24 Hours in Copenhagen

Monday, March 14, 2022 | Written by Claire

After 21 hours of cancelled trains, freezing layovers, and cramped power naps, the beautiful Copenhagen skyline finally appeared in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief as I stretched out my limbs after standing on the fully reserved Danish train packed with rowdy teenagers hogging the bathroom to make Tiktoks. The journey there was nothing but chaotic. Our connecting train to Hamburg just magically disappeared into thin air and DeutschBahn just gave up on giving us housing for the night. So, we spent 2 hours bundled and starving in the Frankfurt station in Germany.

We left Thursday, arriving Friday afternoon at 4 PM then, we had all of Saturday to explore the city. We were there for a short, but pleasant time and there were several nuances about Danish society that made it characteristically different from any of the other places I’ve been to. 

Bikes: To make our time there more efficient, we rented bikes for the day! All of the online tips said Copenhagen is a bikeable city and they were not wrong! The city was built around biking. Massive travel lanes dedicated just for bikers were sometimes wider than the car lanes themselves, and each corner was equipped with a bikers-only traffic lights. Furthermore, not only were there actual turn lanes, but there were also massive sections on the metro for people to snag a spot on their short journey. The design of the metro was interesting. To fit the width of the bikes, the middle of each train cart bowed outwards to make extra space. Inside, you could park at least 6 or 7 bikes in one car, and there were also seats on the other side for passengers as well. Even on every street corner or marketplace, there would be hundreds of bikes parked in designated bike lots, creating an array of colors that are characteristically Danish.

Coffee Shops: We also stopped by a quaint café that doubled as a bookstore and cozy living room. As a group, we ordered out a bundle of cinnamon rolls, bread and butter, pain au chocolat, and several cups of espresso. The aesthetic was immaculate, and the huge shelves of books that canvased the entire wall made the vibe very homey. The café itself served the pastries on different colored plates, just as if we were to eat a quick snack in someone’s home. With some people there tapping away on their laptops or grabbing a quick caffeine fix for the long day, others were sitting at wooden benches, chatting away. The entire café had such a positive vibe that reminded me of home. 

Masks: One of the more “shocking” traits of Copenhagen was the lack of masks or any social distancing restrictions. On the train ride, as soon as we crossed the border out of Germany, everyone ripped off their masks and started bathing their faces in the warm sunlight that floated in from the windows. All the shops and restaurants had no mask mandates and hardly anyone was even wearing one, not even the elders. With young people hanging around the cannals eating smorrebrod and hot dogs, older people also walked around, hand in hand, just soaking up the liveliness of the city. It was indeed a beautiful scene to see, something that seemed straight out of a movie. Especially when the sun started to dip below the horizon, casting a pink hue across the sky and reflecting against the water, I found myself smiling as I enjoyed my last minutes of sunshine in Copenhagen before hopping on the 7 AM train the next morning. I’d say it was well worth it. 

Mid-Semester Reflection

Friday, March 4, 2022 | Written by Claire

After two months of living in France and studying at GTL, I’ve developed many new perceptions on how I’ve spent my time here. From being a student Monday through Wednesday and a full-time traveler throughout the weekend, it is difficult to imagine life as it was back when I was simply studying at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The rigorous and mundane routine of wake, eat, work, eat, sleep has swamped my college experience since 2019, and many times I’ve always wondered if stressing and working nonstop was the peak of life. And it definitely isn’t.

At GTL, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take time to travel across Europe, a place I never really considered to traverse before. I am grateful to have the time, energy, and resources to travel the way I have been and if I could have told my younger self one thing, it would be to embrace exploration in Europe. From large cities such as Paris, Berlin, and Madrid to small towns like Hallstatt and Como, I’ve seen a range of European lifestyles and utilized a handful of different languages just to get around. Every town is different, and the people have such different qualities region by region. It is mind boggling to see the development of cultural differentiation throughout history and how minute social cues or local habits change ever so slightly.  The thing that amazes me the most is the ease that comes with traveling within the EU. Hop on a train, and voila, you’re in a completely different world. The places I see, the dishes I eat, the people I hear- these are all the things I will cherish for a lifetime. Being able to hop across a border, whether it’s on foot or on train, is something I can only say I’ve had the chance to do thanks to GTL. 

