One can never have too many gargoyles… Paris, France 2018

I’m a sucker for gargoyles. I know that my affinity for these little winged gutter spouts would not be the desired response of the cathedral builders, but I find them irresistible. I told myself, as I neared the city, that I didn’t need to buy any Paris goodies since it was less than two years since I last visited my favorite city. I knew, however, as soon as I saw the tiny, spitting gargoyle, that he would have to join my growing flock of gargoyles at home in Atlanta. In the early days of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, many believed that the gargoyles scared away evil spirits. If this is true, why WOULDN’T I want to line my house with them? can one ever have too many gargoyles?

We arrived in Paris on the Eurostar train from London. Once we got on board, the trek was swift and seamless. Getting on the train with all of our luggage, however, is a major hassle. Hoisting my suitcase up the stairs practically killed me, and I had to schlep it to another train car because the one I was assigned was completely full. Needless to say, if you travel by train- less is best.  It was interesting to

We left the train station by coach bus, and rode into the city. I felt a smile working it’s way out of my soul as we made our way into my all-time favorite city. There is a special vibe in Paris that just sits right with me. It is like no other city. I don’t know if my love of Paris stems from my French roots or whether it is my love of the food, music, and art- but there will never be a day when I’d turn down a trip to Paris.

We passed by all sorts of wonderful landmarks-des Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Dome Des Invalides & Tomb of Napoleon. For some reason, I can’t see the Champs Elysees without breaking out into song… “Oh… Champs-Elysees!”. (Later in the trip I irritated Simon by singing “Istanbul was Constantinople” each time he spoke of Turkey.)  We got out of the bus along the backside of the Place de Trocadero, and were able to get some beautiful (and comical) photos of the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit hazy, but we were happy that the predicted rain stayed away.

We walked back to the bus and I noted the trash cans that contain clear bags. These trash cans were the solution to keeping bombs out of trash cans. Some cities have simply pulled trash cans all together- seems like this is a better way of keeping the streets clean- and safe!

The second part of our day was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.  This place is amazing. Once a mere hunting lodge, Louis the XIII decided that he wanted it to be his residence, so he expanded it to the size it is now- a palace of 2,300 rooms! It remained a palace until The French Revolution. During the Revolution, much of the art was stashed in the Louvre. Once the war ended, the art was returned to Versailles, which, for a while, was a storage facility. Eventually, Versaille transitioned into it’s next and final phase: a museum.

Before we began our tour of the garden and the palace, we went to lunch at a little outdoor cafe next to the Palace. I ordered the French Onion Soup and it was perfect. After lunch we got ice cream, and headed to tour the gardens. It was 120 degrees (hyperbolic- yes), but I was eager to explore.

When we walked toward the gardens, I honestly had no preconceived notion about what we would see. I knew that there would be vast gardens, but certainly didn’t realize that they would span as far as the eye could see. The gardens were immediately surrounding the Palace, and the park stretched back from the fountain for what seemed miles.  Apparently, Louis XIV was so proud of the gardens that he even welcomed the public in to enjoy them.

The fountains, which were not turned on when we were wandering through, had all sorts of interesting statues in the centers. My favorite was the angry fish… probably because it is almost gargoylesque! The gardens contain 221 works of art, making it the largest open air sculpture museum in the world, according to the Chateau Versailles brochure.

Inside, the rooms are clad in beautiful art, with busts and full figure statues at every turn. The Hall of Mirrors was not only beautiful, but also was cutting edge. The idea of using mirrors along the walls of a room was originated at Versailles. It enabled them to use dim lights, and those lights reflected in the mirrors to light the room.

After Versailles, we headed back to the city to enjoy a river cruise down the Seine River. Travel mate Stephanie skipped the Versailles experience to meet up with her cousins. She texted me to ask which dock we were meeting at, and I asked Simon, who said it was directly under the Eiffel Tower, and added, “It is blindingly obvious. Even an amoeba from Saturn could find it.”

She found us, and said a teary farewell to relatives she doesn’t see often enough.

After a disappointing cruise down the Thames in 2017, I was not expecting much from our evening cruise down the Seine. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the views and experience! The cruise was amazing! It was a gorgeous night, and local Parisians were lining the river bank enjoying wine and cheese. These locals waved to us as we passed by, and the students on board waved and even got a “wave” going after going under each bridge.

This video shows the excitement the kids had on board the river cruise! What an excellent part of our adventure!

 

Our hotel was far from convenient to the city… it was located all the way out by Euro Disney. The check-in process was a complete nightmare and took well over an hour, but Simon, our guide, kept his composure and didn’t give up until we were all taken care of. The view out our hotel window was really nice, and the windows opened all the way, so we slept with the fresh air of France filling our airways… (Brooke and Donica, anti-bug people, finally gave in and enjoyed the fresh air after realizing there was no working A/C).  There were several restaurants within walking distance of this hotel, one that sold me a delicious crepe after 11:00pm! Crepe avec sucre et beurre… DELICIOUS!

