Tag Archives: travel

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 6: Le Louvre, La Fête de la Musique)


Fast forward 14 days……

 …and we’re back in Paris after taking a trip around France!

When we first got back to Paris, we were arriving by coach from Normandy.  We arrived at our hotel in mid-afternoon, ready to hit the town.  Everyone was especially excited because the date was June 21.  You know what that means, right?  Not only is it the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, but all over France, even in the smallest village, it’s La Fête de la Musique http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fête_de_la_Musique, The Music Festival!  This is the one day of the year that people wanting to play music of any kind, professional or amateur, can get out on the streets and show their stuff.  It’s a great big party, and the ambiance is quite festive, and of course, it doesn’t get dark in Paris until after 11:00.

I don’t think my students had ever seen anything like this.  No matter where they went (we were mainly in the Quartier Latin), there was music on ever corner, every space was filled either with musicians, singers, or  spectateurs like us.  We sent the students out for a little free time, groups of 4+, and I’ve been told they had the time of their lives.  You  must know that all of my students were, at the time, 17-18 years old, and they’re all boys.  We only gave them a bit of free time before meeting up again. We saw how much fun they were having, and they seemed well-behaved (nobody was drinking, or not that we could tell), so we let them have a bit more free time.  On the Métro ride back to the hotel, they had lots of stories to tell.  Most of them had the obvious “best” story to tell (they are teenage boys).  They’d seen a group of about ten young French people all stark naked traipsing around in the Fontaine Saint Michel.  That’s something they’re not likely to forget.

We stayed up later than usual that night, but with the promise that nobody would make trouble when the 8:30 wake-up call would come the next morning.  They came through for me, and nobody had on dark sunglasses.  I considered that a success!  We woke up to a rather gloomy day, as far as the weather goes.  There was a light mist, enough for an umbrella, and it was pretty chilly.  Sweater weather.  Good thing we saved Le Louvre http://www.louvre.fr/en for the last day!

We got to the museum at about ten, and fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to know which entrance to use in order to avoid the long lines.  In case you’re not aware, I’ll tell you that you must not use the pyramid entrance.  Rather, you should enter the museum through the Rue Rivoli (Palais Royal)entrance.  However, you may not use this entrance for groups.  If you are like me, traveling with a large group (especially students), send them in groups of no more than three, and not one right after the other.  They catch onto that pretty quickly.

I’ve been to Le Louvre a million times (not really), and on that day I didn’t particularly feel like it.  Instead, I sent them in groups and gave them a meeting point after lunch.  I considered going to see the new Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1605783/ that had just opened (what an awesome movie), but instead I thought I’d better go and check on my colleague who was stuck back at the hotel with a hurt knee.  He was glad for the company, and we had lunch together.  I felt bad that his last day in France was compromised by his injury (I think he’d been doing too much climbing, he’s quite the adventurer).

After I met back with my students, we went to the Champs-Élysées  http://www.champselysees.org/, viewed the Arc de Triomphe  http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/, ate a few macarons from La Durée  http://www.laduree.fr/, and before we knew it, it was time for an early dinner.  After dinner, it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for an early flight out the next morning.

The check-in at Charles de Gaulle http://www.aeroportsdeparis.fr/ADP/en-gb/passagers/home/was “almost” uneventful.  Just a reminder:  No, it is not possible to check in with a bullet keychain.  It’s not possible with a seven-inch dagger either.  Boys . . . what can I say?  But I’m not the one who had to deal with all of that.  My unfortunate, liming colleague had the pleasure, while I prepared to greet my husband and children who were to arrive in Paris the next day, and then we began our two month family vacation in France.  That’s the way I do it every year, I send the students home with the other chaperone, then stay for holidays.  Maybe this year I’ll be able to stay there for good!  If you’re interested, see my other posts about moving to France.

So that’s it for the 2011 tour to Paris with my wonderful group of students.  There was a lot more to see between the time we left the City of Lights and the time we made it back for the Fête de la Musique, but that’s a story or two for another series of posts.  I hope you’ve enjoyed, and if anyone has some suggestions for future student trips, I’m all ears!  Merci, et à bientôt!

