Passport and plane ticket in hand, rolling heavy luggage behind me, I stepped up to the counter and
was greeted. "Bonjour, mademoiselle," the French ticket clerk said in a proper tone that mimicked the
Learn French in Your Car CD I had been listening to for weeks. I had two hours to kill before takeoff on a trip I had been waiting a lifetime for.
It was my first European vacation--in fact my first trip abroad--and I would be traveling in a group of 45 people
participating in George Mason's spring break study tour to Paris and the Loire Valley, sponsored by the Center for Global
A pioneer in the one-week study-abroad trip, the center makes all travel arrangements, and the price includes
hotel accommodations and transportation, a guide book, tours with English-speaking guides, and several group meals.
Participants do not have to be affiliated with the university to participate, and many trips have an equal number of
students, alumni, faculty, and community members.
I had such a good experience as an American in Paris, I signed up for this year's Italian trip--a tour of Rome and
the Amalfi Coast. For an inexperienced traveler, like myself, it is a great way to travel. It offers the security of group travel at
an economical price (France was about $1,500 and Italy was $2,000) and a perfect balance of group activities and free time.
The following are a few excerpts, in no particular order, from the personal journal I kept while traveling to France and Italy.
France, Day 2--Paris
Note to Self: Get English version of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The French are obsessed with this
little character--his image is even on their paper money. After a stop at the Arc de Triomphe and Tour Eiffel, the group
dispersed and three of us set out to see the city. We walked to Les Invalides, where Napoleon's tomb resides, and then onto to
the Musée Rodin to see his statue, "Le Penseur" (The Thinker). It took us almost ten minutes to cross a one-way
street--more than 1,000 roller-bladers were out for their weekly Sunday roll. It would be safer to cross I-66 in rush hour than attempt
to break their group stride. We ended the day at the modern art museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, falling in love
with Matisse and giggling and questioning what some people call art.
Last Night in Paris
You can hear American music--top 40 pop tunes--everywhere you go in Paris. Mariah Carey and Ricky Martin in
the hotel lobby, restaurants, and the small boutiques that line the street near our hotel. Tonight, a few of us headed out
in search of some genuine French nightlife. After poking in and out of the jewelry and clothing shops that were open past
10 p.m., we stumbled on a hole-in-the-wall bar and ventured inside. I noticed a small band was setting up and suggested
we grab the last empty table. In broken French, we ordered our drinks and waited for the trio to begin their set. Excited to
hear some real French musicians, we were disappointed when the band kicked off with a really bad version of
Sweet Home Alabama.
Italy, Day 1--Sorrento
As I stepped off the plane and walked down the long corridor toward baggage claim, it hit me. The only Italian I know
is Ciao. At least it means both hello and goodbye.
As we rode the bus from the Fiumicio Airport directly to Sorrento, about 4 hours south, I wished we could stop to
run barefoot in the rolling green countryside. Maybe I've had too many months of cold, gray Virginia weather, but I can't
get over the grass--it looks so lush--the color you would expect from a postcard of Ireland.
Tired from a full night and day of travel, my roommate and I were asleep by 8 p.m. We woke up a few hours
later thinking it was morning and laughed ourselves back to sleep when we realized it was only 11 p.m.
Italy, Day 2--The Amalfi Coast
Today, the bus left at 8 a.m. for an all-day excursion down the Amalfi Coast with a stop at the ancient
ruin Pasteum, before returning to Sorrento for a group meal in a local restaurant. Our first stop was in Positano, a
village built at the end of a pebble-covered beach and up the side of the mountain. From the top of the town, we had
a spectacular view of square dwellings, the ocean, and the mountains. We walked down to the beach, following
a hundred steep, zig-zagging stairways.
It was Sunday morning, and the town seemed somewhat deserted until the locals spotted our group
of "Americanos." Shopkeepers opened doors, and a couple of street vendors seemed to appear instantly.
The bus picked us up at the other end of town, and we worked our way along the coast--barely squeezing
past other vehicles and curving along the narrow, windy cliffside road, hundreds of feet above sea level.
Second Day in Rome
We arrived in Rome late yesterday evening, had dinner, and window-shopped the trendy clothing
stores near our hotel. For the first morning, we were not awoken at daybreak by a rooster somewhere outside our
Last Day in Rome
After a last minute shopping spree, I headed back to the hotel, stopping for one more gelato on the way. I packed
my bags, listened to Who Wants to Be a Miliardario? on TV, and thought about the day. We had walked to the to the
Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Piazza di Spagna, and the Fountain Trevi. What a great feeling it was to walk
around Rome, thousands of miles away from home, and run into people I knew.
See photos taken on Center for Global Education study tours at: http://www.gmu.edu/alumni/spirit/01spring/global_ed_photos.html