High Speed Trains: Rated

Friday, April 22, 2022 | Written by Claire

Trains. They’re what make Europe run the way it does today. From local to region to cross-country high speed trains, there are so many different designs and engineering feats you will encounter everywhere you travel. As a newcomer to European transportation before this semester, I found the intricate time tables of arriving and departing trains, engineering mechanisms of high speed rail, and designs to be highly fascinating. From the hundreds of trains I’ve ridden in this past semester, here are my top 5 favorites. If you get the chance, definitely use your Eurail pass to your advantage and take a luxury train ride across the country of your desire. 

5: TGV (France)

This train is going to be your best friend. The good ol’ TGV, also known as Train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train in French. This is the French intercity rail line that will be the heart of how you travel in, out, and within France. There are many other trains that follow the design of the TGV, but this is the original, fastest rail-based high speed train developed in the world, traveling up to 300 km per hour. While TGVs are not the most luxurious on the inside compared to many other trains, it is definitely a classic exterior that represents France as a whole.
4: Italo Treno (Italia) 

To me, this train is like a Ninja. Flanked by red and black stripes, the design of this train embodies speed, agility, and precision. With a nose slightly sharper than many of the ICE and TGV trains, it creates a narrow, streamline figure that cuts through air as it races down the tracks. It is also eco-friendly and sustainable, a good move towards Italy’s renewable energy plan. The interior also has several sections, one that is more “first class” that comes with unlimited snacks and private suites. The seats themselves are firmly cushioned for comfort. Bathrooms are kept squeaky clean and table space is generous. 

3: ICE (Germany) 

I’ve spent most of my travel days on ICE trains simply for its convenience, reliability, and comfort. While it can be packed as the summer months approach, the ICE train is the German high speed rail line that is designed to get you across the country in a matter of hours. If timed right, you can take them as overnight trains and save a few bucks on hotel costs. For the winter, these trains are definitely safe havens for warmth and shelter among the blistering cold winds outside. The seating cushion is also one of the most comfortable. With pillowed head rests and curved back spaces, you can comfortably sleep without leaning your head on a stranger’s shoulder. Additionally, ICE trains have adequate luggage racks at the end and above seats to actually fit your backpack and not just a jacket like some of the French TGVs. 

2: Südostbahn Traverso (Switzerland) 

Deemed as what my friend calls the “sexy train,” the Südostbahn, often abbreviated as SOB, is the new design for the regional Swiss railcar. Plated with a rose gold chrome roof and side matting, the Traverso features spacious seating, large window space, and noise canceling interior. Many of the regional lines also go through scenic routes, making the train ride even more enjoyable. Not only is it kept clean and hygienic, the train also has a bistro car for certain food options and even a vending machine in several cars where you can grab instant coffee or soda. Additionally, while most train bathroom cars are filthy and often smelly, the Traverso has a huge and luxurious bathroom with high pressure faucets and good mirror lighting as well. This was by far one of my favorite train rides I’ve been on and one the most sleek exterior designs within European trains. 

1: Thalys (French-Belgium)

For me, the Thalys will always have a special place in my heart. Branded as an entirely red train, the sleek design makes Thalys standout among the mass of trains passing through each station. They are characterized by their bright red exterior, flanked with silver. Thalys are one of the most expensive trains to ride and they only run through specific cities as well. This French-Belgian line runs high speed trains from Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Cologne. Interior-wise, spacious seating with adequate working room and quadded table space make it easily one of the most comfortable trains to ride. 

How Am I Doing at GTL? (Mental Health)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022 | Written by Claire

At Georgia Tech, it is no surprise that mental health is a big topic among students facing stressful situations at university. Just like any other college, students are often met with heavy workloads, difficult courses, and little social time outside of classes. At GTL, it is a different type of challenge.

At GTL, the classes are known to be slightly easier than the ones at the Atlanta Campus. This is due to different professors, more relaxed school schedule, and more travel time. Even so, while course loads can be difficult to balance while traveling full time, there are many personal struggles that may emerge from living in an unfamiliar, constantly changing environment. But thankfully, GTL is equipped with many services that provide aid to students.

