What a journey it's been! But like all journeys, it must come to an end. We conclude our trip in the beautiful city of Prague.
Yesterday morning, we saw the quirky yet fascinating National Museum of Czechia, which had fledgling exhibits on the Celtic peoples and on natural history. After leaving the museum, we headed down the famous Wenceslas Square, where the Velvet Revolution took place and saw the memorial of Jan Palach, who burned himself alive to resist Communism in the 1960s. We had lunch near the Old Town Square, the center of shopping and cultural life in the city, and then we visited the Mucha Museum, where we viewed the timeless artwork of the well-known Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha. We had some free time for shopping and exploring, and some of us opted to see more art at the National Gallery of Czechia. The National Gallery, like the National Museum, was a work in progress, but it was still a once-in-a-lifetime experience: housing unique pieces of medieval art and locating itself within an ancient monastery. After dinner, all of our students spent some time exploring Old Town Square and getting a feel for the life in Prague.
On our final morning, this morning, we headed to see the Museum of Communism, which told the history of Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic as it fell both under Nazi domination in World War II and then under Communist domination following the war. The Museum detailed the resistance to the Communist regime, its daily life, and its propaganda and coercive tactics. Following that final splash of history, we took the incline up Petrin hill and got an amazing view of all of Prague and the surrounding countryside from the top of Petrin Tower. After a delicious lunch at Cafe Savoy, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our final dinner. We had our dinner at the very upscale and renowned Hergetova Cihelna restaurant, right on the Vitava river and overlooking the famous Charles Bridge. We had our most lavish meal yet, and closed the trip the right way.
I think we've all come a long way since we first began. Students formed strong friendships that will definitely last far beyond the end of the trip, and also learned a great deal (perhaps not in as formal a format as we had originally hoped!) about European culture and history. We depart for Prague airport tomorrow morning after an incredible trip! See everyone in the States!
Yesterday, we ended our stay in Berlin and headed to Dresden in our comfortable Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Our next stop was Dresden. After a long ride, we split up and had lunch in the city center, where our hotel was conveniently located. We then headed to the beautiful Zwinger Palace where we walked through the gardens and along the walls, viewing the gorgeous architecture. For dinner, we decided to go for some Italian food after all the German food we'd been having, and headed to Vapiano, a delicious fast-casual restaurant where they make your pasta or pizza right in front of you. We would only have a brief time in Dresden though, as we would be heading to our next stop, Prague, the next morning.
The drive to Prague today was very scenic and also surprisingly short. We left around 9:30 AM and arrived as early as 11:30 AM. After checking in, we tried our hand at Czech food at the Czech restaurant across the street from our hotel. After lunch, some of the students dropped off their laundry at a local dry-cleaner and we headed on the long climb up to the extremely scenic Prague Castle. The Castle offered stunning views of the city below, and we all took copious amounts of pictures to view later! After seeing the castle, we walked through the winding streets through an amazing array of local shops with local musicians and dancers along the path the whole way. If anything could introduce us to Czech culture, it was certainly the traditional Czech dancers, dressed in full garb, dancing to classic folk music.
We crossed the famous Charles Bridge and got scenic views of the river and the city, and we ended our day at the Old Town Square, the center of culture and history in the city. After a delicious dinner at U Parlamentu near the Square, we headed back to the hotel to rest after two long days of travel. Tomorrow we head to Wenceslas Square to view one of the many sites of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and will tour the National Museum before heading to some shopping!
Berlin is absolutely loaded with historical sites. The downtown area alone is littered with monuments and memorials spanning both recent and hundreds of years old. What's the best way to see all of these sites with only a limited amount of time? A scavenger hunt, of course! Yesterday morning, we split the group up until teams of two and had them take pictures with the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Victory Column, the German Chancellery, House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), the American Embassy, and a variety of local cultural items (public transportation, a phone booth, an I <3 Berlin sticker, etc.). Our winners, Kobalt and Luke, received an extra 10 Euro for their lunch stipend. Congratulations guys!
The scavenger hunt began after we took a short walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a famous sculpture-cum-memorial, which remembered the victims of the Holocaust. After the hunt, we met at the downtown square, Potsdamer Platz, and had lunch. For the afternoon, we walked back down the main boulevard leading to Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, and got to see the famous war memorial, Neue Wache, and the splendidly ornate Berlin Cathedral. Our final stop for the day was the DDR Museum, examining what life was like under Communism in East Berlin (and East Germany in general). It is one of the most interactive museums in the world: Complete with cars that were used at the time, a sample prison cell, many quiz games (involving the national anthem, jobs, home life, etc.), and even an entire model apartment of an East Berliner. After the museum, we headed to dinner at Hofbrauhaus, where we were treated to live traditional German music and had a very traditional Bavarian meal (lots of meat and potatoes!).
