Monday, August 31, 2015

Remnants of the Great War

Essex Farm was an awe inspiring site to be sure.  And only the beginning of a long tour focused on World War I and the Ypres Salient Battlefields.  However, all this is heavy and hard to absorb, and sometimes a break is required.  And when in Belgium, a break means a visit to Ledoux Chocolaterie – a small local operation specializing in making Belgian Chocolate!  Here the owner showed us how to make chocolate molds and pralines, and how to temper different types of chocolate.  We also learned the parts of a cocoa fruit (yes – chocolate comes from a FRUIT).  The cocoa powder only into dark chocolate, the cocoa butter into the white chocolate, and of course cocoa with some milk into the milk chocolate.  This led to a LARGE line up to purchase the fresh chocolates before getting back on the great bus.  Definitly not related to our World War I theme, but an excellent stop indeed.

After the chocolate break, the tone returned to somber as we went to Vancouver Corner – site of the St. Julien Memorial.  This memorial, called “The Brooding Soldier” marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians withstoof the first German Gas attaches in April 1915.  The Germans used Chlorine gas and the power of the wind to send a cloud across the battlefield to kill and injure soldiers.  This happened right next to the Canadian front in the Belgian battlefields.   Canadians showed great bravery by rising up an depending the section left empty by retreating gassed soldiers.  2000 Fell and lie buried near by this site.  The sculpture came second in the Canadian Battlefield Monument Commision in 1920.  The first place going to the momument built at Vimy Ridge.  This is one of eight memorials erected by Canadians, as granted by the Imperial war Graces Commission.  5 are in France (Vimy Ridge, Bourlon Wood, Courcelette, Dury and Le Quesnel) and 3 in Belgium (here, at Vancouver Corner, at Passchendaele and at Hill 62). The brooding soldier is a beautiful work to commemorate our country and the soldiers to fought to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others.  Even the landscape tells a story – with shrubbery designed to mimic exploding shells, and gentle greens hovering over the ground to represent the gas. 

After a quick bite at Canadian owned “Family Pizza”, we continued our tour by heading to the Tyne Cot Memorial – home of those lost in the nearby Battle of Passchendaele.  This cemetery holds graces from the UK, Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (also 1 French man and 4 Germans).  11,954 in total; all from 1917-1918.  OF these, 8367 of them are unnamed graves.  This cemetery changed hands a lot during the way – first captured by Australia, then turned graves for Canadians and British, then recaptured by Germany before liberated by Belgium.  It contains the “Cross of Sacrifice” in the center, which is built on top of a German pillbox.  The few original graves are in the middle, unmoved, but surrounded by the more organized graves that came to follow.  There is also a stone wall surrounding the cemetery, the “Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.”  Similar to Menin Gate in Ieper, this shows the names of those who were missing, and their grave location is unknown.  34,959 names in all.  It can be hard to take in that much loss.  Steve, our guide, spent a lot of time this day trying to explain all the rules that came into place for burying the dead and maintaining these cemeteries.  And even though it has been almost 100 years since the war ended, much time, effort and car is given into honouring those.  It is easy to forget that this generation of students do not fully know or understand war like the generation my grandparents grew up in.  But seeing these graves, and the attention and honour they were given by the caretakers, they were quickly coming to understand the cost.

We left Tyne Cot for Hooge Crater.  This crater is not a bond, but is surrounded by original trenches from the war.  Remnants of the war can be seen all over the property.  This was a change for our students to begin to walk in the paths of the soldiers that came before to start to try and understand what it would have been like.  This was built on in Vimy, and Beaumont-Hamel, and Juno Beach in the days to follow. 

So much was sacrificed. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

In Flanders Fields...

We have all heard it.  We grew up hearing it.  “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow…”  But how many of us have seen it?

