This summer, two faculty members Mr. Crawford and Ms. Bossu accompanied a group of Beaumont students on a trip to England and Ireland.
Days 1 & 2
Greetings from Ireland,
Day 1: Well the trip over was very uneventful. We flew from Cleveland to Philadelphia in a small regional jet, 50 seats and we filled 40 of them. It was like our own chartered flight. In Philly we boarded a larger 757 for the 6 hour flight to Ireland. We pushed back at 9:20 - game time - and our plane had no Wi-Fi so after part way through the first quarter we lost all contact with the outside world. It wasn't until we were getting off the plane in Shannon that we heard the score. Go Cavs!
Day 2: We got off the plane in Shannon and everyone picked up their luggage - yea!
We met our Tour Director, Mark (a nice young man from England), our driver, John (an excellent driver from Ireland who has been on the road for almost 50 years), and Emily (an EF representative who will be traveling with to check out our "custom" tour - the girls all think she must be Annie Roach's sister).
We boarded our coach and headed to the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland' west coast. The Cliffs rise 700' above the sea and the views are breathtaking. We spent about an hour and a half there before heading south to Adare, one of Ireland's most picturesque villages. Thatched cottages, 4 abbeys, a heritage center, and, of course lots of shops.
Next - we are on to Tralee where we will be staying for 2 nights. Tralee is the capital of Kerry County and this weekend the town is celebrating its 800th birthday, so there are a lot of things happening in Tralee this weekend. The girls had time to explore the town before dinner, we had. After a great meal in the hotel--more time in town. There are concerts on a stage in the center of town so we all spent some time enjoying the music.
Greetings from Ireland,
Today we were on the road by 8:30 heading to Killarney so we could take a Jaunting Cart through the Killarney National Park. A Jaunting cart is a horse drawn cart that holds 4 to 8 people so we all traveled on 7 carts with a local Jarvey as our guide. People have been riding these types of carts in Killarney for over 300 years. Our guide was a third generation Jarvey who had been on the job for 11 years and our horse was named Black Beauty. Our trip was a combination history lesson, geography lesson, and science lesson and we learned all about this beautiful part of Ireland.
From the Killarney National Park we drove to the town of Dingle where we started a 2 1/2 hour tour around the Dingle Peninsula. We also experienced our first "soft weather" or rain. We had a light to medium rain that stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon. On the tour we saw prehistoric ring forts from about 2000 BC, monastic beehive huts from about 560 AD, and Famine Villages from the late 1840s. The prehistoric ring forts are stone walled circular forts built during the Bronze Age in Ireland. Later monks, seeking protection from the Viking raiders, built small beehive shaped stone huts within the walls of the old ring forts. When the monks first came to the southwest of Ireland, they built their "monastery" on the Skelleg Islands, which was where they filmed the final scene of the latest Star Wars. The monks moved ashore when the Vikings began raiding the west of Ireland
The Famine villages are the deserted shells of entire villages that were abandoned when the Potato Famine struck Ireland between 1845 and 1847. Millions of people either died or were forced to leave Ireland due to a blight which affected the potato crop, leaving no food for the lower class people. The haunting thing is you can still see the furrowed ground from the 1840s where potatoes were planted but never harvested.
We also saw Fungi, a dolphin who for the last 14 years has made Dingle Bay his home - he hangs out with the local fishing boats. I have been to Dingle several times before but never saw Fungi.
After touring the peninsula we returned to Dingle for some free time and lunch. Most of us had fish & chips - excellent - and then explored the fishing village. The girls had some time to shop. We then drove back to Tralee, through the rain, and back to our hotel for dinner.
After another excellent dinner we went to Mass at the Holy Trinity Dominican Church around the corner from our hotel. The Dominicans are celebrating 800 years as an order in Ireland. After Mass the girls had a little free time in town before returning to the hotel to pack and get some sleep before our big day tomorrow when we head to Dublin.
Greetings from Ireland,
Today we were up by 7:00, breakfast at 8, and on the road by 8:30. Soft weather again! Long day today, we drive from Tralee to Dublin.
Our first stop, after about 2 hours, was at Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone. According to legend, the Blarney Stone was part of the Coronation Stone for the Kings of Ireland. When Great Britain conquered Ireland, they took the coronation stone back to England (If Ireland doesn't have the Coronation Stone, she can't crown her kings). The Irish had divided the stone and part of it was hidden in the south if Ireland. Every time Queen Elizabeth sent her emissaries to bring back the last part of the stone, the local king would wine and dine them, talk about other things, sweet talk them and send them home with nothing. Reportedly Queen Elizabeth became so upset she shouted "that's a bunch of Blarney". So the notion that the gift of gab being blarney was born. So if you kiss the Blarney Stone you acquire the gift of gab.
