On June 17, 2014 a group of 44 excited travelers, mainly from Lafayette, set out on the trip of a lifetime. The group consisted of 14 high school students, 3 college students, 5 teachers and 22 other adults. This 15/17 day adventure would include stops in 7 countries: the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and Great Britain.
The group spent their 1st day just traveling. They left Nashville at 2:27 in the afternoon headed to Atlanta, GA. After this 1 hour flight, they had a 3 hour lay-over before boarding their International flight to Europe. The 8 to 9 hour flight to Amsterdam, which is in the Netherlands, finished their journey.
Day 2 began with their arrival to Schiphol airport around 11 AM (most of the countries visited on this trip are 7 hours ahead of TN). They collected their luggage, went through customs, met their tour director, loaded the bus and began touring the city. Their tour director, Pamela, has worked with the groups traveling from Lafayette since 2000.
The bus driver took them into the city center and dropped them off for their 1st European lunch. Some from the group tried Dutch pancakes, which are entirely different than American pancakes, and can be topped with foods such as ham and cheese.
After lunch, they met back with Pamela for a walking tour of the city. Some of the sights seen on this tour were the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace), the National Monument, the Begijnhof (one of the oldest inner courts in the city), the Bloemenmarkt (the world’s only floating flower market), the Munttoren (the Mint Tower), and the beautiful architecture of Amsterdam.
The walking tour ended at one of the 165 canals in Amsterdam where the group boarded a boat for an afternoon cruise which took them past all of the famous attractions. They saw canal houses from the Golden Age, the Westerkerk bell tower, the Anne Frank House, the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), and more beautiful Amsterdam architecture.
After their relaxing canal cruise (several actually took a nap), the group walked to their 1st dinner meal in Europe. They were treated to sausage, mashed potatoes with carrots and ice cream for dessert.
The bus picked them up after dinner and took the group to Lelystad, a small city just outside of Amsterdam (about 45 minutes). This was their home for 2 nights while they explored the Netherlands.
After a great breakfast, (which included bacon, sausage and eggs) the group loaded the bus to go explore the Dutch countryside on day 3. They started the day at Zaanse Schans, a community packed with wooden windmills. Here the group saw demonstrations over clog- and cheese-making and explored the inside of De Kat, a working windmill that creates pigments for traditional paint production from raw materials. This windmill is probably the last wind-powered dye mill in the world.
Back on the bus, the next stop for the group would be Volendam. It is an old fishing village located on the shores of the North Sea. After a lunch of fresh seafood, they had time to explore this “pearl of the Zuiderzee”.
The bus took the group back to Amsterdam for a bus tour of the city by a local guide. They saw many sights including the National Maritime Museum, the equestrian statue of Queen Wilhelmina, the Rijksmuseum (a Dutch national museum), many of the sights seen from the cruise yesterday, and then they got off the bus to make pictures at the I Amsterdam sign.
After dinner, the group walked to the Anne Frank House, a historic house and biographical museum. During this visit they actually climbed the hidden stairs behind the original bookcase and explored the Secret Annex. They also viewed the exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank and the 7 other people that lived here while hiding from the Nazis for 2 years and 1 month. The day ended back at the hotel in Lelystad.
Day 4 began with another great breakfast (which isn’t always the case in Europe) before heading to Germany. Most of this day was spent on the bus so the group had their first “motor way” stops. They also experienced having to pay to use the toilet.
They arrived in Heidelberg, Germany in the afternoon and visited the Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle). The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The Heidelberg Tun, or the “World’s Largest Wine Barrel”, was one of the things to see at the castle. It stands seven meters high, is eight and a half meters wide, holds 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons) of wine, and has a dance floor built on top of it.
After making their way back down into the center of town, the group had a little free time before dinner. Tonight the group was treated to German kraut and wieners for their dinner meal. Because their free time before dinner had been limited, Pamela decided to give some more time after dinner to explore Heidelberg (not to mention the fact that she wanted to watch the World Cup game). Most walked down to the river to see the “Old Bridge”, the first stone bridge to cross the Neckar River. Finally, they loaded the bus and headed to Bensheim, Germany, the location of their hotel for this night.
The group was treated to another great breakfast before loading the bus on day 5. On the way to Munich, Germany they had one of their most memorable stops of the trip, Dachau. It was the 1st concentration camp set up by the Nazi’s. Carmen Rac, who had been an exchange student at Macon County High School, met the group here and spent the rest of the day with them.
