Category: 2017-Spring (Page 1 of 6)
Hello dear travelers, let me tell you all that I know about how to not crush yourself with 50 pounds of things you don’t need. I had to learn this the hard way. It was spring break 2017, I was super excited to make my merry way through Greece and Italy, and my backpack ruined everything. This is an over-exaggeration of course, I had a wonderful time, but it honestly would’ve been so much better if I hadn’t brought 10 days worth of clothes and my heavy computer with me. I ended up getting a big hiking backpack with hip straps, but that can only help so much. My shoulders could barely be called shoulders by the end of the trip and it actually took a few days for them to feel normal again. Granted, I am a small female that can’t handle an entirely full school backpack sometimes. Regardless of your size, here are some ways to ensure you don’t have my experience.
Realize you don’t need that many options. One going out outfit, one comfy outfit for trains, and a few normal day outfits will do. (That is, if you’re doing cities. Obviously you don’t need a clubbing outfit if you’re camping in the Dolomites… at least I don’t think so?) Choose carefully, and choose things that can dress up and dress down easily. Don’t bring something you would be iffy about wearing normally. Only bringing about 5 days worth of clothing got me this size Jansport backpack, which is incredible compared to what I had last break.
I mentioned bringing a few outfits, so how are you supposed to make them last the whole trip? You try your hardest to stay in AirBnB’s and hostels with washers. Most hostels have a laundromat either in them or close to them, just pop your clothes in while making breakfast and hang them to dry somewhere during the day.
If you’re positive you’ll be staying somewhere with no access to a washer, get a small thing of detergent and hand-wash your clothes in the sink. It’s a lot easier than you think.
Also – you’re not going to use your computer enough to make it worth bringing, so don’t make my mistake!
Breaking News: the BDE Reminds GTL Students of Their Suppressed and Oft Forgotten Youthfulness Through Bowling and Go-Karts.
With all the stress that Georgia Tech students endure on top of having to choose between studying and travel planning, it’s easy for students to believe they’re like a grumpy 45-year-old, seasoned in the work of studying and so unable to simply let loose and play. The BDE (or Bureau des Etudiants, the student board here) attempted to fight back and reclaim the childlike spirit we all have by taking everyone to Metz’s great bowling/laser tag/go-kart arena!
Bowling lanes were randomly assigned, so I got to meet people that I’ve somehow never even seen before. (Maybe we have totally opposite schedules?) There are a ton of graduate students at GTL this semester, so people I have never and will never have classes with all came out of the woodwork to have a good time together.
Close scores could be competitive, but for the most part everyone was just chatting and having a good time. Then without any sort of transition came the most intensely divisive activity you can possibly play: laser tag.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a caveman fending for your survival group in the wilderness, go play laser tag. All friendships are lost at the entrance and deliriously picked back up there afterwards. We formed teams and went into the dark, neon wasteland-themed maze that then became the land of no laws, and begun shooting each other mercilessly.
Yes, I’m being overly dramatic about this, but it really is intense! At the end of the game everyone came out of the two-story obstacle park sweating and nursing their wounds, stubbed toes and pride having the highest densities, and we all regrouped outside in the fresh air. The go-karting people were still zooming around the track, moving much faster than I’d expected. They also gave little medals at the end for the winners: unsurprisingly, the whole GTL gearhead community swept the trophies up with little trouble.
While they continued, the rest of us sat down to experience a truly French karaoke night. If you’re imagining grandiose Edith Piaf or French electro-pop, I’m afraid you’re as wrong as I was. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, sang either Celine Dion or belted a pretty sappy 80’s ballad, all speaking of lost love or something of that nature. Every single French man, woman, and child sang their absolute hearts out, totally sober on a Wednesday night. It was fascinating. And then of course some GTL boys got up, turned their hats around backwards and started with the Backstreet Boys.
I won’t say the French locals hated it – some were bopping along to the b-boy beats – but the sudden change of mood might’ve been too much for the taste of some. Nevertheless, it was a fine night and I’m glad I was there to experience it.
Iceland is…something else. I’m not entirely sure how to explain the place. This is the simplest way I can think of: cross a Narnia or Lord of the Rings-type landscape with Mars. And that’s about the best I can do. Imagine ultra-dramatic cliffs with black, craggy rocks at the top – but a lush green carpet of moss everywhere else, and then add geothermal vents steaming off one edge with a waterfall trailing off the other. Also, add some sheep on the way up and ponies at the base. It doesn’t sound real, does it?