The girls kissed the Blarney Stone which is located in the battlements of the castle, some 60' above the ground. To get up there you have to climb up a narrow circular stone stair case through a derelict castle. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn about how castles were built and the different parts of them. Once you get to the top, you have to lie down on your back, lean back as far as you can, and kiss the stone on the outside wall of the castle - with someone holding on to you for safety. Then you have to walk all the way down via a tight circular stone stairway.
So after the fun of kissing the stone we had time to explore the rest of the castle and gardens, eat lunch, and of course shop at the Blarney Woolen Mills. Then back on the bus and on to the Rock of Cashel.
A Cashel is a fort and the Rock of Cashel is a fort on a limestone outcropping that has been the stronghold of the Kings of Munster for a thousand years. It is also where St. Patrick converted the pagan King of Munster to Christianity. So on this site is an ancient fort, medieval castle, a monastic settlement, and a cathedral - the seat of the Bishop of Munster. Today it is a museum.
Back on the bus for our drive to Dublin and it rained most of the way. However, when we arrived in Dublin, it stopped - yes! So we walked around O'Connell Street going up to the garden dedicated to all who fought for Ireland's independence. Then we went to dinner at Murray's Pub - another excellent meal.
After dinner, we went on a "Ghost Tour" of Dublin's north side. We walked around to 6 or 7 of Dublin's more notorious spots. For an hour and a half, our guide explained some of the myths and legends behind Dublin's darker side of history. He was very good and the girls paid attention to everything he said.
After the "Ghost Tour" we checked into our hotel (10:30 at night) and rested before the Cav's game. The hotel is going to let us watch it in the pub - it will start at 1:00 am our time. Go Cavs!
Greetings from Ireland,
Today we got up to what felt like an early morning wake up call. Our 8:30 breakfast seemed to come very early after staying up to watch the Cavs win the NBA Championship at 3:30 AM. But it was worth it - our "watch party" was something we will never forget. And the hotel staff was wonderful, they gave us our own private section of the bar, actually kept the bar open so we could get food and drinks, and cheered with us through that final minute of play. At 4:00 AM, after the trophy presentation and all the interviews, they helped us straighten up the room and congratulated us on our big win. The never said a word as we screamed at the big screen TV, over and over, into the wee hours of the morning. Congratulations Cleveland and we saw it all from Ireland!
So this morning was actually our latest departure time, our Tour Director Marc rearranged the schedule to give us a little extra time. So after our "traditional Irish Breakfast", we set out on our Tour of Dublin. We met our guide, Roxanne, who took us around the various parts of the city explaining the history, culture, and architecture of this 1000 year old Viking city. One of our stops was at St. Patrick's Cathedral where we took a group photo by the fountain in the Rose Garden. That fountain is the one that was reproduced and is in the Irish Cultural Garden down on MLK Blvd.
The last stop on the tour was Trinity College where we visited the exhibition containing the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript from the early Middle Ages that was found preserved in a peat bog. This book, hand written by Monks hundreds of years ago contain the four books of the Gospel - it is one of the most perfectly preserved manuscripts from that time period. The exhibition is very well done, when you first go in there is a room filled with a series of large panels explaining Monastic Ireland, the different books found from that era, and how the book would have been created. Then you walk into the "Treasury", the room that contains the book. On display are 2 of the four "books" with one opened to a page of text and the other opened to one of the illuminated pages.
At about 2:00 we had time for lunch and a little free time. Some of us walked to the GPO, the General Post Office, scene of the Easter Uprising in 1916. Inside the GPO there is a brand new museum dedicated to the Easter Uprising. We had a guided tour through the exhibition, which is very well done, and then had a little lunch.
Then, back down O'Connell Street to the statue of Molly Malone where we picked up the rest of our group and set off for dinner. Dinner tonight was in the Belvedere Hotel where we enjoyed another excellent meal followed by a show of Irish music and dance. We all had a great evening; some of us even got up on stage and danced. At 10:00 PM we headed back to our hotel where everyone looked forward to a full nights rest after a very full day in Dublin.
