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Europe 2019 Day 10

Good morning kids, or rather, sad morning kids. That’s it, we’re done. I’m sitting here in the lobby, trying to stay awake and realizing that our adventure is over. Years of planning and anticipation have come to end in a heartbeat. The worst part is that it is a bright and sunny morning, so it makes our departure that more difficult to bear.

I’m not going to lie…I’m beat. These trips are great, but they take a lot out of you. Even though I slept well, it was tough to get out of bed this morning. Obviously the late night did not help matters. I know, here I am complaining about being tired after 10 days in Europe, while my colleagues get ready to go back to work. Poor Dave. That being said, they didn’t spend the time and energy planning the trip and actually executing it. Whatever, I’ll do it again in a quick minute, and I will!

So to add to the misery of leaving, our flight to Toronto is delayed. There was a fire at Pearson, so it has had a domino effect on flights. We were supposed to leave at 11:30, but now it looks like 2:00. The problem with that is we likely will not make our connection to Thunder Bay, since that will only leave us 20 minutes between our arrival and the departure of the next plane. I’ve never experienced this, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Alright, so we’re now “comfortably” ensconced at the gate, patiently waiting for our flight to leave. Only 3.5 hours to go! What the heck are we going to do for all that time? Sweet Jesus…I just want to go home. This is seriously testing my OCD. I’ve been abandoned by my group too, left all alone with everyone’s belongings. Air Canada graciously gave us 12€ to spend at McDonald’s, Starbucks, EXKI, Brioche Doree and some other place. Hmmmmmm, how much will that buy us in overpriced airport shops? Probably a bottle of water and that’s it, but I guess I’ll need to find out for myself. I will need to eat soon, as breakfast was once again terrible.

Okay, so hopefully we will be able to board our flight in the next hour. I took my voucher and surprisingly was able to buy a decent lunch. Who would have thunk? A baguette with ham and cheese, a strawberry yogurt dessert and water cost 11€30. Not bad. On the flight front, we are now scheduled to arrive at 5:03, which leaves us 30 minutes to make our next flight. That isn’t enough time, but I’m hopeful since we take up the whole plane, that they will hold it for us.

Team Battistel, March 2019.

In the air now, Toronto bound. We’re stuck at the very back again, however my row only has two seats, so Gibby and I have a bit more elbow room. The moving map on the plane tells me we should arrive at 4:48, so let’s hope we can make our flight to Thunder Bay. Maybe as I mentioned earlier they will hold the plane rather than trying to get 48 people on another flight. Fingers crossed. They’re working on lunch, supper or whatever you call this meal. I wonder what’s on the menu? The one on the way here wasn’t bad, so let’s hope we get something similar. I’ll be back after I eat and have a nap with my review. Stay tuned.

The “meal” and a nap are in the books. So, again I’m impressed…that’s two in a row Air Canada! We were served what I think was BBQ Chicken with carrots, mashed potatoes with corn, bread and a cookie. I passed on the quinoa. In my opinion, it was better than some of the meals we had in Europe, but that’s just me. Now just to sit here and stew until we land in Toronto, staring at our arrival time, which is now 4:54. Hopefully I don’t pick up some strain of the plague while I’m at it; the guy to my right back across the aisle has been hacking up a lung the entire flight!

Thunder Bay here we come! Obviously we made it, but it was quite the ordeal. We landed at 4:52, and quickly found out that our flight home had been delayed. I have a sneaky suspicion that it had everything to do with us, since I as already described we are 60% of the seats on the plane. We had to hustle from the gate to customs, and it appears they opened a special area for people from our flight. Then due to construction, we had to take a bus to our domestic gate. We arrived about 20 minutes before our 6:00 departure. Whew! If anything, we did a lot of running for our flights on this trip…the kids won’t forget this too soon!

Elbow partners, March 2019.

Home sweet home…what a long day! It’s only 9:30, but my body knows it’s really 2:30. Throw on top of that some stress from the flights and I’m completely drained. It’s going to take a few days for me to totally recover from the trip. I’ll be back in a few days with some reflections from our journey. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 2

Hey kids, welcome to Day 2. Thanks to the miracle of air travel, we’re now on a different continent! Hello Europe! We’ve now touched the western coast Ireland, and are less than two hours from Munich. Yay! I just reached over my elbow partner Logan to snap a picture of dawn breaking. They never turn out as well as they look.

