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Category: Travels (Page 4 of 13)

Lyon On The Fly

So, this weekend I was supposed to go to Colmar, a beautiful little town on the side of a river in Alsace, France in order to visit the cousin of my grandfather. Her name is Monique. I met her one time when I was 3 years old when she came to visit my grandparents in Atlanta. However, in the past couple of years, she has started writing letters to my grandparents again, but she doesn’t speak very much English, and my grandparents do not speak French. And so I was dubbed as the family translator. Through that, I started writing letters with Monique to learn more about her and to practice my French. All of this to say, she has a disease that disrupts the communication between her eyes and the neurons, and it sometimes flares up to the point that she cannot leave the house. So, on Thursday she called saying it was flaring up and asked if it was okay to cancel.

While it was pretty stinky that I couldn’t see her, it presented me with an amazing opportunity. A weekend of spontaneity: no planning, no itineraries – just go and explore. So, I looked all over Europe for an AirBnB under $25, that were available the next day, and that were in a fun city. I found one that was perfect in Lyon. So I booked my train and went.

I got to Lyon at about 5 PM, and I was so so excited to be out of Lorraine, so I could escape the daily rain that haunts the region in the wintertime. I get to the Lyon train station, and it is bustling with life. So many people going in so many directions, no matter where I went I felt like a salmon swimming downstream. (Get it? Because salmon usually swim upstream, so if a salmon was swimming downstream, it would be going the opposite direction of all the other salmon, so this salmon would feel like an American in the Lyon train station.)

I walk out of the train station for my first taste of Lyon, and of course, it is overcast and raining! I go to take the tram to get to my AirBnB so I can drop of my bag, and because it’s rush hour, the tram is packed. I can’t even fit on the first one that comes, and on the second one, I am smashed against the door the entire time while simultaneously having body contact with 5 different people. Of course, I love big cities and huge crowds, so I am thrilled and look like a total weirdo on this crowded bus because everyone is bothered by the crowd, and I am just smiling from ear-to-ear.

I get to my AirBnB and get all checked in, and it is exactly what you would expect for a $22 room. Clean, easy to find, but not much more than a mattress on the floor. (Albeit, a mattress that is 30 times more comfortable than I expected and 50 times more comfortable than the mattress in my residence.)

So, I leave my AirBnB, find the metro, and hop on. Like this entire trip, I have planned nothing, so I decide to get off at “Hôtel de Ville,” which I now know is in the center of “Vieux Lyon” (historic Lyon, literally “Old Lyon”). I walk around and find directions to a theatre because I bought a ticket for a play. I get to the place, called “Théâtre le nombril du monde,” and check in. There is a bar part that is separate from the theatre, where you can wait until the show starts. So, I waited around and made small talk with the other people there.

The show was amazing. It was another small café, even smaller than the one in Nancy, and so personal. It was about two people that get stuck in an elevator, so the stage was very simple, and it made the play more intense and intimate. The play was so good, and it was a lot more serious and heavy than the one in Nancy.

After the play, I was soaked and tired from having walked around, so I went home and went to sleep.

On Saturday morning I woke up with 0 plans for the day. I decided to start off by walking around the Hotêl de Ville area, this time in the daylight. It was beautiful again. I looked inside the courtyard of the Musée des Beaux Arts but didn’t have time for a full visit. For lunch, I found a cute little bagel shop, that turned out to be an American-themed restaurant. Everything was in wood: the walls, the tables, the plates. The walls were covered with old-school American advertisements for milkshakes and bubble gum. It was a quaint lunch, and I got a turkey bagel with a side of nachos with guacamole. (It was the worst guacamole I had ever had, but the rest of the meal was pretty good.)

After lunch, I just walked around all over the city. Lyon is beautiful: much bigger than Metz with many different architectural styles. Some of the highlights of my exploring include: accidentally stumbling across a zoo in the “Tete en or,” getting churros and coffee on the side of the road, a 90-minute walk along the Rhône, and an impromptu break in a small park.

