Un Sac, S’il Vous Plaît & More First Moments in Metz

Join Kaitlyn as she details her first few days of living in Metz and the insights she’s gained from her new experiences.

Friday, January 22nd, 2020 | Written by Kaitlyn

Hello, all! As I sit at my desk in my dorm room, I believe I’m just starting to take in the fact that I’m in France, about as far away from home as I could be. Gone are the days of enjoying the comfort and security of home cooked meals and only ever leaving my house to walk my dog around the neighborhood (thanks, pandemic!). In their place are days full of adventurous attempts at cooking for myself and thrilling strolls around Metz and all it has to offer. It’s certainly a pretty intense shift from the past nine months of small-town America, but I know I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I feel so fortunate to be embarking on this journey. 

Flying into Paris with the moon overhead.

In the past ten days, I’ve learned so much about the French lifestyle, met so many incredible people, and seen so many beautiful sights, that it is all a bit overwhelming – but, I think that I can summarize my experience so far into a few key learning experiences and observations. Let’s jump right into it.

French customs agents? Anything but intimidating. When packing for this trip, one of the most important things we needed to bring was a plethora of documents. Documents showing proof of residence, negative COVID-19 test results, visas, insurance – you name it, we needed it. However, when we stumbled off the plane upon landing at Charles De Gaulle, and lined up to go through customs, we had a much easier process than expected. Maybe it’s because we are innocuous American college students? Either way, I was more than happy for the straightforward procedure.

Me, when I realized that I would actually need to speak French to get by while living in France.

Come physically and mentally prepared to Cora. After arriving at our dorms, a group of us decided to head to Cora, or as I choose to call it, French Super Walmart. When I and a couple others went to go check out, we realized that unlike most places in America, there were no grocery bags available; all the locals we saw around us had brought their own. Upon seeing this, I’ll admit I started to get a little nervous. How was I going to ask for a bag from the cashier? There wasn’t enough time to frantically Google “How to ask for a bag in French,” so I stuffed my newly purchased goods into my backpack (tragically crushing my chocolate croissants in the process), and resigned to hugging my bundle of paper towels against my chest on the walk back. My goal for my next trip to Cora will be to ask the cashier, “Je peux avoir un sac, s’il vous plaît?”

GTL couldn’t have been put in a better location. On Saturday we were given a tour of downtown Metz. I was instantly enchanted by the cobblestone streets lined with bakeries and shops, the cheerfully yellow buildings, and the general infectious liveliness of the city. We stopped at the most notable areas and buildings, then were left on our own to wander around. My group and I headed toward the Moselle river. We were greeted with a breathtaking view of Temple Neuf, lit up with its reflection shining in the water, and the cathedral glowing warmly in the distance.

Colors dancing on the walls of the cathedral.

The next day, we headed back downtown. It was a bit of a struggle catching a bus – we were about ten feet from making it to the bus stop when the bus we intended to hop onto blew right by us and the bus stop, not even slowing down for just a second. However, I am happy to report that we did eventually catch a bus and arrive downtown. We walked around the quiet streets (most places are closed on Sundays), taking in the sights with no specific direction in mind. A few of my favorite things I saw included: the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, where the sunlight shined vibrantly through the stained glass, a pair of ambitious swans looking for food along the river, and last but certainly not least, a delicious crepe that I consumed within seconds. 

Make the most of our time here. As a very wise person once said: “YOLO”. I like to think that this applies to studying abroad. Even just after a few days of living in a new country, I’ve had so much fun from figuring things out, experiencing French culture, and exploring Metz. Though it may be slightly more difficult to abide by this saying with certain restrictions in place such as a curfew, I like to think that there’s still so much at our fingertips while here in the heart of Europe. I’m very excited to see what’s coming up in these next four months, and I can’t wait to continue documenting it all here on the blog.

A Week of Attending Affairs Around Metz

Weekdays at Georgia Tech Lorraine are for more than just classes. There are lots of fun events by the GT-Lorraine staff as well as events throughout the city of Metz. Read on as Kaela details her time at two events she attended last week in Metz: a meeting with the Mayor of Metz and a National Orchestra of Metz rehearsal.

Wednesday, October 27, 2020 | Written by Kaela

In addition to giving students a chance to travel Europe, Georgia Tech-Lorraine hosts a lot of events for students during the week! With COVID-19 it makes organizing events a bit more tricky, but luckily, some are able to take place (with proper precautions: masks, social distancing, etc.) and last week, I was able to attend two of them! 