Chasing dawn off Ireland, March 2019.

So that was the good news, now for the bad news. Well, I can’t move my neck properly and I’m running on about two hours “sleep.” I guess if you can call the few hours of spine-crushing, contorted misery I just did sleep. However, I just realized something. I write much better and am way wittier operating on fumes. Or at least I think I do; we’ll see when I read this back at some point.

I think they’ll be serving breakfast soon. Hmmmm, what’s on that menu. It’s continental, so probably not much. I remember getting banana bread and water one time. Sounds about right. Anyway, I’ll be back once we’re on our flight to Berlin.

Alright, on our way to Berlin. Boy do I have a story for you! First, the rest of the flight to Munich was uneventful. I did call the banana bread breakfast. It was pretty good, though not chocolate chip banana bread good. Anyway, we landed on time and made our way off the plane as quickly as we could. That’s when the fun started.

As I mentioned earlier, I was worried about the time between our flights. If I thought Thunder Bay to Toronto was tight, fate said “hold my beer.” We only had about 50 minutes to get to our next flight, and there was a massive line at customs. I didn’t time it, but it took us more than 30 minutes to get through the queue. Then we had to take a shuttle to the gate, and literally run to make it there. What a gong show! When we finally got there, and thankfully they held the plane, one of the Lufthansa people said us “What took you so long? Your plane landed an hour ago!” Uh, we have to get off the plane and through customs. Hello!

Anyway, we’re on our way with everyone in tow. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need a shower. I am sweaty and gross! Problem is we can’t check into the hotel yet, so hopefully we can fresh up somewhere. I’m beat too. The running and stress take a lot out of you, oh and the lack of sleep too. Oh well, we’re in Europe instead of snowy Thunder Bay, so we’ll make the best of it.

In Berlin, March 2019.

Leaving the Berlin airport, March 2019.

Our method of transport for the day was the train, which I’m sure was an experience for some of our students. The only issue unfortunately was the weather. It started drizzling when we landed, and continued as we left the hotel. I did stop for a bit, but then came down even harder. Definitely not one of the best weather days I’ve had in Europe.

If you’re wondering where we went and what we saw, I’ll tell you. We took the train from our hotel, which is located in the southeast of the city, to the centre of old East Berlin, Alexanderplatz. Riding European public transit is so different than in Canada. Anyway, from Alexanderplatz, we did a walking tour of the area, stopping at many historic sites, including the Holocaust Memorial. My favourite was definitely the Brandenburg Gate, but sadly it was raining so hard that we didn’t linger very long. We all were hungry and cold, and really wanted some food and to get out of the rain.

Catholic Church, March 2019.

Konzerthaus Berlin, March 2019.

Holocaust Memorial, March 2019.

Brandenburg Gate, March 2019.

Dinner was at a restaurant called the Hopfingerbräu. The meal was meh; 3 sausage links, some sort of meatball shaped like a hamburger patty and some potato salad concoction. I ate the first two, but was disappointed like others were that the potato was cold and didn’t taste very good. Dessert was something akin to a black forest trifle which I thought was good, but then again I like Black Forest cake.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap things up as I’m sore and utterly exhausted. We have a busy day tomorrow and we might get snow flurries…seriously? I thought we left that crap behind! I need some shuteye, so I’ll be back in the morning. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 1

Hey kids, today is the the day! I know this isn’t my usual introduction, but it is a special circumstance. This time tomorrow morning, we’ll be in Munich on our way to Berlin. For my part, there is a lot of nervous excitement. Even though this is my fourth trip, I still stress a bit about all the little details.

I just got back from a 4.5k walk with Luna; the morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. You can tell that spring is on the way. The temperature is near zero and the sun is shining brightly. I actually had to start stripping of some layers as I was overheating. They are calling for some snow today into tomorrow, but hopefully with mild temperatures next week it will go away quick and work on the mountains we already have.

Late winter morning, March 2019.