The next morning we headed to the Louvre. Since this would be my third visit in three years, I was determined to find new art to appreciate. I wandered and found all sorts of works that I had not noticed before. The Death of Cleopatra was one that really stood out… what a shocking piece when you focus in and realize that it is a snake biting her nipple. Not sure there’s much realism in her expression- I don’t think a woman would be so calm in that instance… Was it that women had to hide their emotions? Never let on what sort of pain you might be hiding? Or was it that the artist thought there might even be some sort of pleasure here? The title, however, reminds us that Cleopatra WAS killed by a snake bite, so this is really a sad piece.

I also enjoyed taking a closer look at the The Department of the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The sculptures represent the thoughtful nature of the ancient civilizations. Not only do they seem to represent thinking and focusing, but they also represent a need to understand how things work. Truly fascinating.

Of course no trip to the Louvre is complete without beholding the Greek goddess Aprhodite, better known as the Venus de Milo  (the woman with no arms), and the Mona Lisa. The middle statue below is La Pallas de Velletri- a statue of Athena. This one is a famous replica of an original from Naples, Italy.

We had lunch in a wonderful cafe- Le Marmiton de Lutece. I had a three-cheese fondue that absolutely melted in my mouth! We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and the atmosphere. I snapped a photo of the inside when I went to use the toilets (never called bathrooms or rest rooms).

The toilets seem to always be found in the cellars at the bottom of tiny, often winding stairways…

One of my last highlights in Paris was a visit to the historic “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore. There was a line to get in, and I enjoyed a well-practiced accordian performance while I waited. Inside, I found lots of interesting selections, and really wanted to bring home the book detailing the history of the store, but my brain went back to the weight of my suitcase and the struggle I had getting it onto the train. In the end, I came out of the store empty-handed…

We met back at Notre Dame to meet up and board the bus that would take us to Italy.

Our train to Milan was cancelled due to yet another Paris strike. (My train was cancelled due to a strike in 2016 when we were headed to Barcelona, but that year they rerouted us via airplane.) This year, we were assigned what would become the world’s longest bus ride. It was an overnight ride, so we needed to sleep… but when that bus pulled into the train stop in Milan, Italy, no one on board had more than a couple hours… Simon was quick to tell Stephanie to “stop faffing”, and the bus driver had to stop every two hours.

Au Revoir, Paris… until next time!

-HC

Next up: A Taste of Italy…

Fear and loathing on the “allergic to everything” trail…

I’ve finished off almost two weeks. In two weeks, I’ve tried to navigate a diet course that has thrown my life an abrupt curve ball. I believe I am moving into a new stage in this “meat, wheat, egg, and milk free” diet: acceptance.

The good news is that I’ve found there ARE plenty of good (albeit expensive and harder to find) alternatives for me to make at home. I’ve found dairy-free cheese that melts and some that doesn’t. I’ve found dairy free sour cream that is completely acceptable.  I’ve found gluten and egg-free pasta, crackers, and even (dry) bagels with dairy free cream cheese. As long as I plan ahead and cook at home, my food life is completely sustainable, and some of the alternatives, I am shocked to admit, are remarkably good!

cheeses.PNG

The bad news, the part that makes me tear up nearly daily no matter how strong I appear, is that I just can’t go to my favorite places and order my favorite things anymore. Einstein Bagels is out… they do not have gluten free bagels, and their “smear” is dripping with dairy. My favorite pizza place does not have any sort of option either for this dietary predicament.  I have to just forget about these places I’ve enjoyed for more than 20 years. When I think about not eating real cheese and wheat and eggs it feels like I’ve lost a best friend…

But today, I woke up with a sharper sense of acceptance. I woke up with conviction in my belly. Conviction screamed at my psyche insisting, “Enough! This is minor compared to what many people are dealing with…” I am truly a lover of breads and cheeses, but I need to find comfort in new foods. That’s all.

As I flipped through social media, I read a post from a beloved student I taught years ago. Her son is a tiny toddler who is fighting a brain tumor right now. The pain, worry, terror that she and her husband are experiencing right now are unimaginable. I saw another friend who has been crushed by the loss of a loved one. There are families who have lost everything to natural disasters.  And I have the audacity to tear up over the loss of a few food groups? I’m going to focus on perspective this week. Try to be positive and count my blessings. No. More. Tears.

I thought I’d share some of my new findings this week for anyone looking for ideas who share these dietary restrictions.

Eating out. I am an absolute lover of Mexican food. I ate out at Chili’s this week. (I know- that’s Tex-Mex). At Chili’s, where I spent years as a server and bartender, I nibbled on corn tortilla chips and salsa. I ordered fajitas without the cheese and sour cream. I was able to eat the guacamole, pico, peppers, onions, mushrooms, black beans and a little shrimp with the CORN tortilla option that they offer! This was tasty and made me feel almost normal! Yeah for Chili’s!