City Hall with the Mayor 

The mayor of Metz invited Georgia Tech-Lorraine students to a welcome reception in downtown metz. It took place at the Town Hall, an 18th century building with an ornate and elegant interior. It was absolutely beautiful inside. I personally love when buildings or their interiors are adorned in gold. Upon arrival, we had some time to mingle with other Georgia Tech-Lorraine students. This was a great opportunity, because this semester it has been difficult to meet graduate students since they live in another dorm. Soon after our arrival, the Mayor came to greet us. 

building
The town hall building in Metz

His speech was in French, but thanks to Sonia Serafin (a GTL professor) it was translated to English for us. He spoke about the history of Metz: how it has been German at some points and French at others, how it has acted as a battlefield and a fortress in the past, and in the 1950s it was chosen to be the capital of the Lorraine region. Currently, the mayor aims to move towards clean energy such as solar panels and windmills. Georgia Tech-Lorraine then gifted the mayor with Georgia Tech merchandise. Afterwards, we were given refreshments and a welcome bag (with a book, mask, pen, and a couple of other items). We once again had the chance to network with one another as well as professors who came to the event. 

National Orchestra of Metz Rehearsal

We had the opportunity to sit in on the music rehearsal of the National Orchestra of Metz under the direction of David Reiland. Metz’s location between France and Germany has given it a colorful past including being a war city. This orchestra rehearsal took place at the Arsenal, a building that once housed weaponry and military equipment, which has now been converted to hold receptions, performances, conferences, galleries, seminars, ceremonies, and so much more. The conversion of old buildings into cultural hubs is a common occurrence in France. This trend often lowers the cost of construction because instead of tearing down a rebuilding, they will strengthen old structures. We were given a short tour of the building and I learned the bottom of the chairs are lined with carpet so that the acoustics are similar to if there was a full house, regardless of the size of the audience. 

The National Orchestra of Metz was rehearsing for an upcoming performance of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It was amazing to hear some of the best musicians in the country play. I was taken back by the amount of skill sitting before me. I played flute for seven years and after starting college, I have been unable to find the time to play. Sitting before them gave me nostalgia and I left longing to play in an orchestra once again. Hopefully, I will have the chance to attend a concert in the future. 

Attending these events taught me more about the city of Metz. In my desire to go to different cities on the weekend, I often take for granted the beautiful one I am temporarily residing in. The Mayor said that he “hopes [we] will keep a small part in [our] heart for Metz” and I most definitely will.

Cueillette de Peltre

There is nothing better than going to the market to get fresh produce, except for picking it yourself. Read about Kaela’s experience visiting Cueillette de Peltre, where she spent a couple hours roaming strawberry fields, apple orchards, and even made a new friend!

Monday, September 28, 2020 | Written by Kaela

Fresh produce is abundant in France, but in order to get the best produce, you have to pick it yourself. Luckily, the Leonardo Program at Georgia Tech-Lorraine gave us an opportunity to do just that in Metz. After the end of classes one afternoon, a group of us loaded onto the provided bus to head to the local farm in Peltre. On my arrival, I was overwhelmed on arrival by how many areas of the grounds I had to explore in the one and a half hour period we were visiting for.

I grabbed one of the provided bags and, along with many others, headed straight towards the strawberries. We were told they were the last of the season and soon to go, so of course I had to get some. The rainstorm in the distance made the trip a bit ominous. I thought, “Will it head towards us and cut our short trip even shorter?” and hoped it would move further into the distance.

We started our strawberry expedition at the front rows of bushes, a rookie move. After perusing the picked over bushes near the front we discovered as we moved further in and further away, the strawberries got larger and more plentiful. I guess few are willing to walk through the enormous strawberry patch to the back. The strawberry bushes sat in troughs raised above ground, which put them at eye level and made for easy picking. Once we had stuffed our bags with ruby red strawberries, we headed to the nearby apple orchard, grabbing some beautiful tomatoes on our way. 

