Saturday, August 10, 2013

P2P Arrival in USA: Day 20

It was finally time to head home.  Everything so far had gone perfectly on the trip, so we all knew our way home had to have some hiccup involved!  Our group checked in at CDG airport in Paris, and we said our tearful goodbyes to Charlotte and Sabrina.  Once we arrived at the gate, we didn't have a lot of time before our flight departed.  We all boarded the flight, and things went well.  The flight to New York, JFK airport was only 8 hours from Paris. I sat next to a man who was coming from India to do business in Ohio, so we had interesting conversations about languages and the importance of knowing multiple languages.  He knew 7 fluently!  What an inspiration!  I find it embarrassing that most Americans don't know a second language.  I know learning languages is not easy, but I feel we as a culture do not value this as we should.  I hope this changes in the future!  He actually explained why Chinese is so hard, and it made so much sense.  There are no letters in the Chinese language, but each word is a character- like a coded picture.  There are over 99,000 characters in the Chinese language, but Chinese simplified only has 30,000 characters.  Can you imagine memorizing 30,000 characters?  That is crazy!  The more I spoke to this man, the more I was inspired by his story.  His children are in elementary, and both of them can speak English fluently.  He had them learning languages as toddlers.  He was also honest in saying that it is a struggle- languages take work!  I loved chatting with him about the world and how important it is that we are global citizens.  

Ok, once we arrived in New York, we went through immigration and customs and then said goodbye to our dear friend Montana who joined us from New Jersey.  Next up we had to walk to the neighboring terminal due to the construction at JFK airport.  Once again we went through security and then said goodbye to our New York group.  As much as I don't want to, I always cry my eyes out as I say goodbye to students.  I am so honored to be a part of their experience abroad!  I know these adventures we shared together will affect them for the rest of their lives, and it is so cool to be a part of that.  I can always tell when I have a great trip- I cry even more!  We did one last count off, and of course I screwed it up!  Oh how I will never forget the number 38!

After leaving our new Rochester, NY friends at their gate, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading to where our flight was leaving from.  Our flight ended up being delayed by 2 hours, and once we boarded things were delayed even more.  On the flight, I had fallen asleep, but I had a feeling something was wrong.  The pilot came on to tell us that catering hadn't come to refill beverages, and that we had to wait.  That took about 45 minutes, and once that was done, we sat out on the runway for way too long.  I didn't realize how long it was because I kept nodding off, but it got out of hand.  The pilot came on and told us there was a traffic backup in the sky, so we would be taking a different route.  Seriously?  I have never heard of that!  While all of this was going on, one of our students sent me a message saying that there had been a plane crash in NY.  Come to find out, a plane had crashed at La Guardia airport, a neighboring airport in NYC.  All of the incoming air traffic was now re-routed into JFK which in turn caused a traffic jam.  

Then, while sitting on the runway for hours, a light came on and we now had a mechanical problem that had to be checked out before we were allowed to leave.  When all was said and done, we waited on the runway for 6.5 hours!  That is crazy!  Passengers were starting to get cranky, and I can see why!  I even complained that no water had been offered to us!  Ah!  They did offer us to get off the flight, but the problem with that was that if you got off, you were not allowed to get back on the plane. During  all of this, my phone was slowing dying.  I tried my best to keep the group facebook page updated.  I also communicated with the P2P program office to keep them updated on what the situation was.  As we sat there, we missed our flight to Grand Rapids.

Finally our flight made it to Detroit at 1:30AM.  We met with our Alpena delegates' families and said our goodbyes, and P2P had a bus pick us up and drive us back to Grand Rapids.  As we were going up the escalator at the airport, Skylar and Sara noticed that their bags were going around on the luggage conveyors.  We all went back to search for our bags, but only those two came through.  Our bus driver  Willie picked us up, and I asked him if we could go to a fast food place to eat since most of us hadn't eaten in over 12 hours.  Luckily a Checkers right across from the airport was open, and they had a walk up window!  It took awhile to cook up enough food for a group of hungry teenagers in the middle of the night, but we finally got back on the road and made it to the Grand Rapids airport by 5:30AM.  