John McRae was a Canadian Doctor stationed in the Ypres area during World War I.  He worked at a medical station near a place we now call Essex Farm, in the Belgian province of Flanders.  And as was popular during the time of World War I, he wrote poetry.  Because dressing stations (or medical stations), often ended up with them being unable to treat many of the soldiers, they were next to cemeteries.  After the war the Commonwealth war graves commission came up with rules to govern how these cemeteries were run.  Which monuments were erected.  The colour of the headstones.  The rules for epitaphs.  And so here we stood.  In the footsteps of John McRae; looking out over the place that once was a battlefield, next to a cemetery of the fallen – some as young as 15 years old.  And right next to the bunker that was used as a medical station, and the field that is used to bury the dead, is a field.  With poppies.  And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a flower that possesses such power and meaning.  A flower that can quickly stir the heart so deeply and so quickly.  For decades I have been pinning a plastic flower over my heart, in honour of those who died.  But here, in this cemetery, with these wild flowers, it suddenly took on a very different meaning. 

 So we began our day by honouring the dead, and hearing these words spoken out from the place they were written:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

South of Holland to Belgium

As I mentioned last time, 1/3 of  Holland is technically under sea level.  As you can imagine, this is a problem for many of the countries inhabitants, and of course the majority of their farm land needed to support them. So in the 1800’s the Dutch started to develop systems to help manage the water.  Moving it, and keeping it at bay.  Kinderdijk is an example of this – using Windmills to control water levels, and to use it effectively in farming.  However, Holland is possesses a lot of the coast line, as it borders the Atlantic Ocean on its west and north sides.  Because of this, there is an entire system dedicated to Water Management along the coasts – called the Deltaworks.  The project has multiple goals.  One is protection.  There have been many great floods in Holland due to storms, leading to many deaths and damage to infrastructure.  So they have built storm surge barriers to protect the land.  We saw one of these barriers – the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier.  It is 2 arms, stored on land, but moved out over the ocean using a ball bearing joint (like a shoulder joint), that then sink to the bottom of the canal and protect the river, and in turn the harbor), preventing flooding and protecting part of Southwest Holland (in the province of Zeeland).  Each arm is as wide as the Eiffel tower is high, and they join together with a flexible v-shaped fit in order to ensure that the pressure of the water doesn’t force them to break. 

 As well as the water management, the Deltaworks also use dams and wind turbines to generate clean energy off the coasts.  Water and Wind energy are used well in Holland, as well as solar and geothermal approaches to energy production.  Holland is an incredibly forward-thinking country when it comes to sustainable energy and protecting their environment.  I’m sure one of many reasons why it is so beautiful.

Given my Dutch heritage, it was hard for me to say goodbye to the Netherlands.  There is SO much to see (and eat), and I could easily have spent 2 weeks there showing the student so many more of my favourite places – but it was time to move on….to BELGIUM!

Belgium is another example of a country I wish I could have had more time for.  Upon entering I knew we only had < 48 hours to introduce the students to a little bit of Belgian life – and reflecting back, I’m pretty sure we accomplished that goal!  We only had one destination – Ieper.  Ieper is in the province of Flanders, and is known for being the area containing many battlefields from World War I (an area known as the Ypres Salient).  We were going to see many of these over the next 2 days, but first we needed to arrive and get to dinner!  The special of the region is Moules Frites (Mussels and Fries), and I was surprised how many kids went outside of their comfort zone to try it!  There was also a Flemish Beef Stew and Flemish Fish Stew that were savoured.  A great way to start our visit in Ieper!

After dinner some of the group headed back to the hotel to settle in.  Two brave souls went on a 5 km run with Mr. Becker (good work Pat and Ethan!), exploring the town wall and beautiful cobblestone streets.  And a small group came with Mr. Dewinetz and myself to visit the town square, the church, and of course, the Menin Gate, for the first time.

 The Menin Gate is the staple of the town, and home to the Last Post Ceremony.  I’ll talk more about this in a future post.  The Menin Gate is a monument that honours those from the commonwealth who died during the war, but their bodies were not buried.  The lost soldiers.  There are 55,000 names on the gate.  Men.  Boys.  Many Canadian.  Seeing these names and touching the wall is such a moving and touching experience.  Trying to wrap your mind around how many people had to die to protect, preserve and ensure our freedom.  Sometimes we talk about war and forget about the names and faces.  They just become numbers and statistics.  But they aren’t.  They are people’s children, brothers, friends, husbands.  And the loss was great. 

