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Holyoke Students See Spain, France, and Italy Over April Break

For another successful year, Madame Vega brings Holyoke High around the globe!

Beautiful+Florence%2C+Italy.+
Beautiful Florence, Italy.

Beautiful Florence, Italy.

Beautiful Florence, Italy.

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During this year’s spring break, many Holyoke High seniors and juniors were lucky enough to join Mrs. Vega on the annual trip overseas. The trip traveled to Madrid and Barcelona of Spain, Avignon and Provence of Southern France, as well as Florence and Rome of Italy. The group was led by our main tour guide, Thomas, who was originally from Michigan in the U.S. – but fell in love with Madrid in college and had stayed there ever since.

Stop one: Madrid, Spain

8 and ½ hours later, our group landed in Madrid, where we waited for the second plane of 12 other students to arrive. Once we were all together, we were properly introduced to Thomas, who would be our guide throughout the duration of the trip. He had memorized all of our names, and everyone got a kick out of watching him try to figure out who was who. Despite a lack of sleep, everyone was extremely excited for what our first day had in store. After dropping our things off at the hotel we’d be spending the next two nights in, we were immediately whisked to a local bar and introduced to Spanish tapas. Tapas is a little something like bar food, except in Spanish culture it comes free with every drink you buy during the day time hours. It’s part of the culture in Spain and I can vouch for everyone on the trip by saying it was a huge hit. After this stop, we had a brief bus tour of downtown followed by a trip to the Prado Museum, filled with art by everyone from Gouti to Rafael. The museum was a low-key way to bring our first day to a close, and after dinner everyone was more than ready to get some shut eye in preparation for the next day.

On the second day, we were up bright and early to arrive on time to the Royal Palace where the powerful Habsburg family once resided. Alongside its beautiful architecture was all of the amazing history inside (much of which would ring some bells for those of us who have Mr. Bechard as a teacher). After this, we took the bus downtown where we were given free time to shop and get lunch. Despite our 8.7 miles of walking in sandals and dresses that day (most of the girls made this bad wardrobe decision), I can honestly say this was one of my favorite days on the trip. The buildings, culture, and people of Madrid are authentic and beautiful; and being able to explore this on our own was amazing – plus we had the best lunch of the entire trip at a restaurant called La Maria. After our free time, we stopped at the Madrid Soccer Stadium, and then went to a local park where we could relax on our own yet again.

Madrid, Spain

Stop two: Barcelona, Spain

 The next day, we once again arose at an early hour to get on the bullet train to Barcelona. Although I was sad to say goodbye to Madrid, I was ready for this next adventure. After 3 hours on the train (most opted to catch up on sleep during the ride) we arrived in Barcelona. We took the bus to our hotel in a town called Saint Andreu De Blanc, unpacked and had lunch, and took the metro back into downtown. We then took a bike tour that highlighted many of the main sights in Barce – such as the cathedral, the shoreline, and the beautiful architecture of a historic place known as the Gothic District. Some kids went to a Barcelona soccer game that night, and others spent their free time shopping on the pedestrian streets.

 On day 4, we went to Park Guell, known like many other places in Spain, for its architecture by the famous Gouti (and also known as the park where the beloved Cheetah Girls was filmed). After this we traveled by bus to see the Cathedral Familia Sagrada, which is larger than life and also under construction for its 100th anniversary in 2018. After this quick stop, we spent the rest of our day at the beach. The boys played soccer, a lot of the girls lounged around by the water, and at the end of our day we all played some newly met Spaniards in a game of beach volleyball (we’re uncertain about who actually won).

Stop 3: Southern France

The next morning, we got to sleep in until 9! (Trust me, this felt amazing.) There were problems with our bus service, so the entire day got set back a few hours. Once we were all ready to go, we spent 6 hours making our way over the border into France – again, most opted to use this as extra sleeping time. Once we were over the border, we went to Carcassonne, a historic walled city that has been revamped into a cute, down-town-like shopping place. We had free time here to eat and shop, and then headed to our hotel in Arles, the place that inspired Starry Night by Van Gogh. The next morning we took a tour of old Roman aqueducts outside Avignon, this was a very special moment for all the Latin scholars on the trip who have been hearing about for four years – but never actually seen – a real Roman aqueduct before. After this, the lot of us drove another 3 hours by bus into Avignon and spent the afternoon eating and shopping.  Known for its lavender, the old city sells almost anything you can think of in the scent, flavor, or pattern. The end the day, we took a walk on the beach of the French Riviera, and got to see one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip.

Stop three: Pisa and Florence, Italy

We had yet another early morning and long drive to begin making our way to Florence. We stopped along the way in Pisa, and saw the Leaning Tower (which does, in fact, lean) and Pisa Baptistery. Again, I was amazed by the architecture. We had free time for lunch, and many kids opted for McDonald’s this day, perhaps a sign of withdrawals from American fast food? The opinions on which was better – Italian or American Micky-D’s – varied. After our time there, we finished the drive to Florence and had a tour of downtown, showing us some of the main streets for shopping and walking. Everyone tucked in early that night, tired from traveling and aware that we had a full free day ahead of us.

 The next morning came quickly and we had our free day. My friends and I had an amazing Italian lunch, did some shopping for our families, and had gelato more than once. There is never a lack of things to look at in Florence, no matter what street you turn down you are bound to see some sort of art; whether that be a beautiful building, a street performer, or a statue that looks like it’s straight out of a history book.

When in Rome…

Stop four: Rome, Italy

We boarded our bus yet again the next day and drove the 5 hours to Rome. Once we arrived we had a tour of the Colosseum and the Forum, two  places you always hear about but never think you’ll ever really get to see – well, we did. It amazes me that things from such a long time ago can still exist in our cosmopolitan society, and seeing it in person makes it all the more mesmerizing. After dinner, we had free time for more wandering, shopping, and of course more gelato.

 The next day, we went to Piazza Novana, a famous square in Rome with the Four Rivers Monument. We split up here for free time, where I personally went and saw the Parthenon, got lunch, and had gelato for the first time that day. After this, we went to the Vatican. Here we explored almost the entirety of the grounds on our tour including the Sistine Chapel (which is just as splendid as it is made out to be) and St. Peter’s Basilica. After our tour, we went to the gift shop where you can order goods to be blessed by the pope and returned to your tour group within a few hours. After our dinner that night, we visited the Trevi Fountain – throw a coin and you’re destined to come back to Rome – and the Spanish Steps. The steps symbolized unity between Italy and the Spanish government when they were built in 1723. We spent our free time at the steps watching the sun set and reveling in the moment, knowing we truly only had a few short hours left of all this amazement until we had to begin our journey back home the next morning.

 The following morning, we awakened early together for one last time, and boarded our 9 and ½ hour flight back home. Although it was a melancholy moment sitting on that plane, the memories we made and the phenomenal experiences we had, made every second worth it. It was yet another successful trip for Holyoke High and EF Tours, and hopefully these opportunities can continue for our students for years to come!

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Telling Holyoke High's Story Since 1898
Holyoke Students See Spain, France, and Italy Over April Break