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The Last Weeks and Coming Home!! July 29, 2013

Posted by mjmaurer7 in Travel Log.
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I am currently writing this thousands of feet above the Atlantic on my way back to Atlanta! During the last weeks, it became very difficult to travel anywhere due to the amount of group projects that were assigned. Still, this did not stop me from having a great time in Barcelona.

The first major event after Sant Juan was the 4th of July. Of course, this is not celebrated in Spain, but this did not stop us from having a good time. In order to celebrate, a large group decided to climb a mountain in Barcelona around midnight, stay up all night on the mountain, and watch the sun rise over the city. We all donned some red and white and started the climb.

It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The hardest part was getting up the mountain considering the path was not well lit. Once up though, the view was amazing. The mountain was located near the center of the city near Parc Guell. From the top, we had a 360 panoramic view of the city at night. Everything was lit up, and it was beautiful. There is something different about a skyline when there are only one or two skyscrapers. Plus, from the top of the mountain, we were located at the end of one of the main streets in Barcelona, and so we could see directly to the beach.

The night consisted of Budweiser, stories, and a few occasional naps. All of the sudden, the sky started to  get brighter. Everyone looked to where the light is coming from, and eventually a bright red orb started to appear from behind another mountain. The sun perfectly illuminated  the fog that was gently spread around the city under us. Once we could see the sun, the rest of it appeared over the mountain incredibly quickly. It covered everything in a morning glow that was made even better from my lack of sleep. After enjoying the view, we had to soon head back down because some people in the group had class that morning.

Enjoying the View

After this, I still had one four day weekend remaining. I had a friend from Kentucky who was studying in Paris, which was also celebrating its independence day that weekend. However, at the same time, Pamplona was hosting the annual running of the bulls, which I know I did not want to miss. I decided to spend the first night of the break in Pamplona for the night and the afternoon. Then, I would head to Paris for three days.

Stepping out of the bus to Pamplona was one of the oddest experiences of my life. Because it is a small town, it has no hope of housing all of the visitors, so most people sleep outside somewhere. So, when I stepped out of the station, people were everywhere even though it was two in the morning in a non-central part of town. There was trash everywhere, the city smelled, and everyone was wearing the red and white bull running attire. We made it into the center of town, and it resembled a war zone. There were people passed out everywhere, and trash covered the streets along with police.

We stayed up experiencing the culture until it was time to run. Everyone packed into a small portion of the track until they let everyone spread out. You could really feel the tension. People were saying prayers and making the sign of the cross. Everyone seemed very anxious. Soon enough, we heard the first firework. The bulls were released. Some people started running, but most waited for them to get closer. I was getting pretty jumpy waiting. People started jumping up after the second blast to see the bulls. Soon after that I could hear them and even feel them. Then people started screaming “Vamos!!” and I knew it was time to go. I started a sprint down the path. It was hard to move anywhere because of all of the people. I felt people spread out, and then I saw a huge pack of bulls rush past. We moved into the middle to follow the bulls, only to see that there was one still behind us. People immediately went to the sides to let it pass.

In the Arena

In the arena itself, they let the bull roam with the racers. I eventually managed to get close enough to one to smack it. After a while, it ended, and we spent the rest of the day enjoying the city and sleeping until it was time to take a bus back.

The next morning I had a flight to Paris. I was flying by myself but my friend was meeting me soon after I got in. Despite neither of us having data or messaging, we managed to find each other. My friend was studying Paris during his time there, so he gave me a very thorough tour of the city. He took me by a lot of the main sites in the city and explained why they were important. My personal favorite was going to the Arc de Triomphe and climbing to the top.

Later, we got dinner by the river and had one of the funniest waiters ever. At first, he told me I had to order in French, and I thought he was going serious (it was a pretty touristy place, so it wouldn’t make much sense). It turns out he was just giving me a hard time. He kept joking that I was ruining the French language. I worked during the whole meal to deliver the perfect line of French when asking for the check. I delivered it well, and he followed up by more French. I just looked at him and continued to make fun. I left a tip for the first time in a while that night.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing with a guitar in the nearby Luxembourg park. We then roamed the city, meeting people along the way.

The next morning I woke up early to meet up with the group from the Barcelona program that was visiting. We went to a lot of the same sites, and I tried to pass on any knowledge I had. The best part of the day by far was loading up on wine, cheese, and baguettes and going to the Eiffel Tower. Once it got dark, a few of us went up to the second floor. We were shocked to see a huge light show and fireworks lighting up across the city. It was another great night.

