France and Spain 2013 Travel Blog

  • Day One - Thursday, March 28 
    A Day for Travel (and patience)
    We met at Mynderse at 8:30 AM and left by charter bus to JFK in NYC. Along the way we watched a movie and the students sang, read, slept and talked. We stopped briefly outside of Albany and got to JFK with plenty of time before boarding.
    The students were so excited about boarding at 5:30. After finally figuring out where we were going to sit on the plane, we waited and waited...and waited. Finally, the pilot came on to make an announcement that we would need to disembark while mechanics inspected a seat on the plane. So we went back out in the waiting area and after another hour, we were allowed to re-board the plane, take our seats and wait a little more until take off. Our flight was uneventful, but long. We landed in Paris on Friday morning at 8:00 AM, Friday.
    Day Two - Friday, March 29
    Hit the Ground Running
    Bonjour! We had a great first day in Paris! We met our tour guide Christine. Our first ride on the Metro was quite an experience. Getting 37 people down into a train station can be rather exciting. We exchanged our money and had lunch at the Louvre. For many of our students, it was their first time ordering in another language. Many of us ended up with something a little different than what we wanted - but it was still fun. Paying with a different kind of money is a new experience too. We then wandered about in some cool shops and did a little souvenir shopping.  After that we walked through the Jardin des Tuileries - the former site of the Palace where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were kept before they were killed in the Revolution. Our next stop was to visit the beautiful art museum Musee d'Orsay where we saw paintings by the great impressionists Monet, Manet, Degas and works of Van Gogh. The last stop in our day was a wonderful crepe dinner at the Creperie Beaubourg. We ended the day back at the hotel after 36 consecutive hours of being awake for a hot shower and a good night's sleep. 
    Day Three - Saturday, March 30
    A Day Fit for a King
    Our second day in Paris was incredible! We started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then traveled by Metro to the Louvre for a guided tour of some of the most famous works in history. We were able to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, David's painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, an Egyptian Sphinx, the crown jewels of France and the ruins of the old fortress under the Louvre. The students enjoyed walking around on their own and looking at the different pieces of art - especially the statuary. We then hopped back on the Metro and traveled to the Palace of Versailles where we had an authentic french lunch of baguettes and cold meats, yogurt and fruit or quiche followed by french pastries. We then wandered through the King's state apartments and were awed by the artwork and design of the palace. After we completed our audio tour of the palace, our tour guide Christine was able to get us tickets for a walk through the gardens. There are over 20,000 acres of gardens to look at. We were so fortunate - as our walking tour began, the fountains were turned on and beautiful music began to play! We wandered around for an hour marveling at the scenery. Then we travelled again by Metro to the Sacre Coeur for a visit to this beautiful and historic cathedral that sits atop a hill overlooking Paris. It was quite crowded, but peaceful in the church. After some souvenir shopping in the Montmartre quarter, we had dinner together at La Cremaillere. We are all doing well and really enjoying our new experiences. Bonne nuit!
    Day 4 - Sunday, March 31
    Happy Easter!
    After breakfast (and Easter baskets), we walked over to the Eiffel Tower which is less than a mile from our hotel. We all went up into the tower and many of our students braved the cold and wind to climb all the way to the top through a combination of elevators and stairs. The views were absolutely amazing! After everyone got back down to the bottom, we walked over to the Seine River where we had lunch on a floating restaurant while warming up. We enjoyed an authentic lunch of lamb, roasted chicken or beef stew with ratatouille or mashed potatoes - followed by french pastries. :) Next up - Bateaux Parisiens Croisiere, a boat ride on the Seine River! We saw so many famous sights: the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Place de la Concorde (where King Louis XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution), the National Assembly, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Latin Quarter, and many famous bridges. One of our students even remarked that it was really neat to see all of those sights from a different perspective. After our boat ride, we walked through the Latin quarter and many of us toured Notre Dame Cathedral during evening mass. Dinner was at Chez Francoise with a stop on the way home to the Eiffel Tower at 9:00 PM to see it "sparkle". We are all back at the hotel to rest for another exciting day tomorrow.
    Day 5 - Monday, April 1
    These Shoes Were Made for Walking
    Today began with another great breakfast at the hotel, followed by another Metro ride. We are finally getting better at riding the trains and not looking like a big herd of tourists! The kids have really begun to adapt to their environment and are becoming quite adept at getting on and off trains and switching lines. We are finding that many recognize our English accents and have asked us where we are from. We have met people from all over the world: Spain, Britain and even Australia! (They had a 27 hour plane ride to get here.)
    The Metro ride brought us to the Marais Quarter where many of the nobles lived before the revolution. The quarter used to be a marsh and King Henry IV had it drained little by little so the "hotels" could be built. As we walked, our tour guide Christine taught us that hotel in French simply means "mansion." But after the revolution (and all the nobles had either fled or been beheaded), no one could afford to maintain such properties, so the city rented the rooms out to tourists - and thus the word "hotel" took on a whole new meaning. We walked through several of these hotel courtyards and were amazed and the grandeur of them all. We even saw what was once the women's prison and heard the story of Marie Antoinette's friend Princesse de Lamballe and her unfortunate end.
    Following that tour, we returned via the Metro to the Louvre where we had some time for lunch and a walk through some tourist shops. Several of us re-visited the Tuilleries for some photos and a look at Place de la Concorde. We then re-boarded a Metro train and went to the Grand Opera house designed by Garnier which is famous for the Phantom of the Opera. What an awesome experience! The students were blown away by everything they saw. Our tour guide Christine gave us a guided tour of the building and many students lingered in several rooms with spectacular decoration and design.
    At the conclusion of the tour came the moment that many of our students have been waiting for - SHOPPING! As Christine led us out the back door of the Opera House, she led us across the street to the Galeries Lafayette which is three blocks long and eight stories high. Many of our girls were so anxious to see fashions from Paris and were then blown away by the prices. Each of the major design houses are represented at the Galeries so it was a great opportunity for everyone to see and experience couture fashion! Many of our students will also smell amazing when they get home as many bought perfume or at least got some samples to put in their bags.
    At the conclusion of our shopping, we were all sort of limping as we realized that we had been walking since 10 AM. Yet there was more to do - we boarded another Metro and Christine took us to the Champs de Elysee for a look at the Arch de Triumph and a lengthy stroll down the avenue. As we were walking, we stumbled on a military ceremony with many in uniform and military veterans present. There was a band playing and quite a parade lined up. Christine told us that every day at a 6:00 PM, military men and veterans line up and parade down the Champs de Elysee to the Arch de Triumph to lay fresh flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier. How lucky we were to witness it!
    After our last chance at shopping, we had one last Metro ride and had dinner at Chez Francoise. We thanked Christine and had a toast to France. We will be up early tomorrow 4:30 AM to board our plane to Spain. Au Revoir!
    Day 6 - Tuesday, April 2.

