Roads Go Ever Ever On

The last post of the class snuck up on me quickly! I have enough material for countless more posts, but I wanted to write about a few of my favorite memories from the last days of my trip. Switzerland was by far my favorite place we visited. It’s hard for me to say exactly what made it so special for me. Maybe it was the lush greenness surrounding me, the clear lakes, the fresh mountain air, the crisp mountain water, the majesty of the Alps…All I know is that I never wanted to leave, and the day we left Switzerland was the most reluctant I had ever been to climb aboard that bus. Ever since then, I have been longing to return to Switzerland. While every other place we visited was amazing, I left a part of myself in Switzerland. I have to admit, I have never felt more at home or more at peace with who I am and the world around me than when I was in Switzerland.

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This was our view during our first dinner in Switzerland.

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Our first night in Switzerland was draped in fog, creating an aura of mysteriousness and dreaminess.

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One of my fondest memories is walking a trail through the woods with my dad and discovering beautiful waterfalls.

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The Matterhorn!

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I could have walked and climbed the Alps forever! (If not for the oxygen deprivation)

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The view outside our hotel room window.

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Our Switzerland concert featured the brass section during “Stars and Stripes Forever.” I’m the short one…

 

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I also got to tour my first castle in Switzerland: Chillon Castle.

I have lived in Illinois my entire life, but I feel as if I was meant to live in Europe. During the entirety of my trip, I never once felt afraid, homesick, or nervous. Even though I was surrounded by different languages and cultures, I felt more at home walking the streets of London and Paris and climbing the Alps than I have ever felt here. My dream is to one day return and live in Switzerland for a time. That dream seems unreachable to me now as I struggle to pay rent and buy groceries each month, but I know that whatever I set my mind to I can accomplish through hard work and dedication.

I plan on continuing my blog even after this class has ended and I am an official SIUE graduate. I want to continue sharing my adventures and observations with whoever cares to read. I hope that through my travels, others will be inspired as well!

I wanted to end this segment of my blog with a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien that he features in his book The Hobbit. I believe it perfectly captures the feeling of wanderlust.

Roads Go Ever On

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

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Au Revoir

Our last sightseeing adventures in Paris consisted of spending two hours in the Louvre art museum. Two hours was not nearly enough time to see even a third of the amazing art the museum holds. Of course, I HAD to see the Mona Lisa.

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The Mona Lisa is much smaller in real life than I had expected and rather less impressive. But it is still fun to brag that I got to see it in person!

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The Louvre

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Another gruesome and confusing painting I found interesting.  

The Louvre was formerly Napoleon’s palace; there is a whole section of the museum dedicated to him. We did not have time to visit that section, unfortunately. The Louvre was a very rushed stop, and I wish we would have had more time to explore. It is definitely on my list of places to visit again and explore as long as I want.

Our last stop was Notre Dame cathedral. The cathedral was closed to visitors, so we had to content ourselves with just the outside of the building. Even just the outside is amazing, though!

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I absolutely love the gothic architecture!

After our last sightseeing day it was time to say Au Revoir to Paris. The city was definitely a magical place, and I cannot wait to return again someday! I feel like all I got was a snapshot of what the city has to offer; all it did was whet my appetite and leave me wanting more! The culture, architecture, history, and the people were all so fascinating. I cannot wait to return someday and just walk the streets, explore to my heart’s content, and feel as if I have truly experienced the city of love.

347 Steps

During our last day in Paris, we visited perhaps the most iconic monument of all time: the Eiffel Tower. A couple friends and I climbed the steps all the way to the first platform. We would have made it to the top, but the top tier was closed that morning. We weren’t about to take the easy way out or pay even MORE money just to take the elevator. My legs were screaming, and my lungs were burning by the end. The view and sense of accomplishment was more than worth it, though!

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View from the first tier of the Eiffel Tower. Absolutely stunning!

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This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. We all had so much fun that day, and I’ll never forget our experiences.

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After our climb up the Eiffel Tower, we were set loose to visit the nearby market street of Rue Cler. We got lost multiple times and quickly discovered we had no idea how to read a street map of Pairs. But what is interesting to me now, however, is that I never once was scared of getting lost. Even to this day, I have this irrational fear of getting lost, not knowing where I am, not knowing how to get where I’m going, worried about being late. But while I was in Europe, and especially that day we spent at the Eiffel Tower, I never once worried about being lost. We made the most of our cluelessness and ordered crepes at a bakery we passed. I believe I got a Nutella banana crepe, and it was amazing. Finally, we did manage to make it to Rue Cler! My friend James and I purchased a bag of fresh cherries then strolled casually back to the Eiffel Tower while eating cherries and spitting out the pits. I remember feeling so totally at peace and happy with the world. During that day, Paris truly was a magical place. I have yet to recreate that feeling of utter happiness and peacefulness I felt while strolling back to the Eiffel Tower that bright and sunny morning.

In my next post, I will post pictures from our last sightseeing destinations in Paris. Then, it’s off to Switzerland!

On Tour

After our visit to Montmartre, we performed our Paris concert at Luxemburg Gardens. It was a very peaceful and beautiful area. The concert seemed really rushed, but the audience loved it. Once again, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” march by John Philip Sousa was a huge hit! The most striking aspect of our Paris concert was my father’s discovery of an older woman in the audience who was sketching our performance. I thought it was very neat, and it was a wonderful feeling to know that people oceans away cared so much about us and our music.

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Luxemburg Gardens was so green, peaceful, and beautiful. We performed our concert underneath this amazing gazebo.

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There’s me playing the trumpet! I’m to the left of the guy in the back row.

After our performance at Luxemburg Gardens, we traveled to another old cathedral where the choir and orchestra performed (I also played during select songs in the orchestra). This cathedral was also magnificent and inspiring. Something about ancient buildings just gets to me and makes me think about all the historical moments that building has housed and witnessed.

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Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of this cathedral, but it was absolutely stunning!

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The acoustics in this cathedral were astounding!

We ended our concert day with a boat trip on the Seine River which offered our first good views of the Eiffel Tower.

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Some of the bridges we passed under were so beautiful!

What could have been more soothing, relaxing, and peaceful than a boat trip on the Seine River in Paris, France during sunset? It was a truly magical experience, and I cannot wait to relive it again someday.

In my next post, I will cover our trip to the Eiffel Tower and the famous Louvre art museum.

300 Steps

Any bad impressions I had of Paris were completely wiped away after my second day there! Day two consisted of a trip to Montmartre, the location of the Moulin Rouge and the amazing Sacre Coeur cathedral. The streets of Montmartre are lined with artists selling their art while they painted. It was amazing to just stand and watch some of them as they worked. And of course I bought a painting to take home with me!

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I could have roamed the streets of Montmartre forever, but I think I was most impressed by Sacre Coeur. After walking up 300 steps, I entered the cathedral underneath vaulting arches, and it just took my breath away. (Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral.) I have to admit that I started crying. It was just overwhelming being surrounded by so much grandeur, and the solemn, spiritual atmosphere is palpable.

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Sacre Coeur from a little ways down the hill. Yes, we walked up and down ALL those steps!

I think the experience at Montmartre was one of the most lasting impressions from my trip. We all think our world revolves around us and our little corner of the world, but traveling forces you to realize you are only one person in a million, and there is so much else out there: things you could never even imagine until you finally step outside your boundaries. Sometimes I think we set these boundaries for ourselves and refuse to step out of our comfort zone. But let me tell you, it is one hundred percent worth it! Was I in my comfort zone during most of my trip? Absolutely not! I was surrounded by people who spoke a different language; I don’t speak French at all. I was unfamiliar with the customs, language, streets, money, everything. But I learned and grew as a person so much through the experience. I don’t want to imagine a world where I don’t continue to step out of my comfort zone and force myself to expand my boundaries. Because once we cease to learn, we cease to live.

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View of Paris from the top of the hill in Montmartre.

 

The City of Love and Graffiti

Next up on the European tour was the City of Love: Paris. To get there, we had to take a ferry across the English Channel. Thankfully, I don’t get seasick, so the experience was wonderful for me! We got to watch the White Cliffs of Dover fade into the distance as the ferry shuttled us towards France.

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The White Cliffs of Dover.

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The ferry was massive!