Pink lady, fuji, gala, honey crisp, granny smith, red delicious, golden delicious: To me, an apple is an apple. This may be a controversial statement, but I honestly don’t eat them enough to tell the difference. I find the variety of apples to be overwhelming enough when there are between three to five to choose from at the grocery store; to say I felt in awe when walking towards what seemed like an acre of apple trees is an understatement. There were endless rows with an uncountable number of apple varieties, most of which I had never heard of. My solution: pick a random row of trees and begin picking. The twisted trees towered above me and below my feet lay fallen fruit in various stages of rot. I was surprised and initially felt disappointed by how many apples laid on ground: seemingly all gone to waste. Luckily, they can be turned to compost and the nutrients will return to the ground to further the growth of more apples, a nice reminder of the beauty of the circle of life. 

After leaving the apples we walked past a multitude of in-ground veggies which naturally I turned into a fun guessing game. What was it we were passing now? Would it be a carrot? A radish? A beet?

As we continued on we happened upon a large variety of leafy greens. I was excited at the prospects of the dishes I could create with them, but unfortunately, I was leaving for Nice the coming weekend so I only picked a small bunch. My group decided we would eventually make a trip back and make dinner with the freshly picked food. We made our way towards hoop houses filled with peppers, eggplants, and more but we ran out of time quickly. As we walked towards the exit, we ended our trip by making friends with a couple of goats.  

This short trip was a good way to take a break from the business of school work and travel. I was grateful for the quiet and peacefulness of it as getting out in nature is always a great way to destress. I think the weather knew how much we needed the break, because the once ominous rain clouds at the beginning of our trip became a light drizzle as we drove away. 

Musées de Metz

Kaela is back on the blog to recount her first trip to downtown Metz. Join her as she explores the many cultural wonders of Metz, only a 15 minute bike ride from her dorm.

Friday, September 18, 2020 | Written by Kaela

METZ, FRANCE 

I was not able to go on the GTL organized tour of downtown Metz, so I was grateful that I was able to have this experience with my international affairs class. Despite being just a fifteen minute bike ride away, I had not visited downtown Metz until a week into the program. One cathedral, two museums, three hours, and eight-thousand steps later, I was exhausted, but baffled that I am living so close to such an amazing city. 

Cathédrale de Metz
Cathédrale de Metz

We started off the tour by visiting the Cathédrale de Metz. From the outside, it looks like most French cathedrals – dark windows, gothic style architecture, and intricate carvings. After walking in, your eye is immediately drawn upwards towards one of the highest naves in the world. The dark windows become colorful and bright with the light shining through.

This is the Rose Window in the Cathedral de Metz.
The Rose Window in the Cathédrale de Metz.

 

 

 

 

With an area of 6,496 square meters or 69,920 square feet, the Cathédrale de Metz has the largest display of stained glass in the world. To give you an idea of its magnitude, the rose window on the west work alone is about 37 feet (or 7.5 Kaelas). Our guide walked us through the history  of the windows and the stories they tell. One piece I found interesting  was the Garden of Eden Window by Marc Chagall. The four sections of the window depict different parts of the story of Adam and Eve all intricately tied together.

 

More stained glass in Cathédrale de Metz

What captivated me the most about the cathedral is the story each window paints. At first glance, most ofthe stained glass appears to be some mix of various colorful pieces, but with a bit more observation you are able to make out the religious figures and the stories they tell.We then made our way to the Musée de La Cour d’Or. The museum houses artifacts, paintings, roman baths, and even skeletons! We did not get to spend much time here, but our guide did her best to point out notable pieces and I’m planning on making a second visit to fully experience the museum. Luckily, entry is free on the first Sunday of the month and students enter for just 3.30 euros!

The entry way of the Centre Pompidou
The entry way of the Centre Pompidou

Le Centre Pompidou Metz was our final stop. It’s Metz’s modern art museum, that I believe, vaguely, resembles a crepe on a stick. Having just finished touring the Musée de La Cour d’Or, visiting the Centre Pompidou was a complete change in pace. While the Musée de La Cour d’Or is filled with older, historical pieces, the Pompidou, is new and modern with ever changing displays.  I loved the exhibition in the third level.

The third floor gallery

Hanging from wall to wall, window to window, and ceiling to floor, noodle-like glass filled the room, leaving just enough space for you to walk between the glittering displays. All of this is accompanied by large windows on each end of the floor that overlook downtown Metz. From the opposite end of the building, the Cathédrale de Metz fills the entire window and seems larger than life but as you approach the window it begins to shrink. This optical illusion caught me off guard. Despite walking closer towards the cathedral, it seemed to move further away. Just as the Musée de La Cour d’Or, the Centre Pompidou warrants a second, more thorough visit (and thanks to Georgia Tech-Lorraine, we have a card that allows unlimited visits)! 