Breakfasts. This week I left behind the luxury of the Vans waffles for some cereal and almond milk- even quicker in the ridiculously early mornings of a High School English teacher. I bought the unsweetened almond milk from SPROUTS, where I found an excellent variety of options for peeps on this diet plan. (I got unsweetened because I want to get the milk that most tastes like milk- the less it tastes like coconut or almonds the better to me!) I selected Van’s Honey Crunch cereal, which is gluten, egg, and dairy free. This cereal, with some added blueberries and almond milk, was really quite good once I got over the pasty-like consistency it turns into if you let it soak in the milk for too long. Overall, though, it was pretty okay. It is low in sugar with no high fructose corn syrup, to boot!

On Friday, I treated thawed out one of my new finds: a gluten, egg, and dairy free bagel with dairy free cream cheese. The cream cheese gets a thumbs up from me. A bit of a pasty consistency, but the feeling that I’m eating cream cheese is at least imaginable. The bagel… well, what can I say. I give it a 4. A bit dry. Oh, Einstein Bagels, how you spoiled me all these years…

cereal

bagels

Lunches: My school cafeteria does a pretty good job of having healthy options at lunch. Unfortunately, however, they can’t possibly find much to meet my needs, so I’m back to bringing my lunch box. (If only I had kept the one with Shaun Cassidy on the front). This week, I made what I call “happy salads”. I get bored with salads, which I eat once or twice daily and have for YEARS. The salads that make me happiest have the most colors. So- this week, I made dark green and purple lettuce salads with orange and red peppers, blueberries, raspberries, and cucumbers. I used vegan raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  My “sandwich” was half a gluten-free tortilla wrapped with about two tablespoons of tuna. (I also had celery and carrots depending on the day.)  These were pretty good, but be aware the gluten free tortillas have to be eaten with a fork. They don’t hold together well enough to pick up and eat like a proper roll-up.

lunches

Dinners: I found some tasty options this week. One day I made vegan, wheat-free pasta alfredo and veggie dogs (with a salad). The pasta was actually REALLY good- even passed the taste-test of my 13-year old! The consistency was good and it didn’t have the pastiness I’ve tended to find in these alternative foods.  The veggie dogs were mediocre… a little too mushy for my tastes. I will try them on the grill next time instead of boiling them. But when you cut them up and add enough ketchup, they end up okay…

I also tried my first wheat, dairy, and egg free pizza this week. This was interesting. I ate 2 slices of the 10 inch little pizza with salad. I kept looking in the oven to watch the cheese melt, but it never happened. I gave my first try a 3 because of the icky cheese.  When I heated up another piece later in the week, I sprinkled some vegan mozzarella cheese that I found over the top. It melted! This was a MASSIVE improvement! So, I will buy this again sometime.

mush pizza

Probably my favorite dinner was my Mexican dinner, which I enjoyed for a couple meals.  I used peppers, onions, mushrooms, corn, black beans, and salsa and sizzled them up in a pan. I put the mix on my gluten free tortilla, topped it with guacamole, added vegan cheddar and (later in the week) vegan sour cream, and had a really tasty dinner. I had to chop it up and mix it all together because, once again, these tortillas do NOT hold together well at all…

Ingredients:

mexi dinner

On the plate before and after:

One more family- meal I made this week was a wheat & dairy-free pasta marinara w/ vegan meatballs.  This was delicious and the entire family loved it! Coupled with a salad, it is a definite staple in the Campbell house.

 

I hope that some of my findings might be helpful to others dealing with these dietary restrictions. I continue to read articles about how a 46 year old person can suddenly accumulate such a laundry list of allergies, and why they have to be so destructive to my kidneys. As I find answers, I will share them. I’ve read a LOT of articles about the possibility of all of this stemming from TICKS… stay tuned.

-HC

Last day in Berlin 2018

As I sit down to think about my last day in Berlin, I’m already on the plane home. One sentiment continues to resonate for me- some of the first words that our tour guide Daniel uttered when we arrived: “Berlin isn’t a beautiful city, but it’s an interesting city.” After spending three full days touring the city, I have to say I agree.

And while on the subject of our tour guide- Daniel was phenomenal. He was a perfect blend of historical knowledge mixed with wit and high energy. When pronouncing the names of the train stops we would need to remember he would say, in his heavy German twang, “you will get off at the Gesundbrunnen stop. That is G-E-S-U-N-D… and more letters!” A clever way to shorten the long names that the Germans seem to attribute to most things.

After breakfast and a final training workshop, we had all afternoon to explore on our own!

I made plans to go up to the top of the TV Tower with two buddies I’d met on the tour- Tim- a special ed teacher from New Mexico and David-an art teacher from south Chicago. These guys wanted to do all the stuff I wanted to do- which was the tower and a half day of what David called an “urban hike”. Several other groups were going shopping and trying to stay out of the below freezing temps, but I wanted to explore and see more of what Berlin had to offer!

We ordered tickets in advance for the tower tour, and made our way to the subway. The Berlin subway, by the way, is called the U-Bahn when it runs underground or the S-Bahn when it comes up for air.