However, while spending hours upon hours on trains, I find myself more and more exhausted every weekend. The further I go, the more stress I must bear trying to catch trains and praying connections don’t get cancelled. Many times, when I’m tired and cold to the bone sitting in the freezing Frankfurt train station I have unsettling emotions about why I’m stuck in that situation. On several weekends, I have been traveling just because it seemed like a waste of time not to. I travel sometimes because I feel obligated to take advantage of my Eurail pass and see random new things along the way. Many times, weekend plans are formed on the whim and many places I have went, I don’t have any real desire or excitement to go to. While it’s the dream traveling with my friends and experiencing all the weird things that comes with being in random places at 2 AM, I can get easily irritated by the noise and the chaos around me.

When I get into this state of mind, I always remind myself that health comes first. Tiring myself out just to get places I don’t really want to go to does no good. I think back to those moments at GT in Atlanta when I’ve just taken random walks at night just to go stare at the stars, longing to be elsewhere, yearning for a release of all my academic stress. Yet here I am. When I call my friends back at home, they always ask me about my travels and the new places I’ve seen on my trips. They’re envious of the lifestyle I’m living right now even as a student. Same with my parents. I often think of things I get to share with them every weekend, or perhaps a small souvenir special to the place just to bring back a small piece of my experience for them to try. I make vlogs and edit photos to remind myself of all the beautiful things I’ve seen on my trips so far, and the best part is that I get to share it with those I love back at home. So even when traveler’s weariness starts to hit, I know I should never take this semester for granted. It’s by far the most exciting, chaotic, stressful, and tiring period of my life, but all for the best reason. And I wouldn’t want to imagine my GTL experience in any other way.  


Traveling on a Budget: Fun Things to Do for Cheap 

Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Written by Claire

  1. Scootering

One of my favorite tricks for exploring big cities in a timely manner is to hop on scooters and zoom around place to place all day. The best part is that most European cities are fully equipped with bike lanes and parking spaces scattered around the city for your convenience. Not only will you be zooming around, weaving among the traffic, responsibly of course, but you will also be feeling the wind and hearing the city’s bustling life block by block. 

While being time efficient, you can also travel at your own pace without being charged. Hungry? Place your phone on the phone rack and take a ride to the nearest restaurant and pause your ride. Rates are also cheap by the hour. Some brands have activation rates for a euro that lasts you for the whole day. Others charge a few cents by the minute. From my experience, the cheapest brands are Bolts and Tiers, which are highly competitive against the traditional Birds or Limes. If you’re looking for a fun, cheap activity in the city that gets your adrenaline pumping, scooters might be your best bet!

2. Hiking 

For the nature enthusiasts, hiking is always a cheap option that you can tailor to your experiences and preferences. Many big cities in Europe are located next to mountainous regions or along the coast. For example, if you travel to Marseille in France, you can scale the Calanques for a whole day without spending a single cent. In many of the port cities, you can find rocky outcrops to bask in the sunlight or take a stroll along the beach. If you’re in Italy or Portugal, there are many lakes such as Lake Como or the Benagil Caves that you can spend your afternoon exploring. While extra activities such as mountain biking or sea kayaking may cost 10-30 euros, the views are spectacular and worth the cost. 

3. Museums 

As a student, you’re in luck. Many museums such as the Prado in Madrid are free for students on certain weekends. If they are not free, exhibition tickets are often sold at a discounted rate if you have your ISIC card on you. These museums often hold gems of modern, historical art, and they can eat up a whole day of activities if you’re interested. Not only are these museums specific to the region, they also have different exhibitions every month. 

4. Bakery Hopping 

For the foodies, a cheap way to try local foods is to go bakery hopping. Many small goodies cost one or two euros and are pretty filling. They also represent the local cuisine with each baked good. For example, in Faro, Portugal, we tried Portuguese egg tarts that are a euro and custard sponge cakes, which the locals were crazed about. In Italy, we also had cheap cannolis and pistachio buns for under a euro. In Como, they sold pastries by the bag, and we lived off them for only 7 euros throughout the entire day. 


A Traveler’s Best Friend: Transit Apps

Tuesday, March 1, 2022 | Written by Claire

When traveling around Europe from Metz, there are four essential apps you should use to maximize your travel limits and increase efficiency to make sure you can catch the next train, plane, or bus to your destination. Public transport will be your best friend for the next few months. Your dependence on trains, buses, and even city-friendly scooters will either stress you out entirely or make it a much easier to get around.

