Chasing the Northern Lights: Arctic Adventure at GTE

Written by and photos by Quin Kieu, GTE Fall 2022

GTE was my first time leaving the USA. My family does not go on vacation or travel due to financial reasons so leaving for France was a significant life event. To list off a few firsts, it was my first time getting on airplane, a train, solo traveling, and connecting with strangers. I have experienced many sights and met many great people on my travels. I want to tell you about one adventure.

During my spring break, my travel plans turned out to be completely opposite compared to my GTE peers. About half of the cohort flew to Italy and a quarter took a train to Spain. Upon applying to study abroad, I had already set my mind on traveling to the Arctic Circle and experiencing the Aurora Borealis. Originally a solo trip, I was glad that my new friend Jan, whom I met at GTE, decided to tag along and navigate the unbarred wilderness with me.

We set off in the early morning at 5 AM to catch a flight from Paris, France to Helsinki, Finland. A fourteen hour night train then took us deep into the northernmost region of Finland as we arrived in the small town of Kolari. During this train ride, I had a vivid dream where I saw the northern lights. I knew this was a good sign, but Jan was hesitant to get his hopes up. We were both aware that auroras do not always occur and that the vibrant light shows seen in pictures and videos are rare.

The first thing I noticed immediately upon stepping off the train was how the mucus in my nose instantly became frozen. The air temperature was a freezing -15°F during the daytime. At night, it dropped much lower and the biting wind would cut through my five pairs of pants. Being as I was born and raised in South Carolina, I had never experienced temperatures anywhere remotely close to this and was extremely out of my element. Despite these challenges, the country of Finland turned out to be extremely beautiful. The air was crisp and clean. It was extremely quiet and serene outside. The tap water was pure and tasted better than American bottled water. The sky and sunsets would be the most beautiful gradient of pastel baby blue and orange.

During my time there, the northern lights remained my top priority. With vigor, extraordinary amounts of optimism, and a belly full of reindeer meat – a Finnish staple – Jan and I managed to rent a charming Volvo station wagon and set off into the night. This far out into the wilderness, there was no Hertz or similar car rental company. Our workhorse was fortunately obtained when the hotelkeeper called up her friend on the phone and introduced us. An under the table deal of sorts, we were just happy to have a mode of transport. We then later discovered that the check engine light was on but had simply been covered over with tape. We gritted our teeth and prayed that our Volvo, nicknamed Freya after the Norse goddess, would lead us safely.

We ventured deep into the wilderness, away from civilization, and were graced with the auroras. I have never seen a more beautiful sight in my life. The dynamic display of nature and the serpentine folds glimmered for us to see. Words and pictures do not fully encompass or describe the experience. I gained a unique reverence for nature following this encounter.

The next morning, the hotelkeeper told us that we were incredibly lucky and should buy a lottery ticket – which I attempted to do but would not know how to redeem it if I did win. They told us of the many travelers who come back over a span of years and do not see any auroras, let alone the active and spirited ones that we experienced on our first night here.

After spending two nights in Kolari, Jan and I traveled to Rovaniemi, the official town of Santa Claus. Here, we made friends with a Finnish border guard in our hostel. He was incredibly humble and was once in the army. Having missed a bus to go husky sledding, he graciously drove us an hour and helped us out during our time in Finland.

My time in the Arctic Circle was only half of spring break but was already the best trip I have had in my life. Finland holds a special place in my heart – I plan on returning as my Finnish friend has invited me back for summer adventure.

Auroras in the Arctic Circle 

As a last hurrah to end my semester studying abroad, my friends and I decided to head up to Tromsø, a Norwegian town located in the Arctic Circle.

In Tromsø, we were closer to the North Pole than France! 

We spent the first day exploring around downtown Tromsø, shopping for souvenirs, and visiting their local Christmas market. By the time 2pm rolled around, the sky was completely dark; it was absolutely crazy to see! We also stopped to grab some hotdogs, and we bought Norwegian groceries to make ourselves dinner for the Friday and Saturday we were in Norway.  

Iconic Scandinavian hot dogs from a food cart in downtown Tromsø made of reindeer and beef. This picture was also taken at 2:30pm. 