The next day was Bastille Day! We went right to the parade because we had to leave at 6 in order to catch our flight. After seeing some of the parade, a few of us split off to go the Louvre, which was free that day. We thought that this would make the line huge, but we only had to wait for 40 minutes! The Louvre was my favorite site in Paris. Being in the presence of history like that is very humbling. I got to spend around 4 hours, and I used every minute. Unfortunately, eventually we had to leave to catch our plane.

The rest of the time in Barcelona was spent either working on group projects, relaxing on the beach, or seeing any sites we happened to miss. Now that I’m on the plane, I still can’t believe I’m going back. I have a feeling it might even be strange to speak English again. I will miss so much about Spain, but I can’t wait to get back home. This has been one of the best summers of my life, and I can’t describe how thankful I am. I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my adventures!! If you are reading this and have the opportunity to study abroad, please do it!

Paris! Two Times is Better than One July 25, 2013

Posted by Parker Buntin in Travel Log.
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Hello again everybody!

I visited Paris twice this summer, and let me tell you, both times were extraordinary. The first trip was the weekend of June 7th – 9th. The primary reason for that Paris trip was none other than the Roland Garros (the French Open). Some of my friends and I purchased grounds passes for the French Open Tennis Tournament for Saturday the 8th, which included admission to any court except for Center Court. After the French Open, my friends and I toured some of Paris’s more popular tourist attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Versailles Palace, and the Arc de Triomphe. 

As the sun rose over Paris, my group made its way to the tournament. Paris’s metro system is complex, which may seem confusing at first, but incredibly efficient in transporting people all throughout the city. This was helpful, since the tennis tournament is held in the southwest corner of Paris, opposite of the hostel at which we were staying. After navigating the underground, we made it to the tournament and walked through the gates like children in a candy shop. It was early, so the park wasn’t too crowded yet. Even so, it was exciting to see ball boys walk around and tennis pros warming up on the smaller courts. We thought we saw David Ferrer hitting, but alas, it was another Spaniard-looking tennis player with long hair. Image

We made our way throughout the park, taking pictures all the while. We climbed to the top of Court 2’s stands to get a view and snap some photos, then worked our way to the Junior Men’s Singles Final. Juniors means they were 16 years or younger. These kids did not look 16. They looked at least 20 and wow, were they good at tennis. It was incredible to watch such a high level of play from such young players in person.

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After the match, we shopped and got souvenirs and presents for family, then experienced an Andre Agassi sighting! We all gawked and took pictures of the tennis playing celeb. After our paparazzi phase wore off, we walked through the Roland Garros museum. It was informative and academic, exploring the history, development, and other neat aspects of tennis. Image

That afternoon, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova faced off in the Women’s Singles Final. My friends and I got a nice spot to watch the match on a large viewing screen on the side of Court two. We had great seats, but they were under no shade whatsoever. The sun was brutal. Luckily, a hat, sunglasses, and some Häagen Dazs ice cream fixed that! :) Serena emerged victorious (Go USA!) and we said au revoir to the Roland Garros. Image

That evening and night, we went to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Both were spectacular and crowded, as one might expect. What was really cool about the Arc de Triomphe was actually quite situational; a military ceremony was going on underneath the arch when we visited. There were a lot of people that looked really important, as well as a French military band that marched past. It was neat to experience some pomp and circumstance celebration in a different country. Image

The Eiffel tower stood proudly over Paris in all its glory when we visited that night. Once we finally made it to the base of the tower (after stopping every two feet to take pictures during our approach), we bought some tickets to make the trek up to the second platform. “We can climb the Eiffel Tower, no sweat!” Right.. 710 stairs later, we caught our breath at the second platform of the tower and soaked in the view of Paris at night. It was gorgeous. Breathtaking (and not just because we were winded from the climb). It was so cool to be so high, on a man-made wonder, staring out over a beautiful city. That’s my humble opinion.. I thought it was awesome!Image

