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Category: Travels (Page 6 of 13)

Iceland: The Most Magical Place on Earth

Iceland is…something else. I’m not entirely sure how to explain the place. This is the simplest way I can think of: cross a Narnia or Lord of the Rings-type landscape with Mars. And that’s about the best I can do. Imagine ultra-dramatic cliffs with black, craggy rocks at the top – but a lush green carpet of moss everywhere else, and then add geothermal vents steaming off one edge with a waterfall trailing off the other. Also, add some sheep on the way up and ponies at the base. It doesn’t sound real, does it?

Basically, if you like nature even just a little bit and you have a pinhead’s worth of a sense of adventure in your blood, COME TO ICELAND. Save up money, skip out on a few weekends to study, and go to Iceland. Please. For me. I’m 100% going back, no doubt in my mind. Usually when I go somewhere with cool sand I take a little bit in a bottle, but I’m so confident in my going back that I didn’t bottle anything at all. I know I’m being dramatic, all raving mad about a place that I only spent 3 days in, but seriously, this place has every possible cool nature thing you could imagine. Plus the food is incredible, and their wool sweaters are super cute. What’s not to like?

The first thing we did in Reykjavik was set out for an early morning hike up a small-ish mountain right outside the city. It’s called Mount Esja, and it’s very popular and easy to get to by public transit (bus). It starts out with some low, dense trees, which were changing color at the time (as it’s early October), and soon enough you’re doing switchbacks on a very impressive rocky mountain.

We wanted to climb to the top, but it started to rain/sleet, and we ran back down the mountain (literally running, almost rolled my ankle multiple times) for shelter. We were really booking it up and down the mountain, and it took us 2 hours. On the way back down we passed by a nice brook with little waterfalls tumbling into it all along the mountainside: it was my first Icelandic waterfall sighting so I thought they were lovely, when in fact they were nothing compared to what I’d be seeing over the next few days.

 

As far as the city of Reykjavik goes, it’s a nice little place but I wouldn’t spend too much time within its borders. The cities are not what you’re there to see, although I will highlight a couple things. One of them is the massive beautiful church of Hallgrimskirkja. It looks like basalt columns, and if you like gothic or medieval churches then you’re out of luck. The church has a very pristine and clean feel to it, with the inside all white. Very magnificent though. What I actually want to talk about, however, is what we found on the way there. We took a side street to get to the church, and as we were walking this incredible smell wafted our way. Braud, a bakery within sight of the church, makes cinnamon buns constantly all day everyday, and I swear to you it’s the best cinnamon bun in the entire world. It was seriously so, so good. I went twice. There’s nothing quite like a cinnamon bun fresh out of the oven.

 

 

We then proceeded south to stay in an adorable AirBnB in Hella, and the next day went along the southern coast. We visited Vik, a small coastal town, with this view from their lighthouse on a random cliff on the beach:

 

Doesn’t look real right?? It looks like Jon Snow should be rowing underneath that arch and Daenerys should be flying overhead on a freaking dragon. The cliffs on this place were ridiculous.

We also found some impressive waterfalls: the first one is called Skogafoss (above), and I never did find out what the other one was, as we just ran across it on the main road south.

 

 

Back up towards Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a small loop that hits a lot of natural wonders in one go. We got to see some geysers in a geothermal region, as well as a waterfall called Gullfoss. I’ve never been to the Niagra Falls, but I imagine standing in front of it is akin to being near this waterfall. The sheer size of it was something in and of itself, but all the different ways it split and tumbled into the ravine was just spectacular. If we hadn’t been on a time crunch I could’ve sat there and watched it for hours.

 

I really wanted to go see a glacier, and we did see one in the distance, but they were actually causing flooding on the roads that we couldn’t get around. Because of this (and many other) reason(s), I’m going back to Iceland as soon as humanly possible.

 

Vlog 3: Interlaken

Night Trains: For the Long-Distance Traveler on a Budget

Basically, after all of the traveling I’ve done, I grew tired of the Franco-Germanic area and aspired to travel elsewhere, which either requires an 8-12+ hour train or an expensive flight. So, I found a nice solution: night trains! Night trains are awesome. Within France they’re very cheap: I went to Monaco for a 20 euro reservation, which is what you’d pay for an inexpensive hostel. From southern France, it’s just a quick train to Italy, and there are also night trains that go between countries as well. I have some friends that took one to Barcelona for 30-40 euros, and I’m positive the night train to Berlin is fairly inexpensive as well.

