Meandering around Mont St. Michel

Join Kaitlyn to the mystical Mont St. Michel, a tidal island, fortress, and town all in one!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Ahh, the famous Mont St. Michel: the third most visited landmark in France, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its fame might be due to its multifaceted nature; a tidal island, town, and fortress all in one. For the history buffs out there, it is truly a fascinating place to visit. It was built in the 8th century, when the bishop of Avranches had a vision of the archangel St. Michael. Since then, it has been used as a pilgrimage center, an abbey, a monastery, and prison.

Mont St. Michel

But before we actually made it to this incredible site, we stopped in the walled city of Saint Malo for a few hours. This little city is known for its beach, where the low tides make for a uniquely large stretch of sand. The amount of people we saw using the beach as a playground for extreme sports was astounding. There were paragliders (or were they parasailers? I might never learn the difference…), sailboats, and people sail-karting.

Two of normandy’s specialties: crepes and cider!

It became apparent to us that the people of Normandy are very proud of their apples— everywhere we looked, apples were on their menu, either in the form of crepes, pastries, or ciders. Of course, I had to try the signature specialty of the region I was in, so I enjoyed a piping hot cup of apple cider. The fact that it was warm enough to heat up my cold hands made the already delectable drink all the more appetizing.

The real life Diagon Alley.

 

 

Our next day was dedicated solely to touring Mont Saint Michel. As we walked along the bridge that took us across the bay to the island, all I could think of was how much the shape and style of the abbey reminded me of Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter series. Even the streets gave me Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade vibes, with their crooked and narrow alleyways and vintage shop signs. If I saw Hagrid sauntering down the street I don’t think I would have even batted an eye. 

We took note of how even though it was the off-season for tourism, Mont Saint Michel was still teeming with tourists. I can’t even imagine the peak months when the tiny streets are overrun with other people. It must be so hard to get around!  We ran into a few furry friends during our trek through the streets of the town: five different cats, a flock of chickens, and an ungodly amount of seagulls.  Don’t ask me how the cats and chickens survive in the walled off island, I was wondering that myself. It may just have to remain a mystery!

French cats are just natural models.
Mont St. Michel tapestries in the souvenir shop.

We concluded our visit by walking around the island on the exposed sand flats. Once we were outside of the walls, the characteristic windiness of Northern France made itself very known. Our hair was flying all over the place in our pictures; for this reason you won’t be seeing any selfies in this post! It really was quite an adventure bracing the howling winds, and made us all the more appreciative when we hopped in a warm, windless taxi to take us home. 

Étretat & Rouen

One of the perks of studying at Georgia Tech-Lorraine is the ability to completely change your surroundings without traveling a great distance. Join Kaitlyn as she discovers just that during her travels in Normandy from the sleepy seaside village of Étretat to the medieval and trendy streets of Rouen in her latest blog.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Étretat

I closed my eyes, allowing my senses to absorb the scene surrounding me. I caught the faint smell of sea salt, heard the rhythmic sound of waves crashing into the jagged rocks below, and felt the soft carpet of lush grass below me.

If you’re looking for a weekend trip to escape from the hustle and bustle of crowded cities, like my group was, the Cliffs of Étretat is the perfect getaway. The town of Étretat is small; it’s a charming commune nestled between two cliffs. Despite the town’s minute size, there was plenty for us to see.

We started our weekend off with a short walk from our bus stop to the boardwalk. Immediately after crossing the street to the boardwalk, we were hit with the striking view of the formidable cliffs. There was a staircase that would lead us uphill to the western cliffs, but it wasn’t going to be an easy climb. We were, after all, essentially scaling the 250 foot monolith in a single uphill climb. Upon summiting the cliff, the staircase turned into a system of trails that seemed to wind up and over the green hills for miles. I couldn’t resist the temptation to just plop down on the grass and take in the scenery – the impossibly turquoise sea, the striking white of the chalky cliffs, and the seagulls flying over the water. We explored the trail system some more, finding a bridge that led into a tiny cave, and taking our time to check out every different viewpoint that the trail offered. 

Having thoroughly absorbed the views that the western cliffs offered, we headed back into town for lunch. It was incredibly intriguing to see so much British influence in this area of France – there were fish and chips restaurants, British flags proudly flying from buildings, and quaint English-style cottages. Of course, we were going to take full advantage of this, so we grabbed fish and chips for lunch and picnicked on the beach. We wrapped up our day with the botanical gardens of Étretat where we admired the awe-inspiring and sometimes strange sculptures on display. 