The next morning, we went to the Palace of Versailles. The palace was beautiful, but I can only say that for the exterior, for we decided to only get passes to the gardens of Versailles behind the palace (although I’m assuming that interior was equally as spectacular). It was overcast that Sunday, but that didn’t stop my friends and I from having a blast. We walked around the gardens all day, checking out statues, fountains, and rows upon rows of precisely trimmed hedges. There wasn’t really much more to that day or trip. We just had fun in the gardens, hanging out and sharing plenty of laughs, then headed back home to Metz. I’d say the weekend was a success! Image

My second visit to Paris was July 13th – 15th. I went with a different group of friends this time and had a blast yet again. Some of our sightseeing overlapped from my first trip (I won’t harp on that), but we did see new things too, such as Notre Dame, Sacré Cœur, and the Louvre. Also, we were there on Bastille Day, France’s day of Independence, so there was an awesome fireworks display behind the Eiffel Tower that Sunday night. 

Notre Dame was neat. We didn’t actually go inside or go up it (the line was way too long), but we did walk around it enough to appreciate and take in its awesome architecture. This year marks the 850 year anniversary of Notre Dame, and to commemorate the occasion, large viewing stands were erected in the square outside the front of the cathedral. That was the main difference I saw between now and the time I visited 4 years ago during high school. There were much fewer gypsies around begging for money this year as well. 

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The Sacré Cœur is yet another breathtaking church in Paris, albeit on a hill overlooking the city. It was also neat to visit on a Sunday because Mass was in session when walked around the perimeter of the church (on the inside). This evoked a more authentic experience in a typically tourism-infested area, for which I was greatly appreciative. After checking out the church, we grabbed lunch in the artist district of Montmartre. Although expensive, the food was delicious and filling.Image

The Parc du Champ de Mars, the park extending out from the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, was literally packed full of people Sunday night for the fireworks show. My friends and I got as close to the center as we could, but even so, the trees somewhat blocked our view. The show was great, but our viewing angle diminished the quality a bit, in my opinion. Also, the French didn’t seem too enthusiastic about their independence. The reactions were very subdued, even to the fireworks show. There was a very interesting music selection for the show, the most counterintuitive being “Living in America” by James Brown.Image

The next morning, we all went to the Louvre. The giant museum was neat, much more so than the last time I visited during high school. I felt like I appreciated the art a lot more this time around, what with being older and having learned more in school. Notable works we saw in the Louvre were Hammurabi’s Code, an Easter Island Head, Nike (Winged Victory), and of course, the Mona Lisa.Image

Paris is a great city. It’s the heart of France and one of Europe’s staple cities. I loved my two visits to the city and hope to visit again at some point in the future!

Dinner Cruise in Paris August 3, 2012

Posted by Frederick Grimm in Travel Log.
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May 29, 2012

Eiffel Tower!
Site where we embarked for our river cruise.

Today was QUITE the adventure!  It was one of my good friend’s (Parrish Brown) birthday, so the ten people of my group all made plans to go to Paris for the evening to celebrate her birthday on a river cruise.  Actually, the plans were hidden from Parrish so she had no idea about this.

The nice, theoretical plan was that we would all be in nice dress up clothes so that when we finished class at 4 pm at Metz, we could get to the train station and then take a TGV (high-speed train) to Paris.  We would then ride on the river cruise with a provided dinner, and then come back home.  Four people out of our group of ten had a test the next morning in ISyE 3025, so we decided it would be a good idea to come back early to study.

Here is what actually happened:

We were all nice and dressed up and we took a bus to downtown Metz.  We then hopped aboard the TGV and departed.  However, we encountered our first major problem when the ticket collector walked down the aisle.  He told us that we were not allowed to use our Eurail passes (that we paid $1,200 for) on the TGV and that we were going to be fined 100 euros per person.  We were very scared.  We tried to inform him that we didn’t understand the system.  One of our group members was fluent in French, and she was thankfully able to convince him not to charge us, but he said we could never do it again!

Unfortunately, the train did not get into Gare de l’Est (a big Parisian train station) until about 30 minutes later than expected.  We now only had about 30 minutes to make it to the river cruise (which we had already bought the tickets for) or else we would get left!  We quickly boarded the metro and booked it to the other side of the city to the stop nearest the Eiffel Tower.  Once we got off, we only had 3 minutes to find our boat!!  We ran down to the dock, but to our dismay, there were countless boats on the side of the river in both directions!  The directions we had didn’t help, so we split up to try to find it.  My group found the boat right before it was about to pull off, and they agreed to wait while we waited for the rest of our group.  Thankfully, they ran by and we were able to grab them.