Tomorrow we set off early for Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Greetings from Northern Ireland,
Today was another full day. We started with breakfast and then headed north to Belfast. Our first main stop of the day was a Mural Tour in Belfast. This tour went through the Protestant/Catholic Troubles of Northern Ireland. Our guide did an excellent job of explaining the history behind the problem going all the way back to the English Civil and the Battle of the Boyne, back in something like 1167, when the Protestant forces of William of Orange defeated the Catholic forces of King James. Ever since then the Protestant minority has controlled the Catholic majority by using force. When Ireland became an independent nation, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland remained under the control of Great Britain. Why, because the majority of people in those 6 counties were Protestant and if they had combined with the rest of Ireland they would have been in the minority and subject to persecution. This created a power struggle between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Especially in Belfast where the lower class Catholic and Protestant communities is right next to each other.
Our guide John was Catholic and had been a member of the IRA growing up. He was passionate about this period of his country's history but gave a very good representation of life on both sides of the green/orange line. He took us up the Falls Rd. (Irish/Catholic side) and down the Shankel Rd. (British/Protestant side). I between these two communities there is a 20 to 30 foot wall/fence with steel gates that close every night keeping the two sides apart. On both sides of this wall there are flags and pennants signaling the nationality/religion of the area. There are many buildings within these communities with murals painted on them depicting the Troubles. We toured this area where he explained the murals and there connection to this turbulent time.
Our last stop was at the Peace Wall, the largest of the several walls the separate the Catholic and Protestant communities. On this wall people write messages of peace and sign them offering support for the peace process. So we all signed the wall adding the support of the Beaumont community as well. We then took a group picture along the wall. I have to tell you this gave me the same uneasy feeling that I had standing alongside the Berlin Wall - only this one is still in use.
Our second stop of the day was at the Titanic Museum. This is an incredible modern, hands on museum about the building and maiden voyage of the Titanic. This museum has only been open since 2112 - the 100th anniversary of that tragic voyage. We ate lunch and then spent 3 hours going through the museum. There are so many galleries, depicting so much information; you could spend several days just trying to take it all in.
Then back on the bus and to our hotel where we checked in had a 7:30 dinner. We had another good meal.
Tomorrow we will be traveling up to the Giants Causeway and to the medieval town of Derry.
Greetings from Northern Ireland,
Happy Cavs Victory Parade Day! Wow what a great day for Cleveland!
Today, after breakfast, we drove north from Belfast to the Giant's Causeway, about a 2 hour drive from Belfast. The Giant's Causeway is a natural outcropping of volcanic rock that runs from the north of Ireland, under the Irish Sea, and comes up in the south of Scotland - 11 miles away. According to legend, the Scottish giant was building a causeway to get from Scotland to Ireland. The Irish Giants didn't want him coming over so they devised a plot to scare him away. In his haste to get away, the Scottish giant tore up the causeway to keep the Irish Giants out which is why it goes under the sea. So what makes it so special? The volcanic rock is in the shape of hexagons. It is like solid stop signs were pushed out of the ground at different heights creating a gigantic playground for people to climb on. It is hard to explain but the girls loved it. Right on the ocean and it was a sunny morning - perfect weather. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there, including lunch and the gift shop before heading to our next stop Derry.
Derry is the only medieval town left in Ireland with its city walls intact. We drove to Derry and took a walking tour of the walls and the old town. One section of the walls is where the British Army fired on Catholic marchers on what became known as "Bloody Sunday." Think about the U2 song. While in Derry we visited the Guild Hall that would have acted as a city hall in the mid to late 1800s. Beautiful building, amazing architecture, and inside was an exhibit on the plantation, taking over by moving Englishmen in, of Derry. This process lasted over a hundred years, involved two English kings and one queen, and three major wars. The end result was that Derry was taken over by the British and they were either pushed out to the west or subjugated. The displays were very well done and made a complicated issue easier to understand.
Then back to Belfast for dinner - one of our best dinners yet, and they all have been good. After dinner about half of the group opted to go back to the hotel to pack and rest while the other half stayed downtown with me and Sheila. We did the "Crawford" Belfast tour! We walked them around our favorite parts of the city and told of our experiences there - mostly to show them how much the Peace Agreement has worked to make Belfast a safer more prosperous place. After our hour and a half walk, we took the train back to our hotel arriving back at 9:00, the end of another fun day in Ireland.
Tomorrow is a very early morning because we have to catch the 6:00 ferry to Scotland.
