"If there's anything I've learned from this trip, it's to not be scared. When the opportunity comes to laugh, fall in love, see a new place, meet someone and experience a piece of history- take it. God is handing you a piece of His creation, take it, breathe it and live it." So say the last words in my journal from my trip to Europe.
Ever since I was a little girl, my mom would tell me stories of her trip to Europe when she was in high school. Since then, I always have wanted to have my own European adventure. Well, thankfully, last autumn, my dream came true when my good friend Nathan Marshall, an English teacher at Brooke High School, asked if my sister and I wanted to accompany him and a group of students to tour London and Paris.
I couldn't believe it. Never had I thought an opportunity like this would come along, but it did.
Standing next to the Statue of Liberty at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, France are, front row from left, Rachel Richard, Rachel Reardon, Nikki Conaway, Alana Coen, Jennifer Shaffer, Caitlin Luck, Jae Luck; back row from left, Melody Coen, Roland Fisher III, Shannon Reardon, Amy Shaffer, Rossalyn Richard, Albert Blake Headen, Nathan Marshall and Lindsay Chiodi. Below, Alana and Melody Coen pose for a picture at Windsor Castle.
To be honest I'm not sure how to describe our trip to Europe. I believe one has to experience the countries firsthand to really understand how it feels to walk the streets of Bath, to stand before Notre Dame Cathedral and to feel the history of the Tower of London. So, the best way I know how to share the experience is through my journal, along with some help from our group.
'So, we always ended up being a step behind.'
No trip is complete without a few mishaps, of course. The day before we left was filled with checklists, double-checking bags, shopping for last-minute toiletries and reassuring parents with phone numbers, hotel addresses and itineraries. Should be smooth flying, right? Nope.
Just a couple hours before we were to meet the group at Brooke High, my sister, Alana, who came up from Fairmont, W.Va., found she left her passport in her residence hall. Roland Fisher III, my boyfriend, who was coming from Friendsville, Md., was still doing last-minute packing. So, while I went to meet the group Alana and my mom ran back down to Fairmont, and Roland finally left Maryland for West Virginia.
While I waited for them, the rest of the group went to grab a bite to eat before going to the airport. By the time my family and Roland arrived, and we met them at Wendy's, the group was ready to head toward the airport. We always seemed to be a step behind. And we still had to go through security and bag check at the airport! Finally, after a quick lunch, my family, Roland and I made it to the airport and caught up with the group.
'I feel like something magical should happen on this trip.'
On the way, my fellow travelers and I talked excitedly about all the sights we would see, such as Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Kensington Gardens, the Globe Theater - all the places that come to mind when one thinks about England and France.
However, for me the trip was about discovering something more than Windsor Castle, or eating a baguette. It was about finding inspiration and hope; becoming part of something big. I've read hundreds of books, and it always has seemed like when a young lady travels to Europe for the first time, she finds excitement, mystery, intrigue and falls in love; becomes a part of history. I wanted that. I wanted to come back feeling like I had touched a part of God's creation, a part of history.
It turns out I wasn't the only one who was thinking this.
"I collect stories, moments in life and I use them to illustrate points in my classroom. I have realized that students want to be led by a teacher who is still living life, not one who goes home and sits on the couch every night. As the poet Charles Bukowski so elegantly penned in his poem 'The Laughing Heart,' 'your life is your life/don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.' By going on adventures like these, my students help me continue to keep my life out of a 'dank submission,' and in turn, I believe I help them set their life on a path to do the same," said Marshall.
'It was like you could feel the past living and breathing there.'
At first, the cities of London and Paris felt overwhelming. There was so much to see. Big Ben, Oxford, Stonehenge, Shakespeare's birthplace, Anne Hathaway's cottage, the shows - sometimes it seemed it was over in an instant. We took in so many sights and shows during those short 10 days, including "Blood Brothers" at the Phoenix Theater. Days were filled with places such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Louvre Museum, the London Eye and the Globe Theater.
Time went so fast, and sometimes I felt like we were missing the moment, especially when we were on the tour bus for quite a while. Then, however, we would step out into the city, or museum, or see a play, such as "Love Never Dies." A breath of history, magic, beauty and hope would fill my lungs. Standing next to famous works of arts, such as the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite, and Van Gogh's Sunflowers made me feel amazing ... but grateful, too. Looking around at the rest of the group, I could see they felt it, too. We felt as if we could do anything, but yet we all understood we were lucky to be where we were.
"The Europe trip has inspired me to chase after what I really want in life. From seeing all the amazing accomplishments the people we encountered achieved just gives me even more hope," said student Rachel Richard.
"Walking around the cities such as Bath, Stratford and Oxford made me realize all the beauty that is out there in the world," said my sister Alana.
"I think this trip made me realize how fortunate we are and have been in this country. No matter how much money other countries supposedly have, we are lucky to have the luxuries we do in this country. It also taught me to slow down, to step back, and to enjoy the simple moments in life, because at the end of your days, you could have taken a million trips like these, but it is all worthless if you haven't devoted yourself to God and your fellow man," said Marshall.
Europe did have its magical moments. From touring the streets to lunch outside a Parisian cafe, every moment spent with loved ones was such a blessing. Every laugh, smile and conversation was incredible. Whether we were watching "Much Ado About Nothing," which starred David Tennant and Catherine Tate, or eating at the first Hard Rock Cafe, or touring Windsor Castle, we knew to make each moment count. One such moment was when Roland later surprised me at home with something he had written on the wall at Abbey Studios. And of course, none of us will forget the Chinese fire drill at the Paris train station. I know I won't. Even that crazy place has its special moment in my heart.
Then again, I thought the best part was how close we all became, especially those of us that were with our sisters, including myself. Sure, we all stuck together as a group, but then there were times when the sisters would break off together. I still laugh out loud and smile when I think of Alana and me walking the streets of Bath together, touring the British museum, posing as statues at Buckingham Palace and at the Eiffel Tower. Those are days that I will never forget with her. And I know the others had their special moments, too. We knew to cherish each moment because deep down we sadly knew this probably wouldn't happen again.
"I felt as if I was with my family." - Albert Blake Headen
It's true. There were 15 of us in the group, including four pairs of sisters. Some of us were old friends and some were new to the group.
"After our first couple days together it was like we had known each other forever," said student Shannon Reardon.
"I love that I now have such a special connection with people that I had never even met before going on the trip. We became so close so quickly. Also, I love that my sister and I will share these memories forever; it was definitely a huge bonding experience for us," said Rachel Reardon.
"That was the most amazing part of the trip. Not the fact that we were gallivanting all over Europe, but that we actually got to take a break from the mundane doldrums of the society that we are constantly inundated with and get to share a moment with a wonderful group of people. A group of people that most likely will never be able to get together and share a moment like this with again. That was the ultimate experience. That was the reward," said Marshall.
And in those 10 days overseas, we did make memories that would last a lifetime. Memories such as wand battles near Buckingham Palace, saving Blake and Lindsay Chiodi from the Metro doors in Paris, writing on the wall at Abbey Road Studios, drinking the water at the Roman Baths, and visiting Platform 9 3/4. We shared secrets, stories, jokes and dreams late into the night. We went from mere strangers to an inseparable group of people who care for one another. I know this because, thanks to Facebook, I now find that we continue to share in one another's accomplishments, joys, hopes and heartaches. We all may have found inspiration, hope, adventure and love on this trip, but we also came back with something unexpected - a new family.