Tag Archives: London

Teaching Tuesday: Student travel

travel picture.jpgI’ve just arrived back in the states after traveling for nine days in the UK with 18 students and 3 other adults. This is actually the fourth trip I’ve planned and led to the UK and although at the end I was exhausted and so ready to be home, I’m already planning my next trip!

I led my first student trip 16 years ago, long before I had any children of my own and when the 23-32 hour travel days were not quite so hard on me. My first trip was through Explorica. We took the London Theater tour and it was a lot of fun. As part of the trip, we got to see two West End productions, Blood Brothers, which all but one person in our group of 13 did not care for, and The Woman in Black, which we all adored and were even rather scared by. My only problem with this tour was that our guide was strangely anti-American. He was constantly making snide comments about America and Americans, which I thought was odd considering he was leading a group of them around London. We also got paired with a middle school group and since most of my students had either just graduated high school or were going to be seniors, the age difference was huge. I felt so bad for the one male student in my group, who had just graduated, who had to room with 3 boys going into 8th grade. He was pretty miserable.

On my second trip, I decided to try out EF tours. I was immediately impressed with their service. We went on the Discover England trip and it was amazing! Granted, we had a slightly rough start as our flight out of Indy was cancelled. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get all 12 students and 5 adults to the new flight they’d managed to get us on in Chicago, but eventually EF got us a bus service and instead of flying to O’Hare, we rode. This meant a rousing game of balloon volleyball in the Indy baggage claim area waiting for our bus to show up and then some rather amusing races in O’Hare as we waited for the terminal to open so we could go down to our gate. We arrived there about 3 am and the terminal didn’t open until 5. The kids never once let the delay get to them. We had a blast.

The tour was also really fun. This time our guide was an aspiring actor and not only were several of the girls drooling over him, but he was entertaining and seemed to like Americans. Plus, on this trip we got to see a show at the Globe theater, which was just awesome. I’d wanted to do it on the first trip, but hadn’t quite known how, so this time, I worked with my EF tour consultant and he’d arranged it for us. Even though we had to stand to watch the show, my students LOVED it.

Three years ago I branched out a bit and took students to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tour that we went on The Britannia, is one that no longer exists. My group had an absolute blast. We got to visit Platform 9 3/4, stay in a haunted hotel in Wales, did a haunted underground tour in Scotland (even if it wasn’t remotely scary), and ate absolutely delicious bon bons while touring the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. We were paired with a rather obnoxious group from Texas, but we all bonded over just how obnoxious the Texas mothers were (it wasn’t really the students who were the issue). We saw some amazingly beautiful places on the trip, but trying to squeeze 4 countries into 11 days was a bit much. We spent way too much time on a bus and hardly saw anything of Wales or Scotland. One issue of student trips is that they are sort of “tastes” of countries, so a lot gets missed.

Our most recent tip was a bit more limited in scope. This time we decided to explore only England and Scotland. We spent 9 days moving from Edinburgh down to London and it was pretty fantastic. We never spent more than 5 hours on a bus (and that was a hard day) and got a chance to really explore more of the cities we stayed in. The kids definitely got a taste of very different cities and life styles and it was cool to talk to them on the way home because some absolutely adored the fast paced life of London and others much preferred the slower pace of York or Edinburgh, but they all found something to love. When I asked for their favorite moments, they had trouble narrowing it because they’d loved so much of it. Even at their most exhausted, they were thrilled to be on tour.

Traveling with students is pretty phenomenal. I love getting to see them out of the classroom. They are more relaxed and let their guards down, so they really share their personalities with me. They laugh so much more. They confess their quirks and love to be silly. They geek out over places they’ve learned about in history classes or sights they’ve seen in movies (we saw several places where various Harry Potter movies were filmed). They marvel over how much they enjoy visiting places they knew nothing about and maybe weren’t even initially enthusiastic about seeing. They develop new friendships. They learn about other cultures and really listen to people they meet from other countries, which is so cool. Their feet ache and they are sleep deprived, but they still laugh and sing on the tube as they ride back to the hotel after being out for 15 hours. They try bangers and mash and haggis and fish and chips. They eat more ice cream than any human should consume. And they love it.

