Day Nine: Paris

Today was the best day of the trip for me. We have much more freedom with just our little group and I SO love Paris. We let the kids sleep in a little, and left the hotel at 9:00. We were at the Louvre at 10:00. Our tour director is so great. I’ve taken groups to the Louvre before, but she gave them a game that made them want to find, interact with, and study the pictures. Instead of wanting to get it over with, they all thought the gallery was one of the best parts of the day.

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Our tour director also walked us around the Marais and the Latin Quarter and gave them six (SIX!!!) hours of free time. We had lunch, we shopped, and we had Paul’s pastries. Too sad that they were out of the strawberry tart that I love so much. When we met up we were shocked to find out that some of the boys rented scooters. Although they had a blast, and didn’t die it was a dangerous thing to do in Paris traffic. Aack! IMG_0255.jpg

The tour director put my shyest boy in charge of getting us back to the hotel on the metro. He did so well and, although he was anxious, he grew in confidence one hundred fold.

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Day Eight: Paris

We had left the hotel at 6:15 this morning to take the Eurostar train to Paris. The groups from Wisconsin and Kentucky that were traveling with us are not continuing to Paris, so it’s our little group of 12, which is really fun. I love the Eurostar. First, it’s fun to think about the engineering miracle of going under the English channel on a train. Second, it’s kind of fancy– not like a regular train. The station where you leave from feels like an upscale airport instead of a train station. (And it has a beautiful façade. Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor. 🙂

We had a bus tour of Paris. I love bus tours (if there’s a good guide), because they always give you such great insider information as well as good history, and an overview of the city. And you are all protected from the elements and don’t have to walk or exert any energy.

The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero:

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Luxembourg Gardens:

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One of my girls is really sick, so that’s hard. She just wanted to get to the hotel and rest, so every five minutes she asked “How much longer?” Since she isn’t typically like that it hurt my heart. I feel bad for her. Another mom, Lisa, and I stayed back to care for her. Lisa and I had a great time in the little suburb of Saint Ouen. We played the game of “see if you can get people to keep speaking French even after they realize you are Americans.” It worked most of the time. I am still wondering about the woman who stopped us and said “Pardon, Madame” and I said “Oui?” and she said “Oh, you aren’t from here, are you?” She was French. And how did she know from the “oui”??????

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Day Seven: London

Today we saw our third castle: Windsor. It is the largest and longest inhabited castle in the world. It was built by William the Conqueror, and I’m starting to see him as a modern-day Father Serra because they both built structures a day apart to control the lands and people they conquered. I’m struggling with the increase in tourism I’m seeing in comparison to four years ago when I was in these same places. It took us over an hour of standing in line just to enter the castle, whereas before we walked right in. (Castles are designed for keeping people out, so there’s only one narrow doorway.) Everywhere we go there are hordes of tourists. Travel increases understanding and leads to peace, but this explosion of tourism is ruining the very sites we travel to see. I’m not sure how to fix that. 

Afterwards we had a tour of London by a guy who certainly could have earned good money as a comedian. He made the history interesting and funny and I learned a lot as we walked 23,000 steps.  We had fish and chips for dinner in a cute place by St. Paul’s cathedral. Afterwards we saw an amazing production of Wicked. One of my students was so moved at how magnificent it was that she was crying at intermission. It was that good. 

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Day Six: Oxford and London

You know how they say “When you travel, either everything goes according to plan, or you have a story”? It’s getting sort of hard to write the blog on this trip because everything is going so well. Everyone’s happy, healthy and in possession of their passport and phone. And I’m getting plenty of tea breaks.

Today we traveled to Oxford where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings sat in the Eagle and Child pub and discussed their writing. We toured the beautiful university. None of my students want to study there, but over half bought Oxford University sweatshirts.

Jim and I and  friend, Lisa, spent time in the Ashmolean Museum. This is a private collection that is a little bit of this and that. The collector had a nice selection of impressionist paintings (including some great Monets and Van Goghs) and I also liked this octopus vase:

Then on to London. We rode the tube, had a wee walking tour, ate Indian food, and gave them plenty of free time to explore Piccadilly Circus, Soho, and China Town. Big Ben was under renovation and the kids were disappointed.They played a game where they had to find statues of Nelson Mandela, David Lloyd George, Churchill, Gandhi, and more. They are learning so much history as they hear the stories. Piccadilly Circus is just like our NYC Times Square, with a big screen, street performers, and shops.The kids really liked shopping at all the little souvenir stores and watching the street scene. The students from Kentucky that are traveling with us had their minds blown. One of them said “Before this, the biggest town I’d been to was Nashville one time.” They really haven’t traveled far from their little town with two stop lights. Lisa, Jim and I walked for awhile and then had coffee and tea (my seventh cup of the day) at the fancy Zedel’s Brasserie.

 

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Day Five: Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon

Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 to protect his newly-acquired lands. My students immediately compared it to Edinburgh Castle and lamented how commercialized it was in comparison. They’re right. The castle is an architectural gem, but it is now owned by the British Tourist enterprise Madame Tussauds. They tried to make it more accessible by filling the rooms with mannequins dressed in period costumes pretending to be partying, sitting for portraits, or doing activities of the age. I’d rather use my own imagination, thank  you very much. The peacocks wandering the grounds and the lovely full cream tea were delightful.

Then we were off to Shakespeare’s city, Stratford-upon-Avon. The Tudor homes throughout the city remind me of the colombage, or half-timbered homes in Normandy, only in England they have thatched roofs. I love how our Tour director makes the learning fun. Our team was able to win the game where we listed all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays. The kids had to recite Sonnet 18 to a partner (How shall I compare thee to a summer’s day) and they did it with such feeling. I really think this is the best part of the student tours–seeing teenagers love the things I love, too. It gives me such hope.

And this group never complains about taking pictures. They are the best. 

The church where Shakespeare was buried.

More tea. I love the laid back pace of this trip. 

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Day Four: Yorkshire

Our beloved tour director was up much of the night figuring out how to proceed on our journey if it snowed. I didn’t even realize snow was forecast, so I was pleased that it was only freezingly miserable and that the storm had passed us. (There are few snowplows in England, so no one can drive if snow falls.) I always thought that if you dressed properly for the weather you wouldn’t have to be cold, but my fellow travelers from Wisconsin are prepared and cold. They don’t speak about their state kindly, which surprises me because usually people like where they live. The whole group is fun and no one really stands out as a special snowflake like most trips. The group’s special talent is being able to identify any Disney tune within 15 seconds of playing it (seriously? Lilo and Stitch? Check. Robin Hood? Check. Oliver? Check.) They also love Hamilton songs.

The medieval town of York is picturesquely darling. The little winding streets of the old town called “The Shambles” are surrounded by a thick Roman wall. The gothic cathedral is reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris, but it has stained glass windows that are as big as tennis courts. We have an expert in medieval history with us and even though she had studied it and knew what to expect, on seeing it in person for the first time burst into tears. (Extra surprising since she is Scottish, and typically shows British-level emotion.) It is truly magnificent.

The kids had fun, but I was a little sad, as I often am, that the town I saw thirty years ago has changed from a real town to a tourist copy of itself. The hardware stores or paper shops where locals actually shop have been replaced by chocolate stores and Harry Potter souvenir shops.

The students were divided into guilds (workers who shared a trade), and had to complete a task as a group. For instance, the butchers had to find a meat market and photograph the weirdest piece of meat available. (This was surprisingly difficult as butcher shops used to be prevalent in town, but now it’s a tourist area.) The tailors had to find the best dressed person in York and get a group picture with them. The hardest task turned out to be the shoemakers, who had to get someone to let them try on their shoe in this frigid weather. (They failed miserably.) It was a good way to get them to interact with other travelers and they met a lot of people from all over the world, so I consider it a success.

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Days One and Two: Scotland

I’ve written this post several times, and had problems with slow wifi and operator errors. I am on the annual student trip to Europe. It’s a wonderful group of ten students and an adult with her adult daughter. We had an uneventful flight over. We arrived at 7 am completely exhausted, but didn’t get to our hotel until 9 that night. It was wonderful to have a full day on the day we landed, but it was also tiring. We walked around admiring the amazing architecture, and formidable castle. We had free time to explore and have lunch, shop, have tea, go to a museum (all are FREE here!), have tea, and wander. The kids love the city. Our tour director is a woman we had several years ago. She’s funny and kind and has great ideas and stories, and I’m really excited about what’s to come.

 

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