The group was given individual audio guides which allowed each person to tour the camp at their own pace. Some of the main points of interest they saw at Dachau were: the entrance gate to the camp which contains the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Will Make You Free,” a rebuilt barrack like those used by the prisoners, the Crematoriums, the museum with lots of actual photos, and several religious memorials. One of the best things about the audio guides was the recollections of survivors and liberators.
After this very humbling experience, the group was taken on to Munich by bus. They made their way to the Marienplatz, Munich’s most famous square, to watch and hear the Glockenspiel chime at 5 PM. This 100-year old carillon (it is like a huge coo-coo clock) has 32 life-sized figures that reenact historical Bavarian events. A golden rooster comes out and crows 3 times to end the 15 minute show.
They had some free time before their dinner in downtown Munich to do a little exploring. Afterwards, the bus took the group on to their hotel in Freising for the night. This town is the oldest settlement in Upper Bavaria and was a wonderful place to have a nice walk after checking into their rooms.
Day 6 was another long day on the bus, but well worth it because the views were gorgeous and included several castles on the motorway. This was also an exciting day because the group had breakfast in Germany, lunch in Austria and dinner in Italy.
During their lunch stop in Innsbruck, Austria the group had a little time to see a few of the main sights. These included the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), the Maria-theresien-Strasse (one of the busiest streets in the city), the Triumphpforte (Triumphal Arch) and the Inn River. Several from the group tried the Grostl (a typical Austrian skillet dish made of beef, potatoes and onions). This time the bus driver lead the group back to the bus.
They had a beautiful view of the Bergisel Ski Jump and the city of Innsbruck itself as they left for Italy. The route this afternoon took them through the Tyrolean Alps and the views just got better and better. The bus ride today took even longer than expected, but the group finally arrived at Hotel Al Barco for their dinner meal. This hotel located in San Stino do Livenza would be their home for the next 2 nights.
Day 7 began with a normal European breakfast (cereals, breads, yogurt, sandwich meat and cheese). The group had to ride about 45 minutes on the bus to catch a boat that would take them to Venice. They stopped on Isola Della Giudecca first for a glass blowing demonstration. Several from the group purchased some of the Murano glass before boarding the boat for the main stop, Venice.
Once there, they met their local guide for a walking tour. She started at the San Zaccaria, a church dedicated to the father of John the Baptist. It is located in the quiet Campo San Zaccaria. She then walked the group down several small streets and alley ways pointing out specific Venetian architecture. They ended this tour at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice’s most famous church.
Pamela walked several from the group to the Il Merletto Lace School so they could purchase hand made lace souvenirs. She then turned them loose with free time for lunch and exploring. Today was definitely the day to have some good pizza, which most did. One of the main things to see during their free time was the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge across the canal. They also had tickets to tour Doge’s Palace (once the home of the ruler of Venice) during this time. On this self-guided tour they could walk through the Bridge of Sighs linking the Palace to the New Prison, the prisons, the rooms that once held the Senate of Venice and the Doge’s apartment.
The entire group met back in St. Mark’s Square later that afternoon to walk to one of the 177 canals for their 45 minute gondola ride. The ride took them through many of the smaller canals on their way out to the Grand Canal. This was an excellent way to get a different view of the city and its beautiful architecture.
After this ride, they had a little more time to explore or finish up some souvenir shopping. The group had to catch another boat to take them back to where the bus was waiting for them. While taking in their last views of Venice from the boat, they spotted an American flag draped on the balcony of a passing cruise ship. Once on the bus they headed back to the hotel for their dinner meal.
Another normal “European breakfast” got the group going on day 8. After loading the bus, they made the journey to Verona, Italy. They saw parts of the original walls that once protected this city as they walked into the center of town. They walked past the Arena, one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind, before making it to the main attraction in Verona, Juliet’s balcony. This is supposedly the balcony where Juliet stood while Romeo declared his love. The families at the center of Shakespeare’s famous play were once the 2 leading families of Verona, so … it could be true.
Most of the group used some of their free time in Verona to have another amazing Italian lunch (several had more pizza). After lunch, some explored the city, some shopped and others toured the inside of the Arena. It is Roman amphitheater that was built in 30 AD. Today it is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there.
