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.

Fall Break Part 2

Sunday, November 14, 2021 | Written by Mira


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. 

If you zoom into the right-most and middle flags in the picture, you can see the holes.

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.

It was so cold outside, you can see the steam form the water!

 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.

My instagram became a Budapest Parliament building fan-page.

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.

Recreating my brother’s picture!


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 at Schönbrunn – it would have been a very easy maze with the hedges thinned from the fall chill.

The Belvedere!

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!

The rollercoaster tracks that your order comes to you on.


Endurance Trip to Vienna

Karsten took his first solo trip, and it didn’t go as planned, but he still got in plenty of exploring!

Saturday, October 12, 2019 | Written by Karsten

I had a plan to see three new countries today—or so I thought. After the Munich HTS trip, I thought I was going to take a train to go to Rajka, Hungary, walk about two and a half miles to stand on where Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary came together, and then head back to Vienna and spend the day there and then take an overnight train back to Metz. Well, a couple of those stayed true—I’m writing this on the overnight train back to Metz. However, after making a couple of questionable moves, I ended up not going to Rajka.

After the field trip, I hung around Munich for my first train, which left at 8:00 P.M. I grabbed dinner with a couple of guys that were staying in Munich for the weekend, and then headed to the station for my first solo trip. My trains took me through Salzburg, Vienna, and eventually to Parndorf, Austria, where I spent the wee hours (from 1:30 A.M. until 5:30 A.M.) of the morning. I was the only person at this tiny train station in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, I hated that and was creeped out the entire time I was awake. I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep (putting me at 11 hours of sleep in three nights), but it was here that I decided to skip out on Hungary and just head to Bratislava, Slovakia, and then to Vienna. This decision let me get out of Parndorf a few minutes earlier and into Vienna four hours earlier. After spending twenty minutes in the Bratislava train station, I have now been to fourteen countries in my life.

I took the hour-long train back to Vienna and got there at 7:00 A.M.. I decided to walk to all of the major landmarks I had originally planned to see. These included the Rathaus, the Hofburg, the Schönbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the Danube Tower. These places weren’t very close to each other, but I had no other plans. I started from the train station to Schönbrunn, then to the Rathaus, then to the Danube Tower, and lastly, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Hofburg. My favorites were the Schönbrunn and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

 The Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens were absolutely massive, kind of like the Biltmore in the United States, and it was really cool to see. St. Stephen’s Cathedral was also huge and beautiful. I spent roughly an hour around the cathedral, but I regret not going in. I ended up just eating some ice cream and drinking a coffee outside, as I was exhausted. From here, I made the hour trek to the train station, grabbed dinner, and hopped on this train. I ended up walking over twenty miles throughout Vienna, so I’d say there isn’t too much I didn’t see, except for Eliud Kipchoge breaking the marathon record in Vienna on the same day, but I felt as if I had also completed a marathon. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some sleep on the rest of this train, as I need to catch up.

Skiing Through History

Skiing is all the better when the area hosted a Winter Olympics! Check out where Lina went this weekend – and how she talked her way into a crowded restaurant.

When you think about it, skiing is actually really ridiculous. Someone was like, you know what would be really fun? Sliding down a bumpy mountain on two thin sticks attached to your shoes. And then people were like, yeah sounds great, and the rest is history.
This weekend, we began our journey to the ski-town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, close to the Zugspitze. The Zugspitze, close to the Austrian border, is the tallest mountain in Germany, measuring in at 2,962 meters in elevation. The town itself was quaint, with the traditional painted cabins lining the cobblestone streets.

The view from the Zugspitzbahn Station.

To get to the top of the Zugspitz, one takes the Zugspitzbahn, which is a scenic one hour train ride that takes you over 1.5 vertical kilometers to the top of the mountain. After climbing for about 40 minutes, the train goes through about 500 meters of tunnel straight through a mountain. Finally, we arrived at the top of the mountain, and took in the breathtaking views right outside of the station.
The ski resort itself is situated in a sort of bowl, with the barren snowy peaks surrounding the ski area on all sides. A cable car is available to take you up to the tallest peak. The ski trails themselves spanned all sides of the bowl, with two chair lifts and two surface lifts to take you up the sides of the bowl. Armed with a GoPro, rental skis and boots, my friends and I made our first run.

