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Metz: GTL Basecamp August 12, 2012

Posted by hasquith3 in Travel Log.
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My 12 weeks living in France were spent in Metz, France. The historical city is situated close to the French/German border and can accurately be called the center of Europe. The Georgia Tech building is located on the outskirts of the city, about 35 minutes walking time. In front of the school is a large hay field, and there is a lake behind it. There are three student housing buildings around the school, and I was able to have my own room, bathroom, and kitchen area.

Days in Metz were spent getting as much work done as possible. The weekends were full of travel across the continent, leaving no time for work. On nights that we weren’t busy with our studies, we would go downtown or to the lake because it didn’t get dark until after 10pm.

Downtown Metz is home to my favorite cathedral that I’ve seen in Europe. It is the third highest in France and the tenth highest in the world. Built between 1220 and 1520 (300 years!), the cathedral is known for its vast collection of stained glass. The cathedral is in the middle of a lively area of the city filled with restaurants, bars, and a movie theatre. Many nights downtown were ended with one last walk by of the grounds outside the cathedral, trying to absorb as much of this human wonder as possible. It is amazing that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is packed with tourists all day, and this cathedral remains relatively undiscovered by many tourists in France. 

Some of my GTL friends have said that they weren’t fond of Metz’s location. When visiting some of the biggest, most historic cities in Europe all summer, I can see why they would feel that way. However, I disagree with this view. Although it may not be a particularly recognizable city, I think that to experience everyday life in the small city of Metz is a more authentic experience than most are fortunate to have. 

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Rijeka, Croatia August 12, 2012

Posted by hasquith3 in Travel Log.
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My most eastern endeavor of the summer was a trip to Rijeka, Croatia. The trip began with a 17 hour train ride from Metz. I was fortunate enough to have a travel partner who booked the tickets months in advance. Consequently, we were able to spend the night in a bedded 3 person couchette. The comfortable rooms were a sharp contrast to the steamy 6 person compartment with chairs that plagued most of my overnight travels.

Rijeka is the third largest city in the country, and is a major port on the Mediterranean Sea. After the Italians surrendered in WWII, Croatia became German territory, and in 1944, Rijeka faced heavy Allied bombings. Evidence of the bombings can be seen at several locations across the city.

After checking into the hostel, we began exploring. From the shipping port to the restaurants a few blocks away, the atmosphere was unlike any other place I’d visited thus far, and English was rare. The currency switch to the Kuna made basic exchanges more interesting. Instead of paying 2 Euros for a Coca-Cola, the cost would be 140 Kuna. It was my first experience paying hundreds. The high price could be deceiving because most of our expenses in Croatia were relatively cheaper than everywhere I had previously been in Europe.

We then took an hour long bus ride to the island of Krk. Locals enjoyed the beautiful coast while bartenders supplied the mojitos. We walked a far distance along the shoreline before visiting a castle that the village is centered around. Afterwards, we found a large cliff near the village that we were able to jump from. Luckily, the water was deep enough for us.

Perhaps my favorite element of the city is the lack of tourism. Because I have limited time travelling in Europe, my goal has been to make it to the major, most popular cities. Rijeka is by no means a tourist destination, and I was able to get a glimpse of life within the city without the constant presence of tourists.

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Munich August 6, 2012

Posted by hasquith3 in Travel Log.
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For my final trip of the summer, I decided to go to Munich before making my way to Frankfurt for the flight home. After packing up all of my belongings and saying goodbye to Metz, Ryan Gleber and I boarded the seven-hour train ride to Munich.

We woke up early the next morning to visit Dachau. After a quick train and a bus ride, we made our way to the entrance of the camp. The iron gate has the inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which is German for “work will set you free”. It’s difficult to describe how it feels walking through a camp where at least 32,000 humans met their death. Walking through the barracks and reading prisoners’ stories may have been the most sickening parts. They were designed to fit 200 people, but overcrowding caused there to be 2,000 people in each of the barracks near the end of the war. Only two of the barracks still remain, the other 32 were torn down except for their concrete bases. Behind the barracks stand several religious monuments to those who died at the camp. The crematories and gas chambers are found in a building down a short path from the barracks. Originally there was only one gas chamber, but more were later needed. The gas chamber is directly adjacent. For an unknown reason, this gas chamber was never used, but it is designed the same as the one in Auschwitz.