We got on the train that was supposed to be headed for the famous Alexanderplatz… Tim asked what the “Platz” stood for and David responded “you know- Platz [pronounced PLAYTZ]. Like you eat dinner off your Platz!” (Just a small example of loads of laughs in the day!)

The train we were on, totally going in the direction we needed, had other plans. It actually stopped in between stations and reversed directions! We backtracked to the previous station, where we got off to figure out how else to get to our destination in time to meet our 1:00pm tour time! We were down to seventeen minutes!

Tim found a train that we could take that was leaving in ONE minute, so, once again- in Amazing Race-style- we ran down the stairs to the lower level and met the train just as the doors opened!

We successfully made it to the Alexanderplatz stop and headed straight for the TV Tower… known locally as Fernsehturn. There were strict guidelines about bringing food and water in, so David had to scarf down the sandwich he smuggled out of the hotel breakfast and gulp down one of two water bottles. He hid his second, unopened water bottle behind a bench, hoping to retrieve it when we came out of the tower.

The lines to get in to the tower were long and we couldn’t read any of the signs or understand the announcements. We had “fast track” tickets, so we managed to move past the non-moving masses.

We got in the elevator, with more people than a fire code would appreciate, and headed up. We went up so high my ears popped. The tower observation deck is 207 meters up, which calculates to about 680 feet. (The actual structure, including the needle, soars a whopping 368 meters: 1207 feet. Taller than the Eiffel Tower!) In fact, our guide told us that it is the highest building in Europe that is open to the public!

Once at the top, we were able to wander around the circular observation area and look down on the entire city. There were excellent markers in front of each window that described landmarks and where to find them. It was exciting to note the places we had already seen and take note of the places we wanted to hit whilst wandering through the city.

I was excited to see that St Mary’s Church was an easy walk from the tower- I was eager to see the inside.

The white building with the mural all around it is a building called the Haus des Lehrers, which, Daniel explained, means ‘house of teachers.’ The building, he said, was built in the early 1960s by the GDR- the German Democratic Republic, and the architecture resembles all the other buildings built in the same time. Daniel described these buildings as “LEGO block buildings all over the city.” The mural, which is actually a mosaic that encompasses close to a million tiles, is a symbol of the New Berlin- the future of the city.

The tower was a great experience. It allowed me to really get a perspective of the scope and area of the city, and where things were. I recommend doing this after you have been in the city a couple of days, as it’s exciting to spot the places you’ve seen!

After making our way back out of the tower, David walked over to where he hid his water bottle… just as a man with a backpack had scooped it up. He somehow managed to communicate with the local man enough to get the man to reach into his backpack and hand back the water bottle. Point for David!

Our first stop was at St. Mary’s Church. We had walked past this on our first day, but had not gone in. We walked in and completely missed the glassed in exhibit showcasing the “Dance with Death” , a fresco painted in 1485. Inside, I was confused because there was a three panel mosaic that had skeletons dancing with people… but Then I remembered it was a fresco. We toured the church, and admired the pipe organ and the ornate pulpit.

On the way out, we were looking for stairs to see if the famous mural was upstairs, and that’s when we realized that the mural was right there- just inside the front doors! This church, a Catholic turned Protestant Church, is the second oldest church in Berlin.

We left St. Mary’s and began walking in the direction of the Neptunbrunnen, otherwise known as the “Neptune Fountain”, which is in a piazza (not sure what the Germans call this open area?) around the corner from Alexanderplatz.

This turned out to be a rather intense area, as there was a group of Syrian demonstrators who were highly charged. They all waved flags from their country and they had draped additional flags around the necks of some of Neptune’s women. They set up a jail cell, and they brutally threw two men inside the cell- both wearing masks. I could only see one of the masks but it was a Putin mask. Running around the outskirts of the demonstration were three men dressed in white clothes and head bands smeared in blood. I wasn’t sure what their role was. Although tempted to stay and watch a little longer, the German SWAT team arrived, and I knew it was a good time to keep on moving!

Our next stop was at the oldest church in Berlin- Nikolaikirche or St. Nicholas’ church. The experience at this church perhaps started a downward trend of how the locals responded to us… the woman at the door glared at us. We went in, and another man glared at us. We saw that if we wanted to enter and take photos it would be 16.00 euros. I wasn’t up for spending that, and neither were my pals. David tried to head out a side door and got yelled at by the eagle-eyed man. We left in a bit of a hurry.

We ventured back out into the absolute biting wind, but were still eager to fill our time until dinner. (Did I mention the temps were in the twenties??)

We found our way across a very busy street and wandered around the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche Ruins. This was once a church, built in 1250, that was destroyed in the bombing of Berlin in 1945. There were giant blue pipes built inside that seemed to serve no purpose, so I’m guessing it was some sort of modern art. I felt like it really took away from the beauty of the ruins, if I’m being honest. It was, modern art aside, a good visual of the destruction that truly flattened the city… and what remained.

At this point in the day, we decided to find a pub to warm up and have a rest. We had passed what we thought seemed the quintessential German pub, so we decided to find it, since we had an hour and a half to kill before meeting the group for dinner.

