On May 30th, fifty Maranatha students and staff woke from their beds and arrived at LAX for a trip that, for some, had been postponed since 2020. The trip itinerary included 4 different countries in a whirlwind of two weeks. I was fortunate to be among those travelers.
We landed in Ireland, met our Explorica Tour director, Adam Self, and immediately started exploring Dublin. While still in Dublin, we went to an Irish folk performance where four of our students were pulled on stage to try out the art of river dancing. Before long, it was time to take a ferry to the country of Wales. There we braved the thin spiral stairs of Conway Castle and were rewarded with amazing views of the green countryside. Our next destination was Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford Upon Avon. In honor of the Queen’s platinum Jubilee, Stratford Upon Avon was bustling with celebratory festivities such as a carousel in the park and plenty of ice cream stalls.
The next day we visited several colleges that are a part of Oxford University. We looked around Christ’s Church College and followed a literature tour that pointed out famous landmarks around the city of Oxford where C.S. Lewis was inspired to write The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We happened to be there on a graduation day so many of the students we saw were decked out in their robes. Our tour kept heading South where we stopped at Avebury and saw an ancient stone circle. We also got to stop at Lacock, a small town that has famously stayed true to what it was in the 1800s. We arrived in Bath about halfway through our trip and enjoyed some much-needed free time in the beautiful cream-stoned city. Students climbed the Bath Abbey tower while others had tea at the Jane Austen Center or visited the spooky Mary Shelley house.
After leaving Bath we got to visit another ancient stone circle, the famous Stonehenge. We learned that the stones in the center are called “blue stones” and were purported to have healing qualities. My favorite fact was that the architects responsible for the outer back circle of stones were quite a bit less talented than those that orchestrated the middle and didn’t find stones the right size.
On our way to London, we spent some more time visiting Chawton, where Jane Austen lived and wrote. After a long bus drive, we finally arrived in London, the largest city in the UK. The group put on their most elegant outfits for a performance of My Fair Lady at the Colosseum Theater. We received an excellent education in how to read the Tube map of London from our Tour Director. On our last day in London, we saw the city from the top of the London Eye and enjoyed the amazing architecture of both Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral.
In the last leg of our journey, we headed north towards Scotland. We stopped in York, enjoyed the stunning York Minster, and walked down The Shambles road, one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the world. The next day we went on to Durham where an early morning tour of Durham Cathedral marked the beginning of our free time in the picturesque town. As we left Durham, we listened to the famous folk song “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” on the bus. Stopping one last time on our way to Edinburgh, we examined the ruins of Chesters Roman Fort, an ancient relic of the Roman empire’s time in Britain. We also got to see the surviving parts of Hadrian’s Wall, still standing amongst the sheep. Finally, we arrived at our final destination, Edinburgh, Scotland. The wind carried the melodious sound of bagpipes to our ears while the grand Edinburgh castle looked down from its cliff. Enjoying our final free time in Europe, two Maranatha students bought and wore kilts to celebrate Scottish culture. After 14 days, our travelers gave a teary farewell to both Europe and our Tour Director and started the long journey home.