Europe: Through the Looking Glass

At Georgia Tech Lorraine, new experiences are never-ending, and sometimes show up in unexpected places! In her latest post, take a look through Blanca’s eyes as she details her observations of daily life in Europe!

Friday, January 31, 2020 | Written by Blanca

Being at GTL for the semester makes for an incredibly auspicious location from which you can conveniently traverse much of the entire continent of Europe (a perk of which I have taken advantage multiple times already).  But, while it would bring me no greater joy than to inundate everyone with my tales recounting weekends gallivanting cobblestone streets and misty mornings among Flemish architecture, each façade with more character than the last, I think that the most insightful portrayals of European life actually emerge from the little details.  Sure, I’d anticipated that studying, eating, and traveling might be entirely different experiences in places with so much culture and history (and they are!), but nobody informed me about more mundane aspects of life, like that grocery stores here stock milk in six-packs and that a lactose intolerant person like myself can simply puncture the six-pack and remove a single bottle instead of having to buy an entire six-liter package of milk.  (On a side note, scenarios like this one are ones in which it becomes especially useful to employ a hawkish eye in observing the local residents and their grocery store behaviors.)

Experiencing the nuances of life in a new place are, dare I say it, perhaps even more fascinating than sightseeing, picture-taking, and general tourist-ing.  While I’ll still be doing plenty of the latter, I thought I’d share some of the quirks and unique details I’ve noticed about being abroad as well. Behold! Europe: Through the Looking Glass*.

(*actually through my glasses, which always seem to be smudged and are, at this point, a years-old, outdated prescription because my favorite frames seem to be perpetually out of stock—but rest assured that this takes away nothing from the Authentic European Experience™)

  • Everything in France seems to be smaller: chairs, elevators, cars—and by extension, the width of roadway lanes.  Public transportation (i.e. busses) are also widespread, and for the bus lines that don’t drive along designated bus lanes, I’ve been left to marvel at how their drivers are able to maneuver the large, cumbersome busses through such narrow and meandering roads.
  • While there are definitely still traffic lights scattered at intersections, European cities increasingly employ roundabouts/traffic circles instead of traditional four-way junctions.  Perhaps they’re on to something: studies have shown that roundabouts significantly reduce injury crashes at intersections.
  • On the topic of transportation, it seems that the vast majority of cars driven in Europe are hatchbacks.  I haven’t the slightest idea why this is so.

    The fruit stalls at Marche Couvert in Downtown Metz
    The fruit stalls at Marche Couvert in Downtown Metz
  • Fresh produce in even the most generic of European supermarkets is, put quite plainly, on another level.  The carrots? Simply sublime. And, despite avoiding grape tomatoes like the plague in America because they always seem to be so watery (and not much else), I’m pleasantly surprised to announce that I’ve yet to encounter a European grape tomato that I didn’t like.
  • Many restrooms, commonly referred to as water closets, in public spaces require a payment to use, usually a Euro or less.  Beware of those which ask for a specific amount of change, like €0.50, though. If you instead insert a €1 coin, assuming that you’re essentially paying double for entry, prepare to be left bewildered when the coin collection slot simply eats up your Euro and then defiantly refuses to budge.

    A classic cone of frites from a Belgium friterie—a must-try
    A classic cone of frites from a Belgium friterie—a must-try
  • Many Europeans are multilingual, especially those that live in areas where there are a multitude of languages spoken, and even more so, I’ve noticed, if they are young.  Maybe this is out of necessity, but as someone who speaks, reads, and writes only English fluently, I am equal parts impressed, grateful, and feeling slightly under-accomplished.  Perhaps it’s time to brush up on my Duolingo lessons after all.
  • The best ‘French’ fries I’ve had since arriving have been in Belgium.  Go figure.

Adventuring in Antwerp

Blanca is back on the blog, with a new post detailing her trip to Antwerp, Belgium. While she was hunting for the authentic Belgian waffle, she stumbled upon another thing to hunt for. Check it out for a story that will leave you asking, “Where’s Mary?”!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 | Written by Blanca

Last Thursday, partially fueled by a desire to scout out the best, most authentic Belgian waffle, I found myself, at the end of a five-hour train journey, stepping onto my final concrete train platform of the night.  A sign informed me and my travel party that we had indeed arrived in Belgium in one piece, and, huffing a relieved breath of air into the frigid night, we were soon off to our Airbnb.

