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A visit to the most “Beautiful City in the World” July 11, 2013

Posted by vpalavi in Travel Log.
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A very nice relaxing weekend started with a small little adventure when Nina forgot her passport and Eurail pass and Pranaya, my freshman roommate, was missing. We had not heard from Pranaya since the night before. We had left several messages, but we didn’t get anything in return. Pranaya had slept through her alarm. During this time while on the bus to the train station, Nina and I had realized that she had forgotten her passport and Eurail. We had gotten off at a random bus stop and were trying to find our way back.  This is where it got a little challenging because we didn’t know how to speak in French, and we had no idea how to get back. As a joke, I had stuck my thumb out to hitchhike but all the drivers had just given me weird looks. After a couple of laughs, we thought that the sign was offending the French and meant something else. We spent a totally of 55 minutes figuring out these two dilemmas and finally made it to the train station where we met Pranaya. Meeting her there, we all realized that all three of us were wearing white dresses. It was an utter coincidence.

We were finally on our way to our destination, Colmar, France, the most beautiful city in Europe. Once we got there, we found out way to “Little Venice.” This was a small river where the people had boat rides. It was literally mini Venice. The pictures will speak for themselves. There were several little restaurants that were on the side of the river. We ate in one of them where we ordered Colmar’s Tante Formage, a pizza that had yogurt in it. The flavoring was interesting because of the sour taste of yogurt with the cheese and sauce.

After lunch and ice cream, we walked around Colmar for the next 3 hours. We just kept walking and got lost in the most beautiful city in Europe. We went into churches and cathedrals, markets, and different parks. It was one of the most relaxing weekends I have had in Europe.

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Speechless… June 9, 2013

Posted by vpalavi in Travel Log.
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You know, I talk a lot. I talk quite a bit. I just keep talking. There is no stop. Well, let me tell you, this changed when I stepped foot in Barcelona. Some of the places we visited left me speechless.

Friday night, we took a 14-hour train to Barcelona. This train was filled with GTL students. It was one of the loudest train rides I’ve encountered. By the time we had all fallen asleep, it had been 3 or 4 in the morning because everyone was talking so loudly. When we the France-Spain border, there was a drunkard on our cabin that didn’t have his passport and was kicked off the train. He was beat up because he tried to run away. It was intense! Also, a GTL student lost his phone. So, when they tell you to be careful about pick pocketing. Be careful!

By the time we got off the train and made our way to the hostel, it was already lunchtime. I tried to speak as much Spanish as I could. After a nice shower, we had all left to go roam around in Barcelona. We spent all day walking around the beach and La Rambla (a touristy street with little shops and stalls that sell souvenirs).  We saw a sand castle. It was taller than I was. Barcelona is an incredibly spontaneous city. Wherever you look, you will be surprised at what you see. And don’t forget about paella. Delicious rice with seafood and vegetables and spices—I think that’s all we ate for a solid 3 meals. It’s a fantastic filling meal.

The next morning, we had a complimentary breakfast where I discovered toast and nutella! It tasted so good. I always ate nutella with strawberries or pretzels and never thought to put on toast. What a great idea! After breakfast, we had spent 3 hours on a walking tour. We discovered a lot about the gothic architecture and history of a lot of the cathedrals in Barcelona. This tour ended at an awesome tapas restaurant. We had bought 70 Euros worth of tapas split between 10 people. The best part was trying to figure out how much everyone owed. This is where I become a complete Tech student because I started writing receipts for each person on napkins. I made the cashier’s life so much easier. Each of us took the receipt I made to him, and he gave us the designated change we needed. In Europe, stores and restaurants want you to pay as a whole group together instead of splitting a check, always making it a nightmare for the customers.

After lunch, we made our way to Gaudi’s work, Casa Batlo and Casa Mila. His work is so interesting. I say this because right after, we went to Parc Guell. His home is located here. It’s on a hill and it oversees the entire city of Barcelona. There is a saying “a picture speaks a thousand words.” Well, sometimes you just have to be there to capture and take it all in. Parc Guell left me speechless. I was almost in tears because I couldn’t believe what I saw. This was when it hit me that I was in Europe. I was spending 3 months in Europe with my friends, and I am very thankful to be here. Not many people can say that they got to travel Europe when they were 18 years old.

This disbelief and speechless state continued into the next morning when we went to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, almost 200 years old and still not completed. The basilica was beautifully constructed with great detail and so many different colors. I can’t even begin to explain what I saw because you had to be there to understand what I felt. I spent 20 minutes just sitting inside looking around, praying, trying to soak all of it in. Spending a hour or two in the underground museum, we had spent a total of about 3 or 4 hours at the Sagrada Familia. And let me tell you, from waiting in the line for 30 minutes to sitting down for 20 minutes, it was all worth it.

Our adventure continued to the beach. We spent 2 hours at the beach just bathing in the sun. Soon realizing that in Barcelona, the beach has free wifi, we all took our iPhones out to check our snap chats, Facebook, and Twitter.  We all looked ridiculous, but we didn’t care. That’s the first thing you think of, “do they have wifi?”, “what’s the wifi password.” We’re so connected to our phones and Internet. Traveling changes that but when we do have free wifi, we take advantage of it.

