A Travellerspoint blog

Wifi no wifi

Sharing is not always a good thing

Italy is a different kettle of fish. The hotel in Paris was pretty nice, oddly laid out rooms by NA standards but nice. Our first Italian hotel was interesting. Nice. Small rooms. No wifi. It wasn't working we were told, but it would be fixed in the morning. The morning clerk looked surprise when we asked. Wifi? No wifi. Sorry.
Ok. We thought we would find wifi somewhere. Not in Italy. Not Rome anyways. The Internet cafe around the corner from the hotel, the one that closes at 11 pm, closes whenever they feel like closing so we were a little disappointed when we went there after dinner. Carp diem, seize the day, or in this case, the opportunity when it arises. Oh well. If you are reading this before our return you know we did find wifi.

We had a wake up call for our first day in Rome which was not really needed. Starting at 6 am on our street people started assembling their kiosks for the day's market. Clothes, electronics, fruit and veggies, trinkets and more were being offered up for the right price. This was no Moss Street market, this was the livelihood of these people eeking out a living against the backdrop of little shops and a high end bakery. We did not have time to practise the art of bartering because we were off to see the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was packed with tourists like us all wanting to see this piece of history. Check out Rick Steves short on YouTube about the Colosseum as you will get a better idea about it and see it without fighting the crowds. But there is nothing like experiencing the real thing crowds or no crowds.
After the Colosseum we headed to the Vatican. A long line moved quickly and we were in St. Peter's Basilica. All were moved to be in the same place where the Pope resides and holds Mass. After, we walked out of the country back to Italy to have lunch, then back into the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. While in the Sistine Chapel a priest appeared at the alter and blessed the crowd. He invited people to come to the alter to be blessed by him, an opportunity some of us were able to take. We felt privileged and honoured to be part of that. I won't bore you with how amazing the artwork is or what a beautiful experience this part of the trip was but know that if you make it here I am certain it will be an experience you won't forget.
Time constraints tho forced us to leave there sooner than we would have liked. The day continued a little altered from our itinerary because people had been going flat out since we left and we needed to slow down a little. A few of us have caught colds from one another due to out close proximity but no one is complaining, and it is a testament to the kind of people we have on this trip as students ask each other how they are doing knowing that a few have not been 100%. We are lucky to have such great kids. A few more sights, dinner, and off to bed for our last sleep in Rome.
The bus ride to Assisi was beautiful in parts. The countryside is similar to ours but with different plants and animals. Assisi itself was beautiful. We have been blessed with good weather and in Assisi it was hot. The basilica was stunningly beautiful and our guided tour informative. A great calf workout climbing the hill for lunch along narrow one car lanes lined with shops and eateries. Above Assisi there were patches of snow, yet shorts and t-shirts would almost be appropriate in town.

After Assisi we left for Florence. The hotel has wifi hence the double blog tonight. The hotel is strange. Room 315 is on the first floor, 301 is on the 3rd floor, and to get to the ground floor where one of the rooms is you have to go to the first floor first, then down the zigzag hall then down some stairs. I think someone studying rat cognition designed this place. Old but nice. Some of the rooms are quite large, and a room of 3 boys have a heart shaped tub in their bathroom!

Another Italian 3 course meal and a walkabout and we are off to bed.

Tomorrow we are back to a full on touring day.

Caio for now

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by MadameBallam 13:58 Comments (0)

There was a bit of a revolt

Nothing like racing to your departure gate for your connecting flight to find nobody there!

Today we said goodbye to Paris. We new this day would come, but it was sad nonetheless. We said good bye to our tour guides from the past few days and we boarded our bus with two new tour guides and headed for Versailles. This Harry Potter bus with its expert driver at the helm was able to negotiate the tightest of turns and the narrowest of openings with nary a scratch. After an extensive tour of the gardens we were free to roam the property. Of course it would be impossible to cover the entire 800 hectares that is Versailles, but it was nice to wander around on the Sun King's estate basking in his name sake's warmth.

The time soon came to enter the Palace and the students were treated to the sumptuous sights of ostentatious decor. Putting it all together; the orange and lemon trees in the garden, the fountains with gold leaf statues, the sheer size of the palace, and the opulence within, it was very clear why the starving peasants revolted. All this wealth separated by some gates and some guards. No match for the angry mobs who wanted the head of the country's head. Grade nine Social Studies came alive and, at least that part of the curriculum, made sense.

We were treated to a brown bag lunch; a large salad with cheese and a soft boiled egg, a sandwich on a chewy baguette, a muffin, and a coke. Yummy. But the number of salads that were not eaten was significant, so be sure to double dose the veggies when we return.

After lunch we went to Charles de Gaulle and said good bye to our most recent guides.

Check in at the Air France terminal was as smooth as the Appalachians. It is all automated now, and checking in 35 people on finicky kiosks was a bit difficult. It took over an hour to check in! KLM and Air France will be hearing from us. However, we all managed to get tickets and luggage tags and found our way onto the plane to Amsterdam.

The turn around time at the air port was short. We had to get from C 15 to D 81 in less than 20 minutes. Thank goodness for moving sidewalks. Of course once at D 81 we observed that we were the only people there and, astutely I might add, figured out that our tickets were perfectly wrong. Checking the departure board we discovered that we needed to be at gate C 13. We had less than 10 minutes to get back to where we had been. Thank goodness for moving sidewalks.

The flight to Rome is pleasant enough, and we were surprised to be served food. More sandwiches, but food is food. We are enroute to Rome as I type.

We are looking forward to having a dedicated tour guide and tour bus; no more metro! As exciting and cultural as it may be to experience that part of the French lifestyle, it is nerve wracking to ensure all are indeed aboard.

The forecast looks promising and the kids are excited. We will sleep well tonight and we have a full day tomorrow.

Caio for now.

Posted by MadameBallam 13:54 Comments (1)

They all screamed...

It was a chilling experience.

Today we did a walk about in the Latin Quarter after visiting Notre Dame. Notre Dame was a treat and a half. When we arrived there was a choral service in progress that was being filmed and recorded. The singers were students of similar age to our students, and obviously they were a practised choir. It was like the sound of angels emanating throughout the cathedral and we spend some time sitting there immersed in the experience.

After Notre Dame, and before the Latin Quarter, there was Berthillon. We asked the students if they wanted to go to the Latin Quarter or go to Berthillon and there was a unanimous decision for the latter. They all screamed for what Berthillon is famous for: ice cream and sorbet. Small portions for a big price, but the small portions are absolutely delicious and worth it. Sugared up we made it to the Latin Quarter in no time marching "lock-step" across Pont des Arts ... After a tour it was time for lunch and shopping. Some students have really stepped up to the plate (sorry) and eaten escargot, steak tartare, and other fine French cuisine. When they order they are so happy to be able to practice their French and have it actually work! It's really cool to witness. What a concept!

After lunch more walking with the Louvre as our destination. Dan Brown's fiction was illuminated as we walked through the highlights tour of Venus, Freedom, and the most famous, La Joconde. Along the way we learned about the history of this once palace and some of the 350, 000 art treasures there. After the tour we walked even more and did some shopping before hopping on the metro to head for dinner. Another fabulous meal and a special cake for Phoebe as we sang Happy Birthday in both of Canada's official languages.

Tomorrow is a travel day, and we arrive late in Rome. I don't think I will be writing tomorrow, but who knows.

Au revoir for now.

P.S. Forgot to mention bubbles. We left the Louvre and we were figuring out how to get to the next stop when suddenly, to my surprise, there appeared a bubble man! It was interesting to see how much entertainment one can have with giant bubbles, especially after a long art history lesson. Of course once 29 students ran across the street to watch him other people stopped to watch too. Whether it was the bubbles or the ninja ballet dancer is anyone's guess. If you don't understand that comment, you will when we return and I share all our pictures with you.

Posted by MadameBallam 14:29 Comments (2)

Students got high


Seizing their opportunity away from parents, students chose to get high a second time today over the eternal flame. The view from the Arc de Triomphe was surprisingly spectacular. At the intersection of 12 streets stands this Napoleonic monument, below which is the tomb of the unknown soldier, a WWI soldier. We decided to visit this monument after dinner instead of shopping on the Champs l'Elyssees, and after climbing 287 steps we were treated to quite a sight. Lights from the cars travelling up and down the streets wove an ever changing tapestry of light, and 5 minutes later the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkled like moonlight on the ocean.

I said this was the second time they got high, because for sheer height the Eiffel tower trumps the Arc de Triomphe. The third observation deck, the choice of most students, stands 276 m high, a height from which you can see the whole of Paris on a clear day. We didn't see the whole of Paris, but we had a good time anyway.

The day started with a trip to a local market. Market means several blocks of shops on a skinny street where trucks stop to unload their wares and any driver caught behind the truck has no choice but to wait. Students observed how the locals shop, and did some shopping themselves. Then it was off to the Musee D'Orsay, home of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Degas, Monet, Mannet, and many others. It left a real "impression" on the students. From there we finished our day as previously described.

If you havent heard, students are happy and healthy and we definitely did not lose any of them today. I was told to tell you that latter part by them. They are becoming very good at catching trains and only a couple of 3 day passes have been lost, almost lost, or mutilated. FYI. Wallets make a great gift for male students. Simple ones with a few slots for things like student cards or Metro tickets. But they have to come with a training manual and lessons to reinforce their usefulness. Just a friendly birthday/Christmas idea.

Tomorrow we have a full day and sleep is paramount in order to enjoy it fully. We bid you adieu and will be in touch tomorrow.

Posted by MadameBallam 15:51 Comments (0)

Lost in Paris

Learning by experience

Say what you will about us having high expectations, but we really want to return with the same number of students we left with. Mr. Keleher insisted on that this time, so you can imagine what was going through our heads when the metro trains doors closed and we watch two familiar faces disappear as we sped away on our day's journey. We had a quick discussion about what to tell Andrew. There was some debate about our next move. The students insisted on a vote and the majority wanted us to wait for them. Luckily, the metro stragglers listened to prior instructions and they showed up on the next train.

Now the students board much faster.

Prior to that minor event we had a wonderful breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, croissants, pain au chocolat, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, espresso, and more, before we met our fabulous guide, a British French woman who was informative and funny. We started the day with a metro ride to Les Invalides and a walk about: Pont Alexandre III, Les Champs Élysées, La Place de la Concord, l'hotel Sully, and the Jewish district where we had the opportunity to buy sumptuous eclairs from L'eclairs de genie ( as featured in House Hunters International). They were out of this world. After that we had lunch, vacation style (dessert first). Students had to fend for themselves and practise French to get their food.

Another metro ride and we were at Sacre Coeur and La place de Tertre where the artists inhabit the square where Picasso hung out. Surrounded by shops and eateries the students again practised their French and many bought goodies. Then down the hill for a photo opportunity at the Moulin Rouge. More metro experiences without losing anyone and we were at L'opera Garnier for more walking and then a bit of indulgence in the world of the insanely rich, the 120,000€ watch store; Les Galeries Lafayettes. You read that price correctly. Afterwards, another lovely dinner (fish) and a scrumptious dessert.

More metro and walking under the stars to return to our hotel room to catch up on sleep. But before bed time, a twinkling light display of the Eiffel Tower enjoyed for 5 min on the hour each hour and off to bed we said.

Then a knock on the door and an apologetic student stating "We broke a bed. There was an eerie screech and the bed rose up like a ghost". Upon investigation we found that there is a lever that allows the bed to rise several feet for ease of changing the sheets. We want one.

Who knows what adventures await us tomorrow, but rest assured you will hear about them.

Good night

Not to worry, there was an adult with the metro stragglers, but the story is much better without mentioning that tidbit.

Posted by MadameBallam 15:54 Comments (0)

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