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Concluding trip: Slovenia (Yes, it’s an EU country) August 15, 2011

Posted by Allie Del Giorno in Travel Log.
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I decided to use a final blog posts for an unusual trip rather than the ‘typical’ Italy, Germany, or Barcelona trip (I use the word ‘typical’ only to mean that you can find loads of posts from other students that had incredible experiences there as well, so I don’t want to repeat too much).  I noticed that many students traveled to the same places, and for good reason.  The most visited places in Europe are typically visited for a reason.  Still, I’d encourage any study abroad student to take one weekend to go somewhere totally different.  Whether that means traveling 20 minutes on train to a small French town no one has ever heard of, or whether that means taking a 13 hour train ride to a country you hadn’t heard of until two weeks before, anything qualifies in my book.  Just experiencing something unique to you and a few travel buddies is really cool, and allows you to share something new with others.  I found that my most memorable trip was my trip to Slovenia because it was something in which I really took an interest and did not over-plan.  The results of this approach were great.  Here is my reflection on the trip:

 

Weekend[9]: Slovenia

I decided my summer hadn’t been adventurous enough, so I decided to squeeze in the furthest place possible into a 2-day weekend. A friend and I decided to go to Slovenia mostly for the heck of it, and partly because they have the world’s number one caves (we had to justify 13 hours each way on a train somehow). We ended up making really good use of our train rides. Lots of studying, including a bit in the lit department (see above).


I decided to put a map of Slovenia’s place in Europe considering how few people actually know where/what this country is. No, it’s not some third-world country. And yes, it’s part of the EU. And doubly yes, there IS stuff to see there. Seen the ads for vacations in Croatia? Imagine those views, but better. The lack of ads for Slovenia means there are fewer tourists and pickpockets, and more relaxation and people-meeting.

All in all, Slovenia was amazing. We stayed in a top European hostel, saw the world’s number one caves (AND got the added bonus of the lights going out for a few seconds to experience actual total darkness). I wish we could have taken pictures in the cave, but if you look up Postojna caves, I think you’ll get a decent idea of what we saw.
We also traveled to Lake Bled that same day to make the most of our 24 hours in the country. The lake was beautiful and we were bummed we couldn’t stay for the festival that was happening that night — they light floating candles and send them out on the lake! We did get to see some festivities, though, and got a great view of the city by finally tobogganing! (Something I’d earlier been told was a must in Europe)

(Picture of the tobogganing track)

In Slovenia, graffiti is largely overlooked by the police as long as the artists don’t cover up the numbers on the trains. The graffiti artists are extremely respectful, and they even have their own section of the capital city (where we stayed, amazingly enough) that is dedicated to graffiti art. It is a pretty big attraction.

I’ll close with a picture of the lake because it was just so beautiful there, and I hope anyone traveling to Europe (especially future GTLers) plan on going there at some point. It has great views, incredible people, and it’s cheap! I really hope I get the chance to go back to fully appreciate the sights we managed to squeeze in and see the rest of the country.

 

Switzerland: Mountains and More August 14, 2011

Posted by Allie Del Giorno in Travel Log.
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An outdoors-kind-of-girl, I always dreamed of a vacation that involved mountains, water, and fresh air.  Unfortunately, my family enjoyed the beach a little more, and I never really got the chance to do some serious hiking and outdoor exploration.  Well, I definitely got my shot in Switzerland.  I loved Interlaken, and I think anyone (of any age) would say the same thing.  The landscapes are gorgeous and there is no doubt that the people there live a healthy, happy lifestyle.   I took a mental note for potential graduate school opportunities or even retirement options!  I wouldn’t have traded this trip for any other, and I’m so glad I picked a long weekend to explore Interlaken and the surrounding area.  Here were my thoughts after the trip:

Weekend[2]: Interlaken

My absolute favorite weekend so far (and probably the whole trip) was when we spent the 4-day weekend in Interlaken, Switzerland. It was so beautiful and even better than I could have imagined!

We saw a lot of beautiful landscapes…
…Lakes…

 

 

 

…Mountains…

 

 

 

…Chocolate….

…Famous hostels (ours)…
…New buddies from said hostel (back right)…

 

 

 

…Life-size chess boards…

 

…Dangerous cliffsides….