Greetings from England,
Today we got up very early, 4:45 AM, so we could be on the road by 5:30. After getting a boxed breakfast from the hotel, we headed to the Port of Belfast so we could take the ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland. After saying goodbye to John our driver, we boarded the ferry a little after 7:00 and set sail at 7:30. Now when I say ferry I mean a FERRY. This is an ocean going ship large enough to hold several semi-tractor trailers, large coaches, and cars. It has several passenger lounges, restaurants, a cinema, casino, bars, snack bars, and who knows what else. It was like being on a cruise ship (almost). The ferry is operated by Stena Lines with a mostly Scottish Crew - so trying to understand them was a challenge. The crossing took about 2 1/2 hours and it was a smooth as could be. Most of us slept because there had been a wedding in our hotel the night before and they were rocking until 1:00 AM.
So, after an uneventful crossing, we met our new driver Billy and started out across Scotland for Gretna Green. Gretna Green is the wedding center of the UK - kind of like Las Vegas. If you wanted to elope and you were under age you would head to Gretna Green where the laws were very "relaxed". You could be married at 17 by a blacksmith. What? Yes, Somehow blacksmiths could be certified to perform legally binding weddings. They were called anvil weddings because the smithy' anvil also served as the altar. Now the laws have changed but it is still known as a wedding capital. In fact while we were there we saw a bridal party taking pictures - the bride was lovely.
After lunch we headed south into England's Lake District, one of the prettiest parts of the country. This would be the place where the aristocracy would go for their holidays. Our first stop was at Ambleside, a lovely lakeside village from right out of the 1930's with wooden boats for rent, boat cruises, and many, many ice cream stands - with very good ice cream. You could picture Jay Gatsby vacationing in this area. This was where Beatrix Potter wrote most of her children's books.
Then we were back on the coach for a short ride to Rydal Mount, the home of William Wordsworth. We visited the house and gardens learning about what life was like when Wordsworth lived there. The girls loved the visit and took several pictures for Kate Bernardo. It didn't hurt that the weather was beautiful, about 75 degrees and partly cloudy with a nice breeze. Perfect weather!
From Rydal Mount we headed south to Preston and our hotel. We arrived about 7:30 and had time to clean up before our 8:30 dinner. Today is a big day in the UK, they are voting on a referendum to decide whether to stay or leave the European Union. This vote is huge and could have dire consequences for the European Union. It was interesting to hear the discussions between our girls and Marc our Tour Director. The girls asked intelligent questions that really got to the heart of the matter showing a strong understanding of the workings of government. Marc was impressed.
After dinner we all turned in early after a very long day - we were actually in three countries today Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England. Tomorrow we head further south to the land of the Bard, William Shakespeare.
Greetings from England,
WOW - what a day for the United Kingdom! Yesterday the UK voted to leave the European Union. The consequences of this vote could be enormous - I think 1/3 of the country is depressed, 1/3 is confused, and 1/3 is ecstatic. This could bring about the end of the European Union - can the other countries survive without Great Britain. It could be the end of the UK since Scotland and Northern both voted to stay while England and Wales voted to leave. Scotland has voted several times to leave the UK, each one getting closer and closer to succession; will yesterday's vote push it over the top? I believe huge changes are coming.
But bacteria to our trip, breakfast at 7:00 and on the road by 8:00 so we could drive to York by 10:00. For the first part of the drive Mark explained the vote and its possible consequences to us all. The girls listened intently. Once we reached York we met our local guide Neil who took us on a walking tour covering the 2000 year history of this beautiful city. We saw a column from the Roman City, a castle on the grounds of the original Viking City, churches and guild halls from Medieval York, and so much more. We ended our 2 1/2 walk at the York Minster, the Cathedral built in the 1300's - actually it was started in the 1300s but over 250 years to complete. It reminds me of Notre Dame in Paris. Our guide fed us so much information it was almost overwhelming, but he did it in a way that we could all understand and follow. He did a great job.
After Neil left us, we had a little free time for lunch and exploring the parts of the city that had piqued our interest. When we exited the Minster, we noticed a group of solders in full dress uniform started to gather in the square in front of us. It turns out the York Regimental Unit was about to parade around the city for Armed Forces Day. 350 soldiers and their military band put on quite a show. Sheila and I ate lunch on a park bench under a tree listening to this very good military band. Oh by the way, once again the weather was perfect.