So I think I’m ready to go. Yesterday I checked everyone in and printed all the boarding passes. I’m pretty much packed with just a few minor things to tuck away. We’re meeting at the airport at 3pm, but our flight doesn’t leave until 5pm, so it’s like my old army days-hurry up and wait. Anyway, I’ll check in again once we’re on our way to Toronto.

Alright, so we’re in the air on our way to YYZ. Unfortunately we’re 15 minutes behind schedule, which isn’t a huge issue, but it means we only an hour between flights. We’re going to have to hustle to get to our next gate, which because of where we land at Terminal 1, is quite the hike. Wish us luck!

It was great to see the kids all excited as we waited to leave. Some have never been on a plane before, others have never gone this far. I can just imagine what an amazing experience this is for them. I think for the majority, this is the first time away from home without their parents. I’m trying to think about the time I travelled when I was in high school, what my emotions were, but sadly it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember those fine details.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Trip security, March 2019.

Somewhere over the lakes, March 2019.

Okay, we’re in the air and on our way to Munich. By the time we landed In Toronto and got off the plane, we had to rush like crazy to get to our gate. I knew the short time between flights was going to bite us, and it did. We made it okay, but the stress was not helpful. The flight is packed!

Now we left late, like 40 minutes late, so I have no idea how that is going to impact us when we arrive. According to our itinerary, we only had an hour to make our next flight, that is after clearing customs and security. I have a feeling we might not make our plane to Berlin; ugh, I hate all this rushing around! The pilot said we would be on time, so here’s hoping.

Well, they will be serving dinner soon, so maybe some food will soothe some of the frustration. I’m starving…I wonder what is on the menu? I guess it doesn’t matter, since by the time they get to us at the back, there won’t be any selection. Ah, the joys of steerage class!

Okay, so colour me surprised. Dinner was not too bad, and they had options when they got to me. Huh. Well, at least one thing went well. We had the option of chicken or pasta, so I took the chicken, which had some sort of cream sauce with potatoes and veggies. There was also potato salad I think, with bread and a brownie. Not five star, but it will definitely hold me over.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap things up. With the amazing power of technology, I can now post on the plane! Once that’s done, I’ll finish watching Bohemian Rapsody and then try and get some sleep. My next post will find us in the historic city of Berlin. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 2

Hey, hey kids! Sorry, I had to get a Krusty the Clown reference in there. Anywho, it’s Day 2! Thanks to the miracle of modern air travel and Sir Sandford Fleming all those years ago, it’s the next day. So I’m running on about 4 hours sleep, which means I have no idea how coherent my thoughts are, but whatever. I don’t get paid to write this.

Anyway, it’s 0700 local time, we’re just off the coast of Norway and 1100km from our destination. We certainly took a very adventurous route, not the usual more direct one. Normally we pass below Ireland, but this time our flight plan took us on a big sweeping arc to the north, over Greenland, Iceland and toward Germany from the northwest. I would assume the guys driving er flying the plane know what they are doing. I’m sure it’s not their first rodeo.

Morning over the North Sea, April 2017.

So I’m sitting here half awake waiting for breakfast to arrive. God I’m dying of thirst! I don’t feel too bad, as what little sleep I got wasn’t too horrible. The neck pillow really helped, though the accommodations here in steerage aren’t the greatest. You just can’t seem to get comfortable…my butt is sore! I guess we’ll be on be ground soon enough and I can stretch my legs and my posterior.

The kids are crazy hyper right now, probably since most of them haven’t really slept much. I’m sure they are driving everyone around us nuts with their teenager conversations. Maybe they’ll be happier with some breakfast. Apparently it’s the good ole standby, banana bread. Not that I don’t like banana bread, but it’s not my usual morning meal. Hold on, it’s cinnamon banana bread. Fancy. I guess it doesn’t matter, since I’m not really that hungry but rather thirsty. So I had myself like 6 or 7 Dr. Peppers…wait, wrong movie.

We’re on the ground now in Munich. Gluten tag! It was really nice to get off that airplane after 8 hours…it was getting a little stuffy. It was also nice to stretch my legs and get the blood going. I demolished a whole bottle of water; I guess I was thirsty. Anyway, Munich has a nice airport; very modern. The kids had a chance to get some food, look at the shops and relax.

