For Nature Enthusiasts: Portugal’s Benagil Caves

Friday, February 25, 2022 | Written by Claire

Blue. That was all I could see for miles. Perched upon a sea kayak along the Benagil Coast in Lagos, Portugal, I paddled with all my might against the roaring waves that trailed behind the wake of a passing speed boat. To my right was an endless stretch of glistening turquoise waters, while to my left, giant white cliffs loomed into the sky. As the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks grew louder, so did the sound of hundreds of seagulls and pigeons, circling above a giant chasm of rocky shores. The Benagil Caves is a sight that everyone must see at least once in their lives. Not only does the crisp, clean, water hold such depth and color, the caves themselves are canvases of natural forces carved out in circular patterns over millions of years. 

At the Benagil Shore in Portugual, there are things fit for everyone who wants to see its pristine beauty. For those looking for a more relaxed activity, sunbathing or swimming along the coast is always an option. Sands in Portugual are more rusty-colored and coarse when compared to the white-sand beaches, but they’re clean and toasty, just enough for you to get a tan. For those looking for better views off the shore with minimal effort, taking one of their boat tours is the best option. They have speed boat tours every hour and in small groups, they take you on a cruise through caves and water holes where people normally wouldn’t be able to swim to. While you might get a splash here or there, you might be able to spot a whale or two on your excursion and you’ll be returning with a camera roll full of beautiful pictures and great memories for sure. 

If you want an up close and personal look at caves, go sea kayaking with a guided tour. Those people can help you get to certain landmarks such as the crocodile rock while telling you stories about how the rocks formed. Not only do these tour guides help you dock your kayaks, but they’ll also help you get back on board in case you flip! Sea Kayaking is a great way to be immersed in the natural beauty while paddling close to the water without getting drenched in the cold waters during the winter. You’ll get an adrenaline rush from racing through the waves and get a waft of cool, ocean breeze while basking in the warmth of the sunlight. 

Finally, for the ultimate adrenaline rush and to fuel your love for speed, you can go mountain biking across the southern coast where you can ride along the top of the cliffs and get a stunning aerial view.  There are trials for experienced and non-experienced riders of all ages and rental companies are super accommodating. If you’re going during the summer, make sure you have a reservation as tourism in Lagos will skyrocket. Mountain biking will give your legs a workout for sure, but the ups and downs of the coastal trails will get you flying out of your seat at times, so be careful! If you’re worried about getting lost, they also have many guided tours as well. But if not, don’t fret. There is a special app where you can load a pre-marked trail onto your phone so all you do is just follow along the path and then you’ll end up where you started, safe and sound. Each bike also comes with repair kits, locks, helmets, and tire pumps just in case you get a flat tire along the road, so you’re well prepared to face whatever comes your way!


Why GTL?

Thursday, February 23, 2022 | Written by Claire

Coming to GTL has been an astounding experience for me so far. Having switched study abroad programs last minute, I had my suspicions for how GTL would turn out; however, after living in France for over a month and having traveled to over 15 cities within the past few weekends, GTL has been life changing and I could not be more grateful for this special opportunity.  While traveling every weekend is fun, GTL is definitely for an acquired taste. Occasionally, I still have my lingering upset about not going to the other program, but in the long run, I’m confident that I’ve made the right decision, and it proves true every time I travel somewhere new and exciting. 

So, for those prospective students looking to come to GTL in the following semesters, here are some important aspects and culture of the program that you should consider before clicking the submit button on Atlas:

Major related classes

As a second-year Industrial Engineering student, I, quite frankly, do not have many classes I can really take for my major. Having satisfied all humanities and social sciences, I have found some Engineering Electives that I can round out my schedule with such as Physics and Wind Engineering. Most of the classes at GTL during the academic year are tailored for Electrical or Mechanical Engineers, with most of the classes 3000 and above. For those looking for research opportunities in robotics or other type of circuit-related labs, GTL has many opportunities and connections with teachers from Tech and outside of Tech. 

For those looking to fulfill humanities, there are countless history, international affairs, and economics classes that can count towards your core curricula, regardless of major or year. Specifically, Politics of the EU (INTA), Ethics (INTA), and History, Science, and  Technology of Modern Europe (HTS) have GT faculty-led field trips across France and into neighboring countries. These trips are perfect for those looking for a set travel group and a good way to explore the transportation methods across Europe during the first two weeks of the semester. 

Overall, from personal experience and feedback from other students in higher level engineering classes, the courses at GTL are more relaxed and have an easier flowing content distribution. Although the pace might be faster to cover all the material, GTL only has a four-day week system, so there will be much more free time to travel and do homework outside of class. 