Today, we were all feeling pretty tired after our intense excursions for the past few days (and honestly the past few weeks!). So we started out the day relatively casually: We still began with a historical site, Checkpoint Charlie (the checkpoint where the Americans occupying West Berlin after World War II defended the border with Soviet-occupied East Berlin), but then headed to the enormous and iconic Mall of Berlin for some lunch and shopping time. After the mall, some students opted to go to the world-renowned Berlin Zoo, while others returned to the hotel for some relaxation and time to pack for our next destination. Tonight, we went to Clarchens Ballhaus for dinner, famous for its live music and dancing lessons. We just had dinner (though I offered that students join the dancing if they'd like!), and enjoyed the aesthetics of the restaurant.
Tomorrow we head to Dresden and then on to Prague for our final weekend! Time flies!
To learn more about our Modern Europe Program, click here
With any trip covering Modern Europe, eventually it comes time to deal with some of the horrors of the 20th century. We had already seen the devastation of World War II's Normandy invasion, but on our first full day in Berlin today, we reflected on both the Holocaust and the spread of Communism in Eastern Europe by visiting the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial and the Memorial to the Berlin Wall.
These excursions today came after we finished our long journey from France yesterday. We left Cologne on a train to Berlin at 11 AM (after a brave few, Hannah, Ally, and myself, made the optional climb to the top of the 500-some steps of Cologne Cathedral to see the entire city and surrounding countryside from above). We spent a good portion of the day on the train, and by the time we arrived in Berlin around 4 PM, we were all exhausted and ready to settle in for the night. After a short dinner, we had the rest of the night to ourselves in the hotel to unwind.
This morning we headed by train first to Oranienburg, which bordered the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to the south. After a solemn tour of the camp, we had lunch in Oranienburg and headed back to Berlin for the rest of the day. We got off the train at our next stop, the Berlin Wall. There, we sat and had another seminar: This time discussing the similarities and differences between Fascism and Communism, the ideologies behind the historical sites we saw today. We had quite a productive discussion, and while we concluded that both ended in horrifying consequences, students left being able to distinguish between and define the two.
For the rest of the day, we had some free time to explore the area. We ended the day with a delicious dinner at Zur Letzten Instanz, a charming local restaurant relatively unknown to tourists, which we all really enjoyed. Tomorrow we head to the center of Berlin to see the other major historical sites and experience the historic section of the city!
Bastille Day in Paris: Millions of people gathered in the streets to celebrate yet another anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution. We woke up early and spent the first couple hours of this holiday viewing one of the most recognizable and iconic landmarks of Paris: The Eiffel Tower. After taking a few pictures and soaking in the magnitude of the monument, we headed to the Champs-Elysees in the hopes of seeing the Bastille Day Parade. To our dismay, the crowds were quite extensive and it wasn't quite possible to get close enough to see the parade, but we did get to see the scale of the crowds (and some amazing fly-bys by the French Air Force!)
After leaving the parade area, we continued with the original schedule as planned. We had a open lunch in the Latin Quarter, in which we split up and students got to explore the plethora of options in one of the most incredible areas for food in the world. After lunch, we met back up to visit Notre Dame Cathedral; students and leaders alike were mesmerized by the scale of the monument, as well as the enormous stained glass windows, seen from the inside.
After Notre Dame, we made our way onto a leisurely river cruise and tour along the Seine river. From the cruise boat, we saw many of the most recognizable sites in Paris: Notre Dame, the National Assembly, the Alexander III bridge, the Louvre, Les Invalides, Trocadero, and of course, the Eiffel Tower itself, all narrated and explained in detail by our tour guide, Jacques.
