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Bonjour, mes amis!!

Bonjour, mes amis!!


Wow, what a BUSY day one we have had. We have gone nonstop from the time we left Birmingham and I’m so proud of these students for hanging in through all of the day’s challenges! 

We talked a lot about the importance of flexibility before we left, and we were certainly tested in that today! After about an hour's delay getting into CDG airport, we had a much longer bus ride than usual getting into Paris because of some of the ongoing protests. But once we made it into the city, we hit the ground running! We began the morning with some café time in the Saint-Germain-Des-Près area. The group quickly got accustomed to the Paris metro system and navigating it with 36 people was no small task! 

We, unfortunately, hit another snag in the afternoon— our plans to climb the Eiffel Tower were halted by an afternoon closure. Our tour guide John steered us toward a boat ride on the Seine instead, which everyone enjoyed and gave great views of the city (and a short nap for some)!

We did manage to grab some photos in front of the Eiffel Tower before heading back to our hotel for a quick rest before dinner. Dinner was at a delicious crêperie and included a savory and sweet crêpe! 

At this point I imagine everyone is out and in much need of a good night’s sleep. Please pray for stamina for the group, as tomorrow will be mostly on foot through Paris again!  Once again, I am so proud of this awesome group for their flexibility and rolling with the punches today. off to some much-deserved rest… Bonne soirée!!


Today was our second day exploring Paris, and what a full and adventurous day it was! A few of the more venturesome ones headed out in the early morning to experience a French market loaded with beautiful produce, and a great opportunity to practice their French! After a hotel breakfast, we took a part bus/part walking tour of Paris led by a lovely local guide, who gave a bit of history behind some of the more famous sites such as Les Invalides, Place de La Concorde, and the Champs-Élysées. We took a short walk through the beautiful Luxembourg gardens before meeting up with some local art teachers for a watercolor lesson! We tried out our skills with two different painting techniques by the Seine River and enjoyed a Proustian moment with a madeleine. Lunch took place in the Latin quarter where students tried out many traditional dishes such as croque-monsieur and soupe à l’oignon. Afterwards, we split into groups for some free time, ranging from various museums such as the Musée d’Orsay to exploring the famous Shakespeare and Co bookstore with a cone of Berthillon ice cream. Once we met back together, it was time to take the metro up to Montmartre, where we chose from several dinner options and tried some more traditional dishes such as beef bourguignon. We enjoyed a beautiful view overlooking Paris from the top of Sacré Cœur before heading back to our hotel. Another great day in the books and we are excited to load the bus in the morning for Rouen!


I cannot speak for all 36 of us, but I believe today has been a favorite so far! We loaded the bus from Paris this morning and made the drive to the beautiful city of Rouen, the capital of the French region of Normandy. We saw the breathtaking cathedral of Rouen, which happens to be the tallest cathedral in France! But the primary focus of Rouen was on the city’s history— where Joan of Arc was tried and burned at the stake in 1431. We learned about her life and trial through an immersive museum experience along with visiting the church dedicated to her at the very spot of her death. We then explored the city with some free time, focusing in on the regional differences we see now in the Normandy region— what foods they eat, what materials they use to build, etc. It was then time to say goodbye to Rouen and take the bus further north to the coastal town of Trouville, our home for the evening. After checking in to the hotel, we ventured to the grocery store to shop for picnic supplies for tomorrow (and was a great chance for students to practice their food vocabulary!) Then, we made our way to dinner at a lovely restaurant by the water, where we tried local specialties such as Camembert and tarte aux pommes while enjoying the gorgeous view. Afterward, we headed to the beach itself for a surprise activity— a reading of six different letters by students and faculty, including one personal family account, of soldiers’ experiences in the days leading up to the invasion of Normandy in 1944. It was a deeply reflective and somewhat somber moment as these letters brought us closer to the historical impact of where we physically are in France. It also was a way of preparing our minds and hearts for tomorrow, as we travel on to Omaha Beach and the American cemetery. Tonight we are resting up for what will surely be a deeply reflective day. Signing off, but immensely grateful for our families back home, for your support and your prayers. What an experience this has been and continues to be!


Today, I am truly at a loss for words in terms of what we have seen, experienced, and learned. It’s one thing to learn about history from a book, and another to come face to face with it. Our four major stops of the Normandy invasion included Arromanches and the floating harbor, the American cemetery, Omaha beach, and the destroyed German gun batteries at Pointe du Hoc. I will let the photos speak for themselves. We will never forget what we’ve experienced today.


Please excuse the late update from yesterday- I hope that everyone is resting well and that this update doesn’t wake anyone while we head out on our bus on our day six :)
After our incredible D-Day visits on day four, we made our way to the town of Saint-Malo, a lovely port city in the region of Brittany, France.   The dinner that night was a particular favorite of mine— jambon with a delicious apple sauce in a gorgeous restaurant in town. We enjoyed a walk around the picturesque village before a night's rest and another move on the morning of day five. (A funny moment was all of us dragging our rolling suitcases on the cobblestone to the bus— we’re all stronger now for it!) 

Day five’s highlight was our visit to the spectacular island abbey and pilgrimage site of Mont St Michel, a personal bucket list item of mine for many years. It was a dream to share this experience with students and families today as we toured the abbey, learned about its construction and history, and enjoyed the most breathtaking views. Lunch was on our own but we were encouraged to try local specialties such as moules (mussels) and the omelette montoise (an incredibly light and delicious omelet originally served to pilgrimage travelers.) We explored the small bustling streets with shops and cafés before saying our farewells and continuing on through the countryside after a stop at the local biscuit shop. We are now in the region of the Loire Valley and enjoyed a delicious dinner of chèvre chaud and pork in the city of Tours, our home for the next two nights. Today we are off to see some amazing châteaux… somehow every day gets better and better! Signing off for now.


I’m not sure how each day gets better, but somehow it manages to! Yesterday we began our journey through the Loire Valley in the picturesque town of Amboise where we browsed the outdoor market for fresh produce and other local products. John also gave us “cheese assignments” to find and buy eight different types of French cheeses later in the day. From there we drove to the postcard-perfect châteaux of Chenonceau, also known as the castle of the six women because of their widespread influence on its construction and style, notably Catherine de Medici. We were free to explore both the interior and the surrounding gardens, a favorite of many of us because of the gorgeous flowers! There was also a hedge labyrinth that was thankfully very easy and no one got lost :) We picnicked by the river with all of our fresh market finds, one of my favorite moments of the day to just enjoy each other’s company. 
Our second chateau visit was the castle of Chambord, the largest chateau in the Loire Valley and built as a hunting lodge for François the 1st. We were once again free to explore at our own pace and a few of us took the opportunity to rent bikes and bike around the chateau. One of us (um, yours truly) had a mini accident trying to dismount the bike in a dress, and for better or worse, someone captured the moment which I’m sharing with all of you for a good laugh. (I wasn’t hurt in the least except maybe my pride a bit!) We then set up our cheese finds from the morning and did a tasting, our favorites bring Brie with apricots and comté with honey and baguette. It was a surreal moment to enjoy such delicious local products in front of one of the most stunningly extravagant chateaux. We then made our way back to Tours for our second night and dinner there before settling in for an early evening, as we have a packed day for our last day, and will make our way back to Paris. The realization has set in that the tour is almost done and I think we’re all wishing it could go on just a little bit more. Another absolutely unforgettable day.


Our last day in France was an absolute whirlwind with a packed itinerary to get us back to Paris. We set off early from Tours and made our first stop in the town of Chartres, most known for its stunning cathedral, renowned as perhaps the best example of Gothic architecture in all of Europe and dates back all the way to the 1100s. They used a special local mineral to create the mesmerizing blue colors of the stained glass windows, and while we saw so many cathedrals over the week, this one was by far my favorite. 

After a quick coffee, we loaded the bus and began our journey back to Paris. I should probably note here that some of our best moments of the week were not only seeing these amazing places, but the camaraderie on the bus rides in between. John had every person submit a question and answer of something they learned over the week, and he compiled them together into a quiz that we took in groups on our way to Paris. You should be very proud of all of your students because they, in fact, bested the teacher (and when the scores came out everyone laughed because I was in such shock over it, I asked for a recount!) But it was also such a moment of pride for me that these students have gained so much cultural and historical knowledge in such a short amount of time, and we largely have our amazing tour manager John to thank for that. 

Once back in Paris, we hit the ground running to make the most of our time. The first stop was back at the Eiffel Tower to climb to the top floor, something we were supposed to do the first day except there had been an unexpected closure. The views were of course spectacular and I think we all had a moment of “wow, we’re really here” at the top. From there we took the metro to our last night’s hotel, dropped our bags, and made our way to the Champs-Élysées, Paris’ busiest shopping street for a bit of souvenir buying. Our dinner was nearby and was a favorite of many, beef bourguignon and mousse au chocolat for dessert :) Then we gathered back together to ascend the top of the Arc de Triomphe, a first for me and something I will continue to do in the future because of its 360 views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. We were treated with a beautiful sunset and hugs all around as we knew our time in France was coming to a close. Our last stop of the night was back to the Eiffel Tower at Trocadéro to watch our first view of the tower’s sparkle at 11 PM. I just looked around me as they turned on the lights and heard the gasps of all the students and sheer delight at we took in light show and reflected on all we’ve seen and done over the past week. 

I have said this analogy to many students and parents over the week, and I’d like to say it again here. My French teacher took me to France at 15 years old and it changed my life. When I saw Paris with my own eyes, I felt like a kid opening an amazing present on Christmas. But being the group leader is like watching your kids open presents on Christmas— somehow, even better. This trip was a gift to all of us, something I’ll be processing for a while from now. It’s truly one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, not because of the place— it’s because of the people.