 

Rouen 

Flowers for sale under the clock towerThe next day, we had the chance to explore Rouen, the capital of Normandy. One of the tourism pamphlets our hotel gave us described Rouen as “medieval and trendy.” Though at first we chuckled at the oxymoron – how could something be both medieval and trendy – we soon came to realize that despite being an oxymoron, medieval and trendy was an apt description of Rouen.

Walking through the streets of Rouen was like being plunged into a storybook. We came across the famous Gros Horloge, a fourteenth century astronomical clock,  a memorial to the valiant Joan of Arc, and the Rouen cathedral, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in all of Europe.  It was incredibly fascinating to see the two different sides of Rouen. The city was steeped in history, but at the same time, a lively and vibrant one. The streets where medieval warriors once stood are now home to chic cafes and designer stores.

Out time spent in the city of Rouen was vastly different from the day before basking in the sun on the cliffs of Étretat, but what’s more in the spirit of Georgia Tech-Lorraine than having a complete change of your surroundings each day?

 

Nice, Menton, and a Little Bit of Italy

Warm sunny skies and gorgeous seas are always nice… especially in Nice! Join Kaitlyn in her latest pun-filled blog as she details her adventures in Nice, Menton, and a little bit of Italy!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Sunshine, breathtaking views, and good company; this trifecta of variables led to what’s been my favorite weekend at Georgia Tech-Lorraine thus far. 

The perfect weekend began at 6AM, with me gingerly stepping around the apartment so as not to wake my friends. I was headed for the beach – which was a mere block from our Airbnb –  to catch the sunrise. An hour and a couple dozen photos later, I retraced my steps back to the apartment to join my friends on our adventure for the day. It was a beautiful day of nearly 70 degree weather and we were determined to take full advantage of it. 

After strolling along the beach where we admired the crystal clear water and had essentially, a mini photoshoot, we set our sights on something protruding out of the skyline of Nice: the ferris wheel. I don’t think I was fully prepared to be as blown away by the view as I was. After all, the ferris wheels I had been on previously only overlooked dirty fairground parking lots. At the very top, we were given a panoramic view of the brightly colored buildings below, the sparking blue water, and the imposing mountains in the distance.

We wandered through the streets of Nice, occasionally ducking into one of the plethora of small shops and bakeries. To my amusement, we were the only ones wearing short-sleeves. The locals must have thought we were nuts for treating 65 degree weather like summer, but, how else are we supposed to act when we’re coming from the much colder north of France? We made our way up to Castle Hill, a panoramic viewpoint that had me humming “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran on the way up. All we could do upon reaching the top was gawk at the views below. I couldn’t believe how aquamarine the water was!

We really do #LoveNice!

The next day, after a series of unfortunate events that involved missing a bus, a tram breaking down, and technical difficulties at the train station, we were on the way to Menton. Our moods were instantly lifted the moment we stepped off the train and saw orange trees. Curiosity got the best of us. We tore into the fruits and chomped down on the juicy slices. Personally, I thought they were delicious, as I love sour food, but my friends… not so much. Looking back, we realized that we had picked the most overripe ones possible!

One of the many street food vendors in Menton.

As we made our way to the main section of town, we could tell immediately that Menton was, simply put, a happy place. Music played from speakers lining the sidewalks, children gleefully rode by on scooters, and the smell of home-cooked food filled the air. I had a quick chat with a very kind employee at the Office du Tourisme, and she gave us suggestions to see the iconic view of the city from the water. When we got there, we were more than content to just sit on the rocks and soak in the vista. 

My postcard lining up perfectly with the skyline!
Bongiorno, Italy! Au revoir, France!

 At this point, I checked Google Maps just because I was curious to see our location. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we were a mere 25 minute walk from the Italian border! My friends decided that there was absolutely no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to say that we walked to Italy, so… to Italy we went. Upon reaching the border, we took pictures and selfies with the Italian flag. The customs officers seemed rather intimidating, so we didn’t get too close, but hey, we made it to another country! 

Nice-cream, get it?

Back in Menton, we treated ourselves to gelato (if we had been in Nice, we could have called it “[N]ice cream”) and leisurely strolled around the city.  I simply couldn’t get over how vibrant the alleyways looked when the sunlight hit the yellow and orange buildings. 