After the river cruise, we headed back to the hotel and had an open dinner in the Saint Michel area (around our hotel), where the food options are almost as diverse and delicious as in the Latin Quarter (though some of our students opted for more American-style fare). After dinner, we had an optional excursion to the Mountain of the Martyrs (Montmartre), where we experienced one of the most incredible views of Paris from above, visited the famous Sacre Coeur Cathedral, and got a few glimpses of the Bastille Day fireworks before heading back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, everyone was very pleased that the wake up time was an hour later than usual after the intensity of Bastille Day (usually we meet at 9 AM, today we met at 10 AM). We departed the hotel at 10:30 AM after breakfast and headed to Paris' North Station (Gare du Nord) to catch our train and head to our next destination: Cologne, Germany.
Everyone was very sad to leave Paris, but our European adventure continues! In Cologne, we had enough time this evening to have a traditional German dinner (lots of meat and potatoes) and explore the stunning Cologne Cathedral. It's a shame we can't spend more time in this beautiful city, but tomorrow we head to Berlin and the next stage of our trip: History will again take the forefront in this city so caught up in the struggles of the 20th century. And we will also be experiencing some excellent food and culture as well!
We left Deauville yesterday earlier than we all would have liked, but our next stop was one of the highlights of our trip: Paris! We arrived just before noon, and as the Arc de Triomphe towered over us as we made our way onto the Champs-Elysees (The Elysian Field, literally "heaven" in the ancient Greek and Roman religions), everyone began to get very excited about our few days in Paris. Before us stood some of the most exciting sights to see (The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre) and one of the major highlights of our journey (Bastille Day on July 14th!).
After arriving at our hotel, a couple students (Aidan and Wyatt) were so eager to go shopping that we actually had only a short bite to eat at a local sandwich shop before heading out to explore the city's extensive, world-famous shops with some free time! On the way to lunch, we did visit the famous Luxembourg Palace & Gardens just outside our hotel, as well as the Pantheon. Normally I don't give this much free time (to make sure we have enough time for famous sites and history!), but students were so eager to shop that I gave them the whole afternoon. People came back with some exciting brand-names, as well as some local treasures. We met up at Shakespeare & Company (one of the greatest bookstores I've ever been to!) to explore and buy some books, before we had dinner and ended our first night on a relaxing note.
For today, we got started early and headed to two of the most important museums in the world: Musee Louvre and Musee d'Orsay. We headed to d'Orsay first, where we split up and saw some of the most famous artwork in history (Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, the impressionists and the neo-impressionists, and many more). After another quick lunch at a sandwich stop, we headed to the Louvre. The students, Hannah, and myself alike were all starstruck by the beautiful palace that houses the timeless museum, as well as its defining glass pyramid. We spent the entire afternoon exploring the Louvre and its endless exhibits (and, of course, the Mona Lisa!)
We finished the day by climbing the Arc de Triomphe and viewing the entire city of Paris from on top of one of its greatest landmarks. Everyone has loved Paris so far and its beauty has certainly enchanted us all. We're all very much looking forward to Bastille Day tomorrow, a holiday equal to (or even beyond) the excitement that surrounds Independence Day in the United States. Updates to come!
Normandy: A site of remembrance and solemnity. Here we remember the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died to free Europe from fascist oppression. It's ironic then that here we also experienced our highest moment of the trip yet.
We left Dunkirk in our bus at 9 AM and traveled across the coast of northern France. We enjoyed some classical and French music during our drive, setting the scene for the gorgeous countryside, while also leaving room for some recent hits (Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" made an appearance). We arrived in the beautiful resort town of Deauville in Normandy around noon, where we went to lunch at a delicious outdoor pizza restaurant. Deauville was a surreal town for all of us; the quintessential European town on the coast. Our 4-star hotel, La Closerie, was a nice touch as well!
After some free time in the afternoon, we all reconvened for a late afternoon picnic in a nearby park, and then we headed into the restaurant, Le Cyrano, where Hannah and I had reserved us front-row seats for the semi-final World Cup game between France and Belgium. For those who don't follow the World Cup closely, this was a huge deal, and we were in France for it! The game was tense, filled with thrills that get the heart racing, as any true football fan knows. The entire restaurant was following the game: We waited anxiously whenever Belgium had the ball, cheered when their goalie made a couple incredible saves, and shouted "Allez!" ("Go!") when France approached the goal. And after 90 nail-biting minutes, France was victorious! The entire restaurant erupted into cheers and celebration. On the way back to the hotel, cars drove by waving French flags and beeping their horns. We headed down to downtown Deauville, where the entire town had come out to celebrate. It was surreal experience: France had won, and we were in France to see it! One of our students, Allison, described it as "one of the best nights of my life."
