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Europe 2019 Reflections

History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be-John Henrik Clarke

Every time I return from a school trip to Europe, I often like to reflect on the impact it has had on everyone involved, students and teachers alike. I cannot help but think it has changed all of our lives, like any experience such as this would. Most of it was good, but I’m sure the negatives have only served to make us better. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit the places we did, so I must count ourselves lucky.

Hey kids! I can’t believe it’s been a week since we’ve been back; man, does time ever fly by! I’m still a little tired, but this being my fourth trip I already know it takes a bit of time for your body to readjust. As you probably read, these aren’t leisurely, let’s sit on the beach and get some sun vacations. Oh, no. They are extremely hectic, and at times very stressful as we gallivanted across western Europe. When you think about it, we visited 4 countries in 8 days, covered more than 1600 kilometres and stayed in 5 different hotels. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

All that being said, it was well worth it. You might think, “but you’ve already seen most of these places already Dave, doesn’t it get mundane?” Well, it could I guess. Obviously, we did visit a couple new cities, Berlin and Groesbeek, but the rest was the same. If it doesn’t sound weird, I don’t find it boring. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times now, and Ypres, Vimy, Normandy and Paris four, and everytime I manage to see something unique. I’ve never stayed in the same hotel and maybe because we’ve have different tour directors, I always manage to get a slightly perspective.

I think there’s more to it thought. These places have so much to offer and to see, that it’s impossible to do it all in a few short visits. Maybe I’m biased. I love some of these places so much…I can’t get enough of Amsterdam, Ypres and Normandy. I want to go back in the future, outside of an EF Tour, probably when I retire, so I can take my time and see things at a bit more leisurely pace. It was a conversation I had with my colleague, Clare, as we walked the streets of Ypres and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer. I suggested that we could go together if our spouses weren’t interested. Ironically, we travelled together many moons ago, back in 1992 on our school’s first EF tour to Europe.

Temple of Apollo in Dephi, Greece, March 1992.

I always get asked what is the most memorable moment of the trip, which I struggle to answer. That might seem like a cop out, but I truly have a hard time picking one thing that stands out; that is usually easier with the bad stuff. Anyway, get to the point Dave. So, memorable moment. Can I take two? Technically it is one, but it’s my blog, so I can do whatever I want. First I’d have to say the visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This is the first tour that included a visit to one of these stark reminders of the Holocaust and it was not a comfortable one. While not as well known as places such as Dachau or Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen was one of the earliest camps to be established and was home to many political prisoners. It was difficult seeing the gas chamber and the crematorium ovens. The miserable weather added to the sombre mood.

The other memorable moment was the train ride from Berlin to Apeldoorn. I, probably most of the group, have never been on a train ride that long. It was a great way to travel; few stops, quick and lots of room to move around. Besides the experience, I’ll remember it as the moment that the kids began to gel on the trip. It always takes a few days for the two groups to begin to mesh, and it’s great to see new friendships blossoming.

Alright, the bad. So what was bad Dave? Well, two things in particular if you’d like to know. The first is the most obvious; the weather. The fricken weather! I did write about it during the trip, but it’s worth repeating. Other than the pouring rain at Vimy 2012, this was by far the worst temperatures and conditions we’ve had to deal with. There’s not much we can do but roll with it, but it does generate a lot of frustration. In retrospect it could have been worse, like raining the whole time, but it was enough to dampen our spirits quite a bit.

The other big issue was the flights. I guess we were lucky in the past with no major problems, so maybe we were due. We were very tight with all of our connecting flights and had to run to the gate each time. Not only is that crazy, but it generates a lot of stress; if you haven’t noticed, I have no hair to lose and what is left is mostly gray. I already told EF we’d like more of a buffer at least between when we land in Toronto and our international departure, so that is one less thing to worry about.

One thing I did notice about this trip is that we did a bit less walking. On previous trips I remember more forced marches and put on a lot more miles. This time I did make a note to see how far we actually did walk. So thanks to the marvel of modern technology, I checked the health stats on my phone. Adding up the numbers, from March 10 to March 17, my phone recorded 86.4km of walking and 123,788 steps. The busiest day was on the 17th, with 17.1km and 24,629 steps. That’s a lot of walking! And if I feel we did less this time, I can’t imagine what we’ve done in the past.

