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Category: Travels (Page 1 of 13)

Day Trips Are Delightful

This past weekend was the first weekend that I stayed in Metz since the start of GTL. On Friday I went on a day trip to Luxembourg, and on Saturday to Nancy and Colmar, but at night I came home to my blissfully familiar Lafayette dorm. I’ve loved all of the adventures I’ve had and the gallivanting around Europe that I’ve done so far, but after a busy and stressful week packed with three midterms, I was very ready to have a calmer, more chill weekend. It was quite refreshing not to have to worry about the usual travelling concerns, like lodgings, train reservations and schedules, packing my backpack within an inch of its life, and inevitably forgetting my pajamas.

Our hearts may have been set on the hot chocolate, but these beautiful rainbow-colored truffles were enticing as well.

Pear cinnamon isn’t a flavor combination I would ever have thought of for hot chocolate, but I’m glad someone did because it was marvelous!

It was a beautiful day as we walked around Luxembourg after our short morning train ride. Our first and most imperative stop was at The Chocolate House! They had hot chocolate spoons in a massive variety of strange and wonderful flavors, so we ordered some with hot milk and stirred them until they melted into perfectly delicious hot cocoa. After wandering the city and taking a nice nap in a sunny park, we decided to go to the Mudam, the museum of modern art in Luxembourg. This was definitely one of the coolest museums I’ve seen thus far. (And also free for students! Hooray!) It’s situated on top of an old fort, Fort Thüngen, and the juxtaposition of the ancient brick walls with the sleek architecture of the museum created a very neat aesthetic. The main exhibition was a series of kinetic sculptures themed around wind and water called Spaceship,by Susumu Shingu. My favorite piece was this fascinating moving water sculpture, which we sat and watched, mesmerized, for at least ten minutes.

This is only one side of an amazing sculpture we saw at the Mudam. As you can see, it was a conglomeration of all sorts of random things, including plastic plants, yarn, water, sticks, a fan, some tea, pebbles, etc. Some parts of it moved, too!

The next day, on Saturday, we went to Nancy! It was a lovely city, with lots of gold leaf and casually ornate facades and gates. First we ventured into the city’s cathedral, something I always like to do when exploring a new city. While Gothic cathedrals obviously share many similarities, each one has its own personality and character, and it’s always very calming and beautiful to amble along the ambulatory and look at the stained glass. Later, we stumbled upon a Japanese botanical garden exhibit in a square, complete with intricate sculptures, flowers, a koi pond, and many bonsai trees. It was incredibly beautiful, and it was wonderful to see the local residents enjoying the public art as much as we did.

I really love plants, especially succulents and bonsai trees, so stumbling upon this botanical garden in the middle of Nancy that had both of those things was the most pleasant of pleasant surprises!

After having a hearty lunch at a pizza place, we power-walked to the train station to avoid missing our train to Colmar. There, we wandered around the old town and admired the beautiful houses, cobblestone streets, picturesque canals, and innumerable dogs. We ate some yummy crepes and spent lots of time sitting in a park, just talking and people-watching as a group of teenagers did tricks on their bikes and as children played nearby in a fountain. On the whole it was a lovely, relaxing weekend to explore interesting cities in closer proximity to our home in Metz!

Colmar was just as cute as you would hope an old French town would be (it reminded me a bit of the villagee from Beauty and the Beast!).

Nice is Nice!

The picture speaks for itself!

I stepped off the train in Nice, France and was greeted with moisture in the air, people walking around wearing summer clothes, and surrounded by multi-colored buildings and bustling streets. The city is a dream summer location spot. And the deeper we made it into the city, the more I started to smell the beach breeze in the air. I was so happy to be in a place that did not frown upon shorts and sandals, being able to dive in the cool water, and just have a great time.

Even though the train ride to Nice was 9 hours long, that did not stop my excitement. The first thing I did was eat delicious homemade Italian pasta, and go on the pebble-covered beach! The beach was beautiful: the water was a glistening turquoise color, it was surrounded by vibrant colored houses and rocks cascading up the rocks, and people of all ages walked along the beach. Later on that afternoon my friends and I ate the best gelato ever, saw a street show with a man jumping over fire, and enjoyed the nightlife in Nice.

