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TeacherCanada escorts 36 students to France and Spain and lives to tell the tale

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Apr 1st, 2008, 06:18 PM
  #21
 
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Very sorry to hear about all the personal difficulties right before the beginning of the trip, particularly your mother.

I am enjoying your report very much, and eagerly await the next installment!
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Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:43 AM
  #22
ira
 
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Hi TC,

Very well planned.

The matching shirts is a very good idea.

Good group of kids.

I am impressed with how well you have done, so far.

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Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:19 AM
  #23
 
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Thanks for this report, I'm really enjoying it. I'm very sorry about your mother.
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Apr 2nd, 2008, 07:14 AM
  #24
 
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teacherCanada,

What a brave soul you are to chaperone quite a large group!

I am looking forward to hearing about the rest of your travels.
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Apr 7th, 2008, 07:35 PM
  #25
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Thanks for your encouraging comments. Your query about 3 female chaperones and 1 male chaperone is quite appropriate. In our previous trips (Eurotrip 2002, 2004, 2006 and Egypt in 2005) we have always had far more female students than male students. I assumed this pattern would continue and early in our planning, when we asked the two other lady chaperones to participate (they were already close friends) I didn’t anticipate such a radical departure from past experience. I was aware one of the two ladies was a smoker, but didn’t realize how large a part those cigarettes played in her life.

Did we hire the chaperones? No, the two teachers (male (me) and a female) are Board employees and we take responsibility for all aspects of the trip. The two of us did not pay to participate on the trip. The two other chaperones pay nearly the full rate to participate, but have no organizational responsibilities. They accompany us to serve as responsible adults, to ensure everyone is present etc. To their credit, they felt horrible after the incident at Schipol airport and were exceptional for the next two weeks.

Since student travel is generally at a 1:6 or 1:10 complementary ratio, the other chaperone fares were complementary. The money they paid was used for the benefit of the group - $2000 for the return bus to Toronto airport, group t shirts ($1000) and other group activities which I will mention later.

Back to the trip.

I had learned from Fodor’s that you could rent Segways and ride around Paris. I had contacted the company months ago, but was hesitant to book in case the weather did not cooperate. I thought having all 40 of us ride around Paris on Segways would be an absolute blast and completely unforgettable. When our guide called from the Louvre we found out they had only a few Segways running, but they could provide us with 40 bicycles and 2 guides for a 4 hour ride around Paris. The Segways were expensive to rent (about 70 Euros each). I had allocated funds for that. The bicycles were much less (about 15 Euros each).

Renting bicycles was a surprise to the students. When we told them what we had planned they were enthusiastic. We quickly walked about 4 km from the Louvre to the Fat Tire Bike Tour office (on the west side of the Eiffel Tower). It took about 20 minutes to set everyone up with a bicycle. We split into 2 groups of 20. Several students were hesitant to participate for various reasons, but all of them mounted up. The office sold cheap raincoats (which they would buy back if they weren’t used) and bottled water at very reasonable rates.

Well, the next 4 hours turned out to be the highlight of the trip for many students. The terrain was flat. Generally we rode for 20 minutes, then stopped and the guide explained the importance of what we could see, i.e. the Peace monument, les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower. Our guide (Chase from Texas) talked about the World Wars, Napoleon, building codes, the French approach to life etc. in a manner that teenagers could relate to and understand. The bicycles, besides having fat tires, had wide handlebars, comfortable, spring loaded seats and 3 gears that were easy to shift. We stayed mostly on bicycle paths, but had to cross a few roads. Amazingly, we avoided all hills – this ride was not a workout, but a pleasant pedal. The most challenging moment occurred at Place de la Concorde where we had to block 8 lanes of busy Paris traffic with our bikes to ensure we all crossed the intersection. I still can’t believe we had the nerve to do that. I would recommend the Fat Tire Bike Tour to anyone who visits Paris. You don’t need a large group – I am sure they would tour with about 4 riders. It truly is a low impact workout and environmentally friendly. The manager is Claudia (from West Virginia) and she was wonderful to work with.

Tomorrow we hit Versailles.
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Apr 7th, 2008, 07:54 PM
  #26
 
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keep on!!

I love how you managed to roll with that many on a group tour. thanks to you for doing that. For many of these kids, your tour is a highlight of high school and some may never have the chance to go to Europe again. (I grew up in a small rural high school and know the demographic).

We also had Chase last year when we took our little girls on a Fat Tire Bike Tour... he was great!

enjoying it...
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Apr 8th, 2008, 07:36 PM
  #27
 
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Great reading! Tour groups are not the ordinary trip reports on Fodor's, but for those of us who get sucked into student tours, all the tips and information to help make them unique is all the better for our kids.

I'll be very interested to read your impressions of visiting Versailles with a tour group. It was quite interesting to read Mamaw's experience with her recent student group.

Many thanks!
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Apr 8th, 2008, 08:24 PM
  #28
 
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scot Yes, it's all about the kids..

teacher, amazing how kids adapt and are willing to try just about anything.

