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Dinner with a French Family! August 3, 2012

Posted by Frederick Grimm in Travel Log.
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Their House
My French Family – the Horschlers

One of my favorite experiences so far has been having dinner with a local family.  This program is organized through Georgia Tech Lorraine and is open to all students.  

I arrived at the GTL campus at 6:00 pm having no idea what to expect.  All I was told was that a local family would come by to pick me up and take me to dinner at their house.  After several minutes of nervous anticipation, I was able to meet two members of my family, the Horschlers.  The moment I met them, one of my fears was confirmed – they spoke very little english.  It was a very awkward fifteen minute car ride to their home in the town on Vigy.  I would try to speak some conversational French, only to be utterly confused by their return response.  

I was quite taken aback by their home.  It was very beautiful, and I learned that it was constructed in the 18th century.  Walking into the house, I was greeted by Mrs. Horschler and their youngest daughter, Emma.  I was very glad to meet Emma because she was learning English in her middle school and helped me whenever I couldn’t think of the right French phrase (which was often).  

While the food was continuing to cook, Mr. Horschler and the girls invited me to walk around their garden. I found it interesting that a majority of their backyard was dedicated to cultivating food.  One tree that I had never seen before was a Mirabelle tree.  I learned that it is native to northen France in the Metz region.  Mr. Horschler even uses some of his mirabelles to produce his own wine!  

Afterwards, we went inside for a freshly cooked dinner.  We first had a small appetizer of garden-grown radishes and bread.  Next, we had our main course: pomme de terre au gratin (potatoes au gratin) avec ragoût de bœuf (beef stew).  It was superb!!!  After our main course, the salad was brought out.  Though the salad was tasty, I was surprised to learn that my family didn’t use salad dressing.  I cannot say I had ever eaten a salad without dressing!  Next we had our cheeses.  This was my favorite part of the meal because I love trying new cheese!  I wasn’t able to catch all of the names, but I still vividly remember all of the tastes.  The best type was a cheese that was very aged and had mold on it (not bleu cheese).  Three of the cheeses were very similar (like Brie cheese), and the last was a cheese that was infused with herbs.  Our final course was dessert, which was a chocolate cake with English cream topping.  It was interesting to see compare an American-style 5-course meal with one in France.  The chief difference is the order of food.  I am accustomed to the size of the food increasing as the meal continues, to be finished with dessert.  However, having the salad and cheese in between the main course and dessert was a nice change. 

After the meal, we inquired about their lives for quite some time.  Once our conversation turned to their town, Vigy, they insisted that I walk around with them.  It was certainly a quaint town!  There are only a few hundred people in the town, and as the yards are all very small it did not take long to see everything. There was one small cafe, a church, and a commons meeting room for the village.  

After our walk, we continued to talk for some more time before we realized it was 1:00 AM.  As the girls and I had school the next morning, we decided it was time they drove me back to GTL.  I was sad to go, but I definitely enjoyed my time there!  I also mistakenly told them that I would come back to visit them each weekend (I said it in French, and it came out wrong)!  

Sincerely,

Frederick Grimm

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Dinner Cruise in Paris August 3, 2012

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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.

African Adventure!! August 3, 2012

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One of my favorite and most memorable trips was Marrakech, Morocco.  I had not planned on visiting Morocco when I arrived at Georgia Tech, but I am glad I was able to!

My friend Max Tanski and I made the excursion during our 5-day extended weekend.  We had originally planned on going to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, but that plan fell through.  After much searching, we decided Marrakech would be just as adventurous. 

We flew into Marrakech from Paris, and the first noticeable difference was the temperature.  We left a cold, rainy Paris and arrived at Marrakech at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit!!!  It was definitely a pleasant change.  After leaving the airport, I could relate to nothing.  The roads did not have lanes and cars drove wherever they wanted on both sides.  It was very frightening!  Our driver took us to our riad, which is a traditional Moroccan style home.  These riads have large open atriums in the center, and rooms surrounding the atrium.  It was a challenge finding our first riad in the maze of streets!  We then wandered around in the medina, which is the name of the city center.  The medina is the historic area and is marked by the old stone walls, and it has been around unchanged for hundreds of years!  Being in the medina felt like stepping back in time.  There were literally hundreds of merchants all selling fabrics, spices, lamps, fruits, carved items, etc.  It was a beautiful chaos!!  We spent hours getting lost in the small roads within the medina.  It was an experience unlike any other! 

Our second day took us to the coastal town of Oussaroura.  It was similar to Marrakech, but much smaller.  We enjoyed the coastal foods and the marina, and bought several cheap paintings from here.  One of the best parts was driving through the desert to reach our destination!