    Hola Espana!

    We rose VERY early in the morning at 3:00 AM to get ready for a 4:00 AM breakfast and a 4:30 departure. (UGH!) We felt dazed as we stumbled onto the bus. But, we got to the airport and were checked in with no problems. We waited for a few hours before we boarded and were off to Spain. Most of us dozed right off as soon as we took off, but woke up in time to... see the snow covered Pyrenees mountains as we flew over. We landed in Spain at about 10:00 AM and met our tour guide Enrique Rodriguez.

    Enrique is full of energy and fun. Even more importantly, he is a former teacher - so he gets teenagers and has a wicked sense of humor. He is helping us to understand not only the city of Madrid, but the people, the culture and the way of life. It has been an adjustment for all of us. Spaniards eat a little all day - but lunch is at 1 or 2 o'clock and dinner is at 8 PM (and that is considered early!). The people here are warm and helpful - and we have had a great time practicing our Spanish.

    After dropping our bags at the hotel, Enrique took us on a walking tour of the city center to Puerta del Sol which is kilometer zero to all points outside of Madrid. We then had time for lunch and many of us followed Enrique to a local cafe that serves authentic Spanish cuisine. Some of us had a seafood salad that was made of octopus, mussels, shrimp and crab meat tossed with vegetables and olive oil. Others had a potato soup. Then our second plate was either pork, beef or fish. It was all so fresh and good that we decided then to keep a list of what were eating and we will post it later for you on the blog. We are so proud of our students - so many of them are willing to at least try new things.

    After lunch, Enrique took us to the Palacio Real Madrid where we got to tour the palace of all the Spanish Kings. The students were blown away by the grand rooms (we only saw 27 of the over 2500 rooms in the palace) and the amazing views of the mountains from the courtyard. We then walked back to the hotel to freshen up a bit and headed out for dinner at 8:00 PM. Enrique took us to La Catedral Madrid. Our group was treated to a fantastic dinner of salad then pork, fish or beef and then a dessert of flan. We all had such a good time together and then headed back to our hotel for some much needed sleep!
    Day 7 – Wednesday, April 3

    Holy Toledo!