At 3:00 we all gathered outside the York Chocolate Story exhibit. It turns out chocolate played a big role in the history of York - my kind of town. Now the museum could only take half of us at a time so while the first half of our group went through, Sheila and I were able to slip into Molly's Tea Room and had our first tea and scones of the trip. It was so good and you just have to have tea and scones when In England. Then back to the Chocolate Factory for what I believe was the BEST TOUR EVER! For 1 1/2 hours we learned about the history of chocolate from the Ancient Aztecs, through its arrival in York, up to the present day. They also talked about how chocolate is made giving us samples of the many steps involved. We had the opportunity to make our own chocolate "lolly" and watched a master chocolatier make gourmet chocolate. Of course they let us sample them. We decided that every day should end up with a tour of a chocolate factory.
On the way back to the coach several of the girls told how much they loved York and it really is a special place.
We checked into our hotel around 6:00 and had dinner at 6:45 - tonight we had Shepherd's Pie a very traditional English dinner. After dinner we spent some time trying to catch up on the day's political events.
Well off to bed and another early morning tomorrow.
Greetings from England,
Well the ramifications from the "vote" keep piling up, stock markets all over the world dropped yesterday, the value of the pound dropped $.20 against the dollar (so as Alice said "quick, buy pounds", Moody's devalued the UK's bond rating to "negative", the EU has called for a special meeting on Wednesday and did not invite the UK, and Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. And that is just since Friday! Wow - things are a little crazy over here.
So what have we been up to? Yesterday we visited York and today we were in Stratford upon Avon - William Shakespeare's city. Stratford is an Old English word for a crossing and Avon is a Celtic term for a river, so we were literally at "a crossing place on the river."
We met our guide who took us through Anne Hathaway's house and gardens then around the city of Stratford showing us the church where he was married, the three theaters, and the oldest bridge in town that was built around the time of the American Revolution. Next we stopped at Shakespeare's birthplace - a rather large house in the center of town - and went through that house and garden. Then free time for lunch and a little bit of time to explore Stratford on our own, which was fine until the heavens opened up ad it started to rain, big time not like the soft weather in Ireland.
Then we were back on the coach for our drive to Bath in the southwest of England. It rained most of the way but our driver, Billy, did a good job of delivering us safely. In Bath we attended the 5:45 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, a beautiful Catholic Church downtown. The priest, Fr. David, saw our girls coming in and sitting in the back so she found out where we were from and insisted we all sit down front. He came up to me and wanted to know all about our group and then introduced us to a young couple from Findlay, OH who were living and working in the area. All of this before mass started. During mass he referred to our girls, the "young people from Ohio" several times even including U.S. in his homily. What a kind, gentile, and caring man. He even gave each of us a medal and asked the girls to be sure they took the church newsletter home so they could remember the readings and make them part of their life, knowing their friends in Bath were thinking of them. After mass, the head of the church council introduced himself to me and wanted to know about our trip and thanked us for visiting their parish. All in all a very moving experience.
Next we moved on to our hotel, well not really. Since there is a large music festival in the area, I think it is called Glastonbury - but I'm not positive, hotel rooms in the area are all booked for the weekend. So we are staying at Bath University - yes we are all sleeping in dorm rooms and had dinner in the college cafeteria. The food was very good, our biggest problem was finding the correct hall to check in at, you know how big and confusing a college campus can be, and the fact that it was raining pretty hard when we unloaded the coach. But it is all working out fine, we are not the only ones on campus, there are 2 other EF Tours here, some kind of conference, and several other groups as well.
After dinner the students went back to their rooms and we had a little bit of time to catch up with Virg's daughter Nora. Nora, who is a Beaumont grad and former Murphy Irish Dancer, is working in Amsterdam and was able to come over to England and meet up with us - it is so great to see her.
Well, off to bed because tomorrow is another long day, one of only 2 left on our tour of Ireland and the UK.
Greetings from England,
Sorry I was not able to send yesterday's journal - no dependable Internet. So tonight, when we checked in to our last hotel of the trip, I was finally able to send it.
So tonight we are in London, yes we finally made it to London our last stop on this wonderful tour. How did we get here? Last night we stayed at Bath University in the 2000 year old Roman city of Bath. We stayed in the dorms and ate breakfast in the cafeteria. Most of the girls appreciated the space, after 10 days of living together on the road they all needed some private time. Breakfast this morning was very good, another traditional British hot breakfast. Today we had poached eggs, bacon, sausage, potato cakes, toast, and tea. Of course other food is available to anyone who wants it.
