First Experiences and Impressions

Written by Andre Grossberg

When I arrived in Paris, one of my biggest concerns was the threat of pickpockets. I’d been warned to keep a close eye on my belongings, especially in crowded places. My adventure took me to Montmartre and the stunning Sacré-Cœur Cathedral. Unfortunately, I was on my own as my dear friend Kingston from Atlanta was recuperating from a night out at a Taylor Swift concert and refused to budge from bed.

A bit nervously, I went around the sights and gawked at all the beautiful scenery. This led me to a famous staircase where as I was walking down, I noticed a guy standing near the stairs. Attempting to be polite, I asked if he wanted to go first to which he replied “No. Please go, go down the stairs.” Thinking that was an odd response, I walked down slowly checking my back when a young woman approached me and began speaking in French. I quickly explained that I didn’t understand French, and she switched to English asking for directions to a place I didn’t know. I continued to get more worried that this situation was going to go wrong. 

Then all of a sudden… she began to sing in full opera to me. She was an incredible singer, and I was completely taken aback. Shortly after, a cello player came to join her, then a clarinet player. As I stood there looking like a complete doofus, a crowd began to draw as they watched these three musicians play for this strange American tourist. As they concluded their impromptu concert, they excitedly revealed that they were musicians who enjoyed playing for strangers. They even asked if they could feature me on their Instagram. We then chatted for a bit where I learned more about them and we went our separate ways. 

Andre with local musicians in Paris

While I could go on and on about tips for those considering GTE (for example, please go to the events where you can get items that past students have left – it can save so much money), I actually want to save that for later blogs and first start a talk about mindset. I still warn you to exercise caution as you travel abroad, but reflecting on my first two weeks, I have already been amazed by the friendliness and kindness you can experience meeting people you don’t know.

Inspired by my surprise concert, I decided that I would begin to get out of my comfort zone and make an effort to meet others. With this changed mindset, I was lucky to meet many wonderful people at GTE with just as interesting backgrounds and interests. This has led me to two weekends where I spent time in Metz, Brussels, and Luxembourg with people I did not know before I came here. I paddle-boated across rivers, experienced my first hostel, and even found a new gym partner who will finally make me do leg day.

Along with students in the program, I decided to try to meet people in each country we went to. On the bus ride to Brussels, there were some rowdy Spanish men on the bus with a bunch of Red Bull merch. I built up the courage to talk with them and it turned out to be the European surfing champion, a finance specialist living in Luxembourg, and an influencer from Spain who were all doing a Red Bull challenge to travel through Europe with no money. We chatted the whole ride there and now I am following their journey online. In Luxembourg, I saw a skatepark and because I used to skate I asked if I could join some local skaters during their session. It turned out one was a student originally from Ireland, and we got to share our love for skating with each other and experience people asking us to do kickflips (though they ask in French in Luxembourg). 

While these are all neat experiences, what I really wanted to say is that I think one of the coolest things about traveling to other places is the people. Everywhere you will find kind, interesting, and happy people who are a pleasure to meet. While you should no doubt explore Europe with and cherish your current friends, I would like to urge those reading to consider talking to that stranger stuck on a long train ride with you, that student who happens to have the same hobby that you do, or even that person sitting right next to you, struggling to complete the math problem that you are also stuck on in your classes at GTE. You never know… you might find yourself struggling to find waffles in Brussels with them and making an awesome friend.

Happy Travels,

Andre Grossberg

Andre with Guillermo Robelo, Professional Surfer, and Gonzalo Montoya,
Spanish Digital Creator, on a train to Brussels Belgium

The Cliffside at Les Calanques

Written by Valerie

Have you ever thought to yourself, “This better be worth the effort because it would be really tragic to fall off the side of this cliff?” Likely you haven’t, but I, on the other hand, couldn’t get that thought out of my head as I was hiking Les Calanques de Cassis in the 9th arrondissement of Marseille.

You may have heard this area been called by its more popular name, the French Riviera, or as it’s known in French, the Côte d’Azur. My friend group and I wanted to go to the beach in the south of France. However, the way to see some of the most breathtaking views and picturesque beaches is to hike the cliff sides of the coast.