 

…Viscious cows…

 

 

…and best of all, canyoning. Andy and I decided to split off from the group and do the ‘intense’ canyoning. Apparently it’s as good as it gets in Switzerland. Our guides were awesome, and very good at reassuring us:

 

Guide: “Alright. This is an easy jump. It’s only about an 8m drop. Just don’t land to close to the waterfall or you’ll get pinned to the bottom. Don’t go too far to the right either, though, because there’s a huge rock there. So just land somewhere down there in the middle. Ready? 3…2…1… “

 

[You HAD to jump on 1]. I think I’ve been conditioned to do stuff on countdowns, now. I’ve tried it with homework — it actually works!
In order to save 100 bucks on a video, I’m just going to direct you to the videos of a billion other people who did the same thing. Just imagine each of these people with a ponytail sticking out behind:

 

http://youtu.be/wTp1e-FUaV4

 

http://youtu.be/kl-zNIPtIHw

 

http://youtu.be/wTp1e-FUaV4
The wetsuits were amazingly comfortable, and the padding all over the suit definitely came in handy (though didn’t help with our elbows on the corkscrew slide). If you ever go to Interlaken, DO THIS! The only thing I regret not doing is canyon-jumping, but we didn’t have much time and it was a lot of money for a few minutes of adrenaline.

Weekend[2]: Interlaken

My absolute favorite weekend so far (and probably the whole trip) was when we spent the 4-day weekend in Interlaken, Switzerland. It was so beautiful and even better than I could have imagined!

We saw a lot of beautiful landscapes…
…Lakes…

…Mountains…
…Chocolate….

…Famous hostels (ours)…
…New buddies from said hostel (back right)…

…Life-size chess boards…
…Dangerous cliffsides….

…Viscious cows…

…and best of all, canyoning. Andy and I decided to split off from the group and do the ‘intense’ canyoning. Apparently it’s as good as it gets in Switzerland. Our guides were awesome, and very good at reassuring us beforehand:

Allie: “So, can you do canyoning other places in the world?”
Guide: “Not most places, except Austrialia. Definitely not the States. There are big insurance issues elsewhere with commerical canyoning. You definitely picked the best one.”
and during:
Guide: “Alright. This is an easy jump. It’s only about an 8m drop. Just don’t land to close to the waterfall or you’ll get pinned to the bottom. Don’t go too far to the right either, though, because there’s a huge rock there. So just land somewhere down there in the middle. Ready? 3…2…1… “
[You HAD to jump on 1]. I think I’ve been conditioned to do stuff on countdowns, now. I’ve tried it with homework — it actually works!
In order to save 100 bucks on a video, I’m just going to direct you to the videos of a billion other people who did the same thing. Just imagine each of these people with a ponytail sticking out behind:
http://youtu.be/wTp1e-FUaV4
http://youtu.be/kl-zNIPtIHw
http://youtu.be/wTp1e-FUaV4
The wetsuits were amazingly comfortable, and the padding all over the suit definitely came in handy (though didn’t help with our elbows on the corkscrew slide). If you ever go to Interlaken, DO THIS! The only thing I regret not doing is canyon-jumping, but we didn’t have much time and it was a lot of money for a few minutes of adrenaline.

Visiting The City of Light (we are in France, after all) August 14, 2011

Posted by Allie Del Giorno in Travel Log.
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Many people dream of going to Paris at some point in our life.  Of course, living in France for 10 weeks, it’s kind of a ‘must.’  Paris definitely did not disappoint.  There is plenty to do there, and we managed to fit a lot in!  I decided to travel with a group I wouldn’t have originally intended, and I had such a great experience that after this trip I decided to travel with a different group every time.  This kept things fresh and made sure that I learned to work with different personalities throughout the summer.  I got to switch between the leader and follower roles, which is extremely important when you both want to make your dream trips happen and when you travel with driven, natural leaders (I have quite a few friends that fall into that category!)

Here is my account of Paris, an unforgettable trip with an equally unforgettable travel group:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend[1]: Paris

Went to Paris this past 3-day weekend!

We hoped to go to the French Open, but tickets filled up :( We got to see the outside of the place, though. Definitely not as impressive as the U.S. Open, if you ask me!

That day we found our hostel!

Okay, it’s not really this one. We’d like to pretend we stayed in a place with a red carpet entrance in the middle of the city…

This is what our Saturday night hostel looked like. (I’m only showing this one because our Friday night one sorta looked like a hotel, and I don’t want you all thinking I’m living in luxury). This was a Korean hostel that houses about 20 people max, I believe. We got a free Korean breakfast (rice, tofu, etc.) and had the option of a free dinner, but spend Saturday night in a creperie meeting Australian people instead. The owners were incredibly nice and I’d definitely stay there again!

Andy and I split the cost of this really nice car. When I come back and say that I went bankrupt from European travel, you can assume it is because of the expensive vehicles I collected along the way. There are sooo many pretty cars in Europe! (This has been my favorite so far.)

While we had an appreciation for the various art museums we got to tour and the amount of culture stored in their walls, we had to keep the pictures lively to help raise our energy levels throughout the day!