We woke up the next day bright and early to cook ourselves breakfast and then we rented ice skates at a local outdoors store in downtown Tromsø. We walked uphill for thirty minutes to Prestvannet Lake which by this point in the year has been completely frozen over! The ice was at least 10 cm (about 4 inches) thick, and there were dozens of Norwegians skating on the ice. A group of college aged students played hockey in one corner of the lake and speed skaters of all ages zoomed around the perimeter of the lake. While some parents taught their kids how to ice skate, parents with younger children opted to glide nonchalantly across the ice pushing a stroller, baby in tow. Norwegians are exposed to ice even before they learn to walk! Even weirder, every once in a while, a person on a bicycle would zoom across the ice instead of biking around the lake. 

This time of year, Tromsø experiences the Polar Night where there is light for only a couple of hours in the day. Even then, the sun is too low to see it above the horizon, so there is a permanent sunset and sunrise at the same time. This casts some of the most gorgeous colors across the sky. Once it started getting too dark to safely skate (which was around 2:30pm), we returned the skates and grabbed some authentic Norwegian lunch.  

The breathtaking colors of the Polar Night. For reference, this picture was taken at 12:30pm, but it looks like it could be 5pm. 

Afterwards, we headed to Fjellheisen: a cable car located on the mainland that takes you halfway up the Tromsdalstinden Mountain and provides a good viewpoint of the city. We spent that time going aurora hunting— they were not too difficult to spot!  

The city lights of Tromsø from the top of the Fjellheisen. 

The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, are formed through the bombardment of solar radiation with the Earth’s atmosphere. The Sun releases charged particles called solar winds from its upper atmosphere or corona. The Earth’s magnetosphere protects the Earth from these charged particles like a shield; however, some of these charged particles are trapped in the Magnetosphere’s Van Allen Belts and are funneled towards the poles through the Earth’s magnetosphere. These ions then collide with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere causing polar auroras.  These interactions usually occur at a height between 90-120 km, and the color of the aurora is dependent on what altitude and what atoms the solar winds collide with. In the North, the Polar Aurora is called the “Aurora Borealis”, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it is called the “Aurora Australis”. 

Because of how the Polar Auroras are created, they are largely dependent on the Sun’s activity. The Sun cycles every 11 years between solar max (where solar activity is at a maximum) and solar minimum (where solar activity is at a minimum). Fortunately for me, the Sun is approaching its Solar Max in 2024, so we are approaching an increase in solar activity— i.e. we are more likely to encounter the Aurora Borealis! While technically they are happening all the time, they can only be seen when it is dark enough, so ideal conditions are during the Winter month nights when there are no clouds in the sky and very little light pollution. Additionally, the Northern Lights only exist at high latitudes, and because of Tromsø’s location in the Arctic circle, Tromsø is an ideal location for potentially spotting them! 

The first time seeing them was invigorating. Early in high school, I attended a NASA camp where I designed my own NASA mission centered around heliophysics and the Van Allen Belts. I spent the week-long camp learning anything and everything I could about the phenomenon; I was completely hooked. This camp (and the topic) kickstarted my entire engineering career and fascination of space. To see these in person, my heart would not stop beating at a mile a minute. I couldn’t help but smile, laugh, and dance with my friends in the night.  They would appear suddenly in undulating lines streaking across the sky growing in strength and color over time. They would shimmer and dance amongst the stars, and then they would disappear just as quickly as they appeared. As we hiked up the mountain, we found a secluded valley that blocked out the lights from the city. We laid on a frozen lake and spent time watching the auroras. At one point, the entire sky above us was covered in them. It was mesmerizing. Not to be dramatic, but the Northern Lights are the culmination of my career and seeing them was the perfect send off to this semester. This trip will go down as my favorite trip this semester. 

The Aurora Borealis from my phone camera.