I can’t explain how much I love seeing the looks of joy on their faces when they see something they’ve always wanted to see. I can’t explain how much I delight in giving them a piece of the world so far removed from the tiny little town they come from. I can’t explain how much I adore seeing them interacting with people from other countries, truly enthralled in their experiences. And I won’t lie, I really enjoy how appreciative they are to me for giving them the experience.

The only downside (aside from extreme exhaustion) is that it is a LOT of work. Sure, I got a mostly free trip to the UK (except for lunches and souvenirs), but I put in more hours than I can count getting ready for it. There were recruitment meetings, parent emails, pre-tour meetings, more emails, paperwork to collect and organize, health issues to memorize and plan for, dietary issues to plan around, packets of information to put together and go over, tip money to collect, more emails–and that was all before we even left. Once we got there, I was responsible for 18 students for 9 days. I had to make sure everyone had their money, passports, tickets, and luggage at all times. I had to make sure everyone was up in the morning and in their rooms in the evenings. I had to make roommate assignments that pleased as many people as possible. I had to make sure no one got lost and made it on to all forms of transportation, including the London underground during rush hour. I had to make sure that during “free time” all students were with a chaperone. Since we were paired with two other school groups, I also had to make sure my kids didn’t get lost on walks to attractions. I cannot even count the number of times I counted heads to make sure they were all accounted for. When kids had medical or dietary or personal issues, I had to deal with them. I had to miss out on a few things I would have liked to do because a student wasn’t feeling well or a few of them didn’t want to go on one of the walking tours. And, I had to take and post pictures of our trip on Facebook, Tweet about our trip and send daily Remind messages so parents could be at ease that the kids were having fun and ok. I’m not sure I got more than 6 hours of sleep the entire trip.

It was worth it though. Traveling with students, while very stressful, is so rewarding. I’ve built relationships with those kids that will thrive and grow. I’ve inspired a love of travel in them. I’ve given them a real glimpse into the world outside their tiny neighborhood and they will never forget it. They may not have been happy with every moment of our trip, but they arrived home with overwhelmingly great memories. They grew in so many ways and really, as a teacher, that is what I live for.

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva Wonderful City of Dreams

godiva NYCWhen my best friend was visiting, we made our traditional sojourner to our favorite mall. It’s kind of a fru-fru mall with all sorts of high end shops. Not that we shop at most of them. We just aren’t Armani, or Burberry or Coach girls. We are Anthropologie girls (at least I like to shop their discount rack) and we are definitely Lush, Body Shop, David’s Teas and Godiva girls.

We can never hit this mall without a stop at Godiva. In fact, one of our favorite traditions is to stop in at Godiva and get a couple of delicious chocolate treats to take in to the arts theater at the mall. Instead of spending $10 on a tiny popcorn and a drink, we spend that money on truffles to nibble.

This time we skipped the movie, but did not skip the trip to Godiva. I was thrilled to see they had some new chocolates to try. While both my BFF and I like Godiva quite a bit, our biggest complaint is that we’ve gotten a bit bored with their offerings. I know it’s because their case hasn’t changed much in the nearly two decades we’ve been visiting our local boutique. So, whenever they have anything new, it is my vow to try it.

That’s how I found myself selecting all three of the Wonderful City of Dreams chocolates they offered in the case. For some reason, they did not have the Shanghai Lychee for sale as a single piece. I’m sure this is probably a ploy to get people to buy the box, but since the box was $20 for 9 pieces (2 of each new piece and one standard hazelnut heart), I resigned myself to forgoing the lychee treat and being satisfied with the other three.

Inspired by my most recent trip to NYC, I started with the New York Cheesecake. I really enjoyed the fact that the creamy cheesecake filling in this treat has bits of cookie in it, which definitely reminded me of the delicious graham cracker crust of a real cheesecake. The choice to cover this in a blond chocolate was an interesting one. I was worried it might make it overly sweet, but surprisingly it didn’t. It added to the creamy taste of the cheesecake without leaving a film in my mouth that white chocolate often does. I also really liked the imprint of the Statue of Liberty’s famous crown on the top of the piece. It was cute and the second I saw it, even without knowing the flavor, I immediately thought of cheesecake.