That night Ryan and I met up with another PS from our grade, Connor Perkett. We explored Munich’s Englischer Garten. Similar to Berlin’s Tiergarten, the park is close to the center of the city and is filled on the weekend with tourists and locals enjoying the summer evening. The Chinesischer Turm, a five-story structure that looks similar to something you may find in the gardens of a Chinese emperor, is the most notable landmark in the area. A traditional German band played on the second floor the hundreds of people eating and drinking around the area. The atmosphere was incredible.

The next day we took a two-hour train ride to Füssen to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle was built in the 19th century by Ludwig II of Bavaria. The castle served as the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and is the most beautiful building I have seen in my time in Europe. We fortunately reached the castle just in time. Immediately after having some time to admire it and take pictures, heavy rain came for half an hour. Forgetting to bring an umbrella quickly became a problem. Luckily we made our way out of the freezing rain alive.

Our final day in Munich started with the BMW Museum. After looking through the most luxurious vehicles BMW has to offer, we walked across the street to the West Germany site of the 1972 Summer Olympics. Our final destination was the Deutsche Museum. The museum has a science theme, with several different exhibits including Nanotechnology, Mining, Engines, Industrial Power, and Airplanes. 

Omaha Beach July 12, 2012

Posted by hasquith3 in Travel Log.
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I arrived to Bayeux from Paris at 2pm by train. This small town is located in the Normandy region of France and is the location of Omaha Beach. The Bayeux train station was already deserted when we arrived, and transportation is not easily accessible. Because we had limited time before our 7pm train back to Paris, we decided go the more expensive route and take a taxi. The cab ride to the coastline was expensive, but our cab driver was born and raised in the region and clearly had deep respect for Americans visiting the cemetery and the beach.  He genuinely thanked us for coming to visit and gave us a large discount.

After going through security we found a museum focusing on American involvement in the Normandy invasion. Some of the most moving parts of the museum were stories of sacrifice of American soldiers on D-Day and the few following weeks that were spent pushing back Nazi positions. Quotes from soldiers describing their experiences preparing and executing the invasion covered the walls. Another part that stuck with me was the description of the decision that Eisenhower had to make concerning the date of the invasion. After postponing the invasion date to June 6, 1944, the Allied forces learned that the weather could again be disastrous. At 3:30am on June 6th the weather on the English Channel was still dangerous, but the forecasters predicted the weather to clear up later that day. Eisenhower was faced with the responsibility to make the final decision: to invade or to delay. After pacing around the room and conversing with his military advisors, he sent the orders that would shape the Western Front, “OK, let’s go,” immediately sending the operation into motion.

I was surprised when I noticed that that vast majority of the visitors were French citizens paying respect to the American soldiers. One of my favorite parts of the museum was looking over the guestbook, signed by citizens of countries all across the world with pages of remarks saying “God Bless the USA” and “Never forget their sacrifice”. The museum was purposefully designed to present the museum before entering the cemetery, to fill the visitor with a vast amount of respect for the men that now rest on the cliff directly above the beach that they gave their lives to overtake. Just before opening the door that led to the cemetery, there was a quote from General Mark W Clark that stayed with me: “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”

9,387 American soldiers are buried in the Normandy American cemetery. I cannot remember a time where I’ve had more chills than my first step onto the cemetery’s lawn. The first monument in sight is a 22-foot high bronze statue representing the spirit of American youth rising above the waves. After walking through the cemetery, I went to a small chapel in the center. On the ceiling of the chapel, there is a mosaic depicting America blessing her sons before they depart to fight for freedom. The steep walk from the cliff to the beach is so thick with vegetation that descending to the shoreline would be impossible without a built path. The distance from the bottom of the cliff to the water could have been over 100 yards. I walked along the beach and then ascended back up and explored one of the few remaining Nazi bunkers.

After nearly two months abroad, the most powerful experience I have had was at Omaha Beach. I was completely overwhelmed with patriotism during my visit, and I have infinite respect for the sacrifices of these brave Americans.