Eurrail: Global Pass

Before coming to Metz, I had doubts about getting the Eurrail Global Pass, which cost over $800 for just three months. Don’t make that mistake. Eurrail is your best bet when catching trains across Europe, to even as far as Hungary. Preloaded timetables and prices for seat reservations make it easy to check train departures and arrivals without Wi-Fi. Additionally, it is well worth its buck. For each individual leg, for example just from Metz to Strasbourg, the central hub for getting out of France, can cost upwards to $60-$100. The Eurrail pass includes uses for intercity, regional, and long-distance high-speed trains that can sometimes cost over $200 per journey. The pass can be activated any time from when you buy it. It can be life savers when your train has been delayed or cancelled so you can find the next way to your destination by looking at the preloaded information. While it can be inaccurate at times, 85% of the time it has everything you need for a smooth journey. 

Apple Maps/Google Maps/ Moovit: Transit 

After these few months of traveling extensively across Western Europe, it is a common trend to see that Apple Maps is very reliable for transportation routes, which include trains and local buses. You can set the time to when you would be scheduled to leave, so you can check whether lines would be running at certain hours. You can also see multiple routes on the map itself of train stations, stops, and other info desks to ensure that you are heading in the right direction. On the other hand, Google Maps has been more reliable for finding more obscure restaurants and their hours. They have the best updated information on local stores and can also link places to their reviews left by others on Travel Advisor or other sites. The Move It App is also a highly accurate, European-based transportation app that includes routes, departures, and arrivals in almost all European cities. This one is probably your best bet for smaller routes that may not be loaded in Apple or Google Maps, so it’s always a good idea to keep it on your phone as a backup. Moovit can be used in Metz as well, and it pretty spot on with the times. 

Tier: Scooters 

Scooters are a fun way to spend your time exploring the city without walking. While these scooters are limited to only bigger cities, they are still prevalent in most places that you go. The only catch is that each country tends to have different scooter companies. The most prevalent brands I’ve seen so far are Tier, Bird, Lime or Voi. Big cities in Germany and Spain have scooters, bikes, and even mopeds scattered across the city for your convenience. All it requires is an ID verification to make sure you’re over 18 and a confirmation number to start up your next scooter ride. There are also many referral codes that can be used for ride credit, so if you’re in a big group, make sure to refer others to get free rides for you and your friends!  

Bolt: Ride Sharing 

Like in the states, many people use apps for ride sharing, especially to and from airports or major train hubs. Taxis in certain high tourism areas may charge higher rates that are definite rip-offs, but when you’re desperate and looking for a quick way home, ride sharing is a guaranteed option… just depending on the app you are using. In Metz, Ubers are rare. There are only one or two drivers in the vicinity, and they are often late or inactive. Bolt is a commonly used app across Europe for the exact services that Uber has. They are also very cheap in comparison and when split amongst four people or a smaller group, it can be a quick, efficient way home after a long day of train hopping. 

For Nature Enthusiasts: Portugal’s Benagil Caves

Friday, February 25, 2022 | Written by Claire

Blue. That was all I could see for miles. Perched upon a sea kayak along the Benagil Coast in Lagos, Portugal, I paddled with all my might against the roaring waves that trailed behind the wake of a passing speed boat. To my right was an endless stretch of glistening turquoise waters, while to my left, giant white cliffs loomed into the sky. As the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks grew louder, so did the sound of hundreds of seagulls and pigeons, circling above a giant chasm of rocky shores. The Benagil Caves is a sight that everyone must see at least once in their lives. Not only does the crisp, clean, water hold such depth and color, the caves themselves are canvases of natural forces carved out in circular patterns over millions of years. 

At the Benagil Shore in Portugual, there are things fit for everyone who wants to see its pristine beauty. For those looking for a more relaxed activity, sunbathing or swimming along the coast is always an option. Sands in Portugual are more rusty-colored and coarse when compared to the white-sand beaches, but they’re clean and toasty, just enough for you to get a tan. For those looking for better views off the shore with minimal effort, taking one of their boat tours is the best option. They have speed boat tours every hour and in small groups, they take you on a cruise through caves and water holes where people normally wouldn’t be able to swim to. While you might get a splash here or there, you might be able to spot a whale or two on your excursion and you’ll be returning with a camera roll full of beautiful pictures and great memories for sure. 

