This past summer, a group of Leesville students and teachers ventured out to Europe.
In early August, Leesville representatives immersed themselves in the trip of a lifetime. I was lucky enough to be apart of this group and I can confidently say that it was one of the best trips of my life. Over the course of ten days, we walked, biked, and bussed our way around London, Paris and Madrid. Below, I will give our day-to-day experiences and encounters with new and exciting people.
First stop; London. We arrived on a really misty, and somewhat dreary, morning in Heathrow. The airport seemed so similar to ours that first comment when we landed was, “Wow, welcome to RDU”. Boy, was I wrong. While London was like a cleaner New York, things were quite different.
First off, people were driving on the wrong side of the road. Well, it wasn’t wrong to them, but it was a weird adjustment for me since it’s something I’ve never seen. On our first day, made our way around London– sluggishly of course due to our long flight — and saw the classic tourist spots: Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square to name a few. The people we ran into were for the most-part nice and inviting (although I’m sure they were annoyed with us constantly attempting British accents). After a lot of walking and a nice dinner, we made our way to the hotel ready to rest up for the next day.
After a nice and simple breakfast of coffee, scones, and other various pastries, we were ready for the day. We made our way out of the hotel and hopped on a charter bus to cruise around the streets of London. It was nice not having to walk around so much, plus we got to see more of the city. Towards the end of our bus ride, we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. Seeing the men with fuzzy hats in person was certainly a surreal experience. Afterwards, we walked to the London Eye. From there, we got to explore on own before we met up to ride the Eye. Street artists, musicians, restaurants, and gift shops solely devoted to Shrek lined the side of the Thames.
After riding the London Eye, we made our way to dinner in a freaking dungeon. You can’t get anything cooler than dinner in a dungeon. Afterwards, a small group of us went to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. I can confidently say it was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and was a humbling experience to see such a great show in a city with so much history in theatrics. After a fun night out, we made it back to the hotel and were excited for what the next day would hold.
Our last day in London was probably the coolest. Our first stop on our excursion was Stonehenge. It was surreal to see a formation that has stayed in one spot for thousands of year, especially one shrouded in so much myth and mystery.
After we explored a circle of big rocks for a while, we traveled on to Bath. Bath was a very unique and ancient city that is pretty much set in its own little world. Knowing that you are walking in a bathhouse where Romans once walked is an unforgettable experience. The city of Bath is one that has so much history and has kept its original form, while also evolving and adapting to the world around it.
Once we made it back to London, we had a relaxing evening.After dinner, a group of us went on a walk by the Thames, played on a playset, and even got the chance to see a professional soccer stadium. The coolest experience of the day, and one I will never forget, was going to an authentic English pub. A small group of us talked with some Englishmen about the presidential election, laughed at their spot-on American accents, and even heard off-color jokes by an old drunk Irish man named Maurice. I truly felt immersed in their world. After a long night with some fun and interesting people, we were ready to move on to our next destination.
Next stop: Paris. After a lackluster trip through the Chunnel, (it was really just two hours of our ears popping, not a whole lot to talk about. It was still kinda cool, though) we arrived in Paris. The smells, weather and people were all different (For those of you who are Pulp Fiction fans, yes, a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese is called a Royale with Cheese in Paris). On our first day, we walked around a little to find lunch. Ordering food was now harder with a slight language barrier, but thankfully Google Translate did its job well.
After lunch, we explored more of the city. We noticed a lot more street vendors and artists compared to the amount we saw in London. Later, we got the chance to go into one of the oldest and coolest cathedrals in the world: Notre Dame. The architecture was absolutely stunning in person, and getting to see a church service going on made it that much more special.
After a long day of walking, we went to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Paris to see the sunset on the city skyline. Needless to say, it was breathtaking.
The time has flown by and we are already half-way through our adventure. On our second, and last, day in Paris we tried to see as much as possible. The Louvre, a perfume museum, and even the Eiffel Tower were all on on our list of destinations. We even go the chance to sing U2 with a street performer. All were very cool, but the Louvre was most likely my favorite. Getting to see some of the most famous art pieces from around the world was a very humbling experience. Also, yes, I did see the Mona Lisa and yes, it is very small, so we had to trample tourists to get a decent picture of it.
To finish up our trip to Paris, we took a boat ride down the Seine. The night-life of Paris was something special. Dance classes, picnics, and parties were all taking place along the river. Even the Eiffel Tower was lit up at night. It was a serene and calming send-off from Paris.
Our final destination: Madrid. One word to describe Madrid? Hot. At least it was dry heat, so it wasn’t miserable like here in North Carolina. Once we got off of the plane, we jumped in to exploring the city. On our first trip out we had some, odd, encounters. We ran into a fat Spiderman street performer which was probably one of the weirdest experiences in my life.
In Madrid, we had more free time to explore on our own. The architecture of the city was amazing, and the many street performers in the public squares like Plaza Del Sol made things really feel like a community.
On our second day, we visited the Royal Palace, several smaller monuments, and art museums. The city of Madrid contained so much history, making it a very cool place to live. Later in the evening,a small of us went on a bike tour through the city. While it was kind of scary competing for the road with some very aggressive drivers, it gave a unique perspective of central Madrid.
That night we even go to listen to a Mariachi band in another dungeon restaurant. If only America had stuff like that.
On our last in Madrid, we drove out to the Medieval city of Toledo. Here, Toledo has been preserved and contains so much history in a little city on the side of a river. Here, we visited several ancient chapels, synagogues, famous Goya paintings, and even a blacksmith shop. Yes, they made swords and knives. Yes, it was really cool.
When we returned to Madrid, we explored some more on our own and some even got to go to a Flamenco dancing class. Getting to see the sunset in Plaza del Sol and relax in Plaza Mayor were two unique experiences I’ll never forget. Once we were all together again at the hotel, we just sat around and relaxed. We laughed, ate, played card, and swapped stories from an amazing trip.
I think everyone at some point in their life should travel abroad. There’s a whole new world out there that a lot of have never seen or heard of. A world that has a U2-playing guitarist, a fat crime-fighting spider man, an addicting ice cream shop, and even a drunk named Maurice. As Miranda said in Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tempest, “O brave new world / That has such people in’t!” It is a brave new world out there, and it was an honor to be a part of it.