By KAITLYN SIVERTSON
On June 11 we all got on a plane not knowing what to expect. For Dillon Poole, flying was a walk in the park, but for me, it was my first time. This rollercoaster ride was to start off our vacation of a lifetime.
We landed in Paris bright and early with a whole day planned. Cody Dembek and I celebrated our arrival dancing around the airport skipping and singing, "We're in Paris! We are in Paris now!"
We made our way through France learning new things at every bend in the road. Lexus Lamotte and Kate Wilson learned that it truly is the "Country of Fashion." They came home with new skirts, scarves and much more to show off to their friends and family.
Peter Wilson and Stephen Gasser were our own personal walking textbooks, explaining anything and everything along the way. Kassidy Kemper, Trey Graves and Alexis Delvo taught us how to live it up and laugh it off. They spent a lot of time lost, but I don't think there was one point on the trip were they weren't having a good time.
Some of us even learned how to conquer new fears. Climbing across from Mount Blanc was very beautiful but unfortunately very high. I had the wonderful view of the back of my eye lids most of the way. Once to the top though, it was back to good times when everyone caught a glimpse of the snow.
The family stay was an experience for all. It was time for the real part of France speaking French all the time. Here we learned that an average morning headache is nothing compared to talking in a foreign language before one has a morning cup of coffee.
After the family stay it was time for Annecy. It's hard to even find the words to describe how beautiful this town is. The lake was where most of us spent our day. The water was from glacial runoff and it was so clear you could see the ducks' feet as they swam. It was a day to relax in the sun, on the beach, in a paddleboat or even climbing up the mountainside. When asked on the way home what our favorite place was, the No. 1 answer was Annecy.
After Annecy it was sweet, sweet Paris. We got to see the Eiffel Tower and Madame (Anne) Olafson's favorite, the Mona Lisa. And between all of the artifacts and monuments there was fun to be had, too. A group of us stumbled upon a laser tag building where we managed to spend a half hour of our time running and jumping around like kids. We all enjoyed the delicious food of the Latin Quarter. It was there where we found a lot of our souvenirs and some of us even ran into a cute little bookstore.
We ended our trip with the one and only Eiffel Tower. The sparkling light show was enough for all of us to wish for one more night in the "City of Lights." The next morning we got on the plane and said our goodbyes to the other group from Blaine. After landing in Montreal, late, we received half of our wish. We got an extended vacation with free meals and rooms, and that night we sat together for our official last meal as a group.
Trip to France was an opportunity of a lifetime
By KATE WILSON
This summer has been one of the best ones I have ever had. Not only was it filled with fun, friends and sunshine, but I also took the trip of a lifetime.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to France with the French students of Minot High School. Earlier in the school year, 11 other Minot High students and I signed up for a 21-day trip to France, with the Language and Friendship organization. A 21-day trip to France?! What could be better?
First of all, an opportunity like this comes once in a lifetime. Because we were traveling in a large group, we were able to pay a much lower price than what you would pay if you were going to France by yourself. You could easily spend twice what we did on a trip like this. A deal like this should be reason enough to convince you, and all of the saving up is worth it.
Not only is this a great deal, you receive half of a credit of foreign language. Many out-of-state colleges and universities require at least two years of foreign language, if not more. This trip is great for college applications.
Last but not least, this trip is a blast, and I know that I will never forget it. I saw so many beautiful places, and had so many new experiences. I saw the Eiffel Tower, took a bike tour through Paris, drove through the French Alps, and stayed in a French family's home for a week. I got so much out of this trip, and my language skills improved greatly. I would recommend this trip to anyone.
Tour of Annecy an adventure unto itself
By PETER WILSON
When one asks the members of the Minot High School student group that toured France this summer which city most captured their attention, there is a common reoccurring theme. No, not Paris, but the beautiful city of Annecy, nestled next to a crystal-clear and turquoise blue lake of glacial water and beneath the gaze of the magnificent French Alps.
The city itself is built around the "Vieille Ville" (ancient city) surrounded by waterways and canals containing the unbelievably pristine water. Although our hotel was on the newer end, it's a different story once you hopped the canal to explore the more rustic quarter of the city.
On the day that our group visited, we were treated to an enormous street market selling everything, including centuries-old locks and skull keys and lamps, knives and vinyl collections. On gazing at the buildings themselves, you wonder why they are still standing in the first place they appear outrageously old and fragile, yet they've stood the test of time remarkably well.
Our group was given the freedom to explore at our own will, provided that we stay in groups of at least three. Therefore, we had remarkably different experiences, yet everyone seemed blown away by the sheer beauty of the place.
Mine were a bit adventurous. Our group of five first intended to visit the chateau that one would find on the mountainside above the vieille-ville. This, however, was not what fate would have. We arrived a half an hour early the chateau didn't open until 10:30. So, we decided that we would hike a little farther up the mountainside and visit the magnificent monastery with views of the city and lake. However, yours truly admittedly made an enormous navigational error, and instead of ending up at the monastery, we found ourselves at the trail head of a path that seemed to lead to the top of the mountain under which the city lay. Teenage stupidity took its hold, and we decided that it would be a great idea to hike all the way up a mountain even though none of us were even remotely equipped for a hiking trip.
After about two hours of hiking, we found ourselves not at the top of the mountain, but at a miniature zoo with about a dozen deer hidden by a beautiful coniferous forest.
On the verge of turning around, disappointed that we were not going to get our wonderful views, we spotted another, shorter trail that seemed to have an opening about 50 yards down. Were we glad that we took that trail! It emerged on the top of a sheer cliff, overlooking not only the city but the entire valley of rolling hills and picturesque, emerald-green mountains. Photos were taken and we headed back down the mountain side, rather pleased with our day thus far.
We wound our way down the trail into the city, this time making sure to pass by the monastery, and found ourselves back at the hotel with plans to head from there to the beach. Just to make our day a little bit more perfect, we decided to have a picnic on the enormous lawn that lies adjacent to the lake. We made a pit-stop at a French supermarket where we picked up a communal jug of the very best soda pop not available in America -- Orangina -- and found ourselves a little deli where we ordered sandwiches to go. We sat down on the lawn and enjoyed the fairy-tale views while eating our sandwiches, which were made on French baguettes!
After a short stroll (with swimsuits on) to the boardwalk, we decided that we actually needed to find the beach. A quick glance at a map told us that it was about a half an hour's walk, lakeside, from where we were. The boardwalk that surrounds Lake Annecy is a haven for the outdoorsy type cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders, and pedestrians can ride or stroll for as long as their little hearts desire.
The beach itself was packed with people. The grass and sand thoroughly covered with blankets. We found ourselves a spot and took turns going swimming, always leaving at least one person with the bags (beware of pickpockets and thieves).
It was 90 degrees and sunny, so we couldn't have had a better day to lie out in the sun, but the unbelievably clear water was too tempting. We did, however, soon discover why there were disproportionately few people actually swimming: It is shockingly and stunningly cold! The water is sourced from the glaciers that one still finds in the highest elevations of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.
This did not, however, mean that we couldn't have a good time in it! We soon found others from our group that evidently had the same idea we did and enjoyed spending the rest of our day basking in the sun, acquiring nasty sunburns.
We didn't complain one bit.
France was fantastic, all the way through
By STEPHEN GASSER
The first leg of my sojourn in France took me from Paris to the beautiful city of Reims. With a cathedral to rival any in the world and a quaint village-like atmosphere, this city quickly climbed the favorites board.
The grandeur of the cathedral was mind-blowing! Here I was, an average American, unaccustomed to history dating from the 800s, and yet I was standing on the threshold of the cathedral of kings.
From the time of completion until a few hundred years later, the cathedral at Reims served as the coronation place for all the kings of France. The sheer scale of the place amazed me. The center arches reached at least 50 feet high and the simple elegance of the place was enough to take anyone's breath away.
After an hour or so of meandering through, we met in the plaza to regroup and head for the G. H. Mumm Champagne house where we would learn how the regional specialty is made.
Dinner that evening was on our own, and it offered us more than an opportunity to enjoy our first authentic French culinary experience. We got to wander the streets, experiencing France firsthand as we spoke as much as we could to as many people as we could.
I absolutely soaked up the people and the culture at every turn I took. It seemed as if I would see something that was completely mind-blowing, just to turn and have my perspective shattered once more. Never in my life have I had to adapt so quickly.
The next morning I was greeted by an interesting shower that left most of the bathroom wetter than I, and a French breakfast that was an experience in and of itself.
Croissants and baguettes greeted my eyes and nostrils with sights and smells that not even Rachael Ray can comprehend. The cheeses were excellent, and to finish off with either orange juice or grapefruit juice was good, but by adding a mug of chocolat chaud, my meal was complete.
We then left Reims for Strasbourg, with war memorials on the way. The first stop of the day was at Verdun, a WWI memorial. Along our route we could see the trenches and the shell-pocked "no mans land" where so many lost their lives.
Being a history buff, I was at a loss from the moment I set foot on the grounds. By being in that historic place, I became part of history. From the museum we made a short trek to the ossuary on the grounds. When we exited the ossuary we received a breathtaking view of thousands and thousands of white crosses over the graves of Frenchmen who died in the war, along with a background full of trees, hills and the beauty of God's creations.
It was at that moment that the scale of the devastation of war really sank in. The Ossuary and cemetery along with the bayonet trenches we visited were my first taste of the reality of WWI. From there we drove to the WWII Lorraine American Cemetery in St-Avold. Here we were greeted by tens of thousands of American graves, each marked by a cross or Star of David.
The precision of the landscape and the beauty of the area seemed to blend with the haunting sacrifice of thousands.
We steamed into Strasbourg that evening. Situated on the banks of the Rhine river, the historic division between France and Germany, we were greeted by half-timbered houses, a cathedral on a scale so grand that Notre Dame de Paris pales in comparison, and the home of the European Union.