After breakfast we drove into town to go through the Roman Baths. When the Romans arrived in this part of southwestern England they found 3 natural hot springs emerging from the ground that were worshiped by the local Celtic tribes. So the Romans constructed both a community center (public baths) and religious center (temple) around the hot springs. For about 500 years Bath was a thriving Roman city. Our tour this morning was through the excavated remains of the public baths of the ancient Romans. The exhibition is wonderful with audio guides, video reenactment, placards of information, and of course the ruins and ancient artifacts themselves. The baths are very extensive and we spent an hour and a half there and did not see everything.
After the baths, we went back to the coach for a tour of the city with our tour guide, Sandy. She took us around this Georgian city which at the time was the second largest city in Britain. This is the city where Jane Austin wrote two of her novels. People came to Bath for two reasons, to take in the waters (medical purposes - people would spend 1 hour in the baths every morning), and to find a husband. Marriages were arranged back then and anyone who was anyone came to Bath.
After our tour of Bath we headed east and back in time 5000 years to Stonehenge. We ate lunch in the cafeteria and then went out to see the monument. Marc acted as our guide walking us around the stones explaining where the stones came from, how they were placed in 2 concentric circles, and how the sun lights up the site on both the summer and winter solstice. We helped him with some of the details. At one point we created "Girl Henge" - you will just have to see the pictures. We ended up spending over two hours out by the monument and had a really fun and educational time.
Because we stayed out there so long, we put ourselves in a bind for getting to London for dinner and our hotel. We made it but it was close. Our hotel is in Watford, out by the airport, and dinner was downtown. So we stored our bags in the hotel, caught a train into town, and then 2 tube rides to the restaurant. We arrived only 15 minutes late because the girls did such a good job of moving through the city.
After dinner we walked over to Covent Gardens and gave the girls some free time to visit this market area that was founded in 1640. Not much was open, Sunday evening, but they managed to have a good time anyway. Then back on the tube/train and we finally checked into our hotel at 10:30 PM after another long day on tour. The girls are all tired so they went right up to their rooms and I haven't seen any of them down in the lobby, in fact I'm the only one still working and I haven't been up to my room yet. So I think it is time to hit the sack. Tomorrow will be a long day since it is the last one on this year's tour.
Greetings from England,
Today is our last full day on tour and a full day it was.
We started with an 8:00 breakfast and a 9:00 departure for city tour. That was too late, with all the traffic it took longer to meet our guide, Kathy, then we thought. So our city tour was cut a little short - driving around London is nearly impossible. But our guide was wonderful, she explained the 2000 years of London's history in a way that was easy to understand and remember. We drove around the city as much as possible, seeing the historic buildings and learning their stories. We stopped at St. Paul's Cathedral (where Charles and Diana were married), Westminster Abby (where William and Kate were married), saw the Houses of Parliament, and took a thousand pictures of Big Ben. We then walked through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. We caught the ceremony, from a distance, and then followed the guards and their Band back their Regimental Headquarters to watch the end of the routine. Wow, the British do parades well! After the Changing of the Guard we had a quick lunch, well not really so quick feeding 40 girls and giving them a chance to use the bathroom is never quick, and then headed out to see Harry Potter.
About 20 miles outside of London, Warner Brothers has filled 2 sound stages with most of the sets from the 8 Harry Potter movies and turned them into an "experience". This is worthy of Disney World, it is kind of a ride, tour, museum, restaurant, exhibition, and gift shop rolled into one. We came here with our dancers 3 years ago and they loved so I knew our girls would too. While we were waiting in line to go in we could just see the looks of excitement and anticipation on their faces. After 2 1/2 hours, which they all said wasn't enough; it was time to move on. We all came out, smiling, tired, and really wanting to watch the movies again. But, sadly, it was time to get back on the coach and head back downtown for dinner.
Traffic slowed us down but we did make it to the restaurant on time. Tonight was our Fish and Chips dinner at the Star Bar, a pub where they filmed some of the movie "The Great Train Robbery." The dinner was excellent - a huge piece of fish, what we would call a steak fry, and chocolate cake with cream for dessert. The best part was that Gretchen was able to meet with her sister-in-law and other family members for dinner and they had a great visit.