Unfortunately when we landed we got some bad news. I received a text from the St. Ignatius group and their plane had to turn around 1.5 hours into the flight overseas. They were supposed to go to Frankfurt, and beat us to Amsterdam. Now we’re waiting to hear when they’ll meet up with us. Hopefully it won’t be too long. Our fingers are crossed.

Alright, we’re up in the air and on our way to Amsterdam. I think all of the hyper energy from before is passing into exhaustion. We have been going for more an 24 hours now, many of us with very little sleep. Some of the kids did grab some sleep in the airport, but I’m sure everyone will sleep much better tonight.

A frequent topic of conversation has been our agenda once we land. After retrieving our bags and meeting our Tour Director Jason, we are supposed to proceed to the hotel. Beyond that I had to tell the kids I did not know. Maybe something is happening before, after or in conjunction with dinner, but that’s up to Jason to decide. For myself it will be nice to get out of airports, breathe some fresh air and relax. Not that I will ever relax on this trip, but it makes me feel much better that we are almost at our destination. Well, they are coming with snacks and beverages (except for Zach, who managed to end up in business class and gets meal), so I’m shutting down for now.

Amsterdam airport, April 2017.

Amsterdam airport, April 2017.

Okay, so it’s almost time for bed. The last part of the day was a lot more relaxed and easy. So we’re all checked into the hotel and the kids are getting ready for lights out. Our hotel is literally 5 minutes from the airport, which made things very simple. It took us a bit to get checked in, but we’ve been spending a lot of time waiting the last few days anyway. The hotel is very nice, though the rooms are a bit tight. I know Mr. Marcon and I could use a bit more space in our room.

Amsterdam rooms, April 2017.

We had dinner in the hotel, which was very good. It was buffet style, which let the kids eat their fill. There was all kinds of salad, chicken, roasted potatoes and fish. Quite the spread! Desert was awesome too.

After dinner we had a chance, with our Tour Director Jason, to brief the kids on tomorrow’s agenda. The good news is that St. Ignatius finally made it to Europe, and should be here from Frankfurt very shortly. So we will leave the hotel after breakfast for a guided tour of Amsterdam in the morning. Following lunch, we will have a canal cruise which will take a few hours. Then there will be more walking and time for some shopping. Should be a nice day.

Hotel fountain, April 2017.

Anyway, I better get running. Our hotel has tons of EF travellers in it, so it will be an early morning and a busy breakfast. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 1

So here we are…Day One. Hours from departure. I’m at home getting all the last minute packing done before I head over to the airport.

I am so unbelievably nervous. If you know me, it’s nothing unusual and par for the course. Do you know how many times I have to “go” before a football game? It’s ridiculous! It’s just who I am; I’m a worrier. I was wake this morning just after 4am and could not fall back asleep. I think everything is ready and I’ve done my best to make sure all the “T’s” are crossed and the “I’s” are dotted. I just need to relax. I’ll check back in once we’re on our way to Toronto…maybe I’ll feel better.

Well, we’re sitting here in the secure area of the Thunder Bay airport, patiently waiting for our flight. The kids are just wired, as I’m sure I was way back in 1992 on my school trip to Europe (and Ms. Caza too). I am feeling a little more relaxed, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief once we are on the flight to Europe. I’m an impatient person (though I’ve gotten better since I became a parent) and this waiting thing kills me.

Our group, April 2017.

We’re in the air now, on the short flight to Toronto. One down, two to go. One of my biggest concerns of this whole trip is the time between our flights from Thunder Bay to Munich. We have just over an hour (depending on how long this flight takes) to get from gate to gate. It is a bit of a hike, since Pearson Airport is not a small place. My fingers are crossed that it will all be okay and we’ll get to the next gate with time to spare.

It’s funny, I was just thinking I that one thing I didn’t do before we left was to ask if we had any first time flyers. I can’t imagine all the emotions they are feeling. Most of our kids have not been away from home without their parents before, so I’m sure they are nervous. The excitement will take care of that though. Obviously I cannot remember all the feelings I had the first time I was away from home by myself (that was probably when I was in the reserves), but there was a lot going on.

Pearson selfies, April 2017.

