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ABCs of GTL (U to Z) August 5, 2011

Posted by Layla Marshall in Travel Log.
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U:  Underground—an important means of transportation in cities.  Although I like to walk as much as possible so I can see more of a city during the short time I’m there, riding the metro/subway/tube is a necessity in the larger cities.  My group definitely got plenty of experience doing so in Paris, Rome, Brussels, and London.

V:  Versailles—near Paris, France.  The Palace of Versailles was the first stop on my trip to Paris at the beginning of the summer.  My group toured the inside of the castle, where we saw the elegant rooms with their beautifully painted walls and ceilings, and then moved out to the gardens to take a short nap by the rowboat pond.  Versailles was beautiful, and I especially enjoyed the greenery and sculptures in the huge garden area.

W:  Westminster Abbey—London, England.  While in London, I visited Westminster Abbey, a beautiful church with lots of history.  Our audio guide talked us through the abbey, and we visited the graves of famous authors and poets in Poets’ Corner (where there was a memorial to Shakespeare, who is buried elsewhere) and the grave and memorial of Charles Darwin.  The oldest door in England was part of our tour, and a room had been set aside for pictures and displays of the recent royal wedding.

A rare moment of confusion while navigating with camera maps in Basel, Switzerland

X:  “X marks the spot”—navigation in tourist towns of Europe.  Basel, Switzerland gets the award as the most-easily-navigated-without-possessing-an-actual-portable-map city in Europe.  We explored it on a Sunday when the tourist office was closed and no maps were to be found, but helpful signs magically appeared on each street corner as we found our way from place to place.  Navigating unfamiliar cities to find interesting things to do got easier and easier as the summer went on, probably because we learned the best places to go to find information.  For example, buying the Roma Pass in Rome was an excellent decision, since it came with unlimited subway use and a convenient, pocket-sized map of the historic area of the city.  When all else fails, find a bus stop or go back to the train station and take a picture of the huge map on display there—it might take a while to scroll around it on your camera later, but it’s always good to know where you are!

Y:  Yeomen Warders—guardians of the Tower of London.  Our trip to England included a visit to the Tower of London, where we took a tour from one of the Tower’s guardians.  Due to the rain, the tour was modified and became more of an information session in the chapel, but we still got to see the crown jewels, the White Tower, and the ravens on our own before and after.  The Yeomen Warders live at the Tower and maintain it as a national monument, and this includes giving tours and posing for pictures with lots of tourists and visitors.

Z:  ZZZZZZZZZZ—what I’ll be doing to catch up on rest on my flight back to the States today.  It’s been a busy, exciting, and slightly tiring summer, and I’m so thankful to have been able to participate in the GTL summer program during my time at Tech.  It was the perfect balance of class days and travel days (of course, longer weekends are always nice, but learning while in school is important, too), and I feel like I managed to do everything I wanted to and more while here.  Now it’s time to get caught up on sleep before the fall semester starts!


ABCs of GTL (P to T) August 4, 2011

Posted by Layla Marshall in Travel Log.
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P:  Premier Jour de L’ete (First Day of Summer)—Metz, France.  On June 21st, Metz celebrated the first day of summer in traditional French fashion by having a free music festival downtown.  Music of all kinds was present, and every street had a different artist performing.  Several of the larger bands sang songs in English and French, so I was even able to understand some of the words!

Q:  SP-->Q<–R—aka SPQR, the emblem of Rome, Italy.  I wrote about my trip to Italy earlier, but I wanted to spend a little more time on Rome (and I needed some sort of “Q” for my ABCs!).  We spent two days exploring the city, and we managed to see everything on our list.  Day one included Castel St. Angelo, the Vatican (St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel), the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, delicious pizza for dinner, and the Spanish Steps at night.

Day two started with the Coliseum and continued to Palatine Hill and the forums, the Capitoline museums, Piazza Venezia, Palazzo del Quirinale, a pyramid on the outskirts of the historic district, Circus Maximus, delicious pasta for dinner, another visit to the Trevi, and a walk past Tiber Island on our way back to the hostel.  Lots of gelato made the heat and walking easier to deal with!

R:  Rothenburg, Germany—Schneeballen and medieval walls.  The same weekend I went to Trier, I visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a cute, touristy historic town and the best-preserved medieval walled city in Germany.  Rothenburg is famous for schneeballen (“snowballs”), pastries originally made with the extra dough that accumulates in a bakery and nowadays deliberately sprinkled with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate.  I decided to try one for breakfast, and it was delicious.  My favorite part of Rothenburg was getting to walk along the wall and looking out at the valley below through the small windows and arrow slits.  We happened across a group of musicians walking around town dressed in period costumes playing medieval music, and this helped transport us back to the time when Rothenburg was a thriving market town.