Travel Ambitions 

Located in Metz, GTL is perfectly situated on the NE border of France and Germany, in just the right spot for reaching many high speeds train lines using the Eurail pass. For many weekends, I’ve been able to travel to Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Berlin, and even cities in Austria such as Hallstatt for free on overnight trains. It is also a good area to get to Belgium and Luxemburg on day trips due to frequent train lines in the region such as TGV. With four-day weeks and the campus being very small and situated away from downtown Metz, Georgia Tech Lorraine campus itself is actually quite mundane. On the weekdays when I’m not traveling, I’m mostly finishing my work, getting groceries, or doing my laundry in anticipation for the next trip during the weekend. 

If you’re not the type of person to travel and explore places outside your comfort zone, GTL is not the place for you. There will be many times when travel plans may get changed, cancelled, or delayed, and relying heavily on public transportation always comes with its downsides, so it’s typical to expect such bumps on the road when adjusting to life at GTL. If you’re easily stressed in these situations and don’t have the patience to plan out routes and schedules, it may be more of a hassle to come to GTL than not. 

Campus Culture 

When first arriving here, I was eager to meet a bunch of new friends and form lasting, bonding relationships with travel buddies and various friend groups. However, I was struck by the existing culture that traveled over to GTL from the main campus. As this is a second year and above oriented program, many people already come with designated friend groups from home. Often, they tend to stick together in travel groups during the weekend and are reluctant to branch out, even on campus. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few solid friends at GTL through mutuals so far, but every weekend, I find myself traveling with new people and even eventually ending contact with them during the weekday. 

There are several sport complexes that are open for those to play soccer and basketball, but all of those usually come with extra fees. There are rarely any clubs besides the average Student Government Association for students to get involved with GTL administration. Other than that, students tend to plan their own activities when not in class. 

Campus Cuisine

GTL has a dining hall for cheap: Crous. Its an inexpensive way to eat, with typical European style food options-bread, cheese, meat. I’m not a huge fan of the meals they provide there, so I usually take a quick run to Cora or Auchan, the neighboring mega-grocery stores right by the campus to get all of my cooking necessities I need to make meals for 4 days during the week. Food here is not cheap; in fact, it might actually be more expensive than the groceries I get at home, but it does offer you a chance for a balanced diet. Other than buying food to feed yourself, there are many Kebabs and even Asian restaurants for your enjoyment in downtown Metz that you can get to by tram, bus, or walking. Make sure to buy the month Le Metz pass for the best bang for your buck. 

Seafood in Spain

Monday, February 21, 2022 | Written by Claire

For spring break, I had the opportunity to hit numerous cities in Spain and Portugal. Other than the welcoming warmth of the sun, the beautifully adorned architecture, and the serene natural beauty on the coast, the food was also worth the lengthy travel time. If you’re a seafood lover, then you’re in luck!

Paella in Barcelona

One of the dishes I was most excited to try when traveling to Spain was their famous Paella. Having never tried or even seen the dish before, I could feel my mouth watering when I smelled the sizzling scent of seafood and rice at the door of the restaurant. The most popular Paella style is the one topped with shrimp, prawns, mussels, clams, and various vegetables such as bell peppers and onions. After being baked at high temperatures, the drizzle of oil and seafood soup on a fine layer of rice makes the perfect afternoon lunch along the beach with the cooling ocean breeze. Most of the time, since Paella is made in larger batches in a large pan, the food is to be shared amongst a few people. While the pan might look huge, don’t be fooled, it’s just the right amount to fill you up! You can even save some room for some extra tapas or dessert. 

Pulpo and Boatellas Tapas in Valencia

Another famous Spanish delicacy is the Pulpo or octopus with potatoes. Usually, they are served in smaller portions sprinkled with red spices and then drizzled in olive oil. With such neutral and little flavoring on the octopus slices, the natural taste of fresh octopus is brought out, paired with the tender, bouncy texture of pure octopus meat. Depending on the place you go, the meat has a drier texture with which you could bite chunks off easily while others have a chewier texture that is gummy in your mouth. The potatoes are also another story… While they are slightly sweet to the taste, they have a springy feel. Instead of becoming mush like a normal baked potato, these special Spanish potatos break off into smaller, chewier pieces, with incredible tenderness at the surface. 


If you happen to visit many of the traditional street markets, you will often find them selling mountains of fresh cuttlefish, squid, and prawns, so fresh that they’re often still twitching on the ice. At this one tapas bar, I ordered a plate of small cuttlefish for about 14 euros. It was literally the best dish I have tasted on all my trips thus far. As a seafood fanatic, I couldn’t help but to sink my teeth into the delicious, tender cuttlefish flesh. While most of the time, if you order the traditional fried squid, or calamari, the meat is usually pre-cut into rings. This dish however came with the full head, filled with tentacles as well. The garnish on top with lemon zest and olive oil added an extra seafood zing. It was one of the most tender and juiciest squid dishes I have ever had. If you find yourself in Sevilla, definitely pay a visit to La Tradicionale for big portions with reasonable prices.