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Paris, Je t’aime (Part 5: Montmartre)


After dinner we headed up to Montmartre http://www.aparisguide.com/montmartre/index.html, which is quite close by foot.  We had watched Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulin http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0211915/ in class before our departure, so they thought it was fun to see Le Café des Deux Moulins, the café where Amélie works in the movie.  Just after having a look (from the outside) at the café, we started our uphill trek to the stairs of Le Sacré Coeur http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/.  Many people get to the top of the stairs and are so overcome by the panoramic view of Paris that they forget about the jewel of a Basilica that’s sitting right behind them.  It’s absolutely worth going inside to have a look, even if you’ve been on a tour of Europe and you’ve seen so many churches that they’re all starting to look alike.  Inside, you will find the enormous Byzantine mosaic of Christ.  It’s one of the world’s largest.  Many of my students were more impressed / inspired by Sacré Coeur than by Notre Dame de Paris  http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/.

You can’t take a trip up to Montmartre without exploring the Place du Tertre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_du_TertreIt’s normally filled with artists just waiting for a chance to draw your portrait.  All of these artists are quite talented, or they wouldn’t have a spot in this world famous square.  Portraits can be pricey, but it’s a nice gift for students to bring home to their parents or grandparents.  For something a bit less dear, you can also have a caricature drawn, and that’s a lot of fun, too.  And while you’re at it, don’t neglect the urge to grab a crêpe, but not just anywhere.

Get off of the Place du Tertre and walk down the Rue Mont Cenis and have one at the window of Au Petit Creux http://www.montmartre-guide.com/adherents/page3/i65/le-petit-creux.html.  They’re not the absolute best crêpes in Paris, for that you’ll have to head over to Montparnasse http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/03/the-best-crpes/, but they’re still really good, especially with a big glob of Nutella inside.

After filling up on crêpes we hopped back on the Métro at the Abbesses station, and headed back to our hotel.  After such a full day, I didn’t have to worry too much about room checks.  I think everyone fell asleep within 20 minutes.  This is the last night we’ll be spending in Paris, for now.  We’ll be back for a few more days at the end of the tour.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we will make our way to the Gare de Lyon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris-Gare_de_Lyon where we’ll board the TGV for a five to six hour ride to Nice.

The final post for our trip to Paris will be Paris, Je t’aime (Part 6:  Le Louvre, La Fête de la Musique).  I hope you’re enjoying the blog, and merci.

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 4: Viva la Vida- Paris and all her Friends)


The next morning, day 3, we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit.  We didn’t really get our day started until about 10:00.  Everybody was happily rested, and that’s always a good way to start the day.  At this point, all of the guys were simply delighted at the idea of eating croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes  every morning for breakfast.  By the end of the trip, and I will never understand how this could be, they were really tired of the “continental” breakfast.

We had a big day in store.  We had many things to see in Paris before moving on to the South of France.  On this day, we went out to Versailles.  Many times, I try to get away with not going out there because it’s just way too crowded., but this time the guys really wanted to go.  Our coach driver was nice enough to bring us out there, even though it wasn’t an official part of our tour.  Rather than being dropped off right at the entrance of the Palais de Versailles http://www.chateauversailles.fr/homepage like most of the other tourists, we came upon it from the edge of the gardens.  This allowed us to approach the palace by meandering through the oak lined paths.  We saw Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon http://en.chateauversailles.fr/marie-antoinettes-estate and Le Petit Hameau http://www.pbs.org/marieantoinette/life/hameau.html before seeing the Palais.

Students can enter the palace for free as long as they’re under age 18, and so most everybody did go in.  After visiting, they couldn’t stop talking about the sheer opulence of the place.  I guess the crowds don’t bother them as much as they bother me.  It also helps that they’d just studied about the French Revolution http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/ in history class.

After our trip to the palace, we went into town to the Place du Marché http://millie.furman.edu/versailles/towninfo.htm where there are many small, not terribly expensive restaurants.  Once again, we split up for lunch.  I will recommend going to this part of town for dining.  It’s not really the place where you’ll see hundreds of tourists.  This isn’t because it’s located very far from the palace, but it’s rather  because you have to walk past a lot of other restaurants before arriving there.  Most tourists, I imagine, are tempted by the first places they see.  Some of my students did disappoint me by eating at a Tex-Mex restaurant, but I didn’t tease them for too long.  Apparently they paid a lot of money for a very average, even bad lunch.  Lesson learned!

When we got back to Paris, it was already late afternoon.  It seemed like everyone wanted to get back to the Quartier Latin, imagine that.  We went there for a few hours of free time before heading up to Pigalle  for dinner.  Why would I bring 20 American teenage boys to Pigalle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartier_Pigalle for dinner?  For one thing, it’s cheaper than other areas.  For another thing, they get to see a seedier part of Paris, and between you and me, they like that!  It was all innocent enough, and the food was good.