If you want an up close and personal look at caves, go sea kayaking with a guided tour. Those people can help you get to certain landmarks such as the crocodile rock while telling you stories about how the rocks formed. Not only do these tour guides help you dock your kayaks, but they’ll also help you get back on board in case you flip! Sea Kayaking is a great way to be immersed in the natural beauty while paddling close to the water without getting drenched in the cold waters during the winter. You’ll get an adrenaline rush from racing through the waves and get a waft of cool, ocean breeze while basking in the warmth of the sunlight. 

Finally, for the ultimate adrenaline rush and to fuel your love for speed, you can go mountain biking across the southern coast where you can ride along the top of the cliffs and get a stunning aerial view.  There are trials for experienced and non-experienced riders of all ages and rental companies are super accommodating. If you’re going during the summer, make sure you have a reservation as tourism in Lagos will skyrocket. Mountain biking will give your legs a workout for sure, but the ups and downs of the coastal trails will get you flying out of your seat at times, so be careful! If you’re worried about getting lost, they also have many guided tours as well. But if not, don’t fret. There is a special app where you can load a pre-marked trail onto your phone so all you do is just follow along the path and then you’ll end up where you started, safe and sound. Each bike also comes with repair kits, locks, helmets, and tire pumps just in case you get a flat tire along the road, so you’re well prepared to face whatever comes your way!


Why GTL?

Thursday, February 23, 2022 | Written by Claire

Coming to GTL has been an astounding experience for me so far. Having switched study abroad programs last minute, I had my suspicions for how GTL would turn out; however, after living in France for over a month and having traveled to over 15 cities within the past few weekends, GTL has been life changing and I could not be more grateful for this special opportunity.  While traveling every weekend is fun, GTL is definitely for an acquired taste. Occasionally, I still have my lingering upset about not going to the other program, but in the long run, I’m confident that I’ve made the right decision, and it proves true every time I travel somewhere new and exciting. 

So, for those prospective students looking to come to GTL in the following semesters, here are some important aspects and culture of the program that you should consider before clicking the submit button on Atlas:

Major related classes

As a second-year Industrial Engineering student, I, quite frankly, do not have many classes I can really take for my major. Having satisfied all humanities and social sciences, I have found some Engineering Electives that I can round out my schedule with such as Physics and Wind Engineering. Most of the classes at GTL during the academic year are tailored for Electrical or Mechanical Engineers, with most of the classes 3000 and above. For those looking for research opportunities in robotics or other type of circuit-related labs, GTL has many opportunities and connections with teachers from Tech and outside of Tech. 

For those looking to fulfill humanities, there are countless history, international affairs, and economics classes that can count towards your core curricula, regardless of major or year. Specifically, Politics of the EU (INTA), Ethics (INTA), and History, Science, and  Technology of Modern Europe (HTS) have GT faculty-led field trips across France and into neighboring countries. These trips are perfect for those looking for a set travel group and a good way to explore the transportation methods across Europe during the first two weeks of the semester. 

Overall, from personal experience and feedback from other students in higher level engineering classes, the courses at GTL are more relaxed and have an easier flowing content distribution. Although the pace might be faster to cover all the material, GTL only has a four-day week system, so there will be much more free time to travel and do homework outside of class. 

Travel Ambitions 

Located in Metz, GTL is perfectly situated on the NE border of France and Germany, in just the right spot for reaching many high speeds train lines using the Eurail pass. For many weekends, I’ve been able to travel to Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Berlin, and even cities in Austria such as Hallstatt for free on overnight trains. It is also a good area to get to Belgium and Luxemburg on day trips due to frequent train lines in the region such as TGV. With four-day weeks and the campus being very small and situated away from downtown Metz, Georgia Tech Lorraine campus itself is actually quite mundane. On the weekdays when I’m not traveling, I’m mostly finishing my work, getting groceries, or doing my laundry in anticipation for the next trip during the weekend. 

If you’re not the type of person to travel and explore places outside your comfort zone, GTL is not the place for you. There will be many times when travel plans may get changed, cancelled, or delayed, and relying heavily on public transportation always comes with its downsides, so it’s typical to expect such bumps on the road when adjusting to life at GTL. If you’re easily stressed in these situations and don’t have the patience to plan out routes and schedules, it may be more of a hassle to come to GTL than not. 

Campus Culture 

When first arriving here, I was eager to meet a bunch of new friends and form lasting, bonding relationships with travel buddies and various friend groups. However, I was struck by the existing culture that traveled over to GTL from the main campus. As this is a second year and above oriented program, many people already come with designated friend groups from home. Often, they tend to stick together in travel groups during the weekend and are reluctant to branch out, even on campus. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few solid friends at GTL through mutuals so far, but every weekend, I find myself traveling with new people and even eventually ending contact with them during the weekday. 