We were so relieved to be on our dinner cruise!  The views along the river were spectacular!  However, the cruise was not exactly what we expected.  When I think “dinner cruise”, I think of a nice boat with nice tables and white tablecloths and dressed up waiters ready to serve you.  What they meant by “dinner cruise” was a ferry boat with seats on it and they had a microwave where they could heat up a frozen pasta dish.  Besides that, the cruise was lots of fun and we enjoyed each others company.

The next problem occurred as we were looping around the Notre Dame.  We looked up the times online, and the last train to Metz left a few minutes after 8:00 pm.  We realized that we still had another 20 minutes on the boat, plus another 20 minutes of subway time.  At this point, we started getting a little worried.  Four of us had tests the first thing the next morning that we could NOT miss.  When the boat arrived back at the landing dock, we were the first ones off and we literally sprinted back to the metro.  With only fifteen minutes before our train left, we hopped aboard the metro and hoped for the best.

As we were transferring stations in Les Halles, we ran into a small problem.  We were in such a hurry and thought we could still make the train, but we didn’t have enough metro passes.  We only had 8 tickets, so the other two tried to squeeze in behind the gates as others went through.  We probably drew lots of attention as we were sprinting down the metro station, and we caught the attention of several guards.  They saw the two go through without the tickets, and charged them 50 euros per person for not having the tickets!!! At least they didn’t take their passports and take them to jail!  This diversion took up several minutes of our precious time.

When we finally arrived at Gare de l’Est, we had missed the train by about 3 minutes (in retrospect, having bought tickets for the metro would have still caused us to miss the train. At least we tried?).  We tried to find another train leaving for Metz, but there were none.  We were all very defeated.  We felt like we had messed up Parrish’s birthday, we didn’t have anywhere to stay, and we still had our test the next morning.

After several hours of deliberation in a McDonalds, we decided all we could do was to find a hotel, get up early the next morning to catch the first train out, and hope for the best.  We found Hotel Lorraine, a very cheap 1-star hotel right next to the train station.  The room didn’t have a bathroom and it smelled like there was a dead body in the room, but I really wan’t in a position to criticize!  I was just thankful that we had a roof over our heads!  I tried to study for my test in the Holiday Inn across the street for several hours before going to bed.

Early next morning, we got up and boarded the 7:00 AM TGV bound for Metz.  We got there around 9:00 AM, giving us just enough time to bus back to GTL and take our tests.  This has definitely been one of the craziest and most stressful adventures I have been on.

Lessons Learned:

1.) NEVER, EVER do anything this adventurous or risky the day before a test (got an A on the test, by the way!)

2.) Make minute by minute plans before you embark on a trip.  Simply “winging it” does NOT work.

3.) Research activities before you pay for them online.  Cheap “dinner cruises” are probably tourist traps.

4.) DON’T try to sneak metro ticket booths, even if you are in a hurry.  You WILL get caught.

5.) Make the most of every moment!

PS – I have definitely taken these lessons into account for my most recent travels.  They have come in very handy!

Sincerely,
FG

Before the Disaster began.

Paris! July 10, 2012

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Paris: a picturesque place for a relaxed weekend

Posted on June 14, 2012 at http://tinysteinygoestofrance.wordpress.com

As I’m sure you have seen on facebook so far, I couldn’t stop taking pictures this weekend. Paris was just so gorgeous. Just feast your eyes on this picture:

The Eiffel Tower

So pretty!

Yep, looks like we were photoshopped, but no, we were actually there. Be jealous. So Friday we got into to Paris around 10, and after checking into our hostel we went to find our friend Ralf’s show. For those of you who don’t know, Ralf Popescu is a seriously talented and impressive electronic producer, so much so that he has been signed by AM Only (aka on the same level as Skrillex). He was playing a show at Le Red Light, so we were able to meet up with him and other friends from the Barcelona program. It was so much fun, and great to see him.

The next morning we started off with some fresh fruit at a market, and then breakfasted on the lawn near the Eiffel Tower. It was so gorgeous, and of course we had fun taking pictures. Then we headed off to Louvre to try and meet up with other friends. However, we soon realized that saying, “Let’s meet at the Louvre” was about as descriptive as “Let’s meet at Georgia Tech,” and we actually didn’t get to see them. Instead we got lunch, then headed to Notre Dame followed by the Arc de Triomphe. We had a DELICIOUS dinner at a place called the Bellagio, and then headed back to our hotel (there was a little mix up that had us walking 20 minutes across town to a different hotel, but at that point we were just tired and ended up going to sleep).