Eleven Days Down

With eleven days in Europe under her belt, Kaela recounts her experiences arriving in Paris and Metz. Read her blog as she details her first solo travel!

Monday, September 14, 2020 | Written by Kaela

Today, I came to the realization that I have been living in France for 11 days– in Metz, for a single week. In this brief time I have: met people from all different backgrounds, traveled to two countries, visited Cora excessively, and timidly inquired “Parlez-vous anglais?” more times than I can count.

Let me backtrack and lay out my experiences from the beginning of these hectic, but exhilarating 11 days. 

The view out my airplane window crossing the Atlantic.
The view out my airplane window crossing the Atlantic.

PREPARATION FOR DEPARTURE:

While rushing to finish packing the night before my flight, I attempted to wrap my head around a new realization: I would be apart from my family for the longest I have ever been. With everything that has happened this year, three months seems like an eon and simultaneously feels like a flash. Ready to see what lies ahead of me, I was eager to leave the next day. 

In an attempt to more quickly adjust to the seven hour time difference, I tried to get as much sleep on the plane as I could. I arrived at 10am CEST (3am to my CST acclimated body) and felt relieved that I had finally made it to Paris. With the ongoing pandemic, I had to present 5 additional documents in addition to my passport when going through customs, a moment I had been anticipating to go wrong in some way. While packing, I was expecting to be back the very next day having run into some kind of issue: my airline wouldn’t accept my Covid test, I would miss my flight, the french government would bar students from travel, I wouldn’t have the correct documents on hand. To my surprise, everything went as planned. I didn’t expect to make it from ATL to CDG, let alone for it to be so seamless. 

MY ARRIVAL IN PARIS:

La Basilique Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris.
La Basilique Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris.

I planned on staying in Paris alone for a couple of days before journeying to Metz for the start of the semester, so I could acclimate to France on my own. I arrived feeling exhausted, somewhat detached from reality, and anxious. My knowledge of the French language, the maze like airport, and the country overall was limited. On the ride to my hotel, I made an effort to observe the differences between the US and France: the landscape, the people, how they drive, etc. I was confused (and slightly concerned) why my driver was going 100 miles an hour, despite our slow pace, when I remembered the speedometer is in kilometers. My general first observations on Parisian traffic? Cars are much smaller. Motorcyclists are more daring. Everyone stops for bikers and pedestrians. 

Though short, my stay in Paris was very meaningful. It was my first solo trip, my first interaction with Europe, and the last vacation before classes began (although definitely not my last of the semester). I stayed just a 10 minute walk from the Eiffel tower, so after a nap, shower, and quick lunch, I headed over to the famed landmark. Overall, my stay in Paris was amazing, but a bit lonely. I FaceTimed my family and boyfriend when I could to show them everything I was experiencing. My timidness, in addition to the language barrier, kept me from connecting with locals. I kept to myself and did my best to visit as many places as possible; my goal was to see as much as possible in the short time I had. However, I enjoyed that traveling alone gave me the freedom to choose what my day looked like. I could change my plans on a whim, make detours, enter a museum spontaneously without having to worry about what anyone else wanted to do. Everything I did was up to me. 

PLACES IN PARIS I VISITED AND RECOMMEND:

Eiffel Tower, Palais du Chaillot, Louvre, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, Montmartre, La Basilique Sacré-Cœur, Pantheon, Luxembourg Garden, Les Invalides 

MY ARRIVAL TO GEORGIA TECH-LORRAINE IN METZ:

With Covid-19, our arrival was slightly different from how a normal arrival might be for our safety. Our luggage was unloaded for us, we left the bus in groups of five, masks on all the time, hand sanitizer at every checkpoint, went straight to our rooms. It felt amazing to finally get to my dorm, unpack, and settle in. A large group of students went to Cora almost immediately. This first trip there was chaos. None of us spoke much French or had the data to translate it, the market is organized differently than ones back home, and not a single person knew what they needed to buy. Needless to say, we all returned multiple times the following days. They have countless options for every item you could ever want; I swear I saw 3 aisles with cheese! 

I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to study and travel at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. Almost everyday I have a moment where I go, “Oh wow, I’m in FRANCE!” I still cannot believe I am here. I am excited to see where the rest of the semester takes me. Kaela in Paris!