I too hope Versailles was a good experience for your kids. I hope it wasn't a zoo like we experienced.

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Apr 9th, 2008, 02:14 PM
  #29
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Following the Fat Tire Bike Tour we took the Metro back to our hotel, then walked about 10 minutes to our Saturday night restaurant. Our meals were balanced and nutricious. Everyone was served the same meal. Some liked salad, some didn’t, but generally everyone was able to pull enough nutrition out of each meal. This didn’t stop the students from raiding the small shops for Fanta and pretzels on a regular basis. Many of these teenagers seemed to need about 6 meals a day – not 3! After supper we went back to the Metro and headed to Pont de l’Alma.

On every visit to Paris we always take a tour on either the Bateaux Parisienne or the Bateaux Mouche. Tonight seemed the ideal time since the weather was due to change tomorrow. We already had pre-purchased tickets (I had brought them from Canada). They were for any sailing and the boats left every hour. The early evening seems to be the best time for this event. The boarding point was near Pont de l’Alma on the north shore. We saw the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled magically (for 10 minutes upon the hour). The boat turned east and we sailed under many bridges, saw Notre Dame and then encircled Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis. Turning west we travelled along the Seine passing Allee des Cygnes until we circled around the junior version of the Statue of Liberty. We docked 10 minutes later. The whole excursion took about 60 minutes. Most of us stayed on the upper (open) deck, but it became colder towards the end. Some Japanese tourists took to screaming at the top of their lungs, making echoes, as we passed under the bridges. I must confess, our students started the screaming. We all had fun.

After a quick Metro ride home we collapsed into our rooms. There were a few requests from students to go “out” on Saturday night in Paris, but we said no to all requests.

The weather on Sunday, as forecasted, turned cloudy, cooler and wet. This was our day to visit the palace at Versailles. Wakeup was at 6:00 a.m., at breakfast by 6:45, ready in the lobby by 7:45 to get the Metro to connect to the train to Versailles. Everything went smoothly. The students enjoyed the double-decker train to Versailles. We arrived in Versailles at about 8:50 a.m. – excellent timing since it opened at 9:00 and we still needed to arrange tickets. There is about a 1.5 km walk from the train station to the entrance to the Palace. Normally this is a pleasant walk along tree-lined promenades. The wet weather made it slightly less enjoyable, but this was the first time any of the students had seen Versailles and I had introduced it as either the King’s summer cottage or the epitome of what money could buy (if you were omnipotent in the country).

As we strode up the cobble stoned incline toward the ticket booths in the building on the left side, the rain started to get heavier. Our guide left us in line and went into the building to see if he could expedite our ticket purchase. He returned with a grimace on his face and told us “The ticket sellers have gone on strike.” He didn’t know how long the strike would last, but guessed it would be less than 2 hours. You can imagine. This news went over like a lead balloon. We had told our travellers that sometimes things don’t go as planned – but we had come this far and we weren’t leaving. The old adage goes something like – if life serves you lemons, make lemonade. We waited in the rain, but eventually our guide was able to purchase tickets which put us ahead of the others in line.

Our entry into Versailles was about 2 hours later (close to 11:00 a.m.) than we expected due to the strike. There was a fair bit of unexpected pushing and shoving at the entrance (it was still raining and the patience of many visitors was thin). Our boys protected our girls and eventually we all made it in – picked up our audio guides and started our self-guided tour of the wonderful chateau. That day was the last day of a wonderful exhibit of silver at Versailles and the crowds were heavier than expected. We split into small groups and were to meet at the exit by 12:00 noon.

The rain kept everyone inside – no one went through the gardens. The “U” shaped tour follows many of the reception rooms and sitting rooms as you approach the more “Royal” areas at the base of the “U”. I noticed that all of these rooms had blackout curtains which I thought was different than before. It made it quite dark in these rooms. It was busy (crowded) , but my students were able to absorb the history quiet well. Also, this was the first time I had been able to enter the Royal Chapel (which was previously only seen, not entered.) This was the first time I was able to see the King’s bedroom – it had been closed during my previous visits. I was impressed – but who wouldn’t be. The Hall of Mirrors is truly stunning now that it has been completely renovated. Steeped in history, I explained to my students it’s relevance for social gatherings, the innovative use of mirrors, and noted to them exactly where the Treaty of Versailles (which ended WWI) was signed. Some were duly impressed. Others yawned.

