With the holiday season quickly approaching, Europe’s famous Christmas markets are in full swing. While Germany and other areas of France, such as Colmar and Strasbourg, have more extravagant markets, the ones in Metz are worth the visit.
There are at least four markets spread out around Metz, each a little different from the last. To get into each market, our health passes were scanned due to the possibility of eating and drinking. I met up with my friends on a Friday afternoon at market #1. In Republique Square, the market has ice skating and a carnival ride for 5 euros each. I personally didn’t go ice skating, but my friends did (I was the designated photographer when I arrived). I did go on the “Flyer,” a swing ride similar to the one I did in Luxembourg at the beginning of the semester. On this ride, I got the best view of Metz even though we were spinning around in circles. We could see the cathedral from above the rooftops of the other buildings and it was interesting to see just how tall the cathedral was compared to everything else.
The rest of the first market were two heated shops with various Christmas decorations, and many food and drink stands. You could get anything from waffles, beignets, and crepes to sandwich raclettes, hot chestnuts, and rich hot chocolate, to name a few.
Market #2 of the day was near the church. This one was filled with multiple rows of vendors selling all sorts of things, from flavored hot chocolate kits to etched vinyl, from halva and baklava to Christmas tree ornaments. I had been on the hunt for gloves that fit my hands well that weren’t knitted, and I found the perfect pair! At the end of the stalls, there was a large carousel!
Market #3 was near the cinema, closer to the Cathedral, but not quite the Cathedral market. I’m sure each of these markets has a specific name or are named based on the streets, but we just referred to them by the landmarks we knew. This third market was smaller and had about eight booths. We did get to sample some “pain aux fruits” (fruit bread) and dried apple chips that were delicious!
Market #4 was in front of the Cathedral. This one had the main attraction of a Ferris wheel! We were saving this market for last because we wanted to see the city of Metz at night from up high. The rest of the Cathedral’s market was mainly food. There were vendors for falafel and hummus, French onion soup (or just onion soup since we’re in France), paninis, etc. The Ferris wheel was quite cold, but beautiful! Luckily the Ferris wheel compartments had blankets! The pictures of the city from the Ferris wheel didn’t turn out too well because of the glare of the windows, but the view was spectacular! We even saw the “Flyer” that we did earlier all lit up in the dark.
I love how each market in Metz has its own personality. We didn’t go to the same market 4 times, but we got a different experience from each one. If you are really looking for the famous French Christmas markets, Colmar and Strasbourg are musts!
While we don’t get a meal plan during the fall and spring semesters at GTL, we do have access to a local student cafeteria “Crous” open during lunch and dinner. Crous offers meals for 3.30 euros for us GTL students, which makes for a convenient and inexpensive option for meals when you don’t feel like cooking, getting the same things from Paul (the bakery between GTL and Lafayette), or going downtown. The menu at Crous rotates, so you get some variety in your meals.
Please enjoy the four meals from Crous that I remembered to take pictures of:
During the first few weeks of the semester, the Crous location closer to GTL was not open yet, so we trekked the 20-minute walk between GTL and farther Crous location. Since there was only one location open, it was pretty packed, and by the time we would get there, the options were quite limited. But the food was still worth the long lines! You get a lot of food for your 3.30 euros, and I will say, I have not finished a full plate yet.
At Crous you get 10 points worth of food for your 3.30 euros. The main plate is usually 5 points, with two side items either 2 or 3 points each. Water and a little baguette are free!
This meal was still from the farther Crous. At that location, there were two lines: a pizza line and an “other” line. I would usually just go for the “other” line since I could guarantee a vegetarian option, but this one particular day, the pizza line did not include meat. The pizza was massive, and we were able to ask (with some trouble due to language barriers) for a box for the leftover pizza. I have not seen pizza as an option for the closer Crous, unfortunately. 3.30 euros for two meals was a great deal!
When the Crous closer to GTL opened, the journey became a whole lot more convenient, although I have not taken full advantage of the proximity. The different location does not mean different value, so once again, the plates are well worth the price. The closer Crous is also more vegetarian friendly. This particular pasta dish could have come with meat or the tomato slices that I got. At the closer Crous, there are two dining areas, and if you don’t set up your International Student Card, and you pay with card, you have to go to the left side.
After not going to Crous for a while (I kind of forgot it existed for a bit because of the convenience to stop by Paul and grab a sandwich for lunch on my way to GTL in the morning), my friend suggested we go for dinner. I hadn’t been to Crous for dinner yet, so I decided to give it a try! We went almost right when they opened at 6:30pm and beat the crowd of potential high schoolers. Crous is definitely a convenient option for dinner especially if you have a late class – the closer Crous is only about a 5 minute walk from GTL.
