A Weekend in Northern Italy

Written by Lillian

October 3, 2022

When I was younger, my mom took my sister and me on a trip to Italy to explore our Catholic heritage. One of the cities on our itineraries was Venice, Italy, the city of canals. However, our experience was anything but pleasant: we got most of our entire travel savings pick-pocketed on the Rialto Bridge! And so Venice was definitely not my favorite city after that incident. Now that I am a little older and wiser, I decided to revisit the city. My travel group woke up bright and early to catch the train to Luxembourg to board a plane to Venice on Friday morning. When we got into the city, we took the water taxi to travel to the island. 

After disembarking, I was on the hunt for tiramisu. Tiramisu is my all-time favorite dessert, so I was looking for the real deal, and fun fact, tiramisu was said to be invented about 20 miles from Venice in the city of Treviso! It was a lot easier than I expected as literally every restaurant was selling some. We zig-zagged around the labyrinth of thin alleys and large squares that filled the island. In Venice, the canals take precedent: the alleys funnel pedestrians across the few bridges that cross the canals. We decided to go sight-seeing in St. Mark’s Plaza as it started drizzling. Since the plaza is below sea level, elevated walkways were set up to allow pedestrians to avoid walking in a few centimeter-deep puddles. There were a couple of orchestras playing for local cafés that filled the square with classical music. That paired with the dozens of umbrellas, the misty haze, and peacefully empty plaza made for such a cinematic aesthetic: it felt like I was in a romance movie waiting for a cloaked figure to emerge from the heavy fog to sweep me off my feet.  

The canals of Venice from one of the bridges.  

It was pouring by the time we got back to our hostel, but we still needed to find dinner. We ended up walking around mainland Venice in search of pizza with sit down service. After finding our fourth location and when our shoes were completely soaked through, we finally stopped at a place that had whole personal pizzas for €6. I tried this interesting combination of kebab, lettuce, and tomatoes on a margarita pizza. 

The next day, we headed back out to the island. We stopped at a café for cappuccinos and pastries. After dining for a little bit, we headed to ride in a pair of gondolas. The gondola service in Venice is set at a standard price based on the time of day— €80 for daytime and €100 for nighttime— for a maximum of five people per every 30 minutes. The gondoliers are required to wear the iconic black, blue, or red stripes to denote that they are part of this service; all other gondoliers are private and may cost differently. We floated down the Grand Canal as our gondolier explained the sites and history of Venice. He also told us that he has served as a gondolier for the past 26 years! The biggest stand out were the rising water levels because of the rain. There was not a lot of height to go under the bridges, and oftentimes the water would spill over the pathways and plaza from the canals showing the impact of rising sea levels on the small canal city.  

We learned from our gondalier that the city of Venice is actually very green although you cannot see it when walking through the alleys. Most of the gardens are private for use only by the residential blocks. 

After our ride, we went sunset searching on the Western portion of the island. The sunset was gorgeous: the buildings were splashed with the orange glow of the sun as the sun slowly retreated below the horizon. Once the sun disappeared completely, the city changed: the alleyways became quiet and dark, only being lit by a handful of streetlights. The canals that were once a bustle of activity carried singular gondolas that slowly and calmly drifted through the water. We stopped for pizza at Birraria La Corte which was recommended by our gondolier— we even saw him dining there at dinner time. 

The next day, we trained to Milan for a quick layover as we headed back to Metz. I will admit, Milan was way different than what I was expecting. The city was becoming very modern with tons of construction happening around every corner to build large skyscrapers and office buildings. One of the only relics of its historic and medieval past is a castle at its heart where wild cats roam around in the dry moats. At the Sforzesco Castle there was a farmers’ market funded by the agricultural society. There were booths of farmers selling their cheeses, olive oils, and tomato sauces. Even better, the entire museum and festival was free! Afterwards, we got some gelato (I got tiramisu gelato of course), and it was some of the best that I have had in Europe! 