The next morning we visited Versailles. We ended up not touring the Chateau because of a massive line, but instead toured the gardens, which was quite fun despite how overcast it was. We were greeted by several baby swans, ducks, and surprisingly affectionate fish at the lake, and then headed home. I think this was a very relaxed weekend, and we needed it; with all the traveling we have been doing, we are getting really tired. Case in point, I think I turned my alarm off in my sleep this morning, and woke up at 8:05 (made it to my 8:15 class by 8:17, I was pretty proud of myself).

Cloudy, but pretty

Paris: The City of Lights and Expensive Everything June 23, 2012

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After Belgium, our tour group made its way to Paris for a few days. Our ride in was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Our adept coach driver, Baloo, decided to take us and the bus on a tour through the streets of Paris. And what trip would be complete without a visit to the Arc d’Triumph? Now, anyone who is mildly familiar with the asphalt–for it would be incorrect to presume there is enough automobile organization for it to be called a road–surrounding the arch, knows that it is the equivalent of an eight-laned-without-lanes roundabout. As we plunged straight toward the center of the roundabout, Baloo narrated with the mic in his broken, heavily accented English, “Okay, everybody, close your eyes like me. It’s scary.” We took two very terrifying loops around the arch before maneuvering our way to safety and on toward our hotel.

The first full day in Paris, we rode out to the Palace of Versailles. The building was incredibly impressive and imposing. I was struck by the vast number of rooms in the palace. The tour only included a very small portion of the interior. What I enjoyed more than the palace, was the gardens that stretched out behind it. The gardens included a massive grand canal, beautiful terracing, and lovely greenery. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to wander around the gardens, though I would have loved to.

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One of the best experiences from Paris was climbing the Eiffel Tower. While most people were waiting in line to ride the elevator to the top, we decided to climb as far as we were allowed on the stairs and take the elevator the rest of the way. The view from the tower is incredible; we could get a 360 degree view of the city.

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While most everyone was very happy to be visiting Paris for its various charms and attractions, that was slightly overshadowed by the an ominous evil. What, you may ask, was this evil? The bane of the academic experience at Tech: finals. However, being accomplished and well-learned students, we were aware of the best remedy for such trials: cramming. No test would get in the way of enjoying Paris.

Anyway, the night after our final, our last in Paris, most of the group decided to visit the Eiffel Tower again to enjoy the light of the tower when it lit up. It was really spectacular to see at night.

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Crêpes, Croissants, Planes, and Paris August 5, 2011

Posted by Joseph Mattingly in Travel Log.
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Bonjour, people.  Paris holds the distinct honor on our trip of being the city in which we spent the most consecutive days (except, of course, Oxford, which doesn’t really count because that’s not really the travel portion of our trip), which, given the accommodations, was most certainly not the brightest idea in the world.  That aside, it turns out that Paris is a pretty interesting city.

Getting to Paris ranks among the less desirable parts of the trip.  After 14 hours on a bus (and in departure of Prague, no less), I came to the conclusion that ground-based transcontinental transportation is not my cup of tea.  Nevertheless, since every cloud has a silver, faux-silver, or off-silver lining, we were treated to a nighttime view of the city of Paris and the Eiffel Tower as we rode into the city.

