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A Trip of A Lifetime for District Students

Over February break, I was lucky to be able to go on an amazing travel abroad program to Europe with my friends and other students from Floral Park Memorial and New Hyde Park Memorial. The year leading up to the 10-day trip felt so long, but it was worth the wait, and truly one of the best – if not the best – high school experiences I have had the privilege of being a part of. 

The nine-hour flight we took from New York to Paris on the first day made everyone extremely jetlagged, but our tour guide and group did not wait to start our journey in Paris. The hotel we stayed in was small and cozy, and only two minutes away from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées. The Arc is much taller than it looks in pictures and the shopping avenue had so many stores and restaurants and bakeries all on one avenue – the macarons were delicious! You could spend a whole day there and be around everything you need. That night, we visited the Eiffel Tower and it was truly a breathtaking sight. The tower was lit up in golden lights, with white sparkling lights you can see shine every hour. Ms. Gina D’Ammassa, our teacher leader, let us go to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. At the top, you can see the city of Paris lit up at night and it was incredibly beautiful.

After the first day, our group went on a guided bus tour around Paris. We saw the Notre Dame cathedral, which was enormous and expertly designed, and from there we walked to the Louvre museum. The outside architecture was extremely beautiful: the famous Louvre pyramid made out of glass that, when inside, reflects rainbows onto the ground. All of the artwork was immaculate and the interior was so grand. Seeing famous masterpieces such as the “Mona Lisa” and the Venus de Milo was incredible. You may think that a group of teenagers may not appreciate the artwork as much as they should, but you hear about these pieces throughout your whole life and being able to see the original is truly remarkable.

Our final day in Paris lead us to the Palace de Versailles. The entrance line was extremely long, but, since we arrived early, we were able to enter the grounds fairly quickly. The view outside was gorgeous, especially with the rising sun reflecting off the gold architecture. The inside was just as incredible – the different rooms and artworks and lavish lifestyle made you forget that long ago people actually lived in the palace. And the garden was unbelievable! Our chaperones allowed us to bike ride around the grounds of the gardens, and my friends and I loved seeing the finely cut bushes and the river running through the center of the garden.

After Paris, our group visited Nice. When we got there, I thought that I was walking in a movie because the buildings and streets were so clean and the sky was bright and the ocean was beautiful. Nice was my favorite city on the trip due to how gorgeous and peaceful it was, and my friends agreed with me. We took pictures by the water and went on a beach made of rocks, which was incredibly rough on your feet, but worth it. Our group even got to learn how to play boule lyonnaise, a traditional and unique game using metal balls, although it didn’t go very well due to our lack of athletic talent and weariness from an early flight that morning. We were also able to visit the famous chocolatier Confiserie Florian, where we learned how to make candy and chocolate – much of it was being made for the Carneval celebrations taking place that evening. 

Monaco was a contrasting sight from Nice due to its wealth and lifestyle. We got a tour of a famous – and expensive – perfume factory, Fragonard, and even got to sample some lovely fragrances. Afterwards we took a long and steep hike up a mountain to explore the village of Eze, a beautiful little town propped at the top of a small mountain full of twists and turns and flowers and even a waterfall. My friends and I got lots of pictures in this unique village and explored for over an hour. It was so beautiful and worth the long hike. When we returned to Nice, our hotel happened to be located in the most ideal place for our group to watch the famous Carneval parade. We enjoyed throwing paper confetti on one another and dancing along to the music.

In Provence, we were able to visit the small town of Arles and explored the enormous Roman arena. My friends and I had fun climbing the stairways and some of the crumbled pieces from the arena. Our tour guide also allowed us to get an exclusive visit to the extremely old but still-standing aqueduct, and we were able to walk across it and explore the area around the Pont du Gard.

During our final days, we left France and made our way to Barcelona. The journey there consisted of a long bus ride, but the town we visited for lunch was like taking a step back in time. Carcassone, France, is a medieval town behind a humungous castle. We had fun looking at the toy shields and swords and axes for sale, and one of our friends even bought an entire knight outfit. Go Floral Park Knights! That night we arrived in Barcelona, and everyone who took Spanish in school was so happy to finally be in a place where they could understand at least some of the words written and spoken everywhere. Our hotel was right near Las Ramblas, and we were able to walk up and down the busy street, looking at the shops, and even visited a fresh food market, La Boqueria.

Barcelona is a beautiful and lively place; the aura was so exciting. On the second-to-last day of the trip, we took a bus tour visiting Antoni Gaudí’s famous masterpieces. We visited the Parc Güell that was decorated with colorful mosaics and is famous for the (inanimate) lizards. The mosaics were so intricate and beautiful that you can’t imagine how long it must have taken to fit all of the pieces together. Then, La Sagrada Familia. Wow! This cathedral is truly a breathtaking site. We were able to visit the outside and inside of Barcelona’s most iconic symbol and some of us were truly left speechless.

Afterwards, we went on an amazing bike tour around Barcelona, getting to ride in the streets! The bike tour and our tour guide were a lot of fun, and we were able to see the beaches, the side of the city where the wealthy people live and explore the beautiful city in a different way. In the late afternoon, our guide led us to the FC Barcelona soccer stadium, which was such an incredible place to visit. While I am not a big sports fan, my father loves fútbol, so I told him all about the place and took many pictures for him. We were even able to take pictures with the players – standing in front of a green screen, of course.

The end of our trip was quite sad and none of us wanted to go back to New York. While I have been to Europe before with my family years ago, it was a different experience getting to be around my friends and teachers. My French improved over the course of staying in France, and my Spanish-speaking friends even learned a few new phrases. I am extremely lucky to have parents who are willing to spend so much money for me to be able to see new places, and our school is fortunate enough to be able to host these trips for their students who are so willing to learn and experience more. Thank you to Ms. Dourayeb BenMoussa, Mr. John Christianson, Ms. D’Ammassa, Mr. Dimitrios Drivas and Ms. Tiffany Salcedo for being our “parents” and for allowing us this opportunity. This particular trip was truly one-of-a-kind and I will cherish those 10 days abroad forever.