We passed a few other interesting sites on our trek to the pub…

Once we got into the toasty warm pub, we were told to stand, as the waiter pointed to a tiny chair-less table. We ordered pints and stood, enjoying the warmth. After a few minutes, a tiny little booth in the corner opened up, so we carried our drinks to the table to relax for a minute. Well, this was apparently a sin of monstrous proportions, as the woman behind the bar began flapping her arms, rolling her eyes, and glaring at us. Since we had no idea what she was saying, although I certainly could have guessed, we just stayed where we were until we had finished our drinks. I may have also quietly rung the little bell that was on my table on the way out. While the service was rather alarming, the company and the pub feel made it a great stop!

We met the large group back at Alexanderplatz and headed out on a ten minute walk to dinner. On the way to dinner, we passed through the Kreuzberg neighborhood. This was a Jewish neighborhood before the war. Daniel explained to us that the church in the area was where many Jewish people were captured and taken to the concentration camps for being 1/2 Jewish or a 1/4 Jewish. They were actually worshipping in a Christian Church, but Hitler, with murder and hatred literally seething from his pores, found them and killed them.

We stopped to look at the ground outside the church and saw many “Stolperstein” (translates to stumbling) stones. These are stones that are mini monuments, with brass plates on each one that name the victim and the dates of their lives. Hitler murdered these people, and the modern Germans want visitors to honor them and never forget these innocent human beings.

Dinner was in this historic Jewish neighborhood at a place called the Grand Bar, and it was delicious! My vegetarian option was a delicious breaded goat cheese with veggies marinated in something wonderful. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to pack. Our wake-up call came at 2:30am! Ouch!

What a trip. Thanks to EF Tours for providing this amazing opportunity for the forty teachers who were on the tour!

-HC

Highlights of Berlin: Day One

I arrived in Berlin today and we literally dropped our bags at the hotel, The Estrel Berlin, and hit the ground running. We took the short subway ride to the city center- a place that was 70% bombed out and flattened in WWII. This is a city of rebuilding… there is literally construction everywhere!

Our first landmark was the Old Church known as the “Marienkirche” at Alexanderplatz. This place is not only beautiful, it is also the second oldest church in Berlin. It houses a very famous fresco done by Totentanz called “The Dance of Death” which, according to my tour guide “reminds all of us that we are all going down!” There is a skeleton who dances with everyone from the lowly teacher to the emperor! Hopefully I will get in to see this when I have some free time!?

Our next stop was at the Rosenstrasse sculptures in East Berlin. These dramatic sculptures were carved by a woman named Igeborg Hunziger, who wanted to honor the brave Jewish WOMEN who put their lives on the line to defy the Natzis and wait for their husbands outside the detention center. 1000 women stood in waiting. The craziest part? The Nazis actually DID give them their husbands back!?

Along the way we saw bear sculptures that were really cute and lively! (Not to mention that the city flag has a bear on it!) This bear is known locally as “Buddy Bear” and he was originally, according to tour guide Daniel, “created by a bunch of Berlin marketing people in the 1990s”. The idea stuck and the Bears were sold to places around town to raise money for the city. Originally solid colors, people who bought them began to individualize them… there’s even a camo-clad buddy bear hiding in the bushes in front of the Dept of Defense building! I can’t wait to spot more of these guys tomorrow!

As luck would have it, there was a street market going on and we were granted free time to wander. Interesting things I saw- particularly the record painter!

I also enjoyed a personal favorite- a crepe with Nutella!

Our next stop was at the largest Protestant Church in Berlin. It was so huge, in fact, that most believe it was built to serve as a Protestant version of the Vatican!

This church is called Vecaka Belines Baznick.

The Berlin Wall was next. I got to see portions that are on display… and I learned that they have built bricks into the street, with placards, to mark the entire length of this wall…

Check point Charlie was next, which was a famous crossing point between east and west Germany.

We oohed and aaahed over the Brandenburger Gate… and saw a comical old dude in a white sweat suit jogging with an iPod blasting tunes from his fanny pack. Can’t believe I didn’t get his photo!

This is a photo of perhaps the most famous hotel in Berlin. The Hotel Adlon. One of its claims to fame is that it is the hotel where Michael Jackson was staying when he dangled his kid off the balcony!

Before I close with what I consider to be the most moving part of the day, I had fun capturing some of the interesting things I saw!

The Holocaust memorial was really the most moving part of the day. The monuments that make up the 2711 stones are completely blank. Daniel, our guide, told us that the artist deemed this place a “place without meaning”. It is a place that you don’t even begin to take in until you walk among the stones. Only there do you feel the weight of the six million Jewish people who were killed during the Holocaust. This was really powerful…

We had a nice dinner, even got to try German wine and beer, then headed back to the hotel!

I can’t wait to see why tomorrow brings!

Teachers need a rebirth between school years

Last week, a friend said, “with the majority of women now in the work force, schools will probably move to a year round model, don’t you think?”

