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CHS Went to Europe!

On the morning of April 7th, nineteen Cortland High School juniors and seniors left on a school bus headed to Newark Airport with three World Language teachers. This trip was 3 years in the making, obviously skipping 2021 due to the pandemic. The theme of our trip was definitely “just roll with it” and taught all of us that traveling is never, ever what you expect it to be.

We landed in Paris on Friday, April 8th after a very long wait at the airport in the states and a 6+ hour flight to France. With a thankfully uneventful pass through customs and immigration, we met our wonderful tour guide, Emmanuelle, and off we went! Our first day in Paris was cold and rainy but we saw so much! We were able to see a great deal of the city on our walking tour including Notre Dame, La Sorbonne, The Luxembourg Gardens, and much of Ile St. Louis. We were lucky enough to have a visit from a CHS grad (‘21), Emma Holl, who joined us for dinner. One of our favorite experiences was learning to make baguettes in a real French bakery (and getting to snack on them later!)

Day 2 brought us sun, a guided visit of le Musée d’Orsay, a walk along the Champs Elysées to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, our first lunch on our own, and the moment everyone was waiting for - La Tour Eiffel!!! Dinner on this evening was fast paced and a little chaotic but the walk back to the Métro through the Champs de Mars and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up made the stress all worth it!

Day 3 we boarded a coach bus to Normandy. We saw the breathtaking Omaha Beach from the American Cemetery. It was a very moving experience and the only complaint that we had was that we did not get to spend enough time there. The weather was perfect to be able to honor all of the fallen soldiers and their ultimate sacrifice. We stopped in Arromanches for lunch. It is a beautiful little town on the English Channel and was the site of the man-made harbor that allowed the Allied troops to get supplies to the battles taking place further inland. Our third stop of the day brought us to Bayeux to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. All of us were moved by the visits of the day and we all wished that we were able to spend more time learning about D-Day and the subsequent fight for freedom. We returned to Paris for one last dinner together at a restaurant right across the street from our hotel. It was delicious and the waitstaff was incredibly kind and accommodating. We had a great time laughing and discussing our day. 

Day 4 meant a sad “au revoir” to Emmanuelle at the Orly Airport and then we boarded a plane to Spain. We had a quick layover in Barcelona then a second plane to Sevilla! We landed to a rainy day but our guide, David, was so full of enthusiasm that we quickly forgot about the weather.  We took our bags back to the hotel, did a quick clean up, then off we went to our first Spanish dinner! SO. MANY. TAPAS. This was our first experience 
with Spanish tapas, small dishes meant to share amongst all diners. We got very full, very quickly, but there were still more plates! This was our first taste of how caring and accommodating the Spanish can be when it comes to dining and food intolerances. I am personally allergic to garlic and onions (sad existence, I know…) and we had a vegetarian student and a student with gluten and dairy intolerances. All 3 of us felt seen and heard when it came to food in Spain. We were all given special dishes that we were all able to eat and enjoy each course with everyone else. After dinner, some people went for a walk and some stayed back at the hotel. We met with Mr. Edwards via Zoom to chat about our trip before going to bed.

Day 5 was super rainy once again. We started with a walking tour, saw the most beautiful palace - the Royal Alcázar of Sevilla which is still used as a residence for the Royal Spanish Family. After, we took a detour to get out of the rain which thankfully stopped quickly. We found some lunch - many of us had shawarma despite there being the temptation of a McDonald’s next door! We took our tasty delights and boarded a tour boat to take us on a 1-hour tour of the Guadalquivir River. Afterwards, we toured the Plaza de Toros to learn about the history of bullfighting in Spain. We walked back to the hotel to clean up for a night of the history of Flamenco, a dance lesson, and an amazing Flamenco performance that will stick with many of us for a lifetime. For dinner, we ate at the famous La Hosteria del Laurel where we had yet again, course upon delicious course of tapas!