Now, I am going to warn you, the next part of this blog post is going to sound super hippy-dippy but bear with me. At one point on my walking journey, I stopped in a little park covered in pebbles nudged between two buildings. I sat down to just enjoy the scenery and closed my eyes and just listened. At first all I heard were the cars on the road nearby. Then, slowly, new sounds started showing up. Peoples feet crunching the pebbles, a woman spraying her hairspray with an open window, and the last sound to come was birds chirping. It was a really beautiful moment to sit there, do nothing, and just enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city around me. I know that it sounded super wanna-be artsy, but you should all try it whenever you visit somewhere new.

Anyway, Lyon was super amazing, much larger than Metz, and very welcoming. But now, it’s time for the best part of every week: PHRASE OF THE WEEK, woohoo, wow, amazing. This week’s phase is going to be “J’en ai marre” which means I am fed up or I have had enough. I thought about this as the phrase of the week because of all of the kebab’s I have eaten, however, it doesn’t apply.

Nancy and All of Her Libraries

Just as a head’s up, this week’s post is not the most exciting. However, I think it really provides a good look into some of the every-day things that happen in Lorraine as well as some fun traditions/cultural aspects. Also, this is the stuff that I enjoy the most, so this post is very long-winded.

This weekend, I decided to go visit my friends at Nancy. Nancy is a city that is in the Lorraine region, about an hour away from Metz. It is bigger than Metz, with 105,000 inhabitants or so. However, the most exciting part about Nancy is that it is full of university students. There are plenty of universities and “Ecoles Prépa,” so the town is always bustling with the excitement of an overworked and under-rested college student – it feels like home!

I took the quick train over to Nancy, where my friend Laura picked me up from the train station. I would be spending the weekend with Laura and Maxime, so we went home to drop off my stuff. Unfortunately, it was about 1:30pm, and Laura had already eaten, while I had not. So, I talked her into stopping for a kebab (I should really get bloodwork done to make sure these kebabs are not killing me), so we stopped. Then we dropped my stuff off at Laura’s house and headed out for the day.

Laura and Max are both in their first year of university studying to become doctors. In France, the path to becoming a doctor is extremely competitive. You don’t just have to get good grades, you have to get grades better than anyone else. For example, at Laura and Max’s faculté (sort of like a discipline – find an explanation of the concept here), in order to continue after your first year, you have to have scores in the top 300 students. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you hear that every year there are 1,500 students that sit for the exam. Needless to say, Max and Laura work practically all the time, and don’t really take the weekends off. So, I got to spend a weekend like a real French medical student: in the library. Friday, we got to the library at about 2 PM and we stayed there until 7 PM. Max finished classes and came to join us around 4 PM, and we all worked side-by-side. The library itself was very comparable to a library in the States; there were group-work areas, silent areas, and even a student-run café in the basement. (Café is a generous description, it was the reselling of some prepackaged snacks and baked goods at a table with a sign. I like the idea of a student run café in the building, especially compared to a Starbuck’s in the library, but the number of options and quality of products was not even on the same planet.)

Anyway, after our library grind, we got home and just spent time together. We watched TV, specifically the French version of House Hunters, with which I am totally obsessed. They put a fun little spin on it, in that they have 2 real-estate agents compete to best meet the needs of the client, and at the end the client chooses a winner. It is very formulaic, but I have still not once predicted the correct winner. Then, of course, we had dinner and went to bed.

The next morning, Saturday, we woke up at 7 AM to go to the library. Yes, three 20-year-old college students woke up at 7 AM on a Saturday morning to go to the library, and they do it every weekend. (For reference, they told me that the study habits are even more intense in the “Écoles Prépa.”)

“Écoles Prépa” are a crucial part of French education, and there is not a good American counterpart, so I am going to take the time to explain it. If you aren’t interested, there’s a TL;DR at the end of this paragraph! After high school, you can go to an “Ecole Prépa” which is two years of extremely intense education to prepare you for a series of exams. These exams grant you entrance to what are called, “les grands ecoles” (directly translated, “the big schools”) which are essentially the best institutions of higher learning in France. It’s similar to the medical school predicament, in that you are competing for a limited number of spaces – except there are fewer spaces, and everyone in these schools is practically a child prodigy. It is an intense process, but if you make it into one of the “grands écoles” your life is made. It is a track for a life of success and academic rigor.

TL;DR: Crazy-hard schools to prepare you for the best schools in France.