QUICK TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL MOVE TO GEORGIA TECH- LORRAINE:

Soak your shower head and sink faucet in white vinegar and water. Don’t bring electrical items besides your devices (I almost set my hotel on fire trying to use an American steamer). Get a bike in Metz through the rental service Georgia Tech-Lorraine has. 

A Train of Thought on GTL

As Blanca reflects on her semester at GT-Lorraine, she finds a metaphor for her experience in something familiar to every GT-Lorraine student. Join her as she details her thoughts in this blog.

Written by Blanca

*Disclaimer: This story takes place in March before Spring 2020 students returned to the U.S. 

My last full day in Europe was spent as it always was: taking a series of trains.  This time, though, was different, not only because I was on the final leg of my journey.  Sitting at the Lorraine TGV station, I waited for my penultimate train under the sun, which had come out for the first time since I came abroad (and on the day I was leaving, too; fate sure does have a twisted sense of humor).  

Interestingly, while I’m sure most Georgia Tech-Lorraine students are just as accustomed as I was to taking high-speed trains like France’s TGV while in Europe, on this day I witnessed a TGV pass by me as an observer, not a passenger, for the first time.  It zipped past the station, the thundering echo lingering in my ears the only indication that it had ever been there at all.  Meanwhile, the ride from inside a TGV is peaceful and relatively smooth; the landscapes and scenery that pass by seem tranquil as they fade in and out of view. Therefore, it was a bit shocking to witness just how fast and rumbling they are as a bystander.  

I suppose this is a testament to the strength of French engineering, but I realized that it also represents the 2 months I spent at Georgia Tech-Lorraine.  Like the TGVs, I’d been going around Europe, one place after the next, seeing more of the world faster than I’d ever dreamed.  Like the TGVs, I was truly zooming.  But, while living the experience, day-by-day going was easy, and I’d mastered as much of a graceful ease as one can possess while trekking across countries and simultaneously doing probability & statistics homework.  Each week, and all the sights I saw, seemed to fly by.  

Now, as I’ve become an outsider once more, I see my European experience like an onlooker observing a TGV.  Those ten weeks were a hectic, nonstop cycle of classes, then traveling to a place I’d always dreamed of seeing, and then back to classes and assignments again.  Now removed, I can see that they went by almost in the blink of an eye.  I took my study abroad experience by storm, swiftly blazing my way across cities and counties and countries, not unlike the thunderous TGVs.  Just as soon as I arrived, I was leaving again.  

And so, just like that, the high-speed train left the premises of the TGV station, as it was only passing through while heading to its destination.  I, too, soon departed Lorraine TGV, departed France, off to do whatever else I have planned to be doing.  To be sure, I have a lot of stops ahead of me, but so do TGVs, and they still always return to the same station on other days.  Some other day, maybe I’ll be back—whether that will be in a short while or after the span of many years is about as predictable as the SNCF timetables.  

Food You Can’t Get In America But Quite Frankly Should Be Able To

Blanca has been munching away on her favorite European snacks. Now, she’s chomping at the bit to list some of her favorites you can’t find in the United States in this delectable blog post.

*Disclaimer: Blanca was not paid to endorse any products mentioned in this article, nor does Georgia Tech endorse any of these products.*

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | Written by Blanca

One of the things which excited me most about studying abroad was the chance to be fully immersed in an entirely novel culture, whether that specifically meant French culture or the broader category of European culture in general.  In any event, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to experience the nuances of life in a different place, the small details that truly define what it’s like living somewhere else. To be sure, there have been quite a number of these small details. To name a few, smoking cigarettes is much less frowned upon, for instance, and some forms of public transportation, primarily articulated busses (those busses with the accordion-like connections) and trains, require boarding passengers to tap a green button on a specific set of doors in order for them to open. (This is something which I learned the hard way by patiently standing in front of the doors of a bus and staring, dumbfounded, after it as it drove away without so much as cracking its doors open an inch.)

That being said, the particular objects of my attention today are certain food items sold abroad that aren’t offered back home in the States.  America is no stranger to processed foods, but despite the fact that European snacks share many of the same familiar brands, their repertoires are vastly different. I’m fascinated by the different versions of snacks which I’ve encountered here—tasting them has been such a fun experience in itself—and I’m here to enlighten the rest of the unsuspecting world (or Americans, at least) about them.  And seeing as I’ve spent many a late night study-session in the GTL Student Lounge with nothing but the vending machine to sustain myself, I can’t think of anyone with more ethos with which to do so.