My friends and I agreed that we never imagined we’d love the French Riviera as much as we did. But we were more than pleasantly surprised with our experience. It really helped that most of the activities we did were outdoors and thus, unhindered by the pandemic. All in all, Nice truly lived up to its name. It was lively, colorful, and most of all, nice. You didn’t really expect me not to end this post without a Nice pun, did you?

 

Hiking, Colmar & Mulhouse

Last minute decisions are sometimes the best ones. Join Kaitlyn as she hikes around Metz, visits the fairytale city, Colmar, and takes a brief stop in Mulhouse!

Thursday, February 25, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

FRIDAY

Mont Saint Quentin Views

As an avid fan of hiking and the outdoors, I was looking for places to hike in and around Metz long before I arrived. This past weekend I finally had a chance to venture to the nearby natural wonders with some friends. Gone were the characteristic limestone buildings of downtown Metz and the hullabaloo of the city center; and even though we were still technically in Metz, it felt like we were much farther away.

I got a picture where it *almost* looks like I’m actually doing a pull-up

We peeled ourselves away from the narrow cobblestone streets and toward a dirt path that lead us into the hiking trail system of Mont Saint Quentin. The trails even took us along an exercise course, where we had fun trying to figure out how to use the miscellaneous gym equipment.

SATURDAY

The town of Colmar

I’ve come to realize that I’m a sucker for quite a few things and small, picturesque towns in Europe are quickly earning their place in that list – alongside other things close to my heart, like Krispy Kreme donuts. This past weekend I fell absolutely in love with the town of Colmar, France; a city, funnily enough, my group didn’t even originally plan to visit. A last minute decision led to us hopping off of our train a few stops early in Colmar on our way to our originally planned destination, the town of Mulhouse.

This turned out to be the best decision to make. We spent three hours walking around the “Little Venice” area of the town, appreciating the unique architecture and ducking in and out of open shops. Colmar is nicknamed as “a fairytale village”, and it is often said that it was the inspiration for the setting of The Beauty and The Beast. Walking through the streets certainly felt like I was traversing the pages of a storybook. 

Just your average brunch date in Colmar!

 

We passed by a cafe with the doors wide open. The scrumptious smell wafting through the air was the first thing to capture our attention, but the second was, upon closer inspection, we realized that the seats in the cafe were filled entirely by teddy bears. They ranged in size, color, and age. Seeing teddy bears propped up at the seats of the cafe as if they were on Valentine’s dates just further cemented the whimsical setting of Colmar, and was a bear-y good opportunity for some puns. 

The town of Mulhouse

Feeling content with the delightful scenes we had seen in Colmar, my friends and I returned to the train station to set off to our intended destination, Mulhouse. Mulhouse had a much more industrial vibe than the whimsical streets of Colmar. The main square of Mulhouse was as colorful and picturesque and the streets were teeming with fashionable shoppers walking in and out of the multitude of clothing stores. We did some window shopping until the clock struck 5:30PM, which was our cue to head to the train station to return home. On our ride back to Metz, I was surprised with a small treat: a view of the sun dipping below the mountains with hardly a cloud in sight.

À Paris

Join Kaitlyn on her journey through Paris from panoramic views from Sacré-Cœur to cozy bookshops and of course, the Eiffel Tower. It wouldn’t be Paris without visiting the Eiffel tower, right? Read her tale as she describes her visits to both tourist destinations and some lesser-known spots in Paris in her latest blog!

Thursday, February 11, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

On Thursday, we arrived in Paris from Metz right before the 6:00 pm curfew so we only had time to grab some dinner before rushing to our Airbnb. One thing you should know about me is that I’m a huge Chipotle fan, so my excitement upon learning that there are multiple Chipotle locations in Paris, and that my travel companions and I are very like-minded when it comes to this restaurant chain was unparalleled. Some may judge us for not jumping at the opportunity to try French food in Paris, but to me, there are few things better in life than taking a bite out of a Chipotle chicken burrito. 

cut out photo in paris
Ah, a cutout photo, a CLASSIC.