Saturday we had to go to a different library because the other one is closed on the weekends. This time, we went to a library downtown and worked from about 8:30 AM until the library closed at 5 PM. For lunch, we met up with two of Max and Laura’s other friends, and they chose to get kebabs. You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh no! Poor Robby had a kebab the day before; he isn’t going to want another one.” You would be horribly mistaken. I was thrilled for a socially justifiable reason to eat kebabs 2 days in a row. (Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Oh no, Robby is going to clog his arteries, gain weight, and experience negative health effects of eating so much red meat.” You may be right, but I only have 4 months left at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, so live and let live.)

That night, we went out to dinner at a delicious Italian restaurant, and just walked around Nancy. It is important for you to know that Metz and Nancy have a fierce rivalry, and I love any type of rivalry, justifiable or not, but for obvious reasons I am firmly planted on the Metz side. Because of this, I have a tendency to compare Nancy to Metz, especially in subjects where Metz has the upper hand. All that to say: Nancy was beautiful and stunning and a fun city to be in. But, VIVE LA METZ !

Anyway, after walking around and dinner, we went to a comedy theater to see a play. However, when we arrived we were promptly asked for our reservation confirmation. This was a comedy café that could seat maybe 45 people, so of course we didn’t make a reservation. The person working the ticket stand said to sit tight, and if there was any room she would sell us the tickets. Two other people in our situation came in, and we all waited together and cracked jokes about how we can watch it from the side of the stage.

The theatre itself was adorable. Brightly colored walls plastered with posters of plays that had been shown there. And on the lights, there were inflatable pool toys so that the naturally harsh lighting became a little softer.

In the end, we were able to get tickets. We watched one of the funniest plays I have seen. It was called “Tabernacle” and it was about a woman who managed a cabaret learning to interact with the Canadian niece of the cabaret owner. (They made fun of the Canadians as being loud, clumsy, too laid-back, and of course for having a different accent. I related so, so, so much to this Canadian character.) It was a two-woman show, and it was so funny. If you are ever in Nancy, I highly recommend this café, “La comédie de Nancy.”

After the play, we went home and went to sleep. The next day, we had a very authentic French Sunday where we lounged around, talked casually, and moved slowly in general. (Although Max and Laura did this while reviewing their notes from class.) Then, Sunday afternoon, I returned to Metz to get a good night of sleep.

Like I said at the beginning, this is not the most exotic location with the biggest buildings or the oldest cathedrals. However, these are the memories that I am going to cherish for the longest. This weekend is such an insight into so many parts of French life, and it was a really special time for me. Anyway that’s enough sappiness for one post.

I guess that brings us to everyone’s favorite section: The word of the week. This week’s word is “Pas de soucis, pas de problems.” It means “no worries, no problems.” This was important because my friends were always worried about me coming for the weekend just to sit in the library, but I kept reassuring them that there were no worries, no problems because I was happy to see their daily life (and I had plenty of homework to do myself)! This is also a useful phrase if you run into a problem somewhere. Hypothetically, let’s say a kebab restaurant is out of your favorite sauce. You could use this phrase to let them know that it is not a big deal, and you will still love the kebab. (This is the most Robby-ish example I have ever thought of. Also, I am sitting on the train right now and very hungry.)

Depth vs. Breadth Touring

Maybe it’s the looming exams, but the realization that my time at GTL is finite has hit with full force. I came with dreams of London, Vienna, and every quaint town between. Four months in Europe seems endless, but throw in the stress that is a Georgia Tech education and it becomes much more limiting.

Unable to avoid the tendencies instilled in me by my classes, I’ve been looking at the situation as an optimization problem. How does one have the ideal European trip? Like most problems in engineering, the system in overly complex without some simplification. Ignoring the fact that I have little idea what actually is available to do in most of the places I want to visit, not to mention those I haven’t even decided on yet, it is fairly easy to come up with two general approaches to being a tourist: depth and breadth.

GT students don’t like being conventional. Coming back from stellar weekend just to find out that everyone else planned the exact same itinerary as you dampens what felt like a personalized journey. So, in theory, I’d love to blend with the locals and eschew the tourist traps, but given that I have never been to the continent before, I can’t help but feeling like I am missing out if I don’t go to Paris and Rome. These approaches also apply to how to tour within a given destination. Do you skim and hop, exposing yourself to as much as possible, or slow down to discover the historical context and consequential significance of that statue in the corner?