The trains have rooms that house 6 beds, and yes, they are super cramped. I’m talking Titanic movie cramped.

 

But, all you’re doing is sleeping, so instead of staying up late and doing homework or other irrelevant things, get a good night’s rest so you can explore all the next day! (I’m joking, although if you are thinking of doing homework on this train, then forget about it. There were no common areas to just hang out in (at least on mine), and don’t expect to be able to sit upright comfortably in your bed.

Also, If you’re tall you may end up like this:

These trains usually leave late at night (mine left at 10 pm) and you arrive at your destination in the morning.

One thing to consider is that unless you buy out an entire cabin of all six beds, you’ll probably be sharing them with other people. So, if you have a group of friends that are obsessed with a card game and are refusing to quit at even 1 am, just be courteous of the people you’re sharing the cabin with and try to move out into the hallway. That doesn’t sound fun but it’s better that than pissing off some French women who will 100% use the entirety of their vocabulary to make you shut up (totally not based on personal experience). Also, it’s always good to be conscious of your things, but that’s a bit hard to do when you’re asleep. I cannot sleep with one eye open, and I doubt you can either, so I suggest getting a money belt/something similar so you can keep your passport and phone close to you without fear of prying hands. Get out there and see some far away stuff!

Monaco: Fancy Beach Version of France

I hadn’t originally planned to go to Monaco, but wanting to enjoy the warmth that is quickly getting sucked out of Europe, I decided to look it up on AirBnB and just see what was available. I found a really cheap place pretty close to Monte Carlo, so I went ahead and booked it on a whim. My good friend from spring semester at GTL lives in Milan and was able to come hang in Monaco, and there was a whole group of GTL people happening to go that weekend, so it ended up being quite the party.

You know how in New York City, an okay-looking apartment costs half a million dollars and a spacious one is at least a few million? Monaco is very similar I think. There’s a ton of high rises and apartment areas that don’t look particularly fancy, but then you realize their balcony overlooks a marina where their massive yacht lives.

Which leads me into the yacht talk: if you care about boats even a little bit, come to Monaco and check out these megaliths. I didn’t realize private boats could get this big. Big is an understatement. I’m talking hot tub in the front, helipad in the back, with 12 bedrooms yachts. We looked up some of the names and at least two were on the list of the biggest yachts in existence. It’s absolutely insane, and there’s a ton of high vantage points where you can see the marina’s full of them.

The first thing we did was find our way to the museum containing the Prince’s private car collection. I don’t know much about cars – I’m not a gear-head by any means – but this might’ve been the coolest thing I saw in Monaco. There were so many classic, priceless cars from every decade. My favorites were the 1920’s Rolls Royce’s and I’m determined to build my own or force my mechanical engineering friends to make me one. I feel like if a major vehicle distributor made bodies of classic cars with everything else kept modern, they’d make so much money.

One of my other favorite sites was a big beach in the northern part of Monaco. It was sunny, and the water was so refreshing – not cold enough to be unbearable, but still so invigorating. We jumped off a rock outcropping and swam to a floating dock, where we could tell there was a decent amount of fish underwater but couldn’t actually see. One of our friends actually swam back and bought goggles, with which we soon found out there were hundreds and hundreds of fish just chilling under the dock. They were super relaxed and let you swim right through them, it was incredible and I wish I could’ve gotten pictures.

Of course, I have to touch on the Monte Carlo. I’m not much of a gambler, but we can’t just go to Monaco without seeing at least one game of blackjack or roulette. The majority of our group was worn out after a day of swimming and sightseeing, so just me and my Milanese friend Brando went. We arrived extremely late, around 2am (not sure how that happened, but we’d been hanging with friends and watching music videos for a long time), and I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be open.

Much to my surprise it was 100% open, and when we waltzed in, there were a decent number of well dressed men yelling around the roulette table. We took a tour of the room – a bit smaller than I’d expected but nevertheless intensely fancy = and settled down on a couch to have a refreshment before maybe putting our hand down at some blackjack. Interestingly enough, we never got to it. My friend began to tell me about his new realization of Buddhist faith, and we became so engrossed in the conversation that everyone had left without us realizing it, and soon enough we were getting ushered out. I probably wouldn’t have gambled anyway.