Back on the bus once again, the group headed toward Switzerland. They saw many Italian vineyards as they made their way out of Italy. One of the last things they saw in Italy was Lake Como. Even though the bus didn’t stop, the view of the lake was beautiful. As they made their way into Switzerland, the views of the Swiss Alps made this bus ride very enjoyable. They drove through the 3rd longest tunnel in the world, St. Gotthard Tunnel, which is 10.5 miles long.
They arrived at their hotel in Emmetten, Switzerland just before dinner. This beautiful small town in the mountains is about 30 minutes outside of Lucerne. During their delicious dinner, the owner of the hotel came into the dining room to tell the group where to go for amazing sunset views. So after dinner, walking they went. Most of the walk was uphill, but the views did not disappoint. Several from the group said this was the prettiest place they had ever been.
Day 9 began the same as the last 3, with a European breakfast. The views just driving down from the hotel to Lucerne were gorgeous, but the group would see even better views later from the top of Mt. Pilatus. The bus dropped them off at the pier in Lucerne to catch a boat for a ride on Lake Lucerne that took about 1 hour. Off the boat in Alpnachstad, the group had a short walk to catch a ride on the world’s steepest cog railway. The train ride up to the top of Mt. Pilatus took about 30 minutes and provided a different beautiful view at every turn.
When they arrived at the top of the mountain, the clouds had moved in and you could see nothing. Most of the group decided to go ahead and eat some lunch because of this. As they finished eating, the clouds started to move out and the views were endless. Most of the group explored some of the walking/hiking paths, such as the Dragon Path which winded its way through the mountain side. A few made their way up the Tomlishorn which is the tallest point on Mt. Pilatus at an elevation of 7000 ft.
The group met back together to load the 40 passenger aerial cableway cars. This 5 minute ride took them down to Frakmuntegg. There they loaded 4-person aerial panorama gondolas. This 30 minute ride would take them the rest of the way down the mountain to Kriens, where the bus was waiting for them. Both of these rides provided more beautiful views of Switzerland.
The bus took the group back into Lucerne where Pamela walked them to the Lion Monument. It is a sculpture carved into a cliff face of a dying lion impaled by a spear. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French revolution. She then walked them to the store to pick up their authentic Swiss knives that they had pre-ordered, this allowed them to get the knives engraved. They then had some free time to explore Lucerne. Some of the main things to see were the Chapel Bridge (Lucerne’s main landmark), the Jesuit Church (the first large baroque church built in Switzerland north of the Alps), Lake Lucerne, the Reuss River and the painted facades of the old houses.
The group met back to load the bus to head back to their hotel in Emmetten for another delicious dinner. Some took walks exploring the town after dinner, but no sunset views tonight; it was cloudy and trying to rain.
On day 10 the group really hated to leave Switzerland after their “normal” breakfast, but the tour had to continue into France. The bus took them to the small town of Colmar, France for lunch. The city is renowned for its well preserved old town with its traditional houses. It is also the birthplace of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. After lunch they had some time to explore this beautiful city. Some of the sights to see were: “little Venice”, the Maison Pfister House, St. Martin’s Church, the Musee Bartholdi, and the House of Heads. Back on the bus, the driver treated the group by taking them to the Northern entrance of town to see one of the largest replicas of the Statue of Liberty.
The location of their hotel for tonight was an unexpected treat. It was located in the Munster Valley in the village of Muhlbach-sur-Munster. The views here were not as impressive as those in Switzerland, but they were pretty nice. The group had some time before dinner, so several explored the countryside behind the hotel while others walked down to the town center. One group met a local farmer leading his cows down one of the roads to his milk barn behind his house which was right in the middle of the town.
After their “normal” breakfast on day 11 the group loaded the bus excited to be on their way to Paris. The bus driver had another unexpected treat for them this morning. Instead of going straight to the motor way, he drove through the Reserve Naturelle Frankenthal-Missheimle. Just as many other times on this trip, there were beautiful views at every turn. They also drove past several ski slopes and lifts inside the reserve. Today’s lunch stop was at a motor way service station that had a walkway over the actual motor way, which was neat and the food was pretty good too.
Because of the extra time it took for the nice ride through the reserve this morning, the group arrived in Paris later than expected. The bus took them directly to their centrally located hotel and dropped them off for the last time. From now on the group would rely on public transportation and walking.
After checking into their rooms, they took the Paris Metro (subway) to the Champs-Elysees, the most famous avenue in the world. At the western end of this avenue stands the Arc de Triomphe, which honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The group took the underground tunnel to reach the center of Place Charles de Gaulle to visit the Arc. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. Pamela gave them a little free time to explore this area and then took them to dinner at a restaurant close by.
