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The Last Weeks and Coming Home!! July 29, 2013

Posted by mjmaurer7 in Travel Log.
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I am currently writing this thousands of feet above the Atlantic on my way back to Atlanta! During the last weeks, it became very difficult to travel anywhere due to the amount of group projects that were assigned. Still, this did not stop me from having a great time in Barcelona.

The first major event after Sant Juan was the 4th of July. Of course, this is not celebrated in Spain, but this did not stop us from having a good time. In order to celebrate, a large group decided to climb a mountain in Barcelona around midnight, stay up all night on the mountain, and watch the sun rise over the city. We all donned some red and white and started the climb.

It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The hardest part was getting up the mountain considering the path was not well lit. Once up though, the view was amazing. The mountain was located near the center of the city near Parc Guell. From the top, we had a 360 panoramic view of the city at night. Everything was lit up, and it was beautiful. There is something different about a skyline when there are only one or two skyscrapers. Plus, from the top of the mountain, we were located at the end of one of the main streets in Barcelona, and so we could see directly to the beach.

The night consisted of Budweiser, stories, and a few occasional naps. All of the sudden, the sky started to  get brighter. Everyone looked to where the light is coming from, and eventually a bright red orb started to appear from behind another mountain. The sun perfectly illuminated  the fog that was gently spread around the city under us. Once we could see the sun, the rest of it appeared over the mountain incredibly quickly. It covered everything in a morning glow that was made even better from my lack of sleep. After enjoying the view, we had to soon head back down because some people in the group had class that morning.

Enjoying the View

After this, I still had one four day weekend remaining. I had a friend from Kentucky who was studying in Paris, which was also celebrating its independence day that weekend. However, at the same time, Pamplona was hosting the annual running of the bulls, which I know I did not want to miss. I decided to spend the first night of the break in Pamplona for the night and the afternoon. Then, I would head to Paris for three days.

Stepping out of the bus to Pamplona was one of the oddest experiences of my life. Because it is a small town, it has no hope of housing all of the visitors, so most people sleep outside somewhere. So, when I stepped out of the station, people were everywhere even though it was two in the morning in a non-central part of town. There was trash everywhere, the city smelled, and everyone was wearing the red and white bull running attire. We made it into the center of town, and it resembled a war zone. There were people passed out everywhere, and trash covered the streets along with police.

We stayed up experiencing the culture until it was time to run. Everyone packed into a small portion of the track until they let everyone spread out. You could really feel the tension. People were saying prayers and making the sign of the cross. Everyone seemed very anxious. Soon enough, we heard the first firework. The bulls were released. Some people started running, but most waited for them to get closer. I was getting pretty jumpy waiting. People started jumping up after the second blast to see the bulls. Soon after that I could hear them and even feel them. Then people started screaming “Vamos!!” and I knew it was time to go. I started a sprint down the path. It was hard to move anywhere because of all of the people. I felt people spread out, and then I saw a huge pack of bulls rush past. We moved into the middle to follow the bulls, only to see that there was one still behind us. People immediately went to the sides to let it pass.

In the Arena

In the arena itself, they let the bull roam with the racers. I eventually managed to get close enough to one to smack it. After a while, it ended, and we spent the rest of the day enjoying the city and sleeping until it was time to take a bus back.

The next morning I had a flight to Paris. I was flying by myself but my friend was meeting me soon after I got in. Despite neither of us having data or messaging, we managed to find each other. My friend was studying Paris during his time there, so he gave me a very thorough tour of the city. He took me by a lot of the main sites in the city and explained why they were important. My personal favorite was going to the Arc de Triomphe and climbing to the top.

Later, we got dinner by the river and had one of the funniest waiters ever. At first, he told me I had to order in French, and I thought he was going serious (it was a pretty touristy place, so it wouldn’t make much sense). It turns out he was just giving me a hard time. He kept joking that I was ruining the French language. I worked during the whole meal to deliver the perfect line of French when asking for the check. I delivered it well, and he followed up by more French. I just looked at him and continued to make fun. I left a tip for the first time in a while that night.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing with a guitar in the nearby Luxembourg park. We then roamed the city, meeting people along the way.

The next morning I woke up early to meet up with the group from the Barcelona program that was visiting. We went to a lot of the same sites, and I tried to pass on any knowledge I had. The best part of the day by far was loading up on wine, cheese, and baguettes and going to the Eiffel Tower. Once it got dark, a few of us went up to the second floor. We were shocked to see a huge light show and fireworks lighting up across the city. It was another great night.

The next day was Bastille Day! We went right to the parade because we had to leave at 6 in order to catch our flight. After seeing some of the parade, a few of us split off to go the Louvre, which was free that day. We thought that this would make the line huge, but we only had to wait for 40 minutes! The Louvre was my favorite site in Paris. Being in the presence of history like that is very humbling. I got to spend around 4 hours, and I used every minute. Unfortunately, eventually we had to leave to catch our plane.

The rest of the time in Barcelona was spent either working on group projects, relaxing on the beach, or seeing any sites we happened to miss. Now that I’m on the plane, I still can’t believe I’m going back. I have a feeling it might even be strange to speak English again. I will miss so much about Spain, but I can’t wait to get back home. This has been one of the best summers of my life, and I can’t describe how thankful I am. I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my adventures!! If you are reading this and have the opportunity to study abroad, please do it!


Dinner Cruise in Paris August 3, 2012

Posted by Frederick Grimm in Travel Log.
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May 29, 2012

Eiffel Tower!
Site where we embarked for our river cruise.

Today was QUITE the adventure!  It was one of my good friend’s (Parrish Brown) birthday, so the ten people of my group all made plans to go to Paris for the evening to celebrate her birthday on a river cruise.  Actually, the plans were hidden from Parrish so she had no idea about this.

The nice, theoretical plan was that we would all be in nice dress up clothes so that when we finished class at 4 pm at Metz, we could get to the train station and then take a TGV (high-speed train) to Paris.  We would then ride on the river cruise with a provided dinner, and then come back home.  Four people out of our group of ten had a test the next morning in ISyE 3025, so we decided it would be a good idea to come back early to study.

Here is what actually happened:

We were all nice and dressed up and we took a bus to downtown Metz.  We then hopped aboard the TGV and departed.  However, we encountered our first major problem when the ticket collector walked down the aisle.  He told us that we were not allowed to use our Eurail passes (that we paid $1,200 for) on the TGV and that we were going to be fined 100 euros per person.  We were very scared.  We tried to inform him that we didn’t understand the system.  One of our group members was fluent in French, and she was thankfully able to convince him not to charge us, but he said we could never do it again!

Unfortunately, the train did not get into Gare de l’Est (a big Parisian train station) until about 30 minutes later than expected.  We now only had about 30 minutes to make it to the river cruise (which we had already bought the tickets for) or else we would get left!  We quickly boarded the metro and booked it to the other side of the city to the stop nearest the Eiffel Tower.  Once we got off, we only had 3 minutes to find our boat!!  We ran down to the dock, but to our dismay, there were countless boats on the side of the river in both directions!  The directions we had didn’t help, so we split up to try to find it.  My group found the boat right before it was about to pull off, and they agreed to wait while we waited for the rest of our group.  Thankfully, they ran by and we were able to grab them.

We were so relieved to be on our dinner cruise!  The views along the river were spectacular!  However, the cruise was not exactly what we expected.  When I think “dinner cruise”, I think of a nice boat with nice tables and white tablecloths and dressed up waiters ready to serve you.  What they meant by “dinner cruise” was a ferry boat with seats on it and they had a microwave where they could heat up a frozen pasta dish.  Besides that, the cruise was lots of fun and we enjoyed each others company.

The next problem occurred as we were looping around the Notre Dame.  We looked up the times online, and the last train to Metz left a few minutes after 8:00 pm.  We realized that we still had another 20 minutes on the boat, plus another 20 minutes of subway time.  At this point, we started getting a little worried.  Four of us had tests the first thing the next morning that we could NOT miss.  When the boat arrived back at the landing dock, we were the first ones off and we literally sprinted back to the metro.  With only fifteen minutes before our train left, we hopped aboard the metro and hoped for the best.

As we were transferring stations in Les Halles, we ran into a small problem.  We were in such a hurry and thought we could still make the train, but we didn’t have enough metro passes.  We only had 8 tickets, so the other two tried to squeeze in behind the gates as others went through.  We probably drew lots of attention as we were sprinting down the metro station, and we caught the attention of several guards.  They saw the two go through without the tickets, and charged them 50 euros per person for not having the tickets!!! At least they didn’t take their passports and take them to jail!  This diversion took up several minutes of our precious time.

When we finally arrived at Gare de l’Est, we had missed the train by about 3 minutes (in retrospect, having bought tickets for the metro would have still caused us to miss the train. At least we tried?).  We tried to find another train leaving for Metz, but there were none.  We were all very defeated.  We felt like we had messed up Parrish’s birthday, we didn’t have anywhere to stay, and we still had our test the next morning.

After several hours of deliberation in a McDonalds, we decided all we could do was to find a hotel, get up early the next morning to catch the first train out, and hope for the best.  We found Hotel Lorraine, a very cheap 1-star hotel right next to the train station.  The room didn’t have a bathroom and it smelled like there was a dead body in the room, but I really wan’t in a position to criticize!  I was just thankful that we had a roof over our heads!  I tried to study for my test in the Holiday Inn across the street for several hours before going to bed.

Early next morning, we got up and boarded the 7:00 AM TGV bound for Metz.  We got there around 9:00 AM, giving us just enough time to bus back to GTL and take our tests.  This has definitely been one of the craziest and most stressful adventures I have been on.

Lessons Learned:

1.) NEVER, EVER do anything this adventurous or risky the day before a test (got an A on the test, by the way!)

2.) Make minute by minute plans before you embark on a trip.  Simply “winging it” does NOT work.

3.) Research activities before you pay for them online.  Cheap “dinner cruises” are probably tourist traps.

4.) DON’T try to sneak metro ticket booths, even if you are in a hurry.  You WILL get caught.

5.) Make the most of every moment!

PS – I have definitely taken these lessons into account for my most recent travels.  They have come in very handy!


Before the Disaster began.

Paris done nearly right! May 31, 2011

Posted by Senthuran in Travel Log.
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After scaling to the top of the Eiffel tower

This past weekend was my first real adventure in Europe outside of the homey little area called Metz. First stop on the tour was at Roland Garros, where the coveted French Open takes place. Unfortunately due to the high volumes of people wanting to watch some incredible tennis, I was unable to partake in this particular event in Paris. But then it was on toVersailleswhere the beautiful gardens in the palace and the palace itself just took my breath away. Two days were spent inParisseeing all the touristy sights including the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the Arc and of course the Eiffel Tower. Napoleon’s Tomb and seeing the crypt which held the graves of Alexander Dumas (the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and Victor Hugo (the author of Les Miserables ) capped off the first great adventure. Along the way I learned the power of the ISIC student id card in saving money, had my first crepe, went to mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral and essentially did the city of Paris justice. Now that I have spent three days learning the ins and outs of the city I want to go back. The metro station there and I have become really good friends over the three days, so it is only fitting to go back. The key to any trip is to come back wiped. Otherwise you didn’t use what little time you had to see as much of the city as possible. Paris is only the first of many trips to come but it was a great starting point in terms of understanding logistics and how the group functions. The challenge is to make the next trip better than the first. So long everybody! Tune in for more from Eurotrip 2011.