Our ride to Europe, April 2017.

Whew! We are on our way to Europe. All 23 students and 3 chaperones are onboard this Airbus 330. Next stop, Munich! Wow, I feel like such a huge weight is off my shoulders, at least for the time being. I’m actually exhausted and want to go to sleep. The stress of the day and making sure we got on this flight on time has wiped me out. I’m sure I’ll perk up in a little while, especially after I get some food in my body. I had a granola bar, but nothing substantial since 1100. I wonder what’s for dinner?

I feel a little weird, since for the first time on an overseas flight I am not sitting in a window seat. I always like taking a shot of the rising sun over the ocean, but those are the breaks. Anyway, I have a nice spot. I’m in the middle section, but there wasn’t another passenger in the other aisle seat, so my next door neighbour moved. That gives us lots of elbow and leg room. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep tonight, er morning. It’s 1900 eastern, but 0100 in Europe. Whatever.

So that was disappointing. Did I say I was hungry? Well, I was, and the food smelled so good. The choices this evening aboard AC 846 were chicken and pasta, and as is always my luck, they ran out of chicken just as they got to me. So pasta it was. I’m sure it was the chicken that smelled good. The pasta, or what passed for pasta, was definitely not to my liking. I’m not a big pasta person on a good day and if I wasn’t so hungry, I probably wouldn’t have touched it. I ate half and that was it. The coleslaw salad or whatever it was was okay, and I liked the bread and brownie. Thank God I brought snacks; that energy bar hit the spot. Besides, I can stand to lose a few pounds anyway.

Now that dinner is done, I’m going to finish my movie and try to get some sleep. We land in about 6 hours and it will be morning by then, so I don’t want to be too messed up. I’m sure I’ll grab a nap during our Munich layover. Anyway, I think this is enough for today.

I’ll post this as soon as I can and starting working on the Day 2 ramblings. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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There’s places I gotta see…

There certainly are…many in fact. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on my way to make it happen. If you’re wondering about the title, you need to listen to more classic rock. Connoisseurs will recognize the line from the iconic Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird.”

So after nearly 3 years of planning, we are finally ready to go to Europe. I can’t believe we started all of this in the spring of 2014. Where has the time gone? It feels like an eternity ago. And it’s not just me; the students have grown up along the way. Those young Grade 9 or 10 students are now in Grade 11 or 12, some getting ready to graduate. What a fitting way to leave the school!

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I usual write about how busy I am and how crazy my life is. My last post ironically said exactly that. Well, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I managed to find another gear. What an insane few days! So I guess I should tell you about it.

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I thought it would be great to have the media at the airport for our departure. Last Monday however, I received a call from our school board communication officer, Mike Thompson. He said he was in contact with our two local MPs, Patty Hajdu and Don Rusnak, and they wanted to visit with the students before they left. The trick was that it had to happen by the end of the week, as Parliament is back in session at the start of April. We settled on Friday, but a lot of work had to be done to prepare. Mike would look after the politicians and the media, but I had to find a venue in the school and line up some students to be present.

During our trip, we will be visiting two cemeteries; Tyne Cot near Passchendaele, Belgium and Bretteville-sur-Laize south of Caen France. At those cemeteries, we will honour the fallen but in particular those that served with the 52nd Battalion, CEF and the Lake Superior Regiment. Both were organized in Thunder Bay and are perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR) today. I served in the LSSR in my teens. Therefore I thought it would be fitting to invite one of my former officers, David Ratz, who is now a Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the regiment, to the event. It was great to to catch up with him and the students were very appreciative of his knowledge of the history and his stories.

I had to MC the event and scramble with some last minute issues, so I was extremely nervous and sweating like a hog. Fortunately everything went well, and I am very thankfully for that. The media interviewed some of the kids, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still so nervous to speak to them myself. You can read more about the media conference on TBNewswatchCBC and the TBT News.

MPs Hajdu and Rusnak visit students from St. Patrick & St. Ignatius, March 2017.