As a GTL student myself, I’ve had a smooth run the first few months of living in France. Besides the lack of usual Asian food that I eat, life has been good. My classes were going well; I was managing my workload while traveling extensively; I was having a lot of fun as a happy and healthy student. It wasn’t until late March when I began experiencing some health hiccups here and there. I had and am still going through a bad eczema flare up on my face after being prescribed a steroid cream for a previous rash by a French doctor. After using it, the rash spread across my face and currently, I’m still doing everything I can to keep it at bay. Then, after it had healed for a day, I got COVID. From there I was stuck in isolation for a week and the rash came back full force and still hasn’t subsided. This period has been very difficult for me. I had to skip out on so many social events just to stay stuck in my small dorm room. Right when I thought I was healed and ready to go for my long weekend vacation in Italy, I had to stay in COVID isolation for a week. It was truly very frustrating to deal with day after day and today almost marks one month of this struggle. Slowly but steadily, I am beginning my recovery.

GTL, however, has been excellent in reciprocating my needs. For all prospective students, the GTL urgent phone line is staffed 24/7 by GTL staff members who care about your health and wellbeing. They are willing to talk to you about your wants and needs whenever it is. I’ve heard about students calling for emergencies or even slight inconveniences, but for me GTL Urgent staff have been angels. When I had COVID, one of the staff members even drove me to the hospital personally so I could get treatment for my flare ups. They spent hours upon hours waiting with me at the hospital despite the massive line of patients. They even helped translate what I needed to say to the doctor in French and helped me get my prescription medicine during rush hour. With Easter right around the corner, many places were going to be closed for the long weekend, and they made sure I was able to get my treatment before that time. Other than that, during isolation, they also arranged a food delivery service that would drop fresh groceries from Cora right at my door.

Other than the GTL Urgent phone, GTL is also staffed with a school nurse, admins around the clock and professors who prioritize your health and needs. Thus, I am happy to say that no student will ever be alone if they are in need and are at GTL. They can arrange emergency services whether you are in Metz or abroad, and I am so thankful for that. 

Spring is in Full Bloom!

Monday, April 11, 2022 | Written by Claire

Warmth. As the sun began to filter through the trees, the first signs of Spring emerged as tiny flower buds nestled within the greening grass and started peeking out from the crackly tree branches. In Metz and across Europe, a myriad of colors began to paint the cold, bleak canvas left by winter. 

Amsterdam

 

One of the best places you should visit if you’re headed to Amsterdam is the Keukenhof Tulip Fields. It has several hectares of flowers of all different colors and varieties, whether they’re tulips or different species. The beautiful design of the garden itself creates a great environment that accentuates the color of the flower themselves. The placement and pairing of colors create an artwork along the ground. It was a shame that we went slightly too early as many of the flowers had not bloomed but if you go any time in late April or May, that’s when you’ll see the best of Keukenhof. 

Bonn

This glorious stretch of cherry blossom was just a random find when we visited Bonn, Germany. 

It was a random residential street around the city center, surrounded by small local businesses and restaurants. The blossoms were in full bloom, casting a pink hue across the street. As a breeze floated through the streets, some of the petals would fall from the trees, floating through the air in swirls. It was as if I were in a real-life anime scene. If you ever stop by the region, look up Cherry Blossom in Bonn on Apple Maps and you’ll find yourself a gorgeous view, perfect for the gram.

No matter where you visit next, as Spring arrives, there will be so many opportunities to see the beauties of nature around every corner. While the semester draws to a close, there are so many things that may stress you out: finals, thoughts of moving back, or catching up in your classes. I, myself, have also been extremely stressed with many things in life that are outside my control, including things with my own health that have prevented me from enjoying the last month at GTL. While the GTL staff has been more than accommodating with my needs, I just want to head into the last 2 weeks at GTL on a positive note, and with the weather much nicer and everyone in good spirits, I hope to continue heading in the right direction to end this semester strong, not just for myself but also for my friends and family. These flowers have been a reminder of how great life is and I should just enjoy what is left to one of the best chapters I’ve ever had in my life.