From the top left going clockwise: a mochaccino and croissant, tiramisu gelato in Milan, the real-deal Italian tiramisu, a wide selection of gelato flavors at a vendor ranging from Stracciatella (milk with chocolate shavings) to Nocciola (hazelnut), Pizza Capriccioso (prosciutto-mushroom-artichoke) from Birraria La Corte, and spaghetti carbonara. 

Overall, Venice surprised me. After getting pickpocketed there when I was younger, I always dismissed the city. The small pieces that I remember from my childhood were always looked down on with contempt. During this trip, I really focused on paying attention to my belongings and my surroundings: which were gorgeous! I did not remember Venice being so pretty and navigating through the maze of winding streets was an adventure as I stumbled upon empty narrow alleyways and ducked through some of the low entryways. When night fell on the city, the streetlights cast a romantic glow on the colorful worn buildings and made the canals shimmer.  

Meeting the Mayor of Metz

Written by Lillian

September 28, 2022

On Wednesday, the students of GTL were invited to meet the Mayor of Metz with the other technology schools in Metz at the Metz football stadium. We all piled into a bus to take us to the football stadium across town. There was so much traffic within Metz we had to take the highway around the town. Once we got back into Metz, it was bumper to bumper traffic, and I don’t think that our long Coach bus helped traffic that much. It was quite interesting to see Metz from that high since I was so used to gliding through the city on foot or using the carefully planned bus routes to go around town. I would never have expected that Metz would have gridlocked traffic during rush hour!  

When we got to the football stadium, we were greeted by the other technology schools across Metz. One of the first things that I noticed was that Georgia Tech Lorraine was much more diverse in terms of gender distribution when compared to the other technology universities which are much more male dominated. We were also greeted by the Metz mascot: Graoully. According to legends, Graoully was a dragon that frightened children in the Moselle region who was defeated by Saint Chément, the first bishop of the city of Metz.  

After watching a Metz city hype video, the Mayor of Metz, François Grosdidier, gave a speech to all of the technology students to thank us for helping make Metz a more technology driven city. The mayor and other presenters all spoke in French, so I wasn’t unable to understand most of it until we were helped by some of the teachers and French students there. He went on to discuss some of the accomplishments the city has had. He also told us that because the 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris, Metz has been chosen to host the volleyball teams’ training for the games!

After all the speeches, the catering staff brought out all tons of French Hors d’oeuvres. There were long slices of cured meats, giant blocks of hard and soft cheeses, mango dipping sauce and figs, and a potato-cheese salad. They also had hot dogs with a cheese sauce topped to the eater’s desire with pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickled and fried onions. And of course, there had to be rolls and rolls of French bread. For dessert, there were frosted donuts and cranberry pound cake. All of the food was so decadent, and I wanted to try it all… I didn’t even realize you could have an entire meal of just little plates! For drinks, they had bottles of Lorraine Cola (a cola made by a local manufacturer with all its ingredients sourced from the Lorraine region) and apple juice. Luckily, GTL provided another shuttle back to the dorms after we all came out with food comas.  

It was really cool to see all the other engineering students from Metz gathered in one place, and compare and contrast our schools with theirs. This was a really unique experience, and the food really sent it to the next level!

Amsterdam: A Biker’s Paradise

Written by Lillian

September 23, 2022

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Amsterdam were the bikes. They were everywhere! Extensive bike storage racks dominated the landscape outside the central train station. Bike lanes lined every road— even the ones outside large industrial manufacturing plants and in the middle of nowhere. As you walk down the cobble streets, a chipper bell will sound and then a bike will whizz past you with its rider dressed in anything and everything from casual lounge wear to business suits and heels. It was jaw dropping. The biking culture here is unparalleled.

Strop-waffles, bikes, and colorful thin houses— what can be more Dutch?

To dip our feet into Dutch culture, my friends and I went on a free walking tour of Amsterdam. Many different cities offer free walking tours, but if you cannot find one, a company called GuruWalk offers tours with local guides. The stipulation is that guests will tip the guide 5-10€ each for their service. I thought that the free walking tour was a really nice way to see the sights of the city and learn about the history in a more interactive way when compared to museums. 