So where do we go from here? Well, the planning has already started for Europe 2021. No rest for the wicked right? Either that or I’m a sucker for punishment. Whatever the case, we’re going back. Where to this time Dave? Since we’ve done northwest Europe the last four tours, I figure it’s time to go somewhere else. How’s sunny Italy sound? Works for me! EF has a couple history-themed Italy tours; we’re going to do WWII and the Liberation of Italy. It will take us first to Rome, where we’ll explore the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps. There’s a day trip to Anzio, followed by a journey to Ortona after stopping in Monte Cassino. We head north from there, to Rimini, San Marino and Florence before returning to Rome. We have just submitted the paperwork, but I’m already excited. In the meantime, you can check out a few of our videos from the trip posted below.

Alright, it’s time to go. I’ll be taking a break on the posts, so I won’t be back until sometime in April with my usual themed rantings. Until then…

 

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Posted by on March 25, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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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 9

Morning kids. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of our school; it’s weird seeing stuff about it here in France along with green beer. Apparently everyone wants to be Irish for a day. Coming from Thunder Bay, I would be remiss without acknowledging St. Urho too! So what I’m deducing is that March 17th is a big excuse for people to party and drink…fair enough.

Anyway, I am feeling rather decent, but still tired. I think I slept okay, but yesterday was an exhausting day. And a long day; I was up before most of the kids at 5:30 and didn’t get to bed until after midnight. My math skills, as my wife will tell you, are subpar, but that works out to an 18+ hour day. Even though I napped on the bus, it would appear that it was insufficient given the situation. We were able to sleep in a bit today, but I won’t feel better until we start moving and get the blood flowing.

Sadly, today is our last day on the trip. Ten days seems a lot of time, but it goes by so fast! We have a busy day planned, with a bus tour in the morning, some walking in the afternoon and we finish with a boat ride on the Seine in the evening. We’re going to do our best to enjoy every moment, though it will be a long day again, since the river cruise doesn’t start until 8:30. I’m sure everyone will sleep well on the plane tomorrow.

Alright, so it’s midnight, I have to be up at 5:30 and I’m just settling down to finish this post. I am beat…it was a long day! My phone is telling me that I walked 17km and did nearly 25,000 steps. No wonder my feet hurt.

My walking began bright and early, as I had to find a nearby bank machine for a few last euros to get me through the day. It was a bit crisp, but it was a refreshing walk for a few blocks. From there it was on to the bus, which would take us downtown for our guided tour. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours, and we saw many of the important sights and attractions of the city. We made photo stops at the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Les Invalids. I think the kids got their fill of typical tourist photos!

Arc de Triomphe, March 2019.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

Les Invalides, March 2019.

Once the tour ended, we broke for lunch. The kids had about an hour to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. Myself and Ms. Caza wandered down to a local street market, which was amazing to see. The fresh produce, fruit, meat and fish vendors had some unbelievable products for sale. We settled on a nearby restaurant where we had a very enjoyable meal.

Paris Market, March 2019.

Once we were back together again, we headed over to the Louvre, about a 20 minute walk away. Students under 18 have free entry to the museum, and most took the opportunity to see great works such as the Mona Lisa. Myself and Ms. Caza waited outside for the kids to return and then they had another short break to pick up some souvenirs at nearby stores on Rue Rivoli.

Louvre, March 2019.

Louvre, March 2019.

Since we were on free time, Sebastian had planned to meet us at Notre Dame. That meant we had to make our own way the 2km to Notre Dame, which was about a 30 minute walk. I was in charge of leading the group, which did cause me some concern, not about the route, but rather the potential to lose someone. Our route was fairly simple; east on Rivoli and then south on Pont Neuf, across the Seine, along the river then south to Notre Dame. We arrived on time with everyone in tow…mission accomplished! Maybe someday I could be a European tour guide-I know all useless information!

Paris, March 2019.

At Notre Dame, we took the opportunity to enter the cathedral and briefly see the inside. Afterwards, we let the kids look around a bit before we met Sebastian at the statute of Charlemagne for our walk to dinner. Our restaurant tonight was the Auberge Notre-Dame, a short distance south across the Seine. The meal consisted of chicken in some kind of sauce with mushrooms, rice and green beans. Dessert was apples in a rather runny liquid, which like dinner, was meh. Not the worst EF meal, but definitely not the best.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Notre-Dame, March 2019.