 Absorbing this small town, with all it’s history and charm, was hard to do.  I heard a fair number of kids refer to this as if it was a fairy tale town.  It was so pretty to be true.  The gate was too surreal to process.  And I know one thing – 2 days was not close to enough.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kinderdijk (enough said)

Kinderdijk, or the Children's Dyke, is a series of 19 windmills working together to manage water levels in some farms in Holland.  The country of Holland is below sea level in a great number of places (about 35% of the country, give or take), and so they have been learning to manage the water levels for over 800 years.  Kinderdijk is a UNESCO world heritage site, showing what life as a miller  was like - learning to manage wind and water for the sake of protecting people and farms.

The thing about Kinderdijk is that it is beautiful.  Water and tall grass with beautifully maintained windmills scattered purposeless over the horizon.  Not wind nor rain could stop us from touring.  We started with a great little video explaining why and how the Kinderdijk windmills work.  We then walked up to Museummill Nederlander, for a tour of the cramps quarters (and questionable stairs) inside.  We then took photos.  In wooden shoes.  In groups. In pairs.  Alone.  In front of windmills.  Beside windmills.  Next to Windmills.  With 1 mill or 2.  With 5 or 8.  With water.  Without water.  While standing, smiling, mean mugging, jumping, dancing or doing "the Marco."  So while there is more to tell you about our day adventuring through South Holland, for now I just wanted to leave you with images off Kinderdijk, from the Sulli perspective.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A little girls dream fulfilled

Our day started off with a nice walk along the Prinsengracht canal - slowly making our way towards the Anne Frank Huis.  Maybe you read this story growing up, maybe you know it well, maybe it’s vague, and maybe you haven’t heard of it at all.  Anne wasn’t really anything special.  During the war time over 350,000 people were in hiding in the Netherlands.  Many of them Jews, though they were not the only group to be discriminated against during the war.  And Anne’s family was one of them.  German Jews who came to Holland, one night they went into hiding into an Annex behind a warehouse in a business district of Amsterdam.  For 25 months 8 people lived in tiny quarters.  One backed bathroom.  Little room to move.  Little fresh air, little sunlight.  But there was Anne. And Anne has a pen and some journals and she wanted to be a writer.  And so she wrote.  She kept a diary of her experiences, but also wrote a story and poetry.  She wanted to be a published writer one day.  But for most children like Anne in the war, that day never came.  Anne and her family were taken, after someone reported their hiding.  First to Auschwitz, then to Bergen-Belsen, where are 16, she died of typhoid.  Her sister, her mother, died as well.  But her father Otto survived.  And when it was safe he returned to Holland to find a friend had gone into the annex and claimed Anne’s diaries after they were taken by the Nazi’s.  Knowing her dream to be a published author - her dad borrowed the money to publish the diary of Anne Frank - now available in 65 different languages.  

Anne herself wasn’t special compared to the other’s who’s stories have been forgotten.  She just had a father who loved her so much he wanted to make her dream come true, even if she wasn’t there to see it.  Her story shares insight - it gives a face to the statistics and facts of World War II.  It helps paint a picture as to what it was really like for one family, in one place, under but one set of circumstances.  We were lucky enough to work with a museum educator and hear the details of Anne’s story, and to skip the VERY long line and walk through the place she once called home.  Unfortunately no pictures were to be taken inside.  But the images will remain in our minds for years to come.