S:  Stonehenge—Salisbury, England.  On my trip to London to see the last Harry Potter movie, my group took a day trip via train and bus to Stonehenge.  It might not have been the most action-packed adventure of the summer, but it was definitely high on my list of things to do while in England.  I enjoyed getting to see in person the site I’ve so often seen in pictures, and getting to stop at the site of the old Salisbury on the way back into town was an added bonus.  Old Sarum was a castle-like complex a few kilometers from the heart of modern-day Salisbury, and the stones from its cathedral were recycled as the wall around the current Salisbury Cathedral.

T:  Trains.  Trains are an amazing form of transportation, and investing in a global two- or three-month rail pass was my best decision all summer.  High-speed trains are neat, but I especially loved being able to jump on a regional train and just go, not worrying about planning and making reservations in advance.  Seats were scarce a few times, but overall I had a wonderful experience with Europe’s main mode of mass transportation.  I’m going to miss the convenience of train-riding when I get back to America.  I celebrated the last day of my rail pass’s validity by riding a train to and from dinner at Chi-Chi’s, a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant frequented by GTL students, in Luxembourg City.

ABCs of GTL (J to O) August 3, 2011

Posted by Layla Marshall in Travel Log.
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I realize I had minor error in my last post—apparently, K is supposed to come after J in the alphabet.  Oops!  Here’s J now:

J:  Journey to the Middle Ages—castle exploration along the Rhine River, Germany.  This was probably my favorite trip.  I always said I wanted to see castles, and although I saw the Disney castle in Füssen, I had yet to see the kind of castle I saw this weekend.  We went to the Rhine River area of Germany and explored three very different, very neat castles.  At the first, Burg Rheinfels in St. Goar, we were given free reign to explore the sprawling medieval ruins.  There were several narrow passageways and spiral staircases to walk through and a tower to climb for a view of the Rhine.  The best part of this trip was the boat ride we took the next day, when it seemed we saw a different castle every five minutes.  My need for castle-seeing was definitely fulfilled!

K:  in my previous post—I know my alphabet now, I promise!

L:  Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.  I’ve visited Luxembourg thrice and passed through it several times to catch connecting trains elsewhere.  The first trip was on the Saturday of my first weekend here.  I got to explore the casemates, see the cathedral, walk through beautiful parks, and tour the American military cemetery on the outskirts of town.  My next two visits were on weeknights.  I never would have thought it possible to simply go to another country for dinner, but it’s practically nothing these days to hop on a train for 50 minutes, enjoy delicious food, and make it back in time to catch a night bus back to the dorm.

M:  Marienplatz and Munich.  We went to Munich for a day and a half the same weekend we saw castles in Füssen.  We took a guided walking tour of the city and then walked around on our own for a while.  We walked through the Englischer Garten and enjoyed a fresh pretzel at the Chinese Tower, toured the Deutsches Museum’s exhibits on everything from music to alternative energy, and watched the famous glockenspiel strike 11am in the Marienplatz.

N:  Natural History Museum—and other adventures on a rainy day in Basel, Switzerland.  On my last weekend of traveling, I went to Lucerne and Basel, Switzerland.  After spending a day taking a boat ride on Lake Lucerne, my group chose to stay in Basel for the second day and explore museums and gardens.  The University of Basel’s botanical gardens were absolutely beautiful, and the tropical greenhouse was my favorite—bright blue and black birds flew back and forth overhead and chattered to us while we walked through their rainforest-like home.  We also went to the Natural History Museum of Basel, where we saw all sorts of Ice Age mammals, dinosaurs, insects, and aquatic animals.

A room full of organs and pianos in the Deutsches Museum, Munich

O:  Organs and oboes—and music in general.  My favorite thing to do when I walk into a cathedral is find the pipe organ.  When cameras were allowed, I took a picture of every single one I saw.  I found even more musical instruments in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, where there was a whole room full of pianos and organs and exhibits displaying the evolution of brass and woodwinds, including oboes.  I even got to “play” a shawm, the ancestor of the modern-day oboe, in an interactive exhibit at the Globe Theater in London.  Unfortunately, the actual instrument wasn’t accessible, so I had to settle for the touch-screen sound generator instead.  Music is a universal language, and I love feeling connected to something so common in every culture.

ABCs of GTL (F to K) July 26, 2011

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F:  Füssen, Germany—castle country.  On the third weekend, I traveled to Germany to see my first castles.  Schloss Neuschwanstein, the actual “Disney castle,” is one of two famous castles near Füssen.  I got to take guided tours of Neuschwanstein and its neighbor, Hohenschwangau, both of which were built by King Ludwig II.  My favorite part about these historic places, other than the fact that they’re castles, is the many references to Richard Wagner, the famous German composer and good friend of King Ludwig.  The rooms in Neuschwanstein are decorated with the themes of his many operas, and Wagner played the piano in Hohenschwangau when he visited.