Statute of Charlemagne, March 2019.

After dinner we had some time to kill, so we spent it walking around the Latin Quarter of the city. The weather during the day had been all over the place; sun, showers, wind and cold. We missed a good downpour in the restaurant, but when we left, it was pretty cold. We wandered for almost an hour, and then made our way to the boat pier on the Seine.

St. Michel, March 2019.

I have done this boat tour several times before, but it never disappoints. Despite the chill in the air, it was a great experience for everyone. The highlight was obviously when we passed the fully-lit Eiffel Tower, which made for an amazing photo op. I spent most of my time outside the glass enclosure, recording video of the tour, until my gloved hands became so cold that I decided to call it quits.

Eiffel Tower, March 2019.

From the Seine it was a short walk to the Metro station for a short ride to our transfer point to the RER, which took us to our hotel. We arrived back just after 10:00, which meant we were out for more than 13 hours. Many kids the kids were falling asleep on the train, which told us they had thoroughly enjoyed the day.

On that note, I going to bed. I have to be up in 5 hours and I still need to finish uploading this post. I am going to be very tired tomorrow. I’ll be back in a matter of hours with all the info on our final day of the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 8

Europe 2019 Day 8

Good morning kids. Ya, my usual wit escapes me right now, so nothing smart or clever to say this morning. I thought I got enough sleep, but it was hard to get going after the alarm. I don’t know, maybe there was more time sitting on the bus than in previous days and we were up half an hour earlier than usual, but that shouldn’t matter. I could be just old, but then again the young people on the trip are also tired. So I’m just going to say we all suck and that should cover it.

Alright, so what’s the schedule for today Dave? Well, let me enlighten you shall I? Haha, I guess that was fairly clever for 630 wasn’t it? Clever, sarcastic…it really depends on your perspective right? Okay, I know, I know, get to the point. So we’re obviously in Caen, about 20km from Juno Beach, which is the objective for today. Did you see what I did there? Today’s “objective,” since we’re going to Juno Beach…I know you chuckled, or rolled your eyes. Anyway, we’ll be visiting the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, the Juno Beach Centre, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer before leaving for Paris.

One of the best things is that we’re supposed to see the sun. Yes! The forecast calls for +14C and mostly sunny, though very windy again. That should be interesting given the fact that we’re going to be on the English Channel, which is typically windy on a good day. I predict an interesting visit and some messy hair again…but not for me!

Okay, so we’re on our way to Paris. I know the kids are super excited to visit the city of lights. I myself much prefer the quaint, rolling countryside of Normandy. But that’s just me. It’s about 250km, so we have some time to relax on the bus. Yesterday the kids were a little messy, so the “Heinzelmänchen” or little dwarves of German folklore had to come out at night to tidy things up.

As I mentioned, our first stop was at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains of over 2,000 Canadians killed on D-Day or in the weeks following. Unlike Groesbeek, we didn’t assign the students individual soldiers, but rather we gave them a list of graves they could visit. The cemetery has a very notoriety in that there are 9 sets of brothers buried there, such as the Westlake and Branton brothers.

After a a brief prayer service, we spent about 40 minutes wandering amongst the graves. However many times I go, these cemeteries are still so sad. Today though, there was an air of serenity at Beny; the birds were chirping, it was windy but sun trying to come out. It like God was trying to thank us for honouring the sacrifice of these young Canadians all those years ago. One of the graves I made a point of visiting, was that of Rifleman Sulo Alanen, a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who was killed in action on July 5th, 1944. Alanen was born in Nolalu, and I know his nephew, which made it very personal.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

From there it was a short drive to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where we had a 10:00 appointment. We actually received a full tour, which I did not experience in my three previous visits. It began outside, where we were brought through two German bunkers, one a command bunker and the other a observation bunker. It was neat to see some new things and get the full explanation. Once that was done we moved inside for a visit to the museum. Having been there before, I raced outside and walked a short distance east, to Graye-sur-Mer where there was a tank memorial and another bunker, known as Cosy’s Bunker, captured by 10 Platoon, B Company, RWR. This area of Juno Beach is known as Mike Red Sector.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Juno Beach Centre, March 2019.