We stayed at a nice apartment that was less than ten minutes on foot from the train station, which made getting to and leaving the city much easier. Once we arrived in Marseille, we planned our activities for the next two days. Our Airbnb host was kind enough to leave a binder full of useful information about everything ranging from transportation to the local specialties, and even the best ways to reach the beaches. We looked into one of the beaches our host wrote about in the binder and bought train tickets to it for the next morning.

All ten of us made it out of the apartment primed and ready to spend a day in the sun. If we wanted to have a successful day, we had to adequately prepare for what lay ahead. So, once we got to Cassis, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on snacks in case we got hungry on the hike. Luckily, there was a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop next to the grocery store where we stopped to have breakfast. Once we were energized and fed, we began the walk toward the hiking trail. There was an endless bounty of hills before we arrived at the trail where we would be walking on an incline for about 40 minutes or so, which is not too long. However, the terrain was rather unfavorable for the shoes I had on. The only shoes I took on that trip were a pair of white sneakers and flip-flops to wear around the apartment. The trail was very slippery in most parts whether it was because of smooth boulders or tiny rocks that slid under your feet. This is where I feared for my life on the side of a cliff, but once I lifted my gaze, everything changed. We were at the peak. The mesmerizing dance of the reflection of the sun coming from the ocean, which was mixed with tones of blue and green, was unlike anything I had seen. The world from that angle was simply pure and beautiful.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was face-to-face with the most enchanting beach I had ever been to. It was like a symphony, the laughs of the people and the soft sound of the movement of the water were harmonious. Combine that with a kiss from the sun and a hug from the water and it’s nothing but blissful.

It feels really good to be in a moment of happiness like that one, where you’re enjoying everything around you. I wish those moments for everyone. Having experienced it though, I don’t think you need to be somewhere as extravagant as the French Riviera. Those moments can be found anywhere, or better yet, they can be created anywhere. I encourage you to go out and seek your blissful moment too, no matter where you are in the world.

Places In Europe That Felt Like Portals to New Universes

Written by Swati

I am fully in the thrall of finals, but I wanted to get a quick light hearted post up about some of the highlights of my travels. This is a highly condensed list, but they’re the ones that’ll hold the brightest lights in my heart.

  1. Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s anything you’ve learned about me the past few months, it’s that I r e a d. And when I have the time and mental energy for it, I write. Going to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh was a particularly special experience for me because it felt like I had stepped back into time, and walked alongside some of Scotland’s most notable writers. Literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverley, and Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. Each of them had a floor dedicated to their lives and work, and personally, I connected the most to Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a sickly child, but learned the importance of travel and widening your perspective from a young age. Much of his life’s memorabilia centered around a love of travel and desire to see more and experience more. Edinburgh as a whole is a beautiful literary city paying homage to Sir Walter Scott through their train station and the Scott monument. And I’ve never found a place that settled so quickly into my bones.

  1. Venezia, Italy

When I was a child, my mom would say the only way to keep me put in a single place was a body of water. I was a pretty tireless child, switching hobbies like changing outfits and belting songs on my bed that could be heard from a floor away. The only magic that kept my attention long enough to stay still was moving water. And Venice was pure magic. I wrote in a previous blog post that Venice must be God’s favorite place. I still feel that way, the whole city feels like a dream sequence. I went the day after Carnival ended, so I got the added effect of empty cobblestone streets and uncrowded ferries. Bonus points go to the two nearby islands, Murano and Burano, chock full of colorful houses and beautiful craftsmanship in the form of molten glass and lace. 