Godiva TokyoNext up was the Tokyo Yuzu Orange. I’m not entirely sure what the building on the top of the chocolate is. It looks a bit like the Empire State Building, but I am assuming it is a famous building from Tokyo. I do like the little orange branches that surround it though. I’m not sure I’ve ever had yuzu before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. While the milk chocolate shell was creamy, the inside had a distinctive bitter taste that I was not fond of. It was far more grapefruit than orange. To be honest, I couldn’t really taste the orange at all. All I got was the bitter aftertaste of grapefruit….and maybe yuzu. It was really hard to finish this chocolate. And I know this will sound odd, but it left an odd taste in the back of my throat that reminded me of espresso.

Godiva LondonI decided to finish my tasting with the London Fraise Violette. This one have an image of the iconic double decker bus on it (even if it is more pink than red), and since I am leaving for the UK in four days, I was the most excited about this one. I was worried that the hints of violet might be overpowering. I’ve eaten several different types of floral chocolates and if the balance is not good, it ends up tasting perfumey, which is simply awful. I really wanted the strawberry to balance it out. At first, the violet hints were just that. I got a slightly floral taste at the back of my throat, which did remind me a tad of baby shampoo, but for the most part it was slightly sweet strawberry. It is not as good as the strawberry filling in their strawberry and cream truffle. I’m not really what about this piece screamed London, as so much of what I’ve eaten in London seems to be centered on lemon curd, toffee and black currants, but for the most part I liked it. It did leave me with a slight perfume taste afterwards and I found myself needing a drink to wash my mouth clean.

For the most part, these pieces were definitely better to look at than eat. As much as I love some of Godiva’s standards, lately their new pieces have not been impressing me much.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: 6/10

 

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Dream Dinners Scones

Dream dinners sconesDream Dinners has become an obsession of mine. For those who have not heard of this amazing place, it’s one of those meal prep places. You place an order for at least 12 meals and then schedule a time to come in and prepare all of the meals at once. They have everything chopped and all the measuring tools conveniently placed at each recipe station. Over the course of an hour or two, you follow the very simple step by step instructions, measuring everything into baggies, placing all those baggies into a bigger baggie, pop some cooking directions in and voila…easy to cook weekday meals that taste like you spent hours on them.

Although I was a bit skeptical about how much time going to Dream Dinners would actually save me and about the quality of the recipes, I am a complete convert. My least favorite part of cooking is all the slicing and dicing needed for meal prep, so the fact that this is all done for me is brilliant. I have no food waste and can spend extra time with my family each evening. It’s a complete win and worth the $5 or so a portion.

In addition to being a great time saver, a food waste reducer and a social outlet for me (I go each month with one of my best friends), Dream Dinners also has levels I can unlock, which makes it into a bit of a game for me. The more meals I prepare and review, the more points I earn. The more points I earn, the more freebies and fun stuff I get. As part of their November promo, not only did the meals I ordered earn me double prep points, but I also got a free package of their scones. Of course, in order to get the scones I had to purchase one extra meal,  but I as soon as I saw there were white chocolate raspberry scones, I was sold.

When I went to do my November meal prep, the scones were already in the package waiting for me. There were a dozen triangular pastries just waiting to be baked. I didn’t even have to thaw these bad boys, just preheat the oven, break them apart, put them on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

The smelled heavenly.

I am a HUGE fan of scones. I have not only made my own super tasty strawberry scones from scratch, but also tried several different mixes for drop scones that I have really liked. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Dream Dinner scones were better than the mix scones and almost as good as my homemade ones. According to my husband, they were even better.

GRRRRR.

Seriously though, these little pastries are fantastic. The raspberry is the perfect blend of sweet and tart and quite clearly a mix of both raspberry jam and real raspberries. There are white chocolate chips throughout to help balance out the tart and add the perfect amount of creaminess. I love how mixing white chocolate with raspberries gives the perfect berries and cream taste. The scones are light and perfectly blended so they do not taste too doughy or too floury, which can be a real problem with scones. Texture wise they remind me of scones I’ve had at tea time in several small English tea shops on visits to London.

Everyone in my family adored them. I know that I will have to buy more of these and I may even branch out and try some of the other flavors. Although this one is so tasty it’ll be hard to convince myself to get a different one.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10–but only b/c they were free. I actually don’t know how much they are (and can’t find a price on the website), so the jury is still out on this one.

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