Hiking in Switzerland: Life Lesson

Thursday, April 7, 2022 | Written by Claire

Every semester, most GTL students flock to Switzerland to enjoy the hiking, paragliding, and skiing, during the colder months. I could not miss seeing this beautiful country so my travel group and I decided to conquer the hike from Interlaken, a beautiful, quaint, Switzerland town, to Augstmatthorn, a grueling 10 hour hike that ends in Hardergrat where a shuttle bus would take us back to where we started. The elevation gain was around 1500m over a 24.8km journey. Our plan was simple: start at 4 am and then reach the mountain top to see the sunrise, continue our journey and finish around 2-3 pm. 

At first, our journey was smooth, we were able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise as it shimmered across the lake and reflected off the snow-covered mountains across from us. Preparation wise: we really loaded up on food. With 3L of water for each of us, a dozen or so ham sandwiches, 12 granola bars, a pack of Biscoff, 2 fruit squeezies, and a pack of Dutch Nutella cookies, we were set. However, in terms of gear, only one of us had hiking sticks and the rest of us managed to get around using regular school backpacks, tennis shoes, and our overall balance. That was where we made a grave mistake. 

The hike to Augstmatthorn itself isn’t necessarily a challenging one, for us at least. Physically, the overall terrain wasn’t too rugged, it was just very steep and death defying in many places. However, hiking in March, the trail didn’t reveal itself to be dangerous until we completed 7 hours of hiking. As we reached further into the ridge-line, snow began to coat the ground. Some of it was packed and slippery, a menace for those with tennis shoes that had poor grip. Some of it was on the verge of melting, which was extremely dangerous as one wrong step could send the entire snow pile rolling down the ledge only a few inches away from our feet. On the other hand, the snow was cold and wet, numbing our feet perpetually and making it even more slippery. 

The trails became narrower and the ridge even steeper, with two sharp drops on both sides. We were ill-prepared to take on the trail any longer. When we were almost about the clear the trees, several experienced hikers had turned back, warning us that the ridgeline would be too snowy to continue, but we were determined to check out the scene for ourselves. Long story short- we turned back. The sharp drop was covered in packed, melting snow, the most dangerous combination. With our lack of equipment and expertise, we had to give up the hike. It was just too early in the year to reach Augstmatthorn. 

On the way back, we sighed a breath of slight heartbreak as we mentally prepared ourselves for the 7-hour journey back. We would reach Interlaken much after the sun goes down, but luckily three of us had flashlights that would hopefully last us a few hours. As we squeezed through a maze of logs, we spotted a sign: Ringgenberg, a 1.5-hour hike down to the nearby town where we could take the next train back to Interlaken. That turned out to be the worst decision of our lives. This trail took us on a steep, strenuous route that had an elevation loss of 1060m in a climb that was a fourth of the original trail length from Interlaken. The route was steep, winding, and extremely muddy. My shoes, once black, had turned brown, and dirt accumulated under my fingernails as we had to get on our hands and knees to stay balanced. Halfway down the mountain, the trail disappeared. The red and white markers vanished into a maze of fallen pines that completely blocked the path further down. There was no way past the tangle of spiny branches. Even the ground, once made of hardened dirt, had become a slush of mud and accumulated snow. We were stuck. As we sat there, covered in mud and becoming increasingly cold, we felt a wave of panic as the sun began to dip over the ridge and we were no where near the town that was thousands of feet below us… until we thought of another way to reach there: slide. The trail had opened to a grassy slope of long weeds and small tree saplings. The slope was long, but not extremely steep, and near the bottom, we could see the opening to the road leading to the town. Fighting against the time and desperate to get back home, we decided to go for it and slide down the slope. 

Slowly inching our way down, we were able to scoot slowly over the grass, with one of two terrifying moments when we would lose control over patches of slippery grass, grabbing desperately onto the weeds for some stability. In the end, after 40 miserable minutes of sliding, slipping, and sprawling on the ground to slow our descent, we made it to a flatter ledge on the side. Just getting to the ledge was difficult enough, spreading into a sea star and grabbing the small tree saplings to pull us over to safety. Finally, we had made it. Miraculously, just several meters away was flat ground that looked relatively clear of snow and mud. The trail. Somehow, we had made it to the same trail just further down the mountain, saving us a hundred meters or so of downhill hiking. From there, we hustled down the mountain, almost running as we heard strange animal sounds and breaking branches coming from deep within the forest. After another hour, we collapsed onto the pavement, relieved, exhausted, and elated to be one step closer to home… sike.