Overall, Monaco was a great experience and I’d recommend it to anyone that especially likes the glory of the ultra wealthy.

The Alps & Auron

Ribeauvillé: Undoubtedly Belle’s Neighborhood

If you’ve been to GTL, are at GTL now, or plan to go to GTL in the future, the most important thing to initially consider is: money. Do you have enough to get across Europe? Are you the type whose parents will give you a credit card and just say “go to town,” or are you the type that has been saving for what feels like thirty summers for this experience? Regardless, it’s something you need to think about a good deal ahead of time, and you need to plan to spend more than you think.

I always factor in spending at least a little more than expected, but something I wasn’t expecting was just how crazy incredibly expensive Stockholm was. Stockholm, Sweden is a beautiful place with bountiful opportunities. They’re just all pricey as hell. I stayed in a neighborhood a long walk but short metro ride away from the center of town. I love metro systems, they’re efficient and easy to use (usually), but I wasn’t expecting a single metro ride to be SIX euros! Just for comparison, a single metro ticket in Paris is 1.80 euros. Think about that. And then think about what everything else must cost.

Basically, I blew through an unprecedented amount of cash in Stockholm. I didn’t have any plans for the next weekend, so I just decided I’d do a day trip (I was recovering from a cold and needed the sleep anyway). A friend of mine also happened to stay in, so we planned a quick and easy day hike around some ruins in Ribeauvillé, a small vineyard town near Colmar. You have to train to Colmar and then take a bus to Ribeauvillé: if you’re in a town in Europe that doesn’t have direct access to a train station, you know you’re far out. It was so worth the trek though.

Ribeauvillé is a tiny town pushed up against some mountains, where all the area in between is vineyards upon vineyards upon vineyards. So many grapes! The town itself was honestly pretty surreal. You know how in DisneyWorld they have those fake towns made to look provincial, like Cinderella is supposed to open a window and start singing except the only objects they contain are overpriced slushies and Mickey Mouse hats? I knew we were in the actual place that DisneyWorld tried to mimic, but because my preconceived notions reminded me of a children’s empty amusement park, it still ended up feeling weirdly…fake. Regardless, it was cute and I would totally run through the cobblestone streets singing about bakers and Gaston and stuff.

After finding the most roundabout way possible to get to the ruins, we finally approached three castle ruins on the mountainside. The first one we came upon was my favorite: I loved the way that the castle sat upon this massive rock jutting out from the mountain.

The castles themselves weren’t as big as you would expect them to be, honestly. One of them was a château, but I believe the others were more fortress-type structures that were used in Medieval times.

We climbed all over them and we spent most of our time enjoying the view over the flat farmland from random points, seeing farther and farther as we climbed higher. I would 100% recommend this as a day, maybe two-day trip (if you want to enjoy the town) getaway from Metz. The hike wasn’t too strenuous and there’s not many places in which you can see three separate ruins within a two hour time span.

Stockholm: Perfect…A Little Too Perfect

I’ve been trying to find the words to describe this place and I simply don’t think I can locate all of the right ones, so I’ll do the best I can. I knew that if I didn’t plan out a trip to Scandinavia way ahead of time, it just wouldn’t happen, so I booked a super cheap flight to Stockholm, Sweden. I decided to do this trip alone. I’m perfectly fine with traveling by myself, and I’ve already written a blog specifically about how to make the most of solo travel.

I landed quite early into Stockholm on Friday, and there were a few things I noticed about the city almost immediately:

1) The smell. If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know what the city smells like: a very distinct combination of subway gunk and gasoline and who-knows-what-else, with most urban metropolises having a similar smell. Everywhere I walked in Stockholm, it smelled incredibly fresh, green, and crisp. This may just be my bias because I expected the city to be incredible, but it truly was just ultra clean.

2) The greenery. So many parks! Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities because of how much they value recreational green space, and I might say Stockholm now holds that #1 title for Parks & Recreation. Ron Swanson would be proud. So many green lawns, gardens, sculptures with plants on them, plants with sculptures on them…even along the roads there were so many beautiful potted flowers, just to brighten up the sidewalk.