One amazing thing about GTL is its close proximity to Paris. I’ve been on the Metz to Paris train plenty of times, but Paris has rarely been my final destination. In fact, the only time Paris was my destination this semester was back in August for the short weekend. I decided that as the semester is winding to a close (and classes are in full force) and as my Eurail pass is about to expire, I should take the opportunity to do a quick day trip to Paris.
I woke up bright and early Friday morning for my solo Parisian adventures. I arrived in Paris around 9am, got a 12euro day pass for the metro, and was ready to begin my day. I meandered around the beautiful Luxembourg gardens, in full fall ambiance with red, orange, and yellow leaves coloring the trees. The gardens are lined with statues of women from European history, and there was even a mini Statue of Liberty.
After enjoying the brisk fall air of the garden, I walked a little bit to the Île de la Cité, the island on the Seine that is home to the Notre Dame Cathedral. While the inside is still closed due to reconstruction efforts from the fire of 2019, there is an archeological crypt underneath the cathedral, one of the only excavation sites in Paris open to the public. In the exhibition, there was a retelling of Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris and how the novel shaped the public opinion around the Cathedral. There was also a portion that was the stone remnants of a Roman bathhouse, which reminded me of the popularity of the bathhouses in Budapest.
Near the Notre Dame Cathedral, on the south side of the Seine, is a quaint, mostly English bookstore called Shakespeare and Co. (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris). It was incredibly touristy, but the upstairs portion was a little oasis – a reading room (with a cat!). I successfully convinced myself I didn’t need to buy another book (my book count is up to more than a dozen and transporting all these books home will be less than convenient… whoops).
After grabbing a quick lunch at the Shakespeare and Co. Café, I made my way across to the north side of the Seine. I walked along a series of bridges. The first had incredible street music, and the second had an antique market with a very enthusiastic French woman telling me about her antique maps.
After spending a majority of the afternoon sitting at a café, The Caféothèque of Paris (52 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004 Paris), and reading a book I had brought, I wanted to make the most of my 24-hour metro pass before I had to leave, so I hopped on a metro and headed across the city to see the Arc de Triomphe. You can go under the traffic circle to get to the middle of the monument, and you can even pay to go up it. Even though I love heights, I did not end up going to the top. Instead, I took another metro to the Eiffel Tower to watch it illuminate in the approaching dusk. It had been cloudy all day and shortly after 5pm, the tower’s lights turned on– it was breathtaking. There was something really peaceful about watching the “sun set” against the Eiffel Tower and watching as a crowd of French school children went about their Friday evening and some men nearby me were playing bocce.
After a little while, I mapped directions back to the train station so I could grab dinner in the station before heading back to Metz. As I walked away from the Eiffel Tower, I ran into three other GTL students who were spending the day or the weekend in Paris! We grabbed a small dinner together near the Eiffel Tower before I headed to the train station to return to Metz for the night.
I really want to make the most of my Eurail pass before it expires in a week, so I had booked another quick day trip to Paris! This time, I was meeting up with a friend who lives in Paris for lunch. She took me to her favorite café, Treize Bakery Paris (5 Rue de Médicis, 75006 Paris), near Luxembourg gardens. We walked in and the first thing I saw was “Bienvenue Y’all” in big letters on the wall. I got a vegetarian breakfast plate that came with an authentic Southern American biscuit. Any homesickness I felt was either intensified or cured by the biscuit, and I can’t quite determine which it was.
After lunch, I met up with some GTL friends who were spending their weekend in Paris as well. I met up with them in the afternoon on the street by the Arc de Triomphe, Av. des Champs-Élysées, a major shopping street, that was being lit up that night with holiday decorations. For dinner, we ate closer to the station at Pizzeria Popolare (111 Rue Réaumur, 75002 Paris), part of a group of restaurants called the Big Mamma group, as recommended to me by my friend I met up with for lunch. We had somehow secured a reservation for five at this restaurant, and we enjoyed a leisurely 2-hour dinner before returning to the train station.
I hope I get to return to Paris at least once more before the semester ends. I feel like it’s been so close this whole time and I haven’t taken full advantage of it.
Every other Tuesday, we have a “Linen Swap” and every other week I think wow, it seems like we just had a linen swap.
Pros of Linen Swap:
We get clean sheets every other week.