GTL: Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming

Friday, February 18, 2022 | Written by Claire

  1. Long Coat Cliché 

Long coats are all the trend in France, especially since it’s cold and windy during the winter. In turn, to shield from the harsh cold while keeping stylish, almost all French people own a long coat, whether it be a trench or a puffer. When coming to France for the first time, it might be difficult to fit in, but as far as I’ve seen, if you wear a big, wool trench coat and walk around looking like you know what you’re doing, no one will think twice.  

2. Sunday Stall

Most shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays in observance of the Holy Day. Only a few convenience stores open for several hours in the morning to early afternoon. In smaller French cities, this tradition is implemented more often than bigger cities such as Paris, especially restaurants in tourist areas. 

3. Baguettes and Quiches Galore

Bakeries in Metz are famous for their fresh baguettes and quiches, which boast a variety of flavors such as fromage, salmon, and even spinach. Baguettes can be filled with various toppings such as ham, pesto, and tomatoes. When served fresh off the oven, the crispy melt of the cheese with the savory flavors blends in a delicious, mouth-watering mix of French authentic cuisine. While Paul’s is probably the nearest bakery to GTL, there are many others in Metz downtown that are the key to delicious baguettes and quiches.

4.  Grocery Store Rendezvous 

Sometimes when visiting the grocery store, just navigating the cheese and sausage section is a whole journey in and of itself. Finding what you want given the massive variety can be challenging, but it has its perks. The best cheese I’ve found so far is Comte, which is one of the most produced cheeses in France. But as far as sausages go, it’s best to widen your taste preference just to try some new flavors. Other than the things they have at the grocery store, the shopping culture is also slightly different. The French do not refrigerate their eggs and milk, so they can’t be found in the refrigerated aisles. Additionally, as the French government doesn’t allow the sale of packaged goods in bulk, shoppers are allowed to break open packages and take individual items. For example, if you see a pack of 6 milk jugs, you can break open the package and buy a singular milk jug. 

5. French!

This might be obvious, but it is nice to have some French under your belt before coming to France. While it’s not impossible to get around, in smaller cities, many people can understand English but, its best to communicate in French. In big tourist-oriented areas, English is usually an option, but in Metz or any other small French city, hearing English is rare. Even the train stations and grocery stores, all announcements and signs are said and written all in French. So, taking a French class is a great idea. 

6. Pocket Thefts

Getting pick pocketed in France is nothing of a rare occurrence. While Metz is relatively safer, traveling to Paris to catch train or flight connections can entail more caution than you would normally enforce. Out of the many GTL students that traverse Paris on the weekend, many have had their phones stolen or wallets snatched right under their noses. Pick pocket thieves use highly skilled and subtle tricks to allure your attention elsewhere. While you are intrigued by a dropped key ring or a peculiar scene on the streets, pick pocketer’s use these exact times to their advantage, so be careful and stay alert!

Sunkissed in Marseille

Monday, February 7, 2022 | Written by Claire

A seaside city in South France known for their diverse cuisine and cultural influence, Marseille was our escape from the cold, dreary weather of Metz, and a refreshing trip within the borders of France! When I walked off the train after a long, overnight haul, I came with no idea about what this place had to hold. All I was excited for was the 55-degree weather and a whole weekend of sunshine as promised by the weather app. As we began to explore the city and trek across the empty streets at 6:30 AM, I realized that Marseille had so much culture and excitement to offer .

The skies were a baby pink and pastel blue when we reached the Notre-Dame de la Garde, perched upon a hill overlooking the city. The view was breath-taking. The clear blue waters of the Mediterranean melted into the gentle hues of the sky to create a glowing aura across the land. Against the beautiful backdrop, the city started to wake from its slumber as people slowly filled the streets, each claiming a pastry for a quick breakfast. The random collection of buildings, homes, and even soccer fields created an interesting puzzle of red roofs, white columns, and green patches of land. As I stood along an overlook, I took a deep breath of crisp morning air just as the church clock began to strike. The sound of the resounding gongs and the squawking birds paired with the stunning view and peaceful scenery painted the ideal picture of Marseille into my memory, one so different from any others.