After our time with Anne, we took a lunch break before heading to the Rokin Jetty for our canal tour.  We then spent the next hour seeing Amsterdam from a different perspective - the water!  The main canal - the Amstel - connects the Rhine - a major river running through Holland.  The rest of the canals were built over a series of decades, each 3 meters deep.  End to end the Amsterdam canals are over 100 km long, and there are 1200 bridges found to spam them in the city.  Canal houses are tall and narrow - because taxes were paid for the width of the house on the street, but not it’s depth or height.  This is why houses had “free” apartments in the back (like the annex Anne lived in).  At the top of the houses are a variety of gables, and a hook for a rope to pull up any furniture through the windows.  As we learned quickly - hallways are narrow and steep in Amsterdam, so no furniture is going up those stairs!

The canal tour provided a much needed break for the feet, but we hit the pavement soon again - this time walking to Dam Square to see the Palace (Koninklijk Paleis).  When the royal family is away you can walk right up to the front door, and take a walk around inside.  Much marble, beautiful chandeliers and art on every wall.  An honour to walk the red carpet in the Dutch Royal Home.  From here we headed to the touristy Bloemenmarkt.  A great location to purchase tulip bulks - but also a home to wooden tulips, magnets, hoodies, key chains, and of course, Starbucks.  During our time on this little street the rain came with a vengeance.  It began to subside just in time for our walk to dinner at Loetjes.  

As you can see our days here in Europe are busy ones.  After dinner the majority came back to the hotel to begin to unwind and pack (as tomorrow we are headed to Belgium!).  A few students joined Ms. Kenkel at the grocery store - who was purchasing supplies for tomorrow’s picnic.  But Jayde and I went off on our own mini-adventure - the hunt for Dutch candy.  

Now, google maps can be helpful.  But is doesn’t always know the best shortcuts or most direct option.  So this quick errand turned into a LONG walk.  We ended up taking a detour through the beautiful Vondelpark - one location I had yet to visit in Amsterdam.  So this was a welcome surprise.  But even without that little gem, every step would have been worth it (I won’t show you a picture of my candy in order to prevent the extreme jealousy that would arise).  On the walk back we stopped at Albert Heijn for some Vla - and brought it back to the hotel for a pre-bed snack.  I’m sad to be moving on to Belgium tomorrow, if only because I want another night of Vla.

So there it is - one long but excellent day In Amsterdam (with about 14 km of cobblestone canal side strolling and power-walking).  Looking forward to visiting a little more of Holland tomorrow, before resting our eyes in the home of Flanders Field. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Street Food, Van Gogh, Amsterdam and Jetlag

We landed in Amsterdam at 10 AM Tuesday morning - 30 minutes early.  However, this 30 minutes quickly disappeared looking for "lost" luggage (aka luggage a student thought was one shade of green, but really was another).  Luggage was quickly located by someone from baggage services, and we were off, driving through the bicycle rich city of Amsterdam.

We arrived at out hotel, which was ready for us.  Though we were there before noon, all but 2 of our rooms were ready, so we had a change to throw our stuff into the room, put on a clean t-shirt, and hit the market!  We walked 10 minutes up the the Albert Cuypstraat Market - a local market filled with spices, cheese, fish, t-shirts, socks, bicycles, wigs, deodorant, produce, flowers and anything else a local could need.  Also a lot of Dutch street food, including my favourite, pofferjtes!  These tiny bite sizes pancakes covered in icing sugar make me smile!!  There was also patat frites (fries with a mayo like sauce), Kibberling (friend fish), and Jayde's favourite - the fresh stroop waffle.  A great way to start our adventure.

We walked another 10 minutes over to the museumplein - an area connecting the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum.  Here we stopped to take some pictures with the famous "iamsterdam" sign - which proved a little challenging as there was a covered area in the way (maybe a local festival was held here recently?)  However - we were creative and managed to go letter by letter to achieve the desired group shot.

Van Gogh was the main attraction of the afternoon.  However, warm art museums and jet lag are fickle foes.  The life of Van Gogh is one rich in passion, talent, and sadness.  We had a guided tour, in 3 groups, looking at his life, his art, and why Van Gogh is so special.  Had we been a little more alert we could have spent more time here learning about his life, but, as I mentioned, this is the part of the day that became consumed with the desire for one thing only.  SLEEP.