We don’t have to wash our own sheets.
Cons of Linen Swap:
I spend about 30 minutes every other week unmaking and remaking my bed.
On linen swap days, I have to mentally prepare myself for the task ahead. First, I strip my bed. I always wait until we have confirmation of linen swap on the specific day because the 1 (ONE) time I stripped my bed in the morning was the 1 (ONE) time linen swap was postponed. The three things included in a linen swap are the pillowcase, the flat sheet, and the duvet cover. From the people I’ve talked to about the linen swap, I might be the only person who actually stuffs the duvet into the duvet cover. A lot of people just lay everything on top of each other. I find that the duvet cover is more comfortable than the duvet itself, so that may be why my linen swap process is such an ordeal.
Stripping the bed isn’t the bad part, but we need to fold the sheets before bringing them to be swapped out. From personal experience, the duvet cover – my personal nemesis – is heavy! Trying to fold the duvet cover neatly is a feat in and of itself. Since I’m not quite 5 feet tall, the duvet cover is much longer than I am which makes the process quite difficult.
Once our sheets are folded, we can bring them to the common room of Lafayette. Due to COVID restrictions, we are limited to one person at a time in the common room. We place our neatly folded sheets in a laundry bag and collect our new sheets. It’s pretty simple and is usually the fastest part of the whole process for me. After returning to my room, I place the new sheets on a chair in my room, and take a deep breath before starting my mission: Operation Make My Bed.
First is the flat sheet. This is our “fitted sheet.” It is supposed to go directly on the mattress, and it’s what we sleep on so we aren’t directly touching the mattress. However, my bed is a little wider since I have the wheelchair accessible room, but my sheets are the same as all the others… which means my flat sheet is always slights too narrow to wrap my mattress neatly. I can usually wrap it under the top and bottom of the mattress, but it just rests on the sides. (I have woken up to many mornings of my flat sheet being completely pulled to one side of the mattress.)
Next is my least favorite part: fitting the duvet in the cover. As I mentioned, my bed is a little wider than what the sheets are designed for, and that extends to my duvet. My duvet is slightly wider than the duvet cover, and it’s not a perfect square. I lay my duvet on the floor next to my bed and count how many diamonds are in which direction (one side has three and the other has four). This helps me orient the duvet in the cover, but the cover is too narrow for the actually duvet and the edges are always a little squished.
Opening the duvet cover is tricky because the two sides are usually stuck together. Also since it’s too narrow, I try to starfish my body over the duvet, pulling it to the corners as best as possible, but it’s never a perfect fit.
The duvet and cover are longer than my mattress, so I’m able to tuck it under the mattress which definitely helps my daily bed making process be as easy as possible.
Third is the pillowcases, my reward for the whole duvet operation. Super easy since the pillows are square and match the square pillowcases. Lastly, I add the finishing touch of my fleece blanket (not included in the room, but I definitely recommend investing in one for the colder months). All done!
This whole process takes me about half an hour, but I did hit a personal best of 17 minutes to make my bed. We have about two more linen swaps for me to improve my personal best, wish me luck!
At GTL we follow the French holiday schedule. So, while we don’t have Thanksgiving off from classes, we got Armistice Day (November 11) off. A lot of people took this four-day weekend to travel a little farther than we would be able to on a normal three-day weekend. The freshmen even got to travel this weekend on their own. I, on the other hand, always have four-day weekends based on my course schedule, so this “long” weekend was a normal weekend for me. I had already planned on not traveling this weekend because I knew I would be exhausted from the week-long adventure to Eastern Europe.
On Armistice Day, most businesses are closed, and the buses run on a Sunday schedule (limited). I woke up around 9:30am and searched for an open grocery store on google maps – Carrefour Express was open near the train station. I hopped on the first available bus to downtown and popped into the grocery store to grab a few essentials. The next bus back to Lafayette wasn’t for another two hours, so I walked across the street to Fox Coffee Shop to do some schoolwork while I waited for the bus. I also made a quick stop at the train station to purchase seat reservations for my Paris trip next weekend!
The main task of the day: Statistics project. I had procrastinated this assignment during fall break because I was too busy traveling and too exhausted to work on it, but now the countdown began. I had 24 hours to complete the problem set. At 1:30pm, two classmates came to my apartment, and we started to grind it out. It took more than 12 hours, and I won’t disclose exactly what time I went to bed, but it was late enough that I learned not to procrastinate on the next project.
