Farewell To Europe

These are the final photos of our trip, a collection from beginning to end. What a time it has been! We have come so far both as friends and as travelers. We have landed back in Warsaw, Poland and are all currently setting up shop for a couple of hours, until our flight departs back to Newark. We’re returning with a heart full of new love, stories full of laughs, and baggage slightly more heavy with souvenirs. We all have our favorite parts of the trip and I thought you’d like to hear about some of the pivotal moments in our personal experiences. Enjoy!

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My first ever experience in Europe was breathtaking, jaw dropping, and filled my stomach with butterflies. Culture shock is real! It is fascinating that other people in the world communicate in languages other than English! From struggling to even making it to Belgium at first, I am happy we are able to look back at it and laugh. There were various memories that I created with Dr. Gross, Dr. Bennett, Kait, Dan, and Katie that I will never forget. We had many laughs on this trip, and I learned so many new things.

Although probably about 90% of this trip will stick with me, the one thing I will always, always remember is that a young guy who was about 17 years old was conversing with our tour guide in the train on our way to Dachau from Munich. Our tour guide then informed us that the guy was telling him how it was very good for us to come a long way to learn about the concentration camps and other history, so that it can never happen again. Which is very true. History is in the past, and we learn from it. We learn from history, just as we learn from our mistakes.

My favorite thing of Europe was the food! I took pictures of just about each dish and was never not satisfied. I look forward to coming back to Europe again soon! Any chance you get to travel, do it! There will be no regrets.

— Maria Lopez (Freshman)


For the students, this trip was the very first time we have been to Europe. There have been some happy times where we did not worry about being away from home, whereas other times we missed home deeply. Throughout this 10-Day trip we covered a lot of ground and saw many things. (Obviously we learned a lot too). Some things were brand new while other facts were first hand.  A few things resonated with me from my experience on this trip.

During our meals and throughout our train rides we met people who lived in the countries we visited, while also meeting few from America as well. While talking with these people they talked about their countries problems and asked us questions about our country’s issues such as immigration. What stuck with me was the fact that these European countries have very similar issues as America. We tend to think that America is unique with our issues but in reality, our issues are very similar to other countries.

Another thing that stuck with me is the fact that people in the countries know America and can even name a few states. These people also know all of the surrounding countries and possibly even countries distant from them. What shocked me, however, wad the fact that most Americans would have some level of difficulty naming all 50 states in the US, but these people know America plus some surrounding culture.

Lastly, in Belgium, we went on a tour of battlefields and famous monuments. It was very moving to see where they battles we learn about in class took place. While visiting these sites I could almost picture in my head what would be going on along with all of the distress and sadness that occurred. There are so many memorable parts of this trip, that I could write a novel but these are a few towards the top of my list.

-Catherine “Katie” Barnes (Freshman)


While traveling, we met a variety of people of whom had radically diverse opinions on the current state of Europe, specifically England and Germany. We met a German woman on the first night who worked for the EU yet detested the way Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, allowed all immigrants from the civil war into Germany. This woman was a conservative-leaning EU worker. Toward the end of our trip we met a German man who is a social democrat and fully supported Merkel’s decision. Overall the various political opinions allowed us to see some of the issues facing Europeans today.

-Daniel “Danny” Ginchereau (Sophomore)


I would have to say, through our travels, perhaps my favorite experience, or at least the one that left an impression on me was the two days spent in Paris. Specifically the trip to the Opera Garnier and the Eiffel Tower. I think that these were my favorite parts because these sights were something I had been waiting to see for most of my childhood, and what has already passed of my adult life. The Phantom of the Opera was my first broadway show, and after having seen the musical once more since, and reading many different variations of the infamous novel by Gaston Leroux, the drive to visit the structure that had inspired such a phenomenon had become stronger.

While just simply walking up to the building, I could hear the build of the orchestra in my head. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overture filled my ears from my mind’s music, and made my heart pound. Strolling through the building on the inside prodded other music from the show to fill my soul, including a number that took place on the enormous staircase. Visiting Box 5 (and seeing it labeled for the Phantom) was almost unbelievable. However, the relation to the musical I love so much was only my initial excitement. The more I learned about the building itself, and its history, only increased my love for the place.