Next in the “Paris, Je t’aime” series (Part 5), join us on a trip to the highest point in Paris:  Montmartre.

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais)


After lunch, we started a walking tour of Paris.  Since we were already in the 2ème, our guide offered to have us stop by his house right around the corner.  He has the obvious good fortune of owning his own house, right in the very center of Paris.  From the street, you open the oversized, watch-your-step kind of door and move into the entrée of what is actually an apartment building.  Just beyond the entrance and access to the apartments, you happen upon his house.  It’s a pretty quirky place, looks like it could be part of the décor of a Tim Burton movie.  There are books absolutely everywhere, and the walls are covered with artsy posters.  There’s a makeshift mezzanine, that he built himself, where books are stored on shelves.  This is in the living room, which is pretty much the everything room.  A ladder is at one’s disposition to gain access to the overhead books.  In the living room, there’s also a small table and a high-chair, various toys lying around.  It’s a well-used space.  He was hospitable enough to allow anyone in our group use the toilettes.    The stairway that leads to the bedrooms is only wide enough for one not-so-hefty person at a time.  The rooms upstairs echo the wonderfully eccentric tone of the living room, and everything is lovely.

The rest of the first day was spent walking around the Marais district http://goparis.about.com/od/sightsattractions/ss/MaraisTour.htm, one of Paris’ oldest and most gorgeous neighborhoods.  It’s an historically Jewish area, and we stopped in front of a school where we read this plaque, erected in the memory of  Jewish students who were deported between the years of 1942-1944.  They were exterminated in concentration camps.  I had my students do the translation on their own, and then our guide led us through a very comprehensive lesson on how this could have happened, and what led up to the war.  It still gives me chills to remember the silence of my students while standing in front of this school, on the very sidewalk where so many children, now lost, once ran into school in happier days, hoping not to be late.

By the time we had walked around the Marais, Île de la Cité http://www.aparisguide.com/ile-de-la-cite/index.html, and parts of the Quartier Latin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Quarter,_Paris, it was time for dinner.  It was not a very memorable occasion, as I recall.  We went into a supermarket and bought picnic-style goods that could be thrown together quickly and eaten in hotel rooms.  We were all thoroughly exhausted, but we made it through the first day!  Tomorrow, everyone would be ready for our day trip to Chartres http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/81, where we would spend the day at French high school, L’Institution Notre Dame http://ind-chartres.fr/.

Have a look at “Paris, Je t’aime (Part 3)” to see how our day at French high school went!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 1: Métro, Rue Montorgueil)


Upon our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we didn’t waste any time at all.  We went directly into the city, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, and went into town on the Métro. http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/  I had already given my students a lesson on how the Paris Métro works, so even if they were jet-lagged, they managed to do ok as long as we stayed in a group.

We went directly to the 2ème arrondissement where we met up with a good friend of mine who would be our tour guide for the next 16 days. Together, we led the group over to the Rue Montorgueil http://www.thekitchn.com/a-foodlovers-walk-down-the-rue-128435.  I love for this street to be one of our first stops in Paris.  It’s the kind of Parisian street that tourists can visualize even before arriving. It’s a street lined with fromageries, poissonneries, fleuristes, restaurants, cafés, boulangeries, pâtisseries.  It’s a place where Parisians do their daily shopping, all the while taking the time to socialize.  As soon as we got there, I told my wide-eyed students (all boys) that the time had come to put these years of studying French to good use:  C’était l’heure du déjeuner!  (lunch time!!).  I set them out on their own, they were to stay in groups of 4-5.  I remember some of them looking at me as if to say, “Quoi???”  But I believe that the best way to experience something new is sometimes just to jump right in.