On day 6 we woke up bright and early to get on the AVE, the high speed train, to get to Barcelona. We arrived to find it raining, AGAIN, but that didn’t stop us! We took our bags to our rooms and set out for a walking tour of Las Ramblas, looking at La Pedrera, La Casa Batlló, the cathedral, among other really great sights. We were also able to stop by El Corte Inglès, a HUGE department store, to do a little shopping. One of our favorite moments of this day was seeing the Plaça de Catalunya and interacting with the pigeons. We walked through the Boqueria market before finding our restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we took the metro and returned to the hotel for the evening.

Day 7 was our first full day in Barcelona. We woke up to get another delicious breakfast at the hotel then set off to visit La Sagrada Familia, Anotoni Gaudí’s most famous work. This church has been under continuous construction for over a century. We were in awe during the 
entire tour, from the carefully detailed sculptures outside, to the tree-like columns and stained glass inside. It was an unforgettable experience. We left the basilica to walk to a park where we had some free time. Some of us walked around, some of us found the little rowboat pond and took a tour around for about 30 minutes or so. Regardless of what we did, we had fun doing it. For lunch, we headed to Barceloneta, a beachy area on the Mediterranean Sea. Some people ate quickly and headed right to the sand. They played beach volleyball with some locals and dipped their toes in the water. About 2 hours later, we packed up and took the bus toward the city center to take our cooking class. We learned to make paella in addition to several other Spanish dishes like Crema Catalana (like a crème brulée), Salmorejo (a cold tomato and garlic blended soup), Pan Con Tomate (tomato bread), and Tortilla Española (a Spanish omelet with eggs and potatoes). This was probably everyone’s favorite meal because we made it ourselves.

On our last day of the trip, we all started our day with a mandatory COVID test. WE WERE ALL NEGATIVE and therefore cleared to travel back to the United States the next morning. After the anticipation of waiting for the results, we were able to visit the Barcelona soccer stadium and tour its museum/grounds. On the tour we saw the opposing team’s locker rooms, the press room, we could take a virtual 360 tour of the stadium, and even attempt to make a goal against the robot goalkeeper. Some of our students actually made a goal! When we were finished with the tour and had purchased our goodies, we took a bus up to the Monjuïc cable car. At the top of the hill, we toured an old castle, saw the harbor from a different angle, and walked down. About half way back to the bottom of the hill, we stopped for a little chat with David to talk about the fun we had been having on the trip. We talked about things we loved, things we’d miss, and things we wish we could have changed on the trip. It was a lovely way to spend 30 minutes together. After our little rest, we were up and at it again. We stopped by for a superficial look at the former Olympic Stadium and found ourselves at an old bull ring that had been transformed into a shopping mall. Since it was Good Friday, there weren’t any stores open. Our dinner restaurant was located at the top of the shopping center and we had wonderful views of the city. After dinner, we RAN to the Monjuïc Magic Fountains to enjoy a show of lights, music and dancing water. It was beautiful and a memorable way to end our time in Europe together. We said goodnight at the hotel, made sure to pack our things to be ready for the morning, and we went to bed.

Saturday morning was the hardest. None of us were eager to leave, but all of us were missing some part of home - whether it was our families, our pets, or even just our own beds. Knowing that there was something good waiting for us made the departure a little easier. We had a very uneventful check in at the airport, said a tearful goodbye to David, and got to our gate with plenty of time to spare. We used up the last of our Euros hanging out in our pockets (let’s be honest, we basically cleared the airport shops of Fanta Limón in order to get rid of all of those burdensome coins!) Upon landing in the US, we cleared Customs quickly and painlessly. We met our fabulous bus driver, hopped on a big yellow Cortland City Schools bus and drove nonstop back to CNY. We were met with so many hugs, lots of “thank you’s” and plenty of “I’m so glad you’re back’s”.

Mr. Kinsella, Mr. Palm and I could not have asked for a more open, enthusiastic, and adventurous group of students to travel with. We cannot thank the parents and BOE enough for trusting us to be able to show our students the world beyond their comfort zones. It is our pleasure to take on the stress of planning these trips to be able to watch the magic unfold and see the world from their perspective.