New England College Students Travel Abroad
by Cindi Nadelman
Persistent rain failed to dampen the conviviality which reigned throughout a recent New England College trip to Ireland, Wales and England with EF Tours. Organized by Dr. Cindi Nadelman, eleven students accompanied by four older adults joined forces with a California college and traveled together for over a week, learning and laughing, soaking up culture, admiring landscape, indulging in pub fare, visiting vast cathedrals and ancient castles, all the while undeterred by inclement weather.
The full group gathered several times daily, beginning at an early-rise breakfast provided by each hotel. They then proceeded to climb aboard a comfy motor coach for an orientation/overview of each locale. Most afternoons found travelers exploring on their own while a few required longer rides on the bus. Many evenings, the group reunited for dinner and swapped their day's adventures while sampling traditional meals of curried chicken, cottage pie or shepherd's pie always served with ever-present "chips" and frequently ice cream for dessert. What follows is an account of a traveler.
Landing in Shannon, Ireland a relatively small international airport (on our first, or possibly second day - we all eventually lost track!), we became acquainted with our trip guide, Jim, a reserved and engaging Brit, along with our intrepid, upbeat motor coach driver, Liam. For the next several days we slogged through puddles of southwestern Ireland losing count of sheep, surrounded by lush, emerald fields. The rugged-rocky coast of the Ring of Kerry (one of Ireland's peninsulas), impressed us and invited the photographers in our midst to document the magnificence. At each stop, we sipped fresh-brewed teas and coffees (which aided alertness), and savored sweet, warm scones while Jim informed us of Irish culture, geography and history. Learning about the religious implications connected to the potato famines left us with feelings of discomfort. There is good reason for numerous O'Connell Streets across this country.
Have you ever desired to Kiss the Blarney Stone? The opportunity presented itself and quite a few ascended the winding tower steps of Blarney Castle and twisted themselves backwards in order to do so, although the garrulous nature of the full group had already established itself. Later, hearing Irish pub songs on the bus's CD player, added to the festive mood. Solidified by experiences and song we zoomed along on the left side of the rain- covered roads and highways, smiles aplenty.
Speaking of solidified, en route to the Rock of Cashel, the steel-grey clouds peeled back revealing cerulean skies. The ancient Celtic cathedral and monastery atop an outcrop of limestone dating back to the 12th century, reminded us that Europe has a history the likes of which we don't possess in the states. What a treat!
We spent New Year' s eve and day in Dublin, an easy-to-navigate city. Molly Malone would have taken pride at how comfortably we strode the "streets broad and narrow" as if they were our own neighborhood. One of the biggest challenges in this fair city was selecting which pub to settle into; each had its own character, charm and entertainment. One, The Brazen Head, dated back to 1198. Everyone found a spot in which to ring in the new year with style and still managed to wake up the following day for breakfast.
A native Irishman performed his duties well on New Year's Day morning, sharing stories of Irish history, explaining Dublin's architecture, and handing out a few travel tips. His expressive lilt and sway became embedded in our later reminiscing of the tour. The remainder of the day took some students to the Guinness factory while others dodged rain to see the Dublin Archaeology Museum. The evening was left to our own devices which might have included seeking an ATM machine for additional Euros, discovering a new pub, attending an Irish concert of fiddling and step dancing, or hanging at the hotel.
Journeying by ferry from Dublin to Wales across the smooth Irish Sea allowed time again for travelers to chat, dine, shop duty-free or catch up on much needed zzzs. Once in Wales greeted by a new motor coach driver, we were whisked along, admiring new landscapes from behind the protection of windows washed by raindrops. We stopped briefly to explore the ancient, walled city of Conwy. Here, some of us climbed another set of dank, spiral staircases of the medieval fortress leading to spectacular tower lookouts, this time of a harbor. A few, attracted by a phone booth along the sidewalk used it as a photo op for a new Facebook profile picture. Of course, the myriad shops and cafes beckoned once more. Did you know that Wales hosts the town with the longest name? Anyone care to buy a vowel? It consists mostly of consonants and our driver could actually say it!
Later, our overnight stop in a quaint hotel tucked into a small community whose name we COULD pronounce, forced all weary folk to stay "home" for the evening. Cards Against Humanity in the hotel bar kept many awake until the wee hours.
Next day, we boarded our coach in the dark and departed Wales, bearing down on England. To say we merely scratched the surface of England would be an understatement. Stops at Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford with their Tudor homes, resplendent cathedrals and scholarly atmospheres, gave us a chance to edify ourselves further. Several posed on the steps of the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre wishing we had time for a show. Others continued to support the English economy, purchasing Oxford sweatshirts and mugs with their British pounds.
A late afternoon arrival in London gave us a taste of the cosmopolitan city and we were quick studies riding the "tube" to various destinations. The London Eye, an immense Ferris wheel with pod capsules, captivated eight of us with its 360 degree views of London, all lit up. Big Ben, London Bridge, The Tower of London, the Shard and other landmarks ablaze with light, provided postcard-worthy shots.
The following morning, our new local guide (from NY of all places!), demonstrated his humor as he spoke to us of sites and celebrities. His time with us culminated as we witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace among masses of fellow tourists armed with selfie sticks.
A brisk walk brought us to Piccadilly Circus with its iconic display of glitz and statues. Students divided up, a few continuing to seek out that perfect souvenir, while others explored additional museums and cafes. Some simply perambulated the narrow streets, intoxicated by London's diversity and beauty.
Dining on fish and chips in a private dinner section of a pub, brought us all together one last time. Gales of laughter, rounds at the bar, a toast to Jim and exchanges of phone numbers and email addresses, signaled the approaching end of the trip. ‘Twas a melancholy moment.
On our final day, predawn darkness ushered us " take away breakfasts" in hand, along with piles of luggage, back onto the bus, which drove us to Heathrow Airport. After a bit of airline scrutiny, we waited exhausted, for our flight back to the states. On board, all slumbered, no doubt dreaming of ubiquitous sheep, pubs, chips, holy schmokin' guides, cathedral spires which touched the stars, crenelated castle turrets, yet another Guinness and yes, rain drops. Thanks, Cindi; we had a blast!