On our first day in Paris, we took a class trip to the Musee d’Orsay, a museum specializing in Impressionist and Realist art.  Since I am not particularly enamored with either of those styles (I like Surrealism, Cubism, and ancient art), I found much more interesting my travel to and from the museum.  Not willing to spend money on the faster, more convenient underground transportation and also wanting to see more of Paris, I traveled on foot to the d’Orsay.  Along the way, I found the French Military Museum, most notable for housing the magnificent tomb of Napolean.  I really wanted to see this, but there was an entrance fee, and it would not have been a wise use of my time since I had to rendezvous with the rest of the class at the museum at a certain time.  It was here that I got my first good glimpse at the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.  On the return from the d’Orsay, I decided to walk the entirety of the legendary Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which was a bit more of a task than I had expected.  Starting at the Louvre end, I pushed my way through huge throngs of people toward the Arc de Triomphe.  Along the way, I had a run-in with a Georgia Tech graduate who was on vacation that week.  A bit later, I found myself at the end of the Champs where the Arc de Triomphe stands in the middle of what must qualify as the world’s most absurd roundabout.  It turns out you have to walk underground to get to the Arc, which is a good thing, because there’s no way anybody could ever cross on level without getting hit by at least 50 cars.  If pedestrian travel around the Arc was a video game, and getting there was novice difficulty, getting away would be classifiably mythic.  There are no fewer than eight roads feeding into this nightmarish roundabout, and the one I needed to take to walk to the Eiffel tower necessitated crossing the most number of these feeder roads.  I must stress that despite the fact the Eiffel Tower looks just like a pile of metal trusses, it is truly magnificent when standing beneath.  The shear enormity of the structure is awe-inspiring.  For those curious and not, I did not shell out the steep asking price to ascend to the top of the tower.  Later that night, our music class went to a jazz club, which was interesting, but irksome to get to and from after dark.

Because what else to you take pictures of in Paris?

The second day in Paris was dedicated solely to the Louvre.  When one considers the amount of work in the Louvre, it is easy to understand why we would spend the whole day there.  You may be happy or sad to note that I got my tacky tourist picture of the Mona Lisa.  I’m not including it in this post, because it really won’t add any value, and it isn’t difficult to find nearly identical pictures elsewhere.  The museum was enjoyable but tiring, and as it is just another museum with lots of art in it, I will leave it at that.  On our way back from the Louvre, we stopped by Notre Dame, the famous Gothic cathedral where we were unable to locate any hunchbacks, whatever those are.

The third day in Paris, Sunday, June 26, was a completely free day where we could do whatever we wanted.  For me, that was the Paris Air Show.  That Sunday just happened to be the last day of the biannual Paris Air Show, and I, an aerospace engineer, had a 100% free day to attend.  Talk about exciting.  Tickets were €13 apiece, but I would argue they were worth a lot more than that.  I would have gone out to the airfield (which was on the opposite side of Paris in relation to our hotel) first thing in the morning, but I had to pick up my ticket, which was only obtainable at one store on the Champs that didn’t open until noon that day.  On top of that, the bus that stopped at the air show got stuck in the horrendous traffic of like-minded aerospace enthusiasts.  The air show was fantastic in every way from the vendor displays (vendor, as in airplane salespeople, not popcorn salespeople) to the static aircraft displays to the live aerial demonstrations.  They even had an ESA (European Space Agency) hangar and a couple rockets, including the Ariane V, on display.  It follows, thus, that I was very disappointed when the time came to leave.

Our last day in Paris was given to a tour of the opera house, which was very similar to our excursion in Vienna, and the Pompidou museum, which is dedicated to modern art.  By this point, we were all starting to get a bit tired of Paris and were ready to move on.

Paris was a lovely segment of our trip, and the Paris Air Show was definitely my favorite part.  Going into the trip, I didn’t think I would like Paris so much, but I was pleasantly surprised, and I even left myself more things to do if I go back.

Last lap of Paris July 26, 2011

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This past weekend was the conclusion of the Le Tour de France in Paris and it was a fitting way to end my summer adventures. We traveled to Paris on Saturday mid-morning and then went to the Orsay museum which held the works of Van Gough, Monet and some incredible Auberry photography. Afterwards we lounged in a café and had a nice relaxing lunch. This last trip was much more about relaxation and taking in the people of Paris than rushing from one tourist trap to the next. It was a great way to reflect on our summer abroad while enjoying great French cuisine. In the afternoon we walked over to the Champs Elysees (the main thoroughfare ofParisand the street the cyclists come down to scope out the area for a prime viewing location. The rest of my group got decked out in Le tour memorabilia and then we start our hunt for an elusive Italia soccer jersey.  Nike and Adidas didn’t have what we wanted but then Puma scored the winner at the last second.  During the hunt for the soccer jersey, Andy and I went to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. Then it was time for dinner at a nice French restaurant followed by a McFlurry run and then it was time for some much needed sleep. The next morning we woke up at 5 am to get toChamps Elyseesby 6:30 am. The key was staking out our spots so we could get front row near the Arc de Triumphe (the place where they turnaround as riders do 8 laps down theChamps Elysees).  The turnaround location was quite popular due to the best picture moments as the riders slow down to go through the turn. After standing for nearly 10 hours, having watched a parade of sponsor cars it was almost time.  The view and the fact that we were only about 6 feet away from the cyclists as they went by was not only breathtaking but very much worth the 10 hour wait. Mariel is a big time cyclist and she still can’t believe how close she was or that she got to see the Tour de France. It is so special to get an opportunity to share and support a friend in something that they are very passionate about. Also as a big time sports fanatic, I got to witness one of the biggest events in sports and got to witness a part of  Tour history as Cadel Evans (oldest man on the tour) took the win. Record-breaking on his part is an added bonus. This was such a nice way to wind down the summer and it was fitting in that my travels kicked-off with Paris which is where I ended them.  Now my travels come to a close as finals loom near on the horizon as well as making the journey back to the US.  Thank you for following me on a summer of a lifetime and I hope you have been able to relive my experiences to your liking.  Live it, love it, breathe it every day — Life! Until we meet again, so long everybody and I wish you all the very best =)