The influence of the Mediterranean created an interesting scene change that spawned new foods, architecture, and social systems. This specific weekend, however, the ongoing strikes in France began to take a toll on the city itself. Unlike the streets of Metz, the buildings were a rugged beige or crème color, often marked with graffiti and other stickers and posters. The streets, different from the typical French wide-set cobblestone, were often narrow, dingy, and littered with cigarette butts and beer cans. Mounds of trash pilled on the sides of the road, oozing, and giving off unpleasant odors. The anti-vax strikes of trash workers in Marseille left the city in rubbish for the weekend, giving it a very different outlook than the pristine impression I saw just an hour ago from the Notre Dame de la Garde. I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the graffiti covered streets in Marseille, but here is one I’ve found online. These types of streets are common around the city center.
The next morning, we took a trip to Parc National de Calanques, an area known for famous hikes, clear waters, and sea sports. To get there, we had to take a train to Cassis, another small seaport city just 28 mins from Marseille. The weather couldn’t have been better. With the sun casting a warm blanket, the white cliffs of the Calanques became the ideal hike. Eventually, I had to shed some layers down to a tank top to keep myself from sweating into my leather jacket. The hike took at least four hours, filled with careful walks on off-beat gravel paths, climbs down stone faces, and half-jogs to avoid slipping on loose rocks. The trail snaked along the coast where we could see paddle boarders and kayakers taking their time across the clear, turquoise water. Others, unequipped, simply stripped down and jumped in, stroking along the small waves and into open water. The white sanded beaches were lined with sun bathers, young and old. Families picnicked near the waterfront with baskets of sandwiches and fruits. The atmosphere was joyful under the warm sun. By the end of the hike, exhausted yet satisfied, we all spread out across the rocks to enjoy some of the remnants of the setting sun before the world falls dark.


Train Thoughts

Sunday, February 6, 2022 | Written by Claire

A small glimpse of what some of the train-cars look like in Europe.

Traveling every weekend across Europe, I’ve found myself on trains more often than not, hopping from station to station and watching the world fly by at the blink of an eye. Whether it’s an early morning ride or a late-night trek, the time on the train becomes a bubble, shielded from reality. Traveling at over 250 kilometers per hour on the TGV trains feels a lot smoother than I thought. Aside from the occasional bumps from a track change or a wobble from the rush of a passing train, the feeling of stability and versatility is like no other. As the views from the window slowly merge into a blur, I find myself thinking, leaning back into my seat, and letting my thoughts run wild.

The train itself is a portal, transporting itself in and out of society as it roars past small towns and big cities. With each station, I catch a glimpse of daily life along the way. From one to another, minute details begin to emerge that make these small cities so different yet so close together. The architecture, featuring brown and red patterns that crisscross roofs and windowpanes, make small villages distinctly German, while the yellow façade of stone walls next to cobblestone streets highlight French taste. The surroundings that lie beyond the cities also provide clues into daily life. Whether it’s a large stretch of farmland clustered with cows in rural areas, or small stables of miniature horses huddled together in the snow, every scene is a reminder of the intricate and complex nature of cultural relativity and their relationships within societies across the globe. As I sit against the window, just watching the last flicker of light before the sun dips under the horizon, I find myself in awe at the beauty of humanity and the sheer differences that have developed over time. Back at home, it’s difficult to see so many defined cultures within borders in back-to-back succession; yet here, on each train ride, those occasions are far from rare. 

As the world fades into darkness, I start to notice the people around me: the man dressed in the trench-coat on the phone, the woman completing a sudoku puzzle on the table car to the right, the girl frantically typing away on her laptop. I start to hear the myriad of different languages that travel throughout the car: to my left, a man takes a call in English, complaining about his broken thermostat at home, to my right, a woman chats away in French with her friends, and to my rear, a man mumbles away in German. The exposure to so many different cultures and languages in just one small train car presents the global connectivity that makes up Europe today. It has become a hub where people blend into one, united in mutual respect and understanding for each other’s differences. To me, this cultural mix is one that is vastly different from the “mix” I’ve seen back at home. Here, while people are together as one, they are still defined by distinct nationalities, experiences, and perspectives that make them utterly unique from those sitting around them. After experiencing such interpersonal relations with so many people, I’ve come to see the reason for such fragmentation in Europe and how they’ve remained dignified in their own social schemes for centuries on end. 

But what boggles me the most is that among the millions of people that traverse the trains, each person has a story, a life behind the mask that hides their face from the rest of the world. Each person has a name, an experience like no other. It’s a reminder of how small I truly am, a speck among billions, a mere contribution to the globe. As I near the next station, I hear the jingle of the announcements and the screech of metal against metal as the train slows to a halt. The technological innovation of the high-speed train itself works wonders, a feat beyond my comprehension. The internal mechanism that hauls hundreds of thousands of tons is an engineering marvel like no other. Quiet and stealthy, shooting along the tracks, the high-speed trains cut through the air like a feather, plowing through rain, ice, or snow. The tracks themselves crisscrossing like a maze that sets the journey onwards. Just a slight tilt away from the platform brings us across mountainous terrain and rolling hills. Yet, I sit stagnant, inside the train car in places I could never end up myself. With the train speeding across the country land, I can’t help but be thankful of an opportunity like this to simply step off the platform and into a new dimension where I could end up thousands of miles away in a blink of an eye. 