Written by Lilian

November 29, 2022

This weekend, I flew to the capital of Ireland – Dublin – to visit my cousin who attends medical school in the city! We spent our first day together walking around downtown Dublin and touring his medical school. I saw the bank where the Harry Potter’s Gringotts scenes were filmed and the Trinity College campus. Dublin’s downtown consists of low rising buildings filled with Irish pubs, stores, and residence buildings. Almost on every corner was an Irish pub! For lunch, we ordered “Spice Bags”— a paper bag filled with French fries, fried chicken, and a magnitude of different spices eaten with chopsticks— from a local Chinese takeout restaurant. The dish is truly an Irish classic. After finishing eating, we stopped to listen to some of the live music at the Temple Bar. 

From left to right: Irish Spice Bags, Grafton Street, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

Later that night, we watched his school’s production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” which is about 10 people who get mysteriously invited to a mansion on a remote island. One by one, members of the party get killed off, and the remaining survivors must try and figure out who the murderer is all while protecting themselves. It was really good and the actors were amazing. Additionally, the production can say someone flew from abroad to see their play! 

The next day, we ate brunch— I ordered the poached eggs and squash— and then headed to Howth Island via bus where we completed the Howth cliff walk. We hiked to the top of one of the mountains near the shore, and the wind was so intense. We could lean into the wind and be completely supported; it felt as if we were in a hurricane. The waves which crashed on the rocky shores were almost six feet tall, and the wind brought a cold misty spray as we walked along the slippery and muddy path. Despite the bad weather, the Ireland coast was gorgeous and well worth the chills. After Daylight Savings this October, the sun sets very early in the day (in my opinion, too early in the day). Starting at 4pm, we were required to run the rest of the trail— approximately 3 km— in order to reach the lighthouse by sundown; we finished panting, tired, and thoroughly satisfied. As a reward, we chowed down on ice cream at a dessert bar, fried dumplings, and carbonara ramen (which did not taste like carbonara if you were curious). 

The Howth Island Cliff Walk. Located about an hour via bus from the Dublin city center, it’s very easy to find and complete! 

On the last day, we ate breakfast together, and I was able to try the “Full Irish breakfast” which consists of sausages, ham, potato wedges, eggs, mushrooms, beans and toast, and black pudding. Black pudding is a sausage made of sheep’s blood and oats, and against most people’s opinion, I personally did not think it was that bad (although, I did not like the beans and toast). Afterwards, I took the bus to the airport to fly back to Luxembourg. 

Full Irish Breakfast. I find it quite fascinating how different countries’ breakfasts are so different from one another! 

Ireland was absolutely gorgeous. Howth Island was amazing to hike despite the running and the bad weather. If I had to come back to Ireland, which I hope to do in the future, I would love to see more of Ireland’s coastlines and towns! I also loved spending time with my cousin and catching up with him, and I cannot wait until he is back in the States! Also, not to brag, but I totally beat him, a med student, in the game “Operation”— €2700 to €2600. 

Ice Skating, Crepes, and Ping Pong, Oh My! Some of the Amazing Events Thrown by the BDE 

Written by Lilian

November 28, 2022

The BDE, or Bureau des Étudiants, is the student government at GTL who is responsible for organizing social events to get more students connected to French culture and bridge the gap between the American and international students. Throughout the Fall semester, the BDE hosted ten different events for students including tickets to the Moselle Open, an Eight-Ball Billiards Tournament, a Halloween Ice Skating Party, and a Swing Dance Night! The BDE is composed of five students who are elected at the start of the semester: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sports Coordinator. 

The Pool Tournament: teams of two competed bracket style during the competition. Unfortunately, most teams got out because they scratched the cue ball… 

Serving as the President this semester, First Year Biomedical Engineer Noah Pastula’s favorite event was the “Trivia Night and Crepes” event because he “always likes a little bit of friendly competition”. Teams of five competed against each other to correctly answer the most questions in categories such as “Marvel Movies”, “Geography”, and “Math”. The final question involved naming all the bus stops on Line A of the Le Met bus route. At the same time, other members of the BDE cooked homemade crepes filled with Nutella, brown sugar, and bananas. The Trivia Night was also my favorite event because my team of five won the entire competition! We beat over 10 other teams for the title!

Shoutout to the BDE for cooking over 50 crepes for Trivia participants. It took them three hours to make custom crepes for everyone. 