Tour de France

Andy and I are wating in anticipation for the riders to come through. As you can see the place is a bit crowded :)

Riders

Here they come! They are literally 6 feet away from us and moving at almost 62 km/hr. Pretty fast in my opinion...

Lamborghini Aventador

My new sweet ride perks of the study abroad. haha Randomly ran across this Lamborghini Aventador in a garage under the Champs. Why is it parked? Drivers wanted!

The way is shut June 16, 2011

Posted by Steffan Slater in Travel Log.
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The way is shut.
It was made by those who are Dead.
And the Dead keep it.
The way is shut.
–The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Arrête, c'est ici l'empire de la Mort

So that’s not exactly what the sign says, but I like the Lord of the Rings translation better than “Stop, this is the empire of Death,”  although that sounds pretty awesome too.  I really feel as if J.R.R. Tolkien must have visited the Paris Catacombs at some point and used them as inspiration for the entrance to the Paths of the Dead.  Or at least Peter Jackson did and used it for the movie adaptation.  The resemblance truly is eerie.

Okay, putting aside The Lord of the Rings for the moment.  This sign is over the entrance to the ossuary in the Paris Catacombs.  The catacombs are absolutely incredible, as long as you don’t mind being underground among a bunch of dead people.  The line is long, but it moves fairly quickly and the wait is definitely worth it.  It’s not very expensive, either.  After you pay, you walk down a spiral staircase into the earth, then move through some old quarry tunnels for a while.  Some of the areas look a lot like the Halls of Moria, with several high arches cut into the stone.  All right, done with LotR for real this time.  You pass some really impressive sculptures along the way:

Carving of a castle in the Catacombs

Finally you get to a fairly large chamber, and over the next door is the sign you saw above.  Pass through the door and you enter the ossuary itself, where lie the remains of millions of Parisians (Wikipedia says 6 million, I’ve heard 7.5 million, either way A LOT of bones).  The bones are arranged in neat, orderly rows, and go on seemingly forever.  For a good half hour you walk through these old mine tunnels with the walls lined in human bones.  And there’s nothing to stop you from touching them (don’t, though.  The French people who work there don’t like that.  You can’t use flash either, so turn up the ISO on your camera).  The entire experience is very surreal and macabre, but completely awesome.  For me, this was hands down the coolest place I’ve been so far.

Me in the Catacombs

So as you may have gathered, I went to Paris this weekend (May 27-29).  I did the normal Paris-y stuff as well as the Catacombs.  I went out to Versailles on Friday.  The place is absolutely packed with people and as such is rather uncomfortable to walk through, but is extremely impressive.  I particularly like the Hall of the Battles, which has large paintings of famous battles in French history, as well as the numerous statues of famous Frenchmen (and some Frenchwomen).  Here’s me with my man Charles Martel:

Me and Charles Martel

I honestly think Charles Martel is one of the coolest guys in French history.  When your name is literally “Charles the Hammer,” you must be pretty awesome, right?  The Pope offered him the title of Consul (historically one of the two leaders of the Roman Republic) and he said “thanks but no thanks.”  He was a brilliant general, stopping the Muslim expansion into Europe, which had gone on unchecked for 20-odd years, more or less conquering the Iberian peninsula, at the Battle of Tours.  And apparently the whole “awesome leader-general” thing was genetic: you might have heard of his grandson, Charlemagne.