Following the highs of the previous night, today was much more solemn. We boarded our bus first thing in the morning, all a bit tired from our celebrations of the previous night, and proceeded to have a day in Normandy. Our first stop was the famous Memorial of Caen museum, built during the Presidency of Francois Mitterrand on June 6, 1988 (the 44th anniversary of D-Day). The museum showed us the causes for World War II, as well as its bloody course, sending the clear message of the brutality and the horrors of war and genocide. Our students left the museum discussing how lucky we were that the Allies had been victorious, and how close we had come to a world in fascist darkness.
Next we went to Arromanches, where we had a short lunch with some hamburgers and ice cream overlooking the rusting ramps still remaining in the sea from the landing of the Allied forces all those years ago. After viewing the powerful 20-minute film of the Normandy landing at the famous Arromanches 360 Cinema, we traveled to the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. The rows and rows of crosses and Stars-of-David really hit home with our students how many had sacrificed their lives for the preservation of freedom. Our final stop was Omaha Beach, where the American forces had made their toughest landing, and where the fighting had been the thickest.
All-in-all, the past two days have been filled with our highest highs and our most solemn moments. While we reflected on the horrors of World War II and the brave sacrifices of the Allied soldiers of the beaches of Normandy, we also basked in the victory of France in the World Cup in the present day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were able to live first-hand. Viva la France!
What is the best way to follow up an entire day of constant sight-seeing in London? A relaxing drive through the countryside of southern England, a luxurious cruise across Dover Strait, and an afternoon along the famous shores of Dunkirk (Dunkerque in its native French) might do it!
We had an early Sunday morning: Our bus was leaving our London hotel at 8:45 AM sharp. But even with showering, getting dressed, and packing up all our belongings, we all still managed to have a pleasant continental breakfast at the hotel. After we had eaten our fill, our driver, Pascal, loaded up our bags into the back of our small bus and we were off. Most of our students caught up on some sleep during the drive, but everyone woke up right away when we reached the coastal town of Dover. Bringing us right back to the 1940s, one of our students, Kobalt, said that the view reminded him of the World War II-era song, “The White Cliffs of Dover,” recently popularized by the blockbuster Christopher Nolan movie, Dunkirk (2017). It wasn’t difficult to imagine the crossing of the English Channel by all those fleeing British soldiers of Operation Dynamo when, to everyone’s surprise, our bus boarded the cruise ship, The Spirit of France. Well, it wasn’t to *my* surprise, but I predicted (rightly) that all of our students would be pretty excited to find out how we were crossing the English Channel!
We had our lunch on the ship, sitting right by the front-facing windows where we could watch the rapidly approaching shores of northern France. When we reached shore, we re-boarded our bus and made the short drive along the scenic coast from Calais to Dunkirk. After freshening up and unpacking at our new hotel, we headed to a local park to have our first seminar for our Modern Europe course.
Yes, you probably almost forgot that this was also an educational experience! For our first seminar, we started at the very beginning, discussing the birth of the modern world and the advent of capitalism in the gorgeous Garden of Sculptures in Dunkirk. I was impressed with our students’ knowledge: Our seminar was just as productive as any I’d had in a college setting, and we soon found ourselves discussing how our topic related to the pressing issues of our present day. And that really is the intention of our course: Discussing and experiencing history so that we can better understand the present, and have an informed opinion on how to pursue our future.
After our seminar, we made our way to the beaches of Dunkirk, where just over seventy-eight years ago, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were making their brave escape from the Nazis. After that, we headed downtown for the evening to see the small, yet beautiful, town center and had our dinner in a pleasant outdoor café. The next morning we took care of logistical affairs (money-changing, an ATM stop, etc.), and then headed for Musee Dunkerque 1940, which detailed Operation Dynamo in detail. A short film detailing the historical evacuation really set the scene, and the museum contained many incredible relics of the evacuation itself including old artillery guns, vehicles, and engines recovered from the beaches.
For the afternoon, we set our students loose for some free time (in a buddy system), which they used to have some beach time, have lunch on the boardwalk, see historical Dunkirk, and do some much-needed shopping! We ended our day today with an outdoor sunset dinner by the harbor, overlooking the water.
After our intense day in London, these past two days have been the rest and relaxation everyone needed, while continuing our all-important historical immersion. And it’s a good thing too, because our next stops are Normandy and Paris: And saying we will have a lot to see there is an understatement if I ever heard one!
