Italy and France will never be the same
By Patti Hinkelman
 Well, I certainly enjoyed my last trip with students.  Europe will probably never recover, but we will eventually.  We begin our journey in Spokane, meeting at the Day’s Inn The group in front of the Eiffel Tower.where most of the kids try to stay up all night so they can sleep on the plane.  I believe they managed an hour or two of sleep but that was about it.  We embark from Spokane International, change planes in Salt Lake, and then fly on to Atlanta where we encounter a slight problem.  (Oh yeah)  Evidently they cannot manage to lock the luggage compartment, so after an hour, we transfer to another plane and finally leave for Milan, Italy.  (Let me tell you, I pray hard that we transfer to another plane).  We land in Milan at about 10:00 a.m. and meet our tour director, Flavia, whom we find to be quite enjoyable (even though she likes April Fool’s jokes).  We join up with two other groups, one from New Mexico and one from Long Beach, California.  Then we travel from Milan to Jesolo, Italy, which is about 45 minutes from Venice.  We have a wonderful pasta dinner and finally manage to drag ourselves to bed.  At least the chaperones do.  The kids seem to thrive on no sleep.  The next day we attend Easter Mass in a slightly chilly old church just off of the main square in Venice.  After sightseeing in Venice where we experience the beautiful St. Marks’s Piazza, the Doges Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, we take in the Murano glass factory where many presents are bought.  We are given a demonstration of glass-blowing which is totally awesome.  The master glass blower makes a horse in seconds.  Absolutely fascinating!  Then of course, we have to take a gondola ride.  Everyone enjoys Venice.  Some of the kids taste their first gelato which is a marvelous form of ice cream.  They also enjoy the shops and the money exchange.  After Venice, we move on to Pontassieve which is about an hour outside of Florence.  I’m afraid we leave a lot of our American money there since Florence is the center of leather and much gold jewelry is also sold there.  Some of us even manage a horse and carriage ride that takes us all around Florence.  Then we head back to the hotel where a special torte was made to celebrate Ashley Nuxoll’s 16th birthday.  What a fun time!  From here we make a side trip to Sienna which is a 12th century town in Italy.  They still have a major horse race that dates back to the Middle Ages.  We do not see anything modern other than banks and shops that operate with modern conveniences.  I think everyone is in awe at the age of the place.  Americans don’t know old, we know young.  In Europe, almost every town has an old town, and some of the towns are simply old.  
 After a shopping trip in Florence, Italy.We move on now to Pisa where we visit the Cathedral, Baptistry, and Leaning Tower.  How magnificent!  The buildings have been cleaned and the sight is just like a fairy tale.  Absolutely beautiful!  Some of us want to climb the tower but the wait line is too long, so that will have to wait until another time.  The kids learn that back in time, before you were baptized, you were not a part of the congregation and the baptistery was separate from the church.  The people would be baptized, and then they could attend the church.  We see this several times.  In Monaco, the baptistery is in the church but to the side by the entrance.  So change is apparent.  So fun to see history instead of just studying it!
 Now off we go to Monaco.  We travel through many tunnels cut into the side of the mountains.  Six hours after Pisa we arrive in Nice where we check into a great hotel close to Antibes.  This is our first night in France.  We eat, go to bed, (some of us), and get up to go to the perfume factory in Eze.  And out come the credit cards.  Then, on to Monaco where we watch the changing of the guard at Prince Rainier’s palace, visit the chapel where Princess Grace is buried and now Prince Rainier too, and then wander through the Exotic Gardens overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Sunshine helps, and the day is beautiful.  We return to our lovely hotel, eat, and go to bed (some of us).  The next morning it is off to Nice to see the sights and visit the Old Town, where we see a flower market and the Cathedral.  Then our group walks down to the beach so some of the kids can brave the chilly waters of the Mediterranean.  When a rainstorm approaches, we quickly head to find shelter, and where do you guess that is?  Yes, Shelli, McDonald’s where one or two of our group manage to find sustenance.  Ugh.  What an oxymoron—go to France and eat at McDonalds.  Too funny!  We start to go back to the bus, but because construction is blocking the way, we have to take a long way around.  Gee, we find a department store called the Gallerie Lafayette, one of the main stores in France and not cheap.  The boys decide to buy some victuals to cook the next morning as they are tired of the continental breakfast.  Unfortunately, we are told that we have to be up early the next morning to catch the train, so they have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to cook it.  I, of course, wake them up.  They cook and everyone can smell it on the floor, but they eat a home-cooked meal.  We then pack our things downstairs to board the bus for the train station.  This is the day we say goodbye to our bus driver, Bruno, and head for Paris on the TGV, one of the fastest trains in the world.  Saying goodbye to Bruno is hard as he has been a wonderful driver and great with the kids and adults.  However, two more days in Paris are all we have left, so time to look forward to new experiences.