The pavement we landed on had no direct route down to the town of Ringgenberg. Instead, it weaved back and forth on the mountain as it descended from the slopes. The walk would take at least 45 more minutes and the sun was almost completely gone. We were losing hope. There was not a single light in sight and just more and more rolling hills. We were thinking of cutting across but our muddied shoes would not have made it up those hills to begin with. Then we walked, further and further down the pavement road towards the town, losing hope and spirit. Until yet another miracle, a duo of Swiss guys were coming up the road. Parked to the right was a caravan, big enough to hold at least 10 people. They were our saving grace. They had offered us a ride down to the town, and we willingly said yes, crowding into their van looking tired and hungry. After a short 10-minute ride, we were outside the Ringgenberg train station. We made it to safety. 

On the same night, after we reached our hotel in Geneva on the French border, someone set our hotel on fire, and we escaped out of the burning building just as black smoke began to fill the room. More on this in another blog. 

 As a lesson, this trip was by far one of the most adrenaline-inducing, death-defying, and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Hiking in Switzerland is no easy task, and you need to be prepared with the right gear to conquer the terrain. Our journey is just an example of what you SHOULDN’T do when hiking dangerous trails anywhere in the world. And I hope that whoever goes hiking on that same trail won’t have the same experience as us. 

To find out more details about what happened on the hike: check out my vlog on my YouTube channel

City Hopping on Lake Como (25 Trains and Counting…) 

Thursday, March 31, 2022 | Written by Claire

The day began with cancelled trains and booked out trains across the board as we approached the Metz Ville station. The original journey took us from Metz Ville to Chiasso where we would catch the last bus across the Swiss Italian border at 11:30 PM to our hotel. Strangely, all the TGVs heading to Nice and Marseille were completely booked for the weekend and right before we had to leave for our train to Italy, a truck driver got stuck on the rails on the Strasbourg line and shut down the entire area for several days. It was a mess!

However, thanks to the help of the SNCF app, we were able to find another route out of South France that routed through Nancy and some smaller stations such as St. Die and ended in St. Louis. There, we booked it to a train headed to Basel only for it to stop halfway at a random station called Mulhouse, making us miss our next 3 connecting trains, but after hopping onto the next train, we finally made it to Basel for a quick 20-minute connection, an expensive bite of food from the local Migros. Our next stop: Zurich. Not more than 5 minutes after slumping down into the cushioned seat of the nice Swiss Train, I got a text notification that I had a 50 euro surcharge from my Free Mobile phone plan. Turns out, Free charges you one euro per one MB (emphasis on Megabyte) of data you use abroad, which was JUST what I needed. A quick pro tip, Switzerland isn’t in the EU, so make sure you turn off your data before passing through the country. It was a hefty charge for a careless mistake. The train ride from Zurich was more of a miracle; it made up a decent amount of time for being late, and thankfully we were able to get into Chiasso with 20 minutes to spare. A bit past 11, we walked, and cartwheeled, across the border and into Italy. 

Over the next few days, we were hoping to ferry hop the water-front cities across Lake Como, but of course-there was a strike. Ferries were operating at unreliable hours, so we decided to just suck it up and take the hour-long train journey to Bergamo. 

As the sun rose high in the sky, I was delighted to feel the warm rays bathed across my face and the fresh breeze. It was a definite change up from the weather in Metz, where it was perpetually grey and gloomy seven days a week. The city itself was beautiful. The town was lined with colorful houses of pastel orange, yellow, and red. The small little alleyways of the quaint Italian town seemed to emerge from stone, stacked upon each other creating small winding trails on the cliffs above the water, which shimmered a beautiful crystal-turquoise color as small private boats settled on the surface, rocking peacefully back and forth. Although the trees were still on their early spring phase, the leaf-less branches created intricate shapes and patterns that weaved higher in the sky, a natural masterpiece.

Other than Bergamo, Bellagio and Varenna are the other two must-sees in the area. We happened to stumble upon a giant garden in Varenna that stretched for miles along the waterfront. It had an array of flowers, trees, and small bushes, creating a myriad of purple, red, and orange that contrasted the bright green forestry. The white columns and marble coated buildings gave the entire garden a Venetian look, comparable to the marble statues in Rome and Florence. Other than the scenery itself, luxury cars decked out in silver lined the streets, perfectly blending into color scheme. 