These flowered bikes can be found all over Amsterdam. They are created by the Flower Bike Man, Warren Gregory, to help his wife— who suffers from memory loss— locate her bike. Since then, he has decorated over 300 bikes to spread positive messages around the city to his fellow humans. You can sometimes find him riding equally colorful bikes around the city.

After learning about Dutch culture, we took the plunge: we rented bikes to fit in. However, instead of biking through the city, we headed over to the Zaanse Schans Windmills. The 45km (about 28 mi) round trip bike path took us to downtown Zaandam, through the Dutch countryside, and right to the windmills. At the windmills, we participated in some cheese tasting at a local shop, and I was able to taste cow, sheep, and goat cheeses of varying ages. They also had white coconut cheese, a bright green pesto cheese, and a blue lavender cheese. Safe to say that I have never seen a more diverse or colorful cheese collection anywhere else (however the cheese selection at CORA comes at a close second). I would highly recommend biking to the windmills. Biking in Amsterdam is iconic, but biking in the city can bring its own set of terrors as you dodge native bikers, tourists, and motor vehicles. This, paired with the new set of city biking rules, can lead to unnecessary stress for you and everyone around you. Biking along the quaint Dutch countryside, however, was much more relaxing, and you can explore much more of the Netherlands!

Bike in the Netherlands: check!

The next day, we headed out of Amsterdam to explore Utrecht, a small canal town with a tall belltower in the center. Walking around Utrecht gave me a different perspective of Dutch culture. Utrecht was certainly more calm than the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s busy canal lines streets and tourist filled plazas, and the streets were just as beautiful.

The picturesque Binnentuin Domkerk garden inside St. Martin’s Cathedral.

Looking back, I loved my time in the Netherlands. It was amazing to be able to eat such iconic Dutch food like waffles, pancakes, strop-waffles, and cheeses. My favorite activity was biking to the windmills. We made an entire day of slowly biking our way through the streets, stopping to take photos at every intersection and whenever we smelled something good wafting through the streets. The small rivers, pastures of happy cows, and thatched roof farms that lined the countryside were so pleasant to see, and all were only 30 minutes away from downtown Amsterdam!

International Astronautical Conference 2022

Written by Lillian

September 19th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad Astra!

How to Deal with Getting Sick at GTL

Written by Lillian

Friday, September 16th 2022

One of the worst things that can happen to you while Georgia Tech Lorraine is get sick. The stress of Georgia Tech classes and traveling every weekend paired with France’s colder temperatures approaching easily leads to sickness. This past weekend, I traveled to the German and Austrian Alps, and the weather was not cooperating at all. The entire weekend brought icy rain and bone chilling wind— something I was not prepared for. The single rain jacket I brought with me was definitely not enough. 

An Austrian Apfelstrudel from a Hutte: small hotels and restaurants located on the top of mountains. The only way to access it is to hike to it. It was super delicious, too bad the journey got me sick…

I got back to Metz with the sniffles, which slowly turned into a sneeze and a cough, which then turned into fever over the course of the week. The first thing I did was conduct a rapid test for COVID, and thankfully I was negative. However, since my room offers no temperature control and the only air circulation is provided by a single window being opened and closed, it was very hard to heal from a simple cold. If you got caught up in the same situation that I did, here are some recommendations to avoid becoming sick and how to get better:

Pharmacies: In France, you cannot purchase drugs at the supermarket. Instead, you have to go to devoted stores called Pharmacies to purchase these items. You can always recognize them via their green crosses. There is one in CORA, and the attendees are super nice and will have a high chance of speaking English! They have everything from ibuprofen and cough medicine to specialized cushioned shoes.

Pharmacie in CORA. Pharmacies always have the distinctive green cross, found all over Europe.

GTL Nurse: GTL has a nurse that visits the campus once a week for free consultation for all students. If you are unsure of the prescription that you would need at the pharmacies, make sure to talk to the nurse beforehand!

Masks: The only good thing to come out of COVID is that wearing face masks is more normalized. Help protect your fellow students by wearing face masks whenever you leave your room to go to the pharmacy.

