Just before term started at the beginning of September we embarked on a four-day trip around Europe with 15 other students and our teachers, visiting Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and London. It was an amazing journey and we learned a lot about a lot! Details of our trip follow below.
Day 1 – Ferry/Amsterdam
We took the overnight ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam and in the morning as we neared the Dutch shore, one thing in particular stood out for me: the windfarms. There were so many wind turbines! It showed to me how the Netherlands are actively taking action against climate change and are now investing far more in renewable energy resources. Personally, it sets an example to the UK for what true investment in renewable energy is.
Anyway, continuing with the actual trip….
Upon arriving in Amsterdam I think we were all blown away by its beauty (and nice weather compared to the UK); classic Dutch architecture coupled with trees and colourful flowers everywhere, it was almost too much to take in. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we made our way to the Anne Frank house/museum. (side-note: I would attach photos of it but for completely understandable reasons we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.) It wasn’t what I was expecting, I must admit, as I had thought that the house would be left just as it was with furniture and everything left in place, but it was nonetheless incredibly moving and educated us on the whole Anne Frank story, as well as what was happening to the Jewish people as a whole in Europe at the time.
After finishing our tour of the Anne Frank house we boarded a canal and took a tour around the inner city of Amsterdam, seeing all of the city’s main features and its beautiful waterways We then had some free time to have a look around the shops (so many clogs!) and returned to the hotel before going to an authentic Italian restaurant for our evening meal. We then went back to the hotel for the night, preparing ourselves for an early morning train to Brussels!
Day 2 – Brussels
After a three-hour train journey that set off far earlier than any of us had liked, we arrived in Brussels. We dropped our bags at the hotel then went on a brief tour around the Grand Place, giving us some time to buy souvenirs and presents (obviously chocolate). It was very hot, around 30°C so we went back, applied some sun cream and put on light yet respectable clothes to go to European Parliament in.
After lunch we made our way to European Parliament where we met our local MEP, Jude Kirton-Darling and had a Q and A session with her – to read more about our meeting with her, read our previous blog post. In the evening we went to the Hard Rock Café to enjoy a lovely meal before going back to the hotel for the night, preparing for Paris.
Day 3 – Paris
We then got on the express train from Brussels to Paris that morning, again, earlier than we would have wished but we had to have time to get everything done! We checked into our lovely hotel and put our bags in our rooms (unfortunately on the sixth floor) then went out and had the *ultimate tourist experience* of Paris.
First of all ,we took the Paris Metro to Montmatre and then we began the climb to the top of the hill where the Sacre-Coeur was. I must admit though that when we reached the top the very tiring climb was shown to be completely worth it: the view of all of Paris was simply incredible. We went into the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and although I couldn’t take photos it wouldn’t have done the beautiful building and artwork justice anyway.
We then went to Notre-Dame and had a three-course French lunch, visiting the Shakespeare Bookshop then going into the basilica itself; again simply stunning.
After going to Notre-Dame we visited the Champs-Elysées and were given free time to have a look around the main stores and buy yet more souvenirs as we made our way up towards the Arc de Triomphe at our own pace. After meeting up together we then we over to it and watched a military ceremony and climbed the 284 steps (don’t look down!) in order to reach the top. Like Montmatre though, the climb was completely worth it for the spectacular view from the top.
By this point we were only missing one tourist attraction, arguably the most famous one: the Eiffel Tower itself.
However, we were reaching the evening and the queues to get to the top were 1 hour or more so we didn’t go up, but we still saw the lights come on which in itself was beautiful. We took our (many, many) group photos and gave thank-you gifts to the teachers who came along with us, and a special speech to our history teacher who had organised everything for us but was moving to a different school. This was a perfect end to a perfect 3 days spent in Europe.
We took the early Eurostar, thankfully missing the delays, and arrived in St Pancras station, then taking a quick detour to another school to drop off our bags so we weren’t having to carry them around with us. After this we made our way to Downing Street and got right to the front door as our guide knew someone who allowed us entry. There was then another round of group photos and on we went to St James’ Park and Buckingham Palace!
Following a leisurely stroll around the park and yet more photos at the Palace we travelled to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament where we had a guided tour, seeing the House of Commons and the House of Lords and getting to know more about our own political systems and the processes involved when creating new acts, bills and laws. We then went to Pizza Express for a final meal together before we boarded the train home, mentally preparing ourselves for a return to school the next day – no rest for us!
I believe that this trip has taught me so much and gave me so much cultural experience because of the vast range of activities we managed to squeeze into just four days. It also brought me a lot closer to my friends and even helped me make new ones, as well as improving my French in the meantime! The trip has also given me an insight into what other countries and the European Union itself is doing to combat climate change, whether it is through emissions cuts or more investment in renewable energy. In my opinion by visiting this wide variety of countries and seeing the heart of the EU itself we have been shown just how much potential there is for the UK to help the fight against climate change and make more contribution into the world itself – whether it is through the environment or through humanitarian aid, both things that CAFOD itself campaigns and raises awareness and support for.