I woke up just before noon, starting my not-so-productive weekend. I walked to Auchan to do actual grocery shopping and did my laundry. I spent the rest of my Friday trying (and failing) to be productive.
That night, I had dinner with a family in downtown Metz. They had recently traveled to New York and brought back a toy yellow school bus for their kids. They asked me if these school buses were also in Atlanta (yes), and if other cars on the road really stopped for the school buses (also, yes). In France, there aren’t buses dedicated to bringing children to and from school. Instead, kids use public transportation. I had gotten on a bus early one morning to go to the train station, and I walked on to see it packed full of middle schoolers!
I spent my Saturday completing a few tasks here and there, but mostly catching up on some reality TV. It was super relaxing to sleep in and slow down a bit. If I would have been traveling this weekend, it would be a series of early mornings and overexertion, so being able to stay in bed all day was a nice change of pace. (It’s totally okay to slow down and take a break – you’ll thank yourself later!)
My Sunday transpired very similarly to the previous two days. The gloomy, cold weather didn’t do much to help my productivity either, but I did manage to work on a physics lab. My sleep schedule had been a little bit messed up from that late night working on statistics, so I treated myself to a nap before completing my physics lab while watching a movie. I was also able to catch up with some friends from Atlanta and my parents (remember to call your parents!).
I may not have had the most productive or exciting weekend, but it’s okay to slow down and recharge, especially with finals rapidly approaching! It is important to find a balance between *study* abroad and study *abroad*.
We took an overnight train from Krakow to Budapest. To save money, we reserved seats in a compartment instead of beds. In hindsight, the beds would have been worth it as trying to sleep comfortably in a six-seat compartment with a stranger was nearly impossible. Although, the one good thing that came from the experience was being able to follow along with the last World Series game. I followed along, half-asleep at 4:00am to the last out (Go Braves!).
We arrived in Budapest and made our way to the hostel to drop our bags, change, and freshen up before an early lunch at the New York Café. This is an immaculately over-the-top decorated café that serves coffee with actual gold on top. Needless to say, it’s pretty expensive, so if you do want to experience the grandeur, go for breakfast or an afternoon tea. Live music made the whole experience worth it – imagine eating a fancy meal with a violinist playing a song from Pirates of the Caribbean.
After lunch, we headed to the Parliament building, one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest. While we took pictures in front of the building, we noticed a staircase leading to a memorial labeled “1956.” In the square in front of the Parliament building there is a memorial for those who passed when soldiers opened fire on a peaceful protest. The Parliament building still waves Hungarian flags with holes more than 50 years later to remember the tragic events that transpired there. We re-emerged into the square with a whole different perspective on what happened here, and a whole new appreciation for the rich history around every corner of Europe.
The next stop of the day was a thermal bathhouse! I had no idea that spa culture in Budapest was so huge, but the popularity dates back to the Roman-era public baths. We went to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath (Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary) in the Pest side of Budapest, one of the more touristy, but grand locations. We got there two hours before they closed and got to enjoy the warm, outdoor pools under the stars. This was definitely one of the most relaxing and unique things I’ve done so far.
A quick side note: always, and I cannot stress this enough, buy a ticket for public transportation. Budapest takes public transportation VERY seriously. You don’t want to be the victim of an 8,000 Forint (about $20) fine for not having a subway ticket. Two of my friends had lost their 24-hr tickets, and the transportation guard found them before exiting. That being said, it is super easy to use the metro to get between the two sides of the river. We took it after the baths to see the Parliament building at night, shining against the water.
The next morning, we split up into three groups: (1) go to Bratislava early, (2) go to Bratislava mid-day, and (3) stay in Budapest for the day. I opted for group three because there was just too much to see in Budapest to be satisfied with only one day. In the morning, we went to a market-hall area to grab breakfast on the Buda side of Budapest. From there, we took the tram south to the Buda castle with grand views of the entirety of Pest across the Danube River. We still had time before our train to Vienna, so we saw the rest of the Castle District. Walking around the Fisherman’s Bastion, I realized that my brother had been to this very spot during his study abroad semester, it was like sharing a moment of history with him.
My subgroup arrived in Vienna a little after 6:30pm, and we met up with the others at our Airbnb. The best part about being in an Airbnb for the last bit of our trip was free laundry (minus paying for detergent). We had dinner at a small restaurant near our Airbnb and it was just as sweet as having a home-cooked family dinner.