Woohoo! We went to the Louvre and got to see the famous Mona Lisa. You can’t see in this picture, but the rest of the room has massive paintings (the size of giant walls), and then they threw this one on its own wall. I don’t think that helped her look very important, but the huge crowds of people around it did, as well as the four security guards and two panes of bulletproof glass.

On our first day in Paris, we visited Versailles. We saw the palace and got to tour Marie Antoinette’s gardens. Not sure if you’ve seen the fourth Harry Potter movie, but if you have, this scene should look a little familiar…


Don’t be fooled by the smile on his face. Senthuran was viciously attacked by the hedges. They came alive right as we walked past them. Luckily, we saved him just in time. Right after I took this picture, of course.
Seriously, though, the gardens were gorgeous and the palace was filled with some incredible statues and artwork.  I especially loved learning about Marie Antoinette and her many quirks!

The Gorillapod I got for Christmas was the most useful Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. We took pictures from basically anything. Railings were the most useful. It was a lot better than asking random people to take group pictures for us all the time.  If you are traveling to Europe or going on a hiking trip, I’d highly recommend it.

On Saturday evening, we visited the Notre Dame cathedral. Andy, one of my travel buddies, is Catholic as well so we went to mass. We also convinced our three other friends to attend the mass as well. It was a pretty cool experience. They have the most efficient communion I’ve ever seen, and the most impressive choir.

We finished off our trip by visiting the Pantheon. Like last trip, we ended on a more sober note… there’s a crypt in the basement with some pretty famous people in it. We also saw the pendulum that proved that the Earth rotates (the Foucault pendulum). It shows the exact time by rotating around that circular sundial-like-clock as it swings.  It was pretty incredible for someone in the 1800’s to come up with this idea, especially since it gave solid proof for a scientific theory many had considered fact but had not thought to prove in such a simple way.

The stingy college student in me must now come out: by far the most surprising/satisfying part of the weekend was this. We were all ready to buy a Paris Museum Pass for 35 euros until the lady in Versailles asked us if we were EU students (everyone here thinks you’re British if you speak English. Apparently they can’t tell the difference in the accent). We showed them our ISIC cards, which are basically ID’s that say we’re studying at Georgia Tech and on the back they had some little address line that has Metz, France. The lady told us we wouldn’t have to pay for entrance to the Versailles palace. It was awesome. So we decided to try it out other places too…
It worked EVERYWHERE. I was amazed. All you have to do is point out ‘Metz, France’ on the back of the card and they’re happy to let you in for free. So the only major expenses I had were food, the 3-day metro pass (should’ve asked for a discount on that too — bet they would’ve given us one!) and hostels. Deal.


I summed up how much we saved by being ‘EU students:
Versailles: 13.50
Arc de Triumph: — (They were on strike, believe it or not).
Napoleon’s Tomb/Musee’ de le Arme’e: 9.00
Rodin Museum: 12.00
Eiffel Tower: Saved 5ish euro? (had to actually pay for about half of this one).
Louvre: 10.00
Pantheon: 8.00

At the end of the weekend, we were exhausted. It was an amazing trip, though, and I really enjoyed the group I traveled with. I look forward to being with them and many more this weekend in Interlaken!

First travel weekend: Learning the ropes August 14, 2011

Posted by Allie Del Giorno in Travel Log.
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Looking back at all the places I could have visited (Amsterdam, Germany, Southern France), I must admit that it seems a little disappointing that I didn’t travel farther my first weekend.  I ended up going with friends to Luxembourg on a day trip that we probably could have accomplished in a few day trips after classes.  However, I am still glad I did not travel far that weekend because the transition to a European lifestyle with the trains, diet, and language can be a relatively tough one, and taking it slow definitely helped with the transition.  Here is my account from our first weekend in Europe:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend[0]: Luxembourg

This weekend, we decided to go to Luxembourg City for a day trip on Saturday. It only takes 45 minutes to get there (!!). We can usually go for free on Eurail passes without reservations, but all of us have the 2 months and want to activate it next weekend so it will last the rest of the trip. The trains leave about every half hour, so it’s basically like an inter-country bus system. This is the city that has movies in English (yes!!!) so if we ever want to see a movie on a weeknight, this is a quick and easy way to do it. Of course, Pirates of the Caribbean is on the list for some other day. For this Saturday, we just wanted to explore the city.

 

 

 

 

 

The city is absolutely gorgeous. As we were exploring, everyone thought of a different movie (or videogame) it looked like, it was so picturesque. Here, Steffan is trying to convince us that the sundial-type-thing just needs to be pressed in the right order to unlock a secret passage. Mariel and Layla don’t look so convinced…

We also got incredibly lucky because there happened to be a huge market going on at the same time. They had a lot of clothes and shoes (apparently shoes are huge here), and, of course, SpongeBob and Patrick balloons, and American music playing.