Year-round school. When I really let that sink in, it makes me queasy… the same queasy I get on one of  those spinning rides at a small-town pop-up carnival. It starts off as a little gurgle, then progresses into more of a dizzy, green, sweating, ear-ringing cry. Teachers do not get in to the profession because of summer, yet, once we are in, these precious eight weeks become our necessary rebirth each year.

I use the term rebirth with purpose. No matter how bad a school year is, the summer has a way of washing away the memories of the difficult days, weeks, and months spent with those out of control students, those hundreds of punctuation-less essays, and that annoying, self-promoting co-worker. A mother, for instance, can suffer for hours and hours in excruciating childbirth pain, but the smile of her offspring washes away most memory of the suffering. (If it didn’t, women would never have multiple children!) Summer does this for teachers. It allows us to forget the bad and focus on the hope of the future. We forget the perpetual eleven hour days, mandatory state testing, and stacks of essays. We sleep. We remember moments of laughter and inspiration. We are reborn and ready for the new year.

Teachers need summer. Yes, I said NEED. I say this not because I don’t enjoy my job- quite the contrary!  My students and co-workers are truly remarkable. I anticipate these breaks because teaching is, honestly, an exhausting profession. The only people who truly understand this need for the eight week respite are teachers themselves. Often times, a teacher is shunned when they refer to a “needed break”. Naysayers roll their eyes and utter “must be nice” comments about “getting the whole summer off.”  Make no mistake, we often do not “get the whole summer off”. We are asked to return to school for staff development, new teacher orientations, coaching responsibilities, summer school, and meetings to plan for the coming year, a year in which we inevitably teach something new. Most teachers bring home a bin of books and materials to read in preparing for the next year. These aren’t your average beach reads- these are books about content and curriculum.

If summer break was to become a mere memory, the teacher retention crisis would be elevated to the catastrophe level. I already see young teachers leaving the profession in droves because they don’t get enough time with their families. The workload doesn’t just end when the bell rings. In fact, I work longer hours in the current educational arena than I did 22 years ago, mostly because of the 3 D’s: documentation, differentiation, and disruptions. The 3 D’s require time, energy, and a constant ability to recreate the proverbial wheel, and I’m not sure any other professions require this kind of after-hours time. In essence, we get paid in the summer for all the extra hours we work during the school year. (Our summer pay is not some sort of additional bonus, by the way. Our contractual, yearly salary is simply divided by twelve months.)

As I look to the months of “unnecessary” laundry that never made it to the top of the priority basket, I realize that I do have some time now to complete these tasks. This is time I am owed, since I donated that time earlier in my year. I plan to spend a big chunk of my summer hours creating a new class, reading some potential literature that might encourage my students to enjoy something other than twitter, and looking at my pacing charts and calendars for the fall. Of course, I’ll also clean out the garage, a few closets, and the laundry room. I refuse, however, to feel guilty when I just sit and stare peacefully at the rising tide. Summer is the time to collect for hours already worked.

The idea of year-round school needs to go away. I understand that teachers would still get several weeks of vacation sprinkled throughout the year, but a couple weeks is not enough time for teachers to wash the previous year out of their hair. We need the time to plan, prepare, and forget.

Maybe another day I’ll write a part two to this titled: “Students need summer, too”.

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Zermatt, Switzerland: the alps most famous, carless ski town

We left our Paris hotel early, and opted to utilize Uber, once again, to get us to the rental car company at Orly. While we had all eagerly wheeled our baggage on the train from the airport to the hotel, we were not as eager to do that first thing in the morning during rush hour!

I decided months ago that I’d rather take off in a car for the French countryside from the airport and not from the city center. We reserved a minivan for our seven hour journey to Zermatt, but, as our luck would have it, they were out of mini vans. They were apologetic, and assured us that all five of us and our five suitcases (filled with our normal clothes AND ski gear) and our carry-on bags would all fit in the Ford Mendeo station wagon… the modern, low riding, wood-panel-free version of the station wagons of the road tripping 1970s. It was touch and go and a lot of cramming, but the car rental people were right- everything fit. It was a tight fit, with no view out the back and only foot room for the feet of an imp, but it all fit! I explained to the kids how lucky they were to spend the next 7 hours snuggled up together in the backseat, we took the discount they offered us for our downgrade, and off we zoomed! We were bound for the Swiss Alps!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch in a town called Poligny. We ate in a wonderful historic restaurant, called La Sergenterie, which is built into a cave! We enjoyed dinner, and Noah, not to be outdone by his old man, ordered and finished his steak tartar. I enjoyed my first of three days of cheese fondue! After what proved to be our “big meal” for the day, we continued our journey to Zermatt, Switzerland.


It is important to realize that you cannot reach Zermatt by car- visitors must park in Tasche and take a train into Zermatt. After parking in the train station parking deck, we purchased round trip tickets on the Matterhorn Glacier Express. The ride up was little more than fifteen minutes and the train dropped us in the middle of a bustling Swiss alpine town.