  1. The First Floor of the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris

I’m not sure if I gave Paris the real love it deserved this semester. My weekend there was very fragmented and in the hustle-bustle of group travel, I didn’t have a chance to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would’ve liked. Paris is an acquired taste, but the Shakespeare and Company bookstore saved the trip. Everything about the store is the living heart of a writer. The shopkeepers are very strict with photography and demand respect, but I burned every moment into my brain. Gentle piano strokes dance in through the doorway of the first floor. I felt myself at every age. 7 and digging through the “big-kid shelves” at my local libraries, 12 and leafing through ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway, 17 and cozying up in a corner with my journal in hand, 21 and gingerly tracing the antique typewriter in the side room. If there’s anywhere in Paris that’s pure magic it’s the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 

  1. Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy

This might be cheating because 2 separate cities in Italy are on the list, but what can I say? It’s a country worth making movies about. Every inch has its charm. But Menaggio was a quiet lakeside town, tucked away north of Lake Como. The people have the brightest smiles and shopkeepers tuck sprigs of lavender in the corners of windows and spritz perfume by the entrances. In Menaggio I skipped rocks, collected seashells, went perfume shopping, and skipped through the streets with a gelato in hand. Menaggio is summer “city-fied.” If there’s one feeling I hope everyone feels, it’s complete and total peace and contentment the way I felt it in Menaggio. I also ran into a group of teachers on a reunion for their study abroad a few years prior who encouraged me to adventure far and wide. It’s the only way the heart stays young and the soul grows old. 

  1. Interlaken, Switzerland

I stand by my judgment that Switzerland is a fake country. The water is fake, the Alps are fake, the cheese is fake, the chocolate is fake, everything about it feels straight out of a simulation. Straight dream life, too perfect to be real. But Interlaken is a treasure. Look up and see the Alps, look down and see the emerald water of Lake Thun. The flowers are otherworldly, the water is diamonds on ice, the trees silk leaves, the pages of books coated in gold, the whole country effervesces. 

Special Mention: London, United Kingdom

You know I had to do it. The different entities within the United Kingdom have just stolen my heart whole, but London is in a league of its own. Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own unique charm, but something about London will stay with me for the rest of my life. The city felt like something I’ve always known, somewhere I’ve always been ready to be, I sent messages back to friends telling them I’d finally found somewhere I’d never leave. Not many loved London the way I did, but that’s the beauty of travel, you run into the things you need the very most right when you need them and you find the things you never knew you were looking for.

Where to Rest My Eyes

Written by Swati

March 25th 2023

With UNESCO World Heritage sites on every street corner and historic memorabilia in every city, it’s difficult to give everything the attention and care it deserves. Parts of Europe have developed history and culture over centuries, some over thousands of years in the case of empires, with preserved artifacts marking some of humanity’s most groundbreaking accomplishments. Especially in cities in France, Italy, and Germany, dozens of museums populate towns, and I found myself struggling knowing where to put my eyes. Behold: the black door. This black door found in the room next to Michelangelo’s David caught my eyes in Florence. After about a half hour sat in a corner analyzing the realistic curves and features of David, Googling what he means and why people travel across seas and over mountains to see him, I found myself wandering over to the next room: half in awe, half in mental exhaustion. I stumbled upon the door. It was in the least ostentatious corner in the museum that gave me reprise from the lifelike marble and classical instruments throughout the museum. I found myself wondering what secrets lie beyond. Is it an uncovered exhibition? A storage of old masterpieces? More likely than not it’s a room filled with dusty chairs and stanchions to guide lines of people, but the possibility of something exciting kept me there for a moment longer. 

Guides and walking tours are great wells of knowledge in new cities, and they have information that many cannot amass during their first visit to new places, but it can often get exhausting trying to follow the routes and stay interested in old fun facts and historical tidbits. Don’t get me wrong, the right tour guides and the right instructors can interest you in just about anything, but we all tire of the same things at some point.

In order to break up the monotony, I signed up for a chocolate making class on a whim after talking to a pair of girls on Spring Break in my Bruges hostel. After a few days of admiring architecture, I started to wonder just what else there is to do in new cities any more. Of course there are the local delights: food, desserts, tourist attractions, but after nearly three months of walking up and down streets, you tire a bit. In my head, one thing never gets old: books and waterways. I find water the most relaxing part of nature, and I think the best when I watch waves lap over each other, but to break up the routine I wanted some new experiences that are specific to a place. The chocolate making class ended up being the most exciting part of my Belgian excursion this past weekend. Two and a half hours of sneaking bites of hardened chocolate and swoops of ganache, I was in heaven. I was in a class of fifteen, including a couple from London and about a dozen Americans studying abroad in different parts of Europe. Our instructor was the perfect amount of informative, encouraging, and hilarious, which encouraged me to sign up for more experiential days on my upcoming trips! I hope you’re looking forward to hearing about the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and paragliding in Switzerland soon. 