    We woke to a great breakfast here at the hotel and then boarded a private bus that drove us to the medieval city of Toledo. Words cannot describe how breathtakingly beautiful it is! As we entered the city, Juan – a local tour guide, boarded our bus and took us on a panoramic drive around the city so we could see the whole thing from afar. Then we drove int...o the city and went to a traditional sword shop in Toledo where we saw a sword being forged and master craftsmen making all kinds of things like jewelry and dishes. Many students purchased swords or jewelry when we went to the gift shop.

    Juan and Enrique then took us on the most fascinating walking tour of Toledo. We learned that Toledo was one of the first cities in the world to peacefully be home to three different religions – Muslims, Christians and Jews. We visited the Santa Maria La Blanca, which is a very old synagogue that is now a museum and heard the story of the Jews in Spain both before and after their expulsion. We learned that the expression “Holy Toledo” came from the fact that this city hosted some of the most special churches in Spain and there are over 80 churches within the city walls alone. We then traveled to the Santa Tome church where we got to view the most famous picture of El Greco. Have you ever seen 32 teenagers silent and staring at a medieval painting? They really enjoyed the art history lesson we were given and are beginning to understand the importance of appreciating these great works of art. We were then allowed to go off on our own for lunch and when we met back in the square, we went on a walking tour with Enrique down the hill to the edge of Toledo. He showed us the old city walls and talked about the way the city could be defended against attack. For many of the students, it brought back memories of freshman year when they learned about medieval towns and castles. We then boarded our bus and headed back to Madrid for a snack of churros con chocolate while sitting in an outside café.

    After a brief rest in our rooms, we headed out to our traditional tapas dinner which is a dinner of finger foods served on platters. The final experience of the day came at 10:30 PM when the students went to a traditional Spanish flamenco show. The students were awed by the music and the dancing – but believe it or not, a few students fell asleep during it from being so tired! Life here in Spain runs much later into the night than in America.

    We just want to let you know that we are so proud of these students! We have become one big family - supporting each other, looking out for each other and being kind and polite, even when we are all overtired and hungry. They are getting so much out of this experience - and we are really enjoying our time together.
    Day 8 – Thursday, April 4

    Our Last Day

    We woke to breakfast in our hotel and then walked over to Spain’s Metro station where we boarded a train to the Plaza Toros Las Ventas here in Madrid. It was here that the students learned about bull fighting. We were introduced to our local tour guide and he took us through the bull ring – even out into the arena where the Matador fights the bull. He explained the whole process to us and we also got to tour the bull fighting museum. The arena we visited is the biggest bull fighting arena in Europe.

    From there we walked over to a local high school where our students who take Spanish got to meet their pen pals in person. What a fun experience! As our students sat, the students from the high school here in Spain brought in posters to welcome us and brought out a feast of traditional Spanish food that we got to share. Mrs. McKeveny led us in a game to get the kids talking to one another and soon, there were big groups of students from the US and Spain mixed together talking. Many teachers came in to meet us as well and we all had a wonderful time together.

    We had to leave the high school to go to the Prado museum which was spectacular – it is one of the top art museums in the world. We had tour guides take us through to see the most beautiful works of art. The students got to see yet another masterpiece today. Las Meninas is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez. This week alone, we have seen three of the four masterpieces in the world!

    As we left the Prado, many of our Spanish pen pals came and met our students for a walk through Madrid. The students got to spend the next few hours together and had a wonderful experience. Many students went shopping together or went and got ice cream and sat in a park talking.

    After saying good-bye to our new Spanish friends, we got ready for dinner and headed out to El Arrozal for a traditional paella dinner. We had such a wonderful last dinner together! We sang Happy Birthday to Morgan, thanked Enrique – our tour guide and toasted Spain. Viva Espana!

    Tomorrow we rise early to catch our private coach to the airport. Our flight is scheduled for 10:00 AM and we will keep you posted as we get internet. We are expected to arrive in New York at about 1:00 PM (United States time) Friday – it will be an eight hour flight for us. We will then catch another private coach back to Seneca Falls – I am sure your students will contact you as soon as we reach JFK.
    Day 9 - Friday, April 5
    Home Sweet Home!
    We just safely landed at JFK and are waiting to get off the plane. (We all cheered when we touched down!) I am sure your students will be contacting you soon. Next up: baggage, customs and bus ride back to Seneca Falls.
At the Airport