We even had dinner while on the ferry. It had an entire food court! I spent most of my time up on deck taking in all the scenery.

Once we set foot in France, we boarded another coach that would transport us to Paris. Much of the trip was spent on the bus, traveling from country to country. However, I did not mind the long drives. It gave me time to sit back, relax, and just take in everything around me. It gave me time to gather my thoughts and prepare for everything to come. Also, during the long road trips was when I really got to know my fellow students and form some wonderful friendships!

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The French countryside looks a lot like Illinois really…

My initial response to Paris was, “Wow! It is really dirty!” Everything was covered in graffiti, and I remember being slightly disappointed. I had such an idealized version of Paris I’d spent my whole life constructing that I forgot Paris is an actual city with actual people. Of course it has its dirty parts. I also remember the Paris hotel being the worst one we stayed in over the fourteen days. To get to our room, you had to use a stairwell that I swear was designed and built to star in a horror film. Plus, we had to turn on the light switches! So you could be halfway up the stairs and someone behind or above you would turn off the light! Every time we went to our room we ran up the stairs as fast as we could, so we could out of that stairwell. It was the creepiest hotel I have ever seen. Me and my roommate’s room had only one full-sized bed, and the hotel had brought in a cot for the other person. Neither my roommate or I were going to spend the night on that cot, so we ended up sharing the bed and felt much safer.

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The view from our hotel room in Paris.

Next up was a visit to Montmartre which I will cover in my next post. Au Revoir!

Goodbye, London

During our stay in London, I had the opportunity to drink my first glass of wine. I was not twenty-one, but the drinking laws in Europe are different. (They say as long as you can reach the counter, you’re good!) I had a red wine at a restaurant called Nando’s. The red wine was a horrible choice: way too strong and bitter for me! I forced myself to drink it down, however. It was too expensive not to! I had to hold my nose while drinking it because even just the smell was too overwhelming for my inexperienced palate.

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That was way too much wine for someone as small as me!

Needless to say, I returned to our hotel that night with a slight buzz. But I wasn’t about to not take advantage of being able to drink!

We also saw a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre while in London. Phantom has been my favorite musical from the time I was old enough to know what a musical was! The actress who played Christine was absolutely phenomenal! Her voice was amazing! I have yet to hear anyone sing the part as well as she.

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Me and a fellow trumpet player in front of the theater after the performance.

We performed our first concert of the trip at Victoria Embankment Gardens. It was a truly unique experience playing in another country. The crowd was much more involved and excited to be there. Many people look forward to the groups from America each and every summer (each state has its own group of students it sends to Europe every summer). Many of the audience members had small American flags they would wave, especially during John Phillip Sousa marches! And let me tell you, Europeans absolutely love Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” One gentleman also had a state of Illinois flag!

That about wraps up our London adventure! Writing about it has made me want to go back even more than I already did! I hope someday soon I will get the chance to return and explore London to my heart’s content.

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One last cheesy tourist photo from London!

Next up on the itinerary: Paris!

London 101

As Nigel narrated our London sightseeing day, we had the chance to finally witness all the famous landmarks in person. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace where we thankfully made it in time to watch the changing of the guard. The marching band was fantastic! I hated marching band in high school, but they made it look so easy. Their hats were a little comical, though. How they kept their heads up under all that weight I’ll never know!

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I am a trumpet player and was planning on a career in music at that time, so witnessing the stellar marching band was truly a unique and fascinating experience. Next, we took our time enjoying the views of Buckingham Palace (and taking 1,001 pictures!).

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Me and my dad in front of Buckingham Palace.

Next up was the Tower of London! We all know the stories: beheadings, torture, dungeons, secrets, spies, and the list goes on! I loved walking up the winding tower stairs; it truly felt like I had gone back in time. The Tower of London also offered a great view of the famous Tower Bridge.

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If you look really closely, you can see the Olympic rings hanging underneath the Tower Bridge! London was preparing to host the Olympics during our stay.

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The Tower of London.

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They made a dragon out of armor, swords, knives, etc. How cool is that??

One of our last stops of the day was the London Eye: a truly massive ferris wheel located directly next to the Thames River. It provided the most spectacular views of London! From inside the little bubble-like cars, we could see almost all of the major landmarks.