We rolled our luggage down the car-less streets to our hotel- the Best Western Alpen resort, where we had reserved a family style room. We checked in and we’re thrilled with the accommodations. Our room had two twins and a pullout downstairs and a loft with two twins. The best part was the balcony, which offered us a view of the peak that makes Zermatt famous: the Matterhorn!


We awoke the next morning eager to hit the slopes! We opted for a shop next to the gondola, “Intersport Rent”and were impressed with the friendliness of the staff. With gear ready, and lift tickets in our pockets (the left tickets were magnetic cards that let you through the lifts by scanning them through your jacket pockets), we loaded into the “Matterhorn Express” gondola and rode up the mountain.



It took two gondolas and a five-person chair lift to reach the top. We skied off the lift and around the building before we truly beheld the snow capped Alps around us, all lapping the snowy sides of the iconic Matterhorn. It didn’t even look real, if I’m being honest- it looked like a backdrop painted by the most talented painter in the world. I tried to snap as many photos as I could, but none of the photos captured the absolute majesty of that scene. I could have sat and stared at that backdrop forever.


We spent the day skiing the Gorgenaut side of Zermatt- happily exploring the long, powdery runs. All the trails were clearly marked by level, and most were delightfully wide and uncrowded. In fact, many times I was alone on the run- as my family raced to the bottom!


We stopped for lunch at a buffet on the mountain called the buffet and bar Riffelberg, before realizing we lost Noah!  Jim and Hannah skied back to the chairlift, and I waited with Molly in case he might find his way to the restaurant. Hannah and Jim found Noah- he had no idea we were stoping for lunch so he had gone up to the top again- by himself- and come back down- not the least bit concerned. Boys!


The buffet offered plenty of hot and cold options, but they charge for everything- including ketchup packets and NAPKINS!? Use your sleeve, kids!

We skied until the 4:30pm closing forced us from the slopes! My forty-five year old muscles were burning and pulsating, and I cursed them for not being better sports! Given my aching body, and Molly’s overall lackluster feelings about skiing (she was an excellent sport about this adventure however), she and I decided we would spend the next day exploring Zermatt. We returned our equipment to the rental store and felt excited to take on the morrow!

The evening ended with a dip in the hotel hot tub and a visit to the sauna!

Molly and I slept in the next morning to a glorious 10:00am. The other three were out early- headed for their adventure- skiing down into Italy! As soon a I got out of bed, my muscles assured me that I’d made the right decision in not skiing another day…

We wandered the streets of Zermatt, exploring shops and eateries, and talking with local shopkeepers about everything from Swiss Army knives to cuckoo clocks. I quickly realized that my name is quite popular in the Swiss Alps- and lots of products bare my moniker!

By early evening, the rest of the family returned from their day on the slopes. They were eager to share the adventure stories of their days- their faces ruddy from the wind and sun of the Alps.

We shared experiences at a neat little restaurant in Zermatt called the Restaurant du Pont, where I enjoyed my final cheese fondue.


The next morning, Saturday, we were packed and headed to the train station by 7:00am. Our flight was leaving Orly at 7pm, so we traveled back to the city.

We flew from Orly to Heathrow, and checked into the Heathrow Marriott for one final evening. We ate a late dinner of fish and chips- maintaining the mantra of “when in Rome”… and hit the proverbial hay! The final morning, we opted to Uber to Hyde Park, where we wandered in and out, then walked up the side of Green Park all the way to Buckingham Palace, where we waited with the crowds to see the Changing of the Guards!  From there, we went to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben before heading back to the hotel to check out.


We made it back to Heathrow with time to spare. Our flight took off for Atlanta at 3:55pm. I will say, the flight back to reality never offers the same excitement as the flight that sweeps you off on an adventure…

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

I suppose it’s appropriate that our day in London, home of the Bard himself, should begin with a complete comedy of errors! Our alarm for 5:45am did not go off. We awoke at 6:20am to the kids banging on our door! The irony of my sleep-crazed teenagers waking us up was not lost on me!   

This was the day we took the Eurostar train over to London for the day. In order to save money on the train tickets, we found we saved over $500 by going with a Viator one-day tour package, which included the 5 round trip train tickets, 5 “hop on hop off” bus passes, 5 one hour walking tour tickets (which we didn’t use), and and 5 tickets for a river cruise down the Thames river. 

We skipped breakfast and arrived at the Gare de Nord train station, where we were told to meet our local guide at the base of the escalator near a meeting area. When we got to the station we quickly realized that there were at least four escalators… so we got a bit nervous. (When you book a tour online, and you can’t find your guide right away, there is a little voice in your head that starts clicking its tongue and admonishing you with reminders of the Internet scammers who are always scamming people over!)

Fortunately, I asked an official looking employee where we needed to be and she directed us to the right place! Viator (who was bought out by trip advisor several years back) uses local tour groups to provide the local services, and our guide was wearing a red vest and holding up a sign: Paris Vision Tours. She handed over all of our tickets, and bid us adieu!

