Saturday, August 6, 2016

Europe with My Girl Scout Troop

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By: Sydnie C.
            The year is 2014. I am sitting in a Girl Scout meeting, doodling on notebook paper and attempting to listen to my leaders. I know what you’re thinking that I’m not a model Girl Scout, because I’m not fully attuned to the happenings of the meeting. But, in my defense, I had a lot to think about, with school and all. My attention, however, was piqued when the words “international travel” escaped my leader’s lips. All of a sudden, my troop and I were shouting out places that we had always dreamed of visiting. China, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Japan, France, Greece, and Brazil. By the end of the meeting, we decided on three places: The United Kingdom, France, and Italy. After two years of vigorous fundraising, cookie sales and meticulous planning, we embarked on our ten-day European voyage this summer and here’s what happened.


July 16, 2016

            We landed in London at 10 am at Heathrow Airport. Although very jetlagged, I was invigorated by the excitement coursing through my veins. As we exited the plane, I braced myself for the British accents. Were they going to be like the ones I heard on T.V.? My question was soon answered when the British airline staff greeted us. I tried to remain cool, but the overzealous tourist in me surfaced and I shrieked in reply. Their accents were definitely better than the ones I had heard on T.V.!
            After leaving the airport, our tour group, which included girls from Washington, California, Indiana, and Georgia, visited Pax Lodge, a Girl Scout and Girl Guide World Centere in London. After the pinning ceremony, we were treated to a Girl Scout information session. I learned a plethora of information about the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts or WAGGGS. For example, I didn’t know that there are Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 145 countries! I also didn’t know that WAGGGS was composed of more than 10 million members worldwide. We did end our trip to Pax Lodge like any tourist would with a trip to the gift shop.




(The flags outside of Pax Lodge!)

            I felt like a native Londoner that night as I devoured a plate of fish and chips. The fish and chips resembled the taste of fish and chips at home, but the ketchup I drizzled over my chips was sweeter and tastier than American ketchup.                                                       
            Overall, I don’t think it dawned on me that I was walking around a city that I had always dreamt of seeing. Maybe because of I was jet lagged or just simply awestruck. Whatever emotions washed over me that day, excitement and wanderlust dominated them all.

July 17, 2016

            Today was very hectic, but in the best way possible. In the span of 12 hours, we toured Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Church, SoHo, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, and even some Harry Potter landmarks.                                                                                               Our day started at Buckingham Palace. Hoards of people, including us, honed in on the palace’s garden to watch men clad in faux fur hats and deep red uniforms march rhythmically to upbeat trumpets and drums. It was very exciting to witness!


  (Buckingham Palace)




   Later that day, we saw London’s best sites via the Thames River. We got a closer view of Big Ben, which is named for the bell inside the clock, not the actual clock. We also got to see Tower Bridge, London’s most famous bridge. It is often mistaken for London Bridge.
           Something else cool happened at the London Eye. Trying to escape the grasp of London’s sweltering humidity, I ordered a strawberry slushy from a nearby vendor. After ordering, a Londoner gushed about how much she loved my American accent. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only person who gets excited about accents.           
            My troop and I finished our night at Thriller, a Michael Jackson musical. The high-energy performances and the joyful crooning of MJ fans as we sung along to his songs made this experience feel more like a concert than a musical.                                                           As our last hurrah for the day, we made a portion of our journey back to our hotel via the London Tube (pronounced “choob”), London’s subway system.

July 18 and 19, 2016
            Our morning began at the Tower of London. As our tour guide jokingly reminded us, everything in Europe was once a palace, including the Tower of London. Once shedding its identity as a palace, the Tower of London served as a prison. Although this ancient palace took kind of a morbid turn when it was converted into a place of execution, it still had remnants of the grandeur it once exuded. The kings that ruled here often showed their wealth through the presence of exotic animals. For this reason, once monkeys and lions freely roamed around the palace grounds. The monkeys were exiled, however, after attacking guests. One of the most interesting animals the king owned was a polar bear. Because the palace was not an adequate habitat for this Arctic-inclined animal, the polar bear resided in the Thames River.                                                                                                        After our Tower of London visit, we boarded the Eurostar headed to Paris. Once we arrived in Paris, we took a crash course on all things Paris by bus. This included surveying the most famous sights, learning about French history, and attempting to learn the basics of the language. One interesting thing that I learned on this tour is that the French are known for their revolutions, especially those staged against their monarchs. This fact was confirmed with our visit to Bloody Square, the execution site of Marie Antoinette and her husband. With revolts and executions like these, one would assume that the French were completely opposed to the monarchial system. This is wrong because the French lionize and completely adore the Queen of England. Due to our late arrival in Paris, we only got to really tour one place today: St. Michael’s. After climbing like what seemed one hundred flights of steps, we were greeted with a picturesque view:

            The next day started off like a dream does: standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Unleashing our inner overzealous tourist, we spent probably too much time snapping artsy pictures, taking in the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower, and indulging in Nutella drenched crepes. I thought “if only I could spend all of my mornings like this.”
            Following our morning at the Eiffel Tower, we drove by some of the best sites Paris has to offer: Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Latin Quarter.
         Our afternoon was spent strutting down Champs Elysees, which is basically the Rodeo Drive of France. Feeling more confident in our French, my friend and I decided that we would try the language out on the locals. This is how most of the conversations went:
French person: “Bonjour”
My friend and I: “Bonjour”
French person: *carries on the conversation in French*
My friend and I: *instantly dumbfounded*

            Most of the locals, however, figured out that we didn’t speak French after the second “bonjour” exited our lips. I did feel more like a local later that day at lunchtime as I snacked on macaroons and escargot, or snails. The snails were surprisingly delectable.
            Unlike most of our days, this day ended relatively early. With the energy we had that had not yet surrendered to lethargy, we decided to pull pranks on each other. Our pranks backfired, however, once we got locked out of our hotel room at 1 am. We had to endure an embarrassing walk to the lobby in our pajamas to retrieve another a room key. This was definitely the most embarrassing part of the trip.

July 20 and 21, 2016
            We spent our last day in the City of Love at the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. Once a palace (shocker), the Louvre now houses some of the most famous works of art in the world, including Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Before entering, our tour guide gave us some perspective about the size of the Louvre. If one looked at each piece in the Louvre for two minutes each, it would take approximately 125 years to look at every piece!
            Later in the day, we boarded our 12-hour train that transported us from France to Italy. Because of the lengthy duration of our travel, each cabin converted from a set of benches into six beds. As you might imagine, it was a very cramped space. To relieve ourselves from our confined quarters, we set out to find the food car about three hours into the trip. While searching for the food car, we stumbled upon a group of people using karaoke as a tool to help pass the time. As a person who has a penchant for songs covered on Glee, I had to stop and join them when they started singing “Don’t Stop Believin’.” In that moment, I’d never felt so connected to a group of teenage strangers before. That song sure does have a tendency to bring groups of people together.
            Trying to sleep on the train was futile. I was awake through most of the ride, meaning I did not get much sleep. On the bright side, I did get to see the Swiss Alps when we traveled through Switzerland on the way to Italy.

July 21, 2016 (cont.)

            “Florence is a walking city,” is the first thing our tour guide said when we disembarked from the train 12-hours later. Little did I know she meant that we would actually walk the whole city! Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but we did walk almost 20-miles while in Florence. Although exhausting, walking was the only way to experience this vibrant city. Compared to Paris, Florence teemed with a “home” feeling and character. Florence was colorful and quaint, while most of Paris was painted in vapid colors and sometimes overwhelming. But don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored Paris.

                                                                                                                                                      






(Florence)                    (Paris)


                    

July 22, 2016

            After spending a day in Florence, we continued our journey of Italy in Rome. Our first stop in Rome was Vatican City, which was in the middle of the city. Guarded from the bustling street

s of Rome by large stone walls, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and home to the Pope. The Pope is the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. While in the Vatican, we surveyed the Pope’s extensive art collection.





Adhering to the wise adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I devoured a cone of raspberry gelato after leaving the Vatican. My tour group and I also made a stop to the Trevi Fountain to make a wish:
             One thing that really surprised me while in Italy is the subtle fusion between the ancient and the new. To elucidate, most of the archaic Roman sites were in the middle of bustling metropolitan areas. For example, the Trevi Fountain, which was completed in 1762, was encompassed by modern, posh boutiques. In Italy, the past and the present were fused into one. You could not walk through a modern Roman city without stumbling upon an archaic treasure.

July 23, 2016
            Today was a very relaxed day. It consisted of seeing the Roman Coliseum and Roman Forum, further exploring the city of Rome, shopping, rap battling, and bonding more with the girls in our tour group.
         Our last night in Rome was spent taking in the view from our hotel and ending our trip by reflecting on our adventures.                                                                At the end of the night, we gathered in a circle and locked hands. Our entire group shared a heartfelt moment as we peacefully sang Make New Friends. Although I’ve sung the tune a thousand times, I believe this was the first time it gave me chills. Over the trip, we learned that Girl Scouts from different areas have different cookies, different customs, and different songs. We all came together, in the end though that common song, Make New Friends.

July 24, 2016
            We left Europe today. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t because I know I would return.
Europe, until next time!



P.S. North American Girl Scouts are the only Girl Scouts in the world that sell cookies.

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