The next day, I took a monumental step in my traveling journey as I visited another country on my own. After basking in the sun at the beach and eating even more Italian food, I walked into the train station in Nice alone to head to Monaco! The train was less than 30 minutes away from Nice; I began my little journey to one of the most beautiful, expensive places in the world. Getting off the train in Monaco, I felt independent, happy, and nervous about what to expect exploring the city on my own. I didn’t have anyone else making suggestions on which ways to turn or what to do. It was just me, and what I wanted to do! It felt great walking down the streets seeing hidden monuments along the way, stopping and taking pictures, soaking in the scenery, and wandering around. Never once in my life have I felt so unattached from the rest of the world and complete at the same time. It felt awesome to be able to discover something new on my own!

The famous casino Monte Carlo in Monaco.

While in Monaco, I passed by the famous Monte Carlo Casino, walked through the Princesse Grace Rose Garden, walked past people casually cruising around in Ferrari’s and walking around with Gucci logos dripping from every piece of clothing they were wearing, asked other tourists to take my picture, and sat on the small pebbles of Larovette Beach. My favorite part of my solo travel day trip was that I never felt out of place or uncomfortable; I felt like a tourist enjoying my surroundings. While I was there, I even went to Starbucks to get a peach citrus green tea! Something I was surprised to see was the plant life being a combination of desert plants and lush greenery.


As my trip in Nice came to a close, I was able to shimmy my way throughout dinner as a musician and singer performed in the Mexican Restaurant we ate at, eat more gelato, hang out with other American students traveling abroad, and go shopping along the main strip. Remember how I said I fell in love with Paris a few weeks ago? Well, Nice comes in as a close second. I loved the culture of the city as it felt fun, carefree, and peaceful! When leaving Nice, I rolled past the clear blue water, white and orange houses, cacti, and rocky mountains covered in a lush green terrine. Heading back to GTL, I felt more relaxed than I did when I left. I had come to realize that even though planning trips can be stressful at times with having to make reservations, finding places to stay, and getting studying and coursework is done before leaving, it is relaxing to get away and truly fulfill the study abroad experience.

Magic in Munich – Experiencing Oktoberfest

During the third weekend of September, I found myself in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest! (Quite ironically, in my opinion, but who am I to argue with tradition and warm September weather?) It seemed like half of Georgia Tech-Lorraine was going as well—I myself was staying in a 20-person AirBNB occupied entirely by GTL students, and I saw many others, both undergraduate and graduate students, on the trains to and from Munich.

On Saturday morning, the first day of the festival, we went to see the opening parade, which led through the city and ended on the Oktoberfest grounds where the Mayor of Munich would officially commence the celebrations. It was a lively and fun time: the procession included marching bands playing lively anthems, countless people dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, many horse-drawn carriages, and, incidentally, one cow-drawn carriage.

After the parade ended, we followed the steadily streaming crowd towards the massive Oktoberfest grounds. The huge rides and attractions, the colorful food stands emanating delicious smells, the pervasive souvenir shops and the masses of humanity—all of it reminded me of the state fairs I’d been to back in the United States. The difference was that everything here was steeped in German culture. Instead of shorts and t-shirts, everywhere we looked we saw dirndls and lederhosen. Instead of corn dogs, cotton candy, and endless fried concoctions, the food stands were brimming with schnitzel, pretzels, and gingerbread. Amidst all these Bavarian traditions, however, Oktoberfest was easily one of the most touristy destinations I’ve visited. As we wandered through the crowds, I heard English being spoken as often as not.

