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The Start of a New Adventure…

June 26, 2011

It was surreal.  It was like we were zooming around on Google Earth, not cruising across the Atlantic towards another unbelievable adventure.

Lookie there, Minooka TAP's own private jet???

Mr. Doerr and I were looking out the window of our plane a few weeks ago, watching the landscape zip by.  We picked out the southwest coast of Ireland as we flew overhead, which of course led to flashbacks of last year’s bus ride around the Ring of Kerry – watching a rainbow out over the ocean, seeing sheepdogs herd the flock, and listening to our bus driver, Kevin, sing The Fields of Athenry.  Starting off the 2011 trip with memories of 2010 was a great way to kick things off, but soon we were flying over the coast of southern England, telling each other stories of King Arthur and the British monarchs and getting excited about a trip to the UK someday.  Before we knew it, we were coasting in to Paris, floating over the French countryside, spotting Gothic churches and Norman castles in each small town – the TAP Sr. trip to France in 2012 started to get really exciting.  After a layover in Charles De Gaulle Airport, we were on our way to Lisbon, and as we cruised along the Atlantic coast, we spotted so many of the monuments and historic buildings we’d studied for the past year.

From the plane, the Belem Tower was clear as day, looking just like it did the day we looked at it in class on Google Earth.  The Monument to the Discoveries stood out to us, Henry the Navigator standing proudly on the bow of the marble ship looking out across the bay that so many explorers ventured from.  Among the red tile roofs, we were able to pick out the spires of the Jeronimos Monastery, the rose window on the facade of the Lisbon Cathedral, the towers of the Vasco de Gama Bridge, and the ancient walls of Castelo de Sao Jorge.  It still felt like it was the two of us, sitting in my classroom back in Minooka, surfing the web to prepare to teach the kids about Portugal, but with each famous place that we spotted, with each foot the plane descended towards the runway, it became more and more real.  All that hard work.  All that preparation.  We were finally there.

The view from our first hotel in Estoril, Portugal. Yes, we know, it's a difficult life.

Once we got off the plane and through baggage claim, we met Juanito, our tour director.  Juanito lived up to what Minooka TAP has come to expect from our TDs – a friendly, knowledgeable guide who will do whatever it takes to make the trip everything we want it to be.  TAP has been lucky enough to have some fantastic TDs, and Juanito proved to be one of the best we’ve ever had. Right off he took us to our hotel, figuring every one needed to at least freshen up, change clothes, and toss their luggage into a room.  He gave us half an hour to unwind, and as anxious as we were to get out and explore the city, it was difficult to tear us away from the view we had of the Atlantic Ocean and the city of Estoril we had from our balconies, but off we went.

Juanito marched us a few blocks away to the train station, and in no time we were zipping down the rails towards Lisbon, flying past many of the

Minooka TAP in Lisbon, Portugal

same monuments we’d seen from the sky.  When we were on the plane, most of the kids were either asleep or seated too far from the windows, but now they were all able to spot the 25th of April Bridge, the Belem Tower, the Discoveries Monument, and countless other buildings we’d seen in books and on websites back home.  It was amazing to see their faces light up and the excitement grow each time one of them pointed out something else that was both new and familiar at the same time.  It made all that prep, all the writing they did, all the classroom work worthwhile to see that they knew what they were seeing and why it was important.

Most of our trips are incredibly fast paced.  We try to cram a month worth of travel into the ten days that we’re overseas, but for the second year in a row, TAP started their adventure with a relaxed stroll around the city.  It’s actually a great way to get things going.  With no real agenda, we got off the train and got used to what makes European cities so unique.  Narrow, winding roads.  Open courtyards and squares.  Monuments and statues.  Cobblestones.  Sidewalks made of black and white stones, arranged in beautiful patterns, so unlike the boring cement blocks we have at home.  Small cars.  Pedestrian only streets filled with unique stores and unfamiliar products.  New languages, smells, sounds.  Street performers. A McDonald’s housed in a building that is older than our country.

TAP marching through the streets of Lisbon.

Having been lucky enough to travel to Europe numerous times, I’m still in awe of every new city I visit, but at the same time, I’m comfortable enough that I now take the time to observe the students become accustomed to the things about a European city that you could never prepare them for at home, but have to experience to understand.  I love watching them look up at the intricate carvings of a Gothic church, while thinking about how I attend services in a school gym back home.  I love to hear them talk about how cool it would be to skate board down the hills and over the uneven cobblestone streets.  I never get tired of them being in awe when they see their first building that looks like a castle, at least the first castle that doesn’t serve tiny hamburgers – and I also love the disbelief on their face when they see that castle and ask the guide what it is, only to hear, “Oh that one, that’s nothing.  That one’s not an important castle.”  I love seeing them get used to spending weird money that just days earlier looked like something from a board game.

Minooka girls on top of the Lisbon Elevator with the Castelo Sao Jorge in the background.

I witnessed all that and more as we strolled through Praco do Comercio, through a Roman arch and into the district destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, up the hill to the Lisbon Cathedral, and past the Cafe a Brasileira – frequented by the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, where we posed for pictures with a statue of the writer.  Finally, we made our way through the winding streets and alleyways to Santa Justa’s Elevator, a steel structure built by Gustav Eiffel to give folks a panoramic view of the entire city.  We didn’t see much, but it was enough.  In just a few hours, the kids were hooked.  They couldn’t wait to see more, but we left them wanting.

That night we ate dinner on the fourth floor of our hotel, the sun setting over the Atlantic as we dined, but the sun just rising on this adventure.  We slept good, eager to see more, learn more, soak in more.  That first night was nearly perfect, and it was just the beginning.

Over the next few weeks, TAP will tell stories from each day of our 2011 adventure in Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and Morocco.  If you’d like to tell us part of your Spanish adventure, we’d love to hear about it.    If you remember the first day you spent overseas on one of our other trips – or a trip without TAP, we’d love to hear that too. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Angelica Lara permalink
    June 26, 2011 2:12 pm

    WOW. I started to relive the trip, and I loved every minute of it! What a great two weeks. Kids (and adults), thanks for all of the smiles, laughs, and everything else. Had the time of my life!

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