The next morning, we explored some palaces in Vienna: the Belvedere and the Schönbrunn Palace. Both palaces were extravagant with so much greenery. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to do the hedge maze atSchönbrunn – it would have been a very easy maze with the hedges thinned from the fall chill.
The highlight of our day in Vienna was an amusement park. For dinner, we ate at a “Roller Coaster Restaurant” (Riesenradpl. 6, 1020 Wien, Austria), where your food comes to you via a roller coaster contraption. After dinner, we walked around the amusement park and went on a few rides, including an indoor rollercoaster reminiscent of Space Mountain at Disney World. I ended my fall break with my stomach hurting from laughing (or screaming) so much. I’d say it was a pretty successful way to spend 10 days off from classes!
When you ask a GTL student, “where are you going for Fall break?” approximately nine times out of ten, the answer will be Italy. Italy is just far enough from Metz where it’s hard to do in a weekend trip, but just close enough where you can visit many cities in a week.
At this point, you might know that I love the Amazing Race, and my brother played a big part in that. He studied abroad in Prague a few years ago and absolutely loved it. His approach to study abroad was to immerse himself in Prague culture and only travel to a few select places. Funny enough, over the course of one week, I’m tackling all the places he traveled to over the course of his semester abroad.
After a long night of train hopping, we finally made it to Prague! The highlight of day 1 was watching the sunset from the Charles Bridge.
Day 2, our first full day was filled with the Prague Castle Circuit. Here, a student ticket can get you into most of the buildings in this area including an armory on Golden Lane, some churches, and a palace. We walked around the premises for most of the morning, taking in the history-rich architecture and the sprawling views of the city of Prague. We had a relaxing lunch at the castle with a panoramic view of the city.
On our third and final day in Prague, one of my friends and I decided to grab brunch and walk around while the rest of our group slept in. We found a café in the city, Café Elektric (Ovocný trh 6, 110 00 Staré Město, Czechia) and we walked through a film set! After some investigating, including talking with our waitress at the café, we found out that they were filming a historical drama called Chevalier.
After brunch, we walked through the city, popping into stores (including a book palace!) and enjoying the atmosphere. We found the Franz Kafka statue that rotates to form, deform, and reform Kafka’s head. We met up with the other part of our group for the Jerusalem Synagogue, one of the most extravagant synagogues I have ever seen!
Later in the evening, we decided to rent a paddle boat on the Vltava River as the sun set. Surprisingly, we were able to pay in USD, which was ideal because none of us had any Czech currency, and they didn’t take card. We spent an hour paddling around the Vltava, taking pictures and playing music. It was a picture-perfect way to end our time in Prague.
While we were in Prague, Europe turned the clocks back an hour. We were also much farther east than Metz… so the sun set was now at 4:15pm! We arrived in Krakow just after sunset. We ate at a traditional Polish restaurant, Szalone Widelce (Szpitalna 40, 31-024 Kraków, Poland), and had a family style dinner. Without a reservation, we were relegated to the basement/children’s room/cave.
On our walk back from the Old Town Square the night before, we passed by Cytat (Quote) Café (Miodowa 23, 31-055 Kraków, Poland), and we just had to come for breakfast. This was, without a doubt, the most *me* coffee shop. If I owned a coffee shop, it would be modeled after this one. The Cytat Café had books lining every single wall, and the café itself was definitely social and computer friendly. Each drink came with a little quote (mine read: “I knew I was on the right path when I started feeling peace in situations where I would normally feel tension.” -Yung Pueblo).
Next stop: the Wawel Castle. Free entry in November, the Wawel Castle is home to various exhibitions including archeological displays and Turkish tents. In one of the areas, we walked through an indoor excavation site, walking over ancient ruins, which made this the coolest museum I’ve ever walked through. After wandering the castle grounds, we split up into smaller groups to explore a rainy day in Krakow. I walked around the Old Town Square in the daylight hours, passing by bakeries, souvenir shops, and the large central market hall. We stopped by a perogies place for lunch, and I will definitely miss Polish food!
Our day in Krakow may have been the most leisurely of all our days of travel this week, and quickly became one of my favorite places. Although, I do think I have a new favorite place after each place I visit. Fall break is only half over, 2 cities/countries down, 2 to go!
When coming to GTL, one question on my mind was “can I study abroad with a disability?” In my search for a study abroad experience, I constantly came across “requirements” such as “Climbing stairs (elevators are not always available overseas)” or “Walking over very long distances” or “Carrying packed suitcases and other personal belongings with no help.” A common sentiment in the disabled community is that having a disability is not the issue, inaccessibility is.