There are several sport complexes that are open for those to play soccer and basketball, but all of those usually come with extra fees. There are rarely any clubs besides the average Student Government Association for students to get involved with GTL administration. Other than that, students tend to plan their own activities when not in class. 

Campus Cuisine

GTL has a dining hall for cheap: Crous. Its an inexpensive way to eat, with typical European style food options-bread, cheese, meat. I’m not a huge fan of the meals they provide there, so I usually take a quick run to Cora or Auchan, the neighboring mega-grocery stores right by the campus to get all of my cooking necessities I need to make meals for 4 days during the week. Food here is not cheap; in fact, it might actually be more expensive than the groceries I get at home, but it does offer you a chance for a balanced diet. Other than buying food to feed yourself, there are many Kebabs and even Asian restaurants for your enjoyment in downtown Metz that you can get to by tram, bus, or walking. Make sure to buy the month Le Metz pass for the best bang for your buck. 

Seafood in Spain

Monday, February 21, 2022 | Written by Claire

For spring break, I had the opportunity to hit numerous cities in Spain and Portugal. Other than the welcoming warmth of the sun, the beautifully adorned architecture, and the serene natural beauty on the coast, the food was also worth the lengthy travel time. If you’re a seafood lover, then you’re in luck!

Paella in Barcelona

One of the dishes I was most excited to try when traveling to Spain was their famous Paella. Having never tried or even seen the dish before, I could feel my mouth watering when I smelled the sizzling scent of seafood and rice at the door of the restaurant. The most popular Paella style is the one topped with shrimp, prawns, mussels, clams, and various vegetables such as bell peppers and onions. After being baked at high temperatures, the drizzle of oil and seafood soup on a fine layer of rice makes the perfect afternoon lunch along the beach with the cooling ocean breeze. Most of the time, since Paella is made in larger batches in a large pan, the food is to be shared amongst a few people. While the pan might look huge, don’t be fooled, it’s just the right amount to fill you up! You can even save some room for some extra tapas or dessert. 

Pulpo and Boatellas Tapas in Valencia

Another famous Spanish delicacy is the Pulpo or octopus with potatoes. Usually, they are served in smaller portions sprinkled with red spices and then drizzled in olive oil. With such neutral and little flavoring on the octopus slices, the natural taste of fresh octopus is brought out, paired with the tender, bouncy texture of pure octopus meat. Depending on the place you go, the meat has a drier texture with which you could bite chunks off easily while others have a chewier texture that is gummy in your mouth. The potatoes are also another story… While they are slightly sweet to the taste, they have a springy feel. Instead of becoming mush like a normal baked potato, these special Spanish potatos break off into smaller, chewier pieces, with incredible tenderness at the surface. 


If you happen to visit many of the traditional street markets, you will often find them selling mountains of fresh cuttlefish, squid, and prawns, so fresh that they’re often still twitching on the ice. At this one tapas bar, I ordered a plate of small cuttlefish for about 14 euros. It was literally the best dish I have tasted on all my trips thus far. As a seafood fanatic, I couldn’t help but to sink my teeth into the delicious, tender cuttlefish flesh. While most of the time, if you order the traditional fried squid, or calamari, the meat is usually pre-cut into rings. This dish however came with the full head, filled with tentacles as well. The garnish on top with lemon zest and olive oil added an extra seafood zing. It was one of the most tender and juiciest squid dishes I have ever had. If you find yourself in Sevilla, definitely pay a visit to La Tradicionale for big portions with reasonable prices.

GTL: Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming

Friday, February 18, 2022 | Written by Claire

  1. Long Coat Cliché 

Long coats are all the trend in France, especially since it’s cold and windy during the winter. In turn, to shield from the harsh cold while keeping stylish, almost all French people own a long coat, whether it be a trench or a puffer. When coming to France for the first time, it might be difficult to fit in, but as far as I’ve seen, if you wear a big, wool trench coat and walk around looking like you know what you’re doing, no one will think twice.  

2. Sunday Stall

Most shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays in observance of the Holy Day. Only a few convenience stores open for several hours in the morning to early afternoon. In smaller French cities, this tradition is implemented more often than bigger cities such as Paris, especially restaurants in tourist areas. 

