“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett
Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am all about stories. It’s how I teach my students, how I entertain at parties, and even how I connect with my own family (although my girls and the wifie frequently tell me I am a bag of wind). The sharing of stories is the reason I started this blog, and “Capture the Story” is the speech I give during the last class of each school year. Life is so much more fulfilling if the story is worth living.
The last 9 days spent in Europe were, without a doubt, one of the best chapters of my story to date.
I wasn’t sure it would be. After all, 9 days to see London, Paris, Florence, and Rome (with Assisi as a bonus) seemed like an overwhelming amount of ground to cover. I figured it would be an exhausting trip (it was), and that I might miss some things I really wanted to see (I did), and that travelling overseas with a bunch of high school students might not be the wisest choice I’ve ever made (I was wrong). When we met at the airport, I was still full of misgivings.
Then, the plane took off, and the stories began…
As a teacher of history, I cannot express the excitement I felt to see some of the places I have taught about.
To stand in the Tower of London and look out over the Thames.
To look up at St. Paul’s cathedral and imagine the dome still standing amidst the wreckage of World War II.
Looking out over lovely Paris from the Eiffel Tower while your students wonder if you are about to die because you are sweating like a pig from climbing the 704 stairs.
Standing awestruck in the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, having never imagined how insignificant a person can feel in the House of God.
Looking down upon the stunning city of Florence, and down upon the Italian countryside from majestic Assisi.
Oh, and Rome too – no big deal…
Much as I enjoyed every single one of those places, they aren’t the story. They are simply the setting – it’s the people that made this story so amazing. I could spend hours writing up each individual tale, and perhaps in time I will. But here are a few highlights of why the last 9 days were so memorable…
- Clarence, the Texas school teacher/scientist/moonshiner that basically took over the trip several times with stories, riddles, and his questions to our tour guide, Tessa. “Tessa, Tessa,” he said in his best Texas drawl as we made our way from Florence to Assisi, “do you know how to churn butter?” Official Winner: Most Random Question of the week.
- My first ride on the Tube. Stranger danger. Everyone who was there knows what I mean…
- Getting lost in London for almost 4 hours, and blissfully roaming the cityscape.
- The boat tour of the Seine in Paris was perhaps the high point of the trip for me. Indescribably beautiful, yes, but the stories… from the rat hanging out on the banks of the river to the girls who angered the Brits by cutting in front of their picture, excitement was in the air before things had even started. Clarence was in high style, wearing his “gen-YOO-ine” beret purchased earlier in the day. The old Asian couple that stood in everyone’s way followed by the younger Asian man that kept staring at me whilst wielding his selfie stick. And of course, there was dancing along the banks of the Seine – by several young gentlemen who put on a show that could best be described as an eyeful.
- The night train to Florence. What can I say? 6 people crammed into each cabin. Filthy bathrooms visited by a barefoot bonehead (luckily not from our group) who proceeded to slice one of his toes open in the grime. Stories of roving gypsies that will steal anything and everything. Locked windows and broken air conditioners. No showers for 36 hours or more. In a word: glorious!
- Carrying one of my former students up to the top of the hill in Assisi after she had injured her knee… only to realize there was another hill to climb to get to the top of Assisi.
- Finding no room at the adult table for dinner one night (not unusual for me) and spending a week getting to know an amazing group of students at our dinner table. We supped together on some delightful food, and some terrible food, and even some onion-coated food (UGH), but we spent the last 7 days together and the stories are amongst the best of the trip. Some of these students I already knew from my own classroom, and others I had never met – but getting to know all of them better was something I will always treasure.
- Rooming with a fellow teacher that I had only talked to once before the trip, and coming home feeling like I had made a true friend.
- Feeling thankful for the teacher who organized this whole trip, dealing with the logistics so the rest of us could enjoy as much as possible.
- The joy on one student’s face when a surprise birthday cake was brought out for her. Her radiant smile was even visible through her ever-present mask.
- Breaking my bed in Hotel Sketch-fest in Rome.
- No water in Hotel Sketch-fest in Rome, leading to this conversation between the Hotel Host and a lady from another tour group.
Lady: “Y’all gonna get water back up in here soon?”
Host: Looks confused.
Lady: “I SAID ARE Y’ALL GONNA GET WATER UP IN HERE SOON?”
Host: Shrugs shoulders
Lady: “If y’all don’t get water up in here soon, it’s about to get STANKY AS HELL!!!” (pronunciation: Hale)
I don’t know if I was alone in this yesterday, but as the plane came to a halt at the terminal, I had mixed emotions. I was happy to hold my family in my arms once more, to clutch my daughters and infant son in a hug and get busy sweeping my wife off her feet again (I’ll let you know how that works out after leaving her for over a week with the kids – luckily I’m a real charmer :). But I already missed those 9 days in Europe. I missed the sights, the sounds, and especially the people. I feel, as the quote above says, that I have come back a different person – a better one, one that understands the world just a little bit more. I’ve seen the world through British eyes, French eyes, Indian eyes, Filipino eyes, and eyes with glasses. I’m someone new, and I don’t want that sensation to fade.
I’m doing my best to capture this story.