On Friday we got up early to do a “speed-run” of Paris. It was a rare sunny day, so we had to take advantage of it by seeing all of the sights. We started off by taking the very steep climb up to the Sacré-Cœur where we took in the view of the basilica towering over the city. Of course, we took photos and selfies that included a lovely cut-out of me as a painting, and my friend as a painter that I just had to take a photo with. We continued to walk around the neighborhood of Montmatre, which is best known for once serving as the home of famed artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso. To top off exploring Monmartre, we stumbled upon an open crepe shop where mouth-watering scents permeated the air. I never would have thought that something as simple as lemon juice and a crepe could be so delicious, but I was proven wrong. We also visited “The Love Wall”, a mural where the words “I love you” are written in every language. 

The Love wall
The obligatory Paris Eiffel Tower picture
The obligatory Paris Eiffel Tower picture

Our speed run of Paris continued with taking the metro to the Arc de Triomphe, walking down the extremely “boujee” Champs Elysees, then, of course, the Eiffel Tower. While taking goofy photos at the Eiffel Tower, the classic shifted-perspective ones where you make it seem like you’re holding the tower, or leaning up against it, a man selling souvenirs came up to us. He saw us struggling and wanted to help us take some better photos. He had us line up and jump up at the same time, which he recorded in slow motion, and then screenshotted at the exact moment we were all in the air.  I was pretty impressed with his photography abilities, and grateful he offered to help us.  

an image of costco
Costco, an essential Paris bucket list item

We ended the day with the only thing in Paris that might be better than the Eiffel Tower — French Costco. It’s hard to explain how comforting it felt to walk in and feel completely at home with things like the layout of the store and the familiar smell of Costco muffins.  To quote my friend, “You know you’re a dedicated patron when you make the pilgrimage to French Costco”.

an image of the front door of the bookshop
The Abbey Bookshop, a famed english book shop in Paris

 

 

On Saturday, the weather wasn’t as cooperative as we would have liked, but we made the most of it by exploring the Latin Quarter. We checked out two famous English bookshops: the Abbey Bookshop and Shakespeare & Company.  Walking up to these bookshops, with their weather-beaten outdoor bookcases and faded signage felt like entering a different Paris – an older, quieter one. Inside Shakespeare & Co., I wandered to the second floor where I encountered a very disgruntled looking cat. I sat down next to it, and the next thing I knew, she had crawled into my lap. She gave off strong grumpy cat vibes but I loved her for it.

aggie the cat
Aggie the bookshop cat looking very annoyed by me and my camera

Paris surprised me, and I found myself charmed by the many places to visit a little off the beaten track. When I return, I’ll be sure to do some more exploring around lesser-known neighborhoods, and of course, I’ll make a visit to see my new feline friend.

Chamonix & Lyon

Join Kaitlyn as she slips and slides her way through the snow in the city of Chamonix, nestled in the French Alps. The second part of her weekend journey carries her from the snowy alps to the metropolitan Lyon to explore all the city has to offer. Read on about her adventures in this blog you won’t want to miss.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

DAY ONE

an image of the alps from a train
One view of many from one of the many trains we took

Despite the weather forecast telling us that there was a one-hundred percent chance of snow (in addition to the two feet currently on the ground) my friends and I took a chance and ventured to Chamonix, a small town in the French Alps. Chamonix might not be the most easily accessible place, but is definitely a beautiful one. We transferred trains eight times to get to our final destination; each train with views prettier than the next, with our final train feeling more like a ski lift than a train. We were rewarded for our train hopping with breathtaking panoramic views of ice capped peaks and dreamy small villages blanketed in several feet of snow.

a view at a a snowy village
A lovely view of the snowy village from our Airbnb

Once we were off the train, we quickly learned why shoveling sidewalks is commonplace in the United States after it snows. The walkways were iced over and it was pretty impossible to avoid slipping. So, we slipped, skidded, slid – all of the verbs that begin with “s” – our way around the downtown area. We grabbed some groceries from the local supermarket (in particular, ingredients for pasta, the hungry college student’s best friend and one of my best dishes) and ordered some sugar and Nutella crêpes from a makeshift crêpe stand on the side of the road. With the crepes warming our hands, we headed to our home for the night.