Kinder Bueno

An image of a Kinder Bueno bar. The name ‘Kinder Bueno’ was inspired by the Spanish ‘bueno,’ which means ‘tasty’ or ‘good,’ and it’s a particularly apt description.
The name ‘Kinder Bueno’ was inspired by the Spanish ‘bueno,’ which means ‘tasty’ or ‘good,’ and it’s a particularly apt description.

Upon a quick Google search, it has now come to my attention that Kinder Bueno bars are actually now available in the US.  I, however, have never seen them, and I suspect this may be the case for many, so I consider it my duty to break the news.  Crispy wafer encloses hazelnut cream and is enveloped by a layer of chocolate (they come in milk chocolate and white chocolate, with white chocolate being my favorite).  What better combination to take the edge off of poring over electricity & magnetism problems at ungodly hours of the night?

Paprika Pringles

A can of Paprika Pringles. Paprika Pringles are the best traveling companion.
Paprika Pringles are the best traveling companion.

First introduced to paprika-flavored Pringles on one of many interconnected train rides while en route to Brussels, I now consider them to be one of the many unhealthy (but oh-so savory!) snack cravings I’ve picked up.  Subtly spiced, the Paprika Pringle initially tasted little different than the iconic original Pringle, but after a few bites, the balance of salty and savory won me over, and I just might need to buy a few (a lot) of cans to bring back home with me.

Crunch Snack

Have you ever wanted a Crunch bar, but in the even-crunchier form of a wafer? 

A crunch bar. The crispy, chocolatey, (wafer-y?), late-night fuel of champions.
The crispy, chocolatey,( wafer-y?), late-night fuel of champions.

Perhaps this is instead something that you, dear reader, much like myself, didn’t know you needed.  Take it from me—a combination of milk chocolate, wafers, and crunchy rice cereals is an unexpectedly perfect way to both satiate your newfound sugar craving (from all the Nutella you’ve been eating, since the French seem to favor Nutella quite) and refuel yourself during a long night of writing your ECE lab report.

A (Not So) Lonesome Traveler

After many weekends in a row of traversing Europe, Blanca is ready for a more calm weekend. In this blog, read about her tranquil trips around Metz and Luxembourg City as she details her enchanting experiences of traveling solo.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Written by Blanca

As much as it is part of the allure of a semester abroad, traveling week after week (or rather, weekend after weekend) can get tiring.  While destinations like Venice and Barcelona certainly are glamorous, sleepless nights spent sitting on airport floors, shivering while waiting for the late night bus, and dashing across train platforms to catch your connecting train are decidedly less so.  To compound matters for the worse, while scurrying about during my travels in weeks prior, lack of sleep and unfavorable weather contributed to a slight but persistent sniffle that simply would not go away.

So, while my friends had planned an eventful weekend excursion to Munich and the surrounding areas of Germany, I elected to stay back in Metz for some rest, relaxation, and work catch-up this past weekend.  During this time, I also embarked on two day trips of my own, first exploring the twists and turns of the historic cobblestone streets of downtown Metz, and then, on the next day, the equally-cobbled streets of Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.

 

Bread lamps
Bread lamps

Each time, I was able to fully observe the nooks and crannies of the cities in question.  In Metz, I wandered around the Ancienne Ville, strolling past artisan craftsman shops and ducking in and out of uniquely stocked concept stores. During a visit to boutique called POPWHITE CONCEPT STORE (82 En Fournirue), which was handsomely outfitted with twinkling string lights, vibrant faux flowers, luxurious homewares, and lavish charcuterie, I saw some uncannily realistic bread-shaped lamps, which I am now seriously considering purchasing and bringing back with me to the states for dorm décor.  Downtown Metz has quite the smattering of home goods shops, and as these are some of my favorite places to visit while I pine for the days I might own a property of my own and furnish it top to bottom, they make day trips into Metz the interior design lover’s dream.

 

The next day, after a good night’s sleep and a morning trip to Cora (which is, by the way, the time of day when you get the best pick of produce and of pastries), I hopped on one of the many trains between Metz and Luxembourg.  A quick 50-minute train ride and an even shorter bus trip to the city’s center later, I found myself, once again, in Luxembourg City. In a previous blog post, I detailed the events of my day trip with a large traveling group, but this time, I was visiting solo.