A Winter Wonderland Fever Dream 

Hallstatt, Austria. A white wonderland dotted with cream-colored villages and small tendrils of smoke rising from white-topped houses. It was a fever dream the moment I stepped off the train and into a pile of freshly fallen snow. As if a postcard came to life, I stared in awe at the chain of ice-capped mountains that surrounded two small towns and a shimmering lake that rippled along with the wind. The heavy, tranquil blanket of snow that covered the land brought upon a peaceful silence, except for the quiet gurgle of the river that meandered near the tracks. As I continued past the train station, my senses were livid. 

It was the sound of the snow crunching under my boots, the whistle of the wind, and the rustle of the everlasting pines that engulfed me into a magical world. It seemed as if every small movement brought a tingle to my ears as I tried to search for the source of the sound. Here and there, the rumble of a car engine and the scrape of a shovel pierced the still air; however, it still seemed to be an art within itself. It was as if nature and humanity met at a crossroad, blending into a circle of life. The sounds, so mundane yet so foreign, seemed to hold such deeper meaning in a place so different from home. 

It was the taste of the fresh snow as it fell swiftly from the sky, the smooth creme of the hot chocolate as it warmed my soul, and the impeccable crispness of the glacial water as it cooled in the snowy air that nourished my spirit. As the snow continued to pelt down in silent waves, frosty ice crystals coated my hair and my clothes, leaving a small wet droplet as they melted away. The cold seemed to seep into my bones, and I was grateful to find a small Austrian coffee shop as a quick pitstop for some warm hot chocolate. The sweetness  of cocoa and milk created a swirling blend that coated my tongue. Following that, a quick swig of clear glacial water just added to the beauty of the surrounding mountains, which were beginning to peek through the foggy haze that crowned their snowy tops. 

It was the fresh smell of timber that wafted through the air as we continued to trek into the forest. Logs upon logs of wood lay in a pile under a light blanket of snow, as if it were to contain the comforting aroma. Upon first glance, it was just like any ordinary sight; however, as I stepped closer, I could smell an earthy sweetness, a deep scent of cedar and pine that engulfed the pile of wood. It instantly brought me a vision of a log cabin, warmed by a crackling fireplace, hidden away from others for miles. It reminded me of Christmas, but this time in a winter wonderland. 

It was more so the lack of feeling in my freezing fingers and toes that jolted me from my winter fantasy in my head. As the snow fell upon my hoods and gloved fingers, the cold, dampness of my clothes became a numbing medicine. My feet, nestled between two socks and leather boots, stood no chance in the ice. Hours and hours of trekking forests, climbing mountains, and simply walking down the village streets, became increasingly more painful as each step came with a spiny, prickly sensation in addition to the biting cold.

Finally, it was the sight of the cascading chasms of mountain chains that will forever burn an image into my mind. The snow sitting upon treetops seemed to sharpen the minute details across the land. Despite the lazy blanket of fog that cast a gloomy, gray aura, the bright, glistening layer of snow was a stark contrast. The magnitude of the looming mountains seemed to stretch into the skies until finally, as the train began to depart the station, the clouds split apart, revealing a patch of baby blue skies.

A Day in the Life of a GTL Student

Monday, January 31, 2022 | Written by Claire

9:30 AM: Bonjour!

As the sunlight starts to filter through the curtains and the deep rumbles of construction pass back and forth outside my window at the Lafayette dorm, I crawl out of bed for my first class of the day. Usually, the cold air outside is crisp, so I need to layer up. Bundled in a hoodie and long jacket, I make my way to the GTL building, a good 10-minute walk away from my dorm. On some days, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a peak of sunlight or a patch of blue skies; but most of the time, it’s just layers of grey clouds. 

The GTL Building requires a quick scan of your ISIC card to get through the initial gate and then another tap to open the main doors. The floors themselves are split into different sections, with labs and study rooms on the first floor, and the rest of the classrooms above. The classroom doors are color coded to match the color on the initial schedule you receive at the beginning at the year. Somehow, I usually start in the Blue room, where the CO2 alarm ends up going off every once in and while, so I need to remain bundled in my layers. This mechanism is simply a COVID regulation and nothing too much to worry about. 

12:00 PM: Lunchtime. 