Last, the Eiffel Tower, the heart of Paris…there are truly no words to truly explain the emotion I felt walking up to this architectural masterpiece. It is the iconic symbol of the city of lights. The icon that I have emblazoned on my clothing, on my notebooks, and calendars, and now, on my heart. The twinkling lights moved in time with my heart beat, and it was that moment, that I knew that Paris had stolen my heart. The city and I are now in sync, and since I left…I can hear it calling me back. If no other part of this trip convinced me that I need to revisit Europe the minute I leave (which every day has taught me that I must) the visit to Paris definitely had. I am in love.

–Kaitlyn “Kait” Mulrane (Senior)


There you have it folks. This trip had left handprints on each of our hearts in multiple ways. We had embarked on this journey as acquaintances, but we are going home as a family. Sharing the experiences (some of us for the first time) had changed the way we look at history, the world, and ourselves. We could not be more grateful for this opportunity, and plan to go back as soon as possible. Of course the faculty that tended to our needs, wants, and whims was in a major way, responsible for the smooth trip. From directions, to food, to cultural understanding, Dr. Gross and Dr. Bennett were indeed the heart of our experience, and for that we are all especially grateful! There was no better way to spend a GCU Spring Break than to travel to Europe–though some of us did catch a bit of a cold. Despite the rain, snow, delays, cancelations, and all, I don’t think that any one of us would change one thing we experienced. It was magnificent.

For the last time,

–The GCU Travel Crew

Munich & Dachau: Day 9

Today was the last day we would be spending in Europe. We began our early day with our guide Mikail. We walked the very streets, stood in front of the very places that Adolf Hitler did. It was incredible! Reading about these places, and walking the same streets is a completely different feeling.

Mikhail was an excellent guide, and even gave a little background on the city of Munich before we traveled back in time, to a place where Nazi Germany was the norm. We walked over to Hitler’s headquarters (it is still standing today) which has now been converted into a music school. We then traveled to the eternal flame that burns day and night in the middle of a square, to honor those who suffered during the Nazi regime for their religion, sexual orientation, political views, and/or handicaps.

We then traveled to his former University, LM University. LM stands for Ludwig Maximillion–the first king of Bolvaria (now a state of Germany) and his son. We learned that this is where the students who formed the White Rose Organization had gotten their education. The White Rose was a group of students and one professor who created and distributed leaflets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime. They were all caught, and eventually beheaded.

Following the sight seeing around town, our group traveled to Dachau, a medieval town just outside of Munich. This is where we toured the first concentration camp ever to exist, thus making it the model for all other concentration camps to be created afterward. As we arrived church bells tolled in the town behind us, creating quite the eerie setting. The iron gate slammed behind our entrance with such finality, already settling sorrow in our hearts for those who suffered there. Walking along the stone and gravel fields, our steps linked history to the present, echoing the sinister steps of prisoners, marching to their deaths.

Mikhail took our small caravan through a small path where there lay stones dedicated to the fallen who were unknown. The craziest part was, as we were standing over these memorial stones, an owl above our head cooed its words, as if mocking the dedication stone, begging to know “who” these dead were. We witnesses what the prison cells, inside the camp looked like, and we visited the sights of the gas chambers and the ovens…chambers that consumed so many lives, connected to a multitude of never resting furnaces where the living were forced into the world of the forgotten. The thick stone walls of these rooms acted as a refrigerator for the cells. It preserved the cold hand of death against the warmth of life waiting just beyond its perimeters.

Dachau was closed when we left, walking through the empty pebble fields alone. The world around us was absent from the rest of the city around it. Grey stones, against greying grass, anchoring grey trees, against a backdrop of grey cinderblock buildings. The lack of color was so different from the beautiful blooming garden of Munich. It seemed as though Dachau concentration camp was aware that life’s color was not present in a place where death welcomed so many to their graves. As we left, and the historical sight was beginning to shut down, the leaving pilgrims, visitors, and locals followed suit, however their silent prayers filled the echoing space around us, and were as clear as ink on a page. Bless those who suffered here, and bless those who ended the suffering.

Tomorrow we leave for the United States early in the morning. Tomorrow will be the last blog for this trip, and I know I am not the only one who is sad to leave. The rich history swirling around us in Europe still has so much to reveal to us, but I suppose that just means we will have to come back soon!