We wandered along the canal towards our restaurant for dinner - De Carrousel Pannenkoeken.  Pannenkoeken come in all flavours, but one size.  Large.  They are sweet or savoury.  The majority of our students were brave enough to try something new (and enjoyed it!), while a few others chose a little safer option for their first day.  Some students were struggling not to fall asleep in their dinner though.  Thankfully food came out quick, and by 6:30 we were back into the doors of the hotel.  Most students were comfortable tucked in their bed and asleep before 8 - probably the first time that many of them had taken a sub-8 bed time since their ages were in the single digits.  

So hopefully a long good nights sleep will help us with the jet lag and leave the whole group refreshed and ready for a day on the town tomorrow!  Anne Frank and the Canals are waiting for us, and Amsterdam has SO much more to show us!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ode to YVR

Twinkle twinkle YVR.
Gateway to the world you are
Soaring off in planes so fast
Europe bound for us as last
Twinkle twinkle YVR
Taking Sulli kids afar

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Top 10 Travel Moments

I have been fortunate to have been on a fair number of student travel adventures in the last 3 years.  Earlier this year I gave a presentation on why I felt student travel was so important.  And one of the three points I made is that traveling builds Community.  It builds RELATIONSHIPS.  And so as I started to list my favourite travel moments I started to realize that the thing that made them my favourite moments is that they were all about building and strengthening relationship.  So in no particular order:

1.  Singing Bob Marley with the Druids (London 2014) - We were lucky enough to get an all access pass to Stonehenge the day of the Equinox.  This was a 6:00 AM hand holding, circle forming, group singing kid of endeavour with the local druids, which ended in us singing "Three Little Birds" at the top of our lungs. Sure enough that became the theme song of the trip, and every time I hear it, this is the memory I go straight back to.  I'm certain our group would agree that this freezing cold morning was a memorable one.

2.  Interviewing Broadway Stars (NYC 2012) - When we were in NYC our students were taking journalism and photography courses from Columbia University.  One of their assignments was to interview someone.  They were also suppose to try and write a descriptive article on an experience.  Well that night we had tickets for "Newsies," the newest broadway show.  After the show I suggested that we stick around and wait for the dancers/actors to exit. Given that we had some huge dance (and "So You Think You Can Dance") fans in the group, they waited out side - and then were brave enough to ask their favourite actor/dancers if they could interview them.  So there they were, hanging out on Broadway, interviewing Broadway's newest stars - and glowing.  Watching them walk into their dreams (and hearing them talk about if for the rest of the night) was priceless.

3.  That time I went to NASA (Florida 2014) - Most of my travels have led to me delighting in my students as they discover new and exciting things in the world.  But this was all about me fulfilling a childhood memory.  When I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut SO bad.  And I knew EVERYTHING about NASA and space history.  So walking into NASA, seeing the globe, staring at the Saturn V, and walking in Neil Armstrong's footsteps was a dream come true.  And even better was the smiles on my students faces as they were delighting in my goofy grins and wide-eyed wonder.  

4.  That time Shweta lost her voice (Disneyland 2014) - It's amazing how the smallest moments can lead to the most unexpected outcomes.  When we were in Disneyland Shweta lost her voice.  Those of her who know her may rejoice, or laugh, or just shrug your shoulders because you aren't surprised. But I didn't know Shweta very well.  But by the end of the second day, she was in a lot of pain, and couldn't speak.  We couldn't find a Halls anywhere, and it was pitch back and the park was closing.  The rest of our crew headed back to the hotel, and Shweta and I embarked on a speed walking mission to find some relief - which we eventually found in the fancy lobby of the Disneyland Hotel.  Now, this doesn't seem like a special moment to those of you reading - except this lead to 1 hour of walking, exploring, and talking (or squeaking/whispering) - which lead to a beautiful relationship.  Getting to know students well starts in the ordinary moments.  And this was an ordinary moment in an extraordinary place.