3) The people. It seemed like every third person I saw was a beautiful, young-ish mom running with her adorable fluffy dog while pushing an IKEA stroller containing her Gerber baby-esque child. There were so many of these women! It was almost a little unnerving to be perfectly honest, a bit reminiscent of the Truman Show. Everyone is super tall, super blonde, and super rich (looking). I felt every inch of my entire 5’4″ stature become dwarfed by these people.

Stockholm is a very large city spread out across 14 main islands. This means that pretty much at any point you’re within a mile of a coast line, and this makes for an incredibly beautiful view from wherever you go. This is a view from a bridge next to the Royal Palace.

The subway system is extensive and goes both above and below the surrounding Baltic Sea. The very first thing I did upon dropping my bag off at my hostel was to go to this restaurant that’s only open during the summer called Mälarpaviljongen (I butchered every single Swedish word I attempted to utter). It has the main restaurant off of a beautiful park on the water and a cafe/bar on a floating dock literally on the water, making for a nice calm rocking while you sip your fancy espresso and chow down on their salmon/capers/dill combo sandwich. It was absolutely gorgeous.

This restaurant is also very progressive (a.k.a. standard Swedish) because they sell some goods with which all the proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ+ organizations. Stockholm is extremely open to all things rainbow: it’s not strange to see a pride flag hanging up in a random restaurant.

My favorite thing aside from just the city itself is between the public library and thVasa Museum. The Stockholm Library is the largest in Sweden, and it was so aesthetically pleasing – look at that!!

 

There was a large English section, so I plopped down and read a little bit of Dante’s Inferno, just to feel like a schOOOLar in the fancy LIIIIbrary. I met an incredibly interesting guy named Kim 

at my hostel, and he told me more people are fluent in English in Sweden than America. (Maybe true? I wouldn’t be surprised, everyone spoke extremely well. Don’t quote me on it, though.)

The Vasa museum is basically this massive building devoted to a shipwreck that was unearthed in the 1950’s near Stockholm. The Vasa ship sunk in the mid 1600’s, and because the water has such low salinity, it’s extremely well-preserved.

Look at the detail of the little wooden heads – how insane is that?? If you’re into nautical history/history in general I would 100% recommend going.

Stockholm was so incredible that I’m leaving many things out of this post, or it would go on forever and ever. All I’m going to say is just go, make sure you have enough money for it, and have so much fun!!

Solo Travel: A How-To

As GTL students travel all over the continent, there may be times where someone wants to go somewhere or do something specific that absolutely no one else wants to do. If you’re one of those people, but you’re worried about traveling by yourself, have no fear! I’m here to tell you how to do it right (as I’ve come to experience) and safely.

One thing you have to keep in mind is how you appear to others. If you’re worried about getting pick-pocketed or being scammed, try not to look über-touristy. Save your fanny pack for another time and maybe zip your jacket up over your American flag t-shirt. If you’re lost, stop and find a map or look at your phone on a spot away from a street corner where you would stand out. Maybe try to go to less-touristy places instead. I mean, there’s so much to see in these incredible places you’re exploring, and especially being by yourself, you’re more likely to chat up a local in a neighborhood art gallery than in the London Eye.

I recently went to Stockholm by myself and got to enjoy a goblet of strawberries, the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had, and an overpriced – but refreshing – cucumber soda. If I had been there with anyone else I’m not sure I would’ve paid them any attention anyway.

This leads me to my next point: talk to people! Be open to it! That was very hard for me to figure out how to do, not being the most social butterfly of the bunch. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you then that’s fine, but most often people in a hostel or in a relaxed social setting will be open to conversation. Talking to other travelers is easiest, as you both might feel like outsiders, but I really urge you to try and speak with a local if you really want to get a feel for the culture you’re visiting. It’s so fascinating to me how Europeans perceive America and the contrasts between growing up in these two similar, but also incredibly different atmospheres – and without fail the young Europeans I’ve talked to feel the same.

By now you’ve probably heard earful after earful of “be wary of pick pocketing don’t put down your purse don’t stray from main roads at night,” and unfortunately I’m going to give you yet another earful, but hopefully a meaningful one. Simply be aware. That’s all. Don’t do anything that would put you in a weird situation, especially now since you can’t just call your friend over. Lie if you have to, and I mean this especially for my girls out there – if someone asks if you’re traveling alone, never ever say yes! It gives you a good escape plan with a fake call if it’s necessary, and if they end up being cool and you become lifelong friends, then they should understand your precautions.