We found our way through security and onto the Eurostar train. The train took off at 8:30am and arrived in London at 10:00am- after dashing under the English Chanel at 187 miles per hour! The Eurostar train is an awesome way to travel, particularly with families. The seats are comfortable and there are tables with the seats facing each other so it is easy to play cards during the trip! Train car #9 had the snack bar, where we purchased Croque-monsiers and Caesar wraps, drinks, and chips. The ride was only two hours and twenty minutes, and it was exciting to realize we were speeding along at 187 mph as we plunged under the English Channel! 


We arrived at the St. Pancreas station in London, cleared customs, and were greeted by our “CityView Tour” rep. He was a nice enough fellow. He provided us with a map of bus stops and told us which blue, open top busses were included on our tour. We thanked him and hopped on the first blue double decker we saw, climbing immediately to the open-air top floor.  

We got off what would be our only bus for the day about one block from Trafalgar Square. We began walking toward the “Floating Yoda” who was performing when I’d been here in June of 2016. We wandered through the square, where passionate activists were yelling into loudspeakers in front of the National Art Museum. We made our way toward the 169 foot Nelson Column guarded by four giant lions, where we got some good photos. The photos continued as we passed the iconic red phone booths on our way to Piccadilly Circus! The kids were truly able to enjoy the British pride that flew on flags and was marked on every bit of merchandise imaginable! We enjoyed the shops and general heartbeat of the area before making our next move which would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After realizing we would have to back track to wait for the next bus, and believing it would take up too much of our precious day, we opted to travel like the Americans we are-we “Ubered” to our next stop- a mere £9 for all five of us! (A small price to pay to ensure we got to see all the stops on my list!) We ordered an Uber to take us to St. Paul’s Cathedral! The Uber driver, adding to our comedic theme, missed us in the Piccadilly madness, then was stopped by the police trying to pull a fast turn!

He finally connected with us and dropped us off at the foot of the stairs at the breathtaking St. Paul’s cathedral. The kids didn’t care about going in, so we told them to sit on the steps and watch the pigeons for a bit- we were going in! I was thrilled to have a look inside St. Paul’s, as I didn’t get to go in when I was last in London. As a teacher of British Literature- with a particular soft spot for the Romantic poets who often reference this church- I was thrilled to take a self guided tour complete with headsets. The dome ceiling gave way to a breathtaking ceiling of artwork. I can now imagine the entrance of the poor children of London who were paraded in to the church each Easter- the flowers of London as William Blake liked to refer to them… I enjoyed going below the church to see Blake’s memorial, as well as the crypt of Horacio Nelson.


Once we left St. Paul’s, we set out on foot to the Thames River- passing the London School for Boys and crossing the Millennium Bridge. This is the bridge that Simon- my EF Tourguide from June of 2016- said was famous for the “gum art”! My kids got a kick out of that! Halfway across the bridge we stopped and bought some hot, caramelized almonds from a street vendor…. they were to die for! They were gobbled up before we made it to the other side of the Thames!

On the other side of the bridge we made our way to the Globe theater! We took the museum tour and enjoyed seeing the history of Shakespeare’s theater, as well as costumes, props, and instruments!

After leaving the Globe, we walked all the way down past London Bridge to Tower Bridge. I was tempted along the way by a spooky theatrical opportunity to learn “the history of London Bridge”, but opted to continue on our days journey! We crossed the beautiful Tower bridge and stopped for lunch at a place right next to the walls of the Tower of London! We enjoyed a local beer and traditional fish and chips!

After lunch, we made our way down to the Tower pier- where we got on our Thames river cruise down to the London Eye. I hardly call this thing a cruise- it is really a water taxi! Unless you sat outside you couldn’t’ see anything out of the completely fogged windows! As we cruised down the Thames, however, we got great views of Big Ben and Parliament.

We departed the river boat at the London Eye. We made our way to the ticket center, got tickets, and got in line. The line moved pretty quick- we were in our little capsule within twenty minutes. The views were really quite spectacular! You could see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, the Thames, Whitehall Court and so much more! The ride lasted about thirty minutes- really pushing our time limit in the city.

After departing the Eye, we opted to Uber our way back to the train station- where we were an hour later than they recommended.

When we got dropped off at St Pancras, we walked in- and my priority was to find the WC! Hannah insisted that I look at the tickets and tell her the train number. It was 9054. We all looked up at the screen and it said- “Final boarding!” What!!?? The comedy ensued!

The five of us took off running through the station. Noah, my youngest, was behind me yelling, “Mom! I’ve never seen you run like that! I’m going to video tape you!!” And he did. I’m sure that embarrassing bit of footage will rear its head somewhere soon…

Luckily, we made it three minutes before they closed the gate. Phew! We would make it back to Paris after all!

When we got back to our hotel, we found the final act of our comedy of errors was in full production… our hotel has no electricity until 7am. So- I am typing this blog on my cell phone, with the hope that my battery will see it to its finish! And it has. The sounds of the city will now lull me to sleep until tomorrow!