The next morning brought a wave of sleep deprivation that was soon overtaken by excitement; we were off to Antwerp, and ever a sucker for seeing new architectural styles in the flesh, I was eager to take in all of Antwerp’s stepped gable building fronts and perhaps even a peek of the Mosan Renaissance.

After hopping off our train at the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station, which is a stunningly eclectic architectural feat in itself (Mashable even crowned it the world’s most beautiful train station in 2014!), the first stop was brunch.  I’m never one to pass up a meal in a cute café, or a photoshoot of said food, or a pan of shakshuka, for that matter, so on this day I did all three.

A shakin’ shakshuka
A shakin’ shakshuka

Traversing sidewalks and absorbing the buildings lining the streets is perhaps my favorite pastime, and I saw much of Antwerp this way.  If you find yourself in Antwerp doing the same, don’t forget to look up! I soon noticed that there sat perched on many a building corner in Antwerp a Virgin Mary statue, which quickly presented the opportunity for a twist on the classic, “Where’s Waldo?”.  I should warn you, however, that Mary and her cherubs can be quite elusive. Be prepared to run across the street in order to take a photo when you finally encounter one, leaving the rest of your travel party wondering what on Earth is wrong with you.

Where’s Mary?
Where’s Mary?

Later, I found myself passing through the famed Grote Markt in Antwerp’s old city quarter, lined with strikingly Flemish Gothic guildhalls.  No doubt looking quite foolish (and even more like a tourist), I spun around in place to take in the full 360° view, which was still stunning, even on an overcast day.

Grote Markt, Antwerp
Grote Markt, Antwerp

Our meandering path across the city brought us along the Scheldt River next, where we made a stop in the Museum aan de Stroom.  MAS houses collections on nine floors, although making my way around Antwerp with a group of eight other people meant that I wasn’t able to pore over each exhibit as I normally like to do at museums.  I’d been warned of this before, but if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about traveling, it’s that the larger the group with which you travel, the harder it is to agree precisely on how to delegate everyone’s time collectively—which makes perfect sense, since everyone has different desires and interests.  So, while staring longingly at impressionist paintings and gawking over ornate period rooms is absolutely my cup of tea, for others it might seem downright dreadful. Conversely, though, seeing new sights and exploring new environments with friends makes the experience all the more sweet, so no complaints here!  The MAS roof offers an expansive panoramic view of the city, so up we went, viewing the city from 200 feet in the air and tracing the steps we’d taken to get there.

The view from the roof of MAS
The view from the roof of MAS

The rest of my weekend was spent still in Belgium, where I visited charming Ghent and strolled the streets of Brussels, lit up so magically in the night.  Like Antwerp, these Belgian cities were both beautiful and full of character in their own rights, each with their own hidden gems (and each deserving of their own blog posts, if we’re being frank).  

On a final note, in case you’re wondering, did Blanca ever get to eat her Belgian waffle?  Yes, yes I did.

Lots of food, all of which I ate.

Are you hungry? If you aren’t now, you will be after reading Blanca’s next blog! Check it out for mouthwateringly delicious looking pictures and the details of her first week food adventures!

Thursday, January 23, 2020 | Written by Blanca


After wrapping up my first full week in Metz, I think it’s high time to address a topic about which I’m sure everyone back in the States is wondering:

What is the food like in Europe?

As the GTL blogger for the semester, I feel that it’s my duty to showcase all the aspects of life abroad, and foreign fare is no exception.  This is a duty not to be taken lightly, so in order to adequately address the above inquiry, I made a point to try as many foods as possible, and as wide of a range of foods as possible, before and during my first full week in Europe—for the sake of furthering everyone’s collective knowledge, you know?  

Aux Petits Choux, 207 Avenue de Strasbourg, 57070 Metz


A low-quality image of a high-quality sandwich
A low-quality image of a high-quality meal

Only a ten-minute walk from the GTL building, and an even closer walk from the Lafayette residence where many GTL students reside, this bakery offers a selection of baguettes, viennoiseries (baked goods), and the best sandwiches at affordable prices.  I ordered the Toscan sandwich (€4.10), which encased cured ham and piquant tomatoes, not unlike sun-dried tomatoes, in a near foot-long baguette.  Enjoy the blurry eating-while-walking photo of it to the right!