A charming, tucked-away street in Luxembourg City
A charming, tucked-away street in Luxembourg City

I have to say, traveling alone makes for an even more intimate experience in getting to know a place.  While doing so obviously requires a heightened sense of caution, as you now lack the safety in numbers, I realized in Luxembourg that you truly get to explore on your own terms.  Making and following my own itinerary gave me the freedom to wander as far as I pleased or to stand in the same spot for as long as I wanted, staring at the same artifact in a history museum.  Alone in an otherwise bustling city, no architectural detail goes unnoticed, and no side street is too humdrum, too lacking in interest. Each avenue warrants a visit, even if it’s a quick stroll-through, and when traveling solo, the quaint shops and cafes that beckon do so just for you.  Though I might’ve been unaccompanied by other people, in the welcoming embrace of a city abuzz with life and character, I definitely wasn’t alone.

A Night at the Opera

Bravo, bravo! Encore, encore! Blanca is taking the stage once again, join her as she recounts her experience seeing La Traviata at the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole!

Monday, February 10, 2020 | Written by Blanca

Fabulous Parisian fêtes.  The infamously dire consumption.  Dramatic displays of love, affection, and despair.  Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is the most frequently performed of all operas, for a good reason, and last Tuesday night, I got to experience La Traviata in all its glory at the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole.

A little over a week earlier, on a relatively mundane and unsuspecting Monday morning, I received an email regarding student tickets for an upcoming production of La Traviata at the Metz Opera, causing me to gasp in an otherwise silent classroom.  And for five euros? I nearly jumped out of my seat. The score to La Traviata is among my favorites of all time (I highly recommend adding the 1977 La Travita album , as performed by Plácido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubaș, Sherrill Milnes, and the Bavarian State Orchestra under the conducting of Carlos Kleiber to your Spotify playlists with this link, as I have), so as soon as class concluded, I rushed down to the GTL academic office to purchase my ticket.

As the day of the opera rolled around, I was slightly miffed by the fact that I had two exams the next day for which I needed to study that night, but no matter!  I came to Europe with the intention of experiencing European culture as fully as I could, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than by seeing my favorite opera in France’s oldest opera house.  Studying could wait until after Verdi’s compositions filled my ears.

A view from the outside of the Opera: The Metz Opera is stunning during the day but even more stately at night
The Metz Opera is stunning during the day but even more stately at night

In addition to being the oldest working opera house in France, the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole, or the Metz Opera, is also among the oldest in Europe.  Located on the Petit-Saulcy island in downtown Metz, the Neoclassical opera house, lit up in the chilly night, was literally the star of its own show. Its cobbled drive welcomed us and the rest of the night’s patrons inside, where we were ushered across red-carpeted floors and up a winding wooden staircase to the third-floor balcony.  From there, we had a perfect vantage point for viewing the onstage escapades. The set was nothing short of sublime: a semi-opaque screen backdrop provided a set while simultaneously allowing us to see the silhouettes of lithe dancers, mysterious figures illuminated by glowing lights, behind it; the forced perspective floor made the ballroom scenes seem grander and more vast than the stage on which they were held.

La Traviata, as I later learned, was first performed in 1853 at Venice’s La Fenice opera house (by which, I realized giddily, I had passed several times only a few days earlier on my trip to Venice), but despite being over 150 years old, it hasn’t lost any of its beauty.  The plot is one of lavish glitz and glamor, reflecting the prosperous social lives of the bourgeoisie, but it is also an observation of, if not a commentary on, a society which staunchly values morality but is steeped in hypocrisy, in which a woman navigates her diminished role in an environment that is decidedly male-dominated.  La Traviata also wouldn’t be an opera without a pinch of lament, so at its conclusion, we saw Violetta, the protagonist, undeservedly meet her tragic end.  Set to an Italian libretto, this all goes down entirely in Italian; fortunately, there was a screen above the stage displaying a current translation of what is being sung, but unfortunately, this translation was in French, a language which I can neither speak nor read.  For this reason, it’s highly recommended that opera-goers familiarize themselves with the opera beforehand (or, in my case, while in line for the bathroom during the intermission).

I couldn’t sign off on this blog post without mentioning the music, which exceeded my admittedly already-high expectations.  The recordings to which I’ve listened were already stellar, but nothing beats the in-person, immersive experience of hearing it all live.  Tuuli Takala’s performance as Violetta was superb, her adroit soprano piercing through the performance hall, but I could also honestly wax lyrical (pun not intended) about the rest of the cast.  I also have an immense appreciation for chamber orchestras, having played in one myself in high school, so hearing the score I’ve so ardently admired being played by a live orchestra was the highlight of my night.  The National Orchestra of Metz couldn’t be more deserving of applause.