G:  Gardens.  Europe has so many beautiful garden areas.  From Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park in London to the gardens of Versailles and the botanical gardens of the University of Basel in Switzerland, I’ve gotten to see many impressive landscapes.  I approve of Europeans’ dedication to preserving green space, even in the biggest cities.

H:  Hackenberg Fortress.  Another GTL fieldtrip was to the Hackenberg Fortress, near the village of Veckring on the border of France and Germany.  This fort was one of the largest fortifications of the Maginot Line, and it changed hands between France and Germany throughout WWII.  We were given tours of the network of underground tunnels, and our guide demonstrated the workings of one of the turrets used for defense.  After Hackenberg, we went to an American cemetery near St. Avold.

Amphitheater in Pompeii

I:  Italy—from Pompeii to Florence.  On our five-day weekend in the middle of the summer, we went to Italy and started our adventures in Naples.  We wandered around the ruins of Pompeii for a few hours and saw Mount Vesuvius from afar.  Next stop was Rome, but I’ll talk more about that later.  We went through Florence on our way back to Metz, where we visited the Medici Chapel, the basilica, and the Piazza Michelangelo, where we watched a beautiful sunset over the city.  The weather was wonderful and the gelato was delicious!

Florence at Sunset

K:  Kebabs.  It’s like in “I-Spy” books when you get to the end and there’s a clue for the object that has been hidden in every scene—only this one’s not exactly hidden.  Kebabs (my favorite are chicken) are the extremely convenient European fast-food equivalent, and I’ve enjoyed several throughout the summer.

ABCs of GTL (A-E) July 25, 2011

Posted by Layla Marshall in Travel Log.
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To give a sampling of what I’ve seen and experienced so far in Europe, I’m going to go through the ABCs of my summer studying at Georgia Tech Lorraine:

Atomium, BrusselsA:  Atomium—the structure built in 1958 for the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium.  I visited Belgium on a two-day weekend, Brussels on Saturday and Bruges on Sunday.  While in Brussels, my group visited the Coudenberg archaeological site (location of the former palace) and the Atomium.  We also experienced Belgian waffles.  They were delicious, but almost too sweet—I’ve never seen so much chocolate sauce on a dessert.  I had to get whipped cream to balance it out.  My favorite combination (I only tried two that weekend, but I know what I’m getting again if I ever go back) was whipped cream and strawberries.  In Bruges on Sunday, we walked to the top of the clock tower in the main square and wandered through the city, passing by the canals and trying Belgian chocolate on the way.

Kaisertherman, Trier, GermanyB: Baths—Roman ruins in Trier, Germany.  I took a two-day weekend trip to two medieval towns in Germany.  Trier was full of reminders of the Roman days.  It had three sites of Roman baths, two of which were open to tourists, and an amphitheater that frequently hosted reenactments of gladiatorial battles.  We walked to all these sites despite the drizzly weather, and we walked along the river by the krahnen (cranes) which used to be use to transfer supplies to and from ships.


C:  Cheese and Chocolate—Interlaken, Switzerland.  I traveled to Switzerland on a four-day weekend with a group of ten, and we had a wonderful time exploring the mountains.  We rode alpine trains to the foot of trails on both full days and hiked for four or five hours between towns and along a ridge.  We made friends with the cows whose pastures we walked through.  Our hostel graciously provided us with fresh local Swiss cheese for breakfast, and we made many trips to the nearby grocery store for chocolate.  Switzerland is a beautiful country (I got to experience the scenery again through the train window on our way back from Italy later), and this was definitely one of my favorite trips.

Schynige Platte, Switzerland

St PetersD:  Domes—Cathedral climbing in Vatican City and Florence, Italy.  Churches often offer the best aerial views of cities, and we took advantage of that fact in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica) and Florence (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore).  The view at the top is definitely worth all the narrow, windy stairs (sometimes hosting both directions of traffic, as in Florence).  On the way to the top, we got to see the inside of the basilicas from above as well.

Basilica in Florence

E:  European Parliament—Strasbourg, France.  During one of the two GTL weekday field trips, we rode buses to Strasbourg, capital of Alsace and an important location for the European Union.  After a morning bus tour and a few hours of walking exploration of the city, I joined a smaller group of GTL students for a tour of European Parliament.  We got to sit in on a plenary session and listen to the various members of parliament voice their views on the current topic.  The most amazing part of the visit was flipping through all the channels of languages spoken by the EU.  Headphones beside our seats allowed us to listen to translators’ versions of English so we could keep up with the speakers.  It was impressive to think that a group of people speaking twenty-three different languages can coordinate so well to make important decisions for its twenty-seven member states.

EU Parliament, Strasbourg, France