McDonald’s, 43160 Rue du Palais, 57000 Metz


The good ol’ Golden Arches-- lots of mcDonalds!
The good ol’ Golden Arches

To conclude our first week in France, a few friends and I made a 10PM trip to McDonald’s—because what better cuisine to eat in a country heralded for its culinary eminence?  Nevertheless, the trip yielded some interesting insights: McDonald’s portion sizes are noticeably smaller than those in America and are significantly more expensive. That being said, the offerings in France are much lighter and healthier than those back home, and some menu items are unique to France, so it may be worth checking out for those interested in the differences.


Burger Kebab, 5 Rue du Palais, 57000 Metz


Burger Kebab’s Kebab Burger—say that 10 times, fast
Burger Kebab’s Kebab Burger—say that 10 times, fast

Disillusioned with American fast food chains after my trip to McDonald’s, that weekend, I instead went to Burger Kebab, a French joint serving a range of menu items from tacos to kebab wraps and burgers.  It seemed fitting to order the kebab burger, which did not disappoint; in addition to being more affordable than Americanized fast food, the burger also featured more complex flavor notes from its combination of kebab meat, fresh vegetables, and a house burger sauce.


Technopôle University Restaurant, CROUS, 4 Boulevard Dominique François Arago, 57070 Metz

A convenient lunch spot frequented by many a GTL student, the Crous Cafeteria is a practical choice due to its proximity to GTL and its competitive student pricing, so I decided to try it for myself.  For a mere €3.30, students are able to grab a baguette roll, a side salad, an entrée (check the menu for each week’s offering), a serving of cheese/dairy, and a dessert. If you’re looking for a quick and easy-on-the-wallet bite to eat on a weekday, the Crous Cafeteria is hard to beat.

Di Clara, 3 Rue Dupont des Loges, 57000 Metz

Last Thursday night, and incidentally also the night of the last day of the first full week of class (a cause for celebration, for sure), a group of friends and I traveled to downtown Metz in search of sustenance that we would not need to prepare ourselves.  We decided on pasta, and after inputting a few vague phrases into Google Maps, we meandered the streets of Metz, where we were found, fifteen minutes later and completely off-route, by a group of local French residents. Fortunately, they spoke English, and after a short chat with us fired off a list of Italian restaurants in the area.  Ultimately, we found ourselves in front of Di Clara, an ambiently-lit restaurant boasting a diverse menu of pastas, risottos, and pizzas in red and white sauces, and despite not having a reservation for our party of six, we were ushered in.


The best—the best—risotto
The best—the best—risotto

I ordered the asparagus risotto (risotto di asparagi), a creamy and perfectly-balanced risotto with green asparagus, fresh tomatoes, leeks, and Italian cheese.  Other orders at the table included shrimp scampi tagliatelle, tortellini in gorgonzola sauce, and Tuscan rigatoni, and after stealing a bite from many other plates, I can say without a doubt that this was one of the best meals I’ve had in France so far.  Though on the pricier side—this is no Crous Cafeteria—like the locals, I definitely recommend paying Di Clara a visit if you’re in Metz!


Metropolitan, 35 Rue du Fort Elisabeth, 1463 Luxembourg


A Metropolitan meal in a metropolitan city
A Metropolitan meal in a metropolitan city

After an early start to the day and an hour-long bus ride to Luxembourg City, my Luxembourg travel companions and I dropped into Metropolitan for brunch.  Bordering a bustling square, Metropolitan’s contemporary, glowing lighting and cozy seating were invitingly warm, much like its menu. I ordered Oscar’s Classic Burger, which comprised a juicy burger patty, crispy bacon, buttery melted cheese, and fresh vegetables on a toasted bun, all served with a side of thick, golden fries.


If burgers aren’t for you, there are a variety of other menu items to try!  Other orders at the table included fragrant Moroccan lamb chops, a savory Mexican-style breakfast, raspberry cheesecake, steak and potatoes, and the classic brunch staples of pancakes and eggs on toast.

A Day Trip to Luxembourg

Blanca is back with her first travel story about her day trip to Luxembourg! Check out her blog to hear all about the fun she had on her sweet day trip!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | Written by Blanca


This past Saturday, I woke up bright and early to catch the B line bus to the Metz bus depot, and from there, a bus (from the delightfully whimsically-named company Blablabus) to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.  After arriving at the bus station, my travel companions and I purchased all-day bus tickets for €4.00; although public transportation in Europe is generally already quite affordable, this feat in particular left us all patting ourselves on the backs for our financial literacy.  (While it was revealed later, when the bus arrived, that certain bus lines run for free in Luxembourg on Saturdays, including the bus we were planning to take, for the moment, we revelled in our savvy saving.)