As the rides were quite expensive, we decided that we only wanted to try one; so, naturally, we needed to choose the best and craziest one to satisfy our thrill-seeking. The Ferris wheel, rollercoasters, and merry-go-rounds were too mundane—we settled instead on a ridiculous, crazily spinning contraption that looked like a cross between a pendulum and a wagon wheel. Upon vaguely googling this to try to find out what it was, I discovered that there’s a list of carnival rides on Wikipedia! Ours was most similar to one called the Top Scan. I decided to see if I could spend the whole ride with my eyes open as the world spun around me (to test my future astronaut potential), an idea that was actually far more fun and far less nauseating than I anticipated!

The food was by far one of the best parts not just of Oktoberfest, but of my Munich experience in general. At the festival, we tried curryworst, a spicy saucy sausage on a bun that proved incredibly messy to eat but very yummy nonetheless. Our other fair fare (hehe) included apple funnel cake, gingerbread, frites, and a beautiful chocolate covered apple. On the Sunday morning before we left, we walked to an unassuming bakery a few blocks from where we were staying and got sandwiches and pastries, and I had one of the most delicious chocolate-filled donuts I’ve ever tasted. Finally, as we prepared to depart from the Munich train station, I realized my fatal mistake: I had come all this way to Germany and failed to eat a pretzel! I got one for the road before we left and ate it on the train, satisfied with the wonderful taste of Munich that this weekend had given me.

 

Passing Time on Trains and Travels

Throughout the many train trips, bus rides, and long walks that take place as Georgia Tech Lorraine students explore Europe, there are endless ways to pass the time with ones traveling companions. I’ve had tons of excellent organic conversations with people on my excursions so far, but some of my best memories have come from playing games with my friends as we relax on trains or wander cities.

It’s hard to get photographic evidence of verbal games, so here’s a picture of the sunrise as seen from my room in Lafayette, another place where I’ve had great times and conversations with friends!

One of my personal favorites is a word game that my friends and I play quite frequently, called Contact. Contact is a bit hard to explain without actually playing it, but basically it involves trying to guess a word that someone has come up with as you incrementally learn more letters. My friend had given us six letters of the word: c-a-r-b-o-n, but we had exhausted our chemistry knowledge—it wasn’t carbonation, carbonic acid, or any other element-related term. We resorted to coming up with ridiculous car puns to try to think of words. What do you call a tiny tree in a vehicle? A car-bonsai! Obviously, these answers were unsuccessful, and the word eventually turned out to be “carbonara,” but they certainly provided their fair share of hilarity!

 Another great pastime was born out of desperation and travel woes. On our very first weekend of travel, after trying to catch a train that apparently didn’t exist, my friend and I became stranded overnight in a tiny French town with basically nothing but the clothes on our backs, our dead phones, and, luckily, my notebook and pen. Naturally, as we waited all morning for another train that wouldn’t arrive until noon, we decided to write limericks together! (As one does.) Each of us would alternate contributing a line, and we ended up composing eight masterworks, most of them themed around our sorry plight. Here’s the first one we wrote, and my personal favorite:

     Delirious girls at the station,

     Were filled with a great consternation.

     They wanted to go,

     But their train didn’t show,

     So they’re stuck on forever vacation.

Then there’s Make It or Break It, which is where you present someone with a scenario where they’ve met their soulmate, who’s perfect except for one flaw, and they’re asked if that flaw is a dealbreaker. They’re perfect for you in every way, except they can only ever walk backwards. Or, they’re perfect for you, but they can only speak in Justin Bieber lyrics. (These seemed mutually exclusive to me. No offense to any of you Beliebers out there.) This game is both a funny way to learn about new people and a great source of thought experiments. For instance, your soulmate is perfect, except all their hair is grass—do they cut their hair with a tiny lawn mower?

My favorite part about all these games is that they all involve creativity, often laughter, and usually learning something new about someone in the mix!

Stepping out of My Comfort Zone in London

The London Eye and The London Aquarium

The best thing that I have learned to do since being in Europe  is stepping out of my comfort zone when traveling, realizing every place I travel to is unique and incomparable and going with the flow of things. During my trip to London, I had the opportunity to remind myself of the lessons I have learned over this semester about not being afraid to step out of my comfort zone. London is a place I always dreamed of traveling to since I was younger; I dreamed of peeking my head out of a quaint, red telephone booth and being surrounded by British accents. From my visit, I was able to live my dream and also be faced with a few realities that come along with traveling such as rainy days and changing plans.