After we dinner we headed down to the river for a combined Thames River Cruise and trip up the London Eye. Well once again, getting 40 people through London's crowded streets and tube stations took longer than Marc had figured so we missed the boat. The girls were disappointed and I was HOT - Sheila and I have been bringing groups to Europe since 1981, some with as many as 80 people and we never missed a scheduled event. I felt so bad for the girls; they were really looking forward to the cruise. The worst part was we were running down the dock as the boat pulled away and then turned around in front of us. The girls were all jumping down and waving while the man in the office was trying to radio the boat - but the Captain never responded and the boat sailed right past us and went on its merry way. I can't believe they would leave 40 people standing on the dock. What a bummer!
So how do you console 35 girls who just ran across London just to get left standing on the dock? Ice cream! Actually you don't, but going up in the Eye with all its beautiful views helped. The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that takes its riders 443 ft. in the air offering beautiful, unobstructed views of London. London is a city of 8 1/2 million people spreading out in all directions from the river, the only way to take it all in is by going up - a bird’s eye view from the London Eye. The ride took about 45 min. and when we touched down most of us bought ice cream, still disappointed but feeling a little better.
Next, as a group we strolled down the river to the Westminster Bridge, crossed over the river, and took another thousand pictures of Big Ben. We then walked up to Trafalgar Square with its monument to Admiral Nelson, who defeated Napoleon's fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, and its four large lion statues - very impressive. We gave the girls a little bit of free time before walking up to Piccadilly Circus which looks a lot like Times Square in New York. After a short time we headed back to the underground so we could catch a train back to our hotel. Our hotel is located in Watford which is near Heathrow Airport. It is very common for travel agents to book you into a hotel near the airport for your last night - that makes getting to the airport the next morning much easier. The nice thing about our hotel in Watford was that it was within a 10 min. walk of the train station with a direct line downtown.
By the time we got back to our hotel it was almost midnight and everyone was tired but the group did give us an anniversary card with 5 min. left in the day. The 27th is our wedding anniversary, 35 years and it was nice of them to remember us. Then off to bed, the girls all disappeared and we never saw them again till morning.
Days 13 & 14
Greetings from Cleveland,
Today, Tuesday is supposed to be our last day on tour because today we fly home.
We got up a little early, 5:30 breakfast so we could be on the bus by 6:15 and at the airport by 7:00. But of course things did not go exactly as planned. Our first issue was the bus sent to pick us up was a little smaller than the others we had been using. It had the right number of seats, 41, but the storage compartments underneath seemed smaller so packing our suitcases was a challenge. This could also have been to the fact that our suitcases somehow got bigger and heavier as the trip progressed. Loading the bus took a little longer than planned. We ended up putting 5 suitcases in the aisle between the seats, we could have piled them up in the extra seats but there weren't any - every seat was filled.
With the extra loading time and London's traffic we arrived at Heathrow Airport around 7:15 - leaving us more than enough time to check in, go through security, and get to the gate. For the trip home EF had divided us into 2 groups, one group of 23 was traveling through Philadelphia while the other group of 12 was coming home through Chicago. Since the group going to Philadelphia was leaving earlier, 10:15 departure, than the Chicago group, 12:15 departure, we let them check in first. So at check in we said good bye to our Tour Director Marc and Emily, an EF employee who had been traveling with us the whole time. We also said good bye to each other since Virg, Pat, & Gretchen were taking their 20 students through security first. Check in went smoothly and we arrived, after passing through security, in a huge holding area with hundreds of people and all the shops and food courts located in modern airports. With all the people and all the commotion we never saw the Philly group again. So we, Sheila and I and our 12 students, for our long wait. We had 4 hours until our 12:15 departure and at Heathrow, they don't assign gates until the last minute, I think that keeps the people in the holding area away from the gates until it is time to board. It was waiting in a shopping mall. Our scheduled departure was quickly pushed back to 1:30 because the plane arrived late from Chicago this morning. No problem, we had a 2 hour and 15 min lay over in Chicago we should be fine.