I realize now that we are hitting the point of exhaustion. Somewhere along the way, streets blur together and the beauty and excitement of seeing new places wanes. It’s not that travel isn’t the most liberating and exciting thing in the world, it’s that the real world checks back in upon our weekly arrivals in Metz and sooner than later homework turns to exams turn into projects that were assigned weeks in advance. It’s later than I thought, with only 6 weekends left. I thought I would tire of the nearly full-time travel sooner. It must be the spring blooms, welcoming in the sunshine, putting on a parade for her. With the strikes and travel delays, we’re wearing out in transit, and there can be too much of a good thing. Sundays that used to be spent wandering cities, expecting to take the last train back, have turned into getting to the train station first thing in the morning and crossing my fingers that all legs of my journey still exist. But hardships wither in the face of comfort. And updating friends on the wild transit schemes and making it back safely are more things I can look forward to.

Top 5 Day Trips from GTE 

Written by Lilian

November 21, 2022

Looking to save some money, but still want to explore Europe? Consider taking a day trip to one of these places! Each of these towns can easily be visited in the span of a day from Metz using the Eurail pass! 

  1. Luxembourg 

Train Time from Metz: 1 Hour 

Number of Connections: Direct 

Once you get off at the Luxembourg train station, head north towards the upper city of Luxembourg and cross over La Passerelle, one of the many bridges that soar over the valleys which surround the city. Feast on hot chocolate from the Chocolate House and typical Luxembourgish meals of potatoes, stew, and meat while strolling around the Upper City. Spend time exploring the Bock Casements: the walls and old forts that offer some of the best views of the city. These tunnels were used to defend the city during wars and were also used as bomb shelters during WWII. As you make your way down to the lower city using the Chemin de la Corniche walking paths, a river appears, covered with weeping willows and ducks. You are now in The Grund, a small shopping district at the bottom of the valley. Once tired and satisfied, public transportation is completely free for a quick and easy way back to the train station! 

  1. Colmar 

Train Time: 1.5 hours (direct) or 2.5-3 hours (with connections) 

Number of Connections: Direct (with Eurail seat reservations) or 1 connection at Strasbourg 

As you walk through Colmar’s tight alleys and crowded streets, half-timbered houses dominate your view. Each of them brightly colored with dark wooden accents. Wreaths and tinsel are hung up under the shuttered windows. Underneath, stores advertise cheese covered pretzels, windows are filled with small bready pastries neatly lined up, and all signs are in French, German, and English. Colmar resides forever in the holiday festivities and the city is a perfect model for Alsace culture. Because of this, the town hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Europe! When you are there, try the Kugelhopf: an iconic almond pastry in the shape of a mini Bundt cake to get into the Alsace spirits! 

3. Strasbourg 

Train Time: 1 hour (high speed train with Eurail seat reservations) or 1.5 hours (no reservations required) 

Number of Connections: Direct 

After disembarking from your train, head into Strasbourg’s historic downtown, the Grande-Île, which was inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. As you walk through the streets admiring the medieval architecture, one building will stop you in your tracks: the Strasbourg Notre Dame (the most visited cathedral in France). The cathedral is jaw-dropping; it towers over the surrounding buildings with its gorgeous Gothic architecture. When it was first built, it was the tallest building in the world. My favorite part of my trip was viewing the astronomical clock housed in the cathedral which displays the real position of the Sun and the Moon. Next, head over to La Petite France, a district of canals which are surrounded by picturesque half-timbered houses built in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

  1. Paris 

Train time: 1.5 hours 

Number of Connections: Direct (with Eurail Seat Reservations) 

Train reservations to Paris can cost as little as €10 with the Eurail pass (if purchased far enough in advance). This makes Paris a good day trip option especially when overnight hostels and Airbnb’s can cost more. When in Paris, spend time walking through the countless museums in the city, including the Louvre and Musee D’orsay, or attend one of the hundreds of concerts held in Paris each year. Whatever you decide to do, it is very easy to fill an entire day with Parisian activities. One thing to keep in mind is the Paris subway system can quickly fill during rush hour, so make sure you leave enough time to catch your train on the way back to Metz. 