We adults chose to have a seat on the terrace of a little restaurant (I can’t remember the name of it!) to enjoy a glass of wine and our first French meal of the summer.  Honestly, we were so tired, I cannot remember what I ate.  I know it was fish, and I know it was good.  What I remember most about this particular trip to the Rue Montorgueil  is meeting up with the guys after lunch.  While walking down the street, we ran into about seven of them who were also seated on the terrace of a cute restaurant.  They were all enjoying lunch, and they’d ordered quite a variety of dishes!  I noticed that one of them was eating steak tartare, and I congratulated him on that.  Then he told me that he should have continued French after sophomore year.  He just saw the word steak and figured he’d be safe.  He was in for a surprise!  But get this… When he received his tartare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare, a dish made from raw ground beef, garnished with onions, capers, seasonings, and a raw egg yolk, three or four waiters came to judge his reaction.  The boys told me that even the chef came outside.  My student dove right in, and said in a rather weak voice and an even weaker smile, “C’est très bon!”, and there was applause all around.  I’m not sure what the staff expected, but I know I was proud!  While I was there talking to them and hearing the story second-hand, some of the waiters came back outside to tell me, obviously le professeur how perfectly delightful this young group of Americans had been.  I’ve never been more proud, good job guys!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’m sure you’ll like this post about when we went to our tour guide’s home in The Marais: Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais).  Join us in visiting a real Parisian home, and a trip around Le Marais.

Traveling to Europe with Students


My experience leading student tours to Europe

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One month prior to departure with my students (about twenty of them this year), I’m beginning to think about everything that goes into putting together a student trip to Europe.  The 2012 trip will be the fourteenth tour that I’ve organized, and the twelfth I’ve led.  Thinking of the many years spent doing this, I decided to do a little calculating just to see how many teenagers I’ve accompanied on trips that last anywhere from 16-29 days:  about 300.

Where I’ve traveled with students

I’ve accompanied students to many countries in Western Europe:  France, England, Spain, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy.  After this summer I’ll be able to add Czech Republic.  These trips are sometimes a bit of a whirlwind, but we have such a good time.  I really love my students, and they (usually) don’t give me any trouble.  They’re all 17-18 years old at the time of the trip, so I’m free to give them a little liberty.  They’re also all  boys, which in many ways is easier than a bunch of teenage girls!

How do I organize the tour? 

I always get started organizing the trip about a year and a half in advance.  It may seem extreme, but a lot goes into planning such an excursion, and it does take time.  It’s also nice to give the students enough time to take on a summer job, or to ask for monetary gifts from family members for birthdays and Christmas.  I believe that opening the tour for enrollment so far in advance allows for more students to sign up in the long run.

The first thing I do is brainstorm about the places I’d like to visit.  It’s simple enough to eliminate cities or regions once you pull out a map and have a look at the logistics of it all.  Once I come up with a rough plan of where I want to go and what I want to do there, it’s time to have a look at the price.  At that point in the game, it’s more than likely time to rework a few things to bring down the cost.  Once I reach a price that seems reasonable (though it’s always expensive), I publish the tour and start getting students to sign up.  The more the merrier, and the more students we have, the less expensive it is too.

Though I am a French teacher, and most of the kids who come with me are my own students, usually about a third of them are not.  These other students may be students of Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Latin or Greek.  I like to keep my tour open to any student who wants to come (after his junior year).  However, I have to be careful about accepting student I don’t know, and who don’t know me.  To help me make an informed decision about allowing to the student to participate, I ask him to provide two faculty recommendations.  That usually helps a lot.

Why do I travel to Europe with students?

Parents, other teachers, friends, and even students ask me why I do this.  Why would I take out 2-4 weeks of my precious summer vacation to bring a bunch of kids over to Europe?  It’s not because I want a free vacation, because it’s much more intense than the school year (think 24/7, 7 days a week).

It’s because there’s nothing like experiencing Europe for the very first time.  Unfortunately, you never get to go again for the first time… Unless you relive the experience through the eyes of your students.

 

I do send the students back to the US with the other chaperone (usually another teacher).  Doing so permits me to spend my remaining two months of vacation in France with my family, who meet up with me in Paris once my students have left.

Any questions or comments? 

Please do ask any questions or write any comments that come to mind.  Especially when I first started organizing these trips, I really found it helpful to toss around ideas with others who had had the experience.

You do tend to come across a lot of negative comments about traveling with students when searching on the Internet.   A lot of it probably does have to do with what kind of students you’re going to be dealing with, but I’d say that the majority of the time it has to do with one’s own attitude and organizational skills.

Bon Voyage

Round-trip or one-way flight to Paris?


Pour mes amis francophones:

En ce moment j’essaie de prendre une décision importante.  Le moment du départ arrivant, je ne sais pas si on doit acheter des billets aller-simple ou des billets aller-retour (deux fois le prix).  Si on achète l’ aller-simple (très tentant), on risque de ne pas vendre la maison avant de partir et on sera bien embêtés du coup!!  Et bien sûr, dès que j’achète l’aller-retour, la maison se vendra sans doute et on aura perdu des milliers de dollars pour rien.  Mais il faut positiver, n’est-ce pas??  Je crois qu’on attendra encore quelques semaines avant de les acheter.  Que ce serait chouette d’être plein de fric et de ne pas avoir à réfléchir comme ça!  Si jamais vous avez des idées de génie, dites-le-moi!