After dinner, Pamela walked the group to Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris. They had a little free time in this area before boarding the boat for their 1 hour river cruise. Some from the group went to add a padlock to the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge, a gesture representing committed love. On the narrated cruise they went by many famous Paris attractions including: the Louvre Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Place de la Concorde, Alexander III Bridge, the Orsay Museum, and the Eiffel Tower.
The group then made their way to the Montparnasse Tower, a 689 foot office building, the only skyscraper in Paris. They took the elevator to the 56th floor, a 38 second ride, and then on to the terrace by stairs. This outdoor viewing platform offers perfect conditions to admire the City of Lights. Some stayed on the 56th floor which offers 360 degree views of the city through large plate glass windows. After watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle at 11 PM, the group made their way back to the hotel using the Paris Metro.
Day 12 began with a “European Breakfast” once again before loading a local bus for their tour from a local guide. They saw many of the same sights seen the day before plus a few extras. These include the Place de la Bastille, the Pantheon, remnants of the Roman baths, the statue of Joan of Arc, Place Vendome, Opera Garnier (the Paris Opera house), Les Invalides, the Fontaine Saint-Michel and La Madeleine. They stopped for pictures of the Eiffel Tower at Place du Trocadero. They made another photo stop at Les Invalides, which contains Napoleon’s tomb.
After the bus tour was over, Pamela walked the group to Notre-Dame Cathedral and then gave everyone directions for their free afternoon. Mass was being held at the Cathedral so everyone had to tour the inside later that afternoon. Most of the group took a train to visit the Palace of Versailles, some stayed in town and went to see all the art collections at the Louvre (including the Mona Lisa) and a couple climbed the steps to the top of Notre Dame to get up close and personal with the gargoyles.
Tonight the group was treated to traditional flammekueche for dinner. It is similar to pizza, but has a really thin crust covered with a mix of cream and soft white cheese. Other toppings such as bacon, onions and mushrooms are also added. They were also served some sweet flammekueche which were topped with chocolate and cinnamon apples. After dinner some went back to the hotel while others made their way (in the rain) to visit the Eiffel Tower. If they hadn’t already had one, some enjoyed a really good French crepe to finish out the night.
After the “normal” breakfast on day 13, the group loaded a local bus which took them to the Gare du Nord train station to catch the Eurostar. This train reaches speeds up to 186 mph, which keeps the journey to London around 2 hours. It travels through the Channel Tunnel, a 50.5 km tunnel that goes beneath the English Channel.
Once in London, England, Pamela walked the group to Covent Garden for lunch and a little free time. They took a short detour to Kings Cross Station (Platform 9 ¾) on their way. Some in the group tried the “Sunday Roast” at the Lamb & Flag, a historic pub dating back to 1772.
Next, Pamela walked the group to Trafalgar Square, a public space in central London. At its center is Nelson’s column, which is flanked by fountains and guarded by 4 lion statues at its base. Some of the students climbed up on one of the lions for a good picture. They also had time to view some of the art inside the National Gallery and visit the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church.
The last area they visited today was Piccadilly Circus, a busy square in the heart of London. It is famous for its video display and neon signs. The group was given a little free time to explore and shop. Some just used the time to walk Regent Street, the major shopping street of Piccadilly. After gathering back together, they made their way to their centrally located hotel by way of the London Tube (subway).
After checking in to their rooms at the hotel, which was in walking distance to The Tower of London, they went to dinner. Tonight the group was treated to a typical London meal, fish and chips. Some went straight back to the hotel after dinner, while others walked around and explored the area.
Day 14 began with a great breakfast. Here you had the choice to add bacon and eggs for a small charge. The group boarded a local bus for their city tour from a local guide. They made a photo stop on a bridge over the River Thames with a nice view of the Tower Bridge. They made a second photo stop at Southwark Crown Court with even better views of the Tower. This stop also had nice views of London City Hall, the London Gherkin, and the Tower of London. They drove over the Tower Bridge on their way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the church where Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married. They drove past the London Eye, Westminster Abbey (the church that held Lady Diana’s funeral), and the entrance to Horseguards Parade on their way to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.
After the changing of the guards, Pamela gave directions for their free afternoon. Some went to tour The Tower of London, some went to ride the London Eye, some went to tour the Tower Bridge (today was the120th anniversary of the opening of the bridge, so the admission was only 1.2 pounds), and some shopped while others went back to the hotel to rest. The group met back together for their dinner meal and then back to the hotel for the night. Tonight was a sad night because they had to say goodbye to Pamela. She had to leave the tour to go home to Italy for a minor surgery on one of her eyes.
After another really good breakfast on day 15, the group split in half. 22 of the travelers were taken by bus to Heathrow Airport for their flight home while the other 22 loaded a bus headed for Bath, England. The group flying home had a 12:50 PM flight to Atlanta. After this 9 hour flight, they had a 4 hour lay-over before boarding the plane for their final 1 hour flight. They arrived in Nashville around 9 PM.
The 22 that stayed for the 2-day extension met their new tour director, Allessandro, in the lobby of the hotel before traveling to Bath. They stopped on their way out of London and picked up their local guide for the day, Nikki. The bus drove through the city streets of Bath allowing the group to view the distinct architecture of this region. Once off the bus, the group walked to the Abbey Church Yard to visit the Roman Baths. Audio guides were provided so each person could tour the baths at their own pace. Some of the main things to see here were: the Sacred Spring, the Spring Overflow, the Great Bath and the Heated Rooms.
Nikki had told the group to make sure they walked down to the River Avon to see the Pulteney Bridge. It is one of only 4 bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides. She had also told the group to try a pasty (a pastry filled with meat and vegetables) if they wanted an authentic lunch, so several did. They had a little time to explore and shop before meeting back together in the Abbey Church Yard. The University of Bath was holding their graduation ceremony at the Abbey so all the graduates and their family members were also gathering in the church yard.
The group loaded the bus ready for the next stop in Stonehenge. They had beautiful views of the city of Bath as they were leaving. The drive through the English countryside was nice. They went through some small villages that had thatched roof houses and drove past England’s tiniest jail. Once at Stonehenge, they walked to the visitor center and caught a bus to the actual sight. It is one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. Once again, they had individual audio guides so each person could take in the sights at their pace. After walking the path around the stones (you can’t touch them), they caught a bus back to the visitor center. Here they could tour the museum, the exhibition and the brand new area outside which contains 5 re-created Neolithic houses.
Back on the bus, the group headed back to London for a little free time before dinner. The area where the bus dropped them off was very close to Covent Garden, so several walked back to that area. Tonight the group was treated to London’s number 1 food choice, Indian. After dinner they made their way back to the hotel using the London Tube.
Day 16 was a complete free day for the group. A few headed out early to catch a train for Brighton, England. It is a town on the south coast of Great Britain. While here they enjoyed the pebble beach, walked the Brighton Pier, had a great lunch and saw some of the main landmarks including the Royal Pavilion and The Lanes. Some from the group slept a little later than normal before enjoying another good breakfast. Some of the things done by those that stayed in London include: visiting the Kew Gardens (the Royal Botanic Gardens), visiting The Tower of London, riding the London Eye, visiting the Imperial War Museum, visiting the Natural History Museum and a few did some more shopping. Several from the group ate dinner on their own tonight, but a few met Allessandro for their included dinner at Hummus Brothers. This group rode one of the typical double-decker buses of London back to the hotel. Most of the group came in early tonight to get ready for an early departure tomorrow.
Because the group had to leave the hotel so early on day 17 to catch their 9:30 AM flight, breakfast was just a couple of things in a to-go bag. A local bus picked them up at 5:30 AM to take them to Heathrow Airport. Allessandro stayed with the group until they were completely checked in and ready to go through security. Because there was no traffic, the group got to the airport even earlier than planned so they had time for a “real” breakfast before boarding the plane for Atlanta. This flight took around 9 ½ hours and then they had a less than 3 hour lay-over. They reached Nashville around 5 PM after their 1 hour flight.
This was an amazing trip with lots of adventures for the entire group. We plan to travel to Europe again in 2016. The exact destinations haven’t been picked yet, but anywhere we go will be a good trip. Just ask anyone that has traveled with us before on the previous 8 trips. Look for information in the next month or so about this trip in the papers. Better yet, send Tammy Brawner (the group leader) an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to get added to her list of people she sends information about the trips. We are also planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2015. If you are interested in this trip, you need to contact Tammy as soon as possible so you won’t miss out. We look forward to traveling with you in 2015 or 2016 or both!