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Hello Sunshine! July 27, 2012

Posted by silviavaca in Travel Log.
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Hi & welcome to my collection of fun stories, random side notes, and reflections on my summer in Europe. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Silvia Vaca and I just completed my first year at the fantastic Georgia Institute of Technology. This summer, I’m fortunate to spend 12 weeks in Europe. I’ve been dreaming of visiting France (Paris Paris Paris!) for years, so I’m thrilled to go! Even better, I’ll be taking classes at Georgia Tech’s Lorraine Campus in Metz, France so I can be a helluva engineer. Seriously, words can’t express my excitement – just ask my puppy Lucas, he’s sure I’ve gone insane.

My journey starts on May 13th, so that’s when the fun will begin. For the rest of the week I’ll be frantically packing and attempting to learn French (fun fact: thanks to my Chinese minor, my brain swears that Chinese is basically French & substitutes random words… “Je ne parle pa bien francais, 可是 je 很 喜欢 francais!”)

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& the fun begins! July 27, 2012

Posted by silviavaca in Travel Log.
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Warning: the following will be bursts of stories, facts, and random thoughts. It will likely not be coherent and definitely won’t flow nicely, but props if you manage to follow along. Also, it spans 4 days or so (I think?) Yay time zones!

These last couple of days have been hectic. I boarded the plane in Atlanta for a direct flight to Frankfurt on Sunday, May 13th. After a fun 10 hr flight and time zone changes, I arrived at 6am local time. The Frankfurt airport is much less busy than the ATL one and (thankfully) most signs were translated into English. Since we had to wait for the bus to Metz, we sat at a McDonalds and chatted. The highlight was jumping into a ballpit with Conrad! (I’m sure Maria would love to provide you with picture evidence). As for the bus ride, let’s just say it was very flexible. The driver’s English knowledge was “3 driver, 10 minute,” so after being switched out of 2 different buses and having my luggage left on the curb, the third driver appeared and I was finally on my way to Metz.

Metz is beautiful…. but currently freezing. I was told it would be a little chilly at the beginning; today’s high is 57 degrees Fahrenheit (yikes!). This has made it incredibly obvious to everyone that we are American, since we all wear massive hoodies and jackets while the Europeans are ever fashionable. We went into downtown Metz yesterday to explore and I could spot fellow GTLers from a solid 2 blocks away. This meant that the French recognized us immediately and glared/rolled their eyes accordingly.

Aside from the miserable weather, exploring was awesome. Metz has a massive cathedral that is absolutely beautiful (again, pictures later!) The architecture is simply stunning and all the windows are skillfully decorated with stained glass. There is also a castle in downtown Metz which we saw on a mini-train tour of the city. The streets are all narrow and covered in brick and lined with small stores ranging from Sephora, to bars, and Asian restaurants. As expected, everything is super expensive here… everything except wine, which you can buy cheaper than water. Moreover, the whole city shuts down after 7pm, with the exception of the bars. So, since we were stuck downtown until the buses picked us up at 10pm and it was frigid outside, we went into the nearest bar and attempted to blend in. At the bar, a glass of Chardonnay was 2.5 euros, while a glass of water was 3.5 and 3 sips of coffee was 2 euros. Our first adventure was interesting and exhausting, so we fell asleep almost as soon as we got to our dorms.

Today (Wednesday) was the first day of class! I have the pleasure of waking up for 8am Statics almost every day. On the plus side, I’m up early, so I can get my work done during the day. I’ll head off to lunch at 11:30am in the Crous Cafeteria. The cafeteria here is surprisingly good. The portions are huge (seriously) and the food is pretty tasty, definitely better than the dining halls at Tech! Our lunch is covered on days we have class, and dinner is up to us, but we can eat at Crous for 3 euros, which is a really nice deal.

I’m missing a ton of stuff, but this post is long already, so I’ll talk about that later.

Au Revoir!

“Let’s Talk About Random Stuff..” July 27, 2012

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Classes have picked up here in Metz and one of the ones I’m taking is Statistics. My Stats professor began one of our lectures last week with “let’s talk about random stuff,” which I found awesome because we then proceeded to have a lecture on randomness in probability.

Anyways…. last weekend we went on our first trip! and we didn’t die/get lost. Saturday, we went to downtown Metz and explored the city. The architecture is absolutely stunning! My favorite building was the Metz Cathedral, which has beautiful stained glass windows.

