Touching down in Heathrow


by Kesley Gilbert

Suitcases tagged and sent away, a group of 11 travelers prepared to board their plane early on July 28,
while their family members watched them ride up the escalators into security, at the Des Moines airport. With two hours to wait, some watched the clock with anticipation, palms sweating and knees jittering up and down. It wasn’t until they boarded their first plane from Des Moines to Detroit that they realized in under 15 hours their feet would touch down in Heathrow Airport, West London, United Kingdom. Not until they boarded their international flight in Detroit did they realize the biggest adventure of their life was on the brink of beginning.
Those travelers from PCM include graduates Kelsey Van Veen, Cassidy Van Veen, Krystal Pendroy and Shelby Stafford; seniors Kesley Gilbert and Katie Adams; and juniors Gunnar Davis, Mallory Bell, Whitnee Gallaher, Tessa Stevens and Tyler Dredge. The group also includes three adults: Janice Davis and Teresa Thompson, who teaches at PCM, and parent Jennifer Bell.  The trip went through EF Educational Tours, which paired with three other groups from Northern California, upstate New York and Mount. Vernon, Iowa.
The students traveled to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, England, France and Germany.
“Europe was a really eye-opening experience,” said Adams. “Seeing that part of the world is something that I will never forget. I’ll never forget the beauty of the mountains in Switzerland, and the memories I made with my friends. I was also surprised at how nice and helpful people were in London.”
The first stop for the students was London, England, where they took in the sites of Windsor Castle, saw Buckingham Palace, traveled on the famous Underground, rode the London Eye and went on a spooky night tour of the slayings of Jack the Ripper through the dark alleyways and back streets. On the second day of London, the group took a bus tour through Baker Street, Fleet Street and the London Bridge, along with many more well known sites and historical monuments. While dragging their feet after looking at double-decker buses and red phone booths for two memorable days, the group rode on the Euro Star to reach their next stop, Paris, France, where they would spend two more days.
Immediately getting off the Euro Star in Paris, the groups went to Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums and also a historic monument that holds the famous “Mona Lisa” and “Aphrodite” statue, among other works essential to the history of art. Hopping onto a bus, the group then was led to the art district of France, walking up hundreds of steps to the Heart of France, Sacre Coer and Place Du Tertre, or The Artist Square. Ending their first day in Paris, the group got to see the dazzling, lit-up Eiffel Tower at night, after taking a night boat ride to see some of the monuments and major tour sites in the city of love.
The group woke up early in the morning of their second day in Paris to take another bus tour, watching sites such as Arc De Triomphe pass by and traveling to the Palace of Versailles. At the end of the bus tour, Notre Dome awaited them.
“This was the perfect group of students for my first trip as a group leader,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of fun while learning about the other countries.  I love the way that Europe preserves history by restoring their old buildings.  The gorgeous landscape and laid back feeling of Switzerland was one of my favorite things about our trip.”
Switzerland was the group’s next stop. While in Switzerland, they got a lot of free time to walk through the many quiet villages and to try food at local cafes, restaurants and Swiss chocolate. They took yet another boat ride to Mount Pilatus in Luzern, Switzerland. Despite the fog as they rode up the large mountain on the steepest train in the world, the group enjoyed the view of the trees and wilderness they got on the way back.
Riding on a long bus ride after two days in the beautiful mountains of Switzerland, the group stopped in Liechtenstein before going to Neuschwanstein Castle, which begun their journey in Germany. When the group reached Munich, they took a much-needed break from the long bus rides to rest at the hotel.
At their last major stop on the tour, the students were a bit more sullen about having to leave in two days, yet enjoyed the walk through the crowded streets of Munich during a parade, watched the figurines dance of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel and took another bus ride through the city.
Ending the group’s tour was a site that etched itself into their hearts. They toured through Dachau, the longest lasting concentration camp in Germany. Although the sites to see were sad, the group will take what they learned about the past to create a better future and to make sure what a monument there says comes true, “Never Again.”
While the students weren’t as jittery on the way home, the group landed on Atlanta, Ga., on Aug., 6. After a long layover, 10 days in Europe, camera cards filled with memories and souvenir filled suitcases, the students landed in Des Moines from a trip they will never forget.