Basically, if you like nature even just a little bit and you have a pinhead’s worth of a sense of adventure in your blood, COME TO ICELAND. Save up money, skip out on a few weekends to study, and go to Iceland. Please. For me. I’m 100% going back, no doubt in my mind. Usually when I go somewhere with cool sand I take a little bit in a bottle, but I’m so confident in my going back that I didn’t bottle anything at all. I know I’m being dramatic, all raving mad about a place that I only spent 3 days in, but seriously, this place has every possible cool nature thing you could imagine. Plus the food is incredible, and their wool sweaters are super cute. What’s not to like?
The first thing we did in Reykjavik was set out for an early morning hike up a small-ish mountain right outside the city. It’s called Mount Esja, and it’s very popular and easy to get to by public transit (bus). It starts out with some low, dense trees, which were changing color at the time (as it’s early October), and soon enough you’re doing switchbacks on a very impressive rocky mountain.
We wanted to climb to the top, but it started to rain/sleet, and we ran back down the mountain (literally running, almost rolled my ankle multiple times) for shelter. We were really booking it up and down the mountain, and it took us 2 hours. On the way back down we passed by a nice brook with little waterfalls tumbling into it all along the mountainside: it was my first Icelandic waterfall sighting so I thought they were lovely, when in fact they were nothing compared to what I’d be seeing over the next few days.
As far as the city of Reykjavik goes, it’s a nice little place but I wouldn’t spend too much time within its borders. The cities are not what you’re there to see, although I will highlight a couple things. One of them is the massive beautiful church of Hallgrimskirkja. It looks like basalt columns, and if you like gothic or medieval churches then you’re out of luck. The church has a very pristine and clean feel to it, with the inside all white. Very magnificent though. What I actually want to talk about, however, is what we found on the way there. We took a side street to get to the church, and as we were walking this incredible smell wafted our way. Braud, a bakery within sight of the church, makes cinnamon buns constantly all day everyday, and I swear to you it’s the best cinnamon bun in the entire world. It was seriously so, so good. I went twice. There’s nothing quite like a cinnamon bun fresh out of the oven.
We then proceeded south to stay in an adorable AirBnB in Hella, and the next day went along the southern coast. We visited Vik, a small coastal town, with this view from their lighthouse on a random cliff on the beach:
Doesn’t look real right?? It looks like Jon Snow should be rowing underneath that arch and Daenerys should be flying overhead on a freaking dragon. The cliffs on this place were ridiculous.
We also found some impressive waterfalls: the first one is called Skogafoss (above), and I never did find out what the other one was, as we just ran across it on the main road south.
Back up towards Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a small loop that hits a lot of natural wonders in one go. We got to see some geysers in a geothermal region, as well as a waterfall called Gullfoss. I’ve never been to the Niagra Falls, but I imagine standing in front of it is akin to being near this waterfall. The sheer size of it was something in and of itself, but all the different ways it split and tumbled into the ravine was just spectacular. If we hadn’t been on a time crunch I could’ve sat there and watched it for hours.
I really wanted to go see a glacier, and we did see one in the distance, but they were actually causing flooding on the roads that we couldn’t get around. Because of this (and many other) reason(s), I’m going back to Iceland as soon as humanly possible.
Basically, after all of the traveling I’ve done, I grew tired of the Franco-Germanic area and aspired to travel elsewhere, which either requires an 8-12+ hour train or an expensive flight. So, I found a nice solution: night trains! Night trains are awesome. Within France they’re very cheap: I went to Monaco for a 20 euro reservation, which is what you’d pay for an inexpensive hostel. From southern France, it’s just a quick train to Italy, and there are also night trains that go between countries as well. I have some friends that took one to Barcelona for 30-40 euros, and I’m positive the night train to Berlin is fairly inexpensive as well.
The trains have rooms that house 6 beds, and yes, they are super cramped. I’m talking Titanic movie cramped.
But, all you’re doing is sleeping, so instead of staying up late and doing homework or other irrelevant things, get a good night’s rest so you can explore all the next day! (I’m joking, although if you are thinking of doing homework on this train, then forget about it. There were no common areas to just hang out in (at least on mine), and don’t expect to be able to sit upright comfortably in your bed.
Also, If you’re tall you may end up like this:
These trains usually leave late at night (mine left at 10 pm) and you arrive at your destination in the morning.
