Sunday, July 2, 2017

Planes, Trains...

Heathrow Airport
Planes, trains and automobiles... subways, undergrounds, boats, (including a ferry that rivaled a cruise ship!), moving airport sidewalks,  the London Eye, an occasional slide on the 360 degree wheel rolling luggage, a fleet of taxis in Berlin, and the feet.  (OHHH the feet!) The Donegal Indians' invasion of Europe, through EF Tours, tracing the historical locations of World War II from London to Normandy to Caen  to Paris to Versailles to Bastongne to Malmedy to Berlin to Munich to Salzburg and back to Munich and home was a whirlwind.  We all functioned on very little sleep and very many giggles as we navigated through both the continent and the various modes of transport, with 51 of us in tow.

Some wonder what teachers do with their summers, and teachers get pretty attacked this time of year as they stock up on bonbons and romance novels for the beach of the pool.  (NOT!). I know that 10% of the Donegal High School teachers spent the last two weeks traipsing around Europe, becoming better friends, and connecting with groups of students in a non-traditional setting.  Up to this point in my teaching career, my most adventurous field trips included overnight leadership conferences in State College at the Ramada Inn, and once, in an insane moment, the "Overnight at the Museum" experience in the Franklin Institute, where we slept in the shadow of the giant beating heart.

London Underground
  No professional development can ever prepare one for the challenges of navigating nearly daily reports of terrorism in Europe.  We intentionally tightened up our schedule, and the amount of free time the students had in public places, knowing that westerners -- particularly Americans -- were targets.    Dave sent email updates every night, and the early part of the trip's content seemed to always include "there was an incident in ...., and we're aware of it and fine."   Flexibility proved to be our greatest ally, as our tour guide navigated delays, closed roads - who could have predicted we'd be in Paris the very night they were trying to impress the Olympic Committee in their quest to be awarded the 2024 Olympics?  There was certainly no forecasting that the bus picking us up at the train station in Berlin would go to the wrong station, the driver never answering his cellphone.  Approximately eighteen taxis later, we were all safely at the most beautiful - and largest - hotel in Germany.

It's tough for high school kids to understand the mental exhaustion that comes with no sleep and constantly locating 8 heads in a crowd of 44 that are assigned to the chaperones who are constantly reassuring oneself that all are present, while reminding all of them that they are hyper vulnerable to gypsies, pickpockets, and other unsavory characters.  Within a few days, we'd organically developed hand signals for each of the six groups of seven or eight students assigned to each chaperone, and the kids could sort themselves within seconds.  The kids were troopers -- watching out for each other, protecting their backpacks, and the backs of their fellow travellers.

My friends who know me well are aware of my intense fear of being responsible for tickets to shows, or important paperwork that must be delivered.  I get sidetracked, I put things in those very precious"safe spaces", never to be located again in a timely manner. In addition to the eight students assigned to me on this trip, I was also personally responsible for 9 passports, including my own.  Nerve wracking, to say the least.

Two bus drivers are worthy of mention - Hedo, the amazing dude who drove the bus to our hotel in Paris down the smallest street I have ever seen, necessitating members of our group EXIT the VEHICLE, and move to motorcycles parked on the side of the road in the path of the bus.  It was all for naught, as the end of the road was not conducive to the 13 meter bus's need to turn the corner.  Hedo backed that bus up like the pro that he obviously is!

Dennis having words with the toll machine
Dennis, ah, Dennis.  He loved his pet goose, owns 40 birds that he sleeps with, was born in Turkey but lives in Frankfurt, and has an intense hatred of German veterinarians.   (One, who apparently killed his beloved goose, Martin, was at the top of his list.). He scolded me for killing a bug on the bus.  Apparently I am as guilty as Martin's vet.  He argued with toll machines, as if they could respond, told jokes like a professional comedian, and genuinely seemed to enjoy his job.  (Which was not the case for all of our bus drivers!) 

After receiving doctor's orders to stay out of the sun in Bastogne, Tim and I spent nearly an entire day sitting on the bus with Dennis while the rest of the group toured significant locations of the Battle of the Bulge, listening to his commentary about all that is wrong with Germany - in his humble opinion.  Parents in Germany should spend time with their kids, co-sleep with them, and have more of them.  ("The Germans, they need to do more 'Hee Haw, He Haw,', you know?" he said with an impish grin.  "All de Germans are moving to the U.S. and they will all be gone soon!")  Suffice it to say that Youtube has had a powerful impact on Dennis -- that's where he learned that UFOs are real.  Somewhere, there's a selfie with Tim and Dennis, and I'm certain that we'll never forget his name!

Yes, journeys begin with a single step.  Fortunately for us, we had some trained professionals operating vehicles and making decisions to safely get us to every destination, and home, safely.