Soon enough all of the kids started talking and we immediately hit it off. Our guide Chris Bond, also did a good job of allowing us to have a ton of free time at the airport to chill and meet our newfound friends. I still continue to talk with my Abbey Road friends almost every night on Facebook and over the phone. I am looking forward to hopefully having an Abbey Road Western Civilizations reunion this year. After a long but fun plane ride to Athens, we settled down in our hotel room and our guides gave us time to relax.
I did a quick exploration of the hotel with my new friends and then we headed out as a group for a traditional Greek dinner. As the next couple of days unfolded, everyone soon became incredibly close. I knew that I would love the next few weeks in Europe. The three guides on the trip, Emily, Chris and John were all awesome. Although they were very laid back, all three of them knew more than I could ever imagine about the history of Western civilization. We would always meet at a reasonable time of around 9:30 am and head over to an awesome historical site.
One of the reasons this trip was so great, was because we were never learning about topics in a classroom. We always visited the places we were learning about and got to be at the monuments that we had learned about just minutes ago. For example, while learning about the olive tree of Athena we would be sitting under the very tree we were studying. One of my most favorite historical sites in Greece was the Acropolis. From our hotel we had a breathtaking view of the Acropolis and at night the entire place lit up beautifully.
The Acropolis was thought to be the holy rock of Athens and it is here the ancient Athenians built many monuments and temples. During one of the first days we were in Athens we took a walk through the city from our hotel and took a short hike up to the beautiful Acropolis. At the Acropolis, our instructors, led by Oxford graduate John Landsdowne, taught us all about the history of this holy place. On top of the rock, we got a ton of free time to explore and see the great monuments and ruins and also view the entire city of Athens.
I have never been around someone as knowledgeable as John. A typical day consisted of waking up at around 8:30, eating at a local breakfast café or staying at the hotel and having some of the great local breakfast food, and then meeting up with the group at around 9:30. From there, our guides would inform us about what we were doing that day. Then we would head to a historical site. At around 1 o’clock we would usually take a break from our lessons and go to a nearby sandwich shop. Here you could buy many different assortments of delectable sandwiches, paninis or pizzas, obviously followed by a mouth-watering gelato.
After lunch, we would head back to the site and usually our guides would say more information and then give us about an hour of free time to roam about the site. By now, it is the heat of the day, and our guides can tell that everyone is getting a bit tired. At this point we would get free time until around 6 o’clock when there was an optional activity offered. I highly recommend going on all of these. During this free time, we have many options of what we can do. We can explore the city, go shopping, or if we are feeling a bit tired, we head back to the rooftop of the hotel, put in our ipods and just chill or even, my favorite, take a quick power nap to prepare us for the late night ahead.
After the optional activity was over, the group would meet up again at the hotel. This is where our guides would either give us money for dinner in small groups with whomever we choose to go with, or we eat some delicious local cuisine with the group. Some of the best food I have ever had was on this trip such as the meats in Greece, the pastas in Italy, and the crepes and croissants in France. We end dinner very late for American standards, but early for European standards, at around 10 pm. From 10 to 12:30ish, depending upon how many activities we were doing tomorrow and the time we had to wake up, we roam about in whatever neighborhood we were in.
Our rooms were great places to relax and chill out, as the beds were even comfier than my own bed at home. The first two weeks we stayed in rooms of three people in very nice and luxurious hotels. Definitely one of the top experiences of the trip was staying in the apartment complex in Florence. The first day we arrived, our guides gave each trio of roommates sixty euros to shop for the week’s grocery supplies. My two roommates and I loaded up on pasta, sauces, and fresh local meats along with tons of sandwich fixings.
It was great to be able to come back to the room during free time and make myself a quick sandwich or even cook up a bowl of delicious Italian pasta. The apartments in Florence were more than I could ever have imagined. Each apartment consisted of two spacious floors along with a full kitchen stocked with our very own utensils, pots and pans. The last week in Paris, we stopped sharing rooms with two others and we roomed with only one other kid. After our palatial Florence experience, the rooms seemed a tad small although that didn’t matter much because we hardly spent any time in Paris in our rooms.
During the night and day, we were constantly exploring different hip neighborhoods of Paris. Paris was definitely my favorite place. Although the city is boiling over with history, our guides somehow managed to find the perfect equilibrium between learning and free time. I loved hanging out with friends at night on the lawn of the lit up Eiffel Tower. The Louvre was incredible because not only were we viewing some of the most historical and magnificent paintings of all time, but our guide John was also teaching us the history behind all of these paintings. Another favorite is the castle of Versailles and the phenomenal gardens behind the castle.
While we were there, there was even a spectacular water show with water coming out of the Versailles fountains at all different angles. Going on this trip is the best decision I have ever made. Not only did I learn a ton about historical Western civilizations but I gained a lot of understanding about different modern European cultures. Also, I made so many new fabulous friends from all around the country. This was a great pre-college trip because I learned a lot about myself and who I am.
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