My first day in London was jam-packed with tourist locations, sightseeing, and yummy food. Arriving in London, I expected to be surrounded by thick British accents while standing across from the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben. What I did see and hear was slightly different from what I expected: Big Ben was completely covered in metal ladders and construction equipment, and the British accents I heard were nearly what I thought they would be (they were the usually more diverse accents of tourists). Even though I was not able to see Big Benin its full glory, I did see the London Eye, Parliament and Parliament Square, and take my cliché picture in a telephone booth. It was also exciting to visit the Buckingham Palace and see the British flag flying high above the palace, indicating the Queen was home. The best part about the first day was going to Chinatown! I walked under the little red lanterns that decorated the sky, and saw Asian cuisine and shops and live street performances. That first night, I was able to see London come alive at night. Another fun thing that I did that night was going to M&M World! Even though I am not much of a chocolate person, I could not resist creating my personal multi-colored M&M goodie bag.

Buckingham Palace (the Queen was home!)

When visiting London, I was able to eat delicious food and experience the best that the city has to offer. Some of the most relaxing and interesting places to visit were: Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner; seeing Harry Potter fans walk around with glee at Platform 9 3/4; visiting an exhibition on women’s suffrage in Parliament; browsing through Liberty, the shopping center that inspired Oscar Wilde; seeing infamous artwork in the National Gallery; and strolling in Piccadilly Circus. While I was there, I ate food from different cuisines; I had sweet and sour chicken at a highly rated Chinese restaurant, a traditional flavored infused Sri Lankan lunch, and breakfast in a modern café near Leicester Square.

Chinatown

Liberty Shopping Center

When traveling to different places, I highly recommend finding hidden gems in the city and not being afraid to ask locals what to do! The second day of my trip in London started out gloomy, rainy and slightly disappointing as the places I visited either were booked, expensive, or obstructed from a good view with the rain. Here is where going with the flow and exploring different activities comes in with traveling! That morning after regrouping with coffee, I decided to break away from the group I was traveling with for an hour to visit Leadenhall Market. As I walked under the overhang of the closed market, I was in awe at the beautiful architecture of the market, photographers taking advantage of its emptiness, and embraced the peace of the market. While I was there, I able to get a picture of myself taken by young filmmakers and photographers, and also get advice from them on the best things to do in London from a local perspective. As a result of having a 10-minute conversation with some people and asking for a picture, I was able to figure out what to do for the rest of the day in London!

While London is known for royalty, Winston Churchill, and landmarks like Big Ben, it has a lot more to offer than just that. This trip was good for me because it reminded me to not compare places that I travel to on a ranking scale. Every place, culture, and experience is different and that is what makes traveling such a great experience! At the end of my adventures in London, I was able to realize this and overall look at the experience as something unique on its own.

A Very Nice Time

Perhaps the most pun-inducing travel destination there is, Nice, France certainly lives up to its name. We had a wonderful time there, and I could describe just about everything we did as nice, but for the sake of you readers I’ll try my best to curb my pun-making tendencies and use some more creative adjectives.

The three of us began our journey on Friday, meeting up with a friend in Paris on our way. I attempted to do my electromagnetics homework on the 6-hour train ride from Paris to Nice, a task that got increasingly more difficult as the tantalizing sea waters and beaches came into view, but somehow I managed it. Our AirBNB was a cute apartment that was very close to the train station and which had yet another confusing European door. We didn’t know it then because our host let us in, but we would spend ten minutes later that night trying to decipher its mysteries before finally arriving at the right combination of key turns and black magic for it to open at last.

The breathtaking sunset over the sea and the city. The ocean waves were mesmerizing to watch.