5.  The Baby Gorillas (Florida 2014) - When we were in Florida we had plans to go swim with the Manatees.  But then Jennah and Gurveer got sick.  Another example of an ordinary moment.  Flu happens.  So while the majority of the group headed off for a day in the river, I stayed behind, bringing juiceboxes and fruit to the sick students until they could stand up straight again.  Now I was sad that they were missing a day of fun, so I worked out a deal with my groups coordinator, and we ended up spending the day in the Animal Kingdom.  Now, they were recovering, so rides were out. So we agreed to a slow day of animal watching.  When we got down to the gorilla pavilion their were two BABY gorillas.  2 months and 4 months old.  The little baby was lying on the ground playing in the air, and then eventually wrapped around his mama's leg while she walked.  One of them was trying to learn to crawl, and the 5 year old pushed him over for fun.  Big mama DID NOT like that and rushed in to protect the little one.  Everything about this was beautiful, and adorable, and jaw-dropping and magical.  Unlikely I ever see an infant gorilla again.  Sharing this experience was priceless.

6.  Bohemian Rhapsody on the Thames (London 2014) - One Sunday night in London, after dinner, the group was heading back to the hotel.  I wanted to take the time to hear Big Ben chime and take night photos along the river.  The other chaperones were guiding the group back, but 4 students asked if they could come with us.  When we travel with students the majority of our time is well scheduled. It's important with large groups to have order and organization.  So in those few moments where you can be spontaneous, they come with great beauty and authenticity.  We walked along the South Bank, taking pictures of the river, and the Eye, and Parliament.  The girls found a performing space, and without any prompting, started belting out a lovely (and overly dramatic) rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody."  This was followed by onlookers, then laughter, then the bell striking 9, and finally a turfing competition on the tube ride back to the hotel.  

7.  Main Street Blues (Disneyland 2014) - On our last night in Disneyland we were suppose to meet up at the front of Main Street.  Slowly students came down the main way back towards the exit and joined our crowd.  The park was getting quieter, and the glow of Main Street felt magical.  We all sat in a circle on the ground.  As students got to the front they would join us.  Each bringing a sigh and a frown that this experience had come to an end.  In our 3 days together we had grown from friends to family, and every one knew it.  We weren't ready to leave this moment and let it become memory.  So we just sat there.  Even I, the teacher, who should have been directing us to get up and head home, was fixed in my seat. One more smile, one more laugh, one more group hug.  We savoured it as long as we could.  

8.  Jelly Bean Roulette (Florida 2014) - Pool side.  21 students in a circle.  Brown paper bag filled with Every Flavour Beans, purchased at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Vomit tastes like - Vomit.  Insert screams, gags and laughter.  I think you get the picture.  

9.  Dough Balls (London 2014) - Delicious.  We became obsessed. In fact, happiness is now measured on a scale of zero to dough balls.  Mmmmm.  Dough balls.....

10.  Compliment Circle (Vedder River 2015) - This year student council went on a camping retreat together.  On our last night, around the fire, I thought it would be nice if we went around and said something nice about each person here.  After the first person we needed to limit it to 5 compliments. I thought this would be a positive and uplifting experience. And it was.  WAS IT EVER.  Except that everyone had such beautiful things to say - compliments, anecdotes, stories - and tears.  LOTS OF TEARS. After 3.5 hours (and being WAY past bedtime) we were left with embers in the fire, a dark sky, and a campsite full of tears, hugs and love.  I think the whole group would agree that this was beyond special (and emotionally exhausting).  

There are so many more, for example
  • That time I had to ground some students
  • That time Gaston did pull ups with Kaitlin hanging from his arm
  • That time we managed to sneak students to the front of the line with Anna and Elsa
  • That time we met Arthur Darvill
  • That time we saw Darwin's Spirit Collection
  • That time we went behind the scenes at Universal
  • That time we road the Hogwarts Express
  • That time we leader that anything is possible
So as I am here, only 431 hours away from my next travel adventure, I cannot wait for more special moments to add to the list.  #shseurope - are you ready?