British Isles Capitals Tour

By Maggie Berg ‘19

In June, a group of 50 Holy Family students, adult chaperones, and teachers traveled to the capitals of the British Isles for an educational enrichment summer trip. Junior Maggie Berg ’19 kept a travel log to share their experiences.

Thursday, June 15, 2017 – Off to London

Our large group showed up at the MSP airport for an early flight to Chicago. After a quick flight, we made our way onto the largest plane that most of us have ever been on with nine seats across. Filled with so much excitement, many couldn’t sleep while others dozed during the 8-hour flight.

Friday, June 16, 2017 – Our First Day in London

When we got off the plane, it was technically Friday; we gained six hours flying from the Midwest to London. We scrambled off the plane filled with excitement and climbed on a bus for our first day of touring London.
The first thing we noticed is that in Europe, they drive on the left side of the road and the drivers’ seats are on the right side of the car. This is because when people used to ride horses they would ride on the left so they could hold their swords in their right hand during a duel or, instead, extend a hand peacefully.

Our first stop in London was the Covent Garden for lunch, shopping, and entertainment. In the main square, there was an entertaining street performer on a unicycle and lots of different types of architecture. To get around the city, all 50 of us took London’s subway transportation, the Tube, for the first time. We were overwhelmed by the new experience of subway lines and routes, but would soon master them.

Everywhere we went there were new people to meet and we enjoyed listening to their British accents. Our next stop was Trafalgar Square, which had the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column and multiple statues. From the top of Nelson’s Column we could had a perfect view of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. These breathtaking sights made us excited for the rest of the journey. We enjoyed a dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes at a pub and then headed to the hotel.

Saturday, June 17, 2017 – Visits to famous places and glimpse of the Queen

Today our local tour guide took our bus around the bank area of London. We jumped off the bus in front of building across from St. Paul’s Cathedral and took a quick elevator to the top for the best view in all of London. All of London’s most famous buildings were visible in the distance.

Our next stop was the Prince Albert Memorial commissioned by his wife, Queen Victoria, after his death. She lived 40 years longer and only wore black after he died.

We visited Westminster, which has Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Parliament building. The tower that everyone thinks is Big Ben is actually called the Elizabeth Tower and the bell inside is Big Ben.

From Westminster we hopped onto the bus to Windsor, a small town where Windsor Castle, the residence of Queen Elizabeth is located. Windsor had fun shops and restaurants. At the top of the hill was Windsor Castle. The castle has multiple buildings; the oldest was built in 1070.
While we were there, the Queen was returning from her “birthday” celebration in London, and we saw her she rode by in her black Range Rover.

After visiting the castle, we returned to London for fish and chips, a classic British meal. That night, the majority of our group went on the Jack the Ripper tour. The tour brought us to the East End of London, away from tourists. The tour put us back in the late 1800’s and we were brought on the path of the murders committed by a man no one has ever been able to convict or identify. We were able to put ourselves back in time as witnesses as we listened to the tour guide explain to us the evidence and different conspiracy theories that are still being discussed to this day. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017 – Sunday Mass at St. Paul’s Basilica

In the morning, we went to St. Paul’s Basilica for Sunday Mass. This service was different from home for all of us; it was a music-less Mass, everything was spoken. Everything was nice and direct and finished in 45 minutes. The rest of the day was free time until dinner. Most of us checked out the infamous luxury department store, Harrods. Others went on a Harry Potter tour, which brought them to different locations where the movies were filmed.