Finally, in Bellagio, we hopped off the ferry right on time to catch the glorious sunset, a ball of bright red that dipped below the horizon. As the sun disappeared, the cold started to set in, coupled with the strong winds that ripped our hair back and forth. As we took a look at the time, we would be right on time to catch the last bus back to the train station in Varenna, which would bring us back to the hotel. We stood in the dark corner of the bus station, waiting as the time ticked past its scheduled arrival. As the moon continued to rise higher into the sky, the bus finally showed up, only to be packed to the BRIM with passengers huddled like sardines on board. There was no room to spare. The driver, however, didn’t even stop; instead, we took one look at our shivering selves at the bus station, shrugged, and sped away. Our hearts sank. There was no way back. We stood there in silence for a minute pondering on what to do, but not too far from the dock, we saw a ferry pulling up to the station. It seemed to be running on schedule despite the strike. At once, we bolted on board only to find twenty other people trying to get to the same train station to catch the next train that would supposedly leave 5 minutes after the ferry arrives. 

As the boat sped across the water, the workers seemed to be in no rush docking the boat. The exit ramp was not even close to the dock, but all of us were on our feet, ready to sprint. The next few moments seemed to be a movie. It was as if the ferry became a starting line, and as soon as the ramp touched the ground, everyone ran. Flying out of the boat, over bike racks, and across the town, everyone ran to the train station together, wheezing and laughing with those who once strangers were now bonded over our mutual rush to the train station. 

Free Mobile (Not so Free but Decent) 

Monday, March 21, 2022 | Written by Claire

Free Mobile is going to be your best bet for a reliable phone plan during your time at GTL. If you’re debating on using your current international data and call plan, you may want to reconsider after hearing about what Free Mobile has to offer. 

There are several things you should keep in mind when choosing your phone plan. You will be traveling across the EU during your time at GTL, especially with your Eurail Pass. 

Free mobile has been heavily reliant and can make calls for a few cents during emergencies. They offer fast and reliable data from local telecom towers. Free Mobile has reasonable rates for 50 GB in France and 10 GB abroad per month, which is more than plenty. They will charge you only 11 each month after the first payment of 21 for the plan and the sim card when you first purchase from the store. Free covers all countries within the EU, but if you’re going to Switzerland, watch out! You’ll be charged 1 CHF per MB of data used so make sure you turn roaming off when you’re crossing through the area. I was charged a hefty 50 surcharge for accidently using data in Switzerland, but usually you’ll get a warning text every time you enter a different country. Here are some of their current deals:
Depending on the package you get, you are able use up to 35 day’s worth of international calls , which include US landlines. This was super useful for when we had to call hostel owners abroad in order to check in or other uses for emergencies. Additionally, having the international component makes it much easier to receive international texts and other confirmation codes you might need to apply for Passenger Locator Forms in you’re flying into different countries or sometimes even getting the verification code for renting scooters and bikes. It can also be a hotspot for your computer if you need to get assignments done on the train or for others to leech off of if needed. 

Buying a Free Mobile sim card is easy. There is a store right next to the CDG airport in the local mall where you can register for a new French number at a kiosk. After getting a new number, you can start using your French sim card immediately. The only downside is that the kiosk is entirely in French but here’s a thorough walk through on how to use the kiosk. 

https://tabiparislax.com/en/freemobile-2/ 

Now, when you first arrive in Paris, you might be tempted to buy from the sim card vendors within the actual airport. DO NOT! Those rates are ridiculously inflated for just a few GB of data. Some of these vendors may be Orange, SFR, or Bouygues, but comparatively, Free Mobile has the best rates for data you are getting and its extensive coverage outside of France as well. 

Overall, Free mobile has been a lifesaver on many of my trips, and I highly recommend that you get a French sim card. The only thing is, remember to cancel your subscription before you leave!

Mid-Semester Reflection

Friday, March 4, 2022 | Written by Claire

After two months of living in France and studying at GTL, I’ve developed many new perceptions on how I’ve spent my time here. From being a student Monday through Wednesday and a full-time traveler throughout the weekend, it is difficult to imagine life as it was back when I was simply studying at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The rigorous and mundane routine of wake, eat, work, eat, sleep has swamped my college experience since 2019, and many times I’ve always wondered if stressing and working nonstop was the peak of life. And it definitely isn’t.