Staying in the spirit of competition, another very popular event was the “Ping Pong Tournament” hosted in the middle of October. This semester, first year Civil Engineer Zachary Harrison serves as the Sports Coordinator on the BDE. As the Sports Coordinator, he is responsible for organizing any team-building events and physical activities. For example, every week, Zach hosts a soccer or ultimate frisbee game on a local sports field for any GTE student to join. In his role, he also helped plan both this Ping Pong Tournament and the Billiards Tournament. According to First Year Mechanical Engineer Sofia Mujica, the Ping Pong Tournament was her favorite event because “everyone was on the edge of their seat for every little point and there was so much camaraderie between all the students regardless of year!” The event was held bracket style with everyone competing solo. Even though the event lasted over three hours—it was originally predicted to last one hour—most students stayed the entire event to cheer on the final two.  

The final two competing in the Ping Pong Tournament. 

Just this past week, the BDE hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner and Talent Show for all the students. Three students showed off their talents on the guitar and piano while students munched on a catered meal of turkey and potatoes. It was an opportunity for international students to learn a bit about American culture and give homesick American students a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving before heading back to the States in mid-December.  

Overall, the BDE has planned a ton of diverse events that have sparked the interest of all students at GTE. They have given the student body a chance to mingle as well as blow off steam from stressful classes and hectic traveling schedules. Personally, I have had an amazing time watching, participating, and winning the events! Merci BDE! 

Biggest Culinary Wins and Fails While in Dining in Europe 

Written by Lilian

November 22, 2022

One of my favorite ways to learn about different European cultures is the food. Since I have been in Europe, I have followed the mantra of trying cultural food regardless of how different the dishes sound. The following is a list of some of the biggest winners and losers I tried over my stay at GTE: 

Win: Cinnamon Rolls 

Reykjavik, Iceland 

These Cinnamon rolls were probably my favorite thing I ate while in Europe. They were super soft and moist; the powdered sugar which was generously dusted on top did not make the pastry dry. Every layer of the roll blended together perfectly. 10/10 would highly, highly recommend! I loved them so much I would fly back to Iceland just to get them again. 

Fail: Icelandic Fish Stew (Plokkfiskur) 

Reykjavik, Iceland 

Plokkfiskur is a traditional Icelandic fish stew made of fish, potatoes, onions, and bechamel sauce. The result is not a stew per-say, but a thick, rich, creamy chowder which tastes heavily of fish. It is usually served with a piece of sweet rye bread. While I am glad that I tried this staple dish while in Iceland, I was a little put off by the soft consistency of the dish, and could not get over the texture.  

Win: Pumpkin Everything 

Naples, Italy 

When I first got into Italy, the first dish I sampled was pasta– pumpkin filled ravioli, to be specific. It was probably the best pasta I have ever tasted. The next day, I continued my pumpkin tirade, this time with pizza. It was a pumpkin, prosciutto, walnuts, and fior de latte covered pizza which was surprisingly delicious. 

Fail: Pizza with Anchovies

Naples, Italy 

“Pizza Napoli” is a type of pizza which includes anchovies as the topping of choice. Anchovies are a type of saltwater forage fish which live in the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this, they are quite salty and can be a flavorful addition to pizza. However, I found the cheese and sauce drowned out the taste of them too much. They didn’t add anything to the pizza, and the entire meal tasted just like a normal margarita pizza. 

Win: French Onion Soup 

Paris, France 

I love French Onion Soup, so when I visited Paris, it was on the top of my list to try. It exceeded all my expectations; the soft bready croutons, the creamy cheese, and the richness of the onions perfectly combined for an amazing, iconic French dish. 

Fail: Squid Ink Risotto 

Nice, France 

I personally don’t think the squid ink added anything to the dish; the pasta was tasteless in my opinion except for the faint trace of salt. However, the overall look of the dish was very vibrant and distinctive. 

Win: Belgian Waffles 

Ghent, Belgium 

Belgian waffles were originally called Brussels waffles due to the origin of the dish. The name was changed in order to increase their popularity in the United States. The Belgian waffle is eaten with your hands with minimal toppings. The waffles are fluffy and dense, and you can find them in dessert shops and on every street corner in Belgium. 