DAY TWO

After eating an extremely hearty breakfast of leftover bread, we set off to go for a hike. I know you may be thinking,“Hiking… In winter? With three feet of snow on the ground?” Those thoughts were the very ones running through my head at the beginning of our very steep, uphill hike. We felt mildly insane, as the only sign that someone or something else had been on the trail recently were some tracks left by a deer. At first, we were worried about getting our feet wet, but we quickly realized with snow  up to our knees, our feet would inevitably be soaked through. By the end of the hike we had fully embraced the experience and just had fun plowing through the snow. The views were gorgeous, and we felt very fortunate that there was a break in the snowfall that let us see the mountains and take some photos.

an image of Kaitlyn in the Alps
I can now say that I’ve hiked the Alps!

 

DAY THREE

stairs in Lyon, France
Exploring Lyon, France

The second and final leg of our trip took us to the city of Lyon, France. We met up with a few other Georgia Tech-Lorraine students and spent the day exploring the city. Our first stop was at a park that had an outdoor zoo. It was quite jarring to be taking a walk in the park and then run into a zebra enclosure a second later, but after a bit of a laugh I found the experience quite enjoyable. The city of Lyon had lots of other things to offer, and we tried to take as much advantage of this as we could. We stopped at a delicious bakery where we ordered its famous meringue and at the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, which required a very steep climb up many staircases to reach. Even as I huffed and puffed when we reached the top of the stairs, I couldn’t help but gape at the panoramic view of Lyon and its iconic red rooftops.

a view of Lyon

A Nice time in Nice

Kaela is back on the blog, detailing her experiences on the beaches of Nice. Read on for her description of pebble beaches and moments to remember.

Friday, October 2, 2020 | Written by Kaela

NICE, FRANCE 

I had been looking forward to this trip since the beginning of my time at GTL. It was the first weekend trip I had independently planned of the semester. What started out as a six person trip with fellow INTA 2221 classmates, ended up being a twenty-two person excursion with half the undergraduate program. As John Heywood said, “the more, the merrier!” When making reservations with an eurail pass, the seats are, unfortunately, assigned at random. However, since a large group of us were journeying together, it was easy to find a friendly face no matter what coach you were placed in, making the thirteen hour travel much more enjoyable. We played cards, watched movies, attempted to study, and of course as one does on a long train, napped. After the long voyage, we were greeted by with great weather and beautifully colorful buildings. The buildings in Nice differed greatly from my previous experiences in France: the ornamental style of Paris, the timbered style of Strasbourg, and the limestone style of Metz. 

A view of Nice at sunset
A view of Nice at sunset

With twenty-two of us journeying to Nice, there wasn’t an airbnb large enough to house all of us. So, when we finally reached Nice, we said “au revoir” to our companions and the original six of us headed to our airbnb, with multiple stops for pictures and videos of course. After dropping our bags off, we headed straight to the beach to meet up with the others.  I spent the next few hours traipsing across the beach, feeling like I was stuck in a dream (omitting the difficulty of walking on the large, uncomfortable pebbles). I was surrounded by a breathtaking landscape– immersed in crystal clear water gazing at the sunset painting the sky– laughing with new friends. After a stressful week and lengthy travel, I took a breath of relief in this moment. I, a pisces star sign and lover of all water activities, felt an indescribable amount of peace. As I began to float in the Mediterranean so did the stresses of my journey here. While in a meditative state, floating and relaxing, I began to hear plopping noises to my left. I looked over my shoulder to inquire the source of this noise and found my friends had decided to start skipping rocks (or shall I say throwing rocks). I joined in and made multiple futile attempts to skip one adding to the chorus of plops echoing across the beach.

Pebble Beach

When the sun had completely set, I unwillingly got out of the water and headed to our temporary home to get ready for dinner. Since we were near the sea, everyone was in the mood for seafood. So, we headed to Le Kobe for sushi. I ate a sushi platter and, unfortunately, was a bit underwhelmed by it. To compensate, we indulged in ice cream at Fenocchio– a store one of the girls on the trip had been raving about on the train ride– and it did not disappoint! I had two flavors: tiramisu and salted caramel. ( At the time of writing this, it has only been one week from this trip and I am already looking forward to going back for more ice cream in the future.) The rest of the night was spent perusing around Nice: going to the I love Nice sign and lounging at the beach. My group decided to head back a bit early and call it a night. 

