By LEIGH BEDFORD.

I love travel. I love the feeling of the plane taking off. It’s the first step to freedom. The feeling you get when you exit the aircraft into a different continent, a different time zone to your own – it’s exhilarating.

During this time last year, I and 20 others ventured off to France for two weeks of a lifetime. It was our school’s bi-annual French language trip, but we were the first group to go beyond New Caledonia.

We travelled on Emirates, and through Abbey Travel. Something none of us thought would be a problem was that our plane was delayed more than 24 hours in Auckland. Because it took another 30 hours to arrive in Nice, France, I suggest taking an extra pair of clothes when you fly!

Because this was a school trip, we 13 students went to school in the mornings of the first week, then had tours in the afternoons. We saw and learnt about the history of the places we went to. The architecture around the place was amazing! Seeing things that were built hundreds of years ago out of concrete, and still in good form, was just beyond awesome.

Having all these experiences behind me, I realise just how much traveling can impact your life in a positive way. You meet so many new people, and become open to learning the different culture and ways of living, you almost question your own life.

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Later in the first week, after school, we hopped on a train and ventured off to a small town in Italy for metre-long pizzas and gelato. For me and everyone else on the excursion, this blew minds. The fact that we could take a 45-minute train ride – which didn’t seem that long at the time – and go to a different country just for lunch; we just could not believe it.

We also went to the small country called Monaco. That was an amazing day, and not only because it was my birthday. I was amazed at the difference between old Italian and Nice buildings, and the modern, million-dollar apartments.

In Nice, we stayed with host families. My host-mum could not speak a word of English.Because my friend and I had just two years of French in our pockets, we found this very amusing, when our only line at the dinner table was ‘oui’.

When one is in France, one must visit the most talked-about place in Europe: Paris. Paris was everything and more that you could ever imagine of a ‘City of Love’. We did all the cliché France things, like visiting the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, cruising on the Seine River, seeing Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur cathedrals, and the Palace of Versailles. We even navigated the underground Metro system. Experiencing the Eiffel Tower, day and night, was a dream come true. What was even more of a dream come true for a 16-year-old was visiting Euro Disneyland. This love for all things Disney took us back to the days of being a child again, all for a whole day.

My favourite part was visiting the old castles and cathedrals. Places like this are a must when travelling to Europe. They hold a lot of history, and even for someone who is not so keen on history, I found them to be the most outstanding part of the trip. I learnt lots of little things, such as that Auckland’s Sky Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower, or that if you looked at every painting in the Louvre for no more than three minutes, you’d be there for three months, day and night.

However, I learnt more things about myself than I did about the language, which was meant to be the main reason I going was for. For example, I learnt how important it is to be prepared for unexpected situations, like losing your debit card in the middle of Paris.

The shopkeepers of Paris know some form of English. Most often you can walk into the shops and say ‘bonjour’, and they will reply in English. This made the part of the trip where we were meant to speak wholly in French harder. There are so many tourists around the city. The French love it if you attempt to speak their language, and if you say you are from New Zealand.

Travelling, I think, is the most important part of life. It opens your eyes to new information you might not have understood or received by staying in one place. Having tour guides on trips is essential, especially on your first time overseas. Going with other people was a benefit, as before that, I’d never left the North Island of New Zealand.

And one more piece of advice from me: don’t end up on crutches the night before you leave for a two-week trip!

 

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