At GTL, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take time to travel across Europe, a place I never really considered to traverse before. I am grateful to have the time, energy, and resources to travel the way I have been and if I could have told my younger self one thing, it would be to embrace exploration in Europe. From large cities such as Paris, Berlin, and Madrid to small towns like Hallstatt and Como, I’ve seen a range of European lifestyles and utilized a handful of different languages just to get around. Every town is different, and the people have such different qualities region by region. It is mind boggling to see the development of cultural differentiation throughout history and how minute social cues or local habits change ever so slightly.  The thing that amazes me the most is the ease that comes with traveling within the EU. Hop on a train, and voila, you’re in a completely different world. The places I see, the dishes I eat, the people I hear- these are all the things I will cherish for a lifetime. Being able to hop across a border, whether it’s on foot or on train, is something I can only say I’ve had the chance to do thanks to GTL. 

However, while spending hours upon hours on trains, I find myself more and more exhausted every weekend. The further I go, the more stress I must bear trying to catch trains and praying connections don’t get cancelled. Many times, when I’m tired and cold to the bone sitting in the freezing Frankfurt train station I have unsettling emotions about why I’m stuck in that situation. On several weekends, I have been traveling just because it seemed like a waste of time not to. I travel sometimes because I feel obligated to take advantage of my Eurail pass and see random new things along the way. Many times, weekend plans are formed on the whim and many places I have went, I don’t have any real desire or excitement to go to. While it’s the dream traveling with my friends and experiencing all the weird things that comes with being in random places at 2 AM, I can get easily irritated by the noise and the chaos around me.

When I get into this state of mind, I always remind myself that health comes first. Tiring myself out just to get places I don’t really want to go to does no good. I think back to those moments at GT in Atlanta when I’ve just taken random walks at night just to go stare at the stars, longing to be elsewhere, yearning for a release of all my academic stress. Yet here I am. When I call my friends back at home, they always ask me about my travels and the new places I’ve seen on my trips. They’re envious of the lifestyle I’m living right now even as a student. Same with my parents. I often think of things I get to share with them every weekend, or perhaps a small souvenir special to the place just to bring back a small piece of my experience for them to try. I make vlogs and edit photos to remind myself of all the beautiful things I’ve seen on my trips so far, and the best part is that I get to share it with those I love back at home. So even when traveler’s weariness starts to hit, I know I should never take this semester for granted. It’s by far the most exciting, chaotic, stressful, and tiring period of my life, but all for the best reason. And I wouldn’t want to imagine my GTL experience in any other way.  

 

Traveling on a Budget: Fun Things to Do for Cheap 

Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Written by Claire

  1. Scootering

One of my favorite tricks for exploring big cities in a timely manner is to hop on scooters and zoom around place to place all day. The best part is that most European cities are fully equipped with bike lanes and parking spaces scattered around the city for your convenience. Not only will you be zooming around, weaving among the traffic, responsibly of course, but you will also be feeling the wind and hearing the city’s bustling life block by block. 

While being time efficient, you can also travel at your own pace without being charged. Hungry? Place your phone on the phone rack and take a ride to the nearest restaurant and pause your ride. Rates are also cheap by the hour. Some brands have activation rates for a euro that lasts you for the whole day. Others charge a few cents by the minute. From my experience, the cheapest brands are Bolts and Tiers, which are highly competitive against the traditional Birds or Limes. If you’re looking for a fun, cheap activity in the city that gets your adrenaline pumping, scooters might be your best bet!

2. Hiking 

For the nature enthusiasts, hiking is always a cheap option that you can tailor to your experiences and preferences. Many big cities in Europe are located next to mountainous regions or along the coast. For example, if you travel to Marseille in France, you can scale the Calanques for a whole day without spending a single cent. In many of the port cities, you can find rocky outcrops to bask in the sunlight or take a stroll along the beach. If you’re in Italy or Portugal, there are many lakes such as Lake Como or the Benagil Caves that you can spend your afternoon exploring. While extra activities such as mountain biking or sea kayaking may cost 10-30 euros, the views are spectacular and worth the cost. 