One thing to consider is that unless you buy out an entire cabin of all six beds, you’ll probably be sharing them with other people. So, if you have a group of friends that are obsessed with a card game and are refusing to quit at even 1 am, just be courteous of the people you’re sharing the cabin with and try to move out into the hallway. That doesn’t sound fun but it’s better that than pissing off some French women who will 100% use the entirety of their vocabulary to make you shut up (totally not based on personal experience). Also, it’s always good to be conscious of your things, but that’s a bit hard to do when you’re asleep. I cannot sleep with one eye open, and I doubt you can either, so I suggest getting a money belt/something similar so you can keep your passport and phone close to you without fear of prying hands. Get out there and see some far away stuff!
As GTL students travel all over the continent, there may be times where someone wants to go somewhere or do something specific that absolutely no one else wants to do. If you’re one of those people, but you’re worried about traveling by yourself, have no fear! I’m here to tell you how to do it right (as I’ve come to experience) and safely.
One thing you have to keep in mind is how you appear to others. If you’re worried about getting pick-pocketed or being scammed, try not to look über-touristy. Save your fanny pack for another time and maybe zip your jacket up over your American flag t-shirt. If you’re lost, stop and find a map or look at your phone on a spot away from a street corner where you would stand out. Maybe try to go to less-touristy places instead. I mean, there’s so much to see in these incredible places you’re exploring, and especially being by yourself, you’re more likely to chat up a local in a neighborhood art gallery than in the London Eye.
I recently went to Stockholm by myself and got to enjoy a goblet of strawberries, the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had, and an overpriced – but refreshing – cucumber soda. If I had been there with anyone else I’m not sure I would’ve paid them any attention anyway.
This leads me to my next point: talk to people! Be open to it! That was very hard for me to figure out how to do, not being the most social butterfly of the bunch. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you then that’s fine, but most often people in a hostel or in a relaxed social setting will be open to conversation. Talking to other travelers is easiest, as you both might feel like outsiders, but I really urge you to try and speak with a local if you really want to get a feel for the culture you’re visiting. It’s so fascinating to me how Europeans perceive America and the contrasts between growing up in these two similar, but also incredibly different atmospheres – and without fail the young Europeans I’ve talked to feel the same.
By now you’ve probably heard earful after earful of “be wary of pick pocketing don’t put down your purse don’t stray from main roads at night,” and unfortunately I’m going to give you yet another earful, but hopefully a meaningful one. Simply be aware. That’s all. Don’t do anything that would put you in a weird situation, especially now since you can’t just call your friend over. Lie if you have to, and I mean this especially for my girls out there – if someone asks if you’re traveling alone, never ever say yes! It gives you a good escape plan with a fake call if it’s necessary, and if they end up being cool and you become lifelong friends, then they should understand your precautions.
I hope this has been helpful. I know there’s a decent number of people that I’ve overheard talking about solo travel, so if you have a friend in need then link them this tidbit right here!
I can’t believe that this semester is finally coming to end. What has been by far the most memorable part of my time at college is now pretty much over. The language and culture change has been hard on me, and I definitely miss the USA, but this has still been an amazing experience that I’m sure I will never forget. Last year I made an impulse decision to apply for this program, despite never really putting much thought into the prospect of traveling across the Atlantic before. Luckily for me the decision turned out be a good one, and I hope to return to Europe soon if another opportunity ever arises.
Despite this being finals week, I made the questionable decision to take 3 days to visit some people in Germany I had met online. That sounds even crazier when I write it out, but it really was quite amazing. Being a little bit of a nerd, I play a few online games, and by random chance in a game of DotA (a video game, the title of which is Defense of the Ancients), I met a German girl named Sara, who invited me to play with her group of friends as apparently I seemed like a “nice, normal person.” Over the next 2 months I got to know this group pretty well and spent a considerable amount of time talking over a voice chat channel and playing video games with them. As they knew my time in Europe was coming to an end soon, they invited me to come visit them in Northern Germany for a weekend, which, given my spread-out finals schedule, actually worked out. The weekend was so much fun and now I have 6 new German friends that have asked me to come visit again if I ever find myself in Europe. The one thing that I felt was missing from this semester was making close friends with some people that live here and in my very last weekend I got to do just that. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up my European experience.
Looking back over everything now, there were a lot of awkward moments, but also many incredible ones. Some frustration, but more delight. Despite the negatives, there is no doubt that overall this was an incredibly positive experience. The same can be said about being a blogger on this trip.
Although I sometimes dreaded writing articles every week, I am so glad I took the opportunity to write for GTL and to hopefully share some of my positive experiences with others. I really do feel like much more of a global citizen now, and that is one of the most important things I hoped to get out of this semester. Also, holy cow, the food was so good. You can’t discount the way that incredible food can improve an experience, and even my own cooking was something that I came to be very proud of by the end.
As someone who as only ever left the United States a few times, and never beyond the North American continent, I now value travel so much more than I did, and understand now how important it is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations every now and then. I have most certainly grown, both as an individual and as a member of the world’s population (but unfortunately not in height) and I am excited for what the future holds for me and everyone who has been a student here over the past 4 months.
Well GTL, this is it. This is my last post. Amidst the impending chaos of final exams and the packing and cleaning of dorm rooms, I think it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that this is the last week we have as a group in Metz. Reflecting on my semester, it seems like only a week ago that a very jet-lagged and food-poisoned girl walked into orientation and met her professors for the first time. Now as an engineer, it is my job to provide you with the hard data results of travels.
Weekends Traveled: 15
Countries Visited: 9
Cities Visited: 20
Museums Visited: 18
Classes Taken: 4
Travel Mishaps: 8
Now, before you go making graphs, fellow engineers, I would like to share that a GTL experience cannot possibly be measured with just numbers. Not in the above statistics: The amazing lifelong friendships, the feeling of being alone in a place with a language and culture far different from your own, identifying with a city where you don’t even speak the language, and learning more about the history of the world than you have in your whole life prior to coming. This feeling of novelty, of being out of my comfort zone, and this feeling of wonder when I learn new things about the world I didn’t know before will be hard to hold onto when I go back to the US.
Now that I am done uncontrollably sobbing about going home, here is a detailed account of some of my favorite memories every weekend. Planning a trip to one of these places? Check out my favorite things!
In Heidelberg, the first city I visited, my favorite memory was standing in the Heidelberg Castle grounds, looking at the city below. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face as he looked out over the valley. It was his first time in Europe.
In Paris, I loved the Hall of Impressionists in the Musee D’Orsay. I remember the light feeling I had looking at the Degas paintings, inspired to dance and do ballet again. This is when I truly made a new friend, my fellow blogger Sam.
In Salzburg, I loved talking to the Australian guy in our hostel. He came with our group to get dinner and we learned so much about his culture, and he about ours.
In Prague, I loved going to the communist museum. Reading about the communist occupation of the Czech Republic from the perspective of someone who lived through it was truly eye-opening. It proved to me that we can’t be complacent in the world, because terrible things were happening in our parent’s lifetimes.
In Garmisch Partenkirchen, I skied with an infinite view of the top of the world. It reminded me how small I was, and how lucky I was to experience such beautiful nature. I also got to know a really great group of people, and experience their wacky skiing mishaps with them. It really brought us together.
In Venice I loved going to the Doge’s palace. I learned about the immense wealth and power the city state had, and how much that sea-based land could be worth.
In Rome, I loved the Roman forum, standing in the footsteps of the greatest ancient civilization and realizing that our world has come a long way since Roman times. The ruins reminded me that nothing is forever.
In Florence, I learned that art is captivating, and the more life-like the painting or sculpture the more talented the artist. I also became friends with two amazing people here. (What up Bryston and Peugh!)
In Cinque Terre, I loved hiking to each of the villages. Each were unique in their own right. I felt strong and happy.
In Amsterdam, I thought the Van Gogh museum was beautiful. It reminded me that things don’t have to be exact to be beautiful, and don’t have to be completely real to make you feel.
In Berlin, I loved going on the walking tour. It showed me that my love of history doesn’t just belong to me. Looking at all of the people in my group made me realize I love this earth, and we can learn a lot from our history, good and bad.
In Krakow, I visited Auschwitz. I walked the path of the millions that were slaughtered. It reminded me that hate cannot be allowed to win, and acceptance is the only course of action.
In Munich, I loved the Deutsches Museum. It reminded me why I became an engineer, and gave me back that childlike sense of wonder for science that I had forgotten in school.
In Interlacken, I learned to push myself. I didn’t give up, and rode 28 miles on rough hilly terrain. Even though I needed to rest I pushed through and I am very proud of myself.
In Stuttgart, I visited my exchange student and attended Wasen, the big festival. I made great friends and I really felt a part of traditional German culture.
My experiences are unlike anyone else’s. They are uniquely mine, and I am infinitely lucky to have been able to experience them. So if you can, come make memories. Travel. Be outside your comfort zone. Because you will grow so much. Thank you all, and to all good night.
As crazy as it feels, the semester is finally winding down, I just finished my last midterm and handed in my last assignment, so it’s just finals, finals, finals from here on out. But before I descend into the cocoon of studying, I planned a few more trips. I feel like I might be a little bit crazy, but I scheduled a trip to visit friends in northern Germany during finals, so this weekend actually constituted my second to last trip of the year. In addition, it also happened to be my birthday, so there was no way I was staying at home to study. Strasbourg is a very beautiful and bustling city right on the German border and was a wonderful birthday getaway destination.
My girlfriend and I arrived in Strasbourg on Friday night, ready for a little night-time exploring and some local food. For some reason, the area we were staying in seemed to be completely taken over by Italian-themed restaurants and since we both had not had pizza in a very long time, we caved and decided to eat at a cute little restaurant near our AirBnB. All the times I’ve previously traveled with Sarah this semester have been in German speaking countries, and as she is fluent in German, communication has never really been a problem. However, now that we decided to travel in France this time, we were faced with a harsh language barrier right off the bat. Neither of us speak French very well, and not all French speak more than one language. As such, our pizza night was quite an awkward adventure where I seemed to make a fool of myself trying and failing to speak French every time we came in contact with our waiter. Still, we made it through and had fun laughing about it afterwards, and were ready for another day of awkwardness.
On the one real day of being able to experience the city, we had a light breakfast from a bakery and decided to just walk around and see what we could see. Neither of us are really much for planning, so that seems to be how most of our trips go. Strasbourg has some really amazing architecture that includes this enormous cathedral that we even had the privilege of getting to see from the inside. For lunch, we decided on a traditional French restaurant near the city center, and I don’t know if it was because I had spent a little time brushing up on my French the night before, or more likely that since we were in the center of town the waiting staff was much more accustomed to serving non-native French speakers, but the interactions I had were overall very positive. That is until the end of the meal when I assume the server asked if we were done with our plates, and Sarah misinterpreted and responded by saying “Bien” and smiling. I laughed about that for awhile. After lunch we of course stopped for ice cream, finding a fun gelato place that shaped all their ice cream into flowers. After more walking around and such, we decided we would cook dinner ourselves, so we went to the grocery store to obtain the supplies necessary for mushroom, bacon, swiss bbq burgers. Of course the cooking didn’t quite go as well as planned, but we enjoyed attempting to make something that reminded us of home.
I’ve enjoyed traveling this semester so much, and it’s sad to see it all come to end. The countries I’ve visited – France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and more – have been truly amazing, and I can’t wait for my very last trip next week. Of course, despite all the fun this year has been, I am more than ready to go home and be able to walk into a store and talk to the clerk in English. It’s the little things that you miss when you’re away from home, but I love the little things I experience here in Europe every day just as much.
I flew into France within the first couple days of the New Year, and that was the first time that I truly traveled solo. Landing in Paris was pretty scary for me: I was lumbering around with a huge suitcase and no idea where to go next. Without luck, I was walking around the airport, looking for the meeting point for the shuttle that was supposed to take me and some other students over to GTL. On top of an already stressful situation, I was made fully aware that I was in a country in which English was not the primary or even secondary language spoken. This not only made me feel extremely uncomfortable and out of place, but it just made my primary objective that much harder to complete. Finally, after the supposed last call for the shuttle to leave, I found them all and made it in the van just in time. That was one of the most nerve-wracking situations I’ve ever been in. I thought that I was going to be stranded at the airport, all by myself, without being able to communicate to others that I was definitely not supposed to be both at the airport or alone. I would have really been fine with just taking one of those two options.
That was back in January, and I just recently made another solo trip, but this time it was about three days long, and in the Czech Republic (where their official language is literally not spoken anywhere else). Now, I feel a lot more comfortable with being in new and unfamiliar situations. I’m able to ask questions to locals without the thought that they are going to see me as dumb looming over my head. I can now confidently say that living in another country really matured me in aspects of my life I never even considered as problematic. Even talking to my friends and others in English, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more confident in myself, and it’s a nice feeling to have!
In the past, I would too often get caught up in what others thought of me, and would always try to please them, even if it was at my expense. Many times, this would result in me missing out on activities or events I wanted to attend. This is what I’ve learned from living here: if you ever get a chance to do something, but no one will go with you, go by yourself! There is nothing wrong with it, and you will most likely regret not going at all more than going solo. You’ll also probably meet some interesting characters and have new material for stories to tell at dinner parties!
Although traveling solo can seem daunting, you’ll be amazed at how adaptable we, as humans, are. With time, you’ll be riding the metro and ordering your meals like a pro. Whenever I’m speaking to locals, I try to start off the conversation in French, and then if I can’t get my point across, I switch to English and hope they can understand me. Weirdly enough, even if neither of us can understand what the other is saying, I can usually decipher what they’re telling me using hand gestures and context. And while I highly recommend learning at least a little bit of French before coming to GTL, this way isn’t too bad!
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