Fail: Beef Tartar 

Bruges, Belgium 

Beef tartar, or raw ground beef, is one of France’s signature dishes. This steak tartar was served on bread with pesto and is considered a delicacy. I, however, did not like beef tartar that much; it was very bland. Also, to me, eating raw beef did not sit with me well. Even though multiple sources online tell me it is perfectly safe, I cannot get over the fact it is completely raw meat! 

Win: Dutch Pancake 

Utrecht, Netherlands 

Dutch pancakes, or pannenkoek, are large thin pancakes with a wide variety of topping ranging from sweet to savory. These pancakes are usually about a foot in diameter, covering the entire plate! I thought they were delicious and very different from the fluffy American pancake or the very thin French crepe to which I was accustomed. 

Fail: Liverwurst 

Amsterdam, Netherlands 

I will be perfectly honest: when I ordered this meal, I did not look at the menu too hard. I saw an entrée called “The Amsterdam”, and immediately thought “this must be a very traditional Dutch meal.” I did not expect to receive a plate of Liverwurst (which is a typical Dutch meal, just not what I was expecting). Liverwurst is a German sausage made from beef or pork liver, and let’s just say the waiter gave me a weird look when I ordered it which I only understood after I tried the sausage. Safe to say I will never order anything with liverwurst again. 

While my culinary journey is far from over, I am thankful for all the food that I have been able to taste and enjoy. I always recommend future students to stretch your culinary appetite as I have done! While you may not love everything you try, I believe you will enjoy the vast majority of food you eat here and will almost certainly return home with a new favorite dish or two. 

Top 5 Day Trips from GTE 

Written by Lilian

November 21, 2022

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

  1. Luxembourg 

Train Time from Metz: 1 Hour 

Number of Connections: Direct 

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

  1. Colmar 

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

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

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

3. Strasbourg 

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

Number of Connections: Direct 

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

  1. Paris 

Train time: 1.5 hours 

Number of Connections: Direct (with Eurail Seat Reservations) 

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

  1. Metz 

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

Regional French Food Tour around Metz 

Written By Lillian

November 14th, 2022

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

One of the best things about France is the cuisine. France has a wide diversity of food found all over its 12 regions. Follow this food tour in downtown Metz to learn about food from four of these regions! 

For breakfast, stop by Boulanger Poulard for iconic French pastries. The shop is touted for the best croissants and most traditional baguettes in the Moselle region! This bakery also serves whole grain and white bread and other pastries in addition to the croissant and pain au croissant. Fun fact: the croissant did not originate in France, but in Vienna, Austria. Historians say that they were heavily inspired from the Austria pastry kipferl. In the 19th century, they were introduced to Paris at La Boulangerie Viennoise and were made flakier than the original. Parisians called them croissants due to their crescent shape! Another interesting fact is that a lot of bakeries are called “viennoiseries” which means they sell Austrian-style baked goods such as croissants, pain au chocolat, and chausson aux pommes.  

Look how beautiful those pain au chocolat and croissants are! 

For lunch, head to Creperie Le Saint Malo which serves both savory and dessert crepes. Buckwheat crepes originated from the Brittany region of France. Urban legend says a housewife accidentally dropped porridge onto a hot flat pan and created the first crepe. The Brittany region is in the northwestern part of France and includes towns such as Saint-Malo and Rennes and is known for milk and butter, two of the ingredients of crepes! 

This buckwheat crepe was filled with tomatoes, cheese, ham, mushrooms, a fried egg, and a pat of butter on top. The restaurant also had crepes with ice cream, Nutella, potatoes, smoked salmon and even escargot! 

After admiring the Metz Cathedral, stop by L’Ours Hardi for dinner to taste food from the Rhône Alps region of France. The Rhône Alps region is known for its natural beauty being located in the French Alps and includes cities like Lyon, Grenoble, and Chamonix. Most of the food in this region is cheese based, so of course L’Ours Hardi serves fondue— a pot of cheese to dip pieces of bread and meat into— and raclette, a giant wheel of cheese that is scraped on a bed of potatoes, charcuterie, and cornichons.  