I hope this has been helpful. I know there’s a decent number of people that I’ve overheard talking about solo travel, so if you have a friend in need then link them this tidbit right here!

Vlog 2: Luxem-Boujee

Final Blog Post *sobs*

Well GTL, this is it. This is my last post. Amidst the impending chaos of final exams and the packing and cleaning of dorm rooms, I think it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that this is the last week we have as a group in Metz. Reflecting on my semester, it seems like only a week ago that a very jet-lagged and food-poisoned girl walked into orientation and met her professors for the first time. Now as an engineer, it is my job to provide you with the hard data results of travels.

Weekends Traveled: 15

Countries Visited: 9

Cities Visited: 20

Museums Visited: 18

Classes Taken: 4

Travel Mishaps: 8

Now, before you go making graphs, fellow engineers, I would like to share that a GTL experience cannot possibly be measured with just numbers. Not in the above statistics: The amazing lifelong friendships, the feeling of being alone in a place with a language and culture far different from your own, identifying with a city where you don’t even speak the language, and learning more about the history of the world than you have in your whole life prior to coming. This feeling of novelty, of being out of my comfort zone, and this feeling of wonder when I learn new things about the world I didn’t know before will be hard to hold onto when I go back to the US.

Now that I am done uncontrollably sobbing about going home, here is a detailed account of some of my favorite memories every weekend. Planning a trip to one of these places? Check out my favorite things!

In Heidelberg, the first city I visited, my favorite memory was standing in the Heidelberg Castle grounds, looking at the city below. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face as he looked out over the valley. It was his first time in Europe.

In Paris, I loved the Hall of Impressionists in the Musee D’Orsay. I remember the light feeling I had looking at the Degas paintings, inspired to dance and do ballet again. This is when I truly made a new friend, my fellow blogger Sam.

In Salzburg, I loved talking to the Australian guy in our hostel. He came with our group to get dinner and we learned so much about his culture, and he about ours.

In Prague, I loved going to the communist museum. Reading about the communist occupation of the Czech Republic from the perspective of someone who lived through it was truly eye-opening. It proved to me that we can’t be complacent in the world, because terrible things were happening in our parent’s lifetimes.  

In Garmisch Partenkirchen, I skied with an infinite view of the top of the world. It reminded me how small I was, and how lucky I was to experience such beautiful nature. I also got to know a really great group of people, and experience their wacky skiing mishaps with them. It really brought us together.

In Venice I loved going to the Doge’s palace. I learned about the immense wealth and power the city state had, and how much that sea-based land could be worth.

In Rome, I loved the Roman forum, standing in the footsteps of the greatest ancient civilization and realizing that our world has come a long way since Roman times. The ruins reminded me that nothing is forever.

In Florence, I learned that art is captivating, and the more life-like the painting or sculpture the more talented the artist. I also became friends with two amazing people here. (What up Bryston and Peugh!)

In Cinque Terre, I loved hiking to each of the villages. Each were unique in their own right. I felt strong and happy.

In Amsterdam, I thought the Van Gogh museum was beautiful. It reminded me that things don’t have to be exact to be beautiful, and don’t have to be completely real to make you feel.

In Berlin, I loved going on the walking tour. It showed me that my love of history doesn’t just belong to me. Looking at all of the people in my group made me realize I love this earth, and we can learn a lot from our history, good and bad.

In Krakow, I visited Auschwitz. I walked the path of the millions that were slaughtered. It reminded me that hate cannot be allowed to win, and acceptance is the only course of action.

In Munich, I loved the Deutsches Museum. It reminded me why I became an engineer, and gave me back that childlike sense of wonder for science that I had forgotten in school.

In Interlacken, I learned to push myself. I didn’t give up, and rode 28 miles on rough hilly terrain. Even though I needed to rest I pushed through and I am very proud of myself.

In Stuttgart, I visited my exchange student and attended Wasen, the big festival. I made great friends and I really felt a part of traditional German culture.

My experiences are unlike anyone else’s. They are uniquely mine, and I am infinitely lucky to have been able to experience them. So if you can, come make memories. Travel. Be outside your comfort zone. Because you will grow so much. Thank you all, and to all good night.

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