  1. Metz 

How could I talk about day trips without mentioning one of the best: Metz! Downtown Metz is only a quick bus ride away and is very easy to visit for a full day or even a half day after classes! Explore the Metz cathedral, which has the largest stained-glass surface in the world at 6,500 m^2. Spend time strolling around the cobblestone streets and immersing yourself in the small but quaint village. There’s also an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, and a contemporary art museum! Metz is also home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe!

Cephalopods in Southern France

Written by Lillian

October 10, 2022

Day 1:

I arrived in Marseille in the afternoon after a very lengthy train ride from Paris. I definitely recommend taking a train that is a straight shot to Marseille, to avoid unnecessary travel time. Once we got there, we headed to the city of Cassis to start our hike in Calanques National Park: an oceanside reserve with hiking trails that connect the many different coves which cut into the limestone mountains. It was simply gorgeous. As the trails passed by each cove, we found a trail that made its way to the small beaches. We swam in the Mediterranean and spotted an octopus clinging on the rocky walls. I never would have thought I would see one in real life, especially in France. It was the first cephalopod of the weekend!

The views during the hike- it was breathtaking.

Day 2:

Early the next morning, I got on a train headed to Nice. After spending the next two hours gawking at the Calanques mountains, we arrived at the Nice train station. We headed directly to the Mediterranean Sea, stopping to window shop at the stores that won our attention. Soon, we spotted the sea. The beach was covered with dark grey stones and smelled strongly of fish and salt. Snorkelers and waders dotted the ocean. We made our way into the Old City by this time looking to relieve our hunger. We stumbled upon a small restaurant near the Cathedrale Sainte Reparate. After being recommended it by a local, I tried the cuttlefish ink risotto with squid. The risotto was black and almost had no flavor except the faint trace of a salty umami flavor. That paired with the soft texture of the risotto and the chewiness of the squid made for an interesting combination. According to the local we met, it was a Nice delicacy! 

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the many different little thrift shops and bakeries that hid within the tight alleys. We stopped for ice cream at the world famous Fenocchio’s: an ice cream store known for its distinct, wide ranging flavors such as Avocado, Tomato Basil, and Coca Cola. I had to try the Olive flavor which tasted… exactly like olives. I mean what was I expecting? It was jarring at first because I would never consider olives as a suitable dessert, but I slowly got used to the milk + olive flavor combination after every lick. I highly recommend. 

We started up the steep incline to Castle Hill: a mountain with the remains of the Castle of Nice, a man-made waterfall, and a church with a cemetery. More famously, it allows visitors a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Nice. The rain that was predicted for the day started to come in, and we quickly made our way over to the MAMAC (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain) which was free with our international student identifications. I saw yet another Octopus, this time in the form of a wooden playground, and the modern art museum had an exhibition on the layers of squid from a biological and art perspective. 

The view of Nice, my ink risotto, the playground octopus, and my delicious olive ice cream- what a day!

Day 3:

On the last day in the French Riviera, we explored Marseille. We dodged seafood sellers, street performers with untuned instruments and an off kilter tempo, and stands advertising cruises and boat tours in favor of heading to the Mucem: an old fort. Ducking under the short archways and tunnels and climbing up the dizzying spiral staircases, we explored the history of the fort. Attached to the fort was a gantry way to the museum which had exhibits on the Mediterranean diet and the history of the groups that influenced modern day Marseille.  

We returned to the port after exhausting the museum. Since Marseille has influences from all over the Mediterranean- Italian, Greek, and North African, we decided to explore one of these roots and stopped by a Tunisian restaurant. I tried the North African Merguez sausages which were served on a bed of rice and French fries! The portion sizes were huge! Afterwards, we drifted through La Panier— Marseille’s old district— and assessed street art and small art vendors that filled the streets.