In my first post, I casually mentioned that I am a part-time wheelchair user and that I cannot literally run around the world, but other than that, I’ve put on a façade of being pretty much non-disabled, and that changes right now.
Allow me to reintroduce myself: My name is Mira, I am a third-year biomedical engineering student, I have a disability and sometimes use a wheelchair. Even though I spent my whole summer working abroad, I was nervous to study abroad, being away from my medical comfort zone for such a long period of time. In Atlanta, I have housing accommodations and my wheelchair stays in my dorm room (instead of at my parents’ house) in case I need it urgently. I flip-flopped between deciding to leave my wheelchair at home or to take it abroad with me. I had never travelled alone with my wheelchair – how would I maneuver my suitcases through the airport? How would I get my bags at baggage claim in France? How would my wheelchair fit on the shuttle to GTL? I’d first like to debunk the “carrying packed suitcases with no help” requirement. There will be people to help you, and it’s okay to ask for help.
I worked with the Office of Disability Services to figure out how to transfer my accommodations to GTL (what would accessible housing look like?), and luckily the administration at GTL is incredibly welcoming and more than happy to help. I was able to secure a room designed for wheelchairs in the Lafayette Residence, access to the elevators at GTL, and peace of mind that my chair would make it between the airport and Metz. As an ambulatory wheelchair user, it was easy for me to transfer to the bus and keep my chair tucked underneath. If you aren’t ambulatory, it may take more planning, but I’m confident it won’t be an issue!
The next question I intended to tackle was “can I travel with a disability?” The short answer: yes. The long answer: yes with intense planning. The major form of transportation for GTL students are trains. When I bought the Eurail pass, I contemplated getting the 1st class ticket because some wheelchair travel blogs said it was 100% necessary, but others said it is perfectly fine to get the 2nd class ticket. After experiencing trains first-hand, I can say I definitely made the right decision to save money and buy the 2nd class ticket. There are wheelchair accessible 2nd class compartments, so don’t waste your money. The complicated thing about traveling via train is that depending on what country you’re in or going to, the mobility assistance procedure changes. The Eurail website has a great resource for all the train companies in one place, which can help you figure out how far in advance you have to let the train company know that you’re coming. Also, in almost every major train station I’ve been in, there has been a mobility assistance kiosk or room to help with any issues that may arise. Trains have specific sections that are wheelchair accessible and train station workers are there to help you with the technology to get on and off the train with a wheelchair. I have not yet done a weekend trip in my chair, but it’s nice to know it’s an option.
Metz and disability? Every public bus I’ve been on has been wheelchair accessible. Curb cuts are pretty standard. Metz is fairly flat – you don’t have to worry about pushing yourself up too many hills. Tactile information is present, but the amount of it depends on what part of Metz you’re in. For example, GTL has a lot of tactile information outside the building, but the sidewalks leading to GTL have less.
Lots of stores in downtown Metz are up a step, but there are accessibility buttons that you can press to either activate a ramp or call an employee to bring a ramp.
Accessibility is also incredibly abundant around Europe, but again, the quality and quantity depends on the country and city. For example, Amsterdam has a lot of tactile information around the main train station, but hardly any once you actually cross the street. Sidewalk quality varies around Europe and cobblestone can be tricky to navigate. Hilly places like Porto have stairs spread out around the city, but there are also cable car options to help get up the hills. Tourist attractions, such as castles and cathedrals generally have a miniature replica with braille information. I saw a lot of that in Krakow!
TL;DR It *IS* possible to study abroad with a disability, but it does take a little extra planning. GTL is a great place to study abroad because the administration is so welcoming and willing to help transfer accommodations from Atlanta to Metz. My study abroad experience with an exchange program might not have been as seamless if it was not with GTL or another GT faculty-led study abroad experience.
After a pretty stressful morning including a 200-euro taxi due to a windstorm causing a cancelation of trains, we were in the air, headed to Porto, Portugal! Portugal was not on my wish list at the start of the semester, but when one of my friends asked if I wanted to go, I said why not! And I am so glad I did.
We landed around noon on Thursday and headed straight for our Airbnb area to have lunch and drop our bags. We had lunch at a small confeitaria, called Confeitaria Belo Mundo (Rua de Santa Catarina 542, 4000-446 Porto, Portugal), where I tried a Portuguese lanche; where a sandwich meets pastry. Compared to France, food in Portugal is quite inexpensive – my whole lunch was 5 euros!
