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Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany! May 29, 2013

Posted by Parker Buntin in Travel Log.
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*Disclaimer: There are errors when I try to upload pictures into my posts. I’m working on fixing this. In the meantime, all my pictures are on facebook. Feel free to look through my albums or message me if you want access!*

Bonjour!

I am currently sitting in the GTL student lounge, helping plan multiple trips to Berlin, Switzerland, Pamplona, and other cities. Planning these weekend trips should be considered at least another 4 hour course. They take so much time to plan, searching for different scenarios and planning down everything to the last detail. As tedious as I’m making this sound, it’s so exciting! It certainly pays off too. Let me recount my last two weekends (first two weekends of independent travel).

The first weekend (Friday May 17th through Monday 20th) was a three-day weekend, and my friends and I certainly took advantage of this by visiting three separate cities. First was Luxembourg, Luxembourg. Only an hour away from Metz, Luxembourg was a good start to our trip. My group of 11 friends and I headed to our hostel in the historic section of the city. It may seem odd, but it was so much fun to walk through the city in good company, taking in everything. It took us around an hour and a half to walk to our hostel that should have been about 45 minutes away, all because we stopped every couple minutes to take pictures and laugh our heads off.

In any event, we made it to our hostel, dropped off our stuff, and then went to a pizza place for several hours. The food was wonderful, but we didn’t realize they charged for what we thought was “tap water.” We ended up spending ~35 euros on water. Other than that little snafu, it was a great night!

The next day, we all woke up and toured through the cave fortress that is embedded into the cliffs of Luxembourg’s historic district. It was pretty neat, and the beautiful weather that day added to our enjoyment. We all took lots of pictures of a very beautiful Luxembourg, then headed out to Brussels, Belgium in the afternoon.

Brussels was seemed more industrial than Luxembourg. That was my perception when I got off the train, but that paradigm shifted when we made our way to the hostel. Our hostel in Brussels was in an alleyway connected to the Grand Place Square in the heart of Brussels. The square was filled with tourists and the streets were filled with people. We soon realized that there was a Gay Pride Parade occurring in Brussels that evening. The city got more alive as the night wore on. I think the craziest thing that happened that night was my group running into friends from my dorm at GT randomly in the Grand Place Square. They’re participating in a different study abroad program—I cannot recall which—but we literally bumped into each other and were dumbfounded at what a small world. We found a little restaurant and hung out before they had to take a train back to where they were staying. It was really neat seeing how international GT students really are.

After a fun night in Brussels with good friends and midnight Belgium waffles (so delicious!), my group and I did some more touristy stuff in Brussels before heading to Brugge. Apparently one of the city’s famous attractions is a statue of a peeing boy called Manneken Pis. One of the popular stories that explains the statue is that a naked boy saved the city when a fire broke out by urinating on the fire. Interestingly, the statue has been stolen several times, which reminds me of a certain letter T in Atlanta. My friends and I had chocolate filled waffles for breakfast, which I strongly recommend! : )

Brugge is more tourism-focused than Luxembourg or Brussels. It’s a cute, small little town in northern Belgium surrounded by and interlaced with little rivers. The architecture was still stunning, and the chocolate stores around every corner were a nice addition! My friends and I basically walked around the city all day until we had to leave. Some of our mishap and adventures included talking to people dressed up as wizards and devils, buying lots of chocolate, and relaxing in a park. I almost slipped when trying to get a frisbee that rolled into one of the rivers. Whoops! The weather, once again, was beautiful, which was wonderful.

It turns out we missed the last train from Luxembourg to Metz, so we stayed at the train station over night until the first train in the morning. My mistake, but it led to some impromptu planning and lots of bonding between our group that night. We got back to GTL the next day and I slept most of Monday away.

The next week flew by in the blink of an eye. Lots of studying and movie nights happened and before I knew it, I was leaving for Cochem, Germany to start my castle tour with my friends. We took regional trains through beautiful countryside alongside the Mosel River, which was very flooded due to all the rain from the previous week. We could see the Cochem castle immediately after leaving the train station. It was a sight to behold! The castle overlooked the little city that stretched out along the river in a gorgeous valley. Cochem didn’t really have a night life, which was okay because my friends and I scouted out a delicious little schnitzel place in “downtown.” After a couple hours there, my friends and I returned with full bellies to our quaint, little hotel on the river (it was super nice for the price we got!).