Once everyone was through the museum, we had another short drive, this time to the east. Our destination was Bernières-sur-Mer, or Nan White Sector. Here the Queen’s Own Rifles landed, and took very heavy casualties in the process. Their efforts are commemorated at Canada House, the first place captured by Canadian troops that day. Just to the east is a preserved German bunker, which caused many of the QOR’s casualties.

Canada House, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Another short drive east brought us to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern most part of Juno known as Nan Red. New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed here, supported by tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. There is another German bunker at Saint-Aubin, complete with the 50mm gun that knocked out several tanks on D-Day before it was silenced. After a short visit to the beach, we paused a for a quick lunch. My croque monsieur was awesome!

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

One of the great things about today was the weather. Eventually the sun came out, the clouds disappeared and it was gorgeous. Obviously, it was a little cooler by the English Channel, but it was still +15C…a heat wave! Now, on the road to Paris, it’s up to 18. With the sun and the balmy temperatures, you know what that meant. Well, I guess you wouldn’t know because I didn’t say anything about it, so I’m telling you now. Warm temps=shorts weather. So let me explain the background to this, as it is a going joke. All I normally wear on these trips are convertible plants; they are not the epitome of high fashion, but they are comfy and I love them. On past trips, when it gets warm, I’ve unzipped the bottoms and rocked the shorts. Therefore, with all the cold weather I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to unzip and today I got it. Vive le shorts!

Enjoying the heat, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Okay, so we’re finally back at the hotel just before 11:00. What a long day! We arrived at our hotel at 5:00 and we had enough time to get to our rooms, freshen up quick and head to the RER (train) station at La Rueil-Malmaison. I always get a bit anxious riding the Paris public transportation, simply because it is so busy compared to other places. However, it is a good life lesson for the kids. Anyway, from the RER we transferred to the Metro to take us to our dinner destination. Our meal was at “Le Saulnier,” which consisted of a cheese pastry, beef bourgeon with potatoes and a puff pastry for dessert.

Afterwards, we were back on the Metro to go to Montmartre, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The were a few hectic moments, as the Metro was packed with people, but we made it okay. Montmartre is a hill in Paris, and the church is illuminated at night. It is quite the climb up the stairs to the top, which leaves your legs burning and rubbery when you’re done. The view is spectacular from the hill, and the kids really enjoyed it. From there, it was back on the Metro and RER to the hotel.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, March 2019.

Paris, March 2019.

 

Anyway, It’s time to turn in soon. I’m pooped! We have another busy day planned, our last day, which will keep us hopping. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 7

Good morning les enfants! As you can tell by the greeting, we are now in France. Dave is rather chipper this morning; I got some sleep! Okay, let’s be clear though, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I definitely feel decent. Maybe I’m finally finding my travel stride. In any case, we do haves one bus  time again, so I can always have a little nap if I need a recharge.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? Well, we’re about to leave the hotel for the 30 minute drive to Vimy Ridge. We will linger there for a while, visiting the trenches and memorial before we hit the road again. The next stop will be Beaumont Hamel, in the Somme area. After that, we have about a 4 hour drive to Normandy and our hotel in Caen.

“🎶…Here I am, rock me like a Hurricane!” Alright, so we’re on the bus for the hour ride to Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Memorial Park. If you’re wondering why I’m quoting the classic 1980s song by the Scorpions, I’ll tell you. It’s not raining today, which is fantastic, but it is a tad windy. Like how windy Dave? Well, bowl you over tornado force winds windy. People like me with aerodynamic hairdos don’t have to worry, but many of the girls are now rocking the messy hair look. But hey, it’s not pouring rain, so I will not complain.

We had a great visit. The broke us up by school, with each group doing a separate tour. Our guide took us first into the subway system, tunnels dug by engineers through the soft chalk. They were used to move troops and equipment to the forward trenches away from observation and fire from the Germans on the ridge. This one was known as the “Grange Subway” and is an amazing piece of Canadian history. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure why, maybe because of flooding, our tour of the subway wasn’t as long as it was in 2014. Regardless, it was neat for the kids to see.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

After exiting the subway, we made our way through the preserved Canadian and German trenches. When they were constructing the monument, they decided to keep portions of the front line trenches in the park. To retain their shape. Sandbags filled with cement were stacked along the trench wall, which later deteriorated, but left the cement like stone pillows. They are amazing in the sense that it gives the kids an idea of what it would have been like to live and fight in the these glorified ditches.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

From the trenches, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to the monument, located on the summit of Hill 145. From there, it becomes very apparent why the ridge was so important. Looking east, one can see the Douai Plain stretching out in front you, with the city of Lens and the immense slag heaps being prominent features. On bright, clear days, you can see the Belgian border.

