Once in a lifetime trip flew by for Everett
Recently, I was one of 28 Crookston High School students or graduates to travel to Europe as a part of EF (Education First) tours, along with 5 teacher chaperones. Being a recently graduated senior myself, it was a little bit of a last hurrah of high school. It was the last occasion I would spend time with most of the students on the trip, and the last time to talk to some of my favorite teachers. And what an amazing experience, to have the last days spent with some of the people who I had gone to high school with for years be across the ocean in Paris, Normandy and London.
The first European city we visited was Paris, France. My first impression of Paris was not favorable. Paris is not the city of lights or love that literature and television romanticizes it to be. The streets are littered and dirty, everything feels grimy and polluted, and even the air seems unclean. And the traffic is horrible, absolutely awful. Oftentimes, lanes just don’t exist, especially on roundabouts. Cars pass within centimeters of each other weaving in and out, which is scary enough without mopeds whizzing in between it all. Despite the sheer terror of it all, watching the insane traffic was a favorite pastime of mine on the huge tour bus. I was sitting high above the chaos and trusted that our native Paris driver knew what he was doing, as it was his job to brave the mess every single day. That is, until another car backed into our bus in the middle of the giant, lane-less roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. It wasn’t a bad enough hit to pull over or even stop (there wasn’t any place to pull over into anyways), but it took away my feeling of immunity. Still, even after our brief accident, I enjoyed watching the horrendous traffic.
Another fact that made the city that is home to the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower unfavorable to me is the fact that Paris is the Disney World of Europe, in terms of tourists. Sightseeing individuals and huge tour groups cover the city. The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles were so packed with people that it was hard to appreciate the beauty of it all. An already congested city filled with every person drawn to the splendor of the magical city in the middle of June made it nearly unbearable. I was also one of the annoying tourists, but the sheer amount of people made me question whether seeing the beautiful, ancient architecture and historical marvels was worth the struggle of dealing with temporary overpopulation.
Paris’s true downfall, the people, also happened to be it’s redeemer. After being thoroughly disgusted by a day in Paris flooded with tourists, we embarked on a peaceful river boat tour of the Seine. Although I marveled at the ornately carved bridges and beautiful buildings that lined the river, I was more interested in watching the people. The banks of the Seine are not like the banks of the Red Lake River, with sand sloping up to grass and trees and natural foliage. The banks of the Seine are entirely lined with concrete, so it is more a canal than a river. And it is by no means a clean river, being used in the past as a place to throw urban refuse. However, the people of Paris line the Seine, enjoying the setting sun and cooling air, despite the dirt and commotion. We saw people jogging and walking along the river bank, outdoor concerts, teenagers hanging out, and couples sitting right on the cement along the river with bottles of wine and real crystal glasses. And despite the fact that these tour boats must go down the river all day, every day, there always seemed to be a person waving at our boat and cheering excitedly.
Although Paris was not my cup of tea, to say, I still enjoyed my time there. I had a wonderful time feeding pigeons at the Notre Dame Cathedral and walking in the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. As a fan of classic literature, Paris being the center of many famous novels made it an interesting place to be. And, despite my hatred of crowds and long lines, the breathtaking view from the top of the Eiffel Tower was well worth the wait and hassle.
After Paris, we traveled to a seaside village called Asnelles in Normandy, France. Compared to Paris, Normandy is a perfectly peaceful haven. The tiny French villages with houses made of stone and green hedges dividing the yards look almost exactly as they did in the 1940’s. Everything is quaint and quiet, little seaside towns frozen in time. My favorite stop in our one day in Normandy was not a main attraction, but simply our lunch stop. We lunched in a village called Bayeux, with a small cathedral and tiny sandwich and ice cream shops. It is a beautiful place, and while most of the group spent the time shopping, my friends and I walked around the Bayeux Cathedral. The lunch stop was a calm break in an otherwise busy day.
Our main purpose in Normandy was to visit the D-Day beaches and learn about World War II. Once again, our time was packed with visits to the Caen Memorial, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, a beach in Asnelles with the remains of a temporary British harbour, and a German artillery site. It was an extremely informative day, and although I’m not a history buff, I enjoyed learning about World War II in the place where it actually happened. We all enjoyed the sea, although me less than others, perhaps, as I could hardly walk near the end of the day because of a sprained ankle earned from the rough, hilly terrain of the German artillery site.
I truly expected Normandy to be my least favorite part of the trip, but after visiting it, unlike my feelings about Paris, if I ever have the chance, I will be sure to return. I may not visit the war memorials again, but I would love to revisit the quaint French seaside ambiance that I enjoyed so much, and maybe spend some more time by the sea without a sprained ankle.
From Normandy, we traveled across the English Channel by ferry to reach the city of Dover, England. We then traveled to Canterbury on our way to London, our third and final destination. On our journey, we unfortunately missed the Canterbury Cathedral visit because of traffic delays. However, we still managed to have an enjoyable time and get a taste of a smaller English town by wandering the beautiful streets and gardens of Canterbury.
Finally, we made it to London. As a Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter junkie, this was what I had been waiting for. London was the reason that I worked at fundraisers for two years and acquired a job as a waitress. London is a an incredible city. It is humming with life, but not overrun by tourists, like Paris. London is a center of theatre and music and the backdrop to many favorite books, movies, and TV shows. It is alive with an explosion of different foods and cultures. The people of London are very proper and polite, as opposed to the rudeness of the French. I almost felt at home, as British polite is a lot like Minnesota nice.
I enjoyed a lot of the activities planned in London, like seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, hanging out at Trafalgar Square, visiting the Tower of London, and exploring Borough Market for lunch. We had three entire days in London, which allowed plenty of time for exploring and relaxing. We went shopping on the famous Oxford Street, visited the Imperial War Museum, and walked around Piccadilly Circus. We took the “chube” (tube, the London subway, as we were taught to say it) almost everywhere, and also spent a lot of time walking from place to place, which gave us time to experience the city.
The Tower of London was one of my favorite places to visit. The tragedies that have occurred at the tower over the years are fascinating and numerous. When I was in 11th grade, I was involved in the one act play The Ladies of the Tower at Crookston High School. It was about different women who were executed or imprisoned at the Tower of London. I played the part of Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, and on my visit to the tower, I was able to see the place where she was imprisoned and ultimately executed. While I was there, I had a bad habit of randomly saying “I was killed here!” while my friends hastily whispered, “Maddie, you’ve got to stop saying that.”
I would love to return to London again someday, and see everything I couldn’t in the group trip. I would explore 221b Baker Street, go see Les Miserables, and ride the London Eye. However, I enjoyed everything that I did get the chance to see, and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to visit Europe with some of my closest friends.