After an amazing petit dejeuner at Marinette, we headed to Cannes for sandy beaches. Although Cannes is gorgeous and I truly enjoyed my time there, I enjoyed the Nice beach more (although it hurt a bit to walk on the pebbles). We had pizza at La Maison, visited souvenir shops and markets, then headed back to Nice. When we arrived, we rushed to the top of castle hill to catch the sunset. It was easily one of the most beautiful moments in my life. Not so much for the sunset itself (as it was a bit cloudy) but more so for the overall experience. It was a moment for me to reflect and remember despite how tough 2020 has been, how truly fortunate I am to be studying abroad. 

A Sojourn to Strasbourg

Join Kaela on a second field trip with her INTA 2221 class – this time to Strasbourg, France where she visited the home of the EU Parliament and explored the subdued city of Strasbourg.

Friday, September 25, 2020 | Written by Kaela

An 8 AM wake up call was made easier by the pastries that greeted us in the Lafayette lobby as my INTA 2221 class loaded into a bus and headed to Strasbourg, also known as Petite France. 

STRASBOURG, FRANCE

STOP 1: The European Parliament

The EU Parliament Building in Strasbourg, France.
The EU Parliament Building in Strasbourg, France.

The EU Parliament is one of three legislative branches of the European Union. They, alongside the Council of the European Union and European commission, propose, approve, and reject laws. We went through a self guided tour of the building aided by handheld devices. The EU is unique in that it is not a state, but is more than a typical international organization. Any laws passed by the European Union apply to all twenty seven (formerly twenty eight) countries and are superior to legislation at the national level. My favorite part of the parliament building was the area at the end of the tour where multiple stations allowed you to learn about various topics including: the members of parliament, hemicycle seating organization, cities in the European Union, and much, much more. Viewing the display of all of the different cities with lights made me feel the world was my oyster; a similar sensation I experienced watching the game maker stand before his map in The Hunger Games. 

The interactive map at the EU Parliament building.
The interactive map at the EU Parliament building.

STOP 2: Downtown Strasbourg 

The gorgeous downtown Strasbourg, bursting with blooming flower boxes
The gorgeous downtown Strasbourg, bursting with blooming flower boxes

We had a bit of free time before our guided tour, so a group of us, having only eaten pastries all day, headed straight for somewhere to eat. Amidst an alleyway of restaurants adorned by vines, flower boxes, and other plant life was Le Gruber – our lunch destination. The interior of this restaurant made me feel as though I was in my grandmother’s home. Surrounded by wooden furniture randomly placed knick knacks on creaky floors a table covered by a checkered cloth, the smell of freshly made food filled the air . Thanks to our professor’s recommendation, we each got a flammekueche (or tarte flambée). The look and texture can be compared to a very thin pizza but with a very different, yet delicious, taste. Afterwards, we used our spare time to browse the nearby souvenir shops and grab some refreshing sorbet. 

STOP 3: Strasbourg Cathedral 

I am now a cathedral enthusiast. Without fail, whenever I visit one, I am completely in awe of the intricacy of the details covering its walls.

The astronomical clock in the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
The astronomical clock in the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

We took a guided tour of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. One feature in particular the Strasbourg Cathedral is known for is its astronomical clock. The clock dates from 1843 and is made of many integrated moving parts. Its intricate hands are guided by time and its detailed figures move at different times throughout the day. In the spectacle I witnessed, the left angel rang a bell, the right angel turned a sand clock and the figures on the top platform of the clock marched to the steady ticking as my time in Strasbourg came to a close.

La La Lost at the Louvre

Enveloped in art, join Blanca as she explores the world’s largest art museum. Dip into this story of Blanca’s visit to the home of the Mona Lisa, the French crown jewels, and many, many more priceless pieces at the Louvre.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 | Written by Blanca

*Disclaimer: This story takes place in February before the travel restrictions and shelter in place mandates.*

In 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked the world by dropping a collaborative music video, a portion of which was filmed at the Louvre in Paris, in an extravagant, stunning visual experience lasting just over 6 minutes.  The music video follows the Carters in various locations in the museum; first they are seen leaning nonchalantly on the stanchion in front of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, then they stand regally at the top of one of the Louvre’s many marble staircases, overseeing a battalion of writhing dancers on the steps. 