For my English-speaking friends:

Trying to make a very important decision.  Our departure date is quickly approaching, and I don’t know if we should buy one-way tickets or round-trips (twice the price).  If we buy the one-ways  (very tempting), we risk not selling the house before leaving et as a result will be really bothered!!  Of course, as soon as I buy the round-trips, the house will sell and we will have lost thousands of dollars for nothing.  But we have to stay positive, right?  I think we’ll wait a few more weeks before buying them.  How great it would be to have lots of money and not have to think about things like this!  If ever you have a brilliant plan, let me know!

Top Ten Reasons to Live in France


My TOP TEN reasons for wanting to relocate to France:

(maybe I forgot something, or maybe you know better!  in any case, let me know what you think!)

 

Reason # 1

Quality of life


Reason # 2

Work to live, not live to work.  Taking time to enjoy life, spending time with family, longer lunches and dinners.  Slower pace of living.  Sundays are what they used to be in the United States forty years ago.

Reason # 3

Healthier lifestyle, pedestrian friendly cities, beaches, mountains, walks in vineyards.

Reason # 4

High-quality health care system, affordable to all, low cost prescription drugs.

Reason # 5

French gastronomy, locally grown fresh produce markets, bread, cheese, olive oil, Mediterranean diet.

Reason # 6

Easy travel to diverse locations (other European countries); children grow up (with the possibility of)  being exposed to more foreign cultures.  And no matter where you live in France, Paris is just a quick train ride away.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway

Reason # 7 

Some of the best, and most affordable wine regions in the world.  Summer wine festivals in the Languedoc are fabulous.

Reason # 8 

Mediterranean climate:  The weather may not be so fantastic in every part of France year round, but in the Languedoc, it really is quite pleasant most of the time.

Reason # 9

Manners are still important in France, and the vast majority of children are raised to show respect.  This is very important to me.

This is a picture of my son, my niece, and some friends.

Reason # 10

Comparatively low violent crime rate.  We are not planning to live in a big city, but even in Paris I feel safe walking alone at night.

Sell the house, move to France


Hold on tight, here we go!

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Last summer while we were in France for two months, we seriously began to think about the possibility of moving there for good when our children (4 and 7 at the time) begged us not to go back home.  They like France more.  Sounds too simple, right?  But they are children, and that was their only excuse.

We tried reasoning with them, explaining that if we really lived in France, we’d have to work and go to school like everyone else.  That didn’t slow them down.  As it turns out, trying to reason with them quickly turned into trying to reason with ourselves.  Well, we started to think about it.  We’ve wanted to move back to the south of France for 13 years.  Why not just do it?

That’s when it all began.  When we got back to St. Louis last August and geared up for the school year, I went into my first faculty meeting of the year knowing in my heart that it would be my “last first meeting of the year”.  Since then, we’ve been quite busy trying to get our house ready to go on the market.

Now it’s almost May, the house has been on the market 36 days, and we’re playing the waiting game.  It would be so nice to just know where we’ll be in three months time.  No home sale = No move to France (not for another whole year).

In my next post I’ll summarize how we’ve spent the last nine months preparing for the big move.

Look out Europe, here we come!



We’re on the real countdown now…  In exactly one week 11 of my students and I will leave on our 23 day European Capitals trip.  First stop, London.  I’m officially starting my version of the sun dance today, and will continue it everyday until we leave the UK.  Had lunch with my college age son today and he just laughed and laughed when I reminded him that I’m bringing these eleven 17 year old guys to Amsterdam.  What’s so funny about going to Amsterdam with a bunch of teenage boys???   This is gonna be fun.  I’m especially looking forward to my annual excursion to Space Electronique nightclub in Florence.  Just CAN”T GET ENOUGH of chaperoning a bunch of teenagers in a club where they don’t open till midnight and they serve alcohol.  Just CAN”T GET ENOUGH of that!  So, I’m thinking of putting together a sort of scavenger hunt for some of these cities we’re going to.  If anyone has any ideas for any of these places, please let me know!  Time’s running short now!  Here’s the list:  London, Amsterdam, Heidelberg, Cologne, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence, Assisi, Rome, Lucerne, Paris & Madrid.  Come on y’all… help a girl out!