The next day, we left our hotel after an amazing breakfast, only to get distracted with a life-sized chessboard. After a quick game of chess and a vain attempt to reenact wizard’s chess from Harry Potter, we were on our way to Burg Eltz, a popular castle near Müden, Germany. We were all prepared for the 4km hike we had to traverse to get to the castle, but we didn’t quite realize that that hike included going up and over a mountain. Nonetheless, we were blessed with great weather and wonderful views. The top of the mountain looked like something out of The Sound of Music to me. When the castle came into view towards the end of the hike, it was breathtaking. We made our way inside the castle despite taking pictures every two steps, and found that the castle actually seemed like a mini-village inside. This is because Burg Eltz is actually a castle shared by three branches of the Eltz family, each with their own section of the castle. We took a guided tour in English (thankfully) through the castle and got to see all the cool furnishings and rooms that were actually used for hundreds of years. The tour ticket also included admission to the armory and treasury displays in the basement of the castle, which was super neat!

The rest of that day consisted of travel. We decided not to see Cochem castle, which was wise because we made it to our hostel in Kassel, Germany later that night at 11:00PM. Kassel was a bit of a bummer because it rained hard all night and all day. We still trekked through the elements to the Wilhelmshöhe Park to see the Löwenburg Castle. It was cool, but we decided not to take a tour because they were only in German and the next one was a few hours later. We got our fill of pictures and made our way back to the train station to head back to GTL.

Four countries total in two weekends (including France)! Wow, it was a lot, but it was a blast. I can’t wait for Madrid and Barcelona next weekend! More adventures to come! 🙂

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Of Waffles and Chocolate June 20, 2012

Posted by williamsessions in Travel Log.
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Our trip from Rome to Ghent required two days so we stopped midway in Lucern, Switzerland. Here we stayed just one night before getting up early the next morning to continue to Ghent.

We arrived in Ghent late in the evening, which required that our welcome dinner be moved to the next day. Our hotel was situated in the more historic part of Ghent, with open stone squares and several Gothic cathedrals. Rather unanimously, however, at the forefront of the group’s mind were promises of delicious Belgian chocolate and waffles

On our first full day in Belgium, we took the bus north to the town of Bruges. The town was small and felt almost quaint in its architecture and cobblestone streets. There were numerous canals and gardens that divided the town, giving it a very pleasant feel. We had a brief walking tour of the town before having the afternoon free. A few of us decided to find waffles for lunch and I ordered mine with ice cream and raspberry syrup. Truthfully, it was one of the best waffles I have ever had the privilege of consuming. After lunch, a large number of people from our group rented bicycles and rode out of the city and followed one of the canals about 20 miles out of the city. The weather and countryside were absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and we moved at a brisk pace.

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We returned about 3 hours later and, with a little over an hour to spare before we needed to be back at the bus, several friends and I sought out a chocolate shop. I purchased about 7 or 8 pieces, which were gone before we had traveled more than a couple blocks toward the bus. Having tasted the wonders of Belgian waffles and chocolate, my life may very well be one step closer to complete.

The following day, we again took the bus out of Ghent, this time south to Brussels. Here we went to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts where we toured for a couple hours. The museum had a special Stanley Kubrick exhibition going on that, as a photographer, I thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, I chose one of his photographs, from his series Sketches from Portugal for one of the works in my art journal I needed to keep for class. After lunch, we visited a 10 story museum dedicated to the history of musical instruments. The coolest part of the museum was that, at most of the exhibits, there was a place where you could connect a pair of headphones and listen to sounds and music of the various instruments. It was neat to see some of the “ancestors” of modern day instruments. Next we were led on a brief walking tour of Brussels that conveniently ended at the Delirium Café, a bar serving over 2,000 different kinds of beer. After a couple hours there, we worked our way back to the bus to take us back to Ghent.