Once we were through the tour path and the requisite souvenir boutique at the exit, I took a part of our group down to the farmers market about 1.5 km from the palace. The other lead chaperone was to bring the balance with her (some were in the washroom lineup) and meet us at the market. I felt things were going well as we were walking through a drizzle at the market. We met up with the rest of the group. I was asked how many students I had with me … we did a count … we were missing four students (2 guys and 2 girls)!! I had left the Palace without counting how many I had in my group. Poop! The rest of the group stayed in the market, bought fresh fruit, ate lunch and found a MacDonalds. I hustled back to Versailles looking for my lost charges. I convinced security to let me walk the reverse route in the Palace … not there. I went to the shop … not there. I went back to the market thinking maybe they had made their own way … not there. By this time our guide had joined me in the search. We went to the train station to see if they had taken the train back to Paris … not there. We returned to the Palace to report their “missing” state to security. No one had seen them, nor had they reported themselves to security as “lost”. I decided to stand in the middle of the open square and look for them, hoping they would walk by. After about 20 minutes, our guide called me inside the entrance. The group of four was together, but had gone to the lower level to use the bathroom. We had not seen them. My pulse rate dropped. I thanked the group for staying together once they realized they had separated from the rest. We walked quickly down to meet the rest of the group. One girl said “Oh, by the way, Sir, I called my Dad in Ontario to tell him you had left us behind.” “Maybe we should let him know we’re ok.” With humility, I agreed. The next phone call was not the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do. “Yes, Mr. X, we did move on without them, No, Mr. X, we didn’t mean to do that, Yes, Mr. X, I will try harder to ensure their safety ….” In retrospect, he did take it well. I too would have been worried if my child called with that message.

This incident was used to reinforce the importance of never being alone. It also allowed me to reinforce the message that if someone was separated from the group they should stay in one spot, stay visible and we would return to find them. They were not to go looking for us. This was the same message they learned as children, that if they were to get lost in the woods – hug a tree, stay put. That night at supper, each of the four who went missing was provided with a lovely cake (to be shared with all the others) to celebrate their return to the flock.

More to follow including a visit to Montmartre, a school of fashion and the Eiffel Tower.
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Apr 9th, 2008, 02:29 PM
  #30
 
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You are my hero...it was stressful enough planning a trip for my parents, in laws, and my adult brother and hubby!!

Cant wait to hear the rest!
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Apr 9th, 2008, 02:37 PM
  #31
 
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Awesome story!

Just wondering why little Miss Telltale did not call you when that group of four got seperated instead of her dad a couple of thousand kilometers away?
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Apr 9th, 2008, 02:38 PM
  #32
 
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Again, another reason I'm not suited to that kind of job.

I would have given them a lecture about leaving the group without permission, and informed the father that it was her choice to leave the group without telling anyone and that's what caused them to fall behind.

That girl sounds like a smartass. I can't imagine calling my parent with a message like that, because I would have been embarrassed that I caused such distress for my chaperone for being a dumbass. But you handled it well, it sounds.
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Apr 9th, 2008, 03:12 PM
  #33
 
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Ah, I remember my group's boat trip on the Seine. I sat inside where you could listen to the announcements, but I was never thrilled with those because the speaker went from language to language very quick in a tone that seemed to indicate (my interpretation, anyway) that she had absolutely no interest in anything she was telling (done it too many times, perhaps). Maybe I would have liked being outside and given up on the listening.

Screaming under bridges sounds fun Definitely an enjoyment to prove we only age on the outside!

Something that happened on our boat ride was two young men mooned the boat from shore. I whipped my head around, not to avoid staring at their bare butts but to see where one young man in our group was! Oh, thank God! He was looking the other way and didn't see. His pants would have been down in reply if he had, I've no doubt of that.

Is it generally hard to get in to Versailles? Both your group and Mamaw's did not seem to have an easy time to getting in. Or is it a case of just roll with the punches/be flexible with your thinking as you work your way to admittance?
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Apr 9th, 2008, 05:22 PM
  #34
 
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Personally I would not go back to Versailles. I didn't think it was worth all the pushing and shoving. And to go on strike for 2 hours that makes me laugh. I'm sure someone here will try to make reason of why. This American ain't getting it.

And the kid who called their Dad back home, ouch! That's all you needed. Sounds like you all got home safely.
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Apr 9th, 2008, 05:51 PM
  #35
LJ
 
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Oh, TC, you are my hero and I am so happy to hear you are attending the August 9th gathering. DH and I have hung up our student tour leader gear (Italy) for nearly 4 years now, but I think I am nearly persuaded to get back into the game...I am both enthralled and nostalgic. You gotta love them (even the ones who phone home with awkward results!)
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Apr 9th, 2008, 06:06 PM
  #36
 
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Teacher, you are a great story teller. Glad my "field trip" days are over! Also glad that none of my students had today's technology with its ability to report every alleged misstep of the chaperone.
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Apr 9th, 2008, 10:30 PM
  #37
 
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Teacher: Since you wanted to see Amsterdam, why didn't you take the train from Amsterdam to Paris?

That way you could have avoided sitting around Schipol AND you would have been in the center of Paris when you arrived.
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Apr 10th, 2008, 03:09 AM
  #38
 
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aren´t cellphones great?

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Apr 10th, 2008, 03:41 AM
  #39
 
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teacherCanada you are a hero - I hope you're appreciated by your students.

As for the kid who called her father - what a brat. She'll get her just reward some day when she's the mother of teenagers!
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Apr 10th, 2008, 04:38 AM
  #40
 
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I just read the first half of the intital post... WOW! This deserves my full attention, so I'm tagging for the weekend.
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