After my initial class and knocking out some Physics and French homework, it’s time for lunch. Usually, I’m starving by this point. GTL offers meals in the Crous Cafet on the first floor for around three euros, which is usually a hefty plate of pasta. Although I have not gone to the cafeteria often, it seemed to have the same pasta options of pesto or carbonara and a sizzling slice of pizza. The meal itself is mostly carbs and does not come with fruits or vegetables depending on the restaurant you go to. The most inconvenient part is that if you go around lunch hours from 11-1, the lines for each stretch out of the door. As students from the neighboring Technopole schools also share this dining service, the number of people who frequent Crous Cafet is massive. 

To maintain a balanced diet, I often head back to Lafayette and cook up my own pasta meal. Throwing together some mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, steak, and some spices, spaghetti chow mien is my go-to. Not only is it flavorful, but it is also easy to make, with the pasta taking the longest to boil. All the ingredients can be easily bought at CORA at your convenience.  

3:00 PM: More class, study sesh, and coffee!

After a quick lunch, I head back to the study lounge at the GTL building to finish up more assignments and hang out with other GTL students. The best part about the lounge is that it’s equipped with a full coffee dispensing machine with a multitude of interesting flavors. For just 45 cents, you can get a small cup of caffeine bliss, or you can get a larger cup for just 80 cents. If you bring your own mug, it’s even cheaper. The lounge also has a ping pong table for quick study session break or a pool table if you want to get competitive. The only downside is that it can get a little noisy as people start to work on their group projects, play ping-pong or just chat in the main room. It might be wise to bring some headphones if you want to get some serious work done. 

Other than that, there are also universal power outlets for your computer or any electronic device, so if you forget your power adapter, no worries! There are also plenty of computers to use if your laptop ends up not working. 

The purple to pink sunset it truly stunning

If you’re there long enough, you can probably catch a glimpse of the sunset in the giant windowpanes that stretch across the room. Could be a good way to end your day.

5:00 PM: Dinner feast

Around 5 PM, I start packing up and heading back to Lafayette after a long day of class and work. The Crous Cafe is also open for dinner at your convenience. Restaurants and cafes nearby the roundabout on the way back to Lafayette also have options for delicious quiches, pastries or even pizza. Mamma Mia Pizza is a go-to for many GTL students. Their endless menu of 16-inch pizzas and reasonably priced pastas are enough to feed two people on a hungry day. The pizzas themselves are nice and thinly made, with the crust crispy and delicious. The Pizzaiolo is my favorite so far. It is topped with layers of cheese, ham, chorizos, and peppers, and the best part is that it comes at a light price of only 13 euros for a maxi. Pretty good deal compared to the other pizza restaurants in the area. If you’re in the fast food mood, you can definitely hit up the Burger King, McDonalds, or KFC for a hefty meal as well. 

7:00 PM: Cora Run 

After dinner on Mondays, I tend to take a trip to Cora for some groceries. If you’re in the fast-food mood, you might as well grab dinner down there before heading to the market. GTL provides a free shuttle back to the dorms from Cora on Mondays so it’ll make your life easier than lugging jugs of milk back a mile back to Lafayette. 

Cora itself is a super store with rows of clothing, aisles of pastries, and huge sections designated to pasta, alcohol, and French snacks. It has everything you can think of, including rolls of pink toilet paper. The vegetables there are fresh and the seafood section is nice and clean. Not only does it boost an array of crabs, snails, and fish, the meat section is paired with a huge corner of fresh cheeses and sausages. During the first week, I spent hours in Cora just exploring the different kinds of cheese and meats. 

9:00 PM: Laundry

The laundry in Lafayette is definitely something hard to get used to. The weekdays are usually the least busy as there are only 3 washers and 2 dryers in the entirety of Lafayette. You also have to pay at least five euros for a proper wash and dry. If you end up doing your laundry at night, you should try to allocate some time as the dryers here offer a special “European dry” that requires you to hang up your clothes even after drying. If you want them to be in wearable condition, you probably need to run the dryer twice, which would take about one and a half hours.

12 AM: Snooze

By the time midnight rolls around, I’m heading to bed after another long day at GTL. While everyday will be different for each student, I can allocate some time to take day trips on Tuesday or Thursdays when I don’t have class. But overall, the greatest challenge at GTL is managing school-life balance and workload. Make sure you work hard but also play hard as GTL is the best opportunity to have the travels of a lifetime. 


And Here We Are…

When I first received the notification that I was accepted into the GTL program to not only study in France but also have the opportunity to learn the language, I can distinctly remember the wave of emotions that overwhelmed me as I sat stunned at my kitchen table. The feeling was a combination of excitement, uncertainty, and shock, but there was also a feeling that I had not expected: fear.

Going to France for me was indeed a last-minute decision. While my plans to study abroad in Korea fell through at the last minute due to COVID regulations, it put an end to any ambitions I could have there. France offered the best alternative to spending my time abroad this Spring semester. While grateful for the opportunity, I felt my stomach clench at the thought of spending almost five months in a foreign country where I do not know the language. Not only that, with no prior experience or interest in French culture, I found it difficult to imagine what life would be like in this unfamiliar country.

Departure: 01/05/2022

Some may wonder, what is it like traveling internationally during a pandemic? The simple answer is: it’s complicated. With Europe bouldering through the massive spike of Omicron cases, traveling to France required months of pre-planning. The time leading up to my departure was spent double checking all my required documents, including but not limited to: Passport, Vaccination Cards including the booster, Negative PCR Covid Test, GTL Enrollment Certificates, Sworn Entry Statements, and most importantly the Passe Sanitaire—the golden ticket into any public space across Europe. 

After securing what I needed to enter the country, the trek to Paris was not only mentally draining, but also physically exhausting. Lugging one duffle, one backpack, and almost two full sized suitcases, I had to meander through the maze of kiosks, security checks, and terminals to finally reach the gate. As I heaved a sigh of relief after dropping my things to the ground and taking a short break at the gate before takeoff, it finally dawned on me that I was heading to Paris, a place romanticized in movies and prided for their posh culture and lifestyle. Even so, I still felt a tinge of regret and hesitation at my decision to study in France.

However, as I boarded the plane and settled into my seat, which happened to be the very last row on the plane, with generous legroom and privacy, I couldn’t help but think, “Claire, don’t regret it. You’re going to have the best time of your life.” Then, as if the gods had sent a sign of affirmation, the sun began to rise over France. 

Arrival to Metz: 01/07/2022

After almost a grueling 24 hours of traveling, I finally stepped foot into Metz, my new home. While I was expecting a beautiful sunset over cobblestone alleys and accordion music outside cafes, I was greeted with gloomy skies, blistering cold weather, and silent streets. Not to mention, the rain that seemed to continue for hours became the bane of my existence for the next few days. Although the winter weather in Metz was a shift from the usual sunny winters in Georgia, the cultural immersion that I experienced within the first few days was enough to offset my freezing fingers and toes. Metz was much quieter than I expected, and the bakeries, restaurants, and even grocery stores seemed traditionally French with almost no English speakers. Even as I looked around at the cars passing on the street, the French students in my dorm, and the fashion styles that people wore, I started to notice interesting subtle cultural norms among French society–foreign to the States.

Being downtown during the first Saturday of the semester opened my eyes to an entire world of French traditions. It was as if my Youtube Screen had come to life. The architecture featured huge stone structures, quaint city stores, and bustling alleyways that became home to people drinking coffee, chatting, and listening to ‘Bella Ciao’ as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Castles and stores along the river became a beautiful blend of modern and ancient France, a reminder of the rich history within Metz. The food offered an even greater variety. The streets were lined with dozens of pastry stores featuring chocolate dipped croissants, king cake, and even powdered buns while the heart of downtown Metz boasted a mix of Italian, Turkish, and even Chinese food. Finally, the people who frequented the town upheld strong French values, sticking to their language and cultural norms. The sleek, chic style of long coats, scarves, and leather shoes were common defenses against the cold. For those working in restaurants, they always greeted us with a “Bonjour” and a smile on their faces.

A beautiful church along the river in downtown Metz

While the first week in Metz was one to remember, there are still endless places to visit, things to see, and great experiences to check off my bucket list. My journey to understanding French culture is long. Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see what else Europe has in store. 




Schnitzels and Sausages: Germany at a Glance

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 | Written by Claire

Our journey to Germany was hectic to say the least. For our first weekend at GTL, my friends and I decided to venture into the rustic German towns of Freiburg and Heidelberg, well known for their authentic foods and traditional architecture. The journey was a mere four hours away from Metz and a quick transit in several smaller stations along the way. After a quick dinner, we were bundled up and ready to face the blistering winter night. We expected nothing but smooth travels… Sike.

From the first leg of the journey to the very end when we arrived in Freiburg, we encountered numerous obstacles on the way. With the first train delayed 15 minutes and our next train having a transfer time of merely 12 minutes, we had little hope of staying on schedule. As we sat anxiously in our seats, legs bouncing and fingers furiously swiping across our phones every few minutes or so to check the clock, the train miraculously started to make up lost time. Somehow, we made it to the station on Platform 2 with four minutes to spare. Right as we were about to heave a deep breath of relief, we looked up at the departure board in dismay. There, shining brightly in the dark winter night, was a large 24….Platform 24. Time seemed to freeze for a split second. Then, as if we all knew what to do, all eight of us, sprinted down the dark corridor, backpacks slapping against our backs and boots thudding against the ground. We were a sight to see. Eight Americans running top speed across a small local train station to the furthest platform where we saw a small, local train paused on the tracks. Out of breath and sweating bullets, we managed to plow through the snow, collapsing into our seats right at the last second. I’d give us a pat on the back for that one.