I'm not sure when they actually called us down to the gate but everything went smoothly, we all got on board, the girls were able to move seats so they could sit together, and we were airborne right away. The flight home was fantastic. TV screens in the back of the seat in front of you with movies, TV programs, music, games, anything you could want. There was almost too much food and drinks offered as we made our 8 hour flight to Chicago. However, when we landed, we realized that we would only have 45 min to clear immigration, customs and transfer to our departure gate and that sounded a little tight. American Airlines realized that too so they had agents at every step of the way helping us move quickly through the airport. As we arrived in the immigration area they gave me a bright red envelope with all our boarding passes for the next flight, that envelope was our pass to get through the airport as quickly as possible - kind of like a "fast pass" at Disney World - and it worked. Our first stop was immigration and the immigration agents were great, with the new system of checking in at a kiosk first and then reporting to an agent you don't get landing cards on the plane anymore, well we didn't have time to use the kiosk - so the immigration agents helped us fill them out at their stands - they were so nice to all of us. The on to baggage reclaim which took forever, probably not but we had cleared immigration so quickly we had to wait for them to get the bags off the plane. But everyone collected their bags and we moved on to customs. Once again, the customs agents were great as well just grabbing our landing cards, welcoming us home, and hurrying us along to baggage recheck. When we passed through the doors to recheck our bags they pulled us aside to be rescheduled, it was 5:15 at that point and our plane was scheduled to depart. There was no way to get us and our baggage to the plane on time so we needed to find another way home. The ticketing agent first thought we would have to stay overnight in Chicago which we didn't want to do especially after what happened to the Philly group (I explain that in a minute). The problem is that they had to keep us as a group because that is the way we were ticketed and due to the ages of our students. He was able to find a flight to Charlotte with a connecting flight to Cleveland that would get us home around midnight, so we took it. Now all 12 of us had to be re ticketed and our bags had to be rechecked and it all went smoothly.
So we all moved to the gate but first we had to take the shuttle to terminal 3, one stop, go through security again, and then walk to the gate - and the plane was scheduled to begin boarding now for our 6:15 departure. We made it! We arrived at the gate around 6:10 and they hadn't started birding so we all calmed down a little and waited. The plane left Chicago over an hour late because the flight crew had been delayed and couldn't get to the plane. Around 7:00 we say the 3 pilots and 4 flight attendants hurry through the crowd and down the jet way. Boarding went smoothly but we realized we had used up our layover time in Charlotte waiting at the gate in Chicago. The flight to Charlotte went very well but we landed as the boarding for our Cleveland flight was beginning. The flight attendant asked people to stand aside and let us off first but you know how much good that did, everyone was getting their things and standing in the aisle as soon as we reached the gate so we just had to wait and do the best we could. Luckily we only had to go 6 gates; we arrived at B-8 and departed from B-2. However Charlotte is a very busy airport and the corridor between the gates was so filled with people it was almost impassable, but we all made it with extra time because the flight to Cleveland departed a little late hopefully that gave them time to get our bags transferred.
The flight to Cleveland was very nice and we arrived, with our luggage, at 11:56 - 24 hours after our wake up time in London. But we were home, all the parents were there and everyone was happy to bring to a conclusion this very wonderful trip - almost.
So what happened to the Philly group? Well it turns out their flight from London was delayed but they made it to Philadelphia in time to clear immigration and customs and still make their plane. Unfortunately, their flight to Cleveland was cancelled due to weather - somewhere. Now the weather in Philly was fine and the weather in Cleveland was fine but remember the plane traveling to Cleveland had to come from somewhere and that is where the weather problems occurred. So what do you do with 23 people traveling as a group? You put them up in a hotel overnight and reschedule them on the 11:14 flight to Cleveland the next day. You know how well that went over with the group! When we arrived in Chicago and I turned on my phone there was a flood of E-mails, text messages, and phone calls about what was happening in Philadelphia. Chrissy, our Tour consultant from EF even called me to tell me that she had contacted Virg to help her work things out. In one of my conversations with Virg I asked her how the girls were doing and she answered "crying." But they somehow worked it all out - I'm sure Virg, Pat, and Gretchen had their hands full - it had been a long tour - 13 days, along day - 16+ hours, and everyone just wanted to go home when the trip became longer. So they were able to calm the girls down and started the process of moving to their hotel when they found out their luggage had been sent ahead to Cleveland - think about that, they had to stay in the clothes they had been wearing all day for another 20 hours. Once again they got the girls to calm down, shuttled to the hotel, had dinner and went to bed. The airlines gave them vouchers for dinner, the hotel, and breakfast since it was their fault the group was stuck in Philly.
I'm not sure of how their night went but I did receive a text from Virg this morning giving me their flight information, telling me that they were at the airport having breakfast, and that all was well. I drove out to the airport to welcome them home and the girls seemed fine. Their bags and parents were waiting for them and they were so glad to be home. Thus concludes our trip to Ireland and the UK.