Well here we are: Already at the end of our first (full) day of our trip! For the sake of both ourselves and for those reading along at home, I am pleased to say that the arrival day went off relatively without a hitch: The hiccups, a 1-hour delay of our group flight out of JFK and a delayed train from France for one of our students, were no problem at all to adapt to and we all arrived safely and excited to begin our adventure.
The night of our arrival (Friday, 7/6), we made our way to the beautiful Kensington Gardens near our hotel in Earl's Court (and on the way, got our first experience on the "tube," the London Underground subway system). In the Gardens, we sat before the famous Kensington Palace, a home of the Royal Family and the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as many other prominent members of the House. There, we had a brief orientation for our course and for the trip in which we established our readings and seminars for the course, the Abbey Road Experiential Learning Method, our commitment to helping students with homesickness or any emotional/physical concerns they may have while they are with us, and our "buddy system" (that students must have at least one "buddy" at all times to ensure safety). We ended our first night with a delicious dinner at the upscale MK Bar and Grill.
Today, Saturday (7/7), we had quite a long, but amazingly fulfilling day! Seeing London all in one day is almost an impossible feat, but I am proud to say that with few exceptions, we managed to see it all! In the morning, we took the tube to the Tower of London, where we got a scenic view of the iconic Tower Bridge. Inside, we got pictures with the equally iconic Royal Guards, saw the Crown Jewels, and toured the central White Tower, built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. Rounding out the morning, we had lunch at a local, authentic English pub. We saw the Monument to the Great Fire of London, and explored the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral, the most prominent cathedral in London, including the crypts below, which housed the tombs of such important figures as Admiral Lord Nelson and Sir Arthur Wellesley.
In the afternoon, we hopped on a classic double-decker London bus to Piccadilly Circus in the hopes to catch the England v Sweden World Cup game, but unfortunately most of the bars were too crowded for us to enter. Not letting that slow us down, we experienced the streets being alive with fans; we proceeded to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Palace at Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament are located), Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street (the home of the Prime Minister) and finally, Buckingham Palace. One of the students informed us from his phone app that we had walked roughly 7 miles and tens of thousands of steps, by the far the most intense day of our whole trip! But we did it; we saw London! (Or at least, most of the most important sites to see when visiting). We even got to see some things off-the-beaten path, such as the Monument to the Great Fire of London from the 17th century and Whitehall, from which Britain ruled 1/4th of the world's population only a hundred years ago (now the Foreign & Commonwealth Office).
We will certainly be having a relaxing day tomorrow after such a trek! Tomorrow, we will be spending much of the day on a bus to Dunkirk: Along the way, we will be discussing the origins of capitalism and property while riding along the gorgeous coasts of southern England and through the English Channel tunnel to France. Not too bad so far, I'd say! More updates to come!
Greetings students and parents,
I know everyone is extremely excited to get started with Abbey Road's 2018 Modern Europe program! You have selected one of our programs with the most historical depth (especially in its relevance to the present day), and one that visits some of the most important, most famous, and most historic cities in Europe. This is the program blog, and you can follow here for frequent updates.
Allow me to introduce myself officially (although you may have already heard this whole spiel through e-mail): My name is Matthew Bowser. I am a PhD Candidate in World History at Northeastern University ("world history" is a cutting-edge research field in history in which your chosen area of expertise is looked at through the lens of the wider world, looking at the connections that events in London had with events in Paris, Calcutta, Singapore, etc.). I myself am a specialist of the British Empire in the 20th century, so the area of my greatest expertise will be during our London leg, but my training includes a deep, global understanding of modern European history, and students will not leave without a deeper knowledge of key events of Modern Europe: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War.
As importantly, however, the trip will be fun and culturally immersive! We'll be spending all of our time out and about in London, Dunkirk, the towns of Normandy, Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, and Prague, experiencing local culture and getting an educational but exciting travel abroad experience. We will be posting frequent updates here so that parents, family, and friends can follow along from home!
Assisting me with all of this will be Hannah Welch, who will serve as RA and photographer. Hannah has been with Abbey Road since 2010 and has taken photographs of almost all their programs. Her passions are travel and photography which explains why she loves her job so much! She is currently living in Orlando Florida but has spent the last 4 years teaching English at a public elementary school in northern Spain. If you are a student that is not coming in on the group flight from JFK, you will either be meeting me or Hannah at your port of arrival, so be sure to remember our faces from this post!
Looking forward to getting started on the trip!