3. Museums 

As a student, you’re in luck. Many museums such as the Prado in Madrid are free for students on certain weekends. If they are not free, exhibition tickets are often sold at a discounted rate if you have your ISIC card on you. These museums often hold gems of modern, historical art, and they can eat up a whole day of activities if you’re interested. Not only are these museums specific to the region, they also have different exhibitions every month. 

4. Bakery Hopping 

For the foodies, a cheap way to try local foods is to go bakery hopping. Many small goodies cost one or two euros and are pretty filling. They also represent the local cuisine with each baked good. For example, in Faro, Portugal, we tried Portuguese egg tarts that are a euro and custard sponge cakes, which the locals were crazed about. In Italy, we also had cheap cannolis and pistachio buns for under a euro. In Como, they sold pastries by the bag, and we lived off them for only 7 euros throughout the entire day. 

 

A Traveler’s Best Friend: Transit Apps

Tuesday, March 1, 2022 | Written by Claire

When traveling around Europe from Metz, there are four essential apps you should use to maximize your travel limits and increase efficiency to make sure you can catch the next train, plane, or bus to your destination. Public transport will be your best friend for the next few months. Your dependence on trains, buses, and even city-friendly scooters will either stress you out entirely or make it a much easier to get around.

Eurrail: Global Pass

Before coming to Metz, I had doubts about getting the Eurrail Global Pass, which cost over $800 for just three months. Don’t make that mistake. Eurrail is your best bet when catching trains across Europe, to even as far as Hungary. Preloaded timetables and prices for seat reservations make it easy to check train departures and arrivals without Wi-Fi. Additionally, it is well worth its buck. For each individual leg, for example just from Metz to Strasbourg, the central hub for getting out of France, can cost upwards to $60-$100. The Eurrail pass includes uses for intercity, regional, and long-distance high-speed trains that can sometimes cost over $200 per journey. The pass can be activated any time from when you buy it. It can be life savers when your train has been delayed or cancelled so you can find the next way to your destination by looking at the preloaded information. While it can be inaccurate at times, 85% of the time it has everything you need for a smooth journey. 

Apple Maps/Google Maps/ Moovit: Transit 

After these few months of traveling extensively across Western Europe, it is a common trend to see that Apple Maps is very reliable for transportation routes, which include trains and local buses. You can set the time to when you would be scheduled to leave, so you can check whether lines would be running at certain hours. You can also see multiple routes on the map itself of train stations, stops, and other info desks to ensure that you are heading in the right direction. On the other hand, Google Maps has been more reliable for finding more obscure restaurants and their hours. They have the best updated information on local stores and can also link places to their reviews left by others on Travel Advisor or other sites. The Move It App is also a highly accurate, European-based transportation app that includes routes, departures, and arrivals in almost all European cities. This one is probably your best bet for smaller routes that may not be loaded in Apple or Google Maps, so it’s always a good idea to keep it on your phone as a backup. Moovit can be used in Metz as well, and it pretty spot on with the times. 

Tier: Scooters 

Scooters are a fun way to spend your time exploring the city without walking. While these scooters are limited to only bigger cities, they are still prevalent in most places that you go. The only catch is that each country tends to have different scooter companies. The most prevalent brands I’ve seen so far are Tier, Bird, Lime or Voi. Big cities in Germany and Spain have scooters, bikes, and even mopeds scattered across the city for your convenience. All it requires is an ID verification to make sure you’re over 18 and a confirmation number to start up your next scooter ride. There are also many referral codes that can be used for ride credit, so if you’re in a big group, make sure to refer others to get free rides for you and your friends!  

Bolt: Ride Sharing 

Like in the states, many people use apps for ride sharing, especially to and from airports or major train hubs. Taxis in certain high tourism areas may charge higher rates that are definite rip-offs, but when you’re desperate and looking for a quick way home, ride sharing is a guaranteed option… just depending on the app you are using. In Metz, Ubers are rare. There are only one or two drivers in the vicinity, and they are often late or inactive. Bolt is a commonly used app across Europe for the exact services that Uber has. They are also very cheap in comparison and when split amongst four people or a smaller group, it can be a quick, efficient way home after a long day of train hopping. 

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!