Until then…Auf Wiedersehen! 

–The GCU Travel Crew

 

Paris Has The Key To Our Hearts!

The passed two days have been a whirl wind for the GCU Travel Crew! The city of lights had a tight grasp on our hearts, and our eyes! Our second day was a calm day where we visited the Bastille where prisoners used to be held in a huge palace. However during the revolution the building was destroyed, and now a tall bronze, now green (like the Statue of Liberty) resides in its place. Then we followed with an extremely memorable mass service in the infamous cathedral Notre Dame, where our lives were painted with color. From our spirits to the stained glass windows, it was like living on the inside of a jewel box. We shopped and ate afterwards (just like real Parisians)! However, our first day was where all of the action happened.

We began the first day in Paris with a flurry of sight seeing. We began our day at the Concerigerie and Saint Chapelle. Both historical structures had opened our eyes to a world of color, tragedy, and inspiration. We followed our first two visits with a quick visit to the Louvre and the glass pyramids. You can’t go to Paris and pass up these sights! Both filled with such incredible architecture, and history. Truly a fascinating vision. On our journey to our next location, we passed many plaques which were scattered through out the city. Each plaque was dedicated to many of those who fell during the occupation of Paris in 1940. Each told a brief story about the dedication, which was truly interesting. It was like following a time line throughout one of the most major cities in the world.

Next we ventured to a personal favorite of mine, Palace Garnier. This is the Opera House built in the 19th century by Charles Garnier. This theater is not only an architectural and artistic masterpiece, but is also the home to the infamous Phantom of the Opera. Authored by Gaston Leroux in 1910, this book was based on a real life event of the chandelier (or rather, its counter balance) falling and actually killing a woman. Since its formation, the book has taken off to be adapted into many movies and a hit musical which has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary on Broadway! On our tour we learned much about its architectural beginnings and we toured some of the most famous spots there, including the mysterious Box 5.

Following the Palace Garnier, the GCU Crew made it all the way to the Concord Grande de Palace. In this square, an extremely large obelisk resides, with Egyptian hieroglyphs engraved on the sides that honored the Pharaoh Ramses II. This obelisk was a gift from the Egyptians to the French as a sign of good will between the two countries. In fact, an identical monument still exists in Egypt too! This obelisk also stands across the square from the United States Embassy (did you know that the guards there won’t let you take pictures of it, or stand in front of it for too long? Neither did we.)

We then scoured the grounds toward the tomb of the infamous French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. That was definitely a sight to behold. Did you know that Napoleon was not really short. He was about 5 foot 6 in reality, which now a days is about an average height. The casket that Napoleon’s body is said to reside in, was absolutely massive, and that is just the beginning of the massive architecture! The entire tomb was surrounded by different sculptures, artwork, and ornate stained glass windows! The entire thing was just breath taking.

Following our trip to visit the great emperor, we crossed the Pont de Alexandre III. This is the most decorative (and beautiful) bridge in Paris. Built in the early 1900s by Tsar Nicolas II (the last Tsar of Russia) in honor of his father Tsar Alexander III to symbolize the friendship between Russia and France. After we crossed that bridge, we visited the Arc de Triumph. This was the sight one of our lost travelers wished to see (WE MISS YOU RICHIE!) This infamous structure is too magnificent for words. Inscribed on the inside of it are names of those who have been lost in battle for France, and there are sculptures and engravings covering every inch in respect to these soldiers.

Last but absolutely not least, we visited the heart of Paris–the Eiffel Tower herself. Many, many selfies later, we embarked on a river cruise on the River Seine that toured the major parts of the city. Being that this tour began at dusk at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, and rounded the river until the sun set and the city of lights came to life! It was spectacular. Though what I could say was an added pleasant surprise was the hashtag that was projected on the tower after dark. #Maintenantonagit (#NowWeAct) which is a feminist movement to honor the day to celebrate women!

All in all, the past two days were the most incredible of our lives. We were whipped in every which direction, experienced a plethora of new encounters. All of these wonderful sights to behold, and the true treasure was experiencing it together. Tomorrow begins our next and final journey, Germany here we come!

 

Until next time!

–The GCU Travel Crew

Enjoy the photos!

