Friday, May 29, 2015

When You've Seen One Gold Ceiling, You've Seen Them All


One of the downsides of the trip to Europe, admittedly, was the educational tours we had to endure. Being a school trip, our itinerary was peppered with guided tours of several places we had visited, including the Doge's Palace in Venice, the inner towns of Lucerne and Florence, and a bus tour of Paris. Now I've never been the kind of traveler who likes guided tours.  No, I've always been an explore-it-on-your own kind of guy.  With the exception of one very unique and interesting guided tour of the Vatican Museums in 2000, I've never been on one I really enjoyed, and the ones I experienced on this trip were no exception.

As a person with an aptitude for writing, I have my own unique point of view, and so my observations of an experience are usually different from most.  During these guided tours in Europe I paid more attention to the guides themselves rather than the things they were pointing out, and I can say with certainty that there is a common thread to what brought these individual people to their jobs.

Ever since I've been a teacher, I've learned that different personality types draw teachers into their content areas.  There's no doubt that people's natural attributes make them well-suited for one job or another, not only in the teaching world, but in every vocational area.  I often brag that I can tell what type of teacher a person is after just  a few minutes of talking to them.  ESL teachers, like me, are nurturers first and foremost, and they love culture.  Social studies teachers tend to like to speak...a lot, and are pretty opinionated in their views.  English teachers, of course, love literature and their manner of speech is impeccable, and so on and so forth.

Like teachers, tour guides are all strung together by the same personality type as well.  First of all, they all have an affinity for history or art, or a combination of the two.  Most of them probably wanted to be teachers of some sort, and for whatever reason they were swayed into this particular vocation instead.  They are all extremely passionate about their subjects, delving into the most minute details that not many other people would find interesting, and they don't seem to have any empathy for the tourist experience when they're giving their tours.  They continue on in their passion without much regard for how their 'student' are enjoying the experience.  Thus, sadly, they can be very boring.

I can't really say which of our European tour guides was the most boring.  They all had their own individual quirks, but they all exhibited the same personality traits I describe above.  Perhaps I'd give the prize for the worst guide to the lady in Paris, who, sadly, put each of the chaperones, including me, to sleep.

Ah, I see I've put all the chaperones to sleep!  Perhaps we should wake them up so we can get up and walk around, heh? She said to the kids.

Startled awake by her comment, we were all jolted from our slumber to return to the monotony of the tour.  It was here, though, that it got a little better as we left the bus to check out a park and get some fresh air.  That didn't last long, however, as the boredom set in soon after as we boarded the bus once again to continue the tour.  I'm not sure if it was the monotone sound of her voice or the fact that we were sitting and not walking that put us to sleep.  I only know that I was quickly in la la land almost as soon as the tour began, and fidgeting the rest of the time that I was awake.

Ugh, these tours were absolute torture!  I can never understand how anybody can find such thrills in the tiniest minutae about the Medici family or a gold paneled ceiling in the Doge's Palace, or even the map gallery in the Vatican Museums.  God, when you've seen one gold paneled ceiling, you've seen them all!  Though there were moments of interest during some of the tours, like the Lion's Carving in Lucerne or the Bridge of Sigh in Venice, but overall...ugh!

So if you should ever find yourself on vacation in Europe, or Asia, or any other place for that matter, I highly recommend you stay away from guided tours, that is, unless you actually enjoy minutiae and monotone voices.  Trust me, you'll be happy you did!

When you've seen one gold ceiling you've seen them all!

This way to the Doge's Palace

Check out previous posts on my Europe trip below and stay tuned for more...


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Six Flags New England's Wicked Cyclone

It looks like I'll be traipsing on up again to Agawam, Massachusetts this summer.  Last year was my first time visiting Six Flags New England and I found it to be one helluva park,  With such awesome coasters such as the mind-blowing Goliath to the twisting, turning Mind Eraser and the absolutely thrilling Bizarro, this park's got enough steel monsters to whet any coaster lover's appetite, and now they've added a new thrilling wonder.

Wicked Cyclone is a brand new spin on an old favorite.  In June of 1983, the Riverside Cyclone, a woodie inspired by Coney Island's famous landmark, opened at what was then known as Riverside Amusement Park.  The ride operated for more than thirty years, serving over 15 million riders, and closed for good last June, and in the months since, the ride has undergone a major transformation and this weekend the new coaster opens to the public.

Wicked Cyclone is a hybrid coaster, mixing steel track with wood construction.  It is the first of its kind on the East Coast and it looks like a doozie.   With 3,200 feet of track, this hybrid falls from 10 stories high and moves at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, careening through two zero G rolls and a 200 degree stall as it makes its way through the track.  Take a look below at the park's animated preview of the ride, and if you're in the vicinity of Six Flags New England this summer, you're gonna want to get there...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Making a Memory at the Eiffel Tower

Continued from here...