Finally, we walked up the even steeper route to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Unfortunately, the inside of the church was closed to visitors, but the outside terrace and the crypts underneath were open. This mountain top church also had a panoramic view of the city that stretched from the Calanques in the East to the islands in the South. We ended our final day going bakery hopping for pastries and desserts.

The three cities in the French Riviera that I was able to explore— Cassis, Nice, and Marseille— were all very different from one another. Cassis clung to the side of a mountain, the roads winded up and down the steep hills. Nice, which was definitely the most touristy of the three, stood out with its old city. The crowded streets bustled with activity and beautiful colors. Marseille was definitely the most untouched city from tourists between the three; the city is larger and more empty which made us more alert when walking down the streets and stopping for food. However, it was more cultural out of three three. The many different cultures blended on the streets of Marseille, and local artists were more prevalent. Overall, the French Riviera was absolutely gorgeous, and I loved exploring the diverse Mediterranean culture that surrounds the region. And according to the local we met in Nice, “there’s only one thing you must do in Nice— come back.”

International Astronautical Conference 2022

Written by Lillian

September 19th, 2022

I am an avid space enthusiast, so when I learned this year’s International Astronautical Conference was being held an hour train ride away in Paris, I applied to attend immediately! The IAC is an annual conference hosted by the International Astronautical Federation to gather space actors together to discuss the space industry, technical research, and networking opportunities. The conference’s theme was “Space for All”, with a focus on improving access to space in smaller, developing countries, minority groups including people with disabilities, and other fields of study and career disciplines outside of engineering. 

During the conference, I was able to network with a wide variety of different space agencies and companies. The conference had an entire room dedicated to technical exhibitions, featuring a huge array of experiments and projects from various space agencies. These agencies had booths explaining some of their key discoveries and technologies. One of the things which surprised me at this conference was learning almost every European country had a flourishing space agency. From larger countries such as Italy and Germany to smaller countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Poland, all attending European countries had booths. These countries are a part of the ESA (European Space Agency), which is the European equivalent of NASA. The ESA has helped develop spacecrafts such as the Orion Spacecraft Service Module and the Solar Orbiter. Many non-European countries were represented as well such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, India, and China. Some countries were focused on hiring students and employees. In Belgium, for example, 25% of positions are open, and they are open to hiring students from NATO countries! 

The exhibition also included many different snacks and foods from each country. I loved going around trying all the different foods, from German pretzels to chocolates from New Zealand!

Several talks on novel technologies and research pertaining to the space industry were presented throughout the conference as well. One of my favorite sessions was about food and nutrition in space – the presenters hosted a chocolatier who is focusing on creating truffles for astronauts. He created truffles that include the same amount of caffeine as a Red Bull and another truffle with kumquat extract that contains all the necessary nutrients for a single day. These chocolates will hopefully be used in space as a source of vitamins that can stimulate the senses more than other foods!

We even got to try the chocolates! We listened to two different songs, one relaxing and one upbeat, while eating them to show the effect of music on food taste.

The conference also hosted some major players in the space industry including Bill Nelson, the Director of NASA; Lisa Campbell, the President of the Canadian Space Agency; Philippe Baptiste, the President of Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES)— the French space agency; and Josef Aschbacher, the Director General of the ESA. I also was able to meet one of my favorite science communicators…

Bill Nye the Science Guy! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Overall, the International Aeronautical Conference was a blast (off!) to attend. I enjoyed viewing all the different exhibits, listening to the keynote speakers, and networking with so many European professionals. I am so thankful for this opportunity, and I hope I will have similar opportunities in the future while studying at GTL. For a future note to students, the 2024 IAC Conference will be hosted in Milan, Italy!

Ad Astra!