To pass the time while waiting for the bus that would take us into the city, and with a surprisingly strong eduroam wifi signal being emitted from the international high school across the street, we all pulled out our phones to do some quick fact-searching on Luxembourg.

Some Quick Facts About Luxembourg, Courtesy of Wikipedia and of Eduroam from a School Across the Street

  • The people of Luxembourg have the highest GDP per capita in the world
  • Luxembourg’s official languages are French, German, and Luxembourgish, the national language (but we also found that virtually everyone, or at least those that worked in business fronts and retail, spoke English as well)
  • Most of the authentic Luxembourgish cuisine shares the same flavor notes as those of neighboring Germany

Our bus took us into central Luxembourg City, where we immediately marveled at the local architecture: a mix of Germanic, Romanesque, and Gothic.  Like a bunch of flamingly obvious tourists, we took pictures aplenty.

The Adolphe Bridge on an overcast day
The Adolphe Bridge on an overcast day

Off in the distance, we spotted a Hogwarts-esque castle tower-looking thing with a gold clock face, later revealed to be the Banque et Caisse d’Épargne de l’État (Luxembourg has numerous banks; in fact, banking is Luxembourg’s largest economic sector, again according to Wikipedia), toward which me immediately decided to walk.  Our trek across the famed Adolphe Bridge, pictured above, and through cobblestone streets lined with apartment buildings reminiscent of Parisian Haussmannian architecture eventually led us to a restaurant called Metropolitan, where we stopped for a much-deserved brunch.

One of Luxembourg’s many bank buildings
One of Luxembourg’s many bank buildings

Now fully fed and with a renewed pep in our steps, we made our way southward, back across the Adolphe Bridge, in search of the Palais Grand-Ducal (Grand Ducal Palace).  Along the way, we stopped by the Cercle Cité Hall, where we saw an exhibit of contemporary and conceptual art pieces, contenders for the Robert Schuman Art Prize. Next, we walked through Luxembourg City’s lively shopping district, finally reaching the Grand Ducal Palace.  

The Grand Ducal Palace
The Grand Ducal Palace

Not one to miss the arts scene, I popped into a local English bookstore, aptly named Ernster: All English Bookstore.  Our group of eight then traversed the square to Luxembourg City History Museum, where we learned about Luxembourg’s city planning and history, first as a fortress city and then as a Grand Duchy.  My favorite portion of the museum, the fourth floor, was entirely dedicated to the Schueberfouer, Luxembourg’s annual city funfair dating back 679 years. (Fun fact! The Schueberfouer was founded on my birthday in 1340.)  A colorful range of displays showed us carnival lights, both old and new, rainbow-colored enamel carousel seats, and my personal favorite, a collection of vivid Schueberfouer posters, a few of which I desperately want as prints for my room.

The color! The composition! The typefaces! The Schueberfouer!!
The color! The composition! The typefaces! The Schueberfouer!!

Our time to return to the bus depot fast approaching, we took one final walk around Luxembourg City, taking in the buildings and the local culture alike.  Luxembourg’s hilly landscape makes for great vantage points from which you can view the rest of the city, and we found yet another lookout point that offered us a stunning hilltop view of the quaint buildings below.

What a view of Luxembourg!
What a view!


My final stop in the city was at Cafe Veneziano, where I stopped for a cone of ice cream, in mid-30 degree fahrenheit weather, at that—the sweetest way to end a sweet day trip to Luxembourg.

A Whirlwind First Week

Blanca has finally arrived in Metz! After a long flight and experiencing the wonders of Cora, Blanca recaps her first taste of life in France. Check out her blog post to hear her describe one of the many amazing adventures ahead of her!

Monday, January 13th | Written by Blanca

Bonjour à tous!  Je m’appelle Blanca Zhang.  Puis-je avoir une table pour trois s’il vous plaît? 

Hello, everyone!  My name is Blanca Zhang, and while I don’t actually need a table for three at the moment, I’m thrilled to be posting again!  (These are the only three sentences in French that I currently know.)