All Quiet on the Western Front: Day 5

Day 5 was quite the excursion! We began the day nice and early at the last of our World War I tour, with a final Museum in Peronne. The last half of our day consisted of a wonderful tour given by a man with such character, such tenacity, and such imagination! Our first stop had us at the American Cemetery of Normandy. It just so happened that the previous night we travelers, had embarked on an emotional journey by watch Saving Private Ryan (If you have not seen this movie, but have an interest in WWII, you’re missing out). Our tour guide, Duncan had disclosed that the first and final scene of Saving Private Ryan had indeed been shot in that very graveyard. Of course, this was the least exciting fact of being on that soil.

We “had a wonder” through the cemetery hearing different stories of our fallen heroes lives. First, Duncan had told us that the cemetery was well cared for by very proud grounds keepers. In fact there was one shrub, bush, or plant from every state in the USA. We also learned that the cemetery had trees with no points, and that it was done on purpose. They were cut to be flat tops to symbolize the tombs of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Th pharaohs’ tombs had a flat top, and so that is what the grounds keepers did for the brave men (and 4 women) who died fighting in the Battle of Normandy. Second, Duncan had told us that every head stone (either Latin crosses or star of Davids) was facing west. The direction of the United States of America, and at the end of this cemetery there were gates guarded by angels to assure the brave ones’ safe passage home. Walking through the hallowed ground that holds so many of our fallen heroes definitely puts the Second World War in perspective. The United Stated played a major role in this war, and the American presence is still very much there.

Next, Duncan had showed us the graves of the inspiration behind the notorious movie. The Nilan brothers (buried side by side) were two of four boys who were fighting in this war. The third was MIA and the last was still alive, serving his country. The story goes that upon given the chance, the brother still serving was given the choice to go home, or to remain in the service. He had chosen to remain “with his boys.” After having said that, Nilan was handcuffed and forced back to New York, back to his mother, to work at the desks in the War Department. There was indeed a happy ending for the other Nilan brother who was MIA. He was found as a POW and returned safely home.

Interesting still, the name for the character of Tom Hanks in the movie had come from another headstone in the cemetery. According to “legend” that character did not have a name until later in filming. The program that the directors used to shift around the cemetery back drop (Spielberg thought that having Omaha Beach in the background would be more poetic, than having the stones face west) needed a center point to start switching all nine thousand head markers. That headstone happed to be Sergeant Richard F. Miller. And so came the name of Hank’s character in the film.

We toured later the field of Pointe du Hoc. Another major battlefront for America, and the stories there were bone chilling. Lastly, our tour ended on Omaha Beach. This was no ordinary beach day, this was much different. With the movie fresh in our minds, and the history in front of our eyes, we journeyed onto one of the most devastating American victories of World War II.

When retelling the story to my father, he had asked if the beach felt spooky. At first I would have said yes, but I think a better word is eerie. Though much has changed in the passed 70+ years, that beach still hums with life. The salt of the water, mixed with the salt of the blood of those soldiers. The stones still conceal bullets used against our men. The wind whips around our hair and whispers the secrets of history. This beach holds the souls of brave, brave men; men that arrived to their deaths. The heartbreak is deafening. It was nearly overwhelming. The amount of respect and emotion that welled in my heart was eternal. The only thing I wish I could do, was pay the amount of respect that place—those men—deserve. It nearly took the breath from my lungs.

Needless to say, the excursion we embarked on yesterday had altered my perception on American involvement in World War II. Though I always knew the role our country played was massive, and important, I some how was unable to comprehend the sacrifice given in order to better the world.

Tomorrow will be a different kind of adventure. The city of lights awaits.

Until Tomorrow,

–The GCU Travel Crew

Ps. Enjoy the pictures!

An Eye Opening Day 4

Good Day Belgium! Today was a jam packed tour through some of the major fields, monuments, cemeteries, and memorials of Belgium. A good sleep, and a delicious breakfast from last night’s excitement put us right back at the heart of World War I sights. We began in a Cemetery where we learned about the basics of graveyard lay outs, symbols, and headstone positioning. We ended the tour with the American memorial, which was surreal.