 After a few more hours, we made it to the outskirts of Freiburg where we checked into a quaint, modern-looking hotel that seemed to be in the middle of a construction site. It was 11 PM and the streets were dead. Not a single soul or restaurant light graced the streets. It seemed quite eerie, but after a long journey, we were famished. There were multiple restaurants and pubs that were opened according to Google maps, so we decided to try our luck. To keep the story short, turns out there was a 10:30 PM curfew and we ended up with a jar of pickled hot dogs and a bag of chips in our hotel room, courtesy of the hotel concessions. A great first meal in Germany indeed…

 The next morning, we woke up to a nice dusting of snow on the ground and a delicious egg and turkey sandwich topped with pretzel bread from a famous German bakery. As we started to travel further downtown, the snow started to fall faster, painting a beautiful winter wonderland before our very eyes. The first stop was the Freiburg Cathedral, an ornate masterpiece made of marble and stone, decorated with huge windows of stained glass. The silence within the Cathedral itself added to the sheer beauty and divinity of the structure, creating a haven for those worshiping there. The most notable detail, however, was a map that showed the aftermath of the bombing in 1944. All of the buildings surrounding the Cathedral were completely obliterated but somehow, the Cathedral stood, unscathed. It was as if God had shielded the place from danger, a thought enough to bring goosebumps on my arms. Truly unbelievable.

As we exited the Cathedral, we stumbled upon a large outdoor market, filled with stands of vegetables and spices. What really caught my attention was the mouth-watering smell and satisfying sizzle of the sausage cooking right before our eyes. There, we found the gem of our entire trip. We all ordered a sausage topped with either mustard or curry and then we all ordered another, minutes after we devoured the first. The German Sausages, known as Bratwursts, were nothing like the usual American hot dog. My favorite was the Weisswurst. It was a white sausage, speckled with herbs and other spices inside. Every bite came with a mouthful of tender, juicy meat that had a springy yet crisp texture, unlike anything else I’ve tasted before. The most surprising was the variety of flavor it offered: it was savory yet sweet with its caramelized coating, mildly spicy yet zesty with lemon, and firm yet tender with grease. In fact, my mouth is watering at the thought of it at this very moment.

The rest of the Freiburg trip was filled with hikes and other scenic views. Right as we were heading towards Heidelberg, we were greeted with hordes among hordes of people chanting, waving flags, and beating drums. It was a full-blown protest as people held up huge anti-vax flags every few feet or so. The trams were completely shut down and roads were blocked. The beat of the drums and the thunderous chants made the streets vibrate of angry fervor, heated with political drive. It was massive. The rows of people stretched further than the eye could see, and the crowd didn’t pass until we were almost out of the downtown district.

We were now on to our next destination: Heidelberg. As the sun began to set, we could feel our stomachs gnawing itself in hunger. The streets at night were also emptier than expected in a large city. Yet somehow, we stumbled upon a Schnitzel restaurant, where all eight of us crowded into one giant table. Having never even heard of “Schnitzel,”, I was appalled when the menu had nothing but Schnitzels… Nonetheless, I ordered the traditional Jagerschnitzel and a bowl of fries just to give it a try. Best decision ever. The Jagerschnitzel came out on a huge plate with two slabs of pork doused in savory gravy. The meat was tender, melting away in my mouth. It was breaded to perfection and the gravy paired magnificently with the fries. On the side was a crisp German salad. Alternating between a bite of warm gravy, a tender slice of Schnitzel, and some cold salad, my mouth was experiencing an explosion of flavors. To add to the mood, the restaurant owner was highly accommodating, entertaining us with hilarious stories and even recommending some other places to eat in Heidelberg. If I could, I would definitely go back there to try another one of their delicious Schnitzels in a heartbeat.

Finally, to end our trip, we visited the Heidelberg Castle, a huge structure detailed with intricate carvings that also survived multiple bombings in the past. It sat upon a hill next to the city, granting us a beautiful overlook of the city below. The view can be better  conveyed in pictures than in words.

If you ever find yourself looking for a convenient place to go for a weekend, definitely hit up Freiburg and Heidelberg. Although the journey there was a bit chaotic, the experiences and delicious foods we tried in Germany were unforgettable. Overall, a 10/10 way to start my semester at GTL.

Stay tuned for other travel stories soon!