Our Airbnb was in an area called Bolhão, filled with restaurants and shops. We walked around, weaving in and out of souvenir shops and local boutiques, and gaping up at grand cathedrals in awe. With iconic, intricately colored tiles, the building fronts were some of the most unique I have ever seen. We took Thursday kind of slow as we got acclimated to our new surroundings and just appreciated walking around with no set itinerary.
On Friday, we had two plans: (1) Lunch reservations at 12:30pm and (2) Entry tickets to a bookstore with no set time. We started our day at 11am, and even with our lunch reservation quickly approaching, we decided to head out for breakfast – a pre-lunch treat. Over 120 years old, Confeitaria Do Bolhão (R. Formosa 339, 4000-252 Porto, Portugal) is a retro bakery with traditional Portuguese treats, including the Portuguese egg tart (pasteis de nata), which was a technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off in a recent season, pointed out by one of my friends. The pastry is best enjoyed with cinnamon, which we actually forgot to add because we were too eager to try it.
After our pre-lunch traditional Portuguese pastry, we headed for our lunch reservation to try a traditional Portuguese meal, a francesinha, a sandwich topped with melted cheese and drenched in sauce. We ate at Brasão Coliseu (R. de Passos Manuel 205, 4000-385 Porto, Portugal) because in our research, this place was recommended and had both the traditional meat version and an alternative vegetarian version. The francesinha was delicious and the ambience of the restaurant was immaculate.
Our next stop was the bookstore, Livraria Lello (R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal) one of the oldest and prettiest bookstores in Portugal. Allegedly, this bookstore served as inspiration for Harry Potter, but according to some British people in front of us in line, that was just a rumor. Either way, the bookstore is absolutely gorgeous and has a massive staircase and striking architecture. It’s pretty small, so they limited the number of people inside at a time, but it is a must-see destination in Porto.
After the bookstore, we went down the street to a lookout point called Miradouro da Vitória. From here, you could see just how hilly the city of Porto is and how the sun glistened off of the Douro River. From the viewpoint, we continued our descent down the road to the river front, where we walked along the river to find a boat tour. At the port, we got tickets for a 5:30pm boat, which was incredible. We went up and down the river, almost to the Atlantic Ocean, and we got to see the sun as it almost set behind the horizon of the sea.
After the boat, we had dinner at a restaurant on the riverfront, where we officially saw the sunset and the lights of the city shining brightly against the water.
We had a slightly earlier start today, and our goal was to explore the south side of the river. We stopped before the bridge at a coffee shop called Esquires Coffee Porto (R. de 31 de Janeiro 215, 4000-543 Porto, Portugal), for breakfast.
As we crossed along the upper portion of the Luís I Bridge, we kept stopping to take pictures of the view. On the south side of the bridge was a garden, Jardim do Morro, with yet another postcard-worthy view.
We took the cable car down to the riverfront, with even more exceptional views. There was a little market at the bottom with jewelry and souvenirs. We even found some street art, the Bordalo II half rabbit, made from pieces of scrap and materials from around the city.
Our next goal was to see the sunset at the beach. Porto is a little too in-land to walk to the beach, so we found a tourist office and asked what the best way to get to the beach was. She gave us a map with instructions (go up the hill to the bus stop and take bus 15) and we were on our way! We probably could have taken the cable car back up the hill, but why spend another 6 euros when you can walk up a giant staircase in a hurry? In hindsight, we probably should have figured out how to get to the beach before we took the cable car in the first place, so we could have bought a round trip ticket. Either way, we made it to the bus stop, and waited for the bus. Out of all my bus experiences in Metz and Tel Aviv this summer, this was by far the wildest, perhaps scariest bus ride I’ve ever had (this includes the time I was on a bus in Tel Aviv that hit a taxi). This normal-sized bus zigzagged around streets of suburban Porto which it arguably should not have been able to fit through. Pedestrians flattened themselves against the buildings to avoid getting hit. I guess the bus driver was very experienced, but I could not even imagine driving a sedan down these cobblestone suburban Porto-streets.
The beach was everything we hoped it would be and more. We had a few hours to relax in the outdoor seating of a restaurant and watch the sun as it dropped to sea level. When the main event was about to begin, we went down to a walkway and sat on the edge. The sky lit up with reds, oranges, and yellows, and the sun illuminated the nearby clouds. Since being at GTL, I had yet to sit and really see a sunset. And in about 12 hours, we would see the sunrise from 30,000 feet.