Our Tour guide was really just an A+ guide. He was extremely well versed in his history, and made the experience an exciting endeavor. So many things happened today that the 6 of us could not possibly tell it all in one sitting. However, one of the most surreal moments for me was visiting the largest British cemetery in the world…yes the WORLD. Thousands of head stones, thousands of men, thousands of lives that were lost.

Walking among the fallen had instilled a sense of amazement in this traveler. Seeing the ages of some of these men…some of them are my age, and some where even younger–their whole lives ahead of them. It was extremely humbling. Today’s trip taught me that learning about WWI in an American classroom, and learning about WWI on its battlefield are completely different.

Of course you would think that is an automatic assumption but, walking the fields, the caved in trenches, the mines, the bunkers…the hum of the loss…the blood soaked grass..it is indescribable. This was the war that was supposed to end all wars, and it did quite the opposite. Today’s experience though grounding and eye opening as it was, was also a priceless learning experience.

The guide was so skilled, that he could paint a picture in my mind’s eye and make me see the battles as they were happening. The Christmas Truce, the grenades and TNT blowing up German mines, the innocent, the injured, the young and the younger…it was all right in front of us, and the feeling was incredible. The only way to truly understand, is if you see it yourself.

Today was a day we will not soon forget. An experience to last a lifetime. Enjoy a few of the many pictures captured today!

Until Tomorrow,

–The GCU Traveling Crew

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There is “Snow” Stopping Us Now–Day 3

The journey getting to day three has been an incredible one. We began the trip with news of snow in Dublin, and our flight was canceled. Don’t feel too bad for us though, because with the help of some wonderful people, we landed a second flight to Warsaw, Poland instead. However, we lost two travelers in our endeavor due to an illness (We miss you Richie and Mr. Van Pelt!)

We landed in Warsaw after a very smooth and pleasurable 8 hour flight. The lay over from Warsaw to Brussels was supposed to be a simple four hours. However, after boarding and waiting for an hour for take off, the snow in Brussels was deemed unsafe and our flight was canceled. Our day two plans had been foiled! We took this delay in stride though. Tired and smelly as we were, the laughter was still rich, and the hope of a trip was still in the air. With a hotel and dinner provided to us by the airline, we awoke bright and early to make the next flight to Brussels on the morning of Day 3. A quick and delicious breakfast from Paul and we were ready and praying for a flight to get us to our first country!

Our bad luck had run out and we FINALLY got a working flight to Brussels. The flight was short and smooth, luckily landing safely in Brussels at 9:30am (3:30am EST).  Brussels took our hearts by surprise when we arrived in the airport. With baggage claimed and a taxi bus awaiting us, we entered into a world that took us back in time. The Grand Place in Brussels was just breath taking with its Gothic buildings and cobble stone streets.

We have since taken a train to Ipers, Belgium, and checked into the Hotel Ambrosia where we will be spending the next two nights. We’ve visited the astounding Flanders Field Museum and enjoyed a rather interesting lunch at Old Tom’s Tea Room. We have plans to visit the Menin Gate tonight and enjoy what promises to be a delicious Belgian dinner.

All in all we have grown a bond as travelers and as friends. Nothing can stop our journey through the sights we have planned to see. As ever, the excitement is high and the sights are enlightening. So far, so fun, snow and all!

Ps. With a few hours to kill in between events, we’ve sampled delicious Belgian Chocolate and are left with only one question: How can we get this in the U.S?

Until tomorrow, 

–The GCU Traveling Crew

Here are some photos of our journey so far! Enjoy!

3 Days To Go

Our travelers can barely stand the excitement! With only 3 days to go, the GCU pack has an itch that cannot be scratched! Europe is calling our name, as we pack our bags, finish up last minute homework, and make our last minute arrangements. We will be loading into a GCU van on Thursday afternoon to catch our flight from Newark Airport! For those of you out there looking to keep track on the status of our safe arrival, our flight leaves at 5:30pm and will land in Dublin, Ireland at 4:55am (11:55pm EST). Then there is a second flight from Dublin to our destination which will arrive at our destination at 9:25am (3:25am EST). We cannot wait to begin exploring! Bye for now!

Pre-Departure Post!

We are about three weeks away! Passports are ready and loaded, suitcases are being dusted off, and excitement is high! We are all looking forward to a great time, experiencing new things, and gaining new appreciations for new cultures! Here is a before photo of our travelers!!