After depositing our bags, we walked down through the city to the coast to stroll along the rock beaches and climb the castle on the hill (yes, like the Ed Sheeran song). Our calves were burning after walking up so many stairs, but the incredible view was worth it, and we sat at the top of the tower for some time just watching the sun sink below the horizon.

Stone beaches are lovely in a different sort of way than sand beaches—there’s something soothing about sitting among so many smooth rocks that reminds me of meditation gardens. Plus you don’t have to clean your feet afterwards!

Upon our descent, we began looking for a place to eat, and we stumbled upon a street occupied entirely by restaurants, each one much like the next and advertising either Italian food, seafood, or some combination of both. Because there was so much competition, each restaurant had waiters standing outside for the sole purpose of talking to pedestrians and trying to get them to come in (which was stressful for both us and them) and we ended up choosing one pretty arbitrarily. Luckily for us, it ended up being delicious—by this point, I’ve been in France long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by incredible bread, but this definitely had me contemplating the morality of smuggling the basket away in my purse. (You could say it was…inbreadible?)

The next morning, we took a bus from Nice to a lovely town called Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and took the 6 mile walk around the peninsula there. It was absolutely stunning; the rocky path wound up and down through the cliffs along the coast, through trees and around tiny inlets. A bit of the way through, we stopped at a tiny little platform near the water where a few people were swimming and had a picnic, the latter of which I now consider a staple of my GTL experience. There have been many occasions during our travels where we’ve wandered a Carrefour or local supermarket, each person picking up one or two things to share, and then we find a park or a bench or a train to share in our makeshift feast. Truly, a baguette, some apples, some brie and good company is really all you need to have a wonderful meal.

The stone cliffs and the forest were quite a sight to behold. If you look carefully on the left, you can see the walkway railing and the path jutting out of the cliff.

The rest of the day was just as marvelous as the beginning, from the views on the rest of the hike, to swimming on the stone beaches, to getting ice cream as we walked back to the bus stop. One of my favorite parts of the trip, though, and about all my travels, really, is sharing the journey with friends. Whether you’ve known each other for ages or you’ve only just met, sharing food, sharing stories, sharing awe and excitement in whatever new experience is just around the corner is one of the best things I could ask for, and I can’t wait to share more travels with friends old and new during the rest of my time at GTL!

An Abundance of Art in France

This was one of my favorite pieces at the color exhibit at Le Pompidou. I like it because although it isn’t supposed to be a picture of anything in particular, I can stare at it for hours and keep finding new images within the abstract shapes.

As of this weekend, I have now been in France for over a month! In that time, I’ve somehow managed to see so much art and visit enough museums that I can hardly keep track of them all. In Paris with my family, I visited essentials such as the Louvre and the Museé d’Orsay; Giverny, where Monet lived and painted his famous water lilies; the excess and gilded splendor of Versailles; and L’Atelier des Lumieres, a place best described as a digital art center showcasing immersive experiences. Since arriving at Georgia Tech Lorraine, I’ve also seen Le Pompidou in Metz, the Baron Gerard Museum of Art and History in Bayeux, and the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) in Antwerp, not to mention the many public artworks and beautiful buildings I’ve witnessed during my wanderings.

Seeing so much art has made me think about the purpose of both art and museums, and about the ways humans choose to express themselves. There are so many functions of museums—to preserve collective memory, to educate visitors about the past and the present, and to create an experience for the viewer, among other things. There are even more reasons behind the creation of art, and it’s been very interesting to observe how those reasons have changed over time.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre, created around the 2nd century B.C.

The Louvre, or at least the part we visited (it’s SO very large) was mostly comprised of older art, from ancient eras to medieval times; in general, from before the 19th century. Much of the art, from the massive commissioned oil paintings to the Greek and Roman sculptures, is as realistic as possible, aiming both to capture the details of human form and often to tell a story or promote an ideology. Pieces were often used to convey political messages as well. For instance, the massive painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, with its intricate detail and over one hundred visible characters, is visually stunning, but also specifically intended to paint the emperor (pardon the pun) in a positive light. Similarly, at Versailles, there were portraits and statues of various kings all around, most made to look more majestic than the subjects they portray actually were.