We caught the last bus back to Porto and walked back from the garden to our Airbnb. Before crossing the bridge, we walked up a hill to the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, a lookout point in front of a 16th century monastery. The sunset was still slightly visible from up here, and below us by the bridge, a band was playing Portuguese music. How was this real life?
I love coffee and coffee shops. I made it my mission to spend my Tuesdays exploring Metz, and that includes trying new coffeeshops to do homework in. Some have been more conducive to telework than others. I have searched for other blog posts to help me find ones that are computer friendly (I found one in French: http://adoptemetz.com/gourmandises/cafe-metz-brunch-teletravail/).
Fox Coffee Shop Metz (6 Rue Gambetta, 57000 Metz): Location? Amazing. Coffee? Delicious. Ambiance? Immaculate. Fox Coffee Shop Metz is a GTL fan favorite for obvious reasons. Fox Coffee Shop is my happy place, no ifs, ands, or buts. It is definitely computer friendly with very speedy free Wi-Fi, although you can only connect one device at a time with a given email. You can sit outside or inside, both of which provide a unique coffee shop experience. Inside, they have beautiful, ornate, furniture and decorations, and they even have a piano! The music is *chef’s kiss* a vibe – I spent one day Shazaming many of the songs I heard and made an Apple Music playlist for your (and my) enjoyment. You can also find them on Spotify. Outside, they have plenty of tables that spread out along the sidewalk and into the square. Each table has a unique set of stickers, adding to the quirkiness of the place.
Ô Sœur Saveurs (19 Rue Taison, 57000 Metz): A self-proclaimed, woman-run business, this coffeeshop is in the heart of downtown. They don’t open until 11am (and I recommend not going right when they open like I did), but it’s definitely worth a visit. When I went, I accidentally ordered a “lait froid” thinking I was ordering an iced latte… much to my dismay, the server brought out a glass of milk with ice in it. Not what I wanted, but it was what I ordered apparently. After I finished my sad glass of iced milk, it took me a good hour to work up the courage to ask for the menu again. The second time, I ordered a cappuccino and a crumble poivron, tomate, et feta (a pepper, tomato, and feta crumble), and it was delicious! I sat in an outdoor area in the center of the café, which made for a unique atmosphere, even if it drizzled a little bit.
Columbus Café and Co. (33 Pl. Saint-Jacques, 57000 Metz): In the heart of downtown Metz, Columbus Café and Co provides both indoor and outdoor, upstairs and downstairs seating and a sweet spread of food and drinks. I would describe this as a Starbucks with more personality. If you’re hungry, I’d recommend getting the menu étudiant (student menu) which is a sandwich, a baked good, and an iced tea or soft drink for only 6 euros! My cappuccino classique was a whole 4.50 euros. They have free (and good quality) Wi-fi and plenty of outlets inside. I spent all day studying for my plethora of exams during my exam week here and will definitely be coming back.
Paul (219B Av. de Strasbourg, 57070 Metz): A GTL staple. Located between the Lafayette Residence and the GTL building, Paul is a very popular and convenient stop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I usually grab a sandwich to go (à emporter) on Mondays between my class ending at 5:45pm and my class starting at 7pm. I have also had breakfast there (sur place). It wasn’t anything special, but convenient enough to make it worth it.
Chalon de Thé (6 Rue de la Petite Boucherie, 57000 Metz): This café is purrfect (pun intended) if you like (1) coffee/tea and (2) cats.You don’t need to pay to get in – you just pay for what you order! If you need productive café vibes, this is probably not the place for you. While they do provide free Wi-Fi, the cats are pretty distracting. I found myself taking pictures of the cats more than I did homework. The cats also have no problem walking all over the keyboard (“zxt6yt5v 5nm” and “./;……•••••••••••••••••••7[‘puy[p-9” were two such instances. How one of them typed bullet points? I’m not sure. Very talented kitty.)
Bonus! Honorable Mention
Konrad Café & Bar (7 Rue du N, 2229 Luxembourg): While not in Metz, this café was too cute not to mention. Located in the older part of the city, Konrad café is a prime telework spot. I knew I’d love it when as soon as I walked in, the music was only Frank Sinatra. The staff is so kind (and English speaking), the Wi-Fi is fast, the ambiance is impeccable. You can sit inside or outside, but it was pretty chilly when I came so they had blankets outside for customers. On a Tuesday, I decided to take a solo day trip to Luxembourg to take advantage of my day off from classes, and I definitely don’t regret it! I can highly recommend coming here on a day off or even an afternoon – Luxembourg is only 47 minutes from Metz!