We had a brief prayer service on the back side of the memorial, before proceeding to the front for a group photo. Then the kids had some time to wander around, explore and take photos. This is where we were able to experience the full-force of the “light breeze” that was blowing. It was crazy how windy it was on the top of the hill, but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. I think it was important for them to see it, and I think that every Canadian should visit this hallowed ground if they can. The sacrifice of these and other soldiers will not be forgotten if we keep the history alive.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Back on the bus again after another stop. Whew, we made it! Pardon the language, but holy crap it windy! I just checked the weather and it says the wind is out of the west at 54km/h gusting to 74km/h. I’m not a sailor, but isn’t that like gale force wind? I have no idea how Tish is keeping the bus on the road.

Anyway, we were just at Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park. This commemorates the action of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st, 1916. Unfortunately, the entire regiment was wiped out in the course of the 20 minute attack. Of the 600+ men who started the assault, only 60 men were left unscathed. It was an unprecedented tragedy for Newfoundland, and after the war it was decided that it would be turned into a memorial park, complete with trenches, monuments and cemeteries.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Alright, we’re on the bus to our hotel for the evening. After a 300+km journey, we’re now in Normandy, in the city of Caen. We had a chance to walk around the city a bit before dinner; I especially liked the Norman castle, which apparently belonged to William the Conqueror. Dinner today was at Le Cafe, where we had ham with some type of sauce, and potatoes. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with whip cream. There was some disagreement amongst the chaperones as to the rating of the meal; I thought it was good.

Caen, March 2019.

Caen. March 2019.

So tomorrow we have a bit earlier morning, heading first to the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery before our 10:00 appointment at Juno Beach Centre. We will visit a few other spots before we leave for Paris in the afternoon. Anyway, there is things to do before we go to bed. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017-Reflections

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present-David Thelen

Do you ever wonder how these quotes become famous quotes? Do people set out to generate them, or are there people sitting around waiting for them to be said? Is there a committee that decides what is or isn’t a good quote? Who votes on them…is there a quotes academy? Okay, okay, I’m obviously being very facetious. The whole point of the quote from Thelen, who is an American History professor (I had to Google it), is that teaching history is not easy. One of the best ways to do it, is to have people experience it firsthand.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it has already been a week and a half since we returned from the trip. But I guess time moves just as fast when you’re not on a trip as it does when you are. We were very busy on the trip and it’s been even crazier now trying to catch up on everything while we were away. I’ve never missed 7 days of work before and I sure paid for it. There was a whole stack of marking I needed to get through, especially since midterm marks were due. I’m mostly caught up now, but I’m glad I hopefully won’t be missing that much school again in the future.

My return to real life and work was made that much more challenging by how jet lagged and exhausted I felt when we returned. I know, I know, poor me! I did get the gears from a lot of people who read this blog during the trip and asked me about how tired I was. How tired were you Dave? Really tired? The reality is I was tired…that’s why I wrote it. Duh. I realize I was in Europe and not at work, but these excursions are not your run-of-the-mill let’s jump on a plane and see some stuff type of vacation. First, I am the group leader and ultimately responsible for the 23 students we had with us. That is a tad bit stressful; when you’re teaching, the kids go home to their parents at the end of the day and you’re not on duty 24/7. Secondly, these trips are very busy and they try to pack in as many things as they can. So ya, I was up some days at 0500 and getting to bed, albeit because I was working on this blog, after midnight. I did try to nap some on the bus, but I like to see some of the sights and don’t want to sleep it all away.