Probably the biggest source of my stress and the thing that had me running around the most was the tickets for the Vimy ceremony. For security purposes, everyone attending the ceremony has to have a ticket, which makes sense. However, the registration and distribution if said tickets turned into a bureaucratic boondoggle. There was a mad rush to register within a short window and with it came some technical glitches. Then there was the drama getting the tickets. I received my ticket in early March, along with one other chaperone and that was it. We kept receiving messages that because of technical issues, it would be delayed; March 21st, then March 27th and still only 2 tickets. Last Friday Veterans Affairs reported that at the behest of the French Government, all tickets would be reissued. Finally, tickets began to roll in. Cutting it a little close you think, especially since the tickets needed to be printed before we left!

In any case, it’s done, so now there’s just little things left to go. I still have some packing to do and if you know me, I started getting things ready weeks ago. I am not a last minute person; in fact I tend to be quite obsessive about this aspect of traveling, most likely due to the fact that I have some OCD. I don’t care though, better prepared and organized than not.

I have all the boarding passes printed, so we’re ready to hop those flights across the pond. From Thunder Bay we head to Toronto (of course), and from there to Munich. We have a fairly long layover at the Franz Josef Strauss Airport before we heading to Amsterdam, which I guess will give everyone time to nap, including me. I’ll probably be taking the time to blog as well.

Anyway, I better get going. You’ll probably hear from me again from Munich with details of our first day. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 10…The Lost Post

This was supposed to be posted at the end of our trip, but due to a little glitch, I was not able to retrieve it until now. It seems so long ago, but I think there are some things that need to be said even if they are a bit late.

Day ten. This is it…back to Canada. I think there isn’t one person who isn’t sad about our departure; the trip has been awesome. However we have consumed our time in Europe and we now need to return to reality, which for us includes snow and cold! We all have fond memories of the trip and I guess I’ll share some as I write this blog today.

I really have only one negative thing from this adventure, which has been the wifi at this hotel in Paris. I thought I was going to be able to post two days worth of blogs last night, but after being on for a while, I was disconnected and could not reconnect. It is very frustrating from a blogging sense, but it also made it hard to stay in touch with the boys. We should be able to get some FaceTime in today, especially since it is Ethan’s birthday…9 already!

Alright, so we’re in the air now; next stop Toronto, seven and a half hours away. I wonder when lunch is…I’m hungry! I’m also curious as to what type of gastronomic delight is on the menu for today, hopefully it something good. Well, I’ll come to back to this later, after I eat and have a nap. For now, I’m going to enjoy a little Star Trek action on the TV.

So here we are, half way across the Atlantic. Up here, above the clouds might be a good place to reflect on the past 10 days. I’m tired, and really need some sleep. Even though it is way colder than what I’ve experienced while over in Europe, I miss home. And I really miss my boys; I’m sad that I’m not there for Ethan’s birthday. Despite all of this, I’m glad we went.

To me, teaching is more than just a job; I probably wouldn’t do it if it was just a job. It is about making a difference, and sometimes we have to sacrifice a bit to do that. This trip at times has been exhausting and stressful, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe when I was in high school (way back in 1992) and I relish all the memories I have of that trip. Twenty years from now these kids will not remember what they learned in my classroom, but they will remember this journey. They will remember when they look at the photos and when they tell their kids about it. It is then they will have understood what learning is all about.

The fact that these students have the good fortune to be in a classroom and have opportunities like this is due in part to the sacrifice of people not much older that them a long time ago. I hope that visiting the battlefields and cemeteries have taught them that the life they enjoy is not free; it was bought and paid for by the blood of Canada’s youth. Each one of them has a story and our remembrance ensures that they will never be forgotten.

I guess you can say that in many ways this trip is like when I coach football. Well that’s an interesting analogy isn’t it? Football and European travel…yes, I did get a good nap in. What I mean to say is that this trip allows you to make more of a personal impact on the kids, much like what happens when you coach. You can see the impact of what you’re doing more easily than in the classroom…or at least I hope!

Extra-curriculars like this also allow you to get to know the students better, which certainly helps with that connection is just spoke of. At times I did feel like a bit of a taskmaster though, the one who makes all the rules and cracks the proverbial whip. But I guess that comes with the territory of being the group leader…with great power comes great responsibility right? Parents are trusting you with their most precious possession and safety comes before everything.

