Tag Archives: Scotland

Travel Thursday: Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle.jpgAlthough I think London is the foreign city that has my heart, Edinburgh is a close second. I don’t know if it is the stunning architecture, the incredible history, the friendliness of the people or the fact that it is just big enough to feel like it would take months to really see it all, but still small enough to feel homey, but I adore it. In fact, despite my sheer adoration for everything London has to offer, if I was really going to pack my family up and move them to a city in the UK, I’d probably pick Edinburgh. London would be the place for me if I was single, but Edinburgh definitely seems more like my speed with a husband and two kids.

Not that I’m moving over seas any time soon (or ever).

I’ve only been to Edinburgh twice, but both time I’ve visited Edinburgh Castle. I guess that’s not really a surprise since both times I was leading a student trip and if there’s a castle or cathedral in the area, it seems student trips will stop there. We actually visited three castles/palaces and three cathedrals during our nine day trip (and one of those days was spent entirely in flight).

Edinburgh viewEven by castle standards, Edinburgh is pretty spectacular, if for no other reason than it has the best view of any castle in the UK that I’ve visited. I love the fact that it is set up on top of the hill. The view is breathtaking. Since I’d already visited the castle three years ago, I didn’t do nearly as many touristy things on this visit. I’d already seen the crown jewels and watched the one o’clock gun fired. So this time I spent a lot more time just walking around and taking everything in. I got to casually stroll through the castle, which was lovely. I spent time looking out over the entire beautiful city. It was such a nice break from neurotically counting my students to make sure they were all accounted for.

It was also nice to have just a bit of time to myself. On these trips, I rarely let students out of my sight, however, since there is only one way in or out of the castle and I knew my students would have no way to get into any trouble or get lost inside the castle, I was able to give them all an hour to just explore and enjoy. Sure, I made them promise to stay in pairs (and most stayed in groups of 4 or 5), but I let them feel a bit more grown up and explore without one of the adults looking over their shoulders. This also meant I got some quiet time to myself. Sure, I could have hung out with the other chaperones, but we’d also been together pretty much nonstop and it was nice to just walk around and take it all in.

The history at this castle is pretty amazing. Even by the old standards of the UK, this castle is old. St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building within the castle walls dates back between 1130-1140. It is so amazing to not only see this building still standing, but to be able to step inside and touch this piece of history. I also have to admit to being more than a little obsessed with the TV show Reign for awhile, and even though I know that about 90% of the “historical” element to the show is bunk, I still loved following the story of Mary Queen of Scots. To me it is so cool to visit the castle where she actually gave birth to her son, James VI.

Although I’m not big on military history, one of my chaperones is a former Marine and he thought it was pretty cool that the Scottish National War Museum and memorial are located inside the castle. He did have a slightly funny moment when he saw what was labelled as a soldier’s privy and thought it might a bathroom set up for military members (as part of a thank you for their service). Since he had to go to the bathroom, he was disappointed to find out it was just a exhibit of what bathrooms were like at the time prisoners of war were kept in the castle.

castle far offSpeaking of bathrooms, the only downside to visiting the castle this time was that I really had to go to the bathroom! I got a little turned around and could only find the bathroom in the cafe. Unfortunately there were only two stalls and the line actually extended out the door, around the corner, up the first set of stairs, onto the first landing and partially up the second set of stairs. I think I spent 20 minutes of my free time in the queue waiting for relief. I was really glad I had not followed the lead of my students and gotten coffees to help warm up on the slightly blustery day.

Long wait for the bathroom aside, it was a great day.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Flying

I took my first plane ride when I was six years old. For many people, this might not seem very impressive, but it was 1981 and people didn’t fly nearly as often. By 1982, I was flying as an unaccompanied minor 2-4 times a year and felt like an old hand in the airplane biz.

As a kid, I loved flying. Since I was flying from Indiana to California (and back again), I had nearly four hours to kill on each plane ride and I filled that time with books, games, toys and snacks…lots of delicious honey roasted peanuts. I was pretty cute back then, so I could always get the flight attendants to give me extra peanuts. In fact, one year, in large part because I was very upset to be leaving a visit with my dad in order to go back home with my mom (who I lived with 10 months out of the year), I was actually allowed to pass out all the peanuts to the passengers. One man was so appreciative he gave me a card with $5 in it. Back then, that was a heck of a lot of money for an 8 year old.

Today I am not quite as enamored of air travel. Knowledge of airplane malfunctions and crashes, no matter how statistically small, have taken their toll. That’s not to say I don’t fly. I still really love traveling, but I’m far more wary when I step on an airplane. I spend the entirety of take off and landing either praying or holding my breath and hoping all will be well. After all, statistically, malfunctions and crashes are more likely to happen at these times. Once I’m in the air I’m usually pretty ok, but the turbulence which used to remind me of the thrill of a roller coaster now has me seriously on edge.

Recently I flew to the UK. The first leg of our flight was from Indianapolis to NYC. We were in a tiny plane and actually in the completely last row of said tiny airplane. We felt every single dip and bump. It wasn’t horrible, but I spent way too much time trying to distract myself from worrying over noises, dips and shaking. Thankfully I had a student I really like sitting next to me and was surrounded by several rows of my other students, which kept things pretty much upbeat. It was the very start of our British adventure and everyone was not only wide awake, but super excited about the trip, so my nerves were mostly ok.

Our flight from NYC to Edinburgh started off pretty well. We got off the ground with no issues and even before we were airborn I found out the vast selection of in flight movies were available, so I settled back and started Game Night, a movie I’d wanted to see when it was in the theaters. Not only do international flights offer a plethora of movies, but they also feed passengers. And often. During those six hours we had two meals and a snack. I wasn’t even half way through with my first movie before the flight attendants were in the aisles offering that initial snack, which was great. I hadn’t liked the sandwich I’d had while we were laid over in NYC, so I gave it away. That bag of snack mix and Coke Zero were very welcome. Not as good as honey roasted peanuts would have been, but I understand the change.

Since I knew we’d have to hit the ground running when we touched down in Scotland the next day, I tried to get some sleep. Despite having a comfy neck pillow, tons of leg room (somehow I’d managed to score a seat that had double the leg space because it was located at the end of the mid section of the plane, right in front of the bathrooms) and a sleep mask, I really couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t just because my seat didn’t recline. I’ve never been successful at sleeping on planes. There is just too much noise (even with earplugs), motion and lack of true comfort.

Although I was quite sleepy after being up for 19 hours and knowing I still had at least 12 more hours to be awake, I gave up and started watching Red Sparrow, another film I’d wanted to see in the theater. I was pretty glad my seat was not near any of my students as I could only imagine the comments I would have gotten from them about the content of the film.

We flew into Scotland during a rather nasty storm that had wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Since we were on the tail end of it, we were able to land safely, but we encountered the worst turbulence I’ve had in my 30+ years of flying. I have never once been motion sick on an airplane, but it took all my concentration not to throw up during that landing. Others on the plane were not so successful. Thankfully none of them sat near me. Unfortunately, several of them were right next to other members of my group, so once we were off the plane, I got to hear very detailed accounts of the vomiting that took place somewhere behind me.

Although the flights may be longer, I really do prefer international flights over domestic ones. I like all the little extras you get: sleep masks, earbuds, movies, extra drinks and food. The food may not be the best, but it’s also not horrible. In fact, on the flight from Heathrow to NYC, I had a truly tasty pizza twist thing. Plus, I got to watch The Greatest Showman, Thor: Ragnarok and most of Bad Moms. Sure, they were movies I’d already seen, but they kept me entertained and happy. Over seven hours on that plane felt like less than the just under two hours from NYC to Indy, mostly due to the movies.

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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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