Monday, September 5th, 2022

Written by Lillian

My initial trip to France was a whirlwind, and I was not sure that I was going to arrive on time and with all my things. I spent the summer interning in Seattle, Washington, but the day after my internship ended, I was on a plane headed to Newfoundland, Canada. I spent two weeks biking across the island with Georgia Tech’s Outdoor Recreation program. From there, I flew to Washington, D.C. where I met my dad who was waiting patiently with my luggage which I had prepacked and shipped from Seattle. I flew to Paris immediately, without even saying goodbye to my family. Afterwards, I dealt with TSA, customs, jetlag, and locating the GTL Shuttle. As I sat down in the Shuttle with all my belongings, I was relieved that all my travel plans were executed successfully, although it tiring to go through. Then, it started to dawn on me: I was finally in France!  

The past three years have been building to this one moment. During my first year at Georgia Tech, I applied and was accepted to GTL for the summer. Unfortunately, it was canceled due to COVID-19. The next year, I planned to study abroad once more during the Fall semester, but I received a last-minute internship which I decided to take instead. Well, you know what they say: third time’s the charm! And for me, it was! After all the planning and purchasing of the Eurail passes and plane tickets, I started to get exhausted from stressing over all the disjunct pieces in my travel plans, wondering if it would all work out perfectly. I completely forgot to look around and just be thankful that I was here. Once I took that step back, I was full of pure happiness. While I know that busy travel days and exhausting weekdays await me, I am so excited to get out of my comfort zone and experience all that Europe has to offer me!

View outside my plane arriving into France. Even the farmlands are laid out differently. In the US, it’s a grid system, but here is more anarchy. 

After a four-hour bus ride, the shuttle dropped us off at my Lafayette dorm room: a small room without air-conditioning located on the first floor. A pizza party was thrown for all the GTL students, and a couple of my newfound friends went out for €0.50 coffee from a vending machine and ice cream. My lack of French hit me as I stepped up to the dessert bar cashier. “Je voudrais une… chocolate ice cream… s’il vous plaît?” I attempted – butchering the words. Thankfully, the cashier understood my attempt and helped me with my pronunciation. Even though I was initially unsuccessful, I was over my fear of speaking French, and I look forward to the opportunity to redeem myself in the future. 

A well-earned ice cream 

In just this first week, I have been able to explore the cities of Metz and Luxembourg. On first impression, what struck out to me was the many cultural differences that I did not expect. I figured that Europe was more fashionable than the United States (hello– Paris fashion week), but I did not expect it in the airport and grocery stores. For Europeans, pants and red-tinted sunglasses are more favorable when compared to jeans, shorts, and black tinted sunglasses, in the U.S.. Other oddities which struck me as well: groceries and restaurants are much cheaper here than in the states; however, items such as batteries and gas are more expensive. The public bathroom (or WC) is not free, usually costing around 0,50 €- 1€. I was astounded when I was charged 4,50€ for a bottle of water at a restaurant in Luxembourg. It was more expensive than soft drinks and alcohol. When entering a grocery store, you must bag your backpacks in plastic to prevent theft of items. You also must scan self-checkout receipts to exit!  While the differences are small, they add up.  

Me in Paris at the Pont Neuf Bridge and my stylish gummy bear earrings. If this didn’t fit in with French couture, I don’t know what would.

Overall, France and Luxembourg have been amazing to explore these first few weeks. However, I am so excited to continue traveling and see as many sights as I can. I think the activity that I am most excited for is hiking along the ridge lines of the Alps in Switzerland. I cannot wait to continue to travel in weeks to come, so I can learn more about European culture outside of France! 

Sunkissed in Marseille

Monday, February 7, 2022 | Written by Claire

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

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

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


Day Trips to Paris

Wednesday, November 24, 2021 | Written by Mira

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. 


 The Fontaine Médicis in Luxembourg Gardens surrounded by all the fall colors!

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.

 I just had to take a picture of the iconic Parisian cathedral.


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).

 The bookstore!

 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.

 A panorama of the Seine with all the fall colros reflecting off the water! The little antique market is on the bridge on the right under the white tents.

 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.

 Timing the picture just right so no cars were blocking the arc was truly a feat

 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. 

 Walking to the metro station, we saw the street lined with lights and the Eiffel Tower was shimmering!

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.

 A quote from under a bridge on the Seine, “les histoires inachevées nous achivent” or “unfinished stories bring us down” (thanks google translate)

 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.