Setting boundaries: One way to prevent getting sick is to set boundaries when traveling. Instead of leaving after class on Thursday and getting back to campus Monday morning before all of your classes start, give yourself time to recover before and after traveling. A lot of students will push themselves to maximize the amount of time traveling, but remember that train sleep is not the best type of sleep. The bumps and interesting temperature ranges trains can have make it very hard to sleep peacefully. By extension, overnight trains are not always the best solution especially if there are shorter ones during the day. Always give yourself at least 8 hours to sleep every day that is not on a train, and it will make you feel much better.

What to Expect During Your First Week at GTL

September 12, 2022

Written by Lillian

1. GTL shuttle

When you first arrive in Paris, at the Charles De Gaulle Airport, your first task is to locate the GTL shuttle. I highly recommend getting into contact with other GTL students prior to entering Paris in order to make this experience better, since finding the shuttle is very chaotic and hard to locate in the midst of being in a foreign country and finding your luggage. Thankfully, I was able to text other students in a GTL group chat to ask for more specific directions to the shuttle.

That afternoon and night offers students time to unpack their things and unwind from the day of traveling. Free pizza will be offered during a dorm building party for dinner. Some students will also take this time to shop for food and personal belongings. I would hold off on making large purchases during this time because students will get the opportunity to pick large items like trash cans and fans for free on Monday, when old GTL students dorm supplies are available to new GTL students. 

2. CORA tour

The next morning, students have the option of signing up for a tour of CORA: the local supermarket, which is more like a superstore in Metz. During this tour, you will learn where everything is located, and some helpful hints to make your shopping experience better. For example, in order to use a shopping cart, you need to insert a coin into the cart to unlock it. You will get that coin back when you return the cart. You also need to plastic wrap all large backpacks (purses and handbags excluded) when you enter the store to prevent theft. CORA, like many other French grocery stores, has a large bakery and cheese section.

3. Downtown Metz Tour

That afternoon, we headed into downtown Metz on a GTL supplied bus. We got an audio tour of the city while riding a small train-like shuttle. Once that was over, the student assistants freed us to explore the town ourselves. During this time, I went with a group of students to get cellular data plans at Free Mobile. One student spoke French so we were able to rely on him to make sure we got the plans we needed.

View of Downtown Metz. Imagine living in one of those apartments that look out onto the waterfront!

4. Orientation

Monday morning brings orientation! While there are no classes on Monday, students are required to attend orientation early that morning where we learn about building safety precautions, research abroad, and general GTL programs. Since there are no classes on Monday, this first week will have classes on Friday, so your first week’s travel plans will be impacted.

5. Campus Tour

On the Monday of your first week of classes, you will be given a tour of the GTL building as well as safety information about the building. Your class will be split into different tour groups to walk through the building at different times. While waiting for your group to start, you can rent a bike with Velomet for €15 who will visit GTL during that time. In order to rent a bike, you must bring a €200 deposit that you will receive when you turn your bike back in. Velomet only accepts cash deposits, so if you are in need of a bike, make sure to bring it to your orientation on Monday. GTL will also invite a local food truck that you can purchase lunch from.

6. Garage Sale

In the middle of your tour, you will have access to the Garage Sale, a room full of free items to grab from previous GTL students. Items include fans, brooms and mops, clothes bins and drying racks, trash cans, hangers, etc. Students have limited time and limited number of items that they can select during the garage sale in order to make it fair to all students; however, students in earlier tour groups will receive an advantage since they will choose their items first. Even though I was in the last group to choose items, I still was able to pick up a fan, cutting board, trash can, and clothes bin, so do not worry if you are in the same situation.

I was one of the last students that was able to go to the garage sale, and this is how much was still remaining

7. Grad Orientation

If you are a Masters or PHD student, you are required to attend a major specific orientation detailing your program at GTL. During this time, you learn about research and courses for your degree, and you can ask more grad school specific questions.

8. Dorm Tours

Students will also receive a tour of their dorm building after the tour of campus and learn about laundry facilities and trash separation. The washing machines in my building, Lafayette, include their own detergent. Fabric softeners and other scented products are not included. 