After spending an afternoon in the vicinity of the Sacré Coeur, we headed on over to Paris' Latin Quarter for some dinner.  The dinners throughout the trip were not exactly five star, and this night was no exception, but the sights and sounds of this seemingly trendy neighborhood of eateries and gathering places definitely whetted my appetite to want to come to Paris again.  At one point on the walk to our restaurant, we passed an outdoor food fair and oh man, so much scrumptiousness!

After dinner, it was off to the one place that is most iconic in this city, the Eiffel Tower.  I tell ya, this was the one site I had looked forward to seeing, and for some stupid reason, I expected it to be much like the replicas found in two amusement parks I've been to, King's Island and King's Dominion, but those replicas in no way prepared me for the real thing.  We arrived at the iconic monument via subway, and man, it was huge!

We were probably about a quarter of a mile away from it when we came out of the station and I couldn't take my eyes off it.  The tower is magnificent sight to behold, standing there at more than 1,000 feet tall in all its golden splendor.  As we walked towards the monument, I was reminded of that other famous iconic structure in New York, a gift from France as a matter of fact, just by the throngs of people waiting to climb.

The lines were two to three hours long, depending on which observatory you wanted to ascend to.  I probably should have gone up, but I wanted to check out the area, and besides, just like in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House, it was either wait the two hours to climb or use the precious time to explore, and I don't regret my decision.  The tower was spectacular and so were the many views I had of it from exploring the surrounding areas with a couple of my fellow chaperones.

The area surrounding the Eiffel Tower is as cool as the tower itself.  Directly across from the structure sits the hilltop area of the city known as Trocadéro, home to the beautiful Palais de Chaillot. This was our destination as most of the kids waited to climb the tower with Joanne and Audrey.  Ivan, Steve, Francesca and I, headed up and across the Seine to this trendy neighborhood of eateries and shops to grab a quick bite to eat and walk around a bit.

On the way up the hill, we stopped at the big traffic circle in between the tower and the Trocadéro to admire some cars.  Oofah, there at the circle sat not one, not two, but five Lamborghini's, all of a different color and their owners were offering drives around the city for the bargain price of just 80 Euro for twenty minutes.  Ivan and I thought about it for a hot second, but since we'd have to do one at a time and each pay that amount, we just posed for a couple of pictures of the wicked wicked vehicles.

For the next couple of hours after that, we casually dined on some meats and cheeses in the restaurant of a hotel.  It was cozy and comfortable, and to make matters even better, our server was beautiful...and kinda flirty.  Once the time neared to meet the rest of the crew at the tower, we paid the check and headed back.  By then it was nightfall and with some good fortune, there was a full moon out that frame the tower perfectly.  That, coupled with the twinkling of a gazillion lights every hour on the hour, gave the whole evening a extra sense of wonder.  The views didn't capture good on camera, but it was a magical sight nonetheless that I won't ever forget...

Check out my other posts on my Europe trip, as well as a few more photos below, and stay tuned for more...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hello Paris: An Afternnon at the Sacré Coeur

Paris was probably the one destination on our European trip that I was looking forward to the most.  I mean, who hasn't ever dreamed of visiting the City of Lights with all of its sites and romantic, cosmopolitan reputation?  Paris now seems like a big blur, and like Amsterdam, I want to check it out for myself more in depth, someday...

We arrived in Paris on the Thalys train in the early afternoon, and from the bus ride from the train station to the hotel, I could plainly see that we were in a city much larger than Amsterdam.  This city is sprawling, seemingly the size of all the boroughs of New York in one gigantic tract of land, and as surprisingly diverse as my home city. Our hotel was in one of the outer districts of the city, and so much of our two-day whirlwind through Paris would find us on its subway system.

The Paris subways are pretty easy to navigate.  I can say that now only because our tour guide Steve lead the way and the experience wasn't as harrowing as I'd heard it would be.  Our first destination in the city was one cool place...

As you might guess from the looks of it, the building in the picture above is a church. It's called Sacré Coeur, or The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. The basilica sits atop a hill offering spectacular views of Paris, and the surrounding area, towards the bottom of the hill, is a quaint neighborhood full of great eateries, shops and more.

It was Easter Sunday and the place was bustling with people. In fact, the basilica was so crowded I didn't have the energy to fight my way inside, opting to enjoy the scenery from below the church and above the city. We had only about two or three hours here, and I spent it with my fellow chaperones Joanne, Audrey, Kristen and Francesca. We had a nice lunch in a French restaurant, walked around a bit, and took a few selfies...

Looking back, this particular afternoon was one of the more enjoyable afternoons spent on the entire trip, especially being a place I hadn't anticipated, or heard of for that matter, within the city of Paris. It was relaxing, amazing, and oh so enjoyable, and I had a taste of some authentic French food, which I'd never tried before.  


 Real French onion soup, only they just call it "onion soup"

Steak and real French fries, only they called it fried potatoes.

Some kind of dessert...cheese and sugar!?!?

Should you ever find yourself in Paris, France, you definitely need to check out this beautiful, quaint little area.  Just look for the Sacré Coeur, and spend an awesome afternoon taking it all in.  

Be sure to check out my other posts so far from this great adventure in Europe, and stay tuned for more...