Back in Marrakech, we decided to see more of the city.  We bought a ticket for a bus tour, and saw all the sights Marrakech had to offer!  I can truly say this trip was eye-opening for me.  Though the city is not very wealthy, it is very alive and has a wealth of cultural artifacts to offer visitors.  One of my favorite memories was going through the market at night and seeing the snake charmers and monkey venders.  I even got a monkey placed on my shoulder!  I also ended up buying a few souvenirs.  I will definitely have a difficult time bringing back the five Moroccan lamps, but I believe it will be worth it.

Marrakech was a beautiful city, and I cannot wait to explore the other treasures Africa holds!! 

Switzerland August 3, 2012

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Though I have enjoyed seeing the beauty of the old cities in the countries I have visited, I was thrilled to see the natural beauty of the Alps in Switzerland!

Though we did not have much time here, we certainly were able to see alot!  The adventure started in Interlaken.  I did not do traditional ‘touristy’ activities like caving, skydiving, or vanyoning.  Instead, I followed the advice of Miller Templeton and traveled to Lauterbrunnen.  It is now tied with Fiji for the most beautiful place on Earth!  The small town located in a valley beneath the Alps with waterfalls streaming on both sides was truly a sight to behold!  We found a hiking trail and continued upwards until we could see the Jungfrau, the highest point in Europe!  We pulled out our swiss cheese and chocolate and snacked for several hours while taking in the view.

The next day was spent in Zermatt.  Zermatt was exactly what I thought a Swiss town would look like, complete with alpine homes and traditional swiss yodelers.  We started the hike up to see the Matterhorn.  After several  minutes of hiking, its sharp top became visible.  What a sight!!!!  I was certainly taken back by its sheer scale.  The hike was gorgeous and the mountain air was noticeably fresh.  Here, I spent quite some time laying in the wildflowers gazing at the mountain.  We all slept well that night after our mountain hike!

Our final adventure before heading back to GTL was in Zurich.  I had no idea what was in Zurich, but we made the most of it!  There had just been an Ironman triathlon competition the day before we arrived, so many people were wearing their Ironman shirts (I really would like to complete an Ironman before leaving college, so this was very cool for me to see!).  We saw the large lake in the center of the city, and we were very surprised by the large fountain in the middle!  We walked closer to the fountain, and we noticed several people taking laps in the lake.

From this, I put two and two together and assumed I could just swim out to this behemoth fountain.  Though the water was freezing, it was completely worth it.  I swam to the fountain and my friends took some very neat pictures of me under the massive shoots.

Looking back, I could not have predicted that Switzerland would have been this beautiful.  I cannot wait to visit again!!

London Olympics!!! August 3, 2012

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These past few days have certainly been an experience!!!

As GTL has concluded, I decided it would be fun to take a trip after finals to London. My friend Chris Hoag and I traveled by bus to London on Tuesday night.  Included in the price of our ticket was a ride across the English Channel via ferry. Though we are about to depart, my adventures in London have certainly been memorable.

Like every other voyage, I came in with zero expectations and nothing on the itenerary.  We found a map and started circling popular areas we wanted to visit and created a walking path.  Our first place of interest was Hyde Park.  In Hyde Park, we got a glimpse of our first Olympic Venue.  Most of the park was blocked off for the triathlon completition, but the energy in the air was clearly visible.  We continued our walk to the Queen’s Palace, and then to Trafalgar Square.  Next, we made our way to the Westminster Cathedral and got to see Big Ben and the Parliament building. 

We deviated from plan and, after several recommendations, traveled to the US Olympic Team store near Hyde Park.  After numerous Olympic outift purchases, we were ready and excited to see our first Olympic game!  Thus began our long search for tickets.  For the remainder of the night, we futiley tried to find tickets.  We learned that publicly selling tickets is illegal and one can be charged up to £27,000 in doing so!!!  We also learned that many of the locals were having problems in obtaining tickets, so we abandoned our cause.

The next morning we decided to see more of London.  After a nice fish’n’chips meal in a pub, we headed down to the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Science.  These museums were incredible and were on par with the Smithsonian museums in Washington.  We then spent some time at Hyde Park with 30,000 other international visitors watching the Olympics on the big screens set up.  The crowds went crazy during the Phelps/Lochte 200 meter individual medley event!  To wrap up our evening, we headed to the Tower Bridge.  It was beautiful seeing it lit up at night with the Olympic rings proudly displayed underneath.

London has far exceeded my hopes, and I cannot wait to see what Croatia holds next!

Sincerely,

Frederick Grimm