Metz Cathedral
Stained glass windows in the Metz’ Cathedral!

On Sunday, we took a train to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. As you may imagine, the tiny country had an appropriately sized city. We managed to cover the whole city on foot in ~6 hrs. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic city! The architecture is splendid and the people there are friendly. Fun fact: Luxembourg has 3 official languages: French, German, & Luxembourgish (an awesome German dialect with Flemish thrown in there). This means that people will greet you in a language and if you look confused, they switch languages until they get to one you speak.

One of my favorite parts about the city was that there was a giant gorge that basically split the city in half. If you took the stone stairways all the way down, there was a gorgeous park in which we had lunch (delicious Kebabs!). The city had an awesome balance of nature, old architecture (yay castles!), and modern shops. The city was perfect for a day trip and definitely worth seeing! This weekend, we’re headed to Brussels and Amsterdam, so I’ll update you on that when I get back.

The building in the back is the museum of the national bank

Belgian Waffles, Chocolate, & Spanish… wait, what? July 27, 2012

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For our first legit trip (more than a day trip), we went to Brussels & Amsterdam. We had heard that Brussels was voted the most boring city in Europe by previous GTLers, so we only planned to stay there a night…. & it was a good decision! When we arrived, we were welcomed by a Jazz Fest on Grand Place – right in front of our hostel. Grand Place is the plaza with city hall, so it was an awesome mix of people listening to music on the street & old architecture:

Grand Place

The Brussels Jazz Fest in the Grand Place!

We had a nice dinner outside while enjoying the music and later walked around to get a feel for the city. As we walked, I was surprised to hear Spanish fairly frequently. Spanish in Brussels?! On top of that, we saw an advertisement for a Salsa night at a local club. We never figured out why there was such a Hispanic influence there, but it was cool for me to hear a language I understood.

As any reasonable tourists would, we had Belgian waffles for breakfast the next morning and they were spectacular. We found out that the reason Belgian waffles are so yummy is that they’re made with tons of real sugar (you can see the sugar crystals inside!) To add to the deliciousness, they are topped with anything you want: strawberries, Belgian chocolate, bananas, Belgian chocolate, ice cream, & have I mentioned Belgian chocolate? So good!

Be jealous! (There’s a waffle underneath all the yummy goodness, I promise)

& then we were off to Amsterdam! We arrived to the sound of cheers & music. After seeing almost everyone in orange & soccer balls hanging in the streets, we deduced that there was a futbol game that afternoon. You could feel the energy in the city as they supported their team!

These guys were running around chanting & laughing!
These were everywhere!

We explored the city on foot & discovered that people weren’t kidding when they said that you’re more likely to get hit by a bike than a car in Amsterdam. Seriously:

Need a bike?

Anywho… the most rewarding part of the trip was visiting the Anne Frank House. We were hesitant at first when we realized the line went around 2 blocks, but it moved quickly so we made it inside in no time at all. The house has been renovated into 2 main parts: the original house in which the Franks resided and the museum with documents and video clips about the Franks and the Holocaust. Otto Frank – Anne’s father – was the only survivor of the inhabitants of the house, so he had a lot of say in how the museum was laid out. One of his requests was that the house remain empty of furniture. He wanted this because the Nazis had left the house empty when the Franks were discovered and Otto felt the house should remain that way to represent the emptiness left by the Holocaust.

I was expecting small quarters of course, but it was mind-blowing being physically inside the house. It was TINY. We walked around a room the size of a large closet & realized that it had been Anne’s room – which she shared with someone else. Moreover, they couldn’t leave the house, so they were confined to their small living space. The museum was fantastic; seriously, you should go! Anyways, the next trip is BARCELONA, so I’ll have stories when I come back!

Barcelona, Beach, Sun, & Salsa July 27, 2012

Posted by silviavaca in Travel Log.
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For our four day weekend, we headed off to Barcelona, Spain. Given Metz’ rainy and cold weather, we were thrilled to see some sunshine & warmth. When we got to the station to catch our train we realized that at least half of GTL had the same idea. Everywhere you looked you saw GT shirts, hats, bags, & excitement. The overnight train was a pleasant one since everyone was excited & we arrived in Barcelona in the morning.

Having spent a couple weeks in France, I had started to get used to struggling to understand people & talking Kavya into ordering my food. For that reason, I was a tad excited to hear the announcer say “Bienvenidos a Barcelona!” Suddenly, I felt useful again! That afternoon, we dropped our stuff off in our hostel and headed to the beach to relax. The beach was warm and we enjoyed Tapas (traditional Spanish food) while listening to Juanes.

