Wednesday 10 Feb, 2010

Around the world with EF staff: Recollections from Dublin, London and Paris

By Catherine Henkels, EF Tour Consultant

In October, I embarked on my first EF Educational Tour. I had traveled to Europe before on my own and with a group, but never on an EF tour and I was excited to find out what it was all about. The tour I went on was Dublin, London and Paris, a tour that visits three countries in only 10 days. The advantages of traveling with a group became evident pretty quickly, as it would be difficult to see as much as we did in such a short time.

I traveled with a group from Indianapolis, Indiana, and there was at least one person on the tour who had never left the state before.  The EF staff greeted the Hoosiers at the airport in Dublin, and despite many hours of travel, they were happy to be there. In what I soon learned would be a recurring theme throughout this tour, we didn’t let jetlag slow us down.

The first day in Dublin we took a walking tour to gain our bearings, and after dinner, most of the group ventured out to see what Dublin was like at night. The group leader decided that boys and girls should split up for the adventure into the city. My colleague, Emily, and I accompanied the girls to explore Dublin by night. We walked around the Temple Bar area, where street performers drew crowds. The students got a kick out of seeing the human statues and the different styles of the locals. Dublin was definitely a nice introduction to Europe for this group, which was comprised of many new travelers. There was very little in the way of language barriers and there was no need to use public transportation, as Dublin is a smaller city and easily walkable. We could gain our bearings and adjust to our new surroundings, without adding the additional maze of mass transit systems.

Next, we were off to Wales. We took an early morning ferry over to Holyhead. The ferry wasn’t what I had envisioned at all; I was expecting a small, simple boat to carry us across the Irish Sea, but the ferry had an arcade, a theater and shops to buy food. In other words, it was a large ship with many amenities to make for a very comfortable ride. Once we arrived in Wales, we boarded a bus and made our way to Beaumaris, a small coastal town that boasts a beautiful castle. Many people chose to sample the fish and chips there for lunch due to a recommendation from our tour director, Paul, and they were delicious!  We even stopped quickly in the town with the longest name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which made for a nice photo opportunity.

Catherine Henkels in Paris

We then drove through Snowdonia National Park before stopping for the evening in Llangollen, Wales. While there wasn’t much to see or do in Llangollen, it was nice to take a break from the bus and walk around enjoying some fresh country air. We were not in Llangollen for long because we had an early start the next day. On the way to London, we stopped at Warwick Castle and in Stratford to see Shakespeare’s birthplace.

Everyone was excited to get to London and to see a larger city. The one challenge was making our way through the Tube. Indianapolis doesn’t have a subway system so most of the group wasn’t experienced with navigating one, not to mention the challenges for a group of more than 40 people to navigate it together. Luckily with great directions and the group working together to make sure no one was left behind, we successfully made our way to Leicester Square.

The next couple of days in London were filled with visiting the sights, from Hampton Court to the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace. There was rarely a down moment. On the last evening in London, the adults challenged the students to lead them back to the hotel on the Tube. It was amazing to see how far the students had come in only a couple of days as they successfully navigated the Tube back to the hotel.

After our time in London, we were off to Paris on the Eurostar. This train ride was a nice change of pace from the buses, and it allowed us to arrive in Paris in what felt like no time at all. We were met in Paris by a local guide and taken on a tour of the city. After our guided sightseeing, we had dinner and explored Montmartre, where people were able to poke into different shops and even have their portrait drawn by a local artist. The next morning, we headed to the Louvre and Notre Dame, before ending the day by going to the Eiffel Tower and taking a cruise down the Seine. After the cruise, we stayed to watch the new light show at the Eiffel Tower.

I’m still impressed by how much we were able to do and see in only 10 days. The amount of confidence gained by the students over the course of this tour cannot be measured, but there definitely was a change in the students that I met in Dublin and the ones I said goodbye to in Paris. And I believe that the change was certainly a positive one. This EF tour helped to reinforce my belief in the importance of travel and cross cultural experiences.