9. Leonardo Program

During orientation, you will learn about the Leonardo Program: a program headed by French teacher Sonia Seravan to explore the arts. This program has events that are free for students such as drawing classes with a local artist and speed dating events to meet your fellow Georgia Tech travelers. 

A GTL Student’s Cultural Guide to Oktoberfest

Written by Lillian

September 12th, 2022

Oktoberfest is a local German festival held in Bavaria, Germany. The festival origins come from a celebration of the marriage between King Louis I and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. While many regional festivals happen throughout the state, the main Oktoberfest happens in Munich at the end of September and early October. I had the opportunity to be guided through a regional Oktoberfest in Regensburg, Germany this past weekend by a native German. I will share some tips and tricks to make the most out of your time there!

Traditional Clothing

The most recognizable Oktoberfest tradition is the clothing. For men, one must dawn lederhosen (translates to leather pants) and a button up checkered shirt. Vests are also very common with plain button up shirts. Wool socks that stretch over the calves are common too!

For women, dirndls are the traditional women’s dress which consists of a blouse, dress, and apron. I will give a warning, quality dirndls will cost on the order of €100-200! In Munich, there are a couple of clothing stores that will sell lower quality ones or rent a much nicer one for €50. If you attend a smaller regional Oktoberfest, there will not be options for lower quality ones. You also don’t have to wear one if you are uncomfortable with it; women wearing lederhosen is perfectly acceptable too! 

Finally, you may see people walking around with clothespins on their shirts and blouses. These custom clips, called “Glubbal”, are engraved with sayings or nicknames of the wearer. They can be made and purchased at stores near the festivals. 

German Language in Bavaria 

In Germany, you greet someone by saying “Hallo” or “Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend”; however, in Bavaria, you greet someone using “Servus!”

Bavaria, Germany in German is “Bayern, Deutschland”. Bavaria is located in the south-east corner of Germany and is the largest German state by land mass. One of the major cities in Bavaria is Munich or “München” in German. 

Music

One of the main festivities of Oktoberfest are the Tents: large tents with live music and drinks. Upon entering a tent, locate an empty table. When the band starts, stand up on the benches: this will be your place for the next hour as you sing and dance along to the music. 

Traditional Oktoberfest music is played poka-style; with accordions, trumpets, electric guitars, and drums. Spot the lederhosen too!

While most of the songs that played were completely in German, including the Oktoberfest hit “Bayern, Des Samma Mia” (translates to “Bavarians, That’s What We Are”), usually the bands will interlace English songs as well. Some examples include “Don’t Stop Believing”, the “Cotton Eye Joe”, and even “I’m Blue”!

In Bavaria, FC Bayern is the most popular football club. Often times, the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” starts getting sung on stage and FC Bayern’s football chants get started in the crowd. It really is a sight to be seen, and is a cool connection to sports culture all around the world.

Food

A giant pretzel in front of the Ferris Wheel.

Some of the most iconic foods you can find at Oktoberfest are pretzels, gingerbread, and meat. Gingerbreads are usually sold in a heart shape with sayings such as “Ich liebe dich” (translates to “I love you”). These gingerbreads are bought for your significant other to wear around their neck for the entirety of the festival. They can also last quite a while after; most people keep them as souvenirs instead of eating them! You can also find a lot of meat at festivals such as bratwurst and schnitzel. The menus tend to offer portions of some animal (i.e 1/2 a chicken, 1/4 of a duck, etc.), so vegans and vegetarians beware!

The leg of a pig and a Kartoffelklöße (potato dumpling). In Germany, dumplings are not filled with anything, and instead are giant gnocchi like spheres.

Overall, my time in Germany was one to remember. I highly recommend you try and attend a local festival since they are much more rich with German culture, less touristy, and cheaper than the main festival in Munich. The one I went to was filled with college aged students too! Overall, it was very fun to experience a small snippet of German culture at Oktoberfest, and I recommend the experience for anyone coming to GTL in the Fall!

Finally!