The Metz Opera performance hall
The Metz Opera performance hall

After a good couple of minutes, the clapping eventually died down and the performance hall’s massive chandelier came back on.  As the audience began filing out of their velvet-upholstered seats into the equally sumptuous, palm frond-littered lobby, my opera buddy, Mai, and I glanced at each other.  Proclaiming, “that was so good,” her words voiced my very thoughts.  La Traviata at the Metz Opera made for a truly magnificent night.

 

Europe: Through the Looking Glass

At Georgia Tech Lorraine, new experiences are never-ending, and sometimes show up in unexpected places! In her latest post, take a look through Blanca’s eyes as she details her observations of daily life in Europe!

Friday, January 31, 2020 | Written by Blanca

Being at GTL for the semester makes for an incredibly auspicious location from which you can conveniently traverse much of the entire continent of Europe (a perk of which I have taken advantage multiple times already).  But, while it would bring me no greater joy than to inundate everyone with my tales recounting weekends gallivanting cobblestone streets and misty mornings among Flemish architecture, each façade with more character than the last, I think that the most insightful portrayals of European life actually emerge from the little details.  Sure, I’d anticipated that studying, eating, and traveling might be entirely different experiences in places with so much culture and history (and they are!), but nobody informed me about more mundane aspects of life, like that grocery stores here stock milk in six-packs and that a lactose intolerant person like myself can simply puncture the six-pack and remove a single bottle instead of having to buy an entire six-liter package of milk.  (On a side note, scenarios like this one are ones in which it becomes especially useful to employ a hawkish eye in observing the local residents and their grocery store behaviors.)

Experiencing the nuances of life in a new place are, dare I say it, perhaps even more fascinating than sightseeing, picture-taking, and general tourist-ing.  While I’ll still be doing plenty of the latter, I thought I’d share some of the quirks and unique details I’ve noticed about being abroad as well. Behold! Europe: Through the Looking Glass*.

(*actually through my glasses, which always seem to be smudged and are, at this point, a years-old, outdated prescription because my favorite frames seem to be perpetually out of stock—but rest assured that this takes away nothing from the Authentic European Experience™)

  • Everything in France seems to be smaller: chairs, elevators, cars—and by extension, the width of roadway lanes.  Public transportation (i.e. busses) are also widespread, and for the bus lines that don’t drive along designated bus lanes, I’ve been left to marvel at how their drivers are able to maneuver the large, cumbersome busses through such narrow and meandering roads.
  • While there are definitely still traffic lights scattered at intersections, European cities increasingly employ roundabouts/traffic circles instead of traditional four-way junctions.  Perhaps they’re on to something: studies have shown that roundabouts significantly reduce injury crashes at intersections.
  • On the topic of transportation, it seems that the vast majority of cars driven in Europe are hatchbacks.  I haven’t the slightest idea why this is so.

    The fruit stalls at Marche Couvert in Downtown Metz
    The fruit stalls at Marche Couvert in Downtown Metz
  • Fresh produce in even the most generic of European supermarkets is, put quite plainly, on another level.  The carrots? Simply sublime. And, despite avoiding grape tomatoes like the plague in America because they always seem to be so watery (and not much else), I’m pleasantly surprised to announce that I’ve yet to encounter a European grape tomato that I didn’t like.
  • Many restrooms, commonly referred to as water closets, in public spaces require a payment to use, usually a Euro or less.  Beware of those which ask for a specific amount of change, like €0.50, though. If you instead insert a €1 coin, assuming that you’re essentially paying double for entry, prepare to be left bewildered when the coin collection slot simply eats up your Euro and then defiantly refuses to budge.

    A classic cone of frites from a Belgium friterie—a must-try
    A classic cone of frites from a Belgium friterie—a must-try
  • Many Europeans are multilingual, especially those that live in areas where there are a multitude of languages spoken, and even more so, I’ve noticed, if they are young.  Maybe this is out of necessity, but as someone who speaks, reads, and writes only English fluently, I am equal parts impressed, grateful, and feeling slightly under-accomplished.  Perhaps it’s time to brush up on my Duolingo lessons after all.
  • The best ‘French’ fries I’ve had since arriving have been in Belgium.  Go figure.