Even with our delays at the end, and the fact that we didn't have our baggage, it was such a great feeling to be home after being abroad for 3 weeks in Europe.  The entire program was awesome!  Everything went so well, and our group really got along well.  It was sad to say goodbye, but I know we will keep in touch as well as see each other in a few weeks at the reunion.  Thanks to all of the delegates, leaders, and parents for an amazing P2P program this summer!  I am so blessed to have these life changing experiences with all of you!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

P2P Paris, France: Day 19

Today is our last day in Europe together!  It has been an amazing journey, but at this point we are getting tired and ready to go home.  Since the Tour de France bike competition ends today, we had to alter our itinerary to avoid traffic.  Instead of going to Chateau du Versailles in the afternoon, we went in the morning.  Our original schedule had us there at the exact time the bikes would be coming through. Due to the craziness in Paris of the end of the competition, roads were closed early.  We got to Versailles and our driver had to drop us off far away due to the road closures.

This palace was commissioned by the Sun King, Louis XIV.  Versailles was once the capital of France as it symbolized the French monarchy.  Under King Louis XIV, the court reloacted Versailles to Paris.  Here is where King Louis XIV would host his extravagant parties.

Here are your fearless leaders!!!

Students explored the palace in groups, and there was a "quiz" to help you find your way around.  Here is the famous "Hall of Mirrors."  

And one of the King's many bedrooms....

The palace was crazy crowded!!!  The gardens were not free (apparently you have to pay on the weekends now), so I just took photos from above.  

Here are some students enjoying time in the palace.

After venturing through the palace, we had lunch next to the chateau.  It was one of our best meals yet!  Dessert was amazing- chocolate filled eclairs!

Hey Payton, will you watch my bag while I go to the bathroom?  

Here are some pics of the preparation of the Tour de France in Versailles as we left to head back to Paris.

The last activity on our program was to head to the Eiffel Tower!!  This tower is over 1000 feet high, and it was created for the World's Fair.

Luckily, the line to the top of the tower wasn't super long.  We gave our group a choice- they could take the stairs or they could take the elevator.  Those that took the stairs had to climb over 700 stairs to the first level, and from there they would take the elevator to the top.  Here is a view from the first level.

I went up with the elevator group, and we immediately went to the top of the tower.  We somehow ended up in a different elevator than the rest of our group, so we split off and all met up at the meeting point under the tower when we were finished.  

Once we were at the top, I started to feel light headed and sick.  I think it was from lack of hydration and too much sun!  I went down to the bottom to lay in the park with Sam.  We both relaxed and had a nice time people watching before meeting back up with our group.

At the top, some people locked their love on the Eiffel Tower!  

Once we all made it back down and met up as a group, it was time for dinner.  The problem now was that the Tour de France was ending in Paris, right as we were trying to get to dinner.  Our bus driver tried his best to get us to our restaurant.  Luckily we had our delegate Charlotte from Germany who is fluent in German, English, and French.  Sabrina didn't speak French, so Charlotte took charge for our group and communicated with our bus driver to get us where we needed to go.

Oh how we loved this bus driver!  I sat behind him, and he was texting while driving in Paris!  AH!  He was quite stressed out due to the road closures during the Tour de France, that he even started smoking his cigarette on the bus!  My favorite part was that he followed Sabrina into the hotel and asked her for money for dinner- seriously dude?!?!  He was crazy!

After driving around for over an hour, there was no way our bus was going to take us anywhere near where we needed to eat.  The closest the bus could get us was about 2.5 miles away, and the subways were closed.  We decided it would be best to go back to the hotel and see what or meal options were.  Once we got to the hotel, we checked on pizza delivery, but they don't do that in Paris. Our next option was a restaurant, but it is hard to find something that can accommodate 40 teenagers, and for 7 euros a piece.  In the end, we were stuck going to Mc Donald's.  I know that many people were disappointed because it was our last meal together on program, but there were extenuating circumstances that didn't leave us with other choices.  

Once we all got our food at McDonald's, we went back to the hotel and had our goodbye meeting where we handed out awards to the students for things they had earned throughout the program.  It was our last night in Europe, so we did an extra late bed check to ensure we had time to pack and prepare for our departure.  

P2P Paris, France: Day 18

Thank goodness we are done with that overnight train!  Yuck!  I have been on several overnight trains in my day, but none as hot and as small as this one from Italy to France!  We arrived in Paris and waited for our guide to meet us on the bus for our orientation of Paris.