The view from the top of Germany.
The snow was light and fluffy, and although back in the town the weather was cloudy, up at the summit was above the clouds and completely sunny. We had to shell some layers to prevent overheating. The air was clear, and although we were a bit dizzy from the elevation, the amazing white capped mountains as far as the eye could see was the most breathtaking part of it all. We stopped for many photos for sure.
After our second day of skiing, I found myself in a small pub for dinner, with exposed beams, classic German clocks and carvings decorating the walls. I ordered some classic Wiener Schnitzel, which I found delicious (although my companion compared it to a giant chicken nugget). Because of the busy tourist system, there was no room at any restaurants, and the only reason I got a seat at that one was because the hostess was impressed with my attempts at speaking German. Even in a country where pretty much everyone speaks English, speaking the native language can really take you a long way.

The view from the bottom of my favorite trail.

The next day, before our return, we found ourselves in the Olympic Ski Stadium of the 1936 Winter Olympics that had taken place in Garmisch Partenkirchen. In addition to an Olympic ski slope, the stadium also had an Olympic ski jump. Outside the stadium, we saw many skiers and ski jumpers warming up, stretching, and practicing their technique. We watched a few children practice their ski jump approaches on small square platforms on wheels. They would crouch, head down and hands back on the platform down the street, and then leap up, arms outstretched. Then their coaches would correct them and they would start again.

The 1936 Olympic Stadium.

Ski jumping has always been really fascinating to me, mostly because it looks mortally terrifying. And if you think watching the Winter Olympics on TV is nerve wracking, watching someone ski jump in person nearly made me faint. I watched, heart in my throat, as the skier slid down the track and then leaped into the air, landing gracefully. I was in awe.
I love to ski, and was so happy I was able to do it in such a beautiful and quaint place over the weekend.


In the Land of Salt

Sam went to Salzburg, too! Featuring breathtaking pictures, Sam’s blog post ventures into the story of his travels in the Austrian city and an examination of how far he’s come. Check it out!

Salt, in my opinion, is one of Man’s greatest discoveries. Throughout Earth’s many, many years, people have figured out that excessive amounts of salt could preserve food, pinches of salt could enhance the flavor of your meal, and that one little grain could make a pesky slug shrivel up in fear and pain. When breathed in with humid air, salt can clear up your sinuses and leave you feeling rejuvenated (to an extent).

While I’m here at GTL, I plan on traveling every weekend – maybe every other weekend – to a new city. So far, I’ve only made it to Paris, but I spent this last weekend in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to – Salzburg, Austria. The name, Salzburg, quite literally translates to “Salt Castle,” so I felt almost right at home, with the city’s given name being a combination of two of my favorite things: salt and medieval things! Since the dark ages, Salzburg has definitely grown, both commercially and residentially, into a hotspot for tourism, which is what I assume to be a result of it both being the birthplace of Mozart, one of the history’s most well known and most talented classical composers, and it’s direct link to the Salzberg, which translates to “Salt Mountain”. Luckily, I had enough time in the nearly two days I was there to explore both of these sites and more, while having the best time ever!


Part of the main square in Salzburg

After a nearly seven hour trip, I arrived at the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof late on a Friday afternoon.  I was with two of my friends from GTL, and for fear of getting lost and spending too much money and time trying to figure out the bus system, we walked the two kilometers to our hostel (which normally would not be a problem, but there was about two feet of snow covering the sidewalks, and where there wasn’t snow, there was very, very slippery ice). Once at the hostel, the three of us checked in, got settled in our room, and recuperated for an hour or two before deciding on where to eat dinner. Landing on a local schnitzel hall, we made our way, following the lust of our rumbling stomachs, into a large, loud, smoke-filled old monastery that had been transformed into a place of drunk and merry Austrians. We went back to the hostel that night, our bellies filled, our spirits high, and prepared ourselves for the day ahead of us.

Early Saturday morning, another friend of ours made her way to the hostel to drop off her things and set off with us on another great adventure. We left at around nine or so and headed to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a bus to the very famous salt mines that lay about thirty minutes away, nestled deep in the Salt Mountains. Unfortunately, we got mixed up in the bus system, missed the original bus we should have taken, and ended up waiting another hour for the next one. We killed a bit of time walking around the small shopping mall right outside the station, and got some tea and coffee to keep us warm until our transportation arrived. Finally, after an hour of waiting in and out of the freezing Austrian weather, our bus came, and we were headed towards a day of salt and castles.

Once at the salt mines, we were instructed to put on these black, thick, canvas-like body suits over our clothes, and were given small audio translators for the tour. We all followed a group of people onto this roller coaster/train thing that drove us deep underground. At the end of the ride, we got off the train and walked over to a giant slide that was to take us even deeper into the mine. The whole lot of us was being led by a tour guide who taught us a lot of interesting things about the mine, including it’s history, the salt-extracting processes, and the importance of salt in the world, but more specifically, Salzburg.

