Day Nine: Paris

The fact that I want to write about how little sleep I’ve had instead of the food, is telling. The food is amazing, of course. Even a simple cheese pizza or scalloped potatoes is a gourmet treat here because the cheese is so wonderful.

Again, the kids led the way into the city for a fun walking tour. In the days before the French Revolution, Sorbonne University students had to speak Latin, so the area around the university is called the Latin Quarter and we all had fun poking around the little streets filled with an eclectic variety of shops and restaurants. At Notre Dame a mass was in progress, and it’s hard to say whether the singing or the vestments were more beautiful. I liked a banner inside the church that said in French “He knows your name.” The stained glass window is the biggest in Europe, made up of 32,000 individual glass pieces.

Then the kids had five and a half hours of free time to see the Louvre and do whatever they wanted. My group wanted a leisurely afternoon, and we opted to see art, go to Starbucks, and to meander through the city and along the Seine. We also saw Sainte Chapelle, a 13th century church which has over 1,000 stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes. It was such a beautiful sunny day, and it was as if we were inside a jewel box.

Since 2006 it has been a been a tradition in various cities around the world to go to a certain bridge with your lover, write your names on the lock, lock it to the bridge and throw away the key. This supposedly means that your love will last forever. As far as I can tell it was the lock makers and the capitalist experts in cheap Chinese imports who introduced this tradition in Paris, and now many of the bridges are covered in locks. The students readily shelled out the eight euros (over $10), for the cheap locks. I think it takes away from the historical beauty of the bridges.

The reunited group had dinner in a neighborhood, then at sunset, we took the little boats down the Seine to see the beautiful Paris landmarks. Still not finished with our adventures, we went to the top of the Montparnasse Tower to see the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle at 10 p.m.

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Day Eight Paris

Somewhere around day seven I was too exhausted to blog, which for me is like someone else saying “I was too exhausted to lay on my bed and watch TV.” I got only two hours of sleep after War Horse because we got back to the hotel really late and then had a REALLY early train. Curses. I fell asleep on the train before we hit the Chunnel and woke up in Paris…so I guess I got two more hours of sleep for a total of four. The Eurostar is such a cool train, but the kids were too tired to do anything besides sleep on it. On a side note–the TGV train used to go from Paris to Waterloo station in London. Because the French were offended at the reminder of the defeat of Napoleon, the train now goes into St. Pancras station.

Then we hit the ground running in Paris: Crepes! Eiffel Tower! Arc du Triumph! Champs
Élysées! Place de la Concorde! Our guide was really interesting and even though this is my ninth time in Paris, I learned stuff I had never heard before. The groups from other schools that were with us in the UK and Ireland didn’t do the Paris option, so now we are a nimble group of twenty. Much easier.

Our guide made the kids navigate the Metro. Ninety per cent of them picked it up right away. The other two had trouble keeping track of their maps. At sunset we hiked the hill to Sacre Coeur to see the church that is often called the Taj Mahal of Paris, and to see the artists drawing in Montmartre. The kids bought art, ate Nutella crepes, and had their caricatures drawn.

Two of the kids misbehaved in such a way that I wasn’t compelled to send them home, but I was pretty angry and I called both their parents. This took a lot of time and energy–trying to to get Skype to work (“Marsh, I can hear it’s you, but not what you are saying. IS _______ OK????”) That was annoying, but when I got a clear connection, the parents were properly outraged at their children, wrote them terse emails, and things went better from that point. Besides this, the lost passport and the card that was eaten by the ATM, the trip has been extremely smooth.

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Day Seven: London

A long and wonderful day. We started at 7:30 am and got back to the hotel after midnight. We began with a guided tour of London with plenty of breaks for tea. The area in front of Buckingham Palace is much more beautiful and tourist-friendly because of the Olympics.

Then we toured Windsor Castle. We had gorgeous weather and the castle was not crowded. I conflicted with the guide who insisted on speaking as if he were in a Shakespearian play. He used words like “perambulate” and “tread” instead of “walk.” He rolled his Rs in an affected way, and (worst sin of all) wouldn’t let me take pictures of the group where I wanted because his place was better. Grrr. Small tip for you, Guide. But the we all thought the castle was amazing, and especially enjoyed Queen Elizabeth’s giant doll house.

We had the English National Dish for dinner: Indian curry. (Fish and Chips is out of vogue.)

The kids changed for the play in the restaurant bathroom, and it was fun to see them all dressed up. We had high expectations for War Horse, and the play far exceeded these. I was still grieving not getting to see Matilda (also playing), but was happy after seeing War Horse. There’s a great TED talk on how they made the amazing life-size horse puppet for the play. He actually whinnies, and knickers, and his movements make one forget he is not a real horse. It’s the queen’s favorite play, and I can see why. It’s simply incredible.

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Day Six: Stratford Upon Avon, Oxford, and London

I grow to love this group of kids more each day. They turn up on time and do everything they are asked. They are interesting people and are kind to each other. Last night we stayed in an old Welsh Hotel that had a labyrinth of staircases and hallways. It is supposedly the “most-haunted hotel” in the UK and one or two of the girls were a little scared of the ghost stories.

On the other end of the spiritual spectrum, only four per cent of Brits attend church. Most of their beautiful old churches have been turned into guest houses and pubs. Our tour guide says this is because “Now that we have social services, we don’t really need religion. The state takes care of our poor and those in trouble.”

We played tourist in Stratford Upon Avon, where Shakespeare was born, wrote his plays, and is buried. It’s a darling Tudor town.

Drove through the Cotswolds with their distinctive yellow stone buildings and quaint towns. I would love to spend more time in this area.

Our next stop, Oxford, reminds me of Venice: anywhere you point your camera it makes a beautiful picture. I love all the great buildings and the academic ambience.

On the way into London, our tour guide took us round the major bits on the bus, adding in interesting stories. The name of the tube stop Elephant and Castle has always puzzled me (Elephant? In London?) it’s a mishearing/misspelling of “Isabel de Castillo”. One of my students told our English tour guide “I know it’s a statue of Lord Nelson, but It sure looks like Napoleon.” Demonstrators wearing blue and yellow flags were protesting Russia’s takeover of part of Ukraine. History!

The kids had free time, and we met up with our nephew (cousin-uncle Mike, as our kids call him because he’s always been the age of an uncle, not a peer to them.) He took us to a delightful French restaurant where we had delightful conversation. His husband, Rob, was in Wales as his mother was recently diagnosed with ALS and is dying quickly. I love that we gets to see Mike fairly often and share stories, politics, travel, and news about daily life even though he lives so far away. He is extremely intelligent, well-read, and has an interesting perspective.

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Day five continued: Anglesly Island and Llangollen Wales, UK

The kids were super excited about exploring Beaumaris Castle, built in the 12th Century. Built by Edward I, the people of Wales didn’t want to be ruled by anyone who spoke English, so Edward waited until he had a baby and said “He’s your king–he doesn’t speak English!”

Jim and I and Kris enjoyed a leisurely seaside lunch. Our tour guide claimed she’s NEVER seen so much sunshine in Wales. (The kids are sad they aren’t getting to wear their newly-purchased rain coats and boots!) I’m really happy to be warm and dry after the freezing weather we had on last year’s trip.

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Thoughts on leaving Ireland

I was a little sad to leave Ireland today. Sometimes I feel like a counterfeit Irish person because my family comes from the north, now part of the UK. But I look like these people. They have the same humor as my relatives (Are you looking for a husband? Great! I’m a husband!) Side note: we had a limerick competition last night, and all the kids wrote amazingly funny limericks. These songs are the ones I grew up with (Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra, I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen, Rambling Rover), the “wee drop” (of whiskey) was prevalent in my family, and the food is familiar (scones, Shepherd’s Pie, Irish Stew). The culture strikes a deep chord and I’m not just seeing interesting sights, but rather experiencing my heritage.

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Day Five: Ferry to Wales

When I took the ferry from The UK to Ireland in 1996, people told me that it was a rough crossing. I get really seasick, so I took heavy duty drugs for the voyage. I got on the ship and promptly fell asleep. At the end I could hardly walk because I was so drugged. Jim and the girls were full of exciting stories about all the fun adventures they had on board: We ate scones with little pots of jam! We played video games! We watched a movie! The captain showed us the tiller!” I felt like I had really missed out. Today when we took the ferry to Wales I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the kids play, eat, connect to their beloved wifi, and run around on deck. 20140401-093957.jpg20140401-094009.jpg20140401-094024.jpg20140401-094034.jpg20140401-094045.jpg20140401-094055.jpg20140401-094104.jpg20140401-094114.jpg

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