On Saturday I did the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Sainte Chapelle, with the Eiffel Tower that night.  Seeing Paris lit up at night from 1000 feet up was pretty impressive, but I really don’t like the elevator to the top. I also bought a pretty cool hat, which you can see in the picture of me in the Catacombs.  On Sunday we visited Montmartre and the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, as well as saw the Catacombs.  I personally found Sacré Cœur to be much more impressive than Notre Dame.  The style is more reminiscent of many Italian or Byzantine churches than Gothic European cathedrals.  It almost looks like a mosque from a distance.  Also, the view from the dome is fantastic.  Montmartre is a fairly significant hill overlooking the city to begin with, and Sacré Cœur is pretty dang tall.  The wait to get to the top is also much less (read: non-existent) compared to the hour-plus wait to climb the Notre Dame tower (and I think it costs less as well).

Well, that’s about it for this weekend.  Paris was great, and if you go you should definitely visit the Catacombs.  Just remember, if you’re quiet, you might pass unnoticed by the Balrog.  If not, make for the Bridge of Khazad-dûm!

One month, one program, and many fantastic experiences! June 9, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Bonjour amis! (That’s “hi friends” for those of you not fluent in French)

So, just the other day I received my GT Career Services planner from my parents (because I can’t live without it and of course I left it at home), and was filling in my classes when I realized I’ve been in Europe for a whole month now! Crazy!?!? I arrived a week before classes began at GTL and traveled with my sister throughout Germany, Italy, and France and in the past weeks I’ve added to my repertoire of locations visited in Europe. For the first weekend (a 2-day) I decided to stay local and explore the city of Metz with my good friend, Senthuran. Turns out the decision was a good one because we learned where to reserve trains, figured out the bus system, and even got to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Check out some pictures below:

The Cathedral in Metz.

In case you get lost!

For the second weekend (a 3-day) I decided to visit Paris, a close, but yet exciting destination. We initially planned on going to the French Open, but soon found out that tickets had to be bought online (bummer!), but that turned out to be a good thing because we were able to see so much more – Eiffel Tower, Rodin Museum, Amaretto (best gelato in the world), Napoleon’s tomb, Versailles, and the Louvre. Check out some pictures below:

I'm underneath the Eiffel Tower!

Best gelato in the world :)

Yeah, we wear ponchos!

And finally, this past weekend (a 4-day) the group decided to go to Interlaken, Switzerland and what a beautiful and exhilarating experience this was! When we arrived we went for a short evening hike just outside the town of Interlaken, the second day we went on a longer hike that culminated in a quaint little town called Murren, and on the third day I went Canyoning, which was the most adrenaline-filled 3 hours of my life!!! No pictures are available from the canyoning experience, so a YouTube video will have to do:

That day ended in a short hike to one of the lakes on either side of Interlaken and relaxing in a hot tub at Balmers (our hostel), so all in all an awesome trip! Check out some pictures below:

Lots of places to see!

Check out the vista!

There's snow!

Stay posted for more experiences, people, videos, and photos!!!

Au revoir,

Andy

Paris done nearly right! May 31, 2011

Posted by Senthuran in Travel Log.
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After scaling to the top of the Eiffel tower

This past weekend was my first real adventure in Europe outside of the homey little area called Metz. First stop on the tour was at Roland Garros, where the coveted French Open takes place. Unfortunately due to the high volumes of people wanting to watch some incredible tennis, I was unable to partake in this particular event in Paris. But then it was on toVersailleswhere the beautiful gardens in the palace and the palace itself just took my breath away. Two days were spent inParisseeing all the touristy sights including the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the Arc and of course the Eiffel Tower. Napoleon’s Tomb and seeing the crypt which held the graves of Alexander Dumas (the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and Victor Hugo (the author of Les Miserables ) capped off the first great adventure. Along the way I learned the power of the ISIC student id card in saving money, had my first crepe, went to mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral and essentially did the city of Paris justice. Now that I have spent three days learning the ins and outs of the city I want to go back. The metro station there and I have become really good friends over the three days, so it is only fitting to go back. The key to any trip is to come back wiped. Otherwise you didn’t use what little time you had to see as much of the city as possible. Paris is only the first of many trips to come but it was a great starting point in terms of understanding logistics and how the group functions. The challenge is to make the next trip better than the first. So long everybody! Tune in for more from Eurotrip 2011.

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