There is no perfect strategy, but the cliché answer is that everyone needs to find their own approach. My best memories have been longer experiences, some of which I couldn’t plan if I wanted to. On the other hand, I feel like I can grasp the personality of a city better by hitting as many spots as possible. It’s best to do both. Even an individual trip can feel too rushed or as if I am missing out on the entire point of the city. To counteract this, I’ve adopted the strategy of moving quickly at first, to  calibrate to the new city. From there, I keep open to opportunities to stay if something grabs my attention, but try to learn to let go of the things I know are not as interesting to me.

Above all, I advise to put an emphasis on opportunity. The best stories can’t be planned. When in Paris, I missed out on almost everything the city has to offer, but I spent so long in the Louvre that I not only can navigate such a monstrous maze with ease (and my favorite part of these museums is always the building they are in) but I genuinely learned an insane amount about art and history in general. I’ve become a bit of a snob about the dynamics of subtly spiraling contrapposto sculpture. While in Germany, my mobility surprised me, and I ended up waking up
at 4 AM and walking so many miles as to cover the majority of Frankfurt in a day. This led to day trips in the area and a better understanding of Europe outside the major cities..

We’re Not in France Anymore

This weekend, I stayed in Frankfurt, Germany. The city is beautiful, where skyscrapers strain around historic landmarks, but the trip was inspired by a desire to rest my injured ankle. Frankfurt is known for some of the best public transportation in Europe. Everyone seems to just step on the trains, but just as I was contemplating whether the tickets were only an obligation for unaware tourists, I noticed a sign translated into English scolding that it was “never less worth it” and how deep the fines were for that very act. I still ended up walking over 10 miles the first day, feeling great and excited to get to know the city I hadn’t researched beyond its trains.

My first time outside France, Frankfurt introduced me to the wonders of German food. Bakeries with pretzel sandwiches and jelly doughnuts just scratch the surface. While walking to the metro from the Airbnb, we ran into a Saturday morning market where we ate fresh lamb kabob and bought a huge half loaf of bread that we snacked on all weekend. These markets are extremely common in Europe, so finding a morning meal at one is a must every Saturday. The best food, though, is incomparably My Currywurst in Heidelberg. With pork, beef, and vegan currywurst, all diets can eat this amazing meal coated in sauces that are so addictive they should become controlled substances. To complement, their sweet potato fries and homemade ice tea are heartily approved by a certified southerner. This was by far the best meal I have had in Europe, and it was so affordable that I don’t have to starve this week.

From my experience, Germans love Americans. English seems to be much more common there, and I was most often regarded oddly when I didn’t just assume they spoke English. I’m convinced a German accent sounds more American than the British do. I was even mistaken for British, so they seem to be matching my country’s accent better than I can. My only complaint about Germany, though, is how incredibly common it is to only accept cash. I spent the last of my money through questionable means, leading to a jog down the block to the nearest ATM while my food was already being prepared for me.

To get the most of the city, we purchased museum passes. This is a 48-hour pass that allows you to get into any museum in Frankfurt, and as they all line the river in what is called the “Museumsufer” or “Museum Riverbank”, it’s easy to get your money’s worth. I do not even remember how many I made it to, after getting up at 4 am to get started on this trip and forgetting to make room for food on the first day’s itinerary. As world-class museums are beginning to be old news, I sought out the slightly more obscure. Instead of another historic art museum, I opted for one on the design of everyday objects housed in a modern, minimalist addition to an older house. This museum chooses to organize its contents into “elementary parts” based on “thematic orientation” as opposed to time period, material, geographic origin, and so on.

After covering most of the highlights of Frankfurt in one day, I wanted to find a way to escape another day of sprinting between museums in a city. A huge benefit of staying in Frankfurt is its central location, so even while in the same Airbnb for a weekend, we got a sampling of German towns. Heidelberg became the main destination, and ended up creating my favorite day at GTL so far. This day was perfect. Our Airbnb was the entire top floor of a kind family’s home in the outskirts of the city, where the best tea I have ever had was provided for free, and the Saturday market was just up the street.