Monday, June 19, 2017 – Leaving the busyness of London

Today we took a train all the way through England north to Scotland. There were many rolling green hills and a calm peacefulness compared to the busyness of London. We toured Edinburgh on the bus and then drove up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. The castle overlooks the entire city of Edinburgh. After we toured the castle, the time was ours to explore different parts of the town and shops. The roads were filled with hundreds of people and many bagpipe players. For dinner we ate at the Spirit of Scotland. Some people tried Haggis, which is a traditional Scottish meet, or sheep heart. We ate and enjoyed a traditional Scottish performance from singers, dancers, a violinist, and a bagpipe player– a true delightful taste of Scottish culture.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 – From Scotland to Northern Island

We all took a bus to Cairnryan, Scotland, and then a ferry to Belfast in Northern Ireland. The ferry was similar to a cruise ship with lots of seats, entertainment, and food. After we arrived in Belfast, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the Irish Sea. Of course, we had a potato dinner, a typical meal in Ireland. It was fun to think that today we woke up in Scotland and went to bed in Ireland.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 – On the edge of Ireland

In the morning we all drove to Bushmills, Northern Ireland. The drive was beautiful with rolling green hills and many sheep, but on top of that was a stop to Giant’s Causeway. We walked down and we were literally on the edge of Ireland and could see where the land cuts off at a cliff. As we walked down toward the shore, there were these amazing hexagonal shaped rocks to climb. They were formed from volcanic activity over 60 million years ago. We soon learned of the legends of the rocks that say they were rocks thrown into the sea by giant Finn McCool.
Later, we visited the other side of Northern Ireland called Londonderry or Derry, a naming dispute between the nationalists and the unionists. Derry has a recent history of attacks from the Irish Republican Army, also known as the IRA, and lots of peaceful movements to unite the Protestant and Catholic sides of town. There were many peace murals and a peace bridge connecting the two sides of town. After a long day of touring all of Northern Ireland, we landed back in Belfast for dinner at our hotel.

Thursday, June 22, 2017 – An afternoon at the Titanic Belfast

Today we took a tour around Belfast and got off the bus to sign the peace wall and leave our mark in Ireland. We learned some Irish slang like the word “crack” means “fun” and “boot” is a trunk of a car.

After the tour we visited the Titanic museum. The museum is as tall as the original Titanic and is built to look like the iceberg that it hit. The Titanic was constructed in Belfast and cranes used to build the ship remain standing. We were supposed to drive straight from the museum to Dublin, Ireland. We left Belfast and 15 minutes later, our bus broke down. After two hours waiting for bus, we were began the 2-hour bus ride to Dublin, Ireland. We enjoyed the whole Irish experience by eating dinner at a pub and then we were off to the “hotel”.

It wasn’t quite a hotel. Technically called “student accommodations”, it was a boarding school and its property was quite cool. We were all able to explore the grounds including an old castle on campus. There was a tunnel made out of bushes tall enough to fit our whole tour group. They also had “footgolf” which is like a combination of soccer and golf. A small group of us took a walk from our accommodations to the Irish Sea. The ocean was beautiful and we found some great shells and met an adorable puppy.

Friday, June 23, 2017 – A day to explore

Today was our exploration day in Dublin, Ireland. We saw many important landmarks including St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. We saw the Book of Kells, which is the oldest book containing the four Gospels and is housed at Trinity College. We then had free time to shop around and visit different museums. We met for an Irish meal of beef and potatoes. Some people stayed at the dinner longer for an Irish dance performance while others went back to the accommodations for free time. For our last night in the British Isles we ordered a late night snack of many giant pizzas for all of us to share.

Saturday, June 24, 2017 – Back to home

We woke up at five in the morning to start our long trek home. After a flight delay we finally made it on the plane for an 8-hour flight to Chicago. Because our flight was delayed, we missed our connection, so instead were once again on a bus for six-hour ride home. We were reunited with our families, dogs, and friends. We also brought back many new experiences and stories to share.

The opportunity to travel throughout the British Isles was an amazing experience. Seeing the sights we’d only read about in our textbooks helped us all learn so much more about the history and cultures of the countries we visited. We have gained a new knowledge of people and places around the world and let’s hope that’s just the beginning. The whole experience made the countless hours of traveling and the patience needed to enjoy a new part of the world worth it.

See a video of their trip HERE. View a gallery of Maggie’s photos from the trip HERE.