Artifacts in a Louvre exhibit
Artifacts in a Louvre exhibit

In actuality, neither of these actions are allowed for typical Louvre visitors; in fact, there’s usually an attendant who curtly reminds you to keep the line moving if you take too long in front of the Mona Lisa, much less if you dare place your weight on the barrier keeping her many admirers at bay, and group entry to the museum is stated to be capped at 25 people.  Then again, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and the millions of dollars they share, are by no means typical, so it made sense to me at the time that they were granted the privilege to film all around the Louvre.  Now, after visiting, I, myself, am beginning to think that perhaps they just got lost.  I did, anyway.

Believe it or not, outside of arriving at/departing from the Charles de Gaulle airport, I was only in Paris once during all my time abroad (crazy, I know—but then again, I also thought I’d have so much more time than I actually did).  What’s more, I only had a few hours to spare on that day, so of course I decided to spend the bulk of the day at the Louvre Museum.  If it wasn’t pretty obvious by now, going to art museums is one of my favorite pastimes!  I have waxed lyrical about them in the past, I am bona fide gushing right now, and I will probably continue to sing their praises until the day I die—it’s what I do.  Naturally, I was excited to see the largest art museum in the world.  While I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, the largest art museum in America and the fourth largest in the world, and have gotten slightly disoriented there (which was by no means an unpleasant experience, as I was wandering around period rooms the entire time), I’ll admit I was a little unprepared for the vastness of the Louvre. 

Entryways into the museum are numerous, with the most prominent probably being that at the iconic I. M. Pei glass pyramid.  This entrance is also the most crowded, though, so I elected instead to enter directly off the metro, which meant weaving my way through the maze of stores of the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall before finally seeing the refracted light (of the inverted glass pyramid) at the end of the tunnel.  After storing my coat in a locker in the museum’s cloakroom—the lock on the locker later malfunctioned, and I had to wait for it to be manually opened, which is apparently a common occurence—I entered the exhibition hall. 

Pro tip!  Entry to the Louvre (and many other museums) is actually free for International Student Identity Card (ISIC) holders, as long as you show security the ISIC card and perk that allows for free entry, so be sure to download the ISIC app if you plan to visit.

The existing remains of the Louvre Palace’s beginnings as a fortress
The existing remains of the Louvre Palace’s beginnings as a fortress

The Louvre museum itself is well over 700,000 square feet—it was a royal palace, after all, and you know how the French absolutists liked their castles—built rectangularly around the expansive Napoleon Courtyard in the center.  The close to 38,000 objects it houses are arranged in winding galleries that follow this odd shape.  In short, can you even blame me for getting lost multiple times?

Fortunately, as the adage goes, [museum-going] is a journey, not a destination.  In addition to seeing tons of amazing art during my meanderings, I learned a lot about the history of not only the pieces within the museum but the museum itself.  Initially, I spent a considerable amount of time on the museum’s basement level, which primarily showcases the actual remnants of the fortress that made up the origins of the Louvre Palace.  As I ascended to the ground floor, I gazed out of the windows across the Napoleon Courtyard.  Though the western end of the space remains unenclosed today, open to the Tuileries Garden beyond, it was almost easy to imagine the now demolished Tuileries Palace that once stood there.  What was harder to imagine was the significance the area held: the Tuileries Palace was the place to which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were relegated during the French Revolution, but now, like the Place de la Concorde where they were executed a few years later, the square was simply filled with ambling tourists and plenty more pigeons.

Necklace and earrings of Empress Marie-Louise
Necklace and earrings of Empress Marie-Louise

The Louvre held more sculptures and stone masonry than I’d ever seen in one place, much to my delight, but my favorite pieces of my visit were the French crown jewels, on display in the Galerie d’Apollon, or Apollo Gallery.  While I will never get tired of looking at paintings, sculptures, and artifacts, I simply cannot resist sparkly things.  These jewels were on an entirely different level of grand, with geometrically pleasing arrangements of colorful gems that scintillated in the light.  Then again, the opulently decorated Apollo Gallery, with its vaulted, muraled ceilings and ornately gilded mouldings made for an immersively splendid experience.  I’d seen my fair share of impressively painted ceilings at this point (remember the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice?), but the vivid colors and soft Rococo brushstrokes on this ceiling, coupled with the light streaming through the windows and glinting off the golden woodwork, created an airy splendor like no other.