Next morning, I rose early to prep for the day's visits. On the list for the day was the Place Gutenberg, where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type, and the cathedral with its horloge astronomique (astronomical clock). If the cathedral at Reims seemed massive, the cathedral at Strasbourg was gargantuan.
The clock was mind boggling, but what really got me pumped was the climb to the top. Though I was inside a secure stone structure, I had the feeling of being outside because the windows in the stairwell were so large, and revealed the growing distance between me and the ground.
From Strasbourg we traveled to Colmar the residence of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statues of Liberty (the most notable being in New York City), and the museum that bears his name where we explored the Venice-like canals in small groups. Before we arrived we made a very important stop at Natzweiler- Struthof, a concentration camp located at the very top of a peak in the Vosges mountain range. The road we took to the top was built by the labor of the prisoners in the camp, which was equipped with a crematorium and gas chamber.
We ate lunch in Obernai, a city between us and our destination of Colmar. This little village is as authentic as France gets. Our next stops included the chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg, a castle from the 12th century, and Rique-wihr a quaint medieval village where we explored the unchanged streets and had a photo shoot.
Finally we arrived in Colmar where we were greeted by yet more canals and another welcoming atmosphere.
Before parting the next day we made some final stops at the Maison des Tutes (house of heads), which has more than 100 heads gilding the eaves; and the Musee Bartholdi, where we strolled through the mind of the genius who created many notable statues we recognize and love today.
Finally, it was time to begin our Family Stay. As we pulled into the park where we met our families my heart was racing. At last, my family arrived, and I was able to conquer my fear long enough to open my mouth and say "Bonjour monsieur! Salut Alexis!"
From there I had a grand slam of a week in Montbliard where I visited the Peugeot car museum and manufacturing plant, ate frogs or grenouille, learned how to walk on stilts, and attempted to ride a unicycle. My French host mother was a daredevil, and had just gone skydiving for her 40th birthday the week before I arrived.
It was then time to say goodbye and head for Annecy, the most beautiful city I have ever been in. We were greeted with a dinner of cheese fondue, that I loved, although some did not. And the dessert of rich dark chocolate cake was the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.
The next day was a free day, and with a crystal clear mountain lake and upward of 90 degree weather you can guess where I was to be found. After the constant rush of the journey to that point I finally had an opportunity to spread out and relax. By renting a paddle-boat, I was able to be on the lake all day long relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the area. This respite allowed me to prepare for the chaos of Paris.
Early the next morning we boarded the high-speed train that would take us to Paris. Cruising at more than 200 mph, I determined that this was my favorite way to travel.
As I exited the train I hit a wall of heat, for the very day that I arrived, Paris was experiencing heat in the 30s! (Celsius). By the time I boarded the bus I was sticky and nearly dripping, but I still had to tough it out through Notre Dame, and the possibility of visiting Sainte-Chapelle.
As we headed to our hotel, I thought 'LOOK HOW CLOSE THE BUS IS TO THAT CAR!'" because as we tried to turn a corner we nearly clipped a motorist. That's Paris.
We settled in, then headed to the nearest Metro station, Republique, and took the train to le de la Cite-Notre Dame. The white towers were spotless, but the courtyard was not. The people gathered around the cathedral were so dense I thought I might suffocate if I got lost in them.
After lunch in the Latin Quarter, we trekked back to Notre Dame and made our entrance. I was struck yet again by the grandeur of the place. To top it off, the organ was blaring and Mass was in full swing. I had forgotten it was Sunday.
The most notable experience of the evening was when I saw the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle. Never have I seen a sight so magnificent as that! For five minutes each hour every evening the entire tower turns into a blinking, sparkling light show. My life was complete, and I still had four days to enjoy the city.
On the docket the next day was a visit to the Louvre, down the Champs-Elyses, and to l'Arc de Triomphe. The Palace of Versailles was our visit the next morning. At about 550,000 square feet it is one of the biggest castles in the world.
The Musee d'Orsay has to have been my favorite stop of the entire trip. Seeing all the works by Van Gogh, Monet, and the other geniuses was truly inspiring and leads me to believe that when motivated, an ordinary person can be truly extraordinary.
We also visited Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, and on our final day in Paris we finally got an opportunity to visit the Sainte-Chapelle, one of the most beautiful and simple chapels I ever saw.
From start to finish, France was fantastic! I loved every minute of my experience. My favorite city had to have been Annecy. The lake and the mountains were perfect for this Idahoan! Paris comes in a close second. The hustle and bustle of Europe's biggest city attract a wide variety of people, and I fit right in.
As an American in Paris, I learned many things. Namely, never pre-judge an individual or nation until you visit or interact with them. People do not ever fall into their stereotypical categories and it is up to us to be educated enough to realize this fact.
Additionally, take any and every experience you have to travel. Growth and development come from an education of the world and the different ways of the inhabitants therein, yet as an American in Paris and beyond I learned that there is no place like the United States of America. I love my country above everything else and there is no amount of cheese or French delicacies that can topple that view.
France will remain my next favorite country, however, because I have had the opportunity to interact with the French people and learn their ways directly. And that experience is priceless for this American in Paris ... and beyond.