On June 19, 2012, a group of 23 excited travelers mainly from Lafayette set out for the trip of a lifetime. The group consisted of 14 students, 3 teachers and 6 other adults. They left Nashville late in the afternoon and headed to Atlanta, GA to catch their international flight to Europe where they would visit three countries in 16 days: Spain, France, and Italy.
The group spent their first day, and because of a four-hour delay in Atlanta, part of their second day flying to Paris, France. The rest of the second day was spent exploring the area around Notre Dame where they had their first European dinner. Many members of the group tried a Croque-Monsieur, the most famous sandwich in France, and some even tried their first French crepe. Then they were off to check into their hotel for some much needed rest.
Day 3 began with a guided bus tour of Paris. Some of the sights seen from the bus include: La Madeleine Church, Hotel des Invalides, Pont Alexandre III Bridge, Pont Neuf Bridge, Opera de Paris Garnier, Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Dome des Invalides and the Conciergerie. The bus ride took the group down the famous Champs-Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe where the group made one of their photo stops.
They made their way over to the Arc through an underground tunnel for close up views and a chance to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Another photo stop was made at Place du Trocadero for the best views of the Eiffel Tower. The group then traveled to Versailles by bus to visit the Palace of Versailles and have lunch in the gardens.
On the bus ride back into Paris, the group saw Paris’s version of The Statue of Liberty and the flame that marks the tunnel of Princess Dianna’s fatal car crash. Before dinner, the group had some time to explore the area of Montmarte and visit the Sacre Coeur. On their way to dinner they walked past the famous Moulin Rouge. After dinner, the group rode the Paris Metro to the Montparnasse Tower where they went up to the 56th floor for 360 views of Paris. The last activity for the day was a boat cruise on the Seine River to see many of the sights seen earlier, but from a different perspective.
The group started Day 4 with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Because three of the four elevators were being refurbished and the wait for the only working elevator was over two hours, most of the group decided to climb the over 700 steps to the second level. They couldn’t go to the top (3rd level), but the experience of climbing the stairs was amazing. It was back to the area around Notre Dame for lunch and time to actually go into the Cathedral for those that didn’t have time before.
The group then walked along the Seine River to the Louvre Museum enjoying many beautiful sights of Paris along the way. During their visit to the museum they saw many works of art including The Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa. They also had time to visit areas of the museum including the Medieval Moat and Napoleon III’s apartments. After dinner the group was supposed to catch an overnight train to Barcelona, but they got an extra night in Paris because of a strike by the train workers. After checking into their last minute hotel (which was actually one of the best on the trip), several from the group went back into town by Metro to experience Paris nightlife and see the Eiffel Tower twinkle.
Day 5 began very early as the group had to catch the 7:15 AM train to Spain. This change in trains allowed the group to enjoy beautiful views of both the French and Spanish countryside. Because this was a last minute booking, they weren’t able to get a train all the way into Barcelona, Spain. Their train ride ended in Figueres, Spain, where a bus was waiting to take them on into Barcelona to their hotel. This hotel was very central with great views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea from the rooftop pool.
After checking in and having a little time to explore the hotel, most of the group rode the Metro to an area closer to the sea for a bike ride tour of the city. Stops were made for pictures in Ciutadella Park, by the beach and by the harbor. This was a very enjoyable and unique way to experience the city. After dinner most of the group rode the Metro to the area around the National Palace to watch the Magic Fountain, a light and music show.
On Day 6 the group started with a guided bus tour of Barcelona. Their first stop was at Park Guell, a garden complex with architectural elements designed by Gaudi. The guide led the group through the park and then gave some time to explore on their own. Next they stopped to view the outside of the Sagrada Familia and had some time for pictures and shopping. On the bus ride through the city they saw many beautiful sights including Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, the National Palace, and the Olympic Park from the 1992 Olympics. Their next stop was in the Montjuic Park where they saw the Sardana Dance Monument and beautiful views of Barcelona harbor.
The tour ended at the Monument to Columbus located at the beginning of the Ramblas. The group had a special lunch on this day, Spanish tapas. After several selections of appetizers, the main course of fresh paella was served. They had the whole afternoon free so many from the group relaxed on the beach and took a swim in the Mediterranean. After dinner at the hotel, the group went back to the Ramblas to explore and shop.
Most of the Day 7 was spent traveling from Spain back to France on the bus, but there were a couple of interesting stops. The first was a lunch stop at Carcassonne, France. The group had time to eat, shop, explore the city and take a tour of the ramparts. Then they were back on the bus to continue on their journey. Some used the bus time to catch up on their sleep while others enjoyed the beautiful views of the French countryside. The 2nd stop for the day was for dinner in Nimes, France. Before dinner they had time to tour the Amphitheater and of course, take pictures. Finally they were off to Aubagne, France, the location of their next hotel.
On Day 8, the group had to backtrack a little for their visit to Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River. They had plenty of time to explore this area and some even waded in the river. It was a short bus ride to Avignon, France for a lunch stop. Here the group had time to eat lunch, shop, explore the city, visit the Papal Palace and take pictures of the Pont d’ Avignon Bridge on the Rhone River. Back on the bus and headed for their next hotel, they were treated to amazing views as they entered the French Riviera. The drive up the mountain to the hotel which was located in La Gaude, France was an experience in itself and gave the group beautiful views of the Var valley.
Day 9 began driving back down the mountain on the way to Monaco, France. Here several from the group took the Monaco tours train ride which took them on the same streets as the famous Monte-Carlo Grand Prix. After the ride, they made their way to the Monaco Cathedral where Princess Grace is buried and then on to see the changing of the guard at the Prince’s Palace. They were given time to eat lunch, shop, explore the gardens by the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco and enjoy the beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea before loading the bus headed for Eze, France. While in Eze, most of the group toured the Fragonard Perfume factory.