That night we looked for one of my favorite parts of Hispanic culture: Salsa dancing. With a quick crash course in Salsa dancing for the rest of the group, we headed to a dance club and enjoyed the atmosphere. A live band was playing and the dance floor was PACKED with Hispanics. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun.

The next morning we headed to la Sagrada Familia  – Barcelona’s famous church. La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for… ever. Seriously, over 100 years and it’ not finished yet. However, they are expecting to finish within the next 10 years! You can definitely tell that la Sagrada Familia isn’t your typical church; the architecture is crazy!

What a funky looking church!
The ceiling of la Sagrada Familia

The next day, we decided to explore the city by walking around and getting lost. We found Las Ramblas – a famous street covered with vendors, delicious food, and tourists. There we decided to get caricatures… & they were awesome!

We all got caricatures!

After a fun day of exploring, eating delicious food, and enjoying beautiful weather; we traveled back to Metz. More trips to come soon!

Munchen! July 27, 2012

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To contrast the warm, beachy feel of Barcelona, we went to Munich for the following 2 day weekend. We took an overnight train in which we were supposed to have couchettes (mini beds to sleep on), but due to some miscommunication in reservations, we ended up having regular seats. We made it to Munich at 7am and were greeted by rain. Despite the rough start, Munich turned out to be a great city. We explored the city on foot at first by walking around aimlessly and found random things like a Michael Jackson memorial.

A little random, but awesome Michael Jackson Memorial

Later, we stumbled upon something a little more traditional: the glockenspiel. It goes off on the hour and little figurines inside move to show a story of a brave Bavarian knight.

The glockenspiel!

Our following adventures were a bit more organized; we visited the Olympic Park, BMW Museum, and Nymphenburg castle. The Olympic Park was the site of the 1972 summer Olympics. With the London 2012 Olympics coming up, it was awesome to see a previous Olympic site. As an ex-swimmer, I was particularly interested in the Olympic pool (this was the third one I visited!) so I talked the group into going inside and seeing it.

The Munich 1972 Olympic Park

The Olympic Pool

To help with the cost of the Olympic park, blocks of concrete were sold to famous people all over the world. Some of them were pretty awesome:

Carlos Santana!

Conveniently, the BMW museum is right across from the Olympic Park, so we headed there next. The museum had cars on cars on cars ranging from super old models (check out the picture) to brand new models that aren’t even out in the US yet. We were lucky to go at a time when they were having demonstrations for their new motorcycles, so we got to watch a guy do tricks all around the museum. All around including up stairs, down stairs, on ramps, through the gift store, and everywhere in between. It was tons of fun to watch!

A silvia-sized car!

Our next adventure was out to Nymphenburg castle – an old Bavarian castle. The castle was huge and surrounded by even larger gardens!

Nymphenburg castle

Unfortunately, most of the castle was blocked off for the public so we didn’t stay long.

After a packed weekend, we prepared for our overnight train back to Metz. This time we actually got couchettes so we were all pumped! Since our train arrived in Metz at 6:30am and our first class was at 8am, we were thrilled to get some sleep on the train.

Interlaken July 27, 2012

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Several of my friends who have been to GTL told me I HAD to go to Interlaken. Why? The small town, located in between two lakes and surrounded by the Swiss Alps, is known for its beautiful scenery and outdoor activities. By outdoor activities I mean canyon jumping, canyoning, rafting, glacier trekking, and hang gliding. Doesn’t that sound like fun? I was particularly interested in hang gliding. Imagine flying off a cliff overlooking a valley with gorgeous lakes, beautiful green fields, and surrounded by the spectacular Swiss Alps. That’s what I did in Interlaken.

It. Was. Amazing.

The view from the cliff before taking off

Such a smooth ride & look at that view!

In mid turn over the lake

After the ride, we took some time to enjoy the scenery by walking around the town and down to the shore of one of the lakes. Words can’t describe the beauty of the place, so I hope pictures can express it:

The view from my bed in the hostel. Not kidding.
Trains and mountains… we were in Switzerland indeed.
There were fields like this in the outskirts of town!
One of the lakes…absolutely beautiful
You could see the snow covered Alps from the valley

We didn’t spend much time in Interlaken, but we spent all the time there in awe of nature. It was definitely one of the prettiest places I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing!