Saturday, March 31, 2012

Notes from Croatia: Last day in Dubrovnik!

Where does the time go? One of our eternal questions, yes? In a few hours we will be over the Atlantic on our way west and home, flying as the time did in Croatia. But there's one final installment here, so here goes:

We began the day boarding an excursion boat for the Elafiti Islands, a cluster of tropical-ish "oases" just off of the main coast. Unfortunately, the seas were kind of choppy, the sun ducked behind dark clouds, and our journey took a turn toward more-exciting-than-we-thought-it-would-be. We made the first island unscathed but discovered that the locals were still hibernating. So, we shoved off for the second one, had freshly grilled fish for lunch along the way, and happily found an open cafe at our next port-of-call. Hot chocolate and cappuccinos all around! Then, some R&R on terra firma before sailing home on the somewhat feisty Adriatic, which we again safely navigated. Whew!

Wind-blown but not down, we gathered our collective will and met for dinner at Pizzeria Baracuda in Dubrovnik's old quarter. Double yum! And before heading out to various gelato shops, we had our final group photo taken on Dubrovnik's famous main street or "pedestrian promenade," Placa aka Stradun.

And so, alas, our narrative of foreign intrigue and experiences draws to its end. It is a tale that I have only briefly presented, but is one with many subplots that I am confident you will hear recounted in more and more depth as the memories make their way to the surface. I hope you have enjoyed my version, and I know you will enjoy those more detailed from your loved ones when you see them upon their return home.

Take care, faithful readers, and so long, Dalmatia of Croatia!

Your Humble Narrator,
Doc S
P.S. For a final word, I will leave you with a quotation from Sarah P: "Wow, this place is like Old Town times a thousand!"

Friday, March 30, 2012

Notes from Croatia: Another day in Dubrovnik!

Today we met our Croatian counterparts at their school, Biskupijska Klasicna High, within the old walls of Dubrovnik, and I think it is fair to say, friendships took root quickly. We first met their head of school, pictured with us posing on a footbridge as we entered the school's upper level -- a quite kind and gracious man of the cloth. Then, we enjoyed a freshly baked snack in their library (scrumptious!) and Tom Ed and Luke checked out the bible trimmed in gold. Next, we met Ivana, their English language teacher, and her students. She had composed an ice-breaking game, and as you can see, the ice was broken. (The pictures seem a bit out of order, but I think you'll get the idea!) I included two of our group shots because Maggie's glee was too wonderful to leave out! After their school day ended at 1:10 (!), our band joined several of their Croatian peers for a walk around town before we reunited for a cable car ride to the top of Mt. Srd. What a view! (See the pic of Sarah, Mrs. McElroy, Shannon, and Tom Ed.) Gorgeous!

So, the high school visit was a success, and in fact, we will be joining many of them again tomorrow evening for an environmental recognition within the old town walls. Before that rendezvous, however, we will venture out on the open sea with Croatian fishermen. Yikes! Look for new photos documenting the high jinks if I can keep this iPad out of the Adriatic.

Until next time, I remain,
Doc S
P.S. Also look for links from me to photos and articles in local rags and e-mags produced by media members invited to our high school gig. It seems our visit was seen as exceptional!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Notes from Croatia: Dubrovnik!

The famous former republic that rivaled those pesky Venetians, D-Town, as we vet Croatia travelers call it, welcomed us as if we were Marco Polo. No surprise there, I guess. :0)

The fab photos tell the tale!

Tomorrow, a rendezvous with Croatian high school seniors!

Doc S
Photog credits: Mrs. Jill McElroy

Romania - Our Last Day :(

Today is bittersweet for the Saints. We are all ready to head home to sleep in our own beds and there has also been a lot of chatter about eating at Chipotle.

However, to celebrate our last day here, a few of us decided to brave the early wake up call and fully immerse ourselves in the Pro Vita farm activities. Ms. English Mr. Via and Mr. Naidorf woke up at sunrise to head down to the barn and Milk the cows. Make sure to see Adam in action in today's photos!

After a leisurely breakfast, we created a few gardens consisting of trees, marigolds and pansies, plus a few replanted lilies. A few students played with the younger children during their morning free time.

Our last lunch included bean soup and potatoes, in addition to the regular bread, cheese and salami. A couple girls had Nutella for their bread that they attained at Carrefour yesterday.

For our final working hours we divided up into two teams. The first helped Marian carry wood and set up the bonfire (which is currently on hold until the wind dying down). The second group returned to the vegetable project by the kitchen. We made a considerable amount of progress considering the entire wall pictured had heaps of potatoes, carrots, onions and parsnips waiting to be sorted. Our reward was homemade pickles!
At the moment the group is packing and cleaning as we await dinner. For dinner we are about to eat risotto, potatoes, bread, and homemade apple cake (that was Ms. Stone's afternoon project). See you at Dulles!


Mont St Michel on a bright, clear day!

A powerful moment at the American Cemetery

Pointe du Hoc where the TexasRangers defeated the Germans

Taking a short break at the Obelisk

A fine view of the Arc de Triomphe

Looking out from the top of the Eiffel Tower

John and JC Tebowing at Mont St. Michel

By JC and Brad

Day 1.
Barely made it through Charles de-Gaulle.
The things I’ve had to see.
The things I’ve had to do.
Have you ever felt forgotten? Tried to find people at McDonald’s and still get no refills?
I have.
Well, not actually. I have had a lovely trip. WE have actually. This is JC and Brad. Hey.
Or Bonjour. I think that’s how you spell it. I don’t even speak French. But I can read and write it. Hay.
It’s weird typing with a French keyboard. You have to press shift to get a number. Who does that?
And periods too, its pretty ridiculous so I was going to use a run-on sentence because I hate using periods but I’ve decided to end my sentences by actually saying the word “PERIOD”, as if this was a telegram period Any questions?
To be honest, I don’t even remember what I did on the first day period I don’t even know what day it was period No, actually we had a very lovely day in Paris which included a trip to the Louvre art museum and the famous Arc de Triomphe period Yeah, that was a nice touch of French in there right? Yeah period
I watched period It was a time period I had a really good “falafel” too period
Morn of Day 2: As the sun rose over Paris, so, too, did we period
We thought that we, despite being creative and original, could not create a poem as well as one of France’s greats, Guillaume Apollinaire period
So, without further ado:
« A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien Bergère / ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin / Tu en as assez de vivre dans l'antiquité grecque et romaine »
« At last you're tired of this elderly world Shepherdess / O Eiffel Tower this morning the bridges are bleating / You're fed up living with antiquity”Alcools, 1912
That was nice period That was really nice period
Wirty dord

A Day in History, Literally

by Douglas Maggs


It’s hard to believe that we have been here for nearly a week now. The culture, the cuisine, and of course the people are just amazing! While I could definitely talk about any of the great things that have happened, I want to focus on one thing in particular that I thought was very special.

On Tuesday, we had the fantastic opportunityto visit the Normandy D-Day beaches and many other important landmarks in the area. I love history and I have always found World War II to be particularly interesting. Therefore, it was really a special moment to just look around and consider the events of 68 years ago on a now pristine and quiet beach. Our guide was able to point to the very spot where famous events occurred. The Texas Rangers landed here, or the German anti-aircraft guns were there, etc. And so much of the history still exists right where it was left.

We climbed down into German bunkers and massive bomb craters and experienced history in a special way. Later in the day, we visited the American War cemetery in Normandy, where nearly 1,0000 Americans who died in the war now rest. It is a powerful image, to say the least, to look out on the rows of neat crosses and pristinely kept gardens. I remember feeling glad that we managed the place for our fallen veterans so well. We walked around for a long time, and just as we were leaving, we noticed that they had begun the American flag lowering ceremony, which is done at the end of each day. I talked to our guide about the lowering ceremony and asked if they ever let people participate. He explained that, in fact, only American citizens could lower the flags. Then to my disbelief, he went and talked to the cemetery director about the possibility of some of us helping in the ceremony. The director said that he would be happy to let a few of us participate. So along with Mr. Adams, Jasmine, JC, and I all helped lower the flag. The director told us that there was “no pressure,” but that 10000+ Americans were watching us right then. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it was a really moving experience. The entire day was special, but this in particular was very special!


by John Siegmund

Day one of our journey started out like any normal flight. We arrived at the airport extra early so that we would not have to rush. The flight went well despite the majority of students not sleeping much, if at all, on the plane. That plane ride did spark the catch phrase of the trip courtesy of Foshee and the show "Archer": DANGER ZONE!

We arrived in Paris early in the morning and had some trouble finding the hotel. It was situated in an alley in the Latin Quarter. That first day we visited Notre Dame and then walked around Paris. After dinner, the students that did not go to sleep went to the Louvre, including myself. At the Louvre I saw the works of David, Da Vinci and others. In my opinion, the Mona Lisa is overrated so I spent about 5 seconds looking at it and then pressed on to more interesting paintings including the Coronation of Napoleon and the Cardinal Richelieu.

The next day after getting little sleep, we visited the ever so famous Eiffel Tower. I had been to it before so it was not mind blowing, but it was still cool to see it again and to climb up the second level. The coolest part for me was seeing the French soldiers walking around defending the area (oh, the irony). Our next stop was at the Arc de Triomphe which was short and sweet. Later, while eating lunch at McDonalds, we saw Bianka come running up to us and we realized she was lost and we had forgotten about her. This would happen again with Jazzy J at Sacre Coeur and we would later find her at a Metro stop. “I can find my way, Jazzy J can't”. Speaking of Sacre Coeur, it was very busy when we went. There people everywhere, tourists, performers, gypsies and beggers. You couldn’t take pictures inside and they charged six euros to go up to the top which is too much. And that concludes the second day.

Our third and final day in Paris consisted of us taking a river cruise of Paris and choosing different areas where we wanted to see more of. I decided to stop at the Louvre again because there was more artwork that I wanted to see. We left Paris via Gare St. Lazare and took a train to Bayeux. This part of the trip was where things got interesting. Everyone started to smell like burning rubber and the train stopped in a small no-name town that was not in Mrs. Adams list of the 200 biggest towns in Normandy. We had to stop because of a brake problem and of course, the French got out and started to smoke cigarettes and be French. We finally got a new train 2 HOURS LATER and we finally on our way to Bayeux. When we arrived at the train station, I had a combination of nervousness and excitement but was exhausted at the same time.

Saints jouent au basket à la francaise!

Here' s a photo of the sidelines which I tried to turn right-side up several times but these tricky keyboards and pop-ups in French have clearly prevented me from doing so. My apologies!

On Monday morning, the students spent time with their correspondants in classes and at 10am had recreation time in the courtyard. Ben, John, Douglas, Brett and JC were active participants on a less than ideal court and Mr. Adams, Jasmine, Bianka, Louis and I were active spectators.

More stories and pictures to come!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Notes from Croatia: Lazy Day on Korcula

First of all, in case there's any confusion, we are on the island of Korcula and staying in the town of Korcula. We're in the main place, the hot spot...where it's at. :0)

So, today, we crawled out of our rooms at a mellow pace and checked out the local haps in the warm sun and cool breezes. Souvenirs and local art were purchased, and some of the gang joined the morning cafe life. After lunch, we mounted our caravan for the other side of the island and visited Vela Luka, a sleepy, arty community. (See pic of a group cappuccino-hot chocolate-latte-water-espresso session in the bright sun.) Not much happening there at this time of year, so we re-mounted our chariot after bevvies and dashed back home to medieval Korcula town. Evening called for outdoor eats while the sun set, and that meant Croatian pizza. Yum!

Tomorrow, our final destination: Dubrovnik!

Until then, as always, I remain,

Doc S

Wednesday in Romania: Our Second Day of Travel

This morning we took the time to sleep in and enjoy the luxuries of the Vlahia Inn outside of Braun. After a glorious buffet brunch which included Romanian pancakes, eggs, and espresso, we took off to march up to the Braun castle the overlooks the mountain pass between Wallachia and Transylvania. We would soon learn the loose correlation of the Braun castle and the Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula was supposedly inspired by the legend of Vlad the the Tepes or the Impaler who was infamously known for his methods of torture. While it was never recorded that he was a true vampire, he was indeed bloodthirsty in the traditional sense of Medieval ruler trying to establish order in a hostile territory. Supposedly Vlad spent a night or two at the castle and which has since inspired the ensuing Dracula stories.

We then migrated over to the Peles castle the summer home of King Carol I, one of the first monarchs of Romania after Romania declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 19th century. We also learned that it was used for entertaining during the communist regime. Our whole group was in awe of the ornate decorations of gold leaf, weapons, Venetian glass, hand woven silk rugs and Turkish tapestries... to name a few! We all appreciated our extended tour and learning about the intricacies of the secret passageways throughout the castle. Our last stop on our journey back to Pro Vita was Carrefour, which is equivalent to Walmart. Students enjoy browsing a and buying anything from gellato to prosciutto, chips and chocolate.
Once back at Pro Vita, we reunites with Eureka, our house mom, unpacked and relaxed before dinner. Journals and the next day's schedule were tended to and now we are once again relaxing, reflecting on travels and getting ready for bed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beyond my wildest dreams

By Brett Williams

I have had a passion for the French language and culture since I was very young, so choosing to participate in the Normandy Exchange this year as a junior was a no-brainer. I didn’t for a second expect, however, the experience to be as surreal as it has proven thus far or as promising as the week seems now four days in.

Having never left the United States before, I knew I would enter a whole new world during the exchange. At the same time, I had studied Paris and all of its landmarks at such length that I assumed it would feel just like the glorious City of Love (or City of Lights) with which I had been familiar. Yet throughout my stay I could never quite grasp the reality of my long-awaited visit. Hiking up the Eiffel Tower, shopping my way through the Champs-Elysées, riding down the Seine; each moment, to use a far too common cliché, felt too good to be true. I made sure to savor all the wonderful times, but couldn’t shake their dreamlike aura.

Fortunately, I also managed to experience several facets of Parisian life that do not find mainstream exposure but in all truth exemplify French culture. For example, I bought a simple baguette au fromage at a roadside café early on and casually consumed it while strolling the city streets. I stopped at other cafés to end both nights in town with my fellow correspondents and enjoyed not only the glace and gaufres (notice a food theme here?) but also the immersion into conversational French with the staff (and Franglais with my friends, bien sur!). And I witnessed firsthand the nightlife of the busy Quartier Latin, complete with its lively customers and hawkish store and restaurant owners. It was these aspects which I believe once and for all defined Paris for me and created the most special memories.

Then came Bayeux. After three tiring days in the capital and a few technical difficulties during the exit trip, I found myself face to face with a new family and life which would assume me for a week—the real “exchange.” And immediately I knew I had found a perfect match.

The Deblangy clan, which is composed of Emma, my correspondant, two younger sisters, Monsieur et Madame, and two playful and energetic cats, brought me into its home with such warmth that all of my worries vanished from the first greeting on. We have discussed nearly every facet of one another’s lives, inserting jokes and words of wisdom. We have enjoyed several cultural standbys, such as eating bread and jam for breakfast and beaucoup de fromage after dinner (I promise, I will move on from food soon!). Most importantly, both the Deblangys’ life and my own have continued seamlessly. In fact, they maintain nearly the exact same morning and evening routines—time of departure for school, a long dinner with much friendly discussion, etc;--as does my family. Thus far I have found great joy getting to know this group, and I’m sure the fun will persist for the duration of the trip.

Countless unique opportunities have come my way this week, and countless more await. I have anticipated the visits to the historic D-Day sites and Mont-Saint-Michel since learning of them, and I look forward to further bonding with my American friends and with my new French ones. Time will tell if my expectations are met, but I believe they will be, as has proven the case so far, entirely surpassed.

Notes from Croatia: Split to Korcula!

Ok, so we had a busy day visiting two towns, driving through a sea-kissed tip of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and spending a few hours in our bus as we moved to our next port-of-call, Korcula (pronounced KOR-choo-la). The pix below tell the story:

Virginia, Nicole, Shannon, Alex, and Tom Ed take a well-deserved break after trekking half-way up the wall at Ston. See how high it continues behind them? It's the second longest wall after that one in China. You can't see them off in the background, but Luke and Sarah kept going up! Brave souls.

The next shot is a whacky one from the bus; I guess the looong, winding roads either weren't so bad or the ride demanded silliness. The trip did keep going, but the road ran along the Adriatic, and the views on our cloudless day were spectacular, as they say. Wow. Before Ston, we stopped for refreshments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What? Yeah, well, about a mile of the country reaches through Croatia to the water, and no way they're giving that gorgeous property up. And they take kunas!

Orebic was our next goal -- home of the ferry we needed to take to our final destination -- but also the home of a fifteenth-century, Franciscan monastery and the site of the group shot in a Renaissance gazebo. See the sea far below us? A nice reward after hiking from the shore! Good grief, we could not have asked for better weather, and the breeze off the Adriatic cooled our sun-soaked skin. The monastery proved to be both a peaceful and exhilarating place to chill. Sweet.

After catching the ferry to Korcula, we made a brief recon of the medieval quarter next to our hotel on the water and successfully satisfied our gelato fix. Yay! Then, we gathered for our evening repast in the hotel. Good eats and funny faces!

Tomorrow: a tour of our island and a visit to the lovely town of Vela Luka.

Until then, I remain,

Doc S