A small group made the hike up the mountain to the actual village of Eze and was rewarded with a nice visit to a quaint village with gorgeous views. They then loaded the bus headed for Nice, France. Most of the group spent their time here relaxing on the rock beach and taking a swim in the Mediterranean. After dinner in Nice, the group made their way back up the mountain to the same hotel in La Gaude.
The morning of Day 10 was spent on the bus, but the views of the Mediterranean Sea as they made their way into Italy were breathtaking. The group had a lunch stop in Genova, Italy and also had time to explore, visit the cathedral and shop. After lunch it was back on the bus for more beautiful views. They passed “Marble Mountains” and sunflower fields on their way to Pisa, Italy. While in the Pisa the group visited the Baptistry, the Cathedral and took the normal silly pictures holding up the Leaning Tower. They also had time to do their normal souvenir shopping. The final bus ride this day took them to the town of Montecatini, Italy; the location of their hotel for the next 2 nights. After checking in and having dinner, some of the group made their way into downtown Montecatini to explore and of course, shop
The group spent all of Day 11 in Florence, Italy. The day started with a guided walking tour which took them past the Duomo, the Cathedral, the Baptistry, the PonteVecchio Bridge, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Piazza della Signoria. The tour ended with a visit to a leather shop for a demonstration and a chance to purchase the leather. The rest of the day the group had free time. Several went to enjoy a Florentine steak for lunch and it was delicious. After lunch, some of the group visited the Accadamia to view Michelangelo’s David. Everyone had plenty of time to do all the shopping they wanted on this day and still had time to explore many different areas of Florence. The group met back for dinner and then loaded the bus to go back to the hotel in Montecatini. After dinner several went into Montecatini to watch the soccer match on the huge screen that had been set up in the town square.
On Day 12 the group was on their way to Rome, Italy, but had a lunch stop for some delicious pizza in Assisi, Italy. After lunch they had time to visit the Basilica of St. Francis and you guessed it, shop. Once in Rome, they went straight to dinner and their restaurant was right beside the Coliseum so they were able to get some really good pictures of the exterior. After dinner they had a walking tour of Rome with stops at the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain where they had time for one of their many delicious gelatos they enjoyed on this trip. The group got back on the bus to ride around Rome at night to see some of the main attractions all lit up, including the Coliseum. On their way to see St. Peter’s Basilica, they were treated to a fireworks show over the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The last stop of the night tour was at St. Peter’s Basilica for pictures and even the bus driver got off and took a picture.
Day 13 was spent touring Rome and the group saw many sights on their way to meet their guide for the morning including the Ponte Sant’Angelo and the old Roman shopping mall. They met their guide at the Vatican and went right past the LONG line because they already had a reservation. The group walked through the museum full of many beautiful works of art on their way to the Sistine Chapel. The art in this room by Michelangelo is simply amazing, especially the ceiling. They then moved on to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. The Basilica is also filled with many beautiful works of art including Michelangelo’s, The Pieta. They made their way through St. Peter’s Square, past the Swiss guards to visit a souvenir shop and have time for a quick lunch. On their way to meet their next guide for the day, the group saw the Piazza Venezia also known as the wedding cake building. The afternoon started with a guided visit inside the Coliseum. The guide then walked the group to the Roman Forum. The group made their way to Piazza Navona to view the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Next, they stopped at the small church of San Luigi dei Francesi to view the work of Caravaggio on their way to the Pantheon. Finally, the group loaded the bus to go back to the hotel for dinner and time to relax on the beautiful grounds which included a pool.
Day 14 started with a visit to Pompeii, Italy. First they visited a jewelry shop where they watched a demonstration by an actual artist showing the work that goes into making a cameo. The group then had a guided visit of the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii that was destroyed in 79 AD by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. They enjoyed some really good pizza for lunch and had some time to shop before heading to the Amalfi Coast. Once again, the bus ride to their next hotel provided them with beautiful views as they rode along the Bay of Naples on their way to Vico Equense, Italy. They had some extra time this afternoon and most of the group took advantage and enjoyed a swim in the pool at the hotel before dinner. After dinner, most of the group walked into town to explore and some watched the soccer game on the TV’s set up in the main square.
On Day 15 the bus took the group to Sorrento, Italy to catch a ferry to Capri, Italy. The ferry ride itself provided some amazing views, but nothing compared to what they saw once they arrived in Capri. Once there their guide for the morning took them to a small boat for a private cruise around the island. Words cannot describe just how beautiful it is in Capri. After the boat ride, the guide had the group catch the Funicolare to ride to the top of Capri. She then walked them through the streets of Capri for several amazing photo stops. She also arranged lunch for the group and several had another pizza. After lunch, they had free time to explore and of course shop. Instead of riding the Funicolare back down, the group walked the steps to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Several made their way to the beach to at least get their feet wet before catching another ferry to Naples, Italy. Once in Naples, the bus took them back to Rome for their final night in Europe.
Day 16 was a sad day because the group was taken to the airport in Rome for their journey home. Their flight left around lunch and they arrived back in the states, Detroit, MI, around 4. After about a four-hour layover, the group got back to the airport in Nashville around 8:30 PM.
This was an amazing trip with lots of adventures for the entire group. We plan to travel to Europe again in 2014. The exact destinations haven’t been picked yet, but anywhere we go will a good trip, just ask anyone that has traveled with us on the previous seven trips. Look for information in the fall about the next trip and if you miss it in the papers, just give Tammy Brawner (the group leader) a call either at school or at home. We look forward to traveling with you in 2014.