One of Van Gogh’s most famous self portraits.

While the technical expertise and beauty of these realistic works is marvelous, my favorite works of art have always been those that seek to portray the world in a way that it’s never been viewed before—as a result I’m a big fan of Impressionism and of the more modern art styles that followed, from the 19th century onward. The way that Monet’s Water Lilies captures the softness of the scene, the way that Van Gogh brought out so much emotion with his color work, the strangeness and abstractness of the modern art at Le Pompidou – those are my favorite works of art to experience, when something completely different or entirely new is created from what already exists.

This polar bear by François Pompon at the Musee D’Orsay was one of my favorite pieces. It’s so minimalistic and made of such simple shapes, but captures so much movement and personality.

Most of all, I love how every work of art has the reflection of a person within it. Each piece says something about the artist, about the time when it was made, about society, in some way, whether or not the meaning was included intentionally. I could continue to talk about art to no end, but mostly I’m glad that my learning about it and my museum-visiting days have no end in sight!

Did You Know Interlaken Means Between Two Lakes?

I was rushing after my Thursday classes to go to the grocery store and make sure I had everything packed for my trip to Interlaken. Making it the train station in time, some students and I began our five-hour journey to one of the most peaceful and sweetest places I have ever been to: Interlaken, Switzerland. Traveling to Switzerland during the night made waking up the next morning jaw-dropping. We woke up to the sunlight beaming through the windows, and I walked outside with a dewy mist in the air to see lush green and rocky mountains, a crystal blue river, and a quaint city with houses decorated by little red and pink flowers.

Woke up to this view of the Interlaken Mountains!

My first day of adventure in Interlaken consisted of me sitting in a wobbly kayak as I paddled in Lake Brien. When I stepped into the kayak, I did not expect it to sway so much or be so difficult to paddle quickly. This was not my first water excursion, as I have para-sailed, jet skied, and white water rafted before; however, kayaking was something that truly tested my strength and endurance because if I wanted to move to go anywhere, I had to paddle myself. This experience was so much fun, tiring, and hilarious as I struggled to paddle for the first twenty minutes because my paddle was backward!

Kayaking in Lake Brien.

mass of turquoise water that stretched beyond eyesight, beautiful mountains, and the small towns in the mountains surrounded me. While racing other GTL students in kayaking competitions, wading in the water, and soaking in the sun, I was able to think about all the things I was able to do since studying abroad. After making it safely back to shore, we ate a traditional Swiss dinner at the restaurant next to the kayaking place; there I ordered fried eggs and ham for the first time.

Fried eggs and ham dinner.

At the top of Harderkulm!

During this trip, I truly stepped out of my comfort zone! The next day I went hiking in Grindelwald, Switzerland. I was glad that I came ready with hiking shoes, snacks, water, and a light jacket. The scenery was breathtaking – quite literally, as my lungs and legs were challenged hiking up the mountain. About halfway through the hike, we realized that the hike was a medium skill level and a lot longer than we thought it would be. With my overdramatic self, I made my way up the mountain and was greeted with a much-earned view. When I say Interlaken is beautiful, it truly is as no picture could ever capture its full beauty! After lunch, I was able to check something off my Interlaken bucket list as I slid down the mountains on the Alpine Slide. Later that afternoon, I also took the daring, steep eight minute ride to the top of Harderkulm, the tallest mountain in Interlaken, to see the most beautiful view of the city and watch the sunset. If you ever go to Interlaken, Harderkulm and hiking are a must! Interlaken had a lot of adventure to offer, with skydiving, zip lining, paragliding, hang gliding, and kayaking all offered.

A traditional Swiss performance in the middle of the streets of Interlaken.

While leaving Interlaken, I realized that since starting my study abroad experience I was able to travel to three countries and a handful of cities within a span of less than a month. Studying abroad has not only changed my outlook on what other places look like and the history of them but also how people are so different culturally everywhere you go. Interlaken was nothing short of breathtaking, relaxing, adventure-filled, and culturally educational. I would highly recommend anyone to visit here as the opportunities of fun and adventure are limitless!

