Two dozen local students made the world their classroom earlier this summer during a two-week trip to Europe.
A total of 25 area students and 2014 graduates took part in the trip. Most of the young people were from Henry County Public Schools and a few were from Martinsville City Public Schools, according to group leaders Elizabeth Jones, who teaches French at Bassett High School, and Karen Knopp, who teaches French at Magna Vista. In all, 44 people took part, including parents and chaperones.
The group visited France, Spain, Monaco and Italy from June 18 to July 1. Participants visited some places they had learned about in history classes and had a chance to put their language skills to use.
In Paris, stops included the Eiffel Tower, Palace of Versailles, Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre (Sacré-Coeur), Louvre museum (one of the biggest museums in the world and home to the “Mona Lisa”), Tuileries Garden (a formal garden next to the Louvre) and Arc de Triomphe (a triumphal arch at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, which is one of the world’s most famous streets). The group also saw Notre-Dame Cathedral and the love-lock bridge near it.
“It’s fun for students to see the Eiffel Tower the first time and see its sheer size,” Jones said.
At the Palace of Versailles, some students remembered learning about the Hall of Mirrors in their European history class in school.
Students also took a boat trip on the Seine River to see Paris, the City of Lights, at night. “They loved it. They couldn’t take enough pictures,” Jones said.
Winston Hoyle, a rising junior at Bassett High School, “made selfie pictures everywhere — with the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo” and many landmarks, Jones said.
Also in Paris, after Bassett High student Caroline Snead made a purchase at a pastry shop, “we explained to the worker that she also worked in a similar shop in the U.S. (Uptown Sweets), so he invited her behind the counter for a picture as if she worked in the shop,” Jones said.
From Paris, the group traveled to Barcelona and visited such sights as Las Ramblas (a famous boulevard), La Sagrada Familia (an unfinished cathedral with distinctive architecture by Antoni Gaudi), Parque Guell (which a Barcelona tourist guide describes as “a magical park with amazing buildings, sculptures and tile work” designed by Gaudi) and open-air plazas.
From Barcelona, the group went to Carcassonne, a historic fortified city in southern France, and Provence.
The group toured the French Riviera, one of the most famous coastlines in the world.
In Nimes, the group visited sites including the Pont du Gard, the most spectacular part of a 31-mile aqueduct built in the first century A.D., and the Nimes Amphitheater, also built nearly 2,000 years ago and, after being remodeled, still in use today for public events, such as concerts and bullfights.
In Avignon, the group visited the Palais des Papes (palace of the popes). Avignon was the seat of papacy from about 1309 to about 1417.
The group also visited the principality of Monaco (known as the millionaire’s playground), nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea.
Jones said Monaco is on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. The group saw the changing of the guard at the palace in Monaco and the tomb of actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly at the Monaco Cathedral.
“People still bring flowers to her tomb. A lot of the students didn’t know who Grace Kelly was,” Jones said.
The group took a walking tour of Nice, France, known for its beaches, museums, ancient Roman ruins and more. Some members of the group swam in the Mediterranean there.
From the French Riviera, the group traveled to Italy to visit Pisa, Florence, Assisi and Rome. The group visited the leaning Tower of Pisa. Jones said the tower is not as tall as many people expect. It was designed as a circular bell tower that would stand 185 feet high, and is considered one of the most remarkable architectural structures from medieval Europe.
The group visited the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and took a guided tour of Vatican City, which included seeing Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. The tour of Rome included visits to the Roman Colosseum and the Roman Forum, a center of business, the administration of justice, cult and other activities in ancient Rome.
Winston said: “I really enjoyed France, Barcelona and Italy. I liked Paris the most. It’s a very cultured city, and the food is extremely good.”
Winston especially liked the crepes filled with peanut butter and/or Nutella. Crepes are like extremely thin pancakes.
“It (the trip) was very educational. I took French. It was good having a connection from the classroom to real life,” he said.
“I tried to use it (French) as much as I could,” he said. “I used it almost every place I went. ... Most people thought I was French by the way I talked,” he said. He felt the French he met respected Americans more who could speak French than those who couldn’t.
Kayla Webb, a rising 11th-grader at Magna Vista High School, also said the trip was fun and educational.
“I got to see amazing sights. It was really awesome,” she said. “I really enjoyed it. The different countries were beautiful.”
Her favorite stops included Versailles, the Louvre, Carcassonne and the Roman Colosseum.
Jones and Knopp said they encouraged students, when conversing with locals, to speak the foreign language they had learned. Most of the students on the trip were French students but some are Spanish students, and they helped each other.
“We had a wonderful trip, and students learned so much,” Knopp said.
She said the trip was an educational adventure, not a vacation, and the days were long, from wakeup at 6:30-7 a.m. to returning to the hotel at 7:30, 8 or even 10 p.m. A tour guide who spoke five languages accompanied the group throughout the trip.
Knopp said the cost of the trip for students was more than $3,000 per person and was arranged through EF Educational Tours.