 It takes us six hours by train from Nice to Paris, and as usual, most of us take the time to catch up on sleep, which is definitely lacking.  A bus picks us up at the station and takes us to our hotel, which is another nice one.  Then we brave the metro (subway) and find our restaurant in the center of Paris.  The bus picks us up and takes us to the River Seine for a ride on the Bateaux Mouche which takes us up and down the Seine to see the sights of Paris by night.  This is a favorite with our group.  What a magnificent city all lit up in lights.  Then, we return to our hotel for another night’s rest (some of us).  Up early the next morning, we climb back on the bus with a tour guide for a two hour visit around the city of Paris which includes the Champs Elysee, Notre Dame, Napoleon’s Military School, a view of the Louvre museum and the D’Orsay museum.  So many sights and so little time to enjoy them!  After the sightseeing tour, our group heads on out to Versailles, the palace built by Louis XIV, the Sun King.  The palace itself is immense and the gardens extend for miles.  This, of course, is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, in the Hall of Mirrors, signaling the end of World War I.  We also have time to eat at a small café and some even manage to shop.  We return to the city center where the bus lets us off for free time.  We have to find the Gallerie Lafayette here because one of our young men wants to buy a suit.  So off we go and find a student demonstration going on right in front of the store.  Unfortunately, the kids are not pleased that I will not let them go outside but I figure safety is the better part of valor at this point.  We buy the suit, many buy wine for presents back home, and then we shove off to find the restaurant where we are to meet the whole group for dinner.  It takes us a bit, but find it we do, braving the metro once again.  Actually, the metro is quite fun and easy to take if you know the ins and outs of the system.  Dinner was great!  Although a pizza place, the pizza is not like here at home, and I love it.  However, we are not finished.  We still have one more thing to do, and that is to take the metro once again to the Eiffel Tower.
 The tower is lit at night, and every hour thousands of bulbs start flashing.  Quite a spectacular sight!  Almost everyone goes up.  About five of us stay down below and watch all the backpacks.  Once was enough for me!  We spend about two and a half hours here.  The kids have fun, and some even walk down the steps from the upper levels of the tower.  They are a little worn out by the time they reach the bottom.  Back to the metro, back to the hotel, back for another night’s sleep (for some of us).  At this point, one of our crew becomes ill and unbeknownst to us, her appendix has decided to come unglued.  Thank God it waited until we crossed the pond and arrived home.  We catch our plane at Charles de Gaulle airport, fly home, meet our drivers, and send most off to the warm embrace of their families.  Six of us remain in Spokane to sleep, really sleep, before heading back home.  
 I know I have left out many experiences and many funny stories, but I would have to write a book, so you’ll just have to ask the travelers for their individual tales.  Some are hilarious. 
 I want to thank each and every one of the kids for their wonderful attitudes, their willingness to put up with the passport checks, their sense of humor, and just simply being themselves.  I can’t thank the adults enough either: Julie Schumacher, Wanda Nuxoll, Shelli Schumacher, and last but not least, Colleen Sonnen who has been my sidekick on several of my trips.  Every one of them helped in some way to make the trip a great success.  I thank you parents, too, for entrusting your children to my care for such a wonderful opportunity.  You are all certainly blessed.

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