The Galerie d'Apollon
The Galerie d’Apollon

After departing the Louvre (read: finding my way out of the Louvre), I had lunch in the area neighboring the famed Arc de Triomphe.  This area was surprisingly calm and quiet, perhaps because it was beginning to rain, but afterwards I walked off my meal with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, where I met significantly more people.  I then decided to stop by the flagship Ladurée bakery, where, for the experience, I picked up half a dozen overpriced macarons.  Later, after ambling my way through Avenue Montaigne, home to iconic establishments like the flagship Dior store and Hotel Plaza Athénée, I sat down on a bench in the park near the base of the Eiffel Tower and munched on the macarons, which I found to be largely overrated.  Seriously—I do not recommend the Marie Antoinette-flavored macaron (frankly, I thought it tasted quite foul).

The phrase “let them eat cake” is commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, however unreliably, but I do not recommend the Marie Antoinette macaron (second from right).

As you’d probably imagine, I didn’t get through the entirety of the Louvre, even though it was where I spent the bulk of my day.  While I’d thought at the time that I would be able to return in a few weeks to see the undiscovered gallery corners, even more art museums (come on, it’s Paris), and all the sights and eats that the City of Lights has to offer, this turned out not to be the case.  For now, though, I can hold on to the memory of being lost in the Louvre.

A Voyage to Monaco

Sometimes the best trips are the ones that come together at the last minute! Georgia Tech-Lorraine students are masters of flexibility and taking advantage of the opportunities before them, and Karsten is no different. Check out his latest blog post about their trip to Nice and Monaco!

Sunday, September 29, 2019 | Written by Karsten

I must be honest. We were not planning on coming to Monaco this weekend. I knew I wanted to go to Monaco, but wasn’t sure when I’d be able to make it. Originally, we had planned on going to Monaco last weekend and then London this weekend, but since tickets had sold out, we made the last minute decision to go to Copenhagen. On the way back from Copenhagen, while stopped in the Paris Gare de l’Est, we looked at train tickets to London. Surprise, surprise, they were sold out. Once we got back to Metz from Copenhagen, we decided to look at Monaco again and there were still tickets available, so we tried to book them. It would’ve been more than $1000 to stay in Monaco for both Friday and Saturday night, so we chose to stay in Nice on Friday. Three days later, we all had our tickets to Nice and Monaco, and then back to Metz.

 The night before we left, we had the great idea of playing cards until 1:30am, knowing that we were going to need to be awake at 4:30am. In addition to that, I hadn’t packed yet. After we won, I packed my bag, got my two hours of sleep, and we went on our way to the train station. During the eight hours of trains to Nice, I only made up an hour of sleep. Thankfully, I had some coffee, or the rest of the day would’ve been rough. Once in Nice, we dropped our bags at the Airbnb and went to the beach. Though I had been to a Mediterranean coast before, I had never stepped foot in the water, so I did that. After watching the sunset, we had dinner, gelato, played more cards, and then went to sleep.

On Saturday morning, we took one of the early trains to Monaco. Once we got off, we realized a potential tragedy—none of us had any signal or available data. Luckily, it turned out to be just where we were. From the train station we went to the Prince of Monaco’s car museum, Top Car Monaco. Seeing some of the cars that were there was absolutely crazy. He had everything, from late 1800s wagons to modern Formula One cars. From the museum, we went to the Jardin Exotique. It was a hike there. I think we climbed 30 flights of stairs. They had tons of cacti and many varieties of other plants, and it also had a very cool outlook over the city. It was 75 degrees Fahrenheit and partly cloudy, which was actually the hottest day we’ve had in a couple weeks. Walking around with our bags proved to be a bit much, as we were all wishing it was cooler.

After the garden, we dropped our bags off and then went back down by the water. From there, we did what I was most excited for—walking the Formula One circuit. I have watched this race for as long as I can remember and know it by heart, though it looks much different from the street and without the guardrails. We passed by the Casino Monte Carlo, took some pictures of the cars parked out front, and made it most of the way around the track. Unfortunately, however, we were unable to complete the track because the Monaco Yacht Show was happening at the same time, and they had some parts by the water closed off. Still, seeing so much of such a famous track was a very cool experience. We had a very chill rest of the day and just walked around, went down to the beach again, and played even more cards.

Monaco is known for its glitz and glamour, and it definitely did not disappoint. Every fifth car it seemed was a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce. I was so excited to be there, by the water, the Formula One track, and the ridiculous amount of money on display in the forms of boats and cars. Unsurprisingly to me, this tops Copenhagen as my favorite spontaneous trip yet.