Just Some Twerps in Antwerp

Marcel, sitting in a basket being adorable, and the equally adorable wedding album of our hosts!

Last weekend, I went on my first international trip this semester, to Belgium! After arriving late at night on Thursday and fiddling with confusing key mechanisms (a feature that seems to me to be universal among European doors), our merry band of five managed to enter our home for the next three days, a lovely three-story townhouse. We never met our AirBNB hosts in person, but before long I wanted them to be my new best friends: they had fruits and veggies growing on their terrace, lots of board games, a stamp collection, carnivorous plants (!!!), and best of all, a very shy but adorable cat named Marcel. (It became my personal mission to win over Marcel by the end of our stay, which I finally succeeded in doing by giving him his breakfast on the day of our departure.)

The menu may have been in English, but the hot chocolate was decidedly Belgian (and delicious!)

     On Friday morning, we walked into the city in hopes of finding breakfast at an open market that someone had heard of, but when we arrived, we discovered that said market was not a food market at all, but a furniture market with no food to be found. Luckily, there was a delightful (if somewhat touristy) breakfast place nearby. It was here that we had our first taste of Belgian chocolate—the hot chocolate we ordered consisted of fine melted flakes of chocolate stirred in warm milk and had a generous helping of whipped cream.

 

You know you’re in Belgium when you see shops that say Chocoholic and I <3 Waffles right next to each other. You also know you are a tourist, but that’s ok.

After walking around and exploring the city for some time, we encountered yet another classic Belgian food: frites. Frites are French fries (ironic) and they’re typically sold with any of a variety of amazing sauces. Between the five of us, we tried mayonnaise (the most traditional topping), curry, and curry ketchup—all were delicious, and I ended up quite enjoying the mayonnaise despite my initial hesitation. We ate them for lunch under the Cathedral of Our Lady, near a statue depicting the legend of the name of Antwerp, which is Antwerpen in Dutch. According to folklore, the city was once ruled by a giant named Antigoon until a hero arrived, severed the giant’s hands, and threw them in the river; in Dutch, “hand throwing” is hand-werpen, which eventually turned into Antwerpen. As a result, the hand motif is visible all around the city, from little

The Cathedral of Our Lady was a key landmark in Antwerp, always visible as we wandered the city. You can see it here next to some crow-stepped gables, a traditional rooftop style in Flanders.

hand-shaped chocolates to hand sculptures adorning the walls of the MAS, the museum we visited later that day.

 

     After visiting the museum and touring a brewery where we learned how beer is made, we continued wandering the city and came across a busy square with jazz and swing dancing! It was wonderful fun to watch, and the songs were in English so we could understand the lyrics. Interestingly enough, in addition to more croon-y and traditional sounding jazzy tunes, they also played “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book! We had our first Belgian waffles later that night (mine with strawberries and cream!), which were even more delicious than I had hoped. Waffles there aren’t made with batter but instead with quite a thick dough, and they were sweeter and more cake-like than waffles in the U.S.

We had a makeshift picnic dinner on the train returning from Bruges. After the conductor came to check our tickets, he wished us “Bon appetit!”

The next day we took a day trip to Bruges, which was about an hour’s train ride away. While Antwerp had been busier and more modern, Bruges was almost like Disneyland, with its cobblestone streets and picturesque facades, the horse-drawn carriages around every corner, and the abundance of gift shops. We wandered the city for a long time and in the process happened upon many unplanned but wonderful things. We stumbled a fencing and sword-fighting tournament between two windmills, where a friendly Dutch man explained to us in detail all the rules of the games, and we also ran into an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest toast ever, with a line stretching hundreds of people long! It’s certainly fun to plan things during travels and to try to see as much as possible, but with all the many pleasant surprises we encountered in Belgium, this trip has made me an advocate of wandering around just to see what wonders you’ll discover.