During the tour, there was a boat ride, complete with really cool visuals and music accompaniment, over the beautiful Mirror Lake. The water was so reflective, that it looked transparent. It was definitely one of the cooler things nature has shown me. Learning about salt all along the way, we had one more slide to go down, an elevator to go up, and a short train ride to finish the tour. Afterwards, I found myself in the gift shop, buying a 60 cent box of salt, because I mean, that’s a 60 cent box of salt, why would you not buy it?


The salt mine!

Later on that day, we spent about 2 hours touring the castle and Cathedral. The views from the upper courtyards were spectacular, and I felt like I was a great king looking over his great kingdom. Not really, but it was cool to pretend for a minute! My friends and I had nearly explored the whole place, when, alas, it was closing time. My biggest regret of the day was that we didn’t visit the castle earlier (but hey, I can always go back for Salzburg part two). After leaving the castle, we traveled back to the hostel to drop off souvenirs and get pro-tips on where to eat. An Australian who was in our room ended up going out with us, which was actually really cool because I had never met anyone and had a meal with them that same day!


A wonderful view from the top of the castle

On Sunday morning, we checked out, headed to the Hauptbahnhof, and started our seven plus hour journey back to GTL. On the train ride back, I was reflecting over the weekend and talking with my friends about how much life has to offer us. Life is full of really cool experiences, and really cool people, and I feel that if you open your heart and mind just a little, you can take a glimpse at what this world has to offer you! This weekend forged some really interesting friendships, and it made my relationships with my friends from GTL even stronger. The whole point of this extremely long post is that Europe is amazing, and that people should travel young, especially alone or with a very small group of people, while their responsibilities aren’t too much. I feel like I have definitely matured and become more independent than I ever was before, and most of that is due to me jumping head first into an ocean of different cultures and languages. Life is good!

And without further adieu (get it?), I leave you with the French Word of The Week!

Jars (noun): gander, male goose

Example in a “Frenglish” conversation:

– Sarah: “Hey Sam, come look at this cool Jars! It has a really long wingspan!”

– Sam: “Glass bottles don’t have wingspans…”

Salzburg: A History of Generally Salty People

Where in the world was “The Sound of Music” filmed? That’s where Lina went this weekend – check out why its people are known for their salt.

Salzburg translates quite literally to Salt Mountain. Why is this beautiful alpine city where The Sound of Music takes place called salt mountain, you ask? Well, throughout history, the Salzburg area has been sustained through salt mining and trading. In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, some lucky miners found a salt deposit inside a mountain. Salt, a traditionally valuable and difficult substance to obtain, put the region on the map.
We started our trip to Salzburg with a traditional meal of wienerschnitzel and gulasch. Then it was early to bed to wake up for our bus to the Berchtesgaden salt mines. After missing our bus, one could say I was a bit…hem…salty…but we made it in time for our tour. The mine, 500 years old this year and still active today is located in a beautifully snowy area of the Austrian-German alps. At the beginning of the tour, we were all provided with some coveralls and an English audio guide for the area.

I’ve got salt, but I’m not salty!

We began by boarding a small train, where you straddled a bench and hold onto the person in front of you. We zoomed through about a mile of narrow tunnels so small that if you leaned even 6 inches to the side you would hit your head on the tunnel wall. Once in the main area of the mine, you slide down a 6 story wooden slide to reach the bottom area.
Over the course of the tour, we learned that salt is produced by drilling large cavities in the tunnel floors and filling them with water to leach the salt out of the surrounding rock. Then the sludgy brine is pumped to a facility about 100 km away to be super-heated and treated to produce to the pure, white table salt that we eat today. We have used this technique of drilling and flooding since the mine’s foundation in 1517 (although we have become considerably more efficient and high-tech since then).

Mid-slide into the depths of the mines, my companions and I are having a great time.

The town of Salzburg itself is perched between soaring mountains. The old city feels like it is one giant building full of a spaghetti-like mess of tunnels, alleys, and tiny-hole-in-the-wall bakeries and breweries. It seems to be purposely designed to confuse and hopelessly befuddle tourists. One of my favorite things to do in the city was travel up to the city fortress. In addition to amazing views of the city, the fortress contains a museum that details the entire military history of Austria, starting in Roman times, going all the way through World War II.

The view from the Fortress.

As a huge musical theater nerd and Julie Andrews fangirl, seeing the city’s Sound of Music images was awesome! The fountain, the Dom Cathedral, and the Abby made me sing “The Hills are Alive” at the top of my lungs pretty much constantly, much to the chagrin of my traveling companions.

This is the inside of the Dom Cathedral.

Even though it was freezing cold, the trip to Salzburg felt really culturally immersive. I would highly recommend it if you have been traveling to a lot of big cities and want to have a more colloquial experience. That’s all for this post. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodbye!