Thursday, July 21, 2011

There is so much to reflect on...

It would be impossible to sit, reflect and write about the entire trip in just one entry. Guess what? I am not even going to try... I think I will begin with all the things I learned during our adventure. :0)

It is funny, really, but it is hard to plan just what you will gain, learn and understand from an experience you have never had. Most people ask, "What was your favorite part?" It is the hardest question of all because it is hard to pick just one thing. The truth is, I embraced the culture... from the people, to the language to the food. It isn't America and you can't expect it to be. That is the true beauty of foreign travel...learning to live and appreciate somewhere besides your own home.

So, what did I learn...

~Less is more... in relation to luggage, clothes, stuff, etc but not in relation to $... you will need a lot of $$ if you travel in Europe. I am beyond thankful that I only took a backpack and a carry on. I would never have made it otherwise. Thanks Marla for REQUIRING that of me! :)

~You need to REALLY live in the moment, embrace all of the differences instead of trying to "fix" them or work around them. I am one crazy ironing woman (for those folks who don't know me well) and we had access to an iron for 4 of 17 days. Guess what? IT WAS ALL GOOD!!!! I truly just went with it! You smile and spray some wrinkle release...Life is GOOD! Why spend time complaining about it... it is so not important.

~England is tidy, BUSY, SO much traffic, beautiful, full of history, it is a mix of old and new, loved the pubs with fish and chips (I had that 3 times), Harrod's is huge, afternoon tea was a dream come true for me, the underground is overwhelming at first but really not so bad, loved the open bus tour, Big Ben is not by the Tower Bridge... I so thought it was, everything is "brilliant"... this word is used often to describe everything wonderful, you should try hot tea with milk... it is very British! Most of all, I learned that there is so much to see in 5 days in England that you can't possibly see it all so choose carefully. Go to Windsor is so beautiful and I loved watching Changing of the Guard without the HUGE crowds. Travel the English countryside... it is like a storybook and so peaceful. If you have an extra day, visit Bath. It looks like a postcard. It is neat to see the Roman Bath and there are many cute little shops to enjoy. England really is BRILLIANT! :)

~France is full of amazing monuments, churches and experiences. Look past the dirty streets and find the beauty of the city! I can't lie... the Metro (subway) scared me silly. The people are not as posh as you think so just be yourself and they are really quite charming. Be sure to stop at a cafe`... my favorite was right across from Sainte Chapelle. We did the Open Bus Tour in Paris too... so worth it and a GREAT way to see all the highlights. The Louvre is totally huge... which I had heard but no really... IT IS HUGE! Pick your favorites and see those or you will spend 5 days there! The Eiffel Tower is beautiful... I think even more magical from far away. Don't hesitate to try as many sweet treats as you can... you will walk off the calories! My favorite treat was a waffle with dark chocolate on top AND chocolate mousse. Both were amazing! My highlight of Paris was hands down, the Arc de Triomphe. I climbed all 284 stairs without complaining... um, that is why I trained for this trip by walking at least 12 miles a week before going. GREAT plan and I highly recommend it! :)

~Germany is a breath of fresh air. It is incredibly beautiful, pristine, friendly and welcoming. The people are precious and helpful. We did 3 tours while in Germany and all were wonderful! We did the Dachau Memorial Tour... very heavy but so meaningful and educational. I learned a ton and I thought I already knew a lot. Castle tour was fabulous! We met a fun travel buddy named Jon who made our day a lot of fun! :) The scenery on the way was just amazing... mountains, huge trees and postcard cottages! It was breath-taking! We traveled on the Autobahn which was a complete surprise and it was TOTALLY AWESOME! I think I need my own BMW to drive next time! On our final day, we traveled by train to Salzburg, Austria. It is a beautiful place as well. We learned about history from our witty tour guide, Ian. We had lunch at Demel... a fabulous chocolate cafe`! I tried several German dishes, including pork sausages in sauerkraut. I am not a sausage girl but what Mom always said is TRUE... you don't know if you like or don't until you try it! I loved it!!! Lots of pretzels... of many shapes, sizes and a variety of different toppings can be found all over Germany. We visited a German school while there and learned so much about their approach to education... so different from the US. PS... in first grade, students still have and hour and a half of recess!!!! Hum... I would take just a third of that for my students! :)

So... what was my favorite thing? This is really not such a tough question after all. Annette Langen... meeting my favorite author and creating a lifetime friendship with her was, without question, the most meaningful part of my journey. It was a magical day, full of delightful and heartfelt conversation. I loved it! :)

I am so thankful for all of the learning experiences, personal experiences and eye-opening moments of this adventure. Fund For Teachers made all of this possible and I will always be so grateful.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our last moments in Germany...