3. Baguettes and Quiches Galore

Bakeries in Metz are famous for their fresh baguettes and quiches, which boast a variety of flavors such as fromage, salmon, and even spinach. Baguettes can be filled with various toppings such as ham, pesto, and tomatoes. When served fresh off the oven, the crispy melt of the cheese with the savory flavors blends in a delicious, mouth-watering mix of French authentic cuisine. While Paul’s is probably the nearest bakery to GTL, there are many others in Metz downtown that are the key to delicious baguettes and quiches.

4.  Grocery Store Rendezvous 

Sometimes when visiting the grocery store, just navigating the cheese and sausage section is a whole journey in and of itself. Finding what you want given the massive variety can be challenging, but it has its perks. The best cheese I’ve found so far is Comte, which is one of the most produced cheeses in France. But as far as sausages go, it’s best to widen your taste preference just to try some new flavors. Other than the things they have at the grocery store, the shopping culture is also slightly different. The French do not refrigerate their eggs and milk, so they can’t be found in the refrigerated aisles. Additionally, as the French government doesn’t allow the sale of packaged goods in bulk, shoppers are allowed to break open packages and take individual items. For example, if you see a pack of 6 milk jugs, you can break open the package and buy a singular milk jug. 

5. French!

This might be obvious, but it is nice to have some French under your belt before coming to France. While it’s not impossible to get around, in smaller cities, many people can understand English but, its best to communicate in French. In big tourist-oriented areas, English is usually an option, but in Metz or any other small French city, hearing English is rare. Even the train stations and grocery stores, all announcements and signs are said and written all in French. So, taking a French class is a great idea. 

6. Pocket Thefts

Getting pick pocketed in France is nothing of a rare occurrence. While Metz is relatively safer, traveling to Paris to catch train or flight connections can entail more caution than you would normally enforce. Out of the many GTL students that traverse Paris on the weekend, many have had their phones stolen or wallets snatched right under their noses. Pick pocket thieves use highly skilled and subtle tricks to allure your attention elsewhere. While you are intrigued by a dropped key ring or a peculiar scene on the streets, pick pocketer’s use these exact times to their advantage, so be careful and stay alert!

Sunkissed in Marseille

Monday, February 7, 2022 | Written by Claire

A seaside city in South France known for their diverse cuisine and cultural influence, Marseille was our escape from the cold, dreary weather of Metz, and a refreshing trip within the borders of France! When I walked off the train after a long, overnight haul, I came with no idea about what this place had to hold. All I was excited for was the 55-degree weather and a whole weekend of sunshine as promised by the weather app. As we began to explore the city and trek across the empty streets at 6:30 AM, I realized that Marseille had so much culture and excitement to offer .

The skies were a baby pink and pastel blue when we reached the Notre-Dame de la Garde, perched upon a hill overlooking the city. The view was breath-taking. The clear blue waters of the Mediterranean melted into the gentle hues of the sky to create a glowing aura across the land. Against the beautiful backdrop, the city started to wake from its slumber as people slowly filled the streets, each claiming a pastry for a quick breakfast. The random collection of buildings, homes, and even soccer fields created an interesting puzzle of red roofs, white columns, and green patches of land. As I stood along an overlook, I took a deep breath of crisp morning air just as the church clock began to strike. The sound of the resounding gongs and the squawking birds paired with the stunning view and peaceful scenery painted the ideal picture of Marseille into my memory, one so different from any others.

The influence of the Mediterranean created an interesting scene change that spawned new foods, architecture, and social systems. This specific weekend, however, the ongoing strikes in France began to take a toll on the city itself. Unlike the streets of Metz, the buildings were a rugged beige or crème color, often marked with graffiti and other stickers and posters. The streets, different from the typical French wide-set cobblestone, were often narrow, dingy, and littered with cigarette butts and beer cans. Mounds of trash pilled on the sides of the road, oozing, and giving off unpleasant odors. The anti-vax strikes of trash workers in Marseille left the city in rubbish for the weekend, giving it a very different outlook than the pristine impression I saw just an hour ago from the Notre Dame de la Garde. I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the graffiti covered streets in Marseille, but here is one I’ve found online. These types of streets are common around the city center.
The next morning, we took a trip to Parc National de Calanques, an area known for famous hikes, clear waters, and sea sports. To get there, we had to take a train to Cassis, another small seaport city just 28 mins from Marseille. The weather couldn’t have been better. With the sun casting a warm blanket, the white cliffs of the Calanques became the ideal hike. Eventually, I had to shed some layers down to a tank top to keep myself from sweating into my leather jacket. The hike took at least four hours, filled with careful walks on off-beat gravel paths, climbs down stone faces, and half-jogs to avoid slipping on loose rocks. The trail snaked along the coast where we could see paddle boarders and kayakers taking their time across the clear, turquoise water. Others, unequipped, simply stripped down and jumped in, stroking along the small waves and into open water. The white sanded beaches were lined with sun bathers, young and old. Families picnicked near the waterfront with baskets of sandwiches and fruits. The atmosphere was joyful under the warm sun. By the end of the hike, exhausted yet satisfied, we all spread out across the rocks to enjoy some of the remnants of the setting sun before the world falls dark.