In any case, it was a great trip. The kids really enjoyed themselves and hopefully learned a lot more about the history and culture of the world. I can honestly say, even though this was my third trip, that I learned a lot too. Even though the three trips were relatively similar, and there were some repetitive things, you experience new stuff. Amsterdam and Paris are so big, that there is so much still to discover. Besides those two places, we’ve never stayed in the same city twice, which is amazing. I have now seen Rouen, Amiens, Valenciennes, Colombiers-sur-Seulles, Lille and Honfleur. Each has it’s unique features, architecture, history and culture. In my personal opinion, while Paris is an amazing city, I much prefer the those smaller cities for their distinct charm and character. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore them at a much more leisurely pace.

The whole crew in Honfleur, April 2017.

One of the things people often ask me is what was my most memorable memory or moment from the trip. That is always a difficult question, as there are so many. If I have to pick something, I would have to say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather watching the reactions of the kids. I mentioned before it’s a huge step for many of them, and for most their first experience with European culture. It’s akin to what I’ve experienced with my own kids, just they’re not mine…that sense of awe and wonder. It’s heartening to hear them talk about coming back and exploring more of the great places we visited. I was also blessed to be able to travel with a great group of chaperones, who shared my excitement and my stresses. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure! Our EF Tour Director, Jason, was the icing on the cake. His professionalism, easy-going manner and silky-smooth commentary put everyone at ease. The kids loved him and still talk about how great he was.

St. Patrick crew, April 2017.

So what about the bad Dave? I guess I can say there was really only one bad experience that I had. I thought the whole Vimy commemoration was good, though as I already described, more festive than I anticipated, especially compared to the 95th anniversary. I guess that will happen when there’s 25,000 people and lots of VIPs there. I thought the early part of the day was well planned and went very smoothly, but not the second half. I don’t think they (they being Veterans Affairs Canada, who were in charge of the event) anticipated the impact of having so many people squished into such a small area would mean.

In retrospect, we did have it easier than some groups, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It only took us about 1.5 hours to get through the line to the shuttle buses, but no one thought to put any facilities in the assembly areas (or at least ours in Lens) so people could go to the bathroom. The poor employees at the MacDonald’s beside the parking lot must have had a rough day. At the memorial, I thought there should have been people directing traffic and making sure some areas did not get too congested. The fenced in area on the front side of the monument became so packed you could not move, and there were nowhere enough toilets for all the people (I tried going at one point, but couldn’t find the end of the line). Many stopped drinking water, which was not a good thing on such a warm day, so they wouldn’t have to go (myself included).

The exfil (to use the military term for exfiltration) from the site was an absolute gong show. People near the front began streaming up and over the monument to get out, while those at the back, including us, were trapped because they would not open gate to the main entrance. It seems as though transporting some of the minor VIPs took precedence over the thousands of people who had been baking in the sun for hours. Someone or some people broke down a portion of the fence and there was a mad rush for the opening. It was utter pandemonium! It was fortunate no one was trampled, but it was a nightmare trying to keep the group together. The scary part was realizing, as we surged along with the crowd, that we were walking through a part of the site that is off-limits due to UXO. Yes, people (myself included) were walking through fields with unexploded munitions in them! They don’t even cut the grass in those areas, but rather use goats to keep the vegetation down due to their lower ground pressure.

Thankfully we had told the kids where to go to catch the shuttle back to the assembly areas. It was insane, but we managed to get most of the kids rounded up in one big group, with one chaperone and a few students slightly separated. Getting on the shuttle created a lot of anxiety and some tears, but by 2030 we were all on our bus, Big Green, and heading back to Lille. We didn’t find out until later that it took some groups until midnight to make it back to the assembly areas. That’s nuts! Anyway, we got everyone out and I don’t think we’ll be involved in an event like that again. But it will be something that we all remember for the rest of our lives. Alright, so that was only four paragraphs of ranting!

From a personal perspective, my only issue, as it always has been, is leaving my family behind. I know my boys missed me, and it does put a lot on my wife, especially since I was gone for 11 days. I certainly appreciate everything she did during that time. If there is one positive to my absence, it has generated a lot of interest in the boys to see these places as well. I have promised them I will take them on a tour when they get to St. Pats.

All griping aside, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. While the Vimy ceremony wasn’t as solemn as I anticipated, there were many opportunities for us to have an intimate view of history. The place that probably generated the most reflection and emotion was the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery in Cintheaux, south of Caen. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were relatively alone there, as opposed to the tens or even hundreds of people at the other places we visited. When it touches close and becomes personal, the impact of the history is much greater.