We’re back in the air now, on our way to Thunder Bay and home. The layover in Toronto was a nice little break, though it was a bit stressful finding the shuttle to the hotel and getting everyone there. Thankfully EF had everything taken care of and there wasn’t much we had to do. Dinner was at the Mr. Greek restaurant attached to the hotel. The food was good and everyone ate their fill.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Since we were in Toronto for the evening, my older brother Dominic joined us for dinner; it was good to catch up with him since I had not seen him since Christmas. A few of the kids left the hotel to meet up with family. After we ate, we went up to our room where we were able to FaceTime with the boys and wish Ethan a happy 9th birthday. We’ll be having his party next weekend.

I’m sure all the kids are anxious to see their parents and tell them all about our adventures. As great and fun it’s been travelling with the kids for the past 10 days, I’m glad we’re going home too. Looking after 23 teenagers is at times exhausting and stressful; my wife Jo-Anne commented that she now knows what it feels like to be the Duggars and travel with 20+ people. However, I do it all again in a heartbeat…and we will.

My colleague at St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich and I have already begun looking forward to the 100th anniversary celebrations of. Vimy Ridge in 2017. I know that EF has the gears rolling as well, since Felicity told us she has been working on scouting hotels in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of Canadians for the event. It should be awesome!

 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 1

Well, I guess you can say we’re on our way…sort of. Let the journey begin!

So we’re here waiting in the airport. We’ve all checked in, did a prayer service and passed through security. I even did an interview on the news…hopefully I sounded okay! Unfortunately, our flight is delayed; there is snow in Toronto and I’m sure the plane is behind schedule there. Hopefully we can get out of Toronto on time tonight and make our connection in Frankfurt okay.

The kids are beyond excited. You can see and feel their anticipation, which is awesome to see. I’m sure this hurry up and wait thing is driving them crazy. It’s driving me crazy. If I we can get to Europe without too many hiccups that would really be great. I’m going to say a little prayer 😉

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

In the air now; we’re roughly an hour or so behind schedule, but that’s okay. The only thing I just realized is that being on plane and having my iPad in airplane mode disables my Bluetooth keyboard that I just bought. Not the most ideal scenario, but one I can deal with.

One of the “interesting” things about this year’s trip is that I am travelling with my wife. I was frankly shocked when she agreed to come, especially since this is a history trip. The other part of it is that she doesn’t fly very well, especially on this flight which is a turboprop Q400. I’m glad that she’s here though; she doesn’t quite appreciate history like I do, but it will be fun to experience some of the things with her. She’s being a trooper!

The only issue we had was leaving the boys behind. You could see that they were quite sad to see us go. I’m sad too, but not as much as Jo-Anne. Things are always a little different with moms. There were some tears this morning, but I think we’re a little better now (as she crushes my hand reacting to some turbulence). I’ve already received one iMessage from Ethan and I’m sure there’ll be a lot more before we get home.

Well, we’re on the ground in Toronto. It was a bit of hectic process getting off the plane and making our way to our gate. Complicating things, I have a couple of kids who don’t have a boarding pass for our flight to Amsterdam. I want to try to clear that up before we leave. We stood in a line for a while, only to be told to go to our gate and see the customer service there. Typically, there is no one at that counter. So now I have to keep checking back and try to get those passes.

In any case, this is a good opportunity to relax and decompress a bit. The kids were able to get some food, which made them all happy (I guess I forget how hungry teenagers can get). My wife was able to get some tea, which made her happy. Unfortunately I think everyone got a reminder of how “reasonable” the prices for airport food can be. $20 for a salad and drink seems okay right? Anyway, I better go check on that customer service desk.

Okay, we’re back in the air and on time! Everyone is excited to get going…except my wife. There was a bit of hand crushing on the takeoff and I swear my fingers were turning blue. It’s all good now though, and after supper she’ll pop an Ativan and hopefully sleep the rest of the flight away.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Unfortunately I was not able to resolve our little boarding pass issue. I talked to the Air Canada service desk, as well as Luftansa. I talked to “Lorne” at EF a whole pile of times and although he was very helpful, there was nothing that could be done. Everyone has assured me that they will be able to print the boarding passes in Frankfurt. All we have to do is get there on time and get through customs fairly quickly. Fingers are crossed! Let’s hope that this is the only hiccup we have.