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Each car on the ferris wheel is huge!! You could even pay to have a whole meal served during your ferris wheel ride.

During our sightseeing in London we also had the chance to tour Westminster Abbey. For some reason, ancient cathedrals always make me want to cry. The arches, awnings, and intricate stonework are so awe-inspiring. It truly does make you feel like such a small person in a huge world. I wondered the halls alone for a time, just taking it all in. I most definitely got lost a couple of times, and I was worried I would be left alone wondering the empty, echoing halls forever. I eventually managed to find my way out and rejoin my group.The sheer magnitude of the building and the labyrinth of hallways and courtyards really do seem to mess with your mind and will you to get lost in the maze.

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Westminster Abbey.

These were the highlights of our London stay, but I will highlight a few other London stories in my next post, including our first concert and a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera.

 

Our Hero Nigel

The morning after our legendary London Trek, we embarked on a guided tour of London. Stops included Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the London Eye. Our transportation from location to location was by tour bus, captained by the esteemed former cop: Nigel. He weaved his way through the narrow London streets like someone superhuman, avoiding near collisions and cramped passageways, as well as pedestrians.

His passengers were in awe; we had never witnessed such incredible driving dexterity in our lives. Cars and pedestrians would be closing in on all sides, but we had a timeline to stick to! The entire bus would hold its breath in silence as we watched the master at work. Many times we thought we were staring death in the face, only to be rescued at the last minute by the incredible Nigel. He would complete his maneuver and be praised with cheers and clapping from all the passengers.

All the while, he kept up a constant stream of conversation, informing his passengers of every famous building or statue we passed. His favorite words were “rubbish” and “how the hell.” Nigel made our first full day in London a wonderful and unforgettable experience! And really, his driving was out of this world! I wish I had gotten a picture with him, but unfortunately I was too busy taking pictures out the bus window!

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Next week, I will be sure to post some pictures of Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the London Eye!

The London Trek

During our very first day in London, instead of letting us go to sleep after dinner, our chaperones decided we must go on a walk across London to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. While I was completely and utterly exhausted, I could not wait to get my first “real” glimpse of London: to be in the streets surrounded by London itself!

London, and almost all European cities, are so different from American cities. While London has its share of skyscrapers, many of the buildings and architecture are so much older. The designs are so ornate and intricate and brimming with history. I absolutely loved it! I felt like I was walking back in time; I was immersed in an ancient culture. At one point, we walked past what remained of an old Roman wall. I reached out my hand to touch the bricks and felt like I was touching time itself. We also stood on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is almost impossible to convey the splendor of that cathedral without actually being there yourself. We reached St. Paul’s Cathedral just as the sun was going down, creating some fantastic photo opportunities.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral in the fading sunlight.

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The entire IAM tour group on the steps of St. Paul’s.

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My dad was also a chaperone, so we were able to create some wonderful memories together during our time touring Europe.

One aspect of London that I thought was fascinating was that they had pianos set up all across London. We saw men, women, and children sit down and begin to play music at random. I would like to see that while walking through the streets of Chicago or St. Louis! In particular, I noticed one man in a suit who sat down and began to play a beautiful intricate melody. He had his briefcase next to him; he obviously was on his way home from work. I think it is wonderful that this way of relaxing, letting music soothe away the cares of your day or allow you to escape for just a few minutes, is available to London citizens.

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The final stop on our walk was of course, Shakespeare’s Globe. To reach The Globe, however, we had to cross Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian-only bridge across the Thames river. The Globe greets you right on the other side. The bridge offered wonderful views of London and held a few secrets itself.

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Lovers write their names on lockets and attach them to Millennium Bridge.

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Our destination: The Globe Theater.

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One of my favorite pictures I took on the trip. This is the view looking back the way we came.

Once we reached The Globe, we rested a while and took pictures. Then began the long trek all the way back through London to our hotel. No cabs for us! The return trip was by far the most grueling; it was dark, our feet hurt, we were exhausted, jet lag was taking over. Somehow, we all made it back to the hotel and collapsed in bed. The next day we were to embark on a guided tour of London and visit all its famous sites!