Just to give you perspective, it is right now, 11:00PM in Tulsa. It is 6:00am in Munich and we are up preparing for our longest travel day in history! We will arrive home tonight at about 7pm Tulsa time. It will be a long 20 hours but so worth it! I have so many more blogs to write about this trip. Our last few days have been filled with incredible adventures to a Kinderhaus and Primary School in Munich, an 11 hour journey across Germany to see 2 beautiful castles and a day trip to Salzburg yesterday.

I can say, without question, that we have met some of the most amazing people on this adventure which adds character and joy to all of our memories. I have huge plans for all we have learned... lots of new and engaging curriculum for students and a new sense of where we live as compared to where we have visited. Our experiences across Europe will not be forgotten and I will have several more blogs about specifics like our visit to the school, etc.

Just to hold to you over... here are a few of the things we captured over the last 3 days.

Some things are the same, even across the world. :)

Germany is beautiful!!!!! :)

See you ALL soon!!!!!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heavy day... but one I wouldn't trade.

We have arrived in Germany! What a BEAUTIFUL country it is! It is clean, feels very safe and there are so many kind people here. Yesterday was a travel day. They are exhausting so we don't plan much on those days. We did spend some time in "Old Town" and ate traditional German food, well... I did. Kelly had penne pasta with tomato sauce! :)

Today, we did something I have always wanted to do. We took an in-depth tour of the memorial site at Dachau Concentration Camp. It was so heavy, deep, horrifying, sad, overwhelming, disturbing and a day of learning. I am so glad I went. If we choose to forget or pretend this part of history did not exist then we disregard the memory of so many people who died in these camps. We have to remember so we ensure this type of terror NEVER happens again. Our tour guide was simply amazing. I HIGHLY recommend going with a tour if you ever have the opportunity because they have more information than you could imagine. They present the information in a direct and informative way. I did take many pictures but I will not post them here. I do not feel it is appropriate but if you want to see them, I would be glad to show you personally and talk to you about our experience. I was so moved today and deeply disturbed at the disregard for human life. It was a day I will never forget. It made me see so many things through a different lens. You might think you couldn't handle it or would never want to go but think for a minute of the people who survived this horror and those who did not. Think of all they endured as humans, shouldn't we learn about this time and the people who suffered so we will not allow this to happen in the future? My worse day doesn't even compare to one minute experienced by the victims at Dachau or any camp. That is all I've got for now... a lighter blog will soon be on the way!

Friday, July 8, 2011

We loved Paris!!!!!

Yesterday, we spent time @ Sainte Chapelle, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. It was an amazing... and a very tiring day. We LOVED the Arc de Triomphe with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. It was an amazing day!!! Today, we traveled by train to Versailles to see the palace and spent many hours there.  The gardens are amazing! We ate lunch at a cafe and then went to the Eiffel Tower...just as beautiful up close as far away! It was my dream come true!! We grabbed sandwiches for dinner and ate at the hotel in the lounge... it was quiet and relaxing. The PERFECT way to end our journey through paris over the last 5 days! Tomorrow, we travel to Munich for the final leg of our adventure. We expect to learn more than we can possibly imagine and see awesome sights! I have said from the beginning that I think Germnay will be my favorite country on this journey. Fund For Teachers has made all of my travel dreams and inspiration dreams come true!! I am so thankful and humbled by this experience!

Sainte Chapelle

The Louvre

Arc de Triomphe


Thanks for following our journey... more to come from Germany! :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Germany's Gem... We met Annette Langen today!

Have you ever dreamed the biggest dream thinking it couldn't possibly come true only to experience a reality much greater than all you'd imagine? That was my day in a nutshell!

I had hoped to meet one of my favorite children's authors...just to shake their hand and request their signature in a book. However, today I did not only shake the hand of my VERY favorite author, I hugged her! I not only asked her to sign MY Felix book brought with me from Oklahoma, I received a personal note, postcards and a gift from Annette Langen.

We walked the streets of Cologne together with her, shopped in bookstores and she treated us to a traditional German lunch which lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours. We asked her every question we had ever wanted to know. She was so gracious, forth-coming and open. She is a pillar of decorum and a model of what all authors should be. She writes from her heart, life experiences and shares her gift of writing with her community. Germany has a true treasure in Annette Langen. I feel as though I made a life-long friend today.

We shared with her about our approach to educating children and how the character of Felix has brought joy to our teaching and student experiences for years. An ironic moment happened after Annette left for her train. Kelly and I went into the Pandora shop. We thought we would look for a bead to remind us of Germany. I asked if there was a rabbit to represent Felix. :) They had rabbits so we purchased two.  As we were checking out, we were discussing our trip and the amazing day. The salesperson, probably in her mid-twenties,  knew EXACTLY who Felix was (has her own) and could hardly believe Annette Langen had just met with us. Her impact on children around the world is clear and inspirational!

It was a blessing to have this time with her. I feel like a better person for traveling to meet her and hear about her inspiration for writing. Thank you Annette for taking a day out of your busy schedule to see us, share your heart and devotion to literature with the two of us. Kelly and I will never forget this amazing day!!

Life is a journey... EMBRACE IT!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paris is MAGICAL!

We have conquered our initial fears about Paris and ventured out today! We LOVE the Big Bus Tours! It allows us the opportunity to see all the major sights of a city in a few hours so we can decide where we want to spend more time plus you can hop on and off all day. Thursday and Friday are exploration days so we will spend more time at the major sights. Here is what we saw today!

Big Bus Tour
(FUN FACT! I now have a circle tan line from my necklace... awesome)

The Louvre... it is closed on Tuesday though.

There are BEAUTIFUL buildings everywhere!

Notre Dome

Tomorrow may be one of the great experiences of my life! Kelly and I travel by train to Cologne, Germany to meet Annette Langen. It is an 8 hour round trip and worth every moment, every penny of our budget! I CANNOT wait to spend the day with her!!!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Felix, the fabulous traveling rabbit

Did you know we brought a friend with us to Europe? He is Felix, the world traveler! He is the most delightful character created by our favorite children's author, Annette Langen. We can't wait to meet her on Wednesday in Cologne, Germany. Our students love Felix books! Here is what Felix has been up to on our journey so far!

Felix with us on the plane to Europe!

It is naptime for Felix on the long flight!

Felix traveled to Stonehenge with us!

Felix visiting the Tower of London.

Felix met a Yeoman!

Felix had tea @ Harrod's!

Felix on the Eurostar... heading to Paris!

Stay tuned to see where Felix will go next!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A spot of tea and so much more...

Today was our last day in London. It was a sunny, warm and fabulous day! We made the most of our time and spent the day visiting the Tower of London, British Museum and Harrod's. For years, I have been teaching my students about England and "afternoon tea". I have been to tea rooms for years. I LOVE tea rooms but oh how I have dreamed of having "REAL Afternoon Tea in London". So, today... another dream came true. We had tea at Harrod's as our grand finale in London. It was such a treat!! Now I know EXACTLY was "afternoon tea" is all about! I can't wait to recreate it with students! They will LOVE experiencing this English tradition!

We started our day at the Tower of London. We learned all about the history of this amazing place and saw the Crown Jewels. Oh how beautiful they are! I look forward to teaching students all about England's history in more detail. We are already working on formulating ideas, taking notes and planning projects based on our learning!

We visited the British Museum with displays from all over the world.

Harrod's for Sunday afternoon tea... perfect way to end our journey in London! It was beautiful, posh and yummy! I enjoyed every moment! :)


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stones and more...

We traveled 2 hours outside London to visit Stonehenge. There it is in the middle of a field near cattle and crops. It is mystical indeed.

After Stonehenge, we traveled for another 45 minutes to the amazing English village of Bath. It was like a postcard...absolutely brillant! :) We toured the Ancient Roman Bath House and roamed in some shops before returning to London.