Train Thoughts

Sunday, February 6, 2022 | Written by Claire

A small glimpse of what some of the train-cars look like in Europe.

Traveling every weekend across Europe, I’ve found myself on trains more often than not, hopping from station to station and watching the world fly by at the blink of an eye. Whether it’s an early morning ride or a late-night trek, the time on the train becomes a bubble, shielded from reality. Traveling at over 250 kilometers per hour on the TGV trains feels a lot smoother than I thought. Aside from the occasional bumps from a track change or a wobble from the rush of a passing train, the feeling of stability and versatility is like no other. As the views from the window slowly merge into a blur, I find myself thinking, leaning back into my seat, and letting my thoughts run wild.

The train itself is a portal, transporting itself in and out of society as it roars past small towns and big cities. With each station, I catch a glimpse of daily life along the way. From one to another, minute details begin to emerge that make these small cities so different yet so close together. The architecture, featuring brown and red patterns that crisscross roofs and windowpanes, make small villages distinctly German, while the yellow façade of stone walls next to cobblestone streets highlight French taste. The surroundings that lie beyond the cities also provide clues into daily life. Whether it’s a large stretch of farmland clustered with cows in rural areas, or small stables of miniature horses huddled together in the snow, every scene is a reminder of the intricate and complex nature of cultural relativity and their relationships within societies across the globe. As I sit against the window, just watching the last flicker of light before the sun dips under the horizon, I find myself in awe at the beauty of humanity and the sheer differences that have developed over time. Back at home, it’s difficult to see so many defined cultures within borders in back-to-back succession; yet here, on each train ride, those occasions are far from rare. 

As the world fades into darkness, I start to notice the people around me: the man dressed in the trench-coat on the phone, the woman completing a sudoku puzzle on the table car to the right, the girl frantically typing away on her laptop. I start to hear the myriad of different languages that travel throughout the car: to my left, a man takes a call in English, complaining about his broken thermostat at home, to my right, a woman chats away in French with her friends, and to my rear, a man mumbles away in German. The exposure to so many different cultures and languages in just one small train car presents the global connectivity that makes up Europe today. It has become a hub where people blend into one, united in mutual respect and understanding for each other’s differences. To me, this cultural mix is one that is vastly different from the “mix” I’ve seen back at home. Here, while people are together as one, they are still defined by distinct nationalities, experiences, and perspectives that make them utterly unique from those sitting around them. After experiencing such interpersonal relations with so many people, I’ve come to see the reason for such fragmentation in Europe and how they’ve remained dignified in their own social schemes for centuries on end. 

But what boggles me the most is that among the millions of people that traverse the trains, each person has a story, a life behind the mask that hides their face from the rest of the world. Each person has a name, an experience like no other. It’s a reminder of how small I truly am, a speck among billions, a mere contribution to the globe. As I near the next station, I hear the jingle of the announcements and the screech of metal against metal as the train slows to a halt. The technological innovation of the high-speed train itself works wonders, a feat beyond my comprehension. The internal mechanism that hauls hundreds of thousands of tons is an engineering marvel like no other. Quiet and stealthy, shooting along the tracks, the high-speed trains cut through the air like a feather, plowing through rain, ice, or snow. The tracks themselves crisscrossing like a maze that sets the journey onwards. Just a slight tilt away from the platform brings us across mountainous terrain and rolling hills. Yet, I sit stagnant, inside the train car in places I could never end up myself. With the train speeding across the country land, I can’t help but be thankful of an opportunity like this to simply step off the platform and into a new dimension where I could end up thousands of miles away in a blink of an eye.