Dinner is going to be served shortly, so I should sign off. I’ll probably have a few more things to say before I wrap-up this day one entry.

So Dinner was okay; chicken Alfredoish with carrots, green beans and potatoes, some kind of corn coleslaw, bread and brownie. Still hungry though. I guess I should have ate more during the day than an energy bar and a fruit bar…too late now. I’ll survive and I’m sure it will help the diet!

In any case, I should sign off now. It is 1:26 in Frankfurt and we’ll be on the ground in 5 hours, so I need to try and get some sleep. Jo-Anne took her drugs and hopefully she’ll be out soon. Be back on day two!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Big ol’ jet airliner, don’t carry me too far away!

Well, it depends on how far is too far. Does 6215 kilometres count?

If you don’t recognize this, they form part of the chorus of the Steve Miller Band’s iconic song “Jet Airliner.” This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane across the big pond, but it’s a Boeing 777, not a 707! I cannot put into words how excited I am, even though I did a similar trip two years ago. There are a lot of nerves too; the weather is always a factor and this time there are 22 kids, not 7.

Speaking of the weather, it’s actually a bit of a reprieve getting out of Thunder Bay and the lousy weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. In my last post I spoke about a possible big dump of snow; well, we got that 30cm and more. It was actually enough to close the schools for the day! Cleaning it up wasn’t fun though and it’s hard to believe that with the big yard that I have, the banks were actually getting too high for the snowblower to reach over them. If that wasn’t enough, it got cold again. Last Thursday it was -45C with the wind; I think just about everyone has had enough with Old Man Winter!

After the storm, February 2014.

After the storm, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

March break is just around the corner, though it doesn’t feel much like it. The temperatures climbed a bit this week, but I’ve been too busy to notice. There has been a last minute rush of preparations for the trip. There are so many little things to take care of, on top of all the big things. I was burning up the email with my counterpart from St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich as we worked out the fine details before departure. I spent time today getting all of our travellers checked-in via the web, so it’s one less thing we have to worry about tomorrow. I need a vacation from the vacation and we haven’t even left!

In the last couple weeks Alicyn and I have been going back and forth via email with our Tour Director Felicity. The tour, Canada’s Battlefields, has a rough template of places we will be visiting, but all the details need to be worked out. Felicity has been fantastic so far, offering many ideas and potential places we can see on each day. Even though I saw some of these places in 2012, I’m excited to see them again. Good thing for it too, as it is helping to displace some of the nervousness I’m feeling…I’m such a worry wart!

There are a couple of places I’m very pumped to see. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, so that will be a whole new experience. We were at Vimy Ridge in 2012, but that was with 4000 other people during the 95th Anniversary celebrations and it was rather busy. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed visit. Felicity has also suggested that we take in the Wellington Quarry, which is located just south of Vimy in Arras.

When we travel to Normandy, we will be staying at a very neat “hotel.” We were supposed to stay in the city of Caen, but I guess this place had an opening and they moved us. The Chateau du Baffy dates from the 1700’s and was used as a headquarters by the Germans in WWII. It is located only 6km from Juno Beach and reminds me of a little rustic country inn. It will give us a good opportunity to thoroughly explore the Normandy area.

I guess part of the reason why I’m excited is the kids. I met with them yesterday at lunch and they were literally bouncing. It is great to see the exuberance of youth! For many this is their first trip across the ocean; for some it’s their first trip in a plane. Most of them will have never been away from home and their parents for so long. I’m sure there is a bit of apprehension mixed in too, but traveling with their friends on the trip of a lifetime will overcome that quickly enough.

So with the insanity that has been my life over the last couple of weeks, I have had zero time to devote to any railway work. I was very busy in the last week writing newsletter for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society, which went out yesterday. Our annual general meeting is coming up on March 22 and there was work to be done on that. I’m sure when I’m back from the trip and things settle down there will be time to get back on track.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I need to finish packing and I have a busy morning ahead of me. The forecast is calling for a bit of snow, but hopefully it doesn’t impede our flight to Toronto and then on that big ole’ 777 to Europe! My next post will be from the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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