Fondue of Comté, Cantal, and French Emmental cheese with a plate of assorted charcuterie, and Spätzle. The cornichons are the little pickled cucumbers! 

After dinner, stop by Aux Merveilleux de Fred to try an iconic dessert originating from the French city Lille in the Hauts-de-France region. The Hauts-de-France region is located to the North of Paris and borders Belgium and includes cities such as Lille, Dunkirk, and Amiems. At Aux Merveilleaux de Fred, try a merveilleaux: a meringue-based cake with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  

While I only covered four establishments in downtown Metz, a huge variety of places which serve other French foods are located in the area. It is amazing how diverse (and delicious) French dishes can be, even if you are just eating within Metz. Every region in France is known for completely different foods and cultures. One can even go on a tour of the regions just for cheese! There are also a ton of regional foods from the Grand-Est region which houses Metz such as Quiche Lorraine, Mirabelle plums, and Madeleines! While I only have a couple weeks left in Metz, I know that I will be spending it continuing to find new dishes which I can learn to cook and bring back with me to the States. 

Fall Break Part 2: Rome

Written by Lillian

November 10th, 2022

For the second half of Spring Break, my friend and I took a train up to Rome from Naples! 

On the first day, we decided to hit some of Rome’s iconic historical sites; the first being the Colosseum. The Colosseum was used to host gladiator battles for the entertainment of the Roman citizens and the Emperor. At least once, the colosseum was used to host a naval battle which involved filling the entire arena with water from the Roman aqueducts. Then, prop ships would be floated on the water to simulate mock sea battles!  

To me, the most impressive thing about the Colosseum was the size: the entire stadium can host more than 50,000 people, and the arena was built in 72 AD, almost 2,000 years ago. The fact that this huge stadium is still standing with excellent structural integrity is a testament to Roman engineering. 

Next, we went to the Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill across the street. The forum was used as the central meeting area in Rome, and Capitoline Hill was used as the center of religious and political power. The Hill has multiple temples dedicated to the Roman Gods such as the Temple of Jupiter, the god of the sky and thunder; the Temple of Juno, the goddess of marriage and childbirth; and the Temple of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. 

Finally, we went to Pantheon, a former Roman temple and Catholic Church. The Pantheon has influenced a lot of modern day political and academic buildings such as the U.S. Capitol, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia. 

Left: Roman forum. Right: the Pantheon.

The next day, we hit the Trevi Fountain late at night which was super crowded. Just in the small plaza that held the fountain, there were at least a couple hundred people all squeezing to try and get a picture of the fountain. The late time that we got to the fountain did not dissuade any of its visitors. When we finally got to the front of the line, we tossed our coins— backs to the water, right hand over the left shoulder— into the fountain to make our wish. While iconic, we agreed that the crowds and wait time made the fountain not worth the visit. Because it was so crowded and stressful, we couldn’t even admire the architecture and marble sculptures. There are dozens of other fountains, monuments, and buildings that are just as gorgeous for half the crowds. However, the upside to the fountain is that all coins tossed into the fountain are donated to the Caritas Charity which funds international emergency relief programs, poverty and homelessness programs, and other programs. Every year, over $1.5 million is donated from the fountain! 

We also walked to the Vatican City which is thirty minutes from the Colosseum and the Forum. The Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent nation-state and is run by the Catholic Church. The state is also home to St. Peter’s Basilica: the largest church in the world at 15,160 square meters. The entire church is built in marble and ornately decorated in gold. It was gorgeous and impressive. 

Left: St. Peter’s Basilica from St. Angelo’s Castle. Right: the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In order to fuel all the walking around we did in Rome, we feasted on pasta and pizza for every meal. I tried all of the iconic Roman pastas including Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe. However, my favorite dish was the all’amatriciana. This dish consists of a tomato sauce base with bacon, pepper, and pecorino cheese. Another cool food fun fact: street Roman pizza is completely different from Napoleon pizza! They are made on large rectangular pans and your server cuts off rectangular pieces from the pie. These pieces are weighed, reheated in an oven, and served. You then pay for the weight of the pizza you selected! The pizza crust in general is a lot thicker and fluffier— almost like your pizza toppings are on a slice of toasted focaccia bread.