 

We visitied these things called casemates, which are basically tunnels in the cliffsides used for defense. That was definitely my favorite part. We spent a solid 3 or so hours exploring them.

 

 

 

 

 
The most beautiful part about the city was the layers and gardens. Most of the city is flat, but there is a stretch near the main river where gardens, parks, and forests form ‘steps’ in a valley through the city. It was beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did some sight-seeing of the Duke’s Palace and some cathedrals, but the most amazing part was the American Cemetary for WWII veterans. They had about 5000 people buried there and it was an absolutely beautiful, modern-looking cemetary despite the fact that it was made over 50 years ago.

All in all, the trip was awesome. We got some good food, beautiful sights, and a chance to figure out the trains. I think we will be ready for our trip to Paris next weekend. This ‘mini’ trip was good for getting used to travel, but I imagine that coordinating hostels, splitting up big groups, and navigating a huge city will present some challenges. Can’t wait, though!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend[0]: Luxembourg

This weekend, we decided to go to Luxembourg City for a day trip on Saturday. It only takes 45 minutes to get there (!!). We can usually go for free on Eurail passes without reservations, but all of us have the 2 months and want to activate it next weekend so it will last the rest of the trip. The trains leave about every half hour, so it’s basically like an inter-country bus system. This is the city that has movies in English (yes!!!) so if we ever want to see a movie on a weeknight, this is a quick and easy way to do it. Of course, Pirates of the Caribbean is on the list for some other day. For this Saturday, we just wanted to explore the city.

The city is absolutely gorgeous. As we were exploring, everyone thought of a different movie (or videogame) it looked like, it was so picturesque. Here, Steffan is trying to convince us that the sundial-type-thing just needs to be pressed in the right order to unlock a secret passage. Mariel and Layla don’t look so convinced…

We also got incredibly lucky because there happened to be a huge market going on at the same time. They had a lot of clothes and shoes (apparently shoes are huge here), and, of course, SpongeBob and Patrick balloons, and American music playing.

We visitied these things called casemates, which are basically tunnels in the cliffsides used for defense. That was definitely my favorite part. We spent a solid 3 or so hours exploring them.


The most beautiful part about the city was the layers and gardens. Most of the city is flat, but there is a stretch near the main river where gardens, parks, and forests form ‘steps’ in a valley through the city. It was beautiful!



We did some sight-seeing of the Duke’s Palace and some cathedrals, but the most amazing part was the American Cemetary for WWII veterans. They had about 5000 people buried there and it was an absolutely beautiful, modern-looking cemetary despite the fact that it was made over 50 years ago.

All in all, the trip was awesome. We got some good food, beautiful sights, and a chance to figure out the trains. I think we will be ready for our trip to Paris next weekend. This ‘mini’ trip was good for getting used to travel, but I imagine that coordinating hostels, splitting up big groups, and navigating a huge city will present some challenges. Can’t wait, though!

Welcome to France: Many random moments August 14, 2011

Posted by Allie Del Giorno in Travel Log.
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I will be pulling my blog posts from my family blog to give you all an accurate account of what I was feeling this summer while avoiding the less-exciting blogs that were necessary to keep my parents satisfied (e.g. – ‘Hey, family!  No time to blog, but I’m still alive!’).  So here it goes.

I quickly learned this summer that you can plan out every second of your life in Europe to squeeze out as much ‘cultural experience’ as you can muster, or you can make a basic blueprint and accept that things will get modified along the way.  My first few weeks in Europe were spent trying to over-plan everything, until I went on those weekend trips and realized that the little moments (getting lost on the city metro and having to find your way back, discovering espresso has 10x the effect of normal coffee, or falling into a hole in a wall) make the trip truly memorable.  Here is one such moment, pulled from my family blog:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Week[0]: Onion rings


We decided to try going to the ‘French’ line for lunch today. We go to a cafeteria that French high school students use, and usually they’re either not there or we’re not allowed in their line because they have to get through so quickly. This time, however, we got invited to the other line (it was empty), and we sat next to a bunch of French students. None of us knew French, but Andy is taking French I in Lorraine. He decided to pull out his French packet and practice saying stuff to them. They all thought it was hilarious, and practiced a little English on us too. He further embarrassed himself by asking if the food was onions rings or cheese sticks (after having eaten 2 or 3). The French students laughed and informed him that it was octopus. Despite the minor embarrassment, we thing we’re going to try to sit with them more often. They were pretty nice, and the two guys sitting with me thought the French girls were pretty cute. I’m looking forward to running into them again and practicing my French!

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