Some tips & tricks to get around through Barcelona:

  • Haggle! Try to get the best prices there on the street.
  • Speak in Hindi if you can because there are a lot of Indians in Barcelona. If you speak the language, they’ll give you a great discount
  • Haggle for food if you have a big group of people. A buffet for 13 Euros can be reduced to 9 Euros.
  • Watch out for cars. They’re everywhere.
  • Don’t walk through a red light for the crosswalk. You will get hurt!
  • Try to find hostels with complimentary breakfast. It saves a lot of money.
  • Be VERY VERY careful with Sangria!
  • When you go to the touristy places, close your eyes and just listen to where you are. It’s beautiful what your ears pick up what your eyes miss.

Livin’ like the locals June 9, 2013

Posted by vpalavi in Travel Log.
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Not only two days spent in Paris, but so many memories made. As our train arrived at Gare de Paris Est, the mood and atmosphere changed from what the Metz train station was like. People looked like there were in a hurry, even at 11:00 pm. There were policemen and the military with guns pointed in every direction that scared the living daylights out of me.

The culture in each city is so different in Europe. Each city has its own history, traditions, and style of living. We got to spend the weekend with my friend’s cousins. They lived in a nice condo style apartment: 4 bedrooms, a nice kitchen, and a huge living room. After settling into the apartment, we had decided to go roam the nightlife of Paris. Everywhere we went, we saw crepe shops. Crepes are so delicious!

Paris apartment we stayed at for two nights.
Paris apartment we stayed at for two nights.
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

The next morning we got lost in Paris. They say the best way to tour a city is to get lost in it. That’s exactly what we did. Walking around the city trying to find our way was so refreshing. We had walked to Champs Elyse, Arch de Triumph, and the gardens. In the evening, we had gone back to dinner with the cousins. They had made us scallops and rice with shrimp guacamole. At night we went to the Eiffel Tower. The most beautiful sight—even though, I didn’t think it was that tall, I thought it was gorgeous at night.

Shrimp appetizers
Shrimp appetizers

We were living like the locals. They had taken us through the city and shown us all the highlights. Where they went to have a fun time, different cafes they would go to work.

Made crepes with Nina!
Made crepes with Nina!

We were living like the locals. They had taken us through the city and shown us all the highlights. Where they went to have a fun time, different cafes they would go to work. Sunday morning, we got in for free into the Louvre and spent several hours gazing at the amazing artwork that had so much history and stories behind them all. We saw the Mona Lisa. She’s doing well. She’s just chillin’ by herself in the middle of a big room taking up as little space as possible.  We made our way to the more posh neighborhood called La Marie. These streets had little stores and shops that were very pricey. We had lunch there, and I ended up spending 18 Euros for falafel. Yes, it was pricey, but it was the best falafal I have every tried.

This sums up my weekend in Paris. Good food, awesome history, and a great time with friends!

New Revelations May 27, 2013

Posted by vpalavi in Travel Log.
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As I sit here in the train to Paris, there are fields of yellow flowers, tiny houses on hills, and a beautiful sunset. I realize that we come here to study abroad, to travel, and to gain a better perspective but there is so much more out there. There is so much history that we miss because we want to go to the tourist attractions.

Last weekend, I spent time in Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Each city had a different story. A professor told us that once we go travel abroad, we either realize that America is the best place in the world or Europe is whet whose heart lies. I haven’t quite figured this out, but I truly believe that study abroad is an experience that I will never forget.

In Brussels, we were able to walk through the city. Basically, we followed the “get lost so that you find cool places” ordeal. While trying to find Mannican Piss, we found a nice little Belgium waffle place. These waffles were delicious! The texture of the waffle was so soft yet so crispy. The chocolate that covered the strawberries and bananas was so rich. There is so much history to Belgium waffles itself.

Our next stop was Amsterdam. Though it was cold and a little windy, the journey through the Van Gogh Museum took us Vincent Van Gogh’s Life through his artwork. The neatly organized and synthesized paintings were mind blowing. The color combinations changed with his mood changes. The still life drawn felt like it had meaning.

  • The canal tour we took through the Amsterdam canals gave us some interesting facts:
  • There is one car that falls into the water each week and 150 bikes.
  • The canals all added up are like 100 km in length.
  • The houses are built on wood because the ground is so soft.
  • The the canals are for the Nord Sea which is 24 km in depth.
  • And there is so much graffiti everywhere.
  • The house boats where people live can either be legal or illegal. The legal house boats receive electricity, heat, and water.
    This picture was taken on one of the canals overlooking the 7 canals that were in a row.

So just after one weekend, I was able to experience and learn so much. Not just the city but you learn to reserve tickets for trains, flights, museums. You learn to budget money. And most of all you learn how to explore in a completely random city!

Pink walls May 13, 2013

Posted by vpalavi in Travel Log.
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A welcome basket with pots, pans, plates, and toilet paper sat there on the small cot when I arrived to the Georgia Tech Lorraine dorm, Aloes. These walls are pink, and the rooms are small. I feel like I’m living in a box. Don’t get me wrong, the folks here try to make us feel as comfortable as possible.

The French are trying to teach us how to speak and cook on the first day here. Our neighbors are students who go to GTL and will soon be interning in Paris. They cook, clean, and study all by themselves. I went to the food market called Cora and bought groceries because just like my neighbors, I will have to cook, clean, and of course, study. 

All these times I always wondered what it would be like to live in another country, somewhere in Europe… Well, the answer is pink walls, small cot, and a tiny cell-sized room.