Stacciatella gelato, all’amatriciana pasta, buffalo mozzarella cheese and prosciutto, and Roman style pan pizza. Everything was super delicious!

Walking around Rome, you are surrounded by some of the most amazing architecture and engineering marvels. All of the buildings and monuments are so well preserved. The biggest issue that I found with Rome was that it was very touristy. Almost every shop that we walked around sold the same Roman Colosseum trinkets, gelato, and Roman dishes. However, it is very easy to stray from the busy streets into the quieter neighborhoods and admire the roman essence of architecture.

Fall Break Part One: Naples 

Written by Lillian

November 8th, 2022

For Fall break, I decided to head south like so many of my fellow Yellow Jackets–I went to Italy! The first half of my break was spent exploring Naples and the Sorrento Peninsula. 

On the first day, we headed to Sorrento from our AirBnb in Castellammare di Stabia. We walked to the Bagni Regina Giovanna, a secluded natural swimming hole near ruins of a Roman villa. Surrounded on three sides by limestone cliffs and a final side featuring a natural archway out to the sea, the cove was gorgeous. After swimming in the clear water, we headed back into the town of Sorrento to browse through the streets (and eat gelato). 

The gorgeous views of Sorrento. 

The next day at 9am, we hopped on a bus to Bomerano and began our five mile hike on the Path of the Gods. This trail follows the gorgeous Amalfi coastline, featuring an endless sea to our left and soaring, craggily cliffs to our right. We passed over small colorful oceanside towns beneath us and boats speeding along the Mediterranean. At the end of the trail, we made our way down the dozens of flights of stairs to the coast. Our calves were burning; it felt like the stairs would never end. 

The Path of the Gods hiking trail– absolutely breathtaking. 

After our long hike, we finally arrived in Positano which was built on terraces in the mountains right by the Sea. We stopped for pizza and headed down to the beach for a quick swim. Even though it was early November and late afternoon was starting to set in, people crammed into the remaining portions of the beach that the sun could reach and swam in the cold, refreshing water. In an effort to avoid some of the crowds, we walked a bit down the coast to Fornillo Beach. After swimming for a bit, we attempted to catch a ferry to Sorrento, but by the time we got to the harbor, the last of the boats for the day had already departed. Instead, we joined three other stranded travelers on a dizzying and rather dangerous taxi ride to Sorrento.  

Postcard worthy views of Positano at the end of the Path of the Gods. 

On our last day in Naples, we explored the ruins of Pompei— a roman settlement that was buried in thick layers of ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Fun fact: the volcanic ash did a great job of preserving the entire town and can give us a glimpse of Roman culture frozen in time. To me, the most surprising thing about Pompei is how large the settlement was. It’s also crazy how the suburbs of Naples are just built around Pompei; the archaeological excavation site is surrounded on all four sides by modern buildings, homes, and downtown Pompei. I would have thought that it would be located somewhere desolate— not in the middle of a bustling city! 

From left to right: the Teatro Grande (a horseshoe shaped Roman Theatre), one of the houses featuring many frescos preserved on the walls, Foro di Pompei (the Roman forum or the center of the city) with Mount Vesuvius behind the Temple of Jupiter. 

Aftwards, we were able to hike up Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on mainland Europe. The volcano is considered one of the most dangerous in the world because of the dense population that surrounds the base of the volcano and its high eruption rate. To get to the start of the hike, we took a 3€ bus ride to the ticket gates and then hiked another thirty minutes to the rim. If you want to hike to the top of Vesuvius, make sure to pre-book your entrance tickets online a couple days prior! 

The crater of Mount Vesuvius.  

Overall, it was nice to have a more relaxing time exploring all the facets of the Italian coast compared to the busyness of the three day weekends. Instead of quickly trying to hit the highlights, I explored some of the smaller port towns and spent more time relaxing. My biggest tip would be to always carry some emergency cash with you when traveling. The taxi cab from Positano to Sorrento would only accept cash payments and without that cab, we would have been stranded without a way to get back to our AirBnb.  

P.S. it would not be a trip to the Campaigna region in Italy without mentioning the food. Pizza was consumed in almost every meal, and I had a lot of fun choosing between the unique toppings they offered.  

Pizza was said to be invented in Naples! Shown here is a wide selection of pizza and pasta that I ate while in Italy. Top left going clockwise: a simple Margarita pizza, a pizza with walnut cream and fior di latte cheese, Spaghetti alle vongole a clam and mussels pasta, and a pizza with pumpkin sauce, prosciutto, and cheese. 

Packing for Europe: A Review of “Capsule Wardrobes” 

Written by Lillian

November 7th, 2022

A week before my plane departed to Paris, I was faced with the question all GTE students are asked: what on Earth do I pack? My plane ticket to Paris included one personal item, a carry-on bag, and one checked bag. With my clothes, personal items, toiletries, and space for all the souvenirs I plan on bringing back from Europe, my allotted space was very limited. 

After some thoughtful research online, I found information on a “Capsule Wardrobe”: a limited collection of interchangeable clothing pieces. A capsule wardrobe is made by constraining your wardrobe to a set number of different articles. These pieces you choose should be able to mix and match with any other piece in your wardrobe to create a large number of different and unique outfits. I thought that this type of wardrobe would be perfect for a semester abroad in Europe: it takes up less room in my suitcases since my number of clothing items are constrained, its far less stressful since I don’t have to worry about what to wear, and more economical as the utility from each article of clothing is increased. 

My capsule wardrobe consisted of: 

  • 5 Shirts 
  • 2 Sweaters 
  • 3 T-Shirts 
  • 2 Pairs of Jeans 
  • 1 Pair of Pants 
  • 1 Pair of Leggings 
  • 3 Pairs of Shorts 
  • 1 Belt 
  • 2 Dresses 
  • 1 Crewneck Sweatshirt 
  • 1 Puffy Jacket 
  • 1 Large Winter Coat 
  • 1 Rain Jacket 
  • 2 Pairs of Athletic Shorts 
  • 3 Athletic Shirts  
  • 1 Athletic Jacket 
  • 1 Bathing Suit 
  • 1 Pair of Boots 
  • 1 Pair of Tennis Shoes 
  • 1 Pair of Sandals 
  • 1 Pair of Canvas Shoes  
  • A million socks 

I was able to loosely pack everything into a single checked bag, along with all other non-clothing items I brought. I didn’t even bring a carry-on! Hopefully, this gives me a ton of packing space for when I go back into the States; I even brought an extra backpack to use as a carry-on if I needed it. 

Because every item is hand selected, I can ensure that all of my tops can match all of my bottoms and vice versa. For example, these pink shorts can be worn with almost all of my tops. 

So far, my capsule wardrobe has been able to stand up to many of the different travel plans that I have had. When traveling to Iceland, I was able to withstand the freezing cold by layering a couple of my heavier pieces. When traveling to an aerospace conference, I could pick and choose more professional looking pieces. Since each weekend is only three days, it’s very easy to find enough clothes for any occasion. Also, because my closet is so small, I don’t have to feel guilty about purchasing new items while abroad. Since I have been here, I have thrifted a few additional pieces in Belgium and France in order to supplement gaps in my wardrobe. The one downside of a capsule wardrobe has to be the laundry required. Since I don’t own a lot of clothes, I have to do my laundry at least once a week to have enough clean clothes to wear. But, the machines in Lafayette can only fit a weeks worth of clothes anyway, so I would probably have to use more machines if I washed more infrequently.  

Overall, by limiting my wardrobe to a set number of pieces, it has helped me pack less, initially and save space in my luggage. I also find myself wearing every piece of clothing I brought with me instead of letting any of them gather dust in my closet; every piece that I brought is important. I recommend anyone coming to GT Europe to try out this type of constrained wardrobe; you can copy the number of items I brought or find other lists online. I would also recommend fine tuning the clothing pieces to match your travel style, personal style, and destination weather (i.e. number of coats, athletic wear, etc.) but still keep the overall number of items constrained.