Newfoundland Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, April 2017.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, April 2017.

Now speaking of which, we are planning to do it all again, hopefully in two years. We would like to change it up a bit, maybe see a few new places in the process. We’ve submitted our application to go during March break of 2019, but haven’t settled on an exact tour yet. One option would take us to Berlin, some different parts of the Netherlands and then Vimy, Normandy and Paris. The second is a complete break, focusing on the Italian battlefields. We’re leaning towards one, but we’ll make a final decision once the paperwork is (hopefully) approved. Wherever we go, it will be an amazing experience for the kids just like every other trip.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll be back with my usual blog posts soon enough. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 9

Day 9 Mes Amies. The engine turned over this morning but she’s running a little rough. I slept well, though I woke up at 0500 and couldn’t fall back asleep. I could certainly use more time in bed, but c’est la vie. Today is going to be a very busy day and I am going to need every ounce of energy I can scrape up. Hopefully breakfast is good; based on this hotel, I have my fingers crossed.

So today’s adventure is going to take us first to Versailles, which is southwest of Paris. A bus will take us into the city, and from there we will take the train, the RER, to Versailles. I’ve never been there before, so I am quite excited to see it. I have taught about it a lot both in Grade 10 history (Treaty or Versailles) and in Grade 12 history (Louis XIV). That visit should chew up most of our day.

We’re off on the first adventure of the day as we are on the RER train to Versailles. It was quite interesting purchasing the tickets and then trying to get on the train as it moved down the platform. I think it was very eye-opening for a lot of the kids who have never done it before. However I guess there’s a first time for everything and I’m sure it won’t be the last for a lot of them. It’s a nice little introduction to our later rides on the Metro.

Team Battistel, April 2017.

Now we’re in the queue to get into the Palace of Versailles. We’ve been waiting here for just over an hour and we’re almost at the gate. The lines here are enormous; fortunately the clouds have rolled in a bit and it’s not as hot and scorching as it was a little while ago. We should have approximately 2 1/2 hours to look through Versaillies and some of the grounds before we have to head back on the train to Les Invalides. It’s kind a neat the people that you meet while waiting in line. We had a lengthy conversation with a French couple who were curious to know why Canadians were here in France. Breaching the language barrier is always an interesting and fun part of the conversation.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

It’s 2130 and we’re on the bus heading back to our hotel outside of Paris. What a long but fruitful day. Myself and everyone else I’m sure is pretty tired. Versailles was amazing! I’ve seen many programs on Versailles and taught about it for many years but it’s something else to see it in person. The size of the structure and the grounds are simply amazing. The opulence of the inside is indescribable. One can understand why the masses revolted against excesses of the French royalty. The only negative from the visit was the number of people at the site. It took us more than an hour to get in and I felt like cattle being herded through the various buildings and attractions. I would definitely go back, but I’d try to go on a day with less people or maybe earlier in the morning.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Royal Chapel, Versailles, April 2017.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

After we finished at Versailles, we had to jump back on the train and meet Jason at Les Invalides Station. From there we hopped on the Metro to our dinner location. This is something that many of the chaperones as well as the students were concerned about. It can be tricky to move such a large group of people on and off the subway cars. Dinner was at Le Beouf gros sel and consisted of penne with chicken, which I demolished since I didn’t have any lunch.

After eating, it was back on the Metro, with a transfer in between, to our next destination which was the Pont Neuf Bridge. There we would be taking a cruise along the Seine River at dusk to see the sites of Paris. It was 12€ well spent, as the kids really enjoyed this tour. Even though I had done it before, I found it interesting all over again. The only thing that didn’t go right was a few St. Ignatius girls getting drenched by a wave thrown up by a passing boat. They were able to laugh it off and so did we.

Eiffel Tower, April 2017.

Pont Neuf, April 2017.

Notre Dame Cathedral, April 2017.

Today was another day of firsts; first train ride for many, first Metro ride for many and first time the chaperones took the group out without the tour director. I’d say it was a pretty successful day. Jason even commended us on how, with a very large group, we were able to navigate the Metro with a fair amount of competence. Let’s hope it continues tomorrow.

I need to run. It’s almost midnight now and we have an even earlier day tomorrow. It’s sad that tomorrow is our last day here, but will make the most of it. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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