Why Day Trips are the Best

Waking up with it still being dark outside is not always the most pleasant experience, especially when you are not a morning person. I was not the happiest person as I dragged myself out of my bed in the GTL dorms at 4:30 AM. Entering the train station, I immediately made a beeline for Starbucks, as it was my travel ritual and a dire necessity at this point. For the first weekend in a long time, I was traveling more locally around Europe. When I say travel locally, I am implying that the train ride would be less than 2 hours. This weekend, I decided to travel to Colmar, France and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg!

The Old Town of Colmar

The first stop on my weekend travels was Colmar, France. My friend and I arrived at the train station in Colmar at 9 AM. When we initially planned our travel times to arrive in the city, we thought that the city would just be starting its day. Little to our surprise, the people in Colmar surely like to get their rest we found out, as everything was closed until about 10:30 AM. When the city did awaken, it was a peaceful experience to see schools in session on a Friday, coffee shops and stores opening, and the the scent of freshly baked pretzels filling the air in the market. We had a great time as we were able to go shopping, try new foods, do a boat ride in this small town affectionately called “Little Venice,” and see the beautiful, colorful, quaint little houses of the Old Town.

The awesome part of doing a day trip to Luxembourg the next day was that I was able to visit another country! Luxembourg was actually on my list of countries to visit because it is the second richest county in the world, and I was dying to see what the hype was all about. Stepping off the train, we entered a very modern looking city only for it to drastically change into an old, medieval-looking town. In Luxembourg City, the old forts and castle still stand in the city center. It was a great city to see in one day! Everything was conveniently placed in the center of Luxembourg, and there were enough museums, shopping, sites, restaurants, and local life to fill one day.

The best part about day trips is that we saw all the attractions we wanted to see and ate all the food our hearts desired, and then we were able to go back to GTL! It was so refreshing to take a train without a reservation, explore a new city on my bucket list, see the change in culture between French cities and neighboring countries, and be able to sleep in my bed at the end of the day. Another perk about day trips is that the stress of finding a place to sleep for the weekend, budgeting for meals and activities for three days, and organizing reservations and transportation is essentially nonexistent. It was also nice to not feel stressed wondering if you packed all the essential clothes needed for a weekend, or trying to bustle to the train station after classes.

Inside the Bock Casemates

While I can say that traveling to a place for an entire weekend is a more immersive experience, day trips are a great alternative if you are tired from extensive traveling, want to catch up on school work, trying to save some money, or visiting a smaller nearby city. I think it is a great idea to try a day trip at least once while studying at Georgia Tech Lorraine. Below I included a list of things we did in Colmar and Luxembourg City to give a small idea of what can be accomplished in a day trip!

Colmar, France

Bretzels in Colmar

The city is absolutely gorgeous! It is colorful and full of little senior citizen tourist groups everywhere. When I visited here, I felt extremely comfortable and safe. The locals here were very kind, and many spoke English well. If you visit here, make sure to use your student ID for the Statue of Liberty museum, take a boat ride on the river, and eat one of their bretzels!

List of Things to See:  Old Town, shopping, a boat ride in Little Venice, Musee Bartholdi (free with student ID), Presbytere Protestant de Colmar, Collegiate Saint-Martin de Colmar, Schwendi Fountain

Must Try Local Foods: Bretzel (pretzel with melted cheese) and kugelhopf (sponge cake with nuts and cherry brandy)

 

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

In comparison to all the cities I have visited so far, I would definitely say that Luxembourg City has been most of the modern. It was very safe, peaceful, and mainly everything was located around the city center. We only needed about 5-6 hours to get a lot done in our day.

View of Luxembourg City from the top of the Bock Casemates

List of Things to See: Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg, the markets of Place Guillaume, the statue of Duke William II, Bock Casemates (5 euros with student ID), Palace of the Grand Duke, Luxembourg City History Museum (free with student ID), Adolphe Bridge, Neumunster Abbey

Must Try Foods: Chocolate House and ice cream

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