Monday, September 5th, 2022

Written by Lillian

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

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

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

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

A well-earned ice cream 

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

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

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

A Sugar Rush in Belgium

August 28, 2022

Written by Lillian

We woke up at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday to catch a 6:00 A.M. train to Ghent, Belgium: a quaint, culture-filled town recommended to us by a graduate student. Traveling is so meticulous, especially when each train relies on one another to get you on each of your connections, and unfortunately, we ended up missing one of our connections because we hopped on the wrong train, so when we finally got to Ghent, we were all starving because of the mishaps and delays to the trip. But before we could stop to get something to eat, I spotted a thrift store near downtown Ghent. The thrift store organized its clothes into four categories: intellectuals (for professional and dark academia styles), strangers (for off-the-beaten path and one-of-a-kind statement pieces), flower child (for florals and cute styles), and rockers (for edgier and punk rock looks). We spent the next hour thrifting in Ghent’s neighborhoods in the various stores we stumbled upon; I was surprised at how many good items I could find! 

Thrift store in Ghent – such a wide range of clothes 

Finally, we stopped by a Portuguese Bakery to cure our hunger. We got Pastel de Natas, an egg custard tart pastry, which was super delicious. We also stopped to get Belgian fries loaded with beef, onions, mayonnaise, and gravy. We strolled a little further and stopped at a waffle shop. I dined on a Belgian waffle with Nutella and whipped cream. There was so much good food around every corner we turned, we couldn’t help but try it all.

When we finally got into downtown Ghent after our many diversions, we stumbled upon a couple of different local events: a Pokémon Go Festival, an Alice in Wonderland App & Cosplay Festival, an annual regatta, and a music festival. The city was teeming with life, and everyone that we saw was either dressed as the Mad Hatter, glued to their phone in search of Pokémon, or disembarking from their canoes. We decided to join the canoer’s on the water and take a boat tour of the city, and our captain spoke three different languages on the tour: English, French, and Dutch. He would repeat everything three times in the different languages for all of the patrons to understand. It was very impressive. We also learned that Ghent has the most number of universities in the county of Belgium; it makes sense why the thrifting scene was so good!

The river Lys that runs through the whole city. Anyone can use the river, so it is filled with boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders.

We dined on more authentic Belgian cuisine: cuberdon or Gentse neus  (“Ghent noses”). These noses are made of Arabic gum candy in the shape of a nose, and within its hard crust lies a soft and gelatinous filling. These candies originated from Ghent, and the two cart merchants from which you can buy the noses have a history of fierce rivalry which spans fist fights, merchant bans, and hefty fines.

Colorful Ghent Noses with an equally colorful history

Early the next day, we hopped on a train to Bruges, a town in Northwest Belgium. We spent the first couple of hours sightseeing and taking photos before the town woke up. This ended up being a good plan for us because midday brought so many tourists. It’s so interesting to see a city light up with people after having it to ourselves all morning. We decided to rent bikes and explore the river which encircles the city instead of getting caught up in the downtown crowds.

Bruges was inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. These gorgeous views definitely helped.

Then, we ate lunch in downtown Bruges. One thing that I found interesting was that it was really hard to find authentic Belgian cuisine. I found the same issue in Luxembourg too. Most of the food was French or interestingly enough–American! We did find many Belgian chocolatiers though— pralines were invented in Belgium and include a chocolate shell filled with softer fillings such as caramel, coffee, cream, and marzipan. These pralines can last about three months uneaten while plain, unfilled chocolates can last six; however, I fully know that these will barely last a week in my dorm!

Chocolatier in Bruges: there were tons of them in Belgium, at least two on every street!

Overall, it was very obvious to see and taste why Belgium is known for so many different foods. Over the course of these two days, I had a sugar overload from feasting on waffles, chocolates, and noses. I absolutely loved walking through the city of Ghent; it has all the charm of Bruges, but with a younger demographic, more lively social scene, and less tourists. In Bruges, I loved biking through the cobblestone roads, dodging the horse drawn carriages, and darting over the many picturesque bridges. My first weekend abroad was a success, and while I may still need more time getting used to the train system, I am looking forward to a more smooth sailing next weekend as I gain more skills on how to live and travel in Europe!