This time, I’m writing to you not from my desk in the North Avenue Apartments, but from my (substantially more spacious) desk in Crous Lorraine, Campus Technopôle.  Since my arrival, I’ve already seen more sights, experienced more cultural nuances, and eaten more bread than I could have hoped. But wait—*record scratch* *freeze frame*—you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.  For that, we’ll have to turn back the clock a week.

Sunday, January 5, 2020, 6:00AM EST: I am rudely awakened by my alarm, a cacophonous sound which evokes in me more rage than empty staplers, comma splices, and drivers-who-don’t-use-their-turn-signals-until-they’re-actually-turning combined.  Cursing the past three weeks spent waking up at noon and ruining any modicum of a sleep schedule that remained after the fall semester, I blearily finish packing (yes, I am that person, and no, I don’t recommend it) and am soon on my way to Queens, New York.  

Fun fact!  The boroughs of New York City are where I spent the first few years of my life, but this time, instead of going home, I’m heading far, far from it.

Sunday, January 5, 2020, 3:00PM EST:  Maybe my roots in Queens are stronger than I thought, because I cannot seem to leave.  My flight has been delayed for the umpteenth time, and I count the flight departure update messages I have received from American Airlines since that morning; there are eleven. I am sure to miss my connection in Philadelphia.  I consider my options: 1) cry, or 2) frantically message my much more knowledgeable friends in hopes that one might know what to do. I choose the latter and decide to revert to option 1 if it isn’t successful—luckily, it is, and I’m given a crash course on how to ask for a flight change.  Here are the steps if you ever find yourself in such a situation: 

  1. Find a different flight with your airline that shares your current location and intended destination.
  2. Explain to the airline representative at your gate that, due to the delays with your flight departure, you are going to miss your connection at a different airport.
  3. Request to be reassigned to a flight that will arrive at your destination.  If you must arrive before a specific time to, say, catch a shuttle to campus, as I did, be sure to emphasize so.

Sunday, January 5, 2020, 5:45PM EST:  I board my new plane and settle in for a six-hour flight.  Already, most of the passengers around me are speaking French—this comes as little surprise, since we’re heading to Paris.  I recall that I, however, do not speak French, so I try to draw upon my Duolingo French expertise but remember that I quit halfway through the first lesson.  Should I reinstall the app on my phone and practice during the flight there? I try, but a flight attendant asks that I switch my phone to airplane mode, and I am left without WiFi.  Such is a modern tragedy of our day.

Monday, January 6, 2020, 4:00PM CET:  My flight touches down at the Paris-CDG airport at half past 7:00AM, and after boarding the GTL shuttle and falling asleep almost immediately, I wake up to foggier skies, the incandescent glow of street lamps, and yellow stone façades with wrought-iron terraces.  We’ve made it to downtown Metz!  

Charming downtown Metz
Charming downtown Metz

Soon, however, the neo-Romanesque structures begin to fade, and cobblestone gives way to paved roads.  As the shuttle rounds the bend of a pristine lake, I’m greeted, after a long day of travelling through unfamiliar sights, by one I know very well: a glass building that reads ‘Georgia Tech.’

Monday, January 6, 2020, 6:00PM CET:  A couple other GTL students and I have decided that we are not tired enough yet, so we’ve made the 15-minute trek from Crous to Cora, a walk that was well worth it.  While I’d been aware that Cora is dubbed the ‘French Walmart,’ nothing could prepare me for its sheer magnitude. I’m a lover of grocery stores, bakeries, furniture/homewares stores, and garden centers, so you can imagine my awe at a single store that combines all those and more.  

An image of lots, and lots of beautiful sweets!
The Cora bakery section, also known as “what dreams are made of”

Armed with my list of room essentials, I wander around Cora without a single idea where anything is located but not caring one bit—this is objectively the most amazing supermarket I’ve ever visited.  Not knowing French poses a slight inconvenience when you find yourself on a wild goose chase around Cora in the hopes of finding Brita pitchers and can’t read any of the aisle signs (but hey, at least you can get your steps in)!  I’ve always heard that European culture involves much more bread-eating and walking than in America (among many other things, of course), and Cora is, unexpectedly, a place where you can do both!  

Present Day:  The past week has been exciting, exhausting, eye-opening, exhilarating, plus a bunch of other adjectives that start with ‘e’—and it’s only been a week!  I’m looking forward to many more of them, and since I plan to write all about it, I hope you are, too.