The last full day in Belgium, we remained in Ghent. The itinerary for the day was short and consisted of music class in the morning followed by a brief tour of St. Bavo Cathedral. Interestingly, there was a modern art exhibition going on inside the church, with many pieces making various religious or philosophical statements. The main reason for our visit, however, was the Ghent altarpiece, a polyptych (multi-paneled work) by the Flanders artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck. There was some interesting history behind the work, including how the lower left of the work was stolen and never recovered. The afternoon was spent eating, resting, and packing for Paris, our final stop before Oxford.

Ladies and “Ghent”-lemen, Waffling about Leaving Continental Europe August 7, 2011

Posted by Joseph Mattingly in Travel Log.
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Belgium is one of those countries I will not be making an extra effort to remember.  For one, by the time we rolled into Ghent, I had been so graciously given the plague that had been circling around our bus.  Also, it turns out that Belgium isn’t so renowned for exciting things to do or remarkable things to see.  On top of that, it marked the end of the travel stage of the Oxford Summer Program, and most of us were getting tired of living out of suitcases.

We based our Belgium adventures out of the small town of Ghent.  Our hotel was right across the street (probably best described as a widened  cobblestone path) from St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which is most notable as the home of the Ghent (go figure) Altarpiece.  The fact that we would be “sleeping across the street from the Ghent Altarpiece” caused our art teacher to go into a fit of excitement and hysteria.  Checking into the hotel was no better.  I was quite irked when I was told that I would have to wait to check in because they were still cleaning my room.  This was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, well after the hotel check-in time, and I waited impatiently in the lobby for over an hour and was given the honor as the last one to check in.  After stashing everything away in my room, which had a caustic stench of cleaning chemicals, I asked the front desk for the location of a laundromat, whereupon they sent me off to a vague location where, after walking for quite a while, I determined no such facilities existed.  I was then sent about as far as you can walk without actually leaving Ghent to a laundromat.  Fortunately, I now had clean, dry clothes, but unfortunately, it began to rain on the way back to the hotel.  I was not amused at Mother Nature’s pitiful sense of humor.  To add insult to injury, I was later informed that the front desk had dispatched other members of our group to a much closer laundromat that actually existed.  Enough of that though…

Our first full day in Belgium took us on a quick stop across the street to see the Ghent Altarpiece, which was only slightly more impressive than the picture we had seen in our lecture slides.  Immediately following, we boarded our bus where we were carted off to Brussels, where our Belgian bus driver was kind enough to give us a tour of his home city.  I found the tour quite nice, except that I couldn’t hear parts of it (from the front of the bus, no less) because several members of the group were disrespectfully loud and generally annoying (and it only got worse).  Then, our bus driver made the mistake of mentioning some bar that sold thousands of types of beer, or something like that, which the bus decided was an invitation to go drinking.  So, en masse, the entirety of Travel Group 1 disembarked the bus and wandered through the streets of Brussels to find this bar.  There, everybody (leaders included) except the bus driver and me, decided to indulge themselves in at least one very large beer stein.  At this point, I was sufficiently uncomfortable that I left the wretched place to wander the streets of Brussels by myself.  I did find a delicious, affordable panini shop where I had a very satisfying lunch.  When the group eventually began arriving back at the bus, the situation started going downhill very quickly.  One student simply never came to the bus, so one of the group leaders and a couple students went to find him and take a train back to the hotel.  Many of the others were very much drunk, some to the point where they were vomiting on the bus or had passed out.  From there, our bus driver took [the conscious among] us to his son’s house, where his son ran a chocolate business.  For the sober, this was a fun way to experience the art of chocolate-making and to acquire some delicious Belgian chocolates.

The following day, we were given the opportunity to go to the quaint town of Brugge, which I happily accepted.  Brugge was a nice Northern Renaissance city with fine window shopping, scenic restaurants, and, most importantly, affordable Belgian waffles.  Mine was a delicious combination of waffle, sugar, a huge mound of strawberries, and a little more sugar.  It was delicious.

Finally, it was time to leave for England and the University of Oxford.  We loaded our bus onto the Chunnel train and made our way to the United Kingdom, where we could drive on the wrong side of the road and read signs in ever-familiar English (duh) units.  More on that in my next post, though.

May 22-24: Belgium August 10, 2010

Posted by Stefanie Olivier in Travel Log.
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Spending only a mere three months within Europe, my travel group and I had to scramble to see as many of the countries of that diverse continent as possible. Consequently, our first trip, which included Brussels and Bruges (both of which are located in Belgium), was planned very hastily since our travel group congregated only two days before that adventure. And yet, I have never had so much fun doing things spontaneously.

Immediately after we arrived in Brussels, our eyes were assaulted by the impressive Cathedral of St. Michael, which is located very closely to the city’s train station. It was difficult to believe that this cathedral has been standing there since 1047! After our eyes had feasted on both the outside and the interior of the building, we started looking for a café where our mouths could feast on traditional Belgian food. Contrarily, we bought everything but traditional Belgian food (Italian lasagna, French Croque-monsieurs, Irish beer); however, we did get a complementary concert of Belgian accordion music right at our table.

The free accordion music wasn’t the only surprise we got. As soon as we reached our hotel, crowds of spectators gathered on the streets and loud music signaled the start of a parade, the Zinneke Parade that claims to “celebrate Brussels culture.” Who could’ve predicted our luck of getting to our hotel on the exact date and at the exact time of this remarkable parade? Even more luckily, we were able to enjoy the parade from the comfort of our hotel rooms! Later that evening, after we visited Brussels main square, the Grand Place, and marveled at the surrounding architecture while laying on the warm cement in the center of the Grand Place, we finally got our share of the Belgian delicacy “Moules et Frites” (mussels and fries). That was the perfect ending to a great first day in Belgium, but even more excitement was yet to come.

The first of these came in the form of the Musical Instrument Museum, the first place we visited the following day. This seemingly endless museum contains virtually every musical instrument ever invented, from the harp to the balalaika. Its lively music and hands-on activities made our next museum, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, relatively boring in comparison. But trying to guess the meaning behind every masterpiece, even those consisting of single lines, was a fun diversion!

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We spent the remainder of our weekend in Bruges. If there is something I remember about Bruges, it is its breathtaking architecture. Even getting lost while searching for an affordable dinner in this town was pleasant because of the collage of varied rooftops that forms Bruges’s skyline. After our dinner, we went to gaze at the highest of these rooftops in Bruges’s main square, the Burg Square. The lights cast on the buildings made the architecture seem even more remarkable.

Throughout our last day in Belgium, we rented bicycles. I can’t think of a better investment of my money. For several hours we spent riding across the bridges that give Bruges the title “Venice of the north,” all the while comparing the windmills that were scattered all across the town. After pedaling up one hill to view one of these windmills from up close, we bought Brie and baguettes at a local grocery store and went to have a picnic in one of Bruges’s many parks. It must have been either the siestas we took in that park or the thought that we would be leaving soon that made us drag our feet while we admired Bruges’s Saint Salvator Cathedral and tasted samples of the inventory of a local chocolatier. As we took our seats on the train that carried us back from Bruges to reality, I vowed to myself to never forget the first spontaneous weekend I spent with my fellow Techies in Europe. And I haven’t yet.

From Berlin to Bruges to Paris… July 18, 2010

Posted by Megan Sweeney in Travel Log.
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I know it’s been a while but the last part of traveling and my first few weeks at Oxford have flown by! Since I last wrote we finished up the travel portion, stopping in Berlin, Bruges, and Paris. Right after our welcome dinner in Berlin, our bus driver (definitely the best, and funniest, of all the groups!) took us on a driving tour. We saw the Berlin wall, a monument to those who were killed in the Holocaust, and Charlie’s Checkpoint. Of course we visited several museums…but my favorite part of Berlin was getting to see the Berlin Philharmonic. Aside from having nosebleed seats, the concert was fantastic.

Bruges was a nice change compared to Berlin and Paris because it was so much smaller. We couldwalk everywhere, and it was a lot easier to explore on our own. Not to mention, Belgium chocolate is delicious; we ended up buying some everyday  we were there! We also took a day trip to Brussels, and since our bus driver was from  Belgium he took us on a short walking tour of the main sites. My personal favorite was the Manneken Pis. It is a statue of a little boy peeing, and the legend goes there  was an explosive that had been lit and the little boy saved the city by urinating on it. (more…)