Our first stop on the guided city tour was Notre Dame.  Of course, we didn't have a whole lot of time there.  Many people had to go to the bathroom, but the restrooms were closed!  The line to get into the cathedral was too long for us, so our guide said we could go to the front of the line and cut.  I don't speak French, but I am pretty sure people were swearing at him.  The police were called, and we were not able to get into the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was celebrating a special year, so in the front they built bleachers to help commemorate hundreds of years of this cathedral's life.  Notre Dame became famous with the movie about the Hunchback and Esmeralda, and at one time this beautiful structure was set to be torn down.  Now it is one of the most popular sites in all of Paris!

It was built between 1163 and 1330 on a site of early pagan and Roman temples, and the name "Notre Dame" means "Our Lady of Paris" in French. The gargoyles, spire, and green cooper roof statues were added by the 19th century by the restorer Viollet-le-Duc.

The entrance of the cathedral tells Bible stories.  

The arched supports, known as flying buttresses, were used for the first time in the world here in the architecture of Notre Dame.

Behind Notre Dame we went to the bridge of locks were couples from all over the world come to "lock" their love away in Paris.  Most people throw the keys in the river.

Our next stop was a lookout point to see the Eiffel Tower.  It was sunny and gorgeous, which sometimes can be tricky for getting that perfect picture.  

Next we drove to see the famous Arc de Triomphe.  Napoleon ordered that this be built in honor of his victories, but it was not finished until 1836, after he had passed away.  It is decorated with relief battle scenes and allegorical sculptures, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at the base with an eternal flame commemorating the dead of the two World Wars.  This is the largest round-about in the world with 12 streets feeding into this circle.

All the way down the street is another arc that is in the "New Paris."

After our city tour, it was time to head up the steps for lunch!  There were over 300 steps to the top, but it was worth it!  The view was awesome!

At the top of the stairs sits the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur which was completed in 1919, and is one of the most distinctive features of the Paris skyline.  

Once we made it to the top, we walked through the Bohemian village which draws hordes of tourists daily.  Here you can see pavement artists, street performers, souvenir shops, and open-air cafes.  This is the former artists quarter with cobbled winding streets and pretty squares.  On the menu for lunch was the specialty of escargot- snails!

The snails were covered in pesto, and tasted delicious!  After lunch we had some free time to explore and shop before continuing our tour of Paris.

One doesn't need to spend money to be entertained here!  Street performers and people watching is free!

Our last stop for the day was to the Louvre.  This time I got to be a tour guide!  We split into Michigan and New York groups for the tour of the museum.  

The Louvre is both a palace and a colossal art museum.  The palace took its form between the 16th and 19th centuries, and was developed piecemeal by successive monarchs including Francois I, Louis XIV, and Napoleon.  

First up on tour was the "Winged Victory."  This is one of the most famous works in the museum.  Over 35,000 pieces of art are housed in the Louvre, as it is one of the biggest museums in the entire world!
This statue is from the 2nd century BC, and is called the Nike of Samothrace.  It was created between 200-190 BC, and was to honor the goddess as well as honoring a sea battle.  

The next piece we went to see was perhaps the most iconic- the Mona Lisa.  The Mona Lisa was stolen by a janitor and kept under his bed for over 30 years.  Visitors would flock to the empty space on the wall to see that it had "vanished."  Finally it was found in Florence when the janitor tried to sell it to make money.  He said he was trying to bring back the piece of art to Italy where it belonged.  Since then, it has been one of the most famous paintings in all of the world.

After my guided tour, students had free time to admire the works in the rest of the museum.  I had my photo taken with Mona and then sat and enjoyed a latte with Randall and some students after an awesome day in Paris.

Before we left, we had to take another group photo!  It was the perfect day for us to wear our shirts due to how crowded the Louvre was, as well as the streets of Paris.

Oh Sabrina!  She was an OUTSTANDING delegation manager!  We were so lucky to have her!  The boys especially loved having a model lead us through Europe!

Oh Senor!!!  Que chulo, no?!?

For dinner, it was time to rock out at Paris' Hard Rock Cafe!

Everyone enjoyed cheeseburgers, fries, and ice cream for dinner!  Who are these people?!?

What's up!?!?

What a fun filled day in Paris!  We were all very anxious to get to our hotel rooms to shower since we couldn't do that the night before on the train to Paris.  Only 1 more day of fun!!!