“Picturesque, but compact,” as my grandparents, who have apparently visited here, phrased it, Heidelberg has it all. The town has a uniform architecture with classic red roofs to match the rosy sandstone common in the area. An arched bridge crosses the river to a grand gate that introduces the city. The best, however, is the castle dominating the mountainside and overlooking the town nestled in the valley. I’ve been adapting to European city life, but my love for nature has been neglected. I still cannot walk well enough to make the hike up the mountain, so a train supplied my mobility and the mountaintop view I’ve been missing. This castle has it all. Ancient and evolving since 1214, it has medieval towers that have collapsed into ruin, while a pristine renaissance palace stands within. To describe this beautiful mess, Mark Twain stated that “Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.” You can peruse gardens and forests, ponder the variegated architecture, or go inside to the German Apothecary Museum and a quaint café. Though originally unplanned, Heidelberg was the highlight of my weekend and I highly recommend finding time to stop there.

The First Weekend

The first weekend at GTL is a very special time. There have only been 3 days of class, so nobody has too much homework to do. Everyone is new and trying to find the people that they will call travel companions for the rest of the semester, so students pair off into groups of 6, 9, or even 15 (which is stress-inducing number of people to plan for). However, there were classes on Friday, so the week-end is a normal length, instead of the 3-day weekends that we will enjoy for the rest of the semester. So, there is a certain sense of calm going into the week-end that I don’t expect to be there for the rest of the semester.

I had a bit of a split weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday during the day in Saarbrücken, Germany. But Saturday night I went to a birthday celebration and spent the rest of the weekend in St. Avold, France.

The first lesson I learned in Germany: the only thing worse than a language barrier is a language barrier similar to your own language. I am such a big fan of languages, but I have never learned German before. (I know “Guten tag” and the other basics, but other than that, nope). However, because English is a Germanic language, there were just enough similarities to lure me into a false sense of comfort. I went out to lunch with my friend Saturday, and I was super confident that I could order my own lunch. Needless to say, I goofed. The worst part is that I thought it went flawlessly. I ordered a schnitzel sandwich with extra onions, some sauce I didn’t know, and a cup of coffee. My friend, who speaks German, laughed throughout the whole order, and I thought it was because of my accent. But, I, being the stubborn person that I am, said I didn’t want any help. So, when my food arrives and it is not a sandwich, but rather some type of baked pasta with raw onions on top, my friend explodes into laughter. Of course, the poor restaurant employee looks so concerned because he just put a lot of effort into this super weird order, so my friend explains to him what happened. (So of course, he laughs too.) I was just happy that I got the coffee right! (And, the pasta dish was absolutely delicious, so no harm no foul.)

Also, we went shopping and came across a beauty contest in the middle of the mall, so that was unexpected and fun to watch.

Saturday night, I went to the birthday party for my friend’s mom’s friend’s husband, who also happens to be my friend’s step-dad’s cousin, named Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc. Maxime’s mom and step-dad have a couple friend (you know, typical married people stuff), Jean-Luc and Sylvie. Anyway, I got invited to Jean-Luc’s birthday party and it was a hoot.

It was my first time seeing Maxime’s family since I left, and it was such a treat. I also got to meet so many cool people. Jean-Luc’s niece, Priscila, and I hit it off. When I arrived, she was raving about her recent trip to Harry Potter World in London, and we spent the rest of the night talking about Harry Potter. It was super interesting to see how some of the words translated. A wand is a “baguette magique” (literally magic baguette). The best one is the sorting hat is the “choipeau.” (A combination of “choix” and “chapeau,” the French words for choice and hat!) She also taught me about the southern French accent. Her husband, Bruno, is from the south, so he talks with this accent. (One of the main characteristics is that they replace the usual nasal n for “-ain” with something close to a nasal “ing” sound. Hard to explain, but very fun to experience.) She also gave me an open invitation to her house with her husband in southern France. (Stay tuned to see if I can make it work.) The party was so much fun, and the food as so amazing.

Sunday was great because it was a very authentic Sunday. I woke up late and did nothing. Just hung out with Max and his family, and then I went home. It was a very fun first weekend, calm and relaxing, just as I expected.

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!

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