters. However, the tortured artist could not live with himself and shot himself in the chest. He will go down in history as one of the greatest artists of all time.


After the amazing visit to the Van Gogh museum, I embarked on a canal cruise. Amsterdam, by necessity, has become a city expert at controlling water flow, water levels and flooding. Using a system of locks, seawalls and sluices, they have kept their marshy city below sea level flood free. Drifting along the man-made canals, I could see that the facades of all of the houses were very skinny. This is because the taxes on the properties were determined by the width of the facades of the houses, so the skinnier the facade, the less taxes you owed the state.


Another very interesting fact about the city is that the term ‘flea market’ originates there. This is because in the very poor sector, floods happened so often that they sunk garbage into the water to prevent their houses and streets from flooding, and therefore made a sort of city out of garbage, riddled with fleas. In this area, most of the square is covered with stalls, and is a busy market during the day. Therefore, we get the term flea market.

Notice the skinny facades? Cheapskates!

Amsterdam has so many amazing museums, and I would love the chance to go back and see more.

All in all, a beautiful visit.

Time to Van Gogh!

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

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Sam I am!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin, a Wild Pig and lots of Currywurst

Berlin: the capital of Germany, known as the most international city in Europe, and the headquarters of one of the most evil regimes in history. The city is beautiful, modern and shiny (as a result of the old buildings being bombed so much), but dig a bit deeper and you find a scarred and difficult past.

My favorite activity in Berlin was the 3 hour walking tour we took. Beginning at the Brandenburg gate and ending in the square where the book burnings took place, I don’t think I have ever learned more about a place in that span of time.
The Brandenburg Gate, topped with the statue of Victory carried by her triumphant horses in her carriage holds a German joke. After Napoleon took the initial statue back to his personal collection in France, the Germans built the new statue to look straight at the French embassy that sits in the square, constantly watching. Funny right? Speaking of embassies, Berlin holds one of the few North Korean embassies in the world. Our tour guide joked that his hand had been to North Korea.

See the gaze of victory? Totally pointed at the French embassy!

World War II, as you can imagine was not a good time for Berlin. Especially at the end. Citizens were not permitted to leave as Allied forces took the city, and many were caught in the crossfire. Our tour guide took us to the site of Hitler’s suicide bunker, which was below what is now residential apartments and a sad playground. In his final days, Hitler behaved very madly, obsessing over his dog and eating an entire cake for every meal. The bunker was blown up and filled in, and now is marked with nothing but a tiny plaque stating what happened. The city didn’t want to make anything bigger for fear of it looking like a memorial.

The Holocaust memorial, on the other hand, is a very powerful place. The large stones, situated in rows on uneven ground, and tilted slightly from one another give a sense of the anonymity of the Jews that were murdered in Europe. The museum below, tracing stories, quotes and the lives of the jews killed in mass shootings and concentration camps was exceedingly powerful. Another amazing museum was the Topography of Terror, with powerful photos of the atrocities committed.

Then, the tour shifted to the Cold War, and the very famous WALL. The wall went up to prevent the East Berliners, specifically academics, and skilled workers from leaving to the more prosperous and decidedly less Communist West Berlin. We walked past Checkpoint Charlie, the American controlled way from East to West, where Cold War tensions arose over one American man’s desire to get to the East Berlin opera. We saw the last remaining Nazi building, in grand but severe stone, that served first as the Nazi air force headquarters, then as the Soviet government building, and is used today as the tax department of Germany.

Although the sign is a replica, the frame is original.

We also learned that the Berlin Wall came down entirely due to a TV announcer’s error. After delivering an exceedingly boring and dry report of the East German state of affairs, he was slipped a memo that said travel restrictions would be lifted for those over the age of 65 that could pay a hefty fine and give 12 months advance notice. Because he was flustered, he read only the first part. When the reporters asked him when “travel restrictions will be lifted,” he panicked and responded with the only date he saw on the paper: the very same day as the press conference. As a result, thousands swarmed the wall, overtook the guards, and were reunited with their western brothers once again.

Another really interesting thing about Berlin: the Nazi’s planned it to be the capital of the world. It was designed to hold 8 million people. Today however, it houses only 4 million. The sewers must be periodically flushed with water because their is not as much flow as anticipated. Lots of wild animals live in sewers and other such unused spaces. In fact, about 6 weeks ago a wild pig attacked two people at a bus stop in the city.

Berlin still remains a thoroughly international and political city.

My absolute favorite thing about Berlin is the currywurst. Currywurst is a delicious snack consisting of a sausage in a curry ketchup, covered in curry powder and paprika. It is absolutely delectable. Total currywurst tasted: 4.

Καλημέρα!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traversing Italian Time and Space

Italy was an awesome historical overload of knowledge. This past week, I dove straight into the Roman empire in an action-packed week of late nights, early mornings, and an impossibly long list of monuments, museums and ruins.
My journey started in Venice, and Carnival was going on, and watching the beautifully costumed and masked Venetians walking the streets was a dream. Venice used to be an independent city-state famous for it’s rich trade network and impressive navy. After touring the beautiful cathedral of St. Mark and the opulent Doge’s palace, we were ready to continue our journey into the heart of the Roman empire.
Rome was absolutely jam-packed with history. You couldn’t even walk two blocks without finding an obelisk, pillar, campanile, fountain, or other monument. After taking our traditional touristy pictures in front of the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps and the Campidoglio, we went to bed early to queue up the next day for the Vatican Museum. The Vatican was overwhelming, with every inch of free space filled with priceless art and artifacts. We learned the history of the many popes that lived in Vatican city and viewed Raphael’s famous paintings and Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We then climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, so rich and opulent that my brain ceased to process it and I needed to go to sleep.

 

View from St. Peters Basilica.

The next day we hit the Capitoline Museum in the morning. The museum boasted many original sculptures, including fragments of the statue of Nero that once stood 100 ft tall in bronze. Let me pause for a second to talk about Nero, because this guy was something. He declared himself divine at an early age, and considered himself to be perfect in every way. He commissioned this enormous statue, along with many other monuments in the Roman forum, destroying other monuments to Roman gods to make room. It is also rumored that he started the great fire of Rome to make room for his ideas in architecture, playing his fiddle and dancing while thousands of citizens perished in the flames. Sounds pretty metal!

 

What’s left over of Nero’s Face.

The ruins of the Roman forum were amazing. Walking around the ruins of old temples to gods and goddesses, seeing previous senate and meeting houses, and seeing the remnants of the once magnificent residences on Palatine Hill were all so fascinating. Once the heart of Rome and the intersection of the three main Italian roads during the reign of the Roman empire (hence the saying, all roads lead to Rome), one can imagine the grandeur of the heart of all Roman civilization.

The Roman forum!

The next day we visited the Colosseum, which, as you can imagine was absolutely spectacular. Learning about the intense theatrics, with imported exotic animals, stage sets that emerged through the floor with complex pulley machinery, and the

Michelangelo’s David.

intense training schedules of gladiators, we walked around it with wide eyes. Not only was the Colosseum a source of entertainment for the senate and emperor, but the masses as well. The violent place brought a whole civilization together.

Florence was absolutely fantastic for a crazy history buff like me. I got to see so many Michelangelo works (including the David!!!!) and see the famous Dome. But what I found especially fascinating was the Medici family. They started out as bankers, lending money to many city-state rulers and important dignitaries. As they amassed wealth, many city-state royalty borrowed more than they could pay pack. Threatening these families with a hired mercenary army, they were able to gain power. Like, ‘Hey Prince, we are going to attack if you don’t pay back your debts, with our impressive mercenary army. We might consider letting it slide this time if you marry your heir off to our daughter…” and thus they became one of the most powerful families in Italy. They were like the OG mob bosses. Sounds super Game of Thrones-y! Needless to say, they weren’t very well liked and built private walkways above the city and above to Ponte Vecchio bridge to avoid being assassinated in the streets.
Our journey concluded in Cinque Terre, the region of, well, five cities, who – against all odds – managed to farm the rocky coastal soil on mountain and cliff faces. Each city with it’s unique personality, was an absolutely lovely ending to a perfect and jam packed week.
 

View of Manarola, one of the 5 cities of the Cinque Terre.

Trains, Trams, and Automobiles

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

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

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

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

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Frankfurt Am Main Hauptbahnhof was giving me really intense hanger vibes

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

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

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

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

Ballot (n.): bundle, package

Example in a Frenglish conversation-

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

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

Ciao!

Skiing Through History

When you think about it, skiing is actually really ridiculous. Someone was like, you know what would be really fun? Sliding down a bumpy mountain on two thin sticks attached to your shoes. And then people were like, yeah sounds great, and the rest is history.
This weekend, we began our journey to the ski-town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, close to the Zugspitze. The Zugspitze, close to the Austrian border, is the tallest mountain in Germany, measuring in at 2,962 meters in elevation. The town itself was quaint, with the traditional painted cabins lining the cobblestone streets.

The view from the Zugspitzbahn Station.


To get to the top of the Zugspitz, one takes the Zugspitzbahn, which is a scenic one hour train ride that takes you over 1.5 vertical kilometers to the top of the mountain. After climbing for about 40 minutes, the train goes through about 500 meters of tunnel straight through a mountain. Finally, we arrived at the top of the mountain, and took in the breathtaking views right outside of the station.
The ski resort itself is situated in a sort of bowl, with the barren snowy peaks surrounding the ski area on all sides. A cable car is available to take you up to the tallest peak. The ski trails themselves spanned all sides of the bowl, with two chair lifts and two surface lifts to take you up the sides of the bowl. Armed with a GoPro, rental skis and boots, my friends and I made our first run.

The view from the top of Germany.

 
The snow was light and fluffy, and although back in the town the weather was cloudy, up at the summit was above the clouds and completely sunny. We had to shell some layers to prevent overheating. The air was clear, and although we were a bit dizzy from the elevation, the amazing white capped mountains as far as the eye could see was the most breathtaking part of it all. We stopped for many photos for sure.
After our second day of skiing, I found myself in a small pub for dinner, with exposed beams, classic German clocks and carvings decorating the walls. I ordered some classic Wiener Schnitzel, which I found delicious (although my companion compared it to a giant chicken nugget). Because of the busy tourist system, there was no room at any restaurants, and the only reason I got a seat at that one was because the hostess was impressed with my attempts at speaking German. Even in a country where pretty much everyone speaks English, speaking the native language can really take you a long way.

The view from the bottom of my favorite trail.


The next day, before our return, we found ourselves in the Olympic Ski Stadium of the 1936 Winter Olympics that had taken place in Garmisch Partenkirchen. In addition to an Olympic ski slope, the stadium also had an Olympic ski jump. Outside the stadium, we saw many skiers and ski jumpers warming up, stretching, and practicing their technique. We watched a few children practice their ski jump approaches on small square platforms on wheels. They would crouch, head down and hands back on the platform down the street, and then leap up, arms outstretched. Then their coaches would correct them and they would start again.

The 1936 Olympic Stadium.


Ski jumping has always been really fascinating to me, mostly because it looks mortally terrifying. And if you think watching the Winter Olympics on TV is nerve wracking, watching someone ski jump in person nearly made me faint. I watched, heart in my throat, as the skier slid down the track and then leaped into the air, landing gracefully. I was in awe.
I love to ski, and was so happy I was able to do it in such a beautiful and quaint place over the weekend.

 

A Grappig Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment (adv.): how, what

Example in a Frenglish conversation:

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

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

In the Land of Salt

Salt, in my opinion, is one of Man’s greatest discoveries. Throughout Earth’s many, many years, people have figured out that excessive amounts of salt could preserve food, pinches of salt could enhance the flavor of your meal, and that one little grain could make a pesky slug shrivel up in fear and pain. When breathed in with humid air, salt can clear up your sinuses and leave you feeling rejuvenated (to an extent).

While I’m here at GTL, I plan on traveling every weekend – maybe every other weekend – to a new city. So far, I’ve only made it to Paris, but I spent this last weekend in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to – Salzburg, Austria. The name, Salzburg, quite literally translates to “Salt Castle,” so I felt almost right at home, with the city’s given name being a combination of two of my favorite things: salt and medieval things! Since the dark ages, Salzburg has definitely grown, both commercially and residentially, into a hotspot for tourism, which is what I assume to be a result of it both being the birthplace of Mozart, one of the history’s most well known and most talented classical composers, and it’s direct link to the Salzberg, which translates to “Salt Mountain”. Luckily, I had enough time in the nearly two days I was there to explore both of these sites and more, while having the best time ever!

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Part of the main square in Salzburg

After a nearly seven hour trip, I arrived at the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof late on a Friday afternoon.  I was with two of my friends from GTL, and for fear of getting lost and spending too much money and time trying to figure out the bus system, we walked the two kilometers to our hostel (which normally would not be a problem, but there was about two feet of snow covering the sidewalks, and where there wasn’t snow, there was very, very slippery ice). Once at the hostel, the three of us checked in, got settled in our room, and recuperated for an hour or two before deciding on where to eat dinner. Landing on a local schnitzel hall, we made our way, following the lust of our rumbling stomachs, into a large, loud, smoke-filled old monastery that had been transformed into a place of drunk and merry Austrians. We went back to the hostel that night, our bellies filled, our spirits high, and prepared ourselves for the day ahead of us.

Early Saturday morning, another friend of ours made her way to the hostel to drop off her things and set off with us on another great adventure. We left at around nine or so and headed to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a bus to the very famous salt mines that lay about thirty minutes away, nestled deep in the Salt Mountains. Unfortunately, we got mixed up in the bus system, missed the original bus we should have taken, and ended up waiting another hour for the next one. We killed a bit of time walking around the small shopping mall right outside the station, and got some tea and coffee to keep us warm until our transportation arrived. Finally, after an hour of waiting in and out of the freezing Austrian weather, our bus came, and we were headed towards a day of salt and castles.

Once at the salt mines, we were instructed to put on these black, thick, canvas-like body suits over our clothes, and were given small audio translators for the tour. We all followed a group of people onto this roller coaster/train thing that drove us deep underground. At the end of the ride, we got off the train and walked over to a giant slide that was to take us even deeper into the mine. The whole lot of us was being led by a tour guide who taught us a lot of interesting things about the mine, including it’s history, the salt-extracting processes, and the importance of salt in the world, but more specifically, Salzburg.

During the tour, there was a boat ride, complete with really cool visuals and music accompaniment, over the beautiful Mirror Lake. The water was so reflective, that it looked transparent. It was definitely one of the cooler things nature has shown me. Learning about salt all along the way, we had one more slide to go down, an elevator to go up, and a short train ride to finish the tour. Afterwards, I found myself in the gift shop, buying a 60 cent box of salt, because I mean, that’s a 60 cent box of salt, why would you not buy it?

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The salt mine!

Later on that day, we spent about 2 hours touring the castle and Cathedral. The views from the upper courtyards were spectacular, and I felt like I was a great king looking over his great kingdom. Not really, but it was cool to pretend for a minute! My friends and I had nearly explored the whole place, when, alas, it was closing time. My biggest regret of the day was that we didn’t visit the castle earlier (but hey, I can always go back for Salzburg part two). After leaving the castle, we traveled back to the hostel to drop off souvenirs and get pro-tips on where to eat. An Australian who was in our room ended up going out with us, which was actually really cool because I had never met anyone and had a meal with them that same day!

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A wonderful view from the top of the castle

On Sunday morning, we checked out, headed to the Hauptbahnhof, and started our seven plus hour journey back to GTL. On the train ride back, I was reflecting over the weekend and talking with my friends about how much life has to offer us. Life is full of really cool experiences, and really cool people, and I feel that if you open your heart and mind just a little, you can take a glimpse at what this world has to offer you! This weekend forged some really interesting friendships, and it made my relationships with my friends from GTL even stronger. The whole point of this extremely long post is that Europe is amazing, and that people should travel young, especially alone or with a very small group of people, while their responsibilities aren’t too much. I feel like I have definitely matured and become more independent than I ever was before, and most of that is due to me jumping head first into an ocean of different cultures and languages. Life is good!

And without further adieu (get it?), I leave you with the French Word of The Week!

Jars (noun): gander, male goose

Example in a “Frenglish” conversation:

– Sarah